Periodically I wrestle with the question of whether my interest in all things aesthetic really means I'm just withdrawing from the world. It's a serious question, because when I was younger, books and writing were my primary means of escape: when life got too difficult I'd pull a protective cloak of words over myself. So periodically, now, I look around me and wonder, how can I be sitting here losing myself in music or poetry at a time like this? Or rather, is all this my way of sticking my head in the sand at a moment when things desperately need fixing, and even if I can't personally fix them, isn't it irresponsible to turn away from them?
Because I see other people's political apathy — or worse, their willed indifference to the fate of anyone outside their range of vision — and it makes me furious, but who's to say that I'm any different? In the end, I'm probably not. And what if I use culture as a narcotic to lull myself into the same kind of complacency?
Just under three years ago, I turned off the TV after two or three days glued to the screen because I could not, just could not, watch that footage one more time, couldn't stand any more speculation about who or what might get blown up next, couldn't listen to any more man-on-the-street interviews with people calling for the bombing of the entire Arab world to smithereens. Having hit my saturation point, I spent the better part of a day listening to Bach's two- and three-part inventions over and over and over. I couldn't tell at the time if it was escapism, or some part of my brain looking for equilibrium, or what. It may have been simply the need to remind myself of what other things human beings are capable of besides mass murder.
But this evening I was reading what Joseph Duemer has to say about being "hard-wired to the aesthetic":
For all my political consciousness, I remain located in an essentially aesthetic space. But I do not make the mistake of setting the aesthetic above the social, political & historical spaces from which others write & speak. Others speak from other places & it is the totality of speaking that constitutes human Being. Clearly, these “spaces” or perspectives do not exclude each other & in fact intersect in complex ways; but speaking for myself only, I feel hard-wired to the aesthetic. I suppose there are geniuses who move freely among perspectives, but most of us, I think, are either born or early-trained to a particular way of looking at the world. This strikes me as a fortunate result of human evolution: each individual ideally can specialize in one way of looking at the world, but at the same time is capable of recognizing the legitimacy of other perspectives.
Theories of consciousness & justice need to include & account for this plurality at the heart of human Being.
And that's it — that's what I wanted to say. I'm still figuring out how to live in the world with my own aesthetic hard-wiring, but that's a start.
(If you're wondering where all this comes from, it's partly to do with tomorrow's date [whoops: today's — I have to make an effort to go to bed earlier], and partly with certain arguments concerning the relationship between aesthetics and politics that I encountered a lot while working on certain portions of the dissertation, and that still go on in my head to this day. But I suspect it has more to do with the 9/11 anniversary factor.)