afternoon dust

dance & aesthetics, mostly

Forming an Intention: Alan Singer’s Aesthetic Reason

On the seafront a shirtless man is hurling abuse at the two coffee sellers whose stall stands every day by the path near the yachting club, a few metres from where the shirtless man now stands, yelling obscenities. He has been going for some time, without apparent cause: when I walked past about quarter of an hour ago he was already at it. The two coffee sellers, a man and a woman, keep their heads down and try to ignore their antagonist, though they clearly feel intimidated. As I pass them again on the way back to the high street, the woman turns to me and smiles a little desperately: “Coffee?”

“Responsibility must be thought,” writes Eduardo Cadava, “from the presupposition that we always act and think with our eyes closed”. Our predicament is that of the tragic protagonist who is forced to make a choice without knowing for certain the consequences. Our predicament is that of not knowing, and needing to know. And still, the responsibility to act. I did not ask to be implicated in your situation. You asked me if I wanted a coffee. I could predict the consequences: a coffee cannot change the world. But still, the potential to recognise error is there, waiting – I could be wrong:

“The artwork, in its presentational particulars… entails choice-making about what is significant in a circumstance that concedes the impossibility of ascertaining perfect conditions for knowledge. And yet the presentational field of the artwork never relieves the subject of the burden of aspiring to them.”

(Alan Singer, Aesthetic Reason: Artworks and the Deliberative Ethos)

The lazy version of postmodern theory would seem to overlook an important fact: just because we can’t do it perfect doesn’t mean we can’t do it better. Hence the paralysis and inertia of much postmodern culture. Hence my “no, thank you”. The artwork embodies the “new consideration”, the indeterminate otherness that leads to the recognition of error, and thus to the possibility, if not of epiphany or revelation, at least of self-correction. I can’t change the world, but I can change my mind. Experience is limited, but this limitedness can be contended with. I can learn to make better choices, and this ability is responsibility.

One response to “Forming an Intention: Alan Singer’s Aesthetic Reason

  1. Madge Arthur May 28, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Very awesome writing. Honest!

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