Selected Musings

Art is the ethical space where we encounter the pain of others and truly reflect on its significance to a shared human community. Art is a direct and imaginative response to the traumas of suffering. It refuses an image of the world that is presented to us as catastrophically fated. Art thus places itself on the side of life, as it directly resists the rituals of death and destruction.

I want to make a confession. I occasionally hide “strong ties” and unfriend “weak-ties” who have oppositional points of view from me on Facebook. I live in a filter bubble of my own making. Herein lies the flaw in Eli Pariser’s otherwise compelling TED Talk, Beware Online “Filter Bubbles.” He strips the concept of web personalization of any personal agency in order to propose a more paternalistic view of the web in which veritable “Deciders” have an obligation to save us from our algorithmic gatekeepers.

Race, gender, and other identity categories are most often treated in mainstream
liberal discourse as vestiges of bias or domination-that is, as intrinsically negative frameworks in which social power works to exclude or marginalize those who are different. According to this understanding, our liberatory objective should be to empty such categories of any social significance. Yet implicit in certain strands of feminist and racial liberation movements, for example, is the view that the social power in delineating difference need not be the power of domination; it can instead be the source of political empowerment and social reconstruction. 

Can the one-who-thinks live according to a principle that cannot be described? Does the effort to describe a living principle return the one-who-thinks to that principle, although the principle itself eludes description? What is described by the effort to capture a principle? Does the effort to capture a principle as a description include all procedures to make materials coincide with activities? In what ways do these procedures yield observable results? In what ways do the observable results of one's efforts matter according to a principle?

The journey toward art resembles a pilgrimage. The treasures of the canon have always been embedded in ritual, whether it is medieval dogma or the “art for art’s sake” theology of the nineteenth century. In the age of reproduction, however, aura decays. When copies compete with originals, and when new works are produced with technology in mind, the old values of “creativity and genius, eternal value and mystery” fall away. Far from lamenting this development, Benjamin hails it: “For the first time in world history, technological reproducibility emancipates the work of art from its parasitic subservience to ritual.”