Today I just read a statement by anthropologist John Edward Terrell. He says our evolution favors the survival of the friendliest. That seems right inToday I just read a statement by anthropologist John Edward Terrell. He says our evolution favors the survival of the friendliest. That seems right in line with what the author of this book says about our brains - that they have evolved more to facilitate cooperation with others than to think critically and scientifically. This book talks about the difficulty even scientists can have in overcoming their "tribal" social minds by clinging to old ideas even when observations contradict them.
The final sentence of the book the author says, It's not without a hint of irony...that the sum of our talents that allowed us to strengthen our personal bonds through stories of gods and monsters are the very same talents that allowed us to reason them out of existence, permitting us to slowly hear the story of the universe itself.
This is a fascinating book that has me thinking in new ways about thinking itself and about my interactions with other people....more
The author seems especially preoccupied with redeeming low culture and kitsch. It seems part of the postmodern let's level the playing field and get rThe author seems especially preoccupied with redeeming low culture and kitsch. It seems part of the postmodern let's level the playing field and get rid of class and hierarchy thing - there is no high or low. In theory I'm all for this, but then how do we determine what is of value as a society and who decides? I don't have a clue. Do we have periodic elections where all citizens have the chance to vote on items to be included in art museums? That would be interesting. But what about art experts? What is their role to be? Maybe we could periodically vote for a panel of experts to represent us in choosing what is culturally or aesthetically valuable. Really, I don't have a clue.
Much of what Dave Hickey writes is provocative. I'm not saying I agree or disagree with him, but simply that he provokes me to think about some things in ways I haven't before. I consider that to be a positive. Some of the essays I didn't find provocative; they just bored me or were beyond me, particularly the essays on the business of art.
Hickey's idea about the role of love songs in America is something I'd never thought about before, and I wonder if he's right. Do we need them because we do not have courtship rituals like traditional societies?
The essay on Las Vegas and class has caused me to consider Vegas in a different light. The essay on Flaubert was intriguing in pitting what the author calls the "aristocracy of feeling" against democracy. I also enjoyed reading about Norman Rockwell, Liberace and his "open secret", the ghost of Hank Williams, Waylon Jennings' comparison of audiences, and the hypocrisy of the disengaged critic.
I very much liked and thought important Pontormo's Rainbow in which Hickey argues that there is a big difference between what we want to see versus what we want to see represented. Just because we might like to see violence in a movie doesn't mean we want to see it enacted in real life.
I really enjoyed the essay about psychedelics and psychedelic art, called Freaks. I just have to include this excerpt:
Psychedelics, I think, disconnect both the signifier and the signified from their purported referents in the phenomenal world - instantaneously bestowing upon us a visceral insight into the cultural mechanics of language, and a terrifying inference of the tumultuous nature that swirls beyond it. In my own experience, it always seemed as if language were a tablecloth positioned neatly upon the table of phenomenal nature until some celestial busboy suddenly shook it out, fluttering and floating it, and letting it fall back upon the world in not quite the same position as before - thereby giving me a vertiginous glimpse into the abyss that divides the world from our knowing it. And it is into this abyss that the horror vaccui of psychedilic art deploys itself like an incandescent bridge. Because it is one thing to believe that we live in a prison-house of language. It is quite another to know it, to actually peek into the slippery emptiness as the Bastille explodes around you. Yet psychedelic art takes this apparent occasion for despair and celebrates our escape from linguistic control by flowing out, filling that rippling void with meaningful light, laughter, and a gorgeous profusion.
I've had a curiosity about LSD for about as long as I can remember, but have never tried it. No. I have too many demons that I do not want to become all too real. I remember in my teens skimming a book about bad trips. A guy thought that he could make time go on forever by drilling a hole in his head. Yep, that would probably be me, at least without guidance, which, from what I've read, the uninitiated tripper needs. Perhaps that is the purpose of psychedelic art - as long as you stay in the picture you won't get lost. I do think that it very well might be that the sensate world unmoored from language, as much as I'm drawn to it, sometimes claiming to be an animist, terrifies me.
The essay, The Heresy of Zone Defense, was excellent. Of all things it is about basketball, which I couldn't care less about. Specifically, the essay is about the rules of basketball, and about rules in general. Hickey opens his essay with the description of some fantastic play made by Julius Erving aided by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's defense during the third quarter of a 1980 Finals game between the Lakers and the 76ers. Apparently the play was possible because the rules of basketball are so fluid and adaptible. Basketball was invented in 1891, and its rules established in 1894. According to Hickey, all rule alterations since that time have been motivated by style and aesthetics, to liberate rather than govern the players - to keep the game joyous and beautiful. Hickey states that
...the maintenance of such joys requires that we recognize, as Thomas Jefferson did, that the liberating rule that civilized us yesterday will, almost inevitably, seek to govern us tomorrow, by suppressing both the pleasure and the disputation. In so doing, it becomes a form of violence itself.
Hickey also states that almost every style change in fine art has been motivated by the desire to govern rather than liberate the artist. Now, for me, this is all very abstract, but extremely provocative nonetheless. I'll be mulling this over for some time I'm sure to see how it fleshes out in terms my own life, art, and ruling society.
And once you learn what to watch in this game (basically, everything), it is civilized complexity incarnate - quite literally made flesh.
I've thought for a while now that there's some parallel between team sports and civil society, but I didn't know how deep it went. It'd be interesting to know how liberating versus governing rules manifest themselves in other team sports. This essay does give me an inkling of why some people can become (team) sports fanatics. It's interesting, in the context of this essay, that I have almost always been drawn to individual sports. Hmm... ...more