Our intelligible universe

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw plainly.
—John Ruskin, Modern Painters

While I would qualify the phrase “the greatest thing,” what Ruskin speaks of is the ideal that animates me, it’s what I always strive for. The experience that the world is intelligible, and that we as human beings are specifically constructed to grasp its intelligibility and convey it through words and other expressions, is closely connected with the experience that existence is good (see, e.g., Genesis Chapter One). It is also the opposite of the liberal experience. The liberal experience is either (a) that the world is an unintelligible mystery (see previous entry); or (b), to the extent that the world is intelligible, we are prohibited to tell what we see of it, or at least we are prohibited to tell plainly what we see of it.

- end of initial entry -

LA writes:

The reason why liberalism prohibits the telling of the truth about the world is discussed in the first part of this speech.

LA writes:

It was by pure coincidence, so-called, that shortly after I posted the previous entry, about how liberals see the obvious as an impenetrable mystery, a friend read aloud to me on the phone the Ruskin quote, which she had just come upon in an article.

LA writes:

We should also remember that bad men will use the Ruskin quote as a license to speak evil lies plainly, like Don John in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about Nothing.

Daniel H. writes: Your recent entry quoting John Ruskin mentioned a bit of serendipity. Well, in my own moment of serendipity, after reading the Ruskin quote and your comments this morning, I found myself reading G. K. Chesterton (on the recommendation of Kristor), and came across this, in The Everlasting Man: [Philosophers] are always attracted by insane simplifications; as men poised above abysses are fascinated by death and nothingness and the empty air. It needed another kind of philosopher to stand poised upon the pinnacle ot the Temple and keep his balance without casting himself down. One of these obvious, these too obvious explanations is that everything is a dream and a delusion and there is nothing outside the ego. Another is that all things recur… and one paragraph later: But the point about [these philosophers] is that they all think that existence can be represented by a diagram instead of a drawing; … They cannot believe that religion is really not a pattern but a picture. Still less can they believe that it is a picture of something that really exists outside our minds. What Chesterton says about religion applies equally to the world and our place in it. As a man somewhat given to airy, Buddhistic speculations myself, I find it’s never a bad thing to be explicitly reminded of what common sense hints to us every moment of every day: Yes, the world really exists. And yes—though our mortal methods of knowing must forever be imperfect—we can know the world. Thanks, as always, for the fine work. Kidist Paulos Asrat writes:

“The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something and tell what it saw plainly.”

Beautiful. I love Ruskin. He is an example of the English upper classes who devoted their time to the pursuit of ideas (although in later life Ruskin gave away as charity most of his inheritance).These days, people are so caught up in fulfilling so many other (often paying) obligations that I feel they never have time to develop such clarity of thought. Or perhaps art critics are all liberals!

It is not surprising that Ruskin fought with Whistler, writing that Whistler’s “Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket,” was like “flinging a pot of paint on the public’s face.” Whistler was the master in obscure and misty grays. I never liked Whistler, even before reading Ruskin.

When I was studying film, I noticed that all (I was about to say “almost all”) of my classmates loved to shoot films in double exposure, or with layers of super-imposed imagery. Very few “told what they saw plainly.” When I pointed this out to non-artist friends, they said that this was simply a phase of young adulthood these students were going through. I was a little older, but I didn’t buy that explanation; those who continue in the field maintain this obfuscating style. One classmate told me, “Wow, your images are so clear!” He was somewhat disdainful, somewhat admiring, but greatly confused (how ironic). I took it as a great compliment.

LA replies:

Something like this certainly applies to most movies today, which are deliberately made to be as confusing and unclear and indeed invisible as possible. I recently saw the Michael Mann movie about John Dillinger with Johnny Depp (I forget the title) and most of the movie is in deep darkness, you barely see the actor’s faces, and the action scenes are a chaos in which you have no idea what’s happening. And just as the extreme darkness and the chaos of the action scenes convey intensity without content, the actors put much intensity into their acting, but it doesn’t reveal the content of a human being. For example, the FBI agent Melvin Purvis, played by Christian Bale, always has this terribly intense look on his face, you can tell the actor is doing a lot of “interior” work, but we learn very little of Purvis as a man and there is very little character development, which is quite frustrating, as he was obviously an interesting man. Intensity has replaced character; or, to put it another way, energy has replaced truth. What does that sound like? It sounds like Seraphim Rose’s Vitalist stage of Nihilism, perhaps the greatest single insight into modern culture anyone has had. He should be world famous for it.

Kidist continues:

When they shroud these motives, it’s because they are the same as their own motives, and being cultural Marxists, they want those motives hidden from us. Even if there were no opposition at all, they’d hide their motives, just because it’s what they do.

But if you are not a Liberal / Leftist / cultural Marxist, your motives are … transparently evil.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 05, 2010 01:55 PM | Send

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