Wednesday, August 5, 2009


Lots of work lately, in connection with the free speech volume, plus I am also immersing myself in Herder. Very interesting point about Herder: he divided ways with Kant and Schiller -- and also with Goethe -- on the purpose of art. Kant and Schiller invoked "Spiel" (play), thereby separating the aesthetic from moral values and suggesting, perhaps, that nothing is at stake. For Herder, beauty should be in the service of improving the moral fiber of human beings. Thus, his insistence on the ideal of "kalokagathia."

I have written on "Spiel" in an earlier post, also on "Spieltrieb" ("ludic drive," according to an online dictionary) which I find manifested in certain modern works of art, say, the sculptures of Martin Puryear. (The one at the left, That Profile, is at the Getty Center in Los Angeles.) They are fun to look at, yet this pleasure would seem to have something moral or ethical about it, if only because it lifts you to a plane outside of your everyday cares and causes you to be reflective. I was struck by this on a recent outing to the High Line in Manhattan, an abandoned railroad viaduct 30 feet above the streets of Chelsea, on the West Side of Manhattan, that has been transformed into an urban playground. (More images like the top one from The New York Times. And here is a link to the map of the High Line.)

I am going out on a limb here, but these public installations are instances of "Spiel." I would include Central Park and Riverside Park in New York, which seem like "natural" refuges for us urban dwellers. One forgets the labor that has gone into creating them over the last 150 years. Nature does not plan for us to be pleased by its effects, but art does have this intentionality. "Successful" Spiel in art, however, seems difficult to achieve. The practitioner, as in the case of Puryear, must be truly accomplished. Otherwise, the result is only cute, even if clearly some effort was involved.

The Bow Bridge in Central Park (in this photo by Paul Nevin) was constructed in 1859-60 by the firm of Janes, Kirtland & Co., which received the contract for the dome of The Capitol in Washington, D.C. while work was underway on the iron bridge. It has a 142-foot balustrade and a wooden walkway and serves as a picturesque backdrop for boaters. The interlacing ornamental iron railing was designed by Calvert Vaux and Jacob Wrey Mould.

1 comment:

Zentrist said...

In Genealogy of Morals, Nietzsche asks, "Who was right, Kant or Stendahl"--on the theory of interpretation (of art). Stendahl, too, apparently "broke with Kant." The former is the one Nietzsche is drawn to--as he must have been drawn to Hamann! For Kantian criticism, if you will, like the New Criticism of the Fifties, etc., promotes, it seems, the "objectivity" of the reader vis-a-vis the "text." The "feelings" or even the history of the interpreter should be bracketed out, so to speak. It is the "mind" of the critic, nothing else, at work on the "object," the text. This ideal of neutrality or cerebral detachment--Nietzsche has no use for, if I'm reading correctly. The passions have a legitimate role to play, as long as justice is done to the work, which of course has ITS rights, as well! By the way, Gadamer, following his teacher Heidegger, seems to have come up with a way, in Truth and Method, of doing justice to both sides of the coin, both reader with his "foreunderstanding" and text with all its (open, but not porous) objectivity.