Jan 12: What is good taste?

I feel bad whenever I read my HC stuff online because it makes me think I am not being true to the green books in the barrister’s bookcase. Plus, of course, I’m so much more distractible when I’m reading on the computer. What would Cicero say?

A minor victory – after getting through 11 days, I have to actually turn the page in the reading guide. Like dieters who lose a half-a-pound, you have to take your victories where you can get them.

Today is Burke on Taste (Vol. 24, pp. 11-26)…my taste runs to Burke, so I think this is going to be fun. (Or “fun”). Burke, of course, was born on this date in 1729. This basically is birthdays through the year, I guess.

To Volume 24…

Just as reason may be systematized, says Burke, so too might taste, then wriggles out of having to prove this statement by immediately attacking the idea of defining it. Good trick – I need to absorb that.

Like the Hamilton/Jay essays yesterday, this is laid out in the eighteenth century, there’s-no-ESPN-so-lawyerly-brief-is-a-popular-pastime style: “All the natural powers in man, which I know, that are conversant about external objects, are the senses; the imagination; and the judgment. And first with regard to the senses.’

The plus side of this argument is that it’s good for skimming. Burke takes two pages to explain that sugar is sweet for everyone, right?

Correction: four pages.

Now to the imagination – and we define wit as finding similarities, judgement as finding differences, and in “making distinctions we offer no food at all to our imaginations.” I have no idea whether contemporary aesthetic theory holds with this, but certainly making distinctions seems like more of an acquired taste…but then, if you listen to sports-talk radio, it’s nothing but making distinctions between Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

On the other hand, metaphors and allegories are characteristic of barbarous nations, and distinguishing and sorting of good ones. What would Burke make of our elections? And what would we making of a Member of Congress who wrote a long book called “On Taste”? We’d need rotten boroughs to hold such a man.

When Burke gets to the judgment I’m kind of losing his thread, and this is the difference between doing something for class and doing it as a side project – I’m less likely to go back and find the thread again. But I do like this:

...the judgment is for the greater part employed in throwing stumbling-blocks in the way of the imagination, in dissipating the scenes of its enchantment, and in tying us down to the disagreeable yoke of our reason: for almost the only pleasure that men have in judging better than others, consists in a sort of conscious pride and superiority[…]
Which anyone who has ever told a rock-critic friend that they like Billy Joel has experienced.