Monday musings–beware, navel gazing ahead

This weekend was lovely, but I got precious little actual thinking done. I’ve been reading through Bernard Yack’s excellent The Problems of A Political Animal, and it’s slow going not because of the writing–it’s good prose by any standards, let alone scholars’–but because there is so much there I need to note for one of my own chapters. As a result, the read is taking me some time, and I’m having trouble getting myself to sit down with it because of that work, and we all know how I feel about work. And that’s too bad because it’s been a good reading experience otherwise, full of moments where Yack helps me trust my own judgments on Aristotle’s ideas and how they hang together. I’ve read a lot of today’s civic friendship and communitarian scholarship, and while can respect the difficulty of trying to make the case that “we are all in this shit together” when faced with contemporary neoliberalism, I’ve always had a grumpy sense that either much contemporary civic friendship reads Aristotle wrongly, or I did all those years ago. Yack has me nodding my head a lot in his way of confronting what I would call misinterpretations were I more confident.

I also spend a goodish amount of time rendering beautiful Greek sentences into relatively shitty English ones. I’ve been studying my way through bits of The Odyssey grumpy at having to undertake the discipline of the pencil and paper to make myself make decisions about tenses rather than just letting myself read along and join the adventure.

My third activity involved puzzling through Anand-Karmnik draw in 2008 for a good part of Sat.

I’ve also spent some time thinking about the “death of good conversation.” There’s a lot of conversation online, and obviously, I’m a contributor, but it occurs to me that one reason to grieve arts education is that, without the chance to study and reflect in a rather systematic way, people who have an interest, but little opportunity to systematic training, become avid consumers and little more. I am having trouble expressing this properly, and I am only armchair theorizing, but it seems to be that the amount of time I spend listening to/being in conversations about the arts or literature all, inevitably, collapse into “I like this” or “I don’t like…” at some point–the position of the consumer reigns, even in conversation, and without training of some kind, one can’t really see past one’s likes or dislikes. Appreciation, I guess, and the old saw: “I don’t understand art, but I know what I like.” Well, bully for you, but have any of us–and heaven knows I’ve been guilty of this in conversation as well–stopped to notice how very tedious conversations that center on “I like” and “I dislike” really are unless you happen to have found somebody who shares your likes and your dislikes in a shared consumerism conversation. It’s a narcissistic problem, in a way; to be art, it must be a match between me (consumer) and the producer, or I can’t be bothered to understand why it might be a contribution. There are bits by John Cage that are virtually impossible to listen to, but if you are putting it into the context of instrumental music, you can see the contribution (even if you can’t dance to it.)