Tasteful Distance



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[...] working-class people, who expect every image to fulfil a function, if only that of a sign, refer, often explicitly, to norms of morality or agreeableness in all their judgements.

Thus the photograph of a dead soldier provokes judgements which, whether positive or negative, are always responses to the reality of the thing represented or to the functions the representation could serve, the horror of war or the denunciation of the horrors of war which the photographer is supposed to produce simply by showing that horror.

If formal explorations, in avant-garde theatre or non-figurative painting, or simply classical music, are disconcerting to working-class people, this is partly because they feel incapable of understanding what these things signify, insofar as they are signs.

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.41-3


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The aesthetic disposition which tends to bracket off the nature and function of the object represented and to exclude any 'naive' reaction

- horror at the horrible, desire for the desirable, pious reverence for the sacred -

along with all purely ethical responses,

in order to concentrate solely upon the mode of representation, the style, perceived and appreciated by comparison with other styles,

is one dimension of a total relation to the world and to others, a life-style, in which the effects of particular conditions of existence are expressed in a 'misrecognizable' form.

These conditions of existence, which are the precondition for all learning of legitimate culture, whether implicit and diffuse, as domestic cultural training generally is, or explicit and specific, as in scholastic training, are characterized by the suspension and removal of economic necessity and by objective and subjective distance from practical urgencies, which is the basis of objective and subjective distance from groups subjected to those determinisms.

The aesthetic disposition, a generalized capacity to neutralize ordinary urgencies and to bracket off practical ends, a durable inclination and aptitude for practice without a practical function, can only be constituted within an experience of the world freed from urgency and through the practice of activities which are an end in themselves, such as scholastic exercises or the contemplation of works of art.

In other words, it presupposes the distance from the world [...] which is the basis of the bourgeois experience of the world.

It is not surprising that bourgeois adolescents, who are both economically privileged and (temporarily) excluded from the reality of economic power, sometimes express their distance from the bourgeois world which they cannot really appropriate by a refusal of complicity, whose most refined expression is a propensity towards aesthetics and aestheticism.

[...] the aesthetic disposition is defined, objectively and subjectively, in relation to other dispositions. Objective distance from necessity and from those trapped within it combines with a conscious distance which doubles freedom by exhibiting it.

This affirmation of power over a dominated necessity always implies a claim to legitimate superiority over those who, because they cannot assert the same contempt for contingencies in gratuitous luxury and conspicuous consumption, remain dominated by ordinary interests and urgencies.

The tastes of freedom can only assert themselves as such in relation to the tastes of necessity, which are thereby brought to the level of the aesthetic and so defined as vulgar.

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.54-6


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[The detachment of the aesthete] is seen whenever he appropriates one of the objects of popular taste (e.g., Westerns or strip cartoons),

[introducing] a distance, a gap - the measure of his distant distinction - vis-a-vis 'first-degree' perception, by displacing the interest from the 'content', characters, plot, etc., to the form, to the specifically artistic effects which are only appreciated relationally, through a comparison with other works which is incompatible with immersion in the singularity of the work immediately given.

Detachment, disinterestedness, indifference - aesthetic theory has so often presented these as the only way to recognize the work of art for what it is, autonomous, selbständig, that one ends up forgetting that they really mean disinvestment, detachment, indifference, in other words, the refusal to invest oneself and take things seriously.

[...] the refusal of any sort of involvement, any 'vulgar' surrender to easy seduction and collective enthusiasm, which is, indirectly at least, the origin of the taste for formal complexity and objectless representations, is perhaps most clearly seen in reactions to paintings.

Thus one finds that the higher the level of education, the greater is the proportion of respondents who, when asked whether a series of objects would make beautiful photographs, refuse the ordinary objects of popular admiration - a first communion, a sunset or a landscape - as 'vulgar' or 'ugly', or reject them as 'trivial', silly, a bit 'wet', or, in Ortega y Gasset's terms, naively human [...]

[Pierre Bourdieu]
Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, p.34-5


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Although the phenomenology of schizophrenia comprises an array of symptoms and experiences, these relate to a group of core disturbances in the relationship between the self and the world. Perhaps the single most important one is what Sass calls hyperconsciousness.

Elements of the self and of experience which normally remain, and need to remain, intuitive, unconscious, become the objects of a detached, alienating attention; and levels of consciousness multiply, so that there is an awareness of one's own awareness, and so on. The result of this is a sort of paralysis, in which even everyday ‘automatic’ actions such as moving one leg in front of another in order to walk, can become problematic.

This goes with an inability to trust one's own body or one's intuitions. Everything gets dragged into the full glare of consciousness.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 394


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In modernism the disruption of narrative, with formal devices drawing attention away from the inherent temporality of language, empties human action and intention of the meaning they have in a world to which we respond, and which responds to us.

[...] All of this, coupled with the forcible alienation caused by the bringing into awareness of what is required to remain latent, results in a detachment and irony that are inimical to pathos, a subversive disengagement and spirit of mockery towards life and art.

If one had to sum up these features of modernism they could probably be reduced to these: an excess of consciousness and an over-explicitness in relation to what needs to remain intuitive and implicit; depersonalisation and alienation from the body and empathic feeling; disruption of context; fragmentation of experience; and the loss of ‘betweenness’. 

Each of these is in fact to some degree implied in each of the others; and there is a simple reason for that. They are aspects of a single world: not just the world of the schizophrenic, but, as may by now be clear, the world according to the left hemisphere.

[Iain McGilchrist]
The Master and his Emissary, p. 397


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