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Criticism

Posted 2/10/2011 7:35am by Eugene Wyatt.

What "morality" means is a habitual or chronic type of behavior (including feelings and acts). Morality is a code of acts, and of judgments and sentiments by which we reinforce our habits of acting in a certain way, which prescribe a standard for behaving or trying to behave toward other human beings generally (that is, to all who are acknowledged to be human) as if we were inspired by love. Needless to say, love is something we feel in truth for just a few individual human beings, among those who are known to us in reality and in our imagination. . . Morality is a form of acting and not a particular repertoire of choices.  

If morality is so understood—as one of the achievements of human will, dictating to itself a mode of acting and being in the world —it becomes clear that no generic antagonism exists between the form of consciousness, aimed at action, which is morality, and the nourishment of consciousness, which is aesthetic experience. Only when works of art are reduced to statements which propose a specific content, and when morality is identified with a particular morality (and any particular morality has its dross, those elements which are no more than a defense of limited social interests and class values)—only then can a work of art be thought to undermine morality. Indeed, only then can the full distinction between the aesthetic and the ethical be made.

But if we understand morality in the singular, as a generic decision on the part of consciousness, then it appears that our response to art is "moral" insofar as it is, precisely, the enlivening of our sensibility and consciousness. For it is sensibility that nourishes our capacity for moral choice, and prompts our readiness to act, assuming that we do choose, which is a prerequisite for calling an act moral, and are not just blindly and unreflectively obeying. Art performs this "moral" task because the qualities which are intrinsic to the aesthetic experience (disinterestedness, contemplativeness, attentiveness, the awakening of the feelings) and to the aesthetic object (grace, intelligence, expressiveness, energy, sensuousness) are also fundamental constituents of a moral response to life.

Against Interpretation, On Style; Susan Sontag, 1966

Posted 2/7/2011 8:40am by Eugene Wyatt.

My morning reading:

A work of art encountered as a work of art is an experience, not a statement or an answer to a question. Art is not only about something; it is some­thing. A work of art is a thing in the world, not just a text or com­mentary on the world…

Of course, works of art (with the important exception of music) refer to the real world—to our knowledge, to our experience, to our values. They present information and evalua­tions.  But their distinctive feature is that they give rise not to con­ceptual knowledge (which is the distinctive feature of discursive or scientific knowledge—e.g., philosophy, sociology, psychology, his­tory) but to something like an excitation, a phenomenon of commitment, judgment in a state of thralldom or captivation.

Against Interpretation, On Style; Susan Sontag, 1966