I am a functionary

I am a functionary.  The phrase sounds like an admission or confession.   But Flusser’s writing keeps drawing us – or at least me – back in, rewarding repeated readings, never feeling “finished” because both writer and reader seem to share the same conditions, conundrums,…

Automated Memory

“Apparatus” is Flusser’s unavoidably cumbersome term for the mesh between humans and devices, an interface so familiar we rarely notice. When the enmeshed devices also mesh with one other, the resulting structures shape — channel and limit — any one person’s capacity to…

Educated and Groundless

I finished reading Educated yesterday, Tara Westover’s memoir of her survivalist Mormon upbringing and subsequent separation from it. By her account, the separation was achieved by means of formal education.  Only once in the book does she reflect on the matter of writing. I…

Play and Games

In German, the two words are the same, or at least have the same root. “Spiel” is a game, and “spielen” is the verb — roughly “to spiel.” They’re two different words in English, “game” the traditional noun, and “play” the traditional verb…

This is Play

This is the title of an article (Stephen Nachmanovitch, New Literary History, Vol. 40, No. 1, Winter, 2009), pp. 1-24.) about play in general, but specifically about Gregory Bateson’s theoretical approach to it – involving studies with dolphins and monkeys and dogs and people,…

Cultural Minimum

There are many thoughtful and suggestive definitions of “culture,” but I can’t remember any thoughts about the minimum. What is necessary and/or sufficient about a given set of circumstances for it to be rightly called a “culture”? Surely there would be fairly wide…

Family Lexicon

Before I learned of Ginzburg’s book, I used the phrase “family lexicon”(incorrectly, I think in retrospect) as the domain name for a website of family photographs. The project crashed and burned for the best of reasons. For more about that, see here. Still,…

The Rhythm of Writing

“His [Flusser’s] writing method evolved in the era of the portable manual typewriter, and he never changed it thereafter, despite the explosion of information technology through which he was to live and about which he was to philosophize…He rejected electric and electronic-typewriters because…

Flusser on Photography

This essay, “Out of Language: Photography as Translation” has been accepted for publication in the Routledge Companion to Photography Theory, only it isn’t clear when the volume will be in print. One of the editors thought it would be OK to share it here on my site.

Facebook

Apparently this logo isn’t original enough to qualify for any kind of legal protection at all. Anyway, there’s a sobering piece about Facebook in the current New York Review of Books, just a few weeks after I reinstated myself on it. I have been…

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Aesthetic Education

I hope against hope that someday “aesthetic” might be widely understood as something that is NOT always, inevitably, associated with art. If that were the case, perhaps more people would see that we are all making aesthetic judgments, decisions, “gestures” as Flusser put it, all the time (“gestures” include speech and writing as well as, say, genuflection), and that such expressions “say” a great deal about us, what’s basic about us. For human beings’ most logic-resistant loyalties, ranging from harmless preferences to the fiercest commitments, are fundamentally aesthetic.  “I like it” or “I don’t like it” is probably the most familiar expression of an aesthetic judgement (although it can, sometimes, misleadingly refer to a logical or ethical decision).  An aesthetic judgment aligns the speaker on his or her own grounds, without implying any logical or ethical foundation or imposing any tacit obligation to explain or defend.  There is invariably some aesthetic dimension in any of our judgments, whether other people, ideas, rituals, institutions, substances, sounds or tastes. It is NOT restricted to arts!

If you are in conversation with someone about an activity that involves aesthetic decisions (this is likely to be cooking or gardening or shopping for clothes, but it could be anything), the sentences in the exchange will probably include plenty of logical or ethical propositions: does the object or material or plant or fabric serve an intended purposes, fit in a given space, appropriately mark an occasion?  But there will also be statements about aesthetic preferences. When you hear a phrase such as “If it were me, I’d buy that one” or, “That recipe is too complicated for me,” your conversation partner is acknowledging the aesthetic dimension in what you are doing, expressing an awareness that aesthetic responses will differ, and offering reassurance that he or she is prepared to accept this particular difference.   

Suppose that big commitments, such as religious belief or sexual orientation are just as aesthetic at heart as more familiar, less binding ones, such as what you like for breakfast, or which art works resonate with you, or how you feel about trying something new. If the aesthetic dimension really is critical with respect to the big questions, it would be worth building it into even the most basic education.  If people could be more aware of their own aesthetics – their own values – and of how these differ from other people’s, we might be able to heal some of the rifts that currently make us so miserable.  

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