Whenever I think I might be being too thin in my thinking about aesthetic practice, someone says something in agreement with my thoughts, though more bookishly and then I see that I’m right, even in my simplicity. Like when I was procrastinating this weekend on writing on my promised account of Hurston’s Mules and Men I went on twitter where Anne Boyer tweeted this quote from Pierre Macherey: “To deprive the bourgeoisie not of its art but of its concept of art, this is the precondition of a revolutionary argument.” I like this sentence because of the “its” and the “its concept of.”
This past weekend I was attacked by yellow jackets after I hit their nest unknowingly with my lawnmower. The episode included me running through the yard screaming, stripping outdoors to my underwear, throwing buckets of water over my body, and jumping into the shower in my socks and undies, where I poured shampoo on my head in great gobs to suffocate the bees stuck in my hair. If the whole scene hadn’t been so traumatic (have you ever looked down and seen your whole leg covered in yellow jackets?), it would have been comical. Given that the incident took place in the swampy southern heat, I thought it was perhaps Zora Neale Hurston’s ghost playing tricks on me.
Readers, in my last post I took us through Edmund Burke’s definition of Beauty in his Philosophical Inquiry. I showed how he arrived at the notion that we find those things beautiful that appear as if they would “submit” to us. That his examples of beautiful “objects” over and over again include whole or parts of the female body, I argued, implicitly works against his stated intention of elucidating a “logic of taste” universally shared by all humans.
Readers, in my last post I began showing how examples in texts of aesthetic philosophy often betray universal human subjectivity to be limited to European white males. Last time I shared some examples from Kant. Today I’d like to go to one of Kant’s influences, Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful from 1757. Should you ever be tasked with teaching aesthetics, I highly recommend this text. It will make your students irate and nothing is better for class discussion.
I cannot say that I am not apprehensive about today’s post. In my letter of introduction I promised you a discussion of aesthetics, one that would begin and end with notions of poetry as “freedom,” but as I am sure you know, all freedoms are not the same. I specifically promised you the story of how I fell in love with Kant’s conception of “freedom,” but then eventually left his notion for a new kind of “freedom.” Hurston’s freedom. I am leaving Immanuel for Zora. This commentary is to make the move official, public.
My reflex, since we are dealing with philosophical concepts, is to stay cerebral and abstract, to begin and end in the text.
At first I thought I would use this Commentary space to read through an online archive, but in the end such a gesture felt adjacent to my current preoccupations. What I hope to do instead is to elucidate a narrative of my own search for an adequate poetics, one that begins and ends with two very different theories, though each proposes “freedom” as the ultimate aim of poetic production. I want to attempt to rehearse an evolution of thinking around poetics that begins with Immanuel Kant’s The Critique of Judgment and ends with Hurston’s Mules and Men, though I’ll make some detours.