July 11th, 2005

Thoughts Thought While Walking Back To Our Hotel With A Bag of Burrito Bols

The less legitimate a particular form of cultural expression seems, the more likely that its defenders will resort to autobiography as a way of securing for it a legitimacy that proves remarkably resistant to attack. "It moves me," means, "I'm not moving aside for you or the standards you force on others." In the end, most people who consider themselves modern are unable or unwilling to assert that the personal experience of another human being is invalid. To make that claim would be to breach a code of interpersonal conduct that goes deeper than the standards of taste. This is not to imply, however, that people who wish to make that sort of claim are without weapons. Even if they feel compelled to admit that they can't ever know the pain or pleasure of another, they can still wage war on the manner in which personal experience is articulated. When someone declares that confession is "dangerous" or "common" or "easy," the implication is that these adjectives also apply to whoever is doing the confessing. Individuals who deploy this strategy are able to avoid the appearance of subjecting human lives to a hierarchy of significance -- in which this person's experience matters a lot, this one's not so much -- while still managing to reassert the necessity for hierarchy. This is a classic bait-and-switch of art criticism, which recuperates the ad hominem attack that it pretends to abandon at the portal to objectivity. More often than not, this approach operates on the plane of ideology, so that its practitioners are blissfully ignorant of what they are, in fact, doing. That's why you find so many self-professed liberals going out of their way to constrain the freedom of others. The fear of a world without a clear delineation between legitimacy and its opposite is a powerful motivator. We all struggle with the need to know what belongs and what does not, whether we're considering the offspring of sexual or artistic reproduction.
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