Monday, July 10, 2017

Aquinas watches Glengarry Glen Ross

David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross is a thing of beauty.  This assertion is bound to shock some readers who have seen the movie (originally a stage play).  It is notoriously foul-mouthed.  The dialogue is in other ways idiosyncratic, characterized by unfamiliar slang and incomplete sentences (a Mamet trademark).  None of the characters is admirable; indeed, most of them are to some degree or other positively repulsive – ruthless, lying, manipulative, arrogant, weak, cruel, incompetent, thieving, vindictive, corrupt.  The irony is that the movie is beautiful in part because of these features, rather than despite them.  How can that be?

The answer has in part to do with the skill with which it is executed.  It is famously well-acted, every one of the performances being top notch.  It is also well-directed, conveying an atmosphere that is by turns claustrophobic, lush, or banal, as the scene requires, with the film’s score perfectly complementing the visuals.  (Into the bargain, it even includes a Donald Fagen composition.)

But it is Mamet’s script that is the key and the star of the picture.  Superficially, it’s a movie about business.  Really, though, it’s about manhood, or rather the aberrations thereof; and about the desperation to which men are led when they fail as men.  There are no women onscreen in the movie at all.  But for several of the characters, there is a woman lurking behind the scenes whose presence is more keenly felt for being only implicit – for one man, as a momentary object of desire; for another man, as someone he needs to protect and provide for; for a third man, as the one who really wears the trousers. 

The characters are extreme.  In real life, few salesmen are as cringe-makingly phony as Jack Lemmon’s Shelley Levene.  Few superiors are as breathtakingly abusive as Alec Baldwin’s Blake.  Few husbands are as pathetically whipped as Jonathan Pryce’s James Lingk.  Even in 2017, few men are quite as foul-mouthed as Al Pacino’s Ricky Roma. 

But the visual and literary arts work by means of such skillful caricatures.  They abstract simple general patterns from concrete reality, wherein they are mixed with various particular and complicating circumstances.  Then they take these patterns and re-embody them in a visual or verbal representation, so that we might consider them more closely and free of the messy, distracting subtleties of real life.  When done well, the result is an idealization conveyed via the illusion of realism.  Levene is like the Platonic Form of Sleazy Salesman, Blake is like the Form of Abusive Manager, and so forth.  But each is written and portrayed so skillfully that they seem like concrete human beings.  (To take one of the few sequences from the film devoid of bad language, consider the exchange between Levene and Larry Spannel.  Painful to watch, it conveys perfectly the dynamic between salesman and customer, even if real-world exchanges are rarely this awkward.)

Aquinas famously holds that “beautiful things are those which please when seen” (Summa Theologiae I.5.4).  The “seeing” in question is not primarily that done with the eye, but rather that done with the intellect.  And what the intellect sees and takes pleasure in are the integrity, proportion, and clarity of the thing perceived as beautiful (ST I.39.8).  Let’s walk Glengarry through these three criteria:

1. Integrity: What Aquinas has in mind here is the perfection or completion of a thing, such as the perfection a good specimen of some kind of animal exhibits or the completeness a fully developed specimen exhibits.  A horse is beautiful, but less so if it is missing a leg or some other part, or if it is still in its embryonic stage.

Now, as already noted, Glengarry’s characters are extreme, and one sense in which they are is that they exhibit in an especially full or complete way certain character traits, albeit negative ones.  Levene is the perfectly sleazy and insincere salesman, Blake the perfectly cruel manager, Lingk the perfectly weak man, and so forth.  Or at least, they are perfectly so to the extent consistent with being a realistic and therefore still believable instance of a salesman, manager, etc.  Part of what is aesthetically attractive about these characters, then, is that they enable us to consider and contemplate what it is to have these various character traits in their fullness.

(Naturally, I am using “perfection” here in an extended and analogical sense, since vicious character traits are of course in the strictest sense imperfections.  Blake, in his extreme abusiveness, is imperfect qua human being, but “perfect” qua thug.)

There is also a kind of “perfection,” in the sense of fullness or completeness, in the low state to which some of the characters are reduced.  The humiliation to which Kevin Spacey’s character John Williamson is reduced by Roma’s utterly crushing tirade is something like perfect humiliation.  The pretentious, convoluted, bold-as-brass farrago of BS by which Roma sucks Lingk into a real estate deal and tries to keep him there is perfect BS.  The helplessness, emasculation, and despair to which Levene is reduced by the end of the film is something like perfect misery.  (Again, in the extended sense of the term “perfect.”)

Consider also that the extreme obscenity and profanity the script is notorious for is largely confined to the “alpha males” or would-be alpha males.  The worst cases are Blake and Roma, who are precisely the two dominant men in the story.  Next are Levene, who was once top dog and is now past his prime; and Ed Harris’s Dave Moss, who would very much like to be top dog but can never seem to pull it off.  By contrast, the “beta males” of the story – Lingk and Alan Arkin’s George Aaronow – do little if any cussing at all; and the characters of intermediate status (such as Williamson) are also more or less intermediate in the amount of cussing they do.  The rough language is a mark of the “perfection” or completeness of the aggressiveness and swagger characteristic of distorted masculinity.  (Note the way Roma’s choice of words in his stinging rant against Williamson – “c**t,” “fairy,” “f**ing child,” etc. -- is intended precisely to strip the latter of his manhood.) 

No one would want to be a person of one of these kinds, or to be in the situations they find themselves in.  But we do want to understand them, and the perfection or completeness they represent helps us precisely to do that, which is one reason the film is aesthetically pleasing despite its unpleasant subject matter.

2. Proportion: By this criterion, what Aquinas has in mind is order, and in the context of a good story this would be manifest in the coherence and structure of its plot, the development of its characters, the quality of the dialogue, and so forth.

In Glengarry, we have several instances of such order.  We have a simple, unifying principle ordering the actions of the characters and driving the story – the imperative to make a big sale within a week, at any cost, or lose employment.  We have Levene’s character arc from desperation and near despair up to apparent triumph and elation and finally back down again to utter failure and total, unmitigated despair.  We have the symmetry of Roma and Aaranow, the top man and bottom man in the office respectively, ending up the only survivors of the sales competition.  We have the justice of Levene and Moss, who resort to crime in order to maintain their place in the company, facing swift retribution.  We have Lingk’s progression from a quietly insecure man to an utterly frightened, confused, and frantic man – from a deer in the headlights to a deer stuffed and mounted, as it were.  We have the banality of sales office life as represented at the beginning of the film rudely interrupted by Blake’s bracing challenge and the events that follow upon it, only to end the film with a return to banality.  We have Mamet’s perfectly crafted dialogue, in which every pause, stammer, and verbal tic is thought through and intended to be spoken by the actors exactly as written.

3. Clarity: As I’ve said, the movie abstracts from concrete reality certain general character types, purges from them the nuance and complexity in which we find these general patterns embedded in everyday life, and re-embodies them in extreme characters so that we might more carefully consider those types.  Just as we know more clearly what it is to be a triangle by abstracting from particular triangles (red ones, green ones, triangles drawn in ink, triangles drawn in chalk, etc.) and considering the general pattern, so too does the movie allow us to see more clearly what it is to be a desperate man, a cruel man, a weak man, a dishonest man, a broken man, and so on, by way of its skillful caricatures.

So, in its integrity, proportion, and clarity, Glengarry has the marks of a beautiful thing, despite its grim subject matter.  One need not admire and approve of Satan in order to admire and approve of Dante’s or Milton’s literary representations of Satan, and one need not admire or approve of the sorts of people represented in a film like Glengarry in order to admire and approve of the representation itself.

Examples of this sort of artistic beauty are interesting in themselves, and also because they help us more deeply to understand the nature of beauty.  In a sentimental culture like our own, the notion of beauty, like that of love, is often misunderstood.  Like love, beauty is often taken to be something schmaltzy, and certainly to be something that appeals primarily to the affective side of our nature.  But as with love, that is in fact not the case.  Love is primarily a matter of the will, even though it has, of course, an affective side.  And beauty is primarily a matter of the intellect, even though it too has an affective side. 

When the object of an artistic representation is itself beautiful – a beautiful woman, say, or a beautiful natural setting – it can seem that it is what the senses take in, rather than what the intellect grasps, that primarily accounts for the beauty of the representation.  But when the object of the representation is ugly, and yet we nevertheless judge the representation itself to be beautiful, the intellect’s essential role in the perception of beauty is more evident.  The intellect “sees past” the ugliness of the object of the representation and focuses instead on the virtues of the representation itself.

One way to understand kitsch is as art that leans too heavily on the sensory and affective aspects of a work of art and too little on the content that the intellect alone can grasp, and which is thus superficial.  And one way to understand modern art is as an overcompensation in the opposite direction.  The modern artist wants to avoid kitsch but often falls into the opposite error of making art an entirely theoretical exercise that can appeal only to the intellect and not at all to our senses or passions.  Hence the obsession with highly abstract modes of representation or with extremely ugly subject matter.  Art becomes meta-art (a phenomenon I have discussed here and here).

As this indicates, there are limits to the distance that can exist between the sensory and affective content of a work of art on the one hand, and its intellectual content on the other, if it is to be capable of real beauty.  To be sure, I am not claiming that there is a limit to the ugliness of the object of the representation – again, even a literary representation of Satan can be beautiful (as in Dante or Milton), despite Satan’s being maximally repulsive himself.  But there are nevertheless ways of representing what is ugly that are themselves so ugly that the representation cannot be beautiful.  This is what happens in works of art that reflect an essentially nihilistic or transgressive spirit.  The aim in such depraved art is not to convey truth or represent reality (as Glengarry does) but rather to “do dirt” on reality and “give the finger” to some hated truth.  But that is a subject worth a post of its own.

[Interested readers can find links to earlier posts on movies, art, and pop culture in general collected here.]


  1. The modern artist wants to avoid kitsch but often falls into the opposite error of making art an entirely theoretical exercise that can appeal only to the intellect and not at all to our senses or passions.

    I'd put works like most of Bartok or Shostakovich's string quartets in this category. But even some of Bach's fugal exercises fall into this type of art. I can admire this stuff, but it leaves me a bit cold.

    But there are degrees. The artists I've named certainly haven't gone fully over to the purely intellectual, even in the works I've cited.

    1. While some composers do overemphasize the intellectual aspects of music, I doubt Shostakovich and Bartok are among them, especially in their quartets. I'm more familiar with Bartok's though, and I can say that his quartets are emotionally powerful works. They definitely display intellectual brilliance, but what I love about them is how expressive (almost Romantic) they are.

  2. What about conceptual art proper?

    Duchamp's urinal works as a joke, but seeing the actual object is completely superfluous. You could just as well hear a story about an artist who enters a signed urinal into an art show, and the joke would work just as well.

    Incidentally, conceptual art proper only seems to work when it's funny. Exploding shit cans and such.

    1. C.S. Lewis made the same comment about The Trial by Kafka. He said reading the book didn't add anything to the concept when he'd simply heard about it. I read the book and I agree.

  3. Ah, so what this implies is that TV shows, movies and humor are a pleasure of the rational nature and not completely reducible to sensory pleasure.

    This means that the pleasure one gets of watching, say, a well-written children's cartoon is nevertheless of a higher level then eating something delicious or drinking something delightful.

    In other words, the pleasures associated with enjoying writing and performance, as well as good music and beautiful art, is higher than the sensory pleasures of sleeping, eating and drinking, and even sexual pleasure.

    Wait....does this mean that we will have comedy and writing in Heaven?!

  4. And as for modern art, I don't think the problem with it is is solely that it conceptualises everything beyond enjoyment, but rather that Postmodernism has poisoned everything and so the art is completely uninspiring and awful.

  5. I love these kinds of posts. Totally unexpected, but completely appreciated.

  6. Can fictional characters create real moral obligations on real people? If so, what is the mechanism of of this moral action?

    Example 1: Is it possible, and if so, is it permissible, to hate an evil fictional character? If it is not properly speaking possible to hate a fictional character, then is it permissible to, from a subjective standpoint, feel emotions and think thoughts about that character which, if directed toward a real human being, would constitute sinful hatred?

    Example 2: I have never met Donald Trump. What is the difference between my mental representation of Donald Trump, and a fictional character? If the difference is in whether the object of the representation exists in reality, then what about debatably historical figures, such as Beowulf or the Buddha?

    Example 3: To cultivate whatever makes it easier for you to behave in a morally good way, seems obligatory in a general sense. Suppose you read of an inspiring story of heroism in the news. Since it is "inspiring", you find it easier to be morally good as a result of thinking about that story. Now part of what makes such a story inspiring is that you believe it to have really happened in reality. Suppose some evidence later comes out that the story was fake news, somehow staged or fluffed up in editing or otherwise of questionable veracity. Would you still feel that the story was inspirational for you? More to the point, would you be morally justified in ignoring or discounting the evidence of its falsehood in order to maintain the story's positive inspirational quality for you personally? If not, then how can fiction ever be inspirational? If so, then how can believing a lie be morally good for you?

    Modern, spoiled internet kids NEED questions like these answered.

  7. I'd put works like most of Bartok or Shostakovich's string quartets in this category.

    Right: Any 'composer' who went atonal must fall in that category. Double for those who also shied away from rhythm: without either rhythmic or melodic content, you simply DON'T HAVE MUSIC. You have sound. The best thing to do with these pieces is to mock them for the crap that they are. If only we could burn music like you can burn a book. I don't suppose burning a musician is OK, is it?

    1. Many atonal works *do* have melody and rhythm, and besides, there's no reason to think music requires melody and rhythm. You may *prefer* music with melody and rhythm, but that's a different issue. Also, many atonal works are deeply moving, and are as emotional profound, if not more so, than many tonal works. I say this based on my listening experience as a classical musician immersed in modern music, as well as on the listening experience of many other musicians. We live and perform this music, so it seems reasonable that our listening experience counts for far more than the listening experience of those with barely any engagement with this music.

      I'm not saying all atonal works are great. I can't stand many of them. But there's no good reason to say "The best thing to do with these pieces is to mock them for the crap that they are."

      It's completely fine if you don't like the music-it isn't for everyone, and it's difficult to understand-but disparaging atonal music based on your preferences seems as unreasonable as saying "I hate sushi. The best thing to do with sushi is to mock it for the crap that it is."

    2. there's no reason to think music requires melody and rhythm.

      Anon, my best response to this is the comment made by one of my professor's young sons when he went with his dad to a concert that had (along with Brahms and Bach, a piece by Fred Lerdahl. About 6 or 7 minutes into the piece: "Dad, when are the musicians going to stop tuning up their instruments and play the music?" It wasn't even recognizable as music.

      I ask you, on what foundation and standard do you know when something is music and when it isn't? And, if you can say of some of these pieces "I'm not saying all atonal works are great", on what standard can you measure them that says "they are not great" that is different from "I can't stand them"?

      Why wouldn't the composers of the pieces you are saying "aren't great" merely respond to you that the mere fact that you don't like them is no different from your not liking sushi, or for that matter sushi that's been dropped in dog poop. For the people who really appreciate that kind of thing, maybe they ARE great.

    3. It's doubtful that the musical intuitions of a young child should be taken seriously here, anymore than the intuitions of someone ignorant of gamelan music should be taken seriously in discussions of what good gamelan music is. The fact that the child couldn't recognize the work as music just shows that the child lacks the requisite musical literacy.

      There's no settled definition of what music is--which is fine, since we have no settled definition of many other things, such as art, philosophy, meaning, etc. and yet we're able to easily identify instances of these things. Nevertheless, the definition I find most plausible is Kania's in his chapter on defining music from the Routledge Companion to Music and Philosophy: "Music is (1) any event intentionally produced or organized (2) to be heard, and (3) either (a) to have some basic musical feature, such as pitch or rhythm, or (b) to be listened to for such features."

      Given this definition, atonal works count as music. If there's a better definition of music, I'd love to see it.

      How to properly evaluate a musical work is a complicated story, but I think three things are crucial: (i) the test of time, (ii) the consensus of experts, and (iii) personal study of the work. (i) and (ii) should be easy to understand.

      By (iii), I mean that one should repeatedly listen to the work with an open, active mind, listening as sympathetically to the music as one can. Classical musicians often play the music over and over in their head too, trying to understand a phrase or section better. One should also listen to different recordings, since some performances reveal aspects of a work that others don't. Over time, one starts to gain a better sense of the strengths and weaknesses of a work.

      If a piece stands the test of time, is praised by the critical consensus, and is proven to be great based on personal study, then this is strong (but defeasible!) evidence that the work is great.

      Of course, maybe there are better ways of evaluating musical works, but this is what I've come up with based on thinking about, studying, and performing music for many years. I'm curious to know how you evaluate musical works.

    4. "Music is (1) any event intentionally produced or organized (2) to be heard, and (3) either (a) to have some basic musical feature, such as pitch or rhythm, or (b) to be listened to for such features."

      This definition seems to define music as that which is produced in such a way that it is musical (i.e., it has musical features or is listened to for musical features). Given what Kania counts as a 'musical feature', it also has the somewhat odd feature of classifying all spoken Chinese and deliberate long pauses as music. This is somewhat reflected in your own response here, which is that you can recognize something as music when you have the requisite capability to recognize its being the kind of music it is, which is all musical literacy is.

      The particular troubles that arise in defining 'music' seem to me to suggest very strongly that there is no single thing that is being defined in such attempts -- a conclusion that also seems increasingly likely when one looks at attempts at taxonomy of music. There has certainly always been a distinction between music as a liberal art and music as a fine art; Kania's definition would be fine for the former, but it is deliberately based on not considering the things required for the latter. Thus there seems to be an endless danger of equivocation here.

    5. Anon, with that definition, I am sure you and I will never agree, and I won't attempt to persuade you. We just think differently about the matter, and that's all there is to it. Nevertheless, I will point out a couple things.

      It's doubtful that the musical intuitions of a young child should be taken seriously here,

      The young child in question could recognize and appreciate music as diverse as rock, jazz, standard folk music of several countries, madrigals, gregorian chant, and Bach. I suggest, rather, that the untrammelled, undamaged, unwarped sensibilities of someone like this is precisely valuable as to identifying whether a performance counts as "music". The meaning of common, everyday, ordinary non-technical words is something that should be easily accessible to children with half an education. (Note: I did not say, the "definition", which is often very difficult. Every 5-year old knows what the meaning of "dog" or "house" is. Few could define them well.) It's one thing to use technical knowledge to develop a definition that no common child could have arrived at. It's quite another thing to use technical channeling to create a completely different meaning for the term, such that "instances" that no child would agree "counts" as music falls under the new technical definition. That's just changing the subject. Sorry, I don't have to buy it. (This applies to lots of topics other than music.)

      and yet we're able to easily identify instances of these things.

      If 95% of the population would agree with me - without any difficulty or hemming and hawing - that "no, that's not an instance of music" whereas 4% who are "musically trained" would say "yes, it is" (and the other 1%, who are musically trained can't decide), does that count as "easily identified" or not? I think it does, and it fails: the word had a meaning long before the experimental crap of the last 130 years came in, and THAT meaning, which 95% of us share, governs, not a new sphere that a small minority wants to call "music" because it shares some features. Either that, or just plain admit that you have created a special term for a special sub-population, which just happens to have the same sound as the common English word "music" has, but is just a different term.

      Regarding your definition, I am minded to suggest instances (as Brandon hinted at) such as consist of a single teeny tiny sound (think, a spoon scraped on gravel, lightly, followed by 36 hours of ...silent 'development'... and then the sound of 3 butterflies wafting away). That someone can say of it "I intend for you to listen" doesn't mean it's music. (and of course it has pitch...all sound has pitch).

    6. Brandon -

      I'm inclined to count deliberate long pauses as music--Cage's 4'33'' for example. Good point about Chinese speech though. This is partly why I think the definition should include some reference to previous musical practices, similar to how Dickie has tried define art in general in institutional terms. I'm not completely sure of this though.

      I also partly suspect there's no single thing that is "music", or if there is, the concept has vague boundaries, but if this is the case, then prima facie it's easier to claim that atonal works are music.

    7. Tony -

      Based on your latest reply, I realize we may have different things in mind with the term "atonal". Among classical musicians, "atonal" is distinct from "experimental" or "avante-garde." Webern is an atonal composer, but Cage isn't. It seems you use "atonal" more generally, such that it includes even experimental and avante-garde works. Your usage is fine, given the term's etymology, but I think it matters for the discussion whether the music of Webern or Cage in mind here.

      Why? Because if you're disputing that something like Cage's Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (for 12 radios) is music, I'd actually be inclined to agree with you. I think a work like that counts more like sound art than music. But if you have in mind something like Webern's Variations for Piano, then it seems obvious to me that this piano work is music.

      I'd also agree with you that almost everyone would think Cage's Imaginary Landscapes don't count as music. But I disagree that most people would think the same about the music of Webern. (One can easily imagine Webern's music as the soundtrack to a horror movie and a kid complaining about the movie's "scary music"--my younger sister would be an example of this.)

      So I think it would be helpful to describe exactly what kind of works you have in mind that you dispute as being music. Perhaps we don't disagree so much about this after all.

    8. Tony -

      I just reread your comment, and I wonder if this:

      "think, a spoon scraped on gravel, lightly, followed by 36 hours of ...silent 'development'... and then the sound of 3 butterflies wafting away"

      is paradigmatic of what you have in mind when you use the term "atonal". If so, then I don't think we really disagree, we're just equivocating on "atonal."

      (I did say in my reply to Brandon above that I'm inclined to take something like 4'33" as music, but my intuition here isn't very strong. It might be because I've heard pieces with long pauses that strike me as musically significant, and I somehow hear 4'33" in a similar way.)

    9. and I wonder if paradigmatic of what you have in mind when you use the term "atonal".

      No, no, of course not.

      You can let it stand that I think of Fred Lerdahl for "atonal 'music' ". Indistinguishable from e.g. the period before the symphony when each musician is tuning his instrument, without regard to the rest.

      But what I described fits the definition you offered. As far as I can tell those who think the far reaches of atonal 'music' qualifies as music have no standard upon which to stand to reject my offered example.

    10. But let me ask you something: when you listen to 4'33", can you tell the difference (without watching a clock) if the musician actually plays it at 4'23"? If not, then is the auditory event real music? Can it be an auditory event if there is no auditory event? Can you hear the difference between Cage playing the piece and another musician's rendition? Can you hear the difference if some musician plays it on a harp, or xylophone? Does person listening hear the music if Cage plays it in front of a person whose auditory nerves were just paralyzed, but he did not know it?

    11. Listening to Lerdahl's work on Youtube, his music sounds very distinct from orchestral tuning. There's structure, for one thing. And his music sounds quite expressive--it's not for nothing that atonal music is sometimes known as expressionism.

      Your example counts as music under Kania's definition. I think one could call it music, but I would call it conceptual art or sound art. The concept of music might overlap to some extent with the concept of conceptual art or sound art.

      Why do people need a standard upon which to reject your example? If by standard, you mean a definition or something like it, I'd reply that we don't need a definition to identify or reject putative instances of a given concept.

      One doesn't need a definition to recognize that your example is a difficult case, or to even reject your example as music.

      The same doesn't apply to most atonal works however. As I said with the horror movie example, one can imagine cases where even children call atonal music "music". I've also performed atonal music for children before, and they seemed to have no problem calling the music "music"--though whether they liked the music or not is another question. The same applies to adults--adults might walk out of an atonal music concert hating the music, but they do think it's music. If atonal music is playing on a radio, a natural question people ask is: "What kind of music is this?" And so on. (The kind of atonal music I have in this paragraph is music that sounds like Lerdahl's, not the example you described.)

    12. To be fair, I have heard people say atonal music isn't music, but this is just another way of saying they don't like the music. I've also encountered people who would say pop music isn't music, but noise, but again, this just means they don't like the music. It isn't meant to be a metaphysical statement, as it were. (It's similar to how we say some geniuses aren't human--we obviously don't mean these geniuses aren't Homo Sapiens.)

      To answer your questions about 4'33"--I doubt I could differentiate between it and 4'23", but that doesn't imply that 4'33" isn't music. If two pieces differ by a single fleeting pitch so that we couldn't differentiate between them, that doesn't imply either piece isn't music. 4'33" does have auditory events--namely, whatever ambient sounds occur during its performance. Given these ambient sounds, one could in principle differentiate between two performances of 4'33", and different "instrumentations" of the work. I think a deaf person can't hear 4'33", anymore than closing my eyes allows me to see a huge black painting, but I'm not certain of this.

      But let's suppose that we both agree that 4'33" is not music. What follows? Does it follow that other pieces--those by Webern, Stravinsky, Bartok, Ligeti, Stockhausen, etc.-- are not music? Of course not. Moreover, suppose 4'33" isn't music, but conceptual art--does it follow that it's bad conceptual art? This doesn't follow either. And even if 4'33" is bad conceptual art, does it follow that other sound-based conceptual art works are bad instances of conceptual art? Not necessarily.

    13. If we suppose (for the sake of the argument) that 'conceptual art' is, and is even a kind of a good, one could easily argue that an instance of it is a good instance of conceptual art and a very bad instance of music. My plate of spaghetti is a good instance of culinary art and "a very bad 'instance' of music"; but properly this is because it isn't an instance of music at all, not because it is an instance of very bad music. It would be, then, a category mistake to try to shoehorn 4'33" as rating "poor" on the scale of music, when it isn't music and shouldn't be rated on the scale at all.

      It is, of course, difficult around the edges of any category. I could go so far as to admit that Lerdahl's compositions (at least, the one I heard, I refuse to go get more), qualifies as an instance of "music", but only at the expense of saying that it is also very bad music. And there is necessarily (because music is a man-made artifact, not a natural living organism), a difficulty in distinguishing between what is IN the category but a very bad instantiation, and what doesn't even qualify for the category. Lerdahl only qualifies for the category because it is composed of the material elements of which music is composed - like what is scraped up by a bulldozer after a car crash is a "car". Yes, it was a car, and it has the same material elements of a car, but it has none of the arrangement that would allow it to move even an inch under own power, and it would require almost complete re-ordering in order to make it a moving car. It is in that sense that the Lerdahl piece is music. That the composer wished for its elements to comprise good music, no more makes it good music than that the car owner wishes his totalled car comprise a good car. One can suppose, however, that the car owner revise his wish, and now decide that he wants the car-part collection now to comprise a very good instance of "totalled car" - a different category. Likewise, what one should say of the Lerdahl piece is that it comprises a very good instance of "totalled music", a different category.

      I submit, for the sake of others here, that Lerdahl and the like is actually damaging to the musician: he must deform his sense of the good (i.e. the due order in music) in order to learn to play it. If (as Plato said) listening to bad music can deform the soul, certainly Lerdahl pieces do so.

    14. 4'33" does have auditory events--namely, whatever ambient sounds occur during its performance.

      Just for fun (since 4'33" is obviously a joke): "Whatever ambient sounds" cannot be sounds of the piece, because each and every one of them, and indeed all of them, from one event, might not be present in another "playing" of the piece. It makes no sense at all to say that they could be the "same" piece although the overlap of sounds heard is completely non-existent. Furthermore, one could construct a scenario in which there are NO other sounds (let's keep it simple and easy: no other sounds within the range of human perception). That one rendition of the event "has" sounds but another doesn't means that the sounds present in the first are not sounds OF the piece. (We don't call a cough by an audience member during what happens during the NY Phil's performance on June 1 of Mahler's 1st a sound of Mahler's 1st, when Mahler didn't specify it in any way. So how can it be part of Cage's piece when he didn't specify it in any way either?)

      one could in principle differentiate between ... and different "instrumentations" of the work.

      Not if the musician didn't make any audible noise with the instrument. If he had a soft cloth to cushion setting it down, etc. Imagine that this is a movement of the symphone: which instrument is being not-played? And a blind person could not tell which instrument is being not-played even if the musician kept picking up his violin or trumpet and putting it back at his waist. One blind person might walk away thinking that he "heard" a performance on a clarinet, while another was sure what he "heard" was a violin performance. And it wouldn't matter - which means it IS NOT on either (or any) instrument.

      I think a deaf person can't hear 4'33", anymore than closing my eyes allows me to see a huge black painting, but I'm not certain of this.

      That's why I wanted someone who has hearing, but is unaware he has been temporarily deafened. This person can imagine the sounds of the piano just fine. Was his experience of the event that of the performance, or did he fail to experience the performance? (Assume he was in the scenario where we have ensured no other audible sounds are made). Why would his inability to hear make his experience of the event different from someone who could hear, but heard nothing?

    15. "(since 4'33" is obviously a joke)"

      Now, that's a whole theme inside a parenthesis: bad jokes that get taken as making a serious point.

    16. Tony -

      We seem to be focusing most of our discussion on 4'33". While the work is interesting to discuss, we should remember that it doesn't represent the vast majority of atonal works (atonal in a broad sense). It doesn't represent the expressionistic works of the Second Viennese School, the folk-inflected works of Bartok and early Ligeti, the sacred works of late Stravinsky, the mystical works of Messiaen, the lush, neo-Romantic works of Henze, the refined, exotic works of Boulez, the hyper-sensual works of Takemitsu, the playful, stylish works of Furrer, the intense, spare works of Feldman, and so many other atonal composers. So if you want to argue that atonal music isn't music, you'll need to do more than criticize 4'33". 4'33" itself isn't even representative of Cage's other works, some of which of purely tonal, melodic, and quite haunting! (Check out his In A Landscape--many who only know Cage through 4'33" are surprised when they hear this dreamy work!)

      Back to 4'33" though - I used to think it was a joke too. But while it does have that aspect to it, the work has other meanings. Composer and musicologist Kyle Gann writes: "It’s always all right to not be impressed by some work of art that doesn’t appeal to you. What you can’t be dismissive of, I think, are Zen, and anti-corporate protest, and meditation, and the place of silent prayer in religion, and the human benefit of occasionally shutting up and listening. All that’s important is to recognize that 4’33” was written as some intended and deeply felt response to all those things."

      I don't see why the same ambient noises have to be the same every performance. Some works are different every performance--e.g. jazz and works in mobile form.

      I should have been clearer about my point regarding different instrumentations. Suppose there are two performances of 4'33", one for piano, the other for marimba. Since these performance will have different ambient sounds, the two performances will be aurally distinguishable. You might reply "But you can't tell which instrumentation is being used." That's true, but irrelevant--4'33" isn't about the sounds instruments make.

      I think the temporarily deaf man failed to experience the performance, because he wasn't hearing the silence around him, anymore than a blind person in a dark room can see the darkness around him. But my intuitions here aren't firm.

    17. Lerdahl's music also doesn't represent all atonal music. I also don't see why his music is difficult to categorize as music.

      For example, listen to opening of his 1st string quartet. There's a clear opening phrase, beginning with repetitions of an open harmony, and ending with a chromatic two-note gesture. The following phrases develop this contrast between the open harmony and the chromatic gesture, with the chromaticism slowly outnumbering the open harmonies.

      In this opening, there's a clear development of ideas. It's not as if Lerdahl randomly picked notes. The rhythms are also carefully chosen, so as to pace this progression in a slow, deliberate way, allowing the listener to easily follow the development of the music.

      On an expressive level, it's hard to describe what the quartet's opening expresses--but the same could be said about many tonal works. But if I were to attempt to describe it, I'd say the music expresses intense stillness and hesitation, with a feeling of doubt or unease slowly building up through several phrases.

      In a sense, Lerdahl's quartet is actually quite conservative. It seems to hold on to classic ideals like coherence, development, expression, etc. The only difference is its manifests these ideals in an atonal language.

      If you don't hear this conservatism, you need to listen to more atonal music. Works in moment form, for example, reject the ideals of coherence and development--roughly, each moment exists unrelated to others. Aleatoric music rejects ideas about expression--sound is to be heard as pure sound.

    18. How to properly evaluate a musical work is a complicated story, but I think three things are crucial: (i) the test of time, (ii) the consensus of experts, and (iii) personal study of the work. (i) and (ii) should be easy to understand.

      Leaving iii out of it, i and ii are problematic. 20th C classical music of the "advanced" sort (I'm not particularly interested in whether you call it "atonal" or not) seems to get high grades on ii, but fails i.

      The fact is clear that the majority of the classical audience has never accepted it, but the experts largely do. A few years ago I was listening to NPR. When the host announced the next piece was by Schoenberg, he was very quick to say "Don't go away, this isn't what you expect." Note that this is not the man-on-the-street he was addressing, but those who seek out classical music.

      Now, the standard response to this is to cite things said, at the time, about, say, Beethoven or Wagner. The trouble with that is that virtually no one was saying that about Beethoven in Schoenberg's day. But it's been over a century, and the audience (presumably analogous to most of those for whom Beethoven wrote) hasn't accepted it.

      Surely this is a problem. (Note, I am not saying this is true of all 20th C classical music, some of which is quite popular.)

    19. George -

      Not all "advanced" 20th-century music fails the test of time--e.g. Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire, Boulez's Marteau sans Maitre, Berg's Violin Concerto, Feldman's Rothko Chapel, Bartok's String Quartets, Webern's Pieces for Orchestra, Ligeti's Atmospheres, etc. have attained canonical or at least semi-canonical status.

      It's true that many classical music lovers don't like this kind of music, but I submit that it's largely because they're not used to it and they haven't learned to listen to it openly. If all one listens to is tonal music, then of course one will be at a loss when it comes to atonal music--this also applies to many classical musicians. One doesn't know what to listen for and how to emotionally connect with the music.

      But another reason classical audiences don't like modern music is because of ingrained assumptions about what music should be like--music should have a singable melody, should have a regular beat, should be emotionally direct, should be relaxing, etc. In a sense, one has to listen like a child who listens to music for the first time.

      I say this based on experience. I remember stumbling upon Webern's atonal music when I was a child and being completely enthralled by it. I felt like an adventurer on an unknown planet. The sounds were unlike anything I ever heard before, it was like seeing a new color, or tasting a new flavor. But it wasn't just sheer novelty that attracted me to it though--it was the music's mysterious and emotional landscape that drew me in, and still draws me in many years later.

      I don't enjoy atonal music because I perversely enjoy weirdness for weirdness's sake. I enjoy this music for the same reason I enjoy Beethoven or Mahler--because of the emotions it evokes. Talking to other classical musicians, I know this reason for enjoying atonal music isn't uncommon.

      My point is to give some idea of how people can enjoy atonal music, and to correct any misconceptions about people's enjoyment of this music (such as "They enjoy it because it's non-emotional and purely intellectual" or "They enjoy it because they enjoy ugliness" etc.)

      (It's also interesting to note here that Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire was actually quite popular for a time. Music historian Richard Taruskin writes: "Audiences found [Pierrot Lunaire] titillating, and after a remarkable initial Berlin 'run' to full houses, Schoenberg found himself with a relatively lucrative roadshow on his hands. He and Frau Zehme toured the piece for more than a decade.")

  8. I'd be interested in a post on movie representations of Satan and how they fare--Angel Heart, The Witch, The Devil's Advocate, etc.

  9. This article will help me better understand the stories of Flannery O'Connor; thanks! Also, I suppose the prime example of a beautiful depiction of an evil event would be the Crucifix.

  10. Gary, Flannery O'Connor is just who I was thinking of, too! You hit the nail on the head.

    Except that I can't stand her stories. The grit is too real, the slime and the disgustingness, the horrid people doing horrid things: unlike with the movie, I don't find myself far enough away from the stage to not get a strong breath of the putrescence, to not get sprayed by the slime. Visual art requires the viewer to sit the "right distance" away. Too close, and you see details that the artist didn't intend; too far and you miss details that you were supposed to see. Well with O'Connor, I find that the author makes me sit right up close to the art, practically inside it, and it's just too dang close to ugly to bear with, even for "art".

    That's me. YMMV.

    1. I have a friend who wants carved on her tombstone, "She would have been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life."

    2. I absolutely can't agree with you about O'Connor. Good Country People is one of the funniest stories I've ever read, and it contains satire worthy of Swift or Voltaire. Hazel Motes from Wise Blood is one of the most compelling characters I've run across. Of course maybe having been born and raised in the South, where I still live, I can somewhat more easily identify with her work than Yankees can.

  11. Please never write a book called Aquinas Goes to the Movies.

    I mean, a book of movie crticism from a Thomist perspective would be great, but the title format is now horribly hackneyed.

  12. You mean it's a beautiful portrayal of ugliness like a gargoyle on a Gothic cathedral.

    If the film glorifies vulgarity I don't think it can be called beautiful Thomistically, because then it would lack a certain integrity (moral integrity).

    I don't think Plato could endorse the film at all because he was extremely sensitive to the didactic purpose of art and he would fear that the audience would delight in the obscenity for its own sake.

    1. I don't think it glorifies vulgarity at all, any more than it glorifies abusiveness or manipulativeness or any of the other vices it illustrates in an extreme way. Nor do I think most viewers take it to glorify vulgarity, otherwise they wouldn't routinely make a point of noting in a "brace yourself" way how over-the-top it is. As I say in the post, it is precisely part of Mamet's method of vividly representing aggressive and boorish "alpha male" type behavior.

      Mamet sometimes does this in his work, but not always. For example, I think there is little if any vulgarity in The Spanish Prisoner. Whether one approves of it or not, it is a calculated representational device on his part rather than something he puts in simply for the sake of being foul-mouthed.

    2. I am curious as to how such movies fit with the application of the principle of the integral good, which I'm not sure how to argue against. So it goes, if a movie involves a sin that one can't simulate but that the actor actually has to perform - blasphemy, vulgarity, fondling a non-spouse, etc. (as opposed to, say, "violence" that doesn't involve any real-life sin) - then the movie is morally bad, period, and knowing this and consenting to watch/purchase/etc. is sinful.

      It's extreme in practice. I mean, "A Man for All Seasons" has one curse word in it that I noticed, plus a few immodest necklines. According to this principle, it's unwatchable by all. I'm not convinced but I'm bothered by my inability to make a counterargument.

    3. I have to say that I see what Jack is saying, and what the Prof is saying, and Mrs. D:

      If the film glorifies vulgarity I don't think it can be called beautiful

      Whether one approves of it or not, it is a calculated representational device on his part rather than something he puts in simply for the sake of being foul-mouthed.

      So it goes, if a movie involves a sin that one can't simulate but that the actor actually has to perform - blasphemy, vulgarity, fondling a non-spouse, etc. (as opposed to, say, "violence" that doesn't involve any real-life sin) - then the movie is morally bad, period,

      I am torn between agreeing that it's OK to put in something like blasphemy "for a purpose", and saying that putting it in vitiates that other purpose.

      One thing, though, for Mrs. D: At least for words spoken, there is a fundamental difference between saying them for a play / movie and otherwise. When you say them, you are not speaking your own mind, and your words are not intended by you to be taken by anyone else as representing your own mind. Otherwise, one could not put on a play in which the man and woman spoke wedding vows (unless they wanted to get married), nor could a character tell a lie. It's OK to represent a character doing evil by what he says.

      My intuition suggests that you can, for art, use a certain amount of evil, ugly, etc, "for a purpose", but there are due limits on both how you can present it and how much you can use without it becoming bad art. I am just not sure that we have identified enough to steer clear of the "how" and "too much", nor is the Prof's Thomistic "integrity, proportion, and clarity" sufficient. Yes, good art has to have these, but that's not enough. A film work that devotes most of its scenery to human poop in its various forms "for a purpose" is going to be disgusting, and it really doesn't matter what purpose the director chose. Just having a purpose can't justify that level of ugly.

      So much the more so for some other things, like human torture: even granting that it is sham torture (of course), a little goes a long way, and a lot of use of this in a film would be a bad idea regardless of how well it fulfilled its purpose. Perhaps it is that having a purpose for which the "too much" (ugly or evil) is "fitting" to the purpose means that it is a bad purpose.

      I am reminded of saints who denied that we ought to even speak clearly of some evils - even saying what they are clearly defiles the mind. There are "sins of which we do not speak". I don't want to be excessively strait here, but surely there is a way of being too frank, too forthright, too blunt, too CLEAR, in the case of evil. For some things, it is enough to know that there is a category of the evil, one does not need to dwell on the details and roll them around in the mind (and heart), for this sullies our sensibilities.

    4. Agreed, definitely there is a big difference between speaking in performance vs. what is said in real life. This makes tons of things perfectly OK for actors to say that would not be right in real life. You put it well; actors may "represent" evil without necessarily doing evil.

      But is that an absolute license? For the misuse of the Lord's name, for instance - it's being misused, objectively, regardless of whether the actor personally feels a certain way about the Lord's name. Speaking a curse is speaking a curse, even if the actor doesn't harbor actual hatred. That's where my dilemma comes in.

    5. Mrs. D, by your strictures, no art could ever portray blasphemous, vulgar, etc. people. That can't be right.

    6. 1. Tony, the question you raise ("surely there is a way of being too frank" etc) is interesting. To my mind, part of the answer surely lies in
      (a) whether it's likely to arouse new temptations in the viewer, or displays (presumably without glorifying) those he's already familiar with.
      (b) whether its effect is more likely to arouse disgust at the sin portrayed. WWII prison camp movies would be examples of this.

      1. Of course, the question of "likeliness" is itself very debatable. I wonder how much of the reaction is itself culturally determined. Watch Bridge Over the River Kwai or Stalag 17 and you'll see how much more graphic later films have become.

      3. Mentioning culture, I hate to sound like a pomo SJW, but when it comes to decency of attire, that really is a factor. I was a kid when Annette's bikini rocked the world; today it's rather modest. But even then, people distinguished. When Zulu came out in 1964, the public recognized that Zulu women would have been topless, and could adjust their reactions. The same year Marnie came out; the wedding night scene shows just how far you could then go in a modern, western context. (DeMille made a career partly out of recognizing that, if you put it in an ancient context, the actresses could wear a lot less.)

      4. Isn't Chaucer problematic under most of the comments, other than Ed's? Actually, it might even push the line Ed draws. While "glorify" is too strong, surely the cleverness of the clerks is held up for a kind of admiration (akin, I think, to The Sting, The Flim-Flam Man, and many episodes of Rockford and Maverick.)

    7. @Gene, exactly, it doesn't seem right. But does our intuition overturn the principle of the integral good? How?

    8. And technically one could probably portray such people, just with great circumspection, getting the point across by implication instead of explicit portrayal. For instance, it's not hard to get the point across that, say, fornication occurred without having actors grinding up against one another or disrobing - they can be walking into a bedroom or whatever and cut to the next scene. You can write dialogue that gets the point across that such-and-such is foul-mouthed without the actor actually having to curse. Etc.

    9. Hello Mrs. D,

      The reason cinematic portrayals of fornication are morally problematic is not because of anything fancy like this "principle of the integral good" you keep referring to. The problem is just the simple and obvious one that the viewer might find himself tempted to sin (such as deliberately entertaining sexual fantasies about someone other than one's spouse). Now, depending on how susceptible one is to such temptations, the remedy varies. If the scene is mild and one isn't easily tempted, there's no problem in the first place. If one has a special problem with such temptations and/or the scene is more graphic, then hit the fast forward button. (When I was a kid in the movie theater with my parents, my dad would say "Shut your eyes.") And if someone's got a really serious problem with this sort of temptation, then maybe in that case he just shouldn't watch a movie that has a significant amount of that kind of stuff in it.

      It's pretty simple. There's no need for this general panic about watching movies and TV, etc.

      Even less so is there a problem with bad language and the like. If you really think you're going to be tempted to start swearing like a sailor yourself if you watch a movie like Glengarry, then don't watch it. But for most people this isn't an issue.

    10. The issue is that an actor really is violating, say, the second commandment - as opposed to merely presenting an occasion for another's sin, which would merit only the caution you describe. So some argue that willfully watching such a performance makes one complicit in the grave sin of dishonoring the Lord's name.

      It seems that, for instance, buying a movie that includes violation of the second commandment is mediate material cooperation with evil. Surely this would be remote cooperation and, as you point out, can avoid issues of scandal under proper conditions. But there doesn't seem to be anything proportionately serious about enjoying a movie that would justify that cooperation.

      So I feel like I'm missing something, but I can't tell what. I mean, I used to roll my eye at many Catholic teachings because they felt absurdly strict, but that was my problem and not because they actually were absurd at all.

    11. CCC 1749-1761 implicitly concerns the principle of the integral good, that *all* constitutive elements of a human act must be good in order for the act to be morally good, and paragraph 1754 in particular points out that "Circumstances of themselves cannot change the moral quality of acts themselves; they can make neither good nor right an action that is in itself evil."

    12. Mrs. D, your premises are false. First, by uttering words like the ones in question, an actor is not necessarily profaning God's name, any more than he is really insulting anyone if he utters the line "You're an idiot" to another actor. In both cases he is merely representing profanity or insult rather than actually engaging in it.

      Second, even if he were really engaging in it, it wouldn't follow that it is wrong to watch such a movie. If I watch footage of JFK being assassinated or of Jack Ruby shooting Oswald, I am in no way cooperating in these murders. and that would not change even if Oswald or Ruby had arranged to have the footage made. The same is the case with a movie that contains profanity, even if the profanity is real (which, as I have said, in fact it is not -- it is merely the representation of profanity rather than actual profanity in the strict sense).

      By your criteria, Christ Himself was carrying out a less than integrally good act when he said "Whoever says 'You fool' will be in danger of hellfire," because he was thereby simulating the expression of verbal contempt for someone. Obviously, that's ridiculous.

    13. I should add that it is a not correct to insinuate that the Church herself somehow teaches or implies these "absurdly strict" rules we're discussing here. She does no such thing. What some priest said in an audio lecture somewhere, what some guy said in a combox somewhere, etc. -- which I find are the usual sources of claims to the effect that "the Church teaches" such-an-such an absurdly rigorist moral principle -- are not necessarily to be identified with the actual teaching of the Church.

  13. CAPVT I: Quod cafeum sit claudendibus.

  14. I have never seen this movie but suspect its just of a kind I hate.
    First being foul mouthed is not only not nereded in a Christian civilization but proof of this Mamet's incompetence in writing. anybody gcan get a buzz from cussing etc. its a cheat.
    These movies are the reson movies/stories are so terrible these days when they should, on a curve, be better then the old days. more people, more opportunity, smarter(not Mamet) and lots of reasons. its why, i hear, the demographics for watching movies is not skewed to very young ages. Adults/thinking adults have no pleasure in modern movies. Except the action ones , cartoon or not cartoon,.

    I don't agree beauty is this vague thing.
    There is no beauty in Gods creation.
    There is only accuracy in symmetry.
    its just that being rare, on a curvem humans invent it as a special category.
    Beautiful women are not beautiful but accurate. The rest/ageing takes from this accuracy.
    Beauty is a human prejudice based on seeing the average as normal.
    Its not. this movie is average but really below average based on a norm or expectation.

    1. There is no beauty in Gods creation....Beauty is a human prejudice based on seeing the average as normal.

      I have no idea what this could even mean as a real claim. No sunset is beautiful? No oak grove is beautiful? No woman is... huh? Of course humans are pre-set to prefer some things more than others. To refer to this as "prejudice" as if it were a bad thing is silly. Being pre-set to prefer pleasure over pain is not a "prejudice". Being pre-set to prefer whole over maimed is not prejudiced. Being pre-set to prefer healthy over unhealthy, to prefer able over disabled, to prefer smart over stupid - these are not irrational preferences. Nor is the preference for beauty.

  15. Integrity, proportion and clarity - these are plausible criteria for beauty. But there are artistic traditions which deliberately go against these ideals and yet achieve extraordinary beauty.

    Certain Japanese aesthetic ideals in painting, ceramics, or calligraphy, deliberately avoid too perfect shapes, or too much clarity and strive for precisely the opposite: some small, but not jarring irregularity, and suggestiveness rather than clarity. Think of the difference between a formal French garden in the geometrical style and a Japanese garden. (The third criteria, proportion remains important though.) I think no one would say that a classics Japanese landscape in ink is not beautiful, although it deliberately avoids both perfect representation and clarity.

    1. What of proportion, though? I have to suspect that what the Japanese find pleasing is rather different than what Westerners do. I'm a ship buff. One thing that all such have long recognized is that the WWI & II ships they built just weren't shooting for the same aesthetic.

      Google HMS Tiger 1913 and IJN Kong 1913, use the images tab, and you'll see it. And these were very closely related designs. (Kongo was actually built in Britain.) Just compare the funnels (3 each); there is a different sense of proportion here.

    2. Paul.
      integrity, clarity , proportion are just accuracy. The right answer relative to a wrong answer or they wouldn't exist.
      All these are issues of symmetry and are fixed in the universe. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder. Its a real conclusion. A accurate symmetry.
      Beauty doesn't exist. just gods perfect creation. We drifted from it and the rare glimpses makes us INVENT a category called beauty.

  16. There are no women onscreen in the movie at all. But for several of the characters, there is a woman lurking behind the scenes whose presence is more keenly felt for being only implicit...

    I hope this isn't too OT, but it happens I was just reading of some feminist objecting to the fact that in the reverse situation, men are ALWAYS part of the story when women are talking.

    It had never occurred to me that women aren't on screen in GG. I didn't notice it. On the other hand, if you watch The Women (preferably the good old version and not the crummy modern remake) it jumps out at you.

    My wife doesn't think possible to have a story in which men aren't implicitly present, unless perhaps it takes place in a convent. That is certainly not true about stories of men. Yes, there is a brief shot of a woman in Master and Commander (and one picture of another), but if they'd been omitted, no one would notice the lack. The same is true of many war stories, but not only those. Moby Dick comes to mind; I've read mysteries that are 100% male in this sense. (Of course, maybe there are such stories nowadays; I'm not exactly known for keeping up with the times.)

    1. It does seem to be true somehow. I think I've read...wish I could recall where, maybe something from Camille Paglia...that women and men both tend to identify well with male characters, but perhaps not men with females. Woman is "other," even in near-universal traditional grammar. Fascinating and intriguing.

      And if you think about it, you can run a monastery without women, but even a convent needs a priest.

  17. Offtopic.

    Hello Ed and everyone... can you guys recommend me books about philosophy of mind (leaving aside the one of Ed) with a approach non reductionist (like the one of Ed, again).


  18. I'm wondering how videogames fit into these discussions. For instance, the level of personal control the player has can be used as a kind of storytelling device, such as when your character's inability to attack a certain enemy might represent some severe mental hangup, or having the controller vibrate to show some large impact. On moral matters, however, they also complicate things, since a layer of distance is being peeled away. Even if it's not shown on screen, you can still end up in a position where you have to push a button to oppress the villagers. Does the argument about watching evil apply when you yourself are being asked to participate, or does it come down to the level of explicitness?

  19. I do recall studying this play at Uni of Toronto. The theme of the lecture was the use of f*** as a symbol of the breakdown of communication between males in a world post feminism.