Aesthetic coherence is a truth claim, and every truth claim will end in violence.
Coherence says something about reality: that it can be whole, that it can make sense. Elements that are discordant with respect to that coherence, then, are a lie. To cast them aside is no grave thing: they were never true, they were never real.
A painting of a landscape is coherent. The shanty towns we see on the way to the countryside, where we might encounter that bucolic scene for ourselves, are unreal. They are outside the truth which art has procured for us, imbued us with. We will support the bulldozing of these makeshift dwellings, and we will resist critiques of the economic conditions that produced the caste of pariahs that inhabited them.
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So goes the flawed narrative that, today, more or less defines mass media.
Assertion is violence, positivity is repression, beauty is fascistic. To assert, to engage in positive statements, to construct a visually attractive image, are only legitimate as gestures against something (strong female characters must serve to deconstruct older patriarchal ones; the celebration of an African cultural form must be contrasted to European ones, etc.).
The psychology at play is one that fears the suspension of mental, problem-solving mechanisms in the wake of pacific, aesthetic absorption in beauty. Being identified with the psychic chatter of these mechanisms, the cessation of their constant oscillations is experienced by us as a sort of death. We fear stillness, and the epiphany of beauty is a powerful source of stillness.
Certainly, beauty and its counterfeits can be dangerous. There is such a thing as obsession, the idée fixe, the intrusive thought that parodies contemplation (taking forms like obsessive-compulsion, depression, anxiety, etc.). For this reason, entrancement or passive viewership in an audience were traditionally considered passions. For the artist’s part, he was expected to submit his work to moral, as well as formal, canons.
Therefore, we may say that,
1) just as obsession is a demonic inversion of actual, aesthetic admiration, so too,
2) a hyper-critical rejection of any aesthetic coherence inverts the kind of active contemplation that renders a work of art edifying.
Such hyper-criticality (finding its maximum expression in something like Theodore Adorno’s negative dialectics) recommends that art always draw our attention to its fissures, the fault lines that prove to us that the work is not a whole. A painting of a landscape may seem every bit the un-spoilt Eden, except a postmodern smacking of graffiti across the canvas reminds us that global warming and the gender wage gap are the fault of white supremacists.
Today, it is not atonal music composers and high-concept abstract paintings that saturate the public sphere. Criticality and negation are indeed endemic, but what Adorno called the “culture industry,” the cross-platform standardization of cultural goods, is today a highly decentralized miasma of content creators across platforms like YouTube:
Commentary channels reacting to other content, the majority of whose purveyors have had their on-camera personas hijacked by the online-egregore of ironic distance, with its thought-killing self-importance and incapacity to string two sentences together without resorting to snarky invective by way of punctuation.
Jump cuts, knowingly-raised eyebrows, half-baked arguments that are “just entertainment,” insecure cackles unsure as to whether they mean to provide a moment of self-satire or genuine mockery of the other, to highlight the stupidity of the subject matter addressed or the person whose content is being commented on. Even the best-natured fall prey to the addiction of criticism.
Negative dialectics for the masses, fully integrated by the culture industry, relies on the soul-parasitizing habit of snark and irony.
Conservatives and their fellow travelers need to make room in public discourse for a host of pressing topics that presently go more or less unremarked on, given the noisy churning mill of culture-war “red meat” issues.
They need to declare a war on micro-plastic, including investing state-resources in technologies to clean up the oceans; and on genetically-modified, multinational-company patented, artificially sterilized seeds, including fighting against those companies through international lawfare; and on estrogen-mimicking chemicals in the environment. All of this should start and end with building resilient communities, able to disengage from the ravishes of the international division of labor while participating in wider political institutions.
But among these acts of resistance, one of the easiest is the rejection of the mental habit of criticism and negativity, including its most prevalent form, our age’s ever-unbecoming recourse to snark, as well as, more generally, abstaining from the rapid-fire production and consumption of, mostly online, audiovisual ‘commentary.’
The mind needs time to heal, both from its addiction to snarky commentary and to daily, vacuous novelty. We won’t really be champions of anything like ‘tradition’ so long as we remain mired in these very postmodern poisons.
Carlos Perona Calvete is a writer for The European Conservative. He has a background in International Relations and Organizational Behavior, has worked in the field of European project management, and is currently awaiting publication of a book in which he explores the metaphysics of political representation.