Thursday, November 05, 2009

Truth and Falsehood, Art and Philosophy

I wonder whom I caught with that preposterously high-flying blog title.

I never cease to be amazed—on the occasions when I waste my valuable time thinking about these people—at the mental contortions and torturous conceptualizations, usually supported by fragile and unnatural skeletons of jargon, of those calling themselves 'philosophers'. However, every now and then something happens that reminds me of it, and then it's like "are these people for real?"

Well, they are, doing their usual best to obfuscate any clarity we might strive for. Now, I know the universe isn't a 'clear' place; far from it—at least as far as anything 'human' is concerned. Anybody who makes it appear as if it were clear is, to paraphrase Heinlein, either a fool or trying to sell you something, or he's a fool trying to sell you something, or he just wants your money. Which, one may note, most philosophers do, because someone's got to pay them for the time they spent producing copious amounts of...well, 'bullshit' is one word for it. Paid they must be, because unlike artists, who, never mind their often dismal quality and pretentiousness, at least produce 'works' of 'art'—whatever that is—that people can listen to, read, watch, or hang on their walls or place in their gardens or parks or wherever it pleases them to put this stuff.

Artists, in other words, must have 'output', of the perceptible kind—see, hear, smell, touch, taste. Said output may consist of anything from stories told around a fire, to a symphony, to pictures hung on walls, to a really nice dessert. 'Works'. Productions. Stuff.

One might argue that philosophers also produce such things. They talk, a lot. Meaning they produce auditory stuff. They also write: papers, articles, books. There may be the odd philosophers who paints the contents of his philosophy on a canvas—but I'd argue that that guy is really an artist with philosophical depth. The same goes for philosophers to present their philosophy in fictional form. They are really story-tellers who incorporate serious philosophical elements into their tales. With characteristic immodesty, I like to think of myself as one of those.

Since everything in the human mind, and also what said mind produces, is essentially 'narrative' in nature, it looks like it might be difficult to sort out who does what. Philosophers, so it could be argued, just produce different kinds of 'narratives' to, say, fiction writers. And, yes, a book by a philosopher about a totally obscure topic, let's take Heidegger's Sein und Zeit—I picked this one because it happens to relate to whatever triggered this blog topic—does indeed look like it might qualify as a 'product', not too different from, to pick something suitably different-yet-similar-in-medium, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight. So, how does my initial assertion about the difference between artists and philosophers hold up now?

Well, it's simpler than it appears, and it'll be the kind of argument that will cause philosophers to dismiss me as a facile simpleton—that's a double-banger, by the way; like super-simpleton. Still, it goes to the heart of the matter, no matter how they may squirm; and it is this:

Twilight could easily be made into a movie, and it is actually something that people will pay money for to see and/or own. In fact is has been made into a movie. Furthermore, it requires actors, another type of 'artist', to represent the characters in the story.

One could claim that even Sein und Zeit could be filmed, by having a bunch of people read it out aloud while being recorded. Or maybe one could go for the highlights, few as they are, and have them read out to some weirdo psychedelic pattern-play, or set some selected passages to some sing-song and dissonant or maybe New Age background music, that might provide an 'artwork' to be projected onto a wall during some trendy weirdo party of existential deconstructionalists celebrating...ohh, lemme think...maybe Jaques Derrida's next birthday party. Not a real one, because the guy's dead, of course.

But one can claim a lot of things. If you look at the substance of this issue you'll soon realize where the difference lies, especially in the case of any 'art' involving people—as opposed to something not requiring or being about them. It is that what is being presented is people-narrative. Not narrative about the cosmos and how it works, or about God or the stuff of physics and chemistry, or the 'nature of art' (in the sense that 'art' as seen by the likes of Heidegger, as something that actually has existence outside the context of its perception by someone)—but about what people do, and how and why (in the sense that cognitive science might); and what that reveals about them, and, by implication rather than explicitly, about the universe that gave rise to their existence and, again by implication what the universe is like because of this.

Philosophers of all ilk, with a few, very few exceptions, have no interest in actual people. I know that sounds like a rather sweeping statement, and it is. It's also accurate. They may sound as if they did have such an interest, but they haven't. Which is probably why Wittgenstein called academic philosophy "the living death", because it is about things that are, at their heart and core, dead; not living. And, let's face it, just about all philosophers who get paid for their philosophizing are academics. Nobody in their right mind outside academia would pay them for their...whatever you want to call it.

Which surprisingly brings us back to the title of the blog, because we find, as is so often the case, an issue of truth and falsehood after all. And life and non-life as well.

Those who, like Heidegger, would have it that 'art', works of 'art' that is, have an existence as 'art', or qualities/properties that somehow define them as 'art', that is in some way independent of those contemplating them, are so way out of tune with the essence of our existence, that I am staggered each time I think about them. How is it possible to be so distant from the substance of who and what we are?

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