Soundtrack: Peter Parker — Migliore!

What to do ’till the X-Mas List Starts…

Eve Tushnet wonders if, when I say that, as a critic, I privilege an “eye-level aesthetic”, I mean that I like works of art that, in looking at human beings, are neither “idolatrous nor prideful”. And she’s right. That is what I mean! So, at least as far as people go, Eve and I are completely in sync. What else is there, you may ask? Well, cats, certainly. And our other friends from the animal and vegetable kingdoms. But–what else? If you’re asking me–nothing. However, in Eve’s case, you’ve got Concepts and God (the BIG CONCEPT) to deal with… And herein lies the source of our cordial disagreement.

Quoth Eve:
“This, to me, exemplifies what an eye-level view of the world looks like–neither precluding heroism nor turning it into just another excuse for self-love.”

With this statement, she has left me far behind, because it would never enter my head to either “preclude” or “turn to” an abstraction like “heroism” (or “beauty”, or “God”, or “love”, and so on). Not that I want to discredit “heroism”–I call works that do that kind of thing “cynical”, and there’s nothing worse than that. But the Platonic conception (Eve is a Nietzschean–but, of course, all Nietzscheans are Platonists at heart) of the universe (as an accumulation of symbols pointing toward Ideal Forms) leads inevitably to these shallow debunking excercises. Quite simply: get rid of Idealism and you short-circuit Cynicism. Satirists need abstraction to breathe–and by Jove I’d love to smother (this impulse in) them! I guess maybe you think this sounds simpler than it is– but I’m here to tell you, the idealist/cynic binary has been dead to me for a good long while, and I haven’t run amok or lost my moral compass!

The only reality is other people, and that’s real enough for me. When it comes time to construct a political system, I’m fine with spinning our theoretical wheels until we get it right (getting it right would entail the creation of a society in which every individual has an excellent shot at making a meaningful life for him/herself, without providing an easy solution by doling out ready-made meanings), but at the existential level, I don’t see why I would need abstract categories, when I’ve met Christine, and Kim, and Jamie, and Angela, and John, and Maggie, and Kathryn, and Cara, and Ingrid, and Chris, and Fred, and, you know, everyone… Amazing things start to happen, when you “look people in the eye”… Ah, but what does this have to do with the creation of art, you may ask? When I sit down to write, I might be looking at a cat, if one of them sits on the monitor–and those eyes, beautiful as they are, don’t pack quite the same punch–or maybe just a reflection of my own, if there’s a shine on the screen.

What it comes down to, then, is writing as if you could look the reader in the eye, and reading as if you could look the writer in the eye. It’s all very subjective, and there’s no way to prove that this is what’s happening. But you know it, when it does… (see why comic book letters pages mean so much to me?)

What interests me, as a critic, is the process by which a life at “eye level” feeds into an eye-level aesthetic. The relationship between the two things is anything but clear–but it’s a mystery well worth pondering…

Tomorrow, I’ll be more concrete, I promise!–starting with a discussion of Spider-Man and Emersonian “Whim”.

Good night friends


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