Thursday, February 12, 2009

Objective Fantasy vs. Subjective Reality

As our culture and its products become increasingly ugly and stupid, it is no wonder that people lose their feel for the divine intellect and beauty. Likewise, with no developmental telos, we can hardly be surprised that chronological adults remain developmentally adolescent, and therefore never acquire the sophistication necessary to develop themselves spiritually. Indeed, why grow into adulthood if, in the absence of vertical development, it is just a horizontal "dead end," whereas the adolescent lives in a kind of faux eternity (or false verticality), since his potential remains forever latent? In being "nothing," he can feel as if he is "everything."

Regarding the problem of terminal adolescence, it has reached a kind of nadir in the election of our first teenage president (although I suppose Clinton broke some important ground in that regard). Along with this has come the descent of the moonstream media to a new low, which no one thought possible, i.e., a bunch of breathless teeny-bopper fanzines. Seriously, when they start publishing articles about women who fantasize about having sex with the president, it is difficult to imagine any further devolution.

Adolescents make up for in enthusiasm what they lack in substance, depth, and wisdom. As Balthasar writes, they also tend to generalize this enthusiasm, so that the world is not seen objectively, but subjectively. If you give it some thought, I think you'll realize that this is one of the real problems in trying to have a rational conversation with a liberal. In fact, I well remember what this was like from the other side, back when I was a liberal. The main problem with conservatives was that they threw water on your enthusiastic state of subjective fantasy, so I had no use for them.

But fantasies are otherwise ephemeral things that do not endure if they aren't reinforced by a large collective. In fact, being what they are, fantasies are threatened by even one person who isn't on board with it, which is why totalitarian governments and liberal universities function the way they do.

Likewise, it is why the adolescents of the left want to resurrect the Orwellian "fairness doctrine" in order to eliminate one of the remaining institutions that resists their fantasy. The very existence of talk radio is a threat to the fantasy, and must be stopped.

In just three weeks, Barack Obama has already attacked Rush Limbaugh, Fox News, and Sean Hannity. Does the press care that they are under assault? No, of course not, because that isn't the point. Rather, Obama and the MSM have a common interest in perpetuating their mutual fantasy. Likewise, George Bush was attacked for quashing dissent, when he obviously did no such thing. For the MSM, anyone who does not share their common fantasy is not a part of the legitimate press.

I had no intention to get sidetracked by politics here. My only point is to highlight the discrimination it requires in order to begin to apprehend the objective and the real, the very source and possibility of which is God -- or, let us say, the "principial realm," so as to not prematurely saturate the subject.

As Balthasar writes, "People who cling to this view of the subjective nature of taste's judgment have remained immature adolesescents." But "by developing his soul according to the images of the objectively beautiful, the maturing person gradually learns to acquire the art of discrimination, that is, the art of perceiving what is beautiful in itself." Critically, although this is obviously a subjective operation, "in the process of their development, the subjective elements of perception... more and more pass into the service of objective perception."

I would say that this is because maturity can be gauged by a gradual "withdrawal" of projection, so that we begin to see the world as it is, rather than how we would like for it to be. In other words, our subjectivity takes on a more passive, "female" role in receiving the world rather than forcing the world into our projected categories. I don't have the time to dig out examples, but one will find many, many references to this in the Christian and Taoist literature.

The world in itself is neither "objective" nor "subjective." Rather, these are human categories that we use in order to understand our experience. In reality, these two categories are complementary and give rise to one another. I would say that "objectivity" simply refers to the exterior of the world, subjectivity to its interior, and there can be no outside in the absence of an inside. Both art and religion specialize in disclosing the "cosmic interior," so it is no wonder that the skill required to deepen one's understanding of them has a similar aesthetic form.

As Balthasar describes it, "Even in the case of a masterpiece, the mature observer of art can without difficulty give an objective and largely conceptual basis for his judgment." For example, yesterday evening I was watching Olivier's 1948 production of Hamlet, and was blown away by the screenplay. I didn't catch the name -- William something-or-other -- but the way he used language was... I don't know what else to call it but godlike. His mastery of language was so complete, that it was almost a distraction from the plot.

The question is, was my aesthetic assessment of William something-or-other objective? Or "merely" subjective? Or, is it possible to use one's subjectivity in such a way that it discloses objective reality? Let's say some lowbrow atheist comes along and says that there's nothing special going on here -- just a story about a dead Danish king and his crazy son. Yes, that is objectively true, but is it true?

Or -- you will forgive me -- one could say that the Gospels are about a delusional Jewish carpenter who gets rubbed out by the Roman authorities. Is that true? Yes, in the same way that the theory of natural selection explains our humanness. The point is, to live in a state of "mere"objectivity is to plunge oneself into the deepest and darkest of fantasies, where no light can enter, since all light is subjective (i.e., only subjects can experience it).

A metaphysical Darwinist is living in a state of "objective fantasy," since he regards his abstractions as more real than the concrete reality from which they are taken. And this is why one cannot be a consistent Darwinist and remain human, because no human can sanely treat other humans as mere "replicating machines." Rather, the moment you appreciate the infinite value of the individual -- an example of a truly objective subjective fact, by the way -- you have left Darwinism behind. It's just a matter of explaining why human beings are so infinitely precious. I know why. The metaphysical Darwinist can never know.

Balthasar contrasts the two uses of imagination. The more immature way is to project and externalize from within to the exterior. An extreme case of this would be the psychotic, but the schlock-in-tirade of the psychotherapist is less obvious forms of this same process.

Conversely, the more mature use of imagination involves a kind of metabolic process "in which the objective content of images is assimilated from the outside toward the interior" (Balthasar). I think it is fair to say that this is how the the spiritually mature person "uses" scripture and religion in general.

This is how Balthasar describes it: "the believer indeed possesses in advance the fundamental possibility of believing which has been implanted in him; but this possibility does not exempt him from the human effort of searching with a probing gaze for the correct form of what he is to believe and, having found it, from the effort of integrating it existentially into his very self" (emphasis mine).

Again: the form is objective, but its assimilation is subjective; indeed, the former must be assimilated into our subjective being in order both for it and for ourselves to truly "live" in the dialectical space between them. You could say that this is the eternal space of both kenosis and theosis, which are two sides of the same divine reality, in that His flowing out is our flowing in.

39 Comments:

Blogger James said...

Beautiful Bob. I have several friends who are just out of college. The real world throwing cold water everything they thought they knew. It would be funny if it wasn't so devastating. It's painful. I had to go through the same thing, but at least real life can still teach. Thank God, for that.

2/12/2009 09:01:00 AM  
Blogger jwm said...

Speaking of metaphysical Darwinists- I just took a look at the lair of the lizard. What an obnoxoious creep he's become- a preening rock star basking in the adulation of groupies. And what a bunch of yammering yahoos are his minions. You know, the 'minions' thing used to be a joke. Not anymore. It's hard to believe that that place used to be home base for so many of us.
Actually he did us all a favor. This small family of blogs that has come into being since the exodus has become a network of teaching and growth for all of us. We evolved. The lizards are still eating bugs in the jungle.

JWM

2/12/2009 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger swiftone said...

It's a steady discipline that subjective/objective dance, or so it seems to me. A lot of learning and growth required. Thanks Bob... another useful post.

2/12/2009 10:12:00 AM  
Anonymous Kurt said...

Today's post is why I read your words everyday, Bob. Direct hit on right where I am standing (sitting, actually) - a spiritually explosive missive that is forcing me to move on down the path, to get back to work and to quit slacking off. Thanks, amigo. I needed that!

2/12/2009 10:32:00 AM  
Blogger walt said...

I walk through our local Stuff Emporiums now and then, be it WalMart or others, and while I tend to just say, "It is what it is" and keep going, in my heart I think that most of the products are "stupid and ugly." Or, more generously, "unnecessary." Such is my take.

Seems like the economy is driven by acquisitiveness run amuck -- the idea of "More = Better." It's rare that we find expressions of "How much is enough?" -- and when we do, they're likely to be wrapped in some kind of social theory or agenda promoted by wackos, i.e. dis-honest from the start.

On the other hand, I tend to accept that "More = Better" when it comes to assimilating Beauty, when the intent is to integrate the objective and subjective, and the wish is to organize and make efforts along those lines. This, to me, is important "Work." I like to think it's a yearning for quality rather than just quantity.

This assimilation also strikes me as what is actually doable, in a practical sense. Of course we read and study, discuss and theorize -- but afterwards, if we can actively ponder and coontemplate, integrate and assimilate, I believe there is movement, an "action" toward or "feeding" of the soul that causes it to grow.

Something to do in our spare time.

2/12/2009 10:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Ivan Stang said...

Please, Kurt. Never quit slacking off. Even in work, there is always time for slack.

For additional advice that WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU SEE THE WORLD, please purchase 3 dozen copies of One Cosmos Under God.

2/12/2009 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

"Adolescents make up for in enthusiasm what they lack in substance, depth, and wisdom. As Balthasar writes, they also tend to generalize this enthusiasm, so that the world is not seen objectively, but subjectively."

Joan has a truly beautiful example of this up on her blog today.

And on a completely unrelated note, Ivan reveals the real truth behind OC ;)

2/12/2009 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger River Cocytus said...

For additional advice that WILL CHANGE THE WAY YOU SEE THE WORLD, please purchase 3 dozen copies of One Cosmos Under God.

For one, next month's mortgage or rent will appear much larger than it did before.

Buy several dozen more and it will become just simply TOO BIG to fit your conceptions.

AMAZING!

Remember, Operators are standing buy. I mean, by.

2/12/2009 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger Robin Starfish said...

turn on the firehose
blast 'em with economics
that'll grow 'em up

wv: thus spake juthead

2/12/2009 12:08:00 PM  
Anonymous J.R. said...

Hey, River.

Fuck 'em if they can't take a joke.

2/12/2009 01:07:00 PM  
Anonymous ximeze said...

"As our culture and its products become increasingly ugly and stupid, it is no wonder that people lose their feel for the divine intellect and beauty."

Teddy D. cooncurs.


wv valympl

2/12/2009 01:08:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

Ximeze,
I believe that is why Sgt Pepper taught the band to play…(conquer the Blue Meanies, don’t you know.)

2/12/2009 02:07:00 PM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Indeed, why grow into adulthood if, in the absence of vertical development, it is just a horizontal "dead end," whereas the adolescent lives in a kind of faux eternity (or false verticality), since his potential remains forever latent? In being "nothing," he can feel as if he is "everything."

This is much of the left's fascination with Obama. The adolescent "ideal" is to be open to all things. Teenagers can analyze nearly as well as adults, but they are incapable of making independent judgments. Obama is a blank and seems open and thus "younger" and more like them. People with convictions strike the perpetual adolescent as being close-minded, unable to change, stubborn, and reactionary.

Projection again: no one is more reactionary than the leftist and the adolescent.

2/12/2009 04:29:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Speaking of things beautiful
(unless, like Bob, you're allergic to classical music), this song has been in my head all day (I have rehearsal tonight, and this one's in the next concert).

English translation: For God Commanded Angels to Watch Over You, by Mendelssohn

2/12/2009 05:23:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Hey, I don't want to disseminate a wrong impression. Who could dislike classical music? It's just that 90% of it sounds pleasantly "samey" to me. In short, I don't have the capacity to make any fine aesthetic distinctions in that arena -- unlike with jazz, where I could, say, give you a dissertation on just the differences in alto sax tone between Jackie McLean, Paul Desmond, and Art Pepper. You know, McLean is like sucking a lemon, whereas Desmond is like a dry martini. But Pepper is like driving up PCH on a warm summer night with the top down.

2/12/2009 05:49:00 PM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

“Doc, my arm hurts when I do this.”

“Stop doing that.”

Translation:

Try listening to the 10%

(I’m serious, the 90% is trying to sound like the 10%)

2/12/2009 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

In truth, I'm kinda with you on the "sameyness" factor, Bob. There are some exceptions, and oddly enough I seem to pick up on the architecture of a piece faster than, for instance, many of the folks I sing with. But while it's fun to be in it singing, of the 1600 or so songs on my " favorites" playlist, maybe 15 are classical.

Which doesn't mean I don't often find it indescribably lovely. But anyway, my apologies - I misunderstood your feelings about classical music :)

2/12/2009 06:18:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I actually listen to a fair amount of inspired sacred music, such as Arvo Part... I have no problem relating to his idiom.

2/12/2009 06:25:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Here's the sort of thing I like.

2/12/2009 06:37:00 PM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

Bob-burger.

2/12/2009 08:13:00 PM  
Anonymous Aquila said...

Gagster,

Very nice clip. Here's an excerpt from the most beautiful rite in the Western Church, which you might like as well.

(BTW, our pal Queeg is pulling out all the stops for Darwin's birthday today. Anti-idiotarianism at LGF is increasingly taking a backseat to Darwinist dogmatic fulminating, and readings of other anti-Islamists out of the Holy Church of NeoConism)

2/12/2009 08:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

(He's on a roll!)

2/12/2009 08:14:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

Adolescents make up for in enthusiasm what they lack in substance, depth, and wisdom. As Balthasar writes, they also tend to generalize this enthusiasm, so that the world is not seen objectively, but subjectively. If you give it some thought, I think you'll realize that this is one of the real problems in trying to have a rational conversation with a liberal.

That is brilliant, Bob!
Substance, depth and wisdom require experience.
Although some adolescents can learn faster with the proper guidance, that is a rarity.

2/12/2009 08:20:00 PM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

Not Queeg.
Bob.

Although in a sense we are all rolling, i.e., volving.

2/12/2009 08:22:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Aquila:

That hits the spot. Like a direct transmission from the angelic planes.

2/12/2009 08:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

In one direction or another.

2/12/2009 08:25:00 PM  
Blogger USS Ben USN (Ret) said...

I think it can be said that Queeg and his queeglings, who may be conservative or classically liberal in some areas, appear to be so for entirely different reasons than we are, and inconsistantly so.

2/12/2009 08:30:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes. It is strictly impossible to be a consistent conservative while denying the transcendent. Impossible.

2/12/2009 08:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Cassandra said...

Amen.

2/12/2009 08:34:00 PM  
Blogger jwm said...

What I found with classical is that each piece needs to be heard quite a few times, and each time given the same concentration that a pithy, and difficult piece of literature, or scriptures would require. You can't put on a Beethoven symphony, and go about the business of the moment with the music in the background. You have to sit, close your eyes, and give it your undivided attention.
To return to one of our favorite analogies, it's like staring at the stereogram until the image appears. And when the saminess turns into true hearing it can be absolutely overwhelming. When I was really into it, back in my twenties, I'd pick a pick one piece at a time to work with, and stay with that one piece until I got it. I used to start by putting it on the headphones when I went to bed, and letting the music put me to sleep. Beethoven, for me was the most approachable, followed by J.S. Bach, who is still my favorite. Mozart is the most difficult. So. Many. Notes. (like the guy in Amadeus said) Even after many hearings much of his stuff 'sounds the same'. But the lucid breakthrough is worth the effort. Haydn never did much for me, and I got close with Brahms, but never quite made it. Try as I might, I just found Mahler bombastic, and tedious. The 20th century stuff (except for Stravinsky) did nothing for me at all.
I imagine my experience with jazz is the same as what Bob described describe with classical. I just had a never had a breakthrough moment with a piece of jazz, but then again, to my ear, much jazz is just frenetic, and kind of grating. I had a few jazz albums. I got to like Thelonius Monk, and The LA Four. I used to like Louie Armstrong's Hot Five, and Hot Seven album too. But that was about it.

JWM

2/12/2009 08:35:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Does anyone else remember Mrs. Miller?

2/12/2009 09:30:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

How about Mrs. Miller doing a tune borrowed from Bach.

2/12/2009 09:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding music, try Gorecki
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKk-w_0SpSw

2/13/2009 12:49:00 AM  
Blogger Ricky Raccoon said...

JWM,
Amazing how similar our experiences with classical music. I would have said the same things about it. In art school I chose an elective called, I think, history of classical music. I thought it would be easy, and that’s why I took it. And it was – by that I mean a pleasure by the end. As it turned out the final exam would go like this, as the teach told us: he would grab albums of different composers from his stack and place the needle down anywhere on it for a little bit and we would have to write who was the composer. Pretty easy, except there were a lot of pieces, composers, and I didn’t know any of them. I went to the library and copied them to cassettes. My plan was to listen to them all the time, background music while working on other artwork and at night in bed. Both methods worked together. But not the way I thought. It was at night with headphones where I fell in love with this music for a lifetime. The first one, I remember noticing that I was fast-forwarding to certain pieces, was the 2nd movement to Beethoven’s 5th symphony. I mean, hidden right there in plain sight, directly behind that 1st movement everybody knows (short, short, short, long) was the most beautiful gem. You gotta do a lot of digging but it’s so worth it. Interestingly, the 2nd movement is not nearly as good unless the 1st one sets it up. And it was just that: a set-up.

2/13/2009 04:57:00 AM  
Anonymous Northern Bandit said...

Classical music "worked" for me even an adolescent, at which time I worked overtime to diss and deplore it at every opportunity. I don't do that any more, and several of Mozart's piano concertos still transport me as nothing else can. Beethoven's late quartets are -- to me -- a profound proof of the entirety of the B'obosophy.

2/13/2009 06:06:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

There you go. The book Beethoven: His Spiritual Development made a big impression on me when I read it some 25 years ago. And I got the idea for Future Leader's name from The Tristan Chord, by Bryan Magee.

2/13/2009 06:26:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Bob and Aquila, thanks for the links. I didn't have a chance to listen last night, but those first two are transcendent. Nice way to wake up.

Then I clicked on the Mrs. Miller links, and almost Bobtized my keyboard...
I love the "doots" in the Bach; the song was missing something until I heard that ;)

2/13/2009 06:54:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

"As Balthasar writes, "People who cling to this view of the subjective nature of taste's judgment have remained immature adolesescents." But "by developing his soul according to the images of the objectively beautiful, the maturing person gradually learns to acquire the art of discrimination, that is, the art of perceiving what is beautiful in itself." Critically, although this is obviously a subjective operation, "in the process of their development, the subjective elements of perception... more and more pass into the service of objective perception." "

Sure wish I didn't miss out on the posting yesterday, this is just the point of my recent post Forgotten Beauty and lost Justice, that to wish for Justice in a society which has no regard for or even recognition of Beauty, is an empty hope.

That ability to grasp beauty, is reliant upon the minds ability to grasp what is real. There is a direct corellation with the diminishment of education, the debasement of Art, and the degradation of the Constitution. To grasp what is Beautiful, requires respect for reality and what is True, over and above your whims.

Our society, nearly ruled by the passing whim, demonstrates dangerously little regard or respect for what is actually beautiful - as distinct from merely 'pretty' - or what is Just as distinct from what is shallowly asserted to be 'fair' or what is Good and Moral as distinct from seeking after what makes you 'feel good'.

2/13/2009 07:31:00 AM  
Blogger Van said...

" The point is, to live in a state of "mere"objectivity is to plunge oneself into the deepest and darkest of fantasies, where no light can enter, since all light is subjective (i.e., only subjects can experience it)."

Yes, without the poetic, there is no light, neither is there Reason, only mechanistic logic chopping.

"For example, yesterday evening I was watching Olivier's 1948 production of Hamlet, and was blown away by the screenplay. I didn't catch the name -- William something-or-other -- but the way he used language was... I don't know what else to call it but godlike. His mastery of language was so complete, that it was almost a distraction from the plot."

Yep, also interesting to note the first line of Hamlet:"Who's there?, one of the primary questions the person viewing the play should ask of themselves.

2/13/2009 07:38:00 AM  

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