Saturday, June 25, 2005


Mark Greif is going to think me a stalker pretty soon, but upon re-reading his article this morning I couldn't resist sharing this. It's taken from near the end of a rather thorough, but also clear and unpretentious essay on "The Concept of Experience" in the second issue of n+1, which, if you don't have a subscription by now, then I guess you're just shit out of luck.
...I hope it is obvious why these solutions are needed now––even more than when they first appeared [this amidst a discussion of Flaubert and Thoreau]––but maybe it needs to be said. Either you know aestheticism and perfectionism as philosophy today, or you'll get them, disfigured, in weaker attempts at the solutions to the pressures of experience. The dawn of the 21st century illuminates a total aesthetic environment in the rich nations of the world, where you choose your paint colors, and drawar pulls, and extreme makeovers, and facial surgery, in the debased aestheticism called consumerism, to make yourself by buying, when you could make yourself by seeing. The radical perception of aestheticism doesn't need always-new, store-bought beauties, and doesn't feel them cloy and fade as soon as they are owned. In the debased perfectionism called self-help, each struggler against the limits of life is already considered wounded by experience, deficient and lost. He is taught to try through acknowledgement of common weakness to reach a base-line level of the "normal," rather than learning perfectionism's appreciation for peculiarity and refusal. He is kept ignorant of perfectionism's hope for a next, unique, or higher self for everyone.

I mistrust any authority that is happy with this world as it is. I understand delight, and being moved by the things of this world. I understand feeling strong in oneself because of one's capabilities. I know what mania is, the lust for powers not of the ordinary run. I sympathize with gratitude for the presence of other people, and for plenty and splendor. But I cannot understand the failure to be disappointed with our experiences of our collective world, in their difference from our imaginations and desires, which are so strong. I cannot understand the failure to wish that this world was fundamentally more than it is.

Experience tries to evade the disappointment of this world by adding peaks to it. Life becomes a race against time and a contest you try to win. Aestheticism and perfectionism make a modern attempt to transcend this world by a more intense attention to it––every day and in every situation. The concept of modern transcendence admits the hope that this world could be more than this world, though it acknowledges this is the only world there is. (Mark Greif)

nb. See also here.

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