Friday, October 5, 2007

Bourdieu analyses that aesthetic taste is correlated with class position

Posted by larvalsubjects under pedagogy
If Lucretius doesn’t get students irate and worked up– that philosopher that so incensed St. Jerome that he probably fabricated stories to discredit him –what could possibly get them worked up? I suppose that they begin with the premise that it’s a philosophy class so obviously there are going to be “wild ideas”. Yet I’m strangely disappointed that they aren’t showing up at my doors with torches as a result of being forced to read a philosopher that claims everything is a combination of atoms in motion, without purpose or meaning, and that the soul is inextricably bound up with the body such that it ceases to exist when our particular combination of atoms ceases to hold. If anything, the students are expressing amazement at how much Lucretius was able to envision (even if wrong in many details), just by using reason and observation and working through the logical necessities of his key foundational claims.
Oddly they seem more traumatized by Plato’s assertion that numbers and forms like Justice are real, mind independent things; or when they encounter Descartes’ proof for the existence of God, deployed through reason alone. In the case of Descartes, it is not at all unusual for me to get student essays that read “while I believe in God, I do not think you can prove the existence of God.” Of course, they seldom go into the details as to just why the proofs go astray. It’s just some sort of obvious given or truth. At any rate, what is this recoil in horror from a rational proof or the thesis that there are objective, mind-independent universals for things like beauty and justice such that one can be mistaken a symptom of? And why would Lucretius, a thinker so consistent in developing the consequences of his particular materialist vision, be so easily taken in stride?

5 Responses to “Unperturbable Students”
Jacob Russell Says: October 3, 2007 at 1:42 am
Do you think it has to do with the type of subjects? The overwhelming American belief in “efficiency,” that questions of technical or functional nature can be decided and ranked, but all opinions are equal when it comes to “beauty” or “justice.” These are areas where I find that my students cling fiercely to the notion that “every one has a right to their opinion,” and react most defensively to the suggestion that opinions on, say–aesthetics, are stronger than others. To frame these questions as matters of “judgment,” rather than mere “opinion,” strikes them as offensive. Beyond elitism. A kind of intellectual bigotry.
Their ability to compartmentalize–to maintain archives of received notions impervious to critical examination, and subject everything else to a pseudo-rational, utilitarian critique of “efficiency” (which would destroy all their pet fantasies) never ceases to astonish me.
In this matter of “efficiency,” Jaques Ellul is due a revival. The Technological Society, and Propaganda are amazingly prescient. He needs his Zizek!
larvalsubjects Says: October 3, 2007 at 3:51 pm
These are very interesting observations. I’ve encountered the same phenomena in my classroom. I wonder, also, whether there aren’t various class conflicts at work here. In Distinction, Bourdieu presents a sociological analysis of taste that convincingly demonstrates the manner in which aesthetic taste is correlated with class position. Perhaps anxiety about objective universals in aesthetics is reflective of anxieties about class and social position. I am not, of course, suggesting that I endorse the existence of such universals, just that I find it curious that students often react so strongly to arguments for their existence.
Apikores Says: October 4, 2007 at 4:58 am
it might have to do with the development of the religious question in american culture, where an exponentially increasing amount of apologetic space has been necessary to accomodate belief in light of enlightened standards of reason and intelligibility
(perhaps that, coupled with the epidemic of politically correct mutliculturalism of an age drenched in the appealing laziness of a chic relativism accompanied by the cult of individualism etc etc…)
statestreet Says: October 4, 2007 at 4:51 pm
When I was enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Basic Program, a four year study of the classics, my fellow discussion members seemed scandalized by these ideas and arguments in Plato and Descartes. A shared underlying assumption was the mind creates concepts and universals rather than the mind discovers them in some mysterious continent that can only be explored by Reason. Issues about the objectivity of concepts, if they are created things, was not discussed much since the scandal and notion of mind independent concepts blocked the way.
At the time, I did not share my fellows’ uneasiness about Forms, etc. Since the then, I have come to share the premise or prejudice against mind independent concepts. I like to think I could defend the prejudice if put to the task. I think of Plato and Aristotle as depicted in Raphael’s The School of Athens. Plato points toward the sky; Aristotle holds his arm and palm toward the earth. The prevailing taste seems to be for Aristotle over Plato.
The prevailing and unquestioned taste may have arisen from such things as modern medicine in its ability to treat trauma to and disease in the brain. When a mind no longer functions properly, the idea of the mind creating concepts and communicating them seems easier to reconcile with the dysfunction than the idea of Reason, a weary explorer, taking a rest before plunging further into some dark unexplored continent.
Jacob Russell Says: October 4, 2007 at 9:37 pm
Why must we assume that the discovery is between the subject and something “out there?” Aesthetic “concepts” are not like clay pots, things that we make, but more like an accumulation of discoveries we that happen within ourselves, and in our meeting with the world. While our capacity to apprehend the world through them, by means of them, is something we find, not “out there,” but within our subjectivity, or in our dialog with other subjects, this is not the same thing as mind independent concepts, far from it, and neither is it a kind of making, or making up.

1 comment:

  1. This essay describes in stark detail why we are incapable of an aesthetic response to anything---the very essence of an aesthetic response being the capacity to enter freely into a state of ecstasy---which is totally TABOO in our hard edged machine dominated "culture".