August 23: Learning Something About Myself

I don't like philosophy.

I like philosophical subjects, I suppose, but the readings I have the hardest times with are the ones where philosophers are waxing hard-core, with no concerns for the crossover market. Take today. There's no denying that Burke is a wonderful writer, but when he is practicing aesthetics I feel like I'm reading pudding.

Part of it, I guess, is that I am extremely unsystematic and philosophy seems to be all about systemic argument; and, in order to establish what something is, a huge amount of space has to be devoted to what it isn't. It's like, when you're writing a farce, you have to devote a lot of energy to blocking the exits -- closing off all the rational possibilities so that the ridiculous choices seem the only logical ones. Bad, made-up example: You ought to send the Count away, lest the air fresheners that your mother-in-law (who has suddenly dropped by) uses cause him to break out in hives, but today is the only day Chef Henri can come to make his favorite brunch dish, Eggs Palermo Fontana. That kind of thing. The scut work is in making sure you set up that Chef Henri is available today only, because if you drop it in at the moment when you need that fact, it seems awfully convenient. BUT you can't be too obvious about setting up Chef Henri, lest the audience hear the grinding of the machinery.

(There's probably about a thousand Wodehouse examples that would serve, but I don't feel like looking them up right now.)

In philosophy, however, it seems that the grinding of the machinery is exactly what the customers paid to hear. Thus Burke devotes pages to showing why Beauty is not merely a matter of Proportion. For my taste it would be enough simply for Burke to assert it and move on, but I see where that wouldn't be philosophical. Hence Burke has to prove at length that, well, swans are beautiful, but peacocks are also beautiful, and their proportions are totally different, so it's not that, and, besides, who ever praises a beautiful person for being proportionate? It is slow going.

I would further add my opinion that discussing aesthetics, like picking a fight, is in the class of things that only seem like good ideas when you're drinking. For example, I am not sure that us modern people quite agree with Burke's assertion here:

When we examine the structure of a watch, when we come to know thoroughly the use of every part of it, satisfied as we are with the fitness of the whole, we are far enough from perceiving anything like beauty in the watchwork itself; but let us look on the case, the labour of some curious artist in engraving, with little or no idea of use, we shall have a much livelier idea of beauty than we ever could have had from the watch itself, though the master-piece of Graham.
But I have no appetite for defending, or rejecting, this proposition. I am skeptical of the power of reason to change anyone's mind anyway, and if there's anything people ought to be allowed to be irrational about, it's their ideas of Beauty. Some may even find the elegance in Burke's arguments that I just can't see; but I hold to my opinion that this is more beautiful:



Unless it's sublime. I think we can all agree that the Caps sweater is hideous.


UPDATE: While driving around looking for soba noodles, I realized that the way you set up the Chef Henri thing is to cover it with a joke -- like, he belongs to a religion that observes metric time so every tenth day is their Sunday. It looks just like an amusing foible until it comes time to reschedule, and then the Chef can't do it because it's Tensday.

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