Plumb Lines

February 13, 2009

At What Price Art?

Filed under: Uncategorized — David Schaengold @ 2:11 pm

Matthew accuses me of wanting to do away with gender roles and lay waste to what proscriptions still stand between our culture and sexual anarchy. To be fair, I was trying to provoke him.

Never mind that I think gender roles and gender proscriptions are alive and flourishing in today’s society (just the wrong roles and proscriptions, mind you), I will assuage my co-blogger by  momentarily changing the subject.

The Napoleon of Notting Hill is the most important work by G.K. Chesterton, in my estimation, because it provides an actual answer to the central Chestertonian question: how can we aestheticize politics  without becoming Fascists — that is, how can we oppose Liberalism without endorsing anything inhumane like militarism or squashing dissidents? The answer is irony. GKC would have us affirm the arbitrary, the particular, the irrational, and the traditional, but with a wink, so that we simultaneously subvert the same. This play provides a space from which to judge our own commitments: to reject them if they are ugly (if they involve torture, eg, or unjust war) and accept them if they are beautiful.

This is precisely how I suggest we understand gender roles. I would add that Matthew has indeed exposed a failing of Chesterton’s proposal. What do we do with those who can’t play along — the aesthetic non-aristocrats who may be found in every class? The answer to this objection is that there is nothing inherently personal or individual about taste. An exploratory ethic of individualist experiments in gender sounds like hell — but a specifically aesthetic hell. For aesthetic judgment to transcend mere preference it must be common, and public. As Kant said, when you look at a painting and call it beautiful, you are implicitly asking everyone else to call it beautiful too. A shared set of judgments emerges when everyone does this, and this is part of what goes into a culture.  If we can reject aleatoric music we can reject objectum-sexuality, and for the same reasons.

David Schaengold



  1. […] Even that sounds too political for what Rohmer is doing here, but before I address David’s very good response to my post, I want to pause over this implication of Rohmer’s valedictory film: While […]

    Pingback by An alternative to irony « Plumb Lines — February 13, 2009 @ 3:49 pm

  2. David, in which sense are you using the term “Liberalism”?

    Comment by Jess Riedel — February 16, 2009 @ 5:49 pm

  3. Jess, I use Liberalism to mean the political philosophy, which is how my fellow bloggers will also use the term, I imagine. Lots of good introductions to the subject, but an overview is here:

    Needless to say, American politics is almost exclusively Liberal in this sense.

    Comment by David Schaengold — February 16, 2009 @ 10:54 pm

  4. […] under: Uncategorized — Keith Staples @ 3:35 pm I think what worries Matt about the idea of approaching a basic and universal social reality with “irony” is that it seems to preclude appropriate love and reverence. The winking ironist, we tend to think, […]

    Pingback by Re: An Alternative to Irony « Plumb Lines — February 18, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

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