Saturday, 22 March 2014

The (failed) partial animism of aestheticism


Re-reading the mythologist Joseph Campbell (specifically A Joseph Campbell Companion 1991 - edited by Diane K Osbon - which was my favourite JC book, back in the day) it struck me that his main hope and recommendation in the post-Christian world was for all of us (not just professionals) to live The Life of the Artist - as this was understood in the High Modernist era of the early 1920s.

The particular exemplary life was James Joyce - with Finnegans Wake regarded as the pinnacle of his achievement.

(By contrast, I regard Joyce's life as sordid and uninspiring, and FW as perhaps the most aggressively boring and trivial work of art of all time - and I am someone who has read Ulysses slowly and carefully at least four times.)

In other words, aesthetics is to be regarded as real, objective, suitable to build life around - while morality is to be regarded as unreal, socially-imposed, manipulative and the rest of it.

All that aside, it is now clear that the vast, indeed total, hopes that were pinned on the idea of a world in which everyman was a creative artist, and thereby fulfilled, have utterly gone.  High modernism has fizzled into state subsidized professionalism - tenured radicalism, politically correct bureaucracy: glass bead games which are excruciatingly dull even for those who play them.

The religion of art did not survive the rise of political correctness - but it is fascinating to perceive it right up to that point - for example among the rebels of the Beats and 1950s Bohemians - they hoped, they intended, they tried to live for art and inside art.

Well, at any rate we now know for sure it is insufficient, a blind alley, road-tested to destruction - and can cross-off that 'philosophy of life' from our list.