Novelty and Art

Over the past week my Political Theory has been reading an essay by Alan Bloom entitled Our Listless Universities and two essays by Leo Strauss entitled What is Liberal Education? and Liberal Education and Responsibility. I do not completely agree with either Bloom or Strauss; however, I do agree with about 90% of what they say in regards to Liberal education, or college and university education. The 10% I do not agree with is what they argue are the causes of the decrepit state of liberal education, greed, selfishness, self-interest, etc. As I see it, the exact opposite philosophy has created liberal education. However, I do agree with what they identify as the problems of liberal education and my generation as a whole. In past posts I have actually addressed the issue and I seem to have been addressing it more repetitively in the past few posts, so I will not completely restate my argument. In summary multi-culturalism and free love have caused people to dump reason, reality, and logic to adopt moral relativism; thus, enters the destruction of civilization. Obviously, it is not an immediate destruction, it is a slow process, and Bloom would actually agree with me. He sees these movements as enormous problems, and that current colleges and universities just reinforce those movements.

So, instead of teaching about truth, reality, and reason as they should, colleges and universities are creating collectives, no-judgment zones, and anti-reality. They have established the absolute of no absolutes, which in itself is a contradiction; thus, negating the whole philosophy. Before moving on to some of the specific points of Bloom's and Strauss' arguments I have not addressed before I would like to dispute one stance Bloom and Strauss have. As they see it colleges and universities used to be concerned with truth and reality, but in recent years, specifically around the 60's, have turned away from that. I originally agreed with this position. Strauss argues that liberal education is supposed to be a check on mass culture. Mass culture is basically the collective of irrationality, the mob of fashion, fads, and pop culture. Strauss states this culture is dangerous because it is concerned with novelty, which I will address later. As he sees it the colleges and the universities have surrendered or been hijacked by the mass culture. However, after I thought about this for awhile I realized this could not be the case. Currently, I am reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and she makes the exact same arguments against liberal education. This is exhibited in John Galt's, Ragnar Danneskjold's, and Francisco D'anconia's relationship with philosophy professor Hugh Akston and physics professor Robert Stadler. Akston is the professor concerned with truth and reality while Stadler is misguided. Akston is also portrayed as somewhat of a mis-fit at the Patrick Henry University and eventually anti-reality thinkers such as Simon Pritchett.

The point is Ayn Ran wrote Atlas Shrugged in the 40's before the multi-cutluralist and free love boom of the 60's. The same problems also occur early in her previous novel The Fountainhead. I realize that Atlas Shrugged is based on a future dystopia, but Rand may have based her university portrayal on reality. This would indicate that colleges and universities never really had a "hay day" where truth and reality were top priorities. Therefore, it is the status of education that perpetuates moral relativism. Of course, the individual students lack responsibility because they do not have to listen to their professors, they can just educate themselves. However, if a student pays $40,000 a year to be educated, teaching the absolute of no absolutes does not count as education. Colleges and universities have not been hijacked, they have been causing the problem from the start. As I see it Bloom states it perfectly, "[A] young person does not generally go off to the university with the expectation of having an intellectual adventure, of discovering strange new worlds, or finding out what the comprehensive truth about man is. Instead, the primary concern of our best universities is to indoctrinate social attitudes, to 'socialize,' rather than to educate."

The first new topic I would like to address is novelty from Strauss essay. As I stated before Strauss argues that liberal education is supposed to a check on mass culture, the culture of fads, fashions, and popularity. According to Strauss this culture is obsessed with novelty, they are always seeking the newest thing. This is inherently dangerous to education and more importantly morality, reason, all the stuff I have talked about before. If someone is obsessed with novelty he believes that new is inherently good. This is similarly related to multi-culturalism where differences in cultures, the differences themselves, are assumed to be inherently good. Consequently, novelty, new qualities, are not subjecting to reason. Since new is assumed to be good or virtuous, all the time, then no one needs to approach the novelty, apply reason, and discover if it is actually virtuous. Furthermore, worshiping novelty completely disregards the concept of truth. Truth is reality, it is whatever is real, and it is not affected by the desires or actions of man. I am speaking about moral truth right now. For example, the simplest example, the initiation of force is always vicious. That is the truth. Regardless of what men want or what men do that will always be the truth. Novelty is constantly changing; therefore, if novelty is always good then truth does not exist because truth is then affected by man's wants and actions.

I understand all this to be very obvious, of course, other people do not. In fact other people do not even realize that they worship novelty. My Political Theory class began discussing these three essays on Monday, and the class started with Bloom's essay. Everyone, except myself, disagreed with Bloom. They said his essay was offensive, which it was not he was just saying all the students were wrong. They also said he was too distanced from the student population even though he was a professor at a college, and that he had no evidence to prove his thesis. I laughed a little inside at this because it was the first time I heard these students demand evidence. They are of course right Bloom did not have a conclusive scientific evidence. He even admitted this in his essay by stating that it was purely based on his observations. The novelty worshiping arrives on Wednesday when the class begins discussing Strauss' first essay. Both Strauss' and Bloom's essays are quite similar. They basically have the same thesis and almost similar proof, but Strauss has a more professional writing style than Bloom. That is really the only difference. However, people latched onto Strauss' essay. People who disagreed with Bloom the day before were now hailing Strauss. One student even did it in the same class. He said he thought that Bloom had no idea what he was talking about at the beginning of class, then mid-way through class he said he agreed with Strauss and found that Bloom may have some merit. Of course, this student may have genuinely begun to understand what Bloom and Strauss were arguing, for he used some examples in his own life at college. He also said that he was sick of all the professors and students denouncing reality. He may have come to a revelation; however, I am not entirely convinced, and the rest of the class has not remotely convinced me. I would like for the class to actually and truthfully agree with Strauss and Bloom, but want and desire do not alter reality. I believe I have witnessed this same phenomena before and actually in the same class. Every time the class discusses the reading whether it is by Machiavelli, Locke, "The Clown Prince of Philosophy" Rousseau, Marx, Plato, etc. the class always agree with what these people say. Granted, I agree with bits and pieces of these philosophers arguments, but I always make that clear. I state that this makes sense, but there is a severe problem with this part of the theory. Actually, in most cases I just attack the philosophy. People have been agreeing with these chumps for years, it is about time someone says, "Hey hasn't anyone noticed the ridiculous shit over here." Anyway, my class just agrees with whoever they are reading, and obviously they cannot agree with everyone. One cannot agree with both Locke and Marx, they are practically polar opposites, but the class does. One cannot agree with Machiavelli and "Philosophy's Court Jester" Rousseau, but they do. The problem is exactly what Strauss was talking about, an obsession with novelty. The students just like whatever is new. However, the most dangerous element here is that these students do not even realize it. They do not realize they are contradicting themselves from week to week. They do not realize they are agreeing with Strauss' argument against novelty on the basis that it is a novelty. They do not realize they are the mass culture that Strauss is attacking.


I would also like to point out that the student who may have had an epiphany argued that he was tired of professors and students not making judgments. He pointed out a historian asked him if it was his place as a historian to make judgments on history. The student said that was the entire purpose behind a historian. He said if one does make judgments on history, then there is no point studying it. The point in studying history is to identify past mistakes in order to to repeat them in the future. However, as the student said, everyone now argues that people are just a product of their time and environment, people have no control over what they do, so no one can judge other humans. This is how he saw reality being denounced. He then pointed out that while history tries to avoid judgments, tries to tell everyone to just accept things as they are and do nothing, that other departments such as philosophy tell people to challenge the status quo and be individuals. In class I pointed out that I agreed with most of what this student said except the last part. I see the philosophy department as a department for worshiping novelty. Philosophy is supposed to be concerned with discovering truth, but just read Michel Foucault, read Giorgio Agamben's essay Beyond Human Rights . These people are not concerned with truth or reality. They are just trying to come up with the most creative, the most novel idea possible. These people are slaves to novelty, and exhibit just how dangerous and pervasive novelty worshiping is; it infiltrated the last front against it.
Next I will discuss art, which is addressed in both Bloom's and Strauss' essays, but I really thought of addressing this idea while walking around campus today. Since the weather is starting to get nicer and it is towards the end of the year students began working on projects. This is especially true for the photography students, and by God they were photographing shit. On my way to class I noticed a student with a camera walking around the outdoor covered walkway outside of my dorm. He was photographing the grout where the wall and the floor meet. He was photographing a disgusting muck filled crack. Now, I have no idea what this student's assignment is. Maybe it was an assignment to take pictures of really small things, like the smelly grains of mud in the crack. However, he was listening to music while he was taking pictures, and I assumed this was for inspiration. He could also just be using the music to pass the time for a boring assignment, but I really doubt it. My college has some of the most ridiculous "art" I have ever seen. In fact I will not even call it art. I refuse to devalue the word art. My school has some of the most ridiculous decorations, and I believe this student was just making another decoration. I also saw another student from my window take a picture of someone who worked in the Kosher dining hall. The back of the Kosher kitchen faces my dorm window and sometimes I woman who works there steps outside to take a break, have a cigarette, drink some water, sit for awhile. While this woman was sitting there a student approached and asked if she could take a picture of her. The woman's response was, "Why do you want a picture of an exhausted woman." I believe this sets me on the perfect track to my point. Granted, there are some excellent photographs of people working and resting that can be taken. Men working on construction sites, men in a foundry, cooks, etc. One can also photograph these men relaxing and exhausted, once they have finished observing their creations with pride. Obviously, this woman was not doing that. This argument should not be construed as an attack on this woman. I am just saying this woman was absolutely exhausted, she was not at her highest point, it appeared she would rather be at home than outside of a Kosher kitchen on a cigarette break without an ounce of energy left. This woman was exactly right. Why would anyone want a picture of that? The student wanted that picture because the student like many other people have grown up with the idea that man is small, weak, and absolutely worthless. Therefore, man should feel not pride, he should suffer, he should sacrifice his body and life to others, man should be miserable. A photograph of that woman captures this philosophy. That philosophy is completely wrong, and art was not made for that philosophy. Art was made to depict man in his best form, proud, satisfied, strong, individual, and independent.


Bloom and Strauss do not exactly say this much, but they do attack art. Bloom attacks modern music. He claims that it has the beat of sex, and that it pounds to the irrational core of man that is ripe in teenagers. He argues that it is like gas on a fire; it only provides an ephemeral burst of flames. Now, I do like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Queen, The Arctic Monkeys, The White Strips, Wolfmother, etc. but I also know they are not the best. I know they are nowhere near ideal music. I listened to them much in the past, but recently I downloaded some classical music. Two weeks ago I thought The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were the best, but orchestra music really captures the essence of art. The Rolling Stones are like decorations. They are entertaining, interesting, novel, and ephemeral. Orchestra music, the clashing and pounding of several instruments echoes to man's self, appeals to his mind and independence. The Rolling Stones makes one feel he is at a concert in a mosh pit of sorts, but orchestra music unlocks the strength in man to conquer nature, climb to the top of a mountain alone and stand against the blazing orange sun and whipping winds. Orchestra music requires more thought, calculation, reason, intelligence, and logic than rock and roll. Orchestra appeals to the truth and reality, and rock and roll does not. I believe Bloom has it right, and I believe Strauss stated it perfectly when he said, "Liberal education supplies us with the experience in thing beautiful." This is to say not everything is beautiful. Not everything can be accepted. Therefore, not everything is art. Strauss also states here that beauty is not felt, it is not intuitive, beauty is learned. Thus, there is reason to art. In other words, art is objective. One walk around my college and one will understand most students here do not understand that. They believe anything is art; consequently, they have not been educated on what is beautiful.

Comments 2 comments

A Hawkins 4 years ago

'The student wanted that picture because the student like many other people have grown up with the idea that man is small, weak, and absolutely worthless.' In all due respect I think that this statement is absolute nonsense! Did you actually stop and ask the student why he or she was taking the photograph? Or consider it beyond first impressions? As a Fine Art student myself, I think you are missing the point -

"...any fool can be happy. It takes a man with real heart to make beauty out of the stuff that makes us weep."

"The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man." - Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Human emotion is beautiful in itself, whether this is sorrow or ecstacy - and to capture this first hand, I think, would be an incredible achievement. I think you misunderstood the creative subtlety here.


A Hawkins 4 years ago

Also could you please explain to me how beauty can be 'taught'? Surely beauty is in the eye of the beholder? What may be beautiful to you may be ugly to the next person and vice versa. It sounds like those other students on your campus were searching for beauty in their surroundings, using initiative and observation to inspire creativity. Instead of waiting to be told or shown what is or what isn't beautiful.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working