aesthetics

The surprising saturation of parking lots in cities

The Atlantic discussed SimCity with Stone Librande in the summer of 2013: 

Geoff Manaugh: While you were making those measurements of different real-world cities, did you discover any surprising patterns or spatial relationships?

Librande: Yes, definitely. I think the biggest one was the parking lots. When I started measuring out our local grocery store, which I don't think of as being that big, I was blown away by how much more space was parking lot rather than actual store. That was kind of a problem, because we were originally just going to model real cities, but we quickly realized there were way too many parking lots in the real world and that our game was going to be really boring if it was proportional in terms of parking lots.

Manaugh: You would be making SimParkingLot, rather than SimCity.

Librande: [laughs] Exactly. So what we do in the game is that we just imagine they are underground. We do have parking lots in the game, and we do try to scale them -- so, if you have a little grocery store, we'll put six or seven parking spots on the side, and, if you have a big convention center or a big pro stadium, they'll have what seem like really big lots -- but they're nowhere near what a real grocery store or pro stadium would have. We had to do the best we could do and still make the game look attractive.

"Today a philosophy of music is possible only as a philosophy of new music."

"Music participates in what Clement Greenberg called the division of all art into kitsch and avant-garde, and kitsch — the dictatorship of profit over art — has long since subjugated the particular, socially reserved sphere of art. This is why reflections on the development of truth in aesthetic objectivity must be confined uniquely to the avant-garde, which is excluded from official culture. Today a philosophy of music is possible only as a philosophy of new music. What sustains is only what denounces official culture; the latter alone serves the promotion of that barbarism over which it waxes indignant. The cultured listeners almost seem to be the worst: those who promptly respond to Schoenberg's music with "I don't understand that" — a statement whose modesty rationalizes rage as connoisseurship." (Adorno, Philosophy of New Music, introduction)

"Do not look beyond the notes, they themselves are the doctrine."

Charles Rosen in The Frontiers of Meaning: "Music has its existence on the borderline between meaning and nonsense. That is why most attempts to attribute a specific meaning to a piece of music seem to be beside the point—even when the attribution is authoritative, even when it is made by the composer himself ... Nevertheless, music will not acknowledge a context greater than itself — social, cultural, or biographical — to which it is conveniently subservient. To paraphrase Goethe's grandiose warning to the scientist: do not look behind the notes, they themselves are the doctrine."

Tradition and the Individual Talent

First published in The Sacred Wood in 1921:

Yet if the only form of tradition, of handing down, consisted in following the ways of the immediate generation before us in a blind or timid adherence to its successes, “tradition” should positively be discouraged. We have seen many such simple currents soon lost in the sand; and novelty is better than repetition. Tradition is a matter of much wider significance. It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labour. It involves, in the first place, the historical sense, which we may call nearly indispensable to anyone who would continue to be a poet beyond his twenty-fifth year; and the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence; the historical sense compels a man to write not merely with his own generation in his bones, but with a feeling that the whole of the literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order. This historical sense, which is a sense of the timeless as well as of the temporal and of the timeless and of the temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional. And it is at the same time what makes a writer most acutely conscious of his place in time, of his contemporaneity.

— T.S. Eliot

The Pevearsion of Russian Literature

Gary Saul Morson in a 2010 issue of Commentary — "Pevear and Volokhonsky, who are married, work in an unusual fashion. She, a native Russian speaker, renders each book into entirely literal English. He, who knows insufficient Russian, then works on the rendering with the intention of keeping the language as close to the original as possible. What results from this attempt at unprecedented fidelity is a word-for-word and syntax-for-syntax version that sacrifices tone and misconstrues overall sense."

Brillat-Savarin on the number of the senses

They are at least six -- Sight, which embraces space, and tells us by means of light, of the existence and of the colors of the bodies around us. Hearing, which, by the motions of the air, informs us of the motion of sounding or vibrating bodies. Scent, by means of which we are made aware of the odors bodies possess. Taste, which enables us to distinguish all that has a flavor from that which is insipid. Touch informs us of the consistency and resistance of bodies. The last is genesiac or physical love, which attracts the sexes to each other, and the object of which is the reproduction of the species.

It is astonishing that, almost to the days of Buffon, so important a sense was misunderstood, and was confounded with the touch. Yet the sensation of which it is the seat, has nothing in common with touch; it resides in an apparatus as complete as the mouth or the eyes, and what is singular is that each sex has all that is needed to experience the sensation; it is necessary that the two should be united to reach nature's object. If the TASTE, the object of which is the preservation of the individual, be incontestably a sense, the same title must indubitably by preserved on the organs destined to the preservation of the species.

Let us then assign to the genesiac the sensual place which cannot be refused to it, and let us leave to posterity the assignment of its peculiar rank.

(The Physiology of Taste)

Ian McEwan on the novella

"I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated, ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days). And this child is the means by which many first know our greatest writers... "The analogy with film or theatre is a reminder that there is an element of performance in the novella. We are more strongly aware of the curtain and the stage, of the author as illusionist. The smoke and mirrors, rabbits and hats are more self-consciously applied than in the full-length novel...

"The poem and the short story are theoretically perfectible, but I doubt there is such a thing as a perfect novel (even if we could begin to agree among ourselves on what comprises a good sentence). The novel is too capacious, inclusive, unruly, and personal for perfection. Too long, sometimes too much like life. It doesn’t need or look for perfection. “Great” novels are not perfect novels. You might improve “Anna Karenina” by altering the clumsiness of the description of the station master’s peaked cap—a much-discussed example. And I always want to take a blue pencil to Emma Bovary’s overextended death throes (it makes me suspicious that Flaubert wept over her), though I never doubt the novel’s greatness..."

Published in the New Yorker

"Was Socrates a Greek at all?"

"By birth, Socrates belonged to the lowest class: Socrates was plebeian. We are told, and can see in sculptures of him, how ugly he was. But ugliness, in itself an objection, is among the Greeks almost a refutation. Was Socrates a Greek at all?" Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols, the third of the Maxims and Arrows sequence.

The original poet "must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished."

Charles Rosen in an essay titled "The Frontiers of Nonsense," published in The Frontiers of Meaning: If getting used to music is the essential condition for understanding, it is hard to see just what purpose is served by writing about it. A few experiences of listening to a symphony or nocturne are worth more than any essay or analysis. The work of art itself teaching us how to understand it, and makes the critic not merely parasitical but strictly superfluous. This is not an unprecedented dilemma but one in which the critic of literature found himself at the end of the eighteenth century, when the function of criticism as an act of judgment crumbled before his eyes. The accepted criteria that had served so well for centuries began to seem the heritage of an alien culture; it no longer required any courage, or provoked any surprise, to question the authority of the classics, and it became almost commonplace to assume that the models given by Homer, Virgil, and Horace were no longer relevant to the literature of contemporary Europe. With the realization that absolute standards were not valid for new civilizations and different cultures, critics were compelled to derive their measures of evaluation from each culture in turn, and then from each individual author, and finally from each work. Standards could no longer be imposed from outside or in advance, and critics finally recognized that a new work was capable of establishing its own system of values. Here is the basis for Wordsworth's famous affirmation that an original poet "must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished." The more traditional, straightforward exercise of judgment was left to journalists. Critical evaluation was transformed into understanding, and criticism became not an act of judgment but of comprehension.

This is the legacy of Romanticism, and critics who would like to maintain or return to absolute standards have been protesting it without much success for almost two centuries. Whether there is, in fact, anything constant or invariant about aesthetic appreciation is irrelevant -- even if there is, it must be on a level of such generality that it can never help us in any given instance. Our sensuous appreciation of the world and of the works created by man has, no doubt, a biological foundation, one shared by all human beings, but that is no use to us when we try to evaluate a Bach fugue or a Dostoevsky novel -- or even the simple experience of a landscape, as our delight in the view of a mountain or a waterfall is also determined by the traditions of our culture. The coexistence of different criteria of judgment is, in any case, by now a fact of life. Beethoven cannot be judged or even understood by the standards of Mozart, however much he may have continued them, nor Berg by the standards of Wagner or Richard Strauss, nor Elliott Carter by the values of Ives and Stravinsky. A work of music can be only partially integrated into history, although that partial integration may be inescapable: it also demands to be listened to as if nothing had come before it and nothing was to come afterward.

The paradox was stated explicitly in that manifesto of Central European Romanticism first published in 1799, the Athenaeum, at the beginning of the section of book reviews:

"Excellent works generally criticize [characterize, or review] themselves, and in this respect it is superfluous for another to perform yet again the very task that the author has doubtless already done. If such a criticism, nevertheless, is a work of art (as it always ought to be), then its existence is anything but superfluous; but it stands entirely for itself and is as independent of the written work criticized as this itself is independent of the material treated and described within it."

This proclaims the independence of the critic, which may here be equated with the freedom of the artist; and it must be recognized that a small degree of irresponsibility is necessary for a critic with any self-respect. Without that irresponsibility the work of criticism is indeed superfluous. If the principles of judgment are to be drawn from the work of art itself, it is clear that its creator has already done that, even if only implicitly.