Lost in 'the thicket of Pure Ideas'

[Michael Sibley]

I've encountered some really interesting writing in this essay of Valery's that I'm currently reading [It's called 'Aesthetics'].

On the pleasures of beauty he says:

A pleasure which sometimes goes so deep as to make us suppose we have a direct understanding of the object that causes it; a pleasure which arouses the intelligence, defies it, and makes it love its defeat; still more, a pleasure that can stimulate the strange need to produce or reproduce the thing, event, object, or state to which it seems attached, and which thus becomes a source of activity without any definite end, capable of imposing a discipline, a zeal, a torment on a whole lifetime, and of filling it, sometimes to overflowing -- such a pleasure presents a singularly specious enigma, which could scarcely escape the attention or the clutches of the metaphysical hydra.

and of our response to such an experience:

the phenomena in which to feel, to possess, to will, and to make seemed to be joined in an essential and highly remarkable interaction.


Our training teaches us that we should approach experience with intellect and reason, attempting to find in an analysis of the experience, some core of intelligibility which will indicate a truth to be understood, or perhaps to be pursued further. The difference with the experience of beauty seems to be in its mysterious synthesis of 'sensuality, fecundity, and an energy quite comparable to that which springs from love ...' Valery elaborates upon the difference between the poet's search and the philosopher's search:

But the dialectical hunt is a magical hunt. When poets repair to the enchanted forest of language it is with the express purpose of getting lost; far gone in bewilderment, they seek crossroads of meaning, unexpected echoes, strange encounters; they fear neither detours, surprises, nor darkness; but the huntsman who ventures into this forest in hot pursuit of the 'truth,' who sticks to a single continuous path, from which he cannot deviate for a moment on pain of losing the scent or imperiling the progress he has already made, runs the risk of capturing nothing but his shadow. Sometimes the shadow is enormous, but a shadow it remains.

The problem is that the Metaphysician, in his discovery of the Ideal of Beauty, is able to leave beautiful objects behind and interact solely with this figment of metaphysical imagination. As Gilson clearly shows, to turn one's attention away from the object of beauty is to turn away from the artist, the process of making, and all of those unique attributes which make the experience of beauty such a pleasurable and yet lofty experience. We cannot speak of an experience of the beautiful in terms of universality, objectivity, or analysis -- and this is why philosophy finds itself in such a predicament when speaking of beauty and art.

By substituting an intellectual knowledge for the immediate and singular effect of phenomena and their specific resonance, it tends to absolve us from the experience of the Beautiful as encountered in the sensory world.

I have not yet finished this essay [other pressing matters, etc], but I think that Valery points to some very important problems with the language we currently employ in speaking of art and creativity. I'm in the process of re-writing my personal statement [for reasons I'll disclose later this week if things go well], and in doing so am discovering a new tack to my thought. I think it's very important to approach the study of aesthetics from a metaphysical standpoint, if only to then be able to understand what is lacking and what is erroneous about that approach. What I'd really like to pursue is an approach to aesthetics which takes it's grounding in process philosophy, philosophy of action and, to an extent, the theology that Whitehead indicates in his philosophical system.
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[I also think it's kind of silly to talk like this, but I'm practising so that I can play the necessary game a little bit better. I'd much rather lose myself in the poet's 'enchanted forest,' and that will come again when stability returns. Until then, please bear with my oh-so-academic language.]