But I’m with Eric: I don’t buy that a theorizing of aesthetic “disinterest” – the segregation of aesthetic judgments from ethical or political judgments – started by Shaftsbury & others is the beginning of a slippery slope to ethical relativism, or self-division. As Bob puts it,
once we become divided from parts of ourselves at the level of aesthetics (where the stakes seem so low to so many people), we’re ready to become divided from other parts of ourselves, like ethics. We’re ready to treat people with the same disinterest Coleridge’s Milton treated the Cathedral, without bias regarding our personal prejudices. We’re ready to treat our own actions that way, too, without reference our own ethics (“business is business,” we tautologically opine, while doing things we wouldn’t countenance if we weren’t enabled in the divorcing of individual ethics from professional ethics).I’ll be blunter than Reb Selinger: I’m not just “deeply skeptical” about this slippery slope (as my old philosophy professor taught me to be skeptical about every slippery slope argument) – I think it’s (as Cartman would say) Bullcrap.
It’s unconvincing (don’t take that “bullcrap” the wrong way, Bob) because the splitting-up of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment Western subject is entirely overdetermined, entertwined and inter-influenced in so many directions that it seems patently reductive to point to this one aspect of division of psychic labor (yes, it all does come down to capitalism, somewhere) and premise another aspect upon it. A disinterested aesthetics is no doubt part and parcel of the ambivalent project of enlightenment (cf. here Fredric Jameson’s wonderful parsing of the “Odysseus and the Sirens” section of Adorno/Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment, where – roughly – the rowers with their ears blocked correspond to the proletariat, while Odysseus is the bourgeoisie who allows himself to attend to the experience of beauty, but only by imposing upon himself the disinterest of the “aesthetic” – the cords which tie him to the mast, & prevent him from physically responding to it), but I can’t buy it as somehow a “triggering” element.
Eric somehow restrains himself at the end from quoting Winston Churchill on democracy (“the worst of all possible systems, the only problem is that none of the others is better”). It’s worth for the moment quoting Zizek on elections, if only in glancing acknowledgment of what’s going on in Iraq:
At the moment of elections, the whole hierarchical network of social relations is in a way suspended, put in parentheses; ‘society’ as an organized unity ceases to exist, it changed into a contingent collection of atomized individuals, of abstract units, and the result depends on a purely quantitative mechanism of counting, ultimately on a stochastic process…. In vain do we conceal this thoroughly ‘irrational’ character of what we call ‘formal democracy’: at the moment of an election, the society is delivered to a stochastic process. Only the acceptance of such a risk, only such a readiness to hand over one’s fate to ‘irrational’ hazard, renders ‘democracy’ possible…. It is true that democracy makes possible all sorts of manipulation, corruption, the rule of demagogy, and so on, but as soon as we eliminate the possibility of such deformations, we lose democracy itself – a net example of the Hegelian Universal which can realize itself only in impure, deformed, corrupted forms; if we want to remove these deformities and to grasp the Universal in its intact purity, we obtain its very opposite. So-called ‘real democracy’ is just another name for non-democracy… (The Sublime Object of Ideology 148)
Now where will I find the time to start thinking about Bob's "I"s?