Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Day Today - 17th July 2007

Sir Arthur Streeb-Greebling writes:

The Day Today - where is it from? Above is a sampler starring my boyfriend Steve Coogan. So now you know.

Speaking of poetry, and Tony Blair's legacy, is this by Simon Sing on Great Britain's "Maths Year 2000". Maths is apparently poetry, which I have no doubt accepting if I took the time to learn the language of mathematics.

"A mathematician, like a painter or a poet, is a maker of patterns. If his patterns are more permanent than theirs, it is because they are made with ideas. A painter makes patterns with shapes and colours, a poet with words . . . A mathematician, on the other hand, has no material to work with but ideas, and so his patterns are likely to last longer."

At least there is a right and wrong in mathematics, so the parameters of (for?) the creation of aesthetically pleasing patterns are more defined.

Desmond Morris on how food should be for enjoyment - and if you find yourself putting on weight you should move around more.

I found this review of a piece of fiction on Wilde. I don't think I'll bother with the book myself, but I was intrigued by the following description of one of the protagonists:

Elfman's self-righteous narrator, Martin Frame, is a late-19th-century whiz-kid gynecologist who is medically years beyond his era, but he sees himself in another role—as a detective who tracks down and heals his patients' "hidden anguish."

Part of me REALLY wants to know just what a "late 19th century whiz-kid gynecologist" is like.

More on Beauty, this time in art. It looks like Barnett Newman's declaration "in 1948 that the impulse of modern art was "the desire to destroy beauty"" has run its course.

Over the past 20 years, the easiest way to do this has been to come up with something ugly: firebricks, foetus earrings, canned excrement. But ugliness, even if it is easier to produce in the short run, has the unfortunate habit of losing its edge. So what about a label that is really new and shocking - beauty, for example? You never know, it might catch on.

We learn also that modern art's ugly worship is the fault of the French. Lacan is mentioned, I bet Foucault had something to do with it as well. So artists might be moving back to creating works that are beauty is, but I still haven't worked out *just* what beauty is. I think that the answer lies in evolutionary psychology. Steven Pinker writes in one of his books that no matter where people are from they find pictures of African savannah - where we evolved - most pleasing to look at.

Was World War I necessary? asks Keith Windschuttle in this fascinating review of books by John Keegan and Niall Ferguson on the subject. I'm a bit of a Ferguson fan partly because of the whole counterfactuals issue, so it is interesting to see where Windschuttle thinks he falls down.


Apathy Jack said...

"Part of me REALLY wants to know just what a "late 19th century whiz-kid gynecologist" is like."

I think you'll find that Josh already has the answer to that one.

Paul said...

Oh dear. There is more to Aesthetics than Simon Singh's philosophy. For a start, there is the question of Truth and Beauty. Mathematicians undoubtedly produce proofs that are true, demonstrably so, but their beauty is questionable. Unfortunately for Singh, as for your search for the meaning of Beauty, it is always thus. Mathematicians may find the truth of their theorems to be beautiful, but that does not necessarily mean they have some abstract quality of Beauty.

Next is the question of intention: Mathematicians may produce beautiful proofs but the production of beautiful things is not their purpose. Poets intend to make beautiful things: Art. The contention that both mathematicians and poets make patterns is irrelevant, process rather than outcome. Bees make patterns as well, so they must also be poets and mathematicians (this is a reductio ad absurdam).

Now, I expect you are thinking that a well-known poet said that "beauty is truth, truth beauty," but then Keats was not talking of theorems but of a Grecian urn. He said it as the conclusion of a poem which describes the apparent untruthfulness of the urn - that it depicts movement but is still. He also claims the beauty and truth of the urn is eternal, as Singh does of the theorem. I would hazard a guess that Keats is talking of a different kind of truth and a different kind of beauty to Singh.

The truth is that beauty cannot be discerned by inductive reasoning in the same way that truth can be proven in Mathematics. It is not that simple. If it were, then perhaps we would be content with Grecian urns as sources of beauty and would not bother producing any other kind of art.

So, where are you going to find the meaning of Beauty? I don't think it will be on the plains of the Serengeti. The argument from Evolutionary Psychology is one that is flaunted by Denis Dutton as a solution to the problems of Aesthetics. It says that everybody, worldwide, enjoys landscape pictures and this shows that our concepts of beauty must be derived from our Pleistocene past. The trouble with it is that the depiction of landscape only began during the Renaissance in Europe and was exported to the rest of the world by colonisation. The Greeks did not bother with landscape pictures; they had their urns. The people of the Serengeti did not depict landscape as we do. We, the people of the West, invented and exported landscape. Its predominance of landscape today is due to the triumph of the West, not some evolutionary hard-wiring.

The concept of beauty is a difficult one. It is a collective notion, which is subject to change. The smartest statement in that ludicrous article by Darwent is Baudelaire's: "every age and every people have had their own form of beauty".