excerpted from caro's journal: topic: aesthetics

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2001_05_22:20: What You Make Of It

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Begin comparative study of The Matrix and The Neverending Story.

I don't own many movies. I've considered 3 to be important enough to own. I bought The Neverending Story myself after I'd rented it several times and decided that renting was a waste of money and time. I planned to buy The Matrix but Don beat me to it and gave it to me as a present. The other movie is one that I taped during the initial A&E showing and watched for a couple of years until Farsam accidentally recorded over it; and he felt so bad about it that he bought me the boxed set. That movie is Pride and Prejudice but it's not relevant to the current discussion. The only other videos I have are all MST's that were taped from television broadcasts.

I don't think that art has intrinsic value. I believe that the value of art is objective, a personal relationship between the work and its viewer. The relationship between the artist and the work can and usually does determine how the viewer experiences it, just as my choice of words will to some extent influence how you understand my propositions. But the artist does not determine the entire experience. The viewer must bring a great deal of herself to the work. I can see this clearly in my own experience of the two movies under discussion; as I change, so does my experience of them.

Neither, as far as I know, was written or directed by a classical liberal, let alone an objectivist. Nevertheless, I find the objectivist themes striking and inescapable. Other people seem to be able to escape them with ease, however, thus backing up my hypothesis that art is what you make of it.

Common Themes Between The Matrix and The Neverending Story (hereinafter, 'TM' and 'NS')

  • desperate, impossible odds, a hopeless beginning and a steady descent into ever more hopeless impossibility
  • all hope riding on the independence and ingenuity of a single person
  • the enemy is only imaginary, and can be overcome through sheer focus, acceptance, and knowledge
  • that focus, acceptance, and knowledge is terrifying, and is studiously evaded by almost everyone
  • the horror of the knowledge is partly due to the fact that, once attained, it will result in something close to omnipotence
  • the omnipotence is real, the only kind that makes sense, but it is illustrated through metaphor

    Common Story-Telling and Cinematic Methods
  • main battle ground is a fantasy world
  • the fantasy is a skewed representation of the real world, and in it is metaphorically represented the very real problem of the hero
  • by overcoming the obstacles of the fantasy world, the hero learns the truth about himself, finds the mental wherewithal to live up to his potential
  • on first viewing, the viewer has difficulty distinguishing the real from the unreal

    This last point has been especially troubling to objectivists with whom I try to discuss the movie. I sent a message to the old MDOP mailing list recommending TNS as a children's movie that illustrated good objectivist values; I quickly got a response (from someone who subsequently stopped talking to me when he discovered that I "supported" David Kelley) saying that the person had watched the movie on my recommendation and couldn't figure out how an objectivist could say anything good about it. A, he claimed, was not A, in this movie, there were fantasy creatures and methods that could not exist in the real world, etcetera, et-boring-cetera.

    There are many ways to interpret the statement that art is a selective recreation of reality as it might and ought to be. I don't interpret it to mean that every single item, creature, and method in the work of ought might and ought to exist in just that way. I interpret it to mean that there are elements that are represented and recreated in whatever manner the artist finds stimulating, entertaining, or expressive. The fantastic elements of a movie are always, as far as I can tell, representative of something that happens in the real world: monsters are representative of evils and hard times and self-doubt, for example,and a type of animal or machine is used as the literal depiction; angels and fairies are representative of accidental good fortune or even the benevolence of the universe or the reality of slow and thorough justice, and they are often represented by human-like creatures. Objectivists get themselves all in a knot trying to avoid the appearance of irrationality, when they should be asking themselves what they can get out of the experience that might prove beneficial to them. To suspend disbelief is not to become irrational; it is to take context into account and do the necessary integrations. In the case of fantasy art, these integrations are difficult and demanding, and require intense focus: first, to understand the fantasy as presented; and second, to make the parallels between one's own life and the fantasy.

    There is more to say but I have to pause here.
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    2001_07_20:18: Social Considerations

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    My first Fellini film. I wanted to rent Amercord on David Ward's recommendation, but Blockbuster didn't have it. So I got Satyricon instead.

    Halfway through, I thought, "Ah, ha. The original STAR TREK series makes a lot more sense now." Must have been a lot of borrowing from Fellini going on, and older viewers in the 60's probably knew that.

    Except that Fellini is high-budget. I can't comment on the story or meaning of the film; I'd have to watch it several more times. I didn't get the point. But it was very gorgeously filmed.
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    2002_01_27:20: Art History

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    From carolyn@supersaturated.com Sun Jan 27 20:00:07 2002
    Date: Thu, 24 Jan 2002 17:44:29 -0800 (PST)
    From: Carolyn Ray
    To: Newberry Michael
    Subject: Re: your mail

    > Thank you again for the continuation of the interview. Your now
    > pushing me deeper and after screwing up my mind to go there its fun to have my brain "see" clearly after initially saying "whaaat." I do
    > have congratulate you on your depth of feeling and understanding of
    > art.

    Thank you! That means a lot to me, coming from you. It is not how I see myself.

    > I wish that all Objectivist philosophers were well experience
    > with art appreciation.

    Me too! Actually I wish this of all objectivists, period. The philosophers are usually better about it--though I have in mind people you probably don't talk to much, such as Irfan and Mike Young and David Ward. At least they've taken some classes or read some books, whereas Sylvia Bokor and Ayn Rand is about the size of most objectivist's knowledge base. And where there is no contrast object, no differentiation is possible, and therefore
    no knowledge is possible. I'll let you draw the obvious conclusion.

    > Do you attribute your interest in it from
    > playing the harpsichord? Or is it simply your inquiring mind?

    Well, my sister and all the family that she married into, and all her friends, are artists. Initially my theoretical interest came from love of and a desire to understand my sister, though I began sculpting shortly after I began walking, sort of as a natural tendancy and out of necessity (I _needed_ things, and there wasn't a lot of money, so I "made" them out of clay, just like god). I especially wanted a horse but would have settled (temporarily) for the plastic horseheads on sticks that I had seen on RomperRoom, but there wasn't even money for that, so my earliest-remembered sculpture was of a horse's head, which I stuck on a stick and rode around on. I made little dolls, too, who were my best friends, and I made up huge an elaborate continuous stories about them for years, and they needed things as well which I had to make. I had a little business in the 6th grade, taking orders for and selling small sculptures to my classmates. Weird, hunh?

    My sister exposed me to all kinds of art just by being in the same house, ranging from better-than-pop music to classic literature to visual arts. I don't know what would have become of me, growing up in that impoverished and disgusting and dangerous neighborhood, if not for the mostly indirect example of my sister (who is 11 years older and had grown up in a much better place).

    Anyway, I played violin in grade school and high school (with an orchestra, not private lessons); this made me extremely sympathetic to the work and styles of others. In college I started the harpsichord lessons because I loved Bach and harpsichord music, and it was available and included in my scholarship if I wanted it. I asked my sister what courses I should take, and she of course recommended art, which I took in this order: history of modern art (WAY over my head, but I tried very hard and enjoyed it and so learned a lot), drawing, and sculpture. And through all of this I had a very deep love of reading and especially of classic English literature, so while I don't really have a great deal of technical theoretical knowledge of art, I have been exposed to and enjoyed and critiqued and developed tastes in vast quantities of it. I was rather shocked when I read Rand's novels and heard one person after another say they were the best books ever written; clearly they had not read very many books (upon inquiring, I learned that this was true! Ack!)

    And in graduate school again harpsichord was available and included in my scholarship, and I was exposed to the staff and students of the best early music institute in the country--all very nice, rational, sympathetic people who loved the hard logic of Bach while simultaneously being very, er, romantic and emotional.

    One aspect of art interests me because of reasons of practicality. Long before I heard of Rand I critiqued architecture out of irritation at its silliness, or out of surprise at something that actually worked. I am especially concerned with windows and light as balanced against heating issues. You can't even imagine how many picture windows there are in Indiana--facing NORTH and covered by an awning!--while in the other directions the windows are small or non-existent.

    And hearing people say outrageous and unfounded things about any subject usually makes me think about the subject if only to observe how nutty the statements are. There are a great many nutty things said to and in front of me, especially by objectivsts, about art. So I've dabbled into it here and there just for that reason.

    But yes, of course, as my friend Liz also commented, I never really stop working. I don't usually just look at art without thinking critically about it, and that includes television, which is why when people criticize Watching Television as though it is in and of itself an evil and mindless passtime, I always object. Mindlessness is the fault of the beholder. Even mindless shows may be watched in a consciousness-expanding manner.

    > Oh...I recall a minor comment you made about pursuing exactitude > with friends. But I think that is GREAT.

    Cool. Then I won't hesitate with you. You may interpret that as a promise or a warning or a threat, as your mood shifts. :-)

    > Thinking of you I would like to have a T-shirt with DEPTH WINS > written on it.

    Depth wins! How did you come up with that? What does it mean?

    > I hope the business part is going well and someday I hope to see
    > your garden that is for some people hidden behind the screen door.

    Yes, I was thinking it was really too bad you didn't get to see it. Maybe next time you come to the States. I have some very strict and annoying house rules (due to allergies), but if you can tolerate them you can stay a day or two when you're passing through this way. The accommodations are less-than-fancy, I must warn you; depends on how bad you need them!

    Speaking of movies: MEMENTO is absolutely fabulous, on all sorts of levels: most especially the editing, and also casting, acting, story, and science.