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Art--for art's sake, autotelic, autonomous, and autopoietic · 3:05am Nov 29th, 2017

There are three confusing phrases used frequently in art theory that all seem to mean the same thing, but don't.  They have a long history of being rhetorically abused, because people are more certain that they all mean something good, than they are about what they mean.  Many people have tried to [win arguments without making them] by changing the meanings of these phrases.   Today they've been adapted to use as a shell game, so people can avoid being called out on their contradictory beliefs by switching phrases when they want to say the opposite of what they said somewhere else.

Here's a guide to them before I start using them.  This post is heavy reading, and not essential to future posts, so bail out if it bores you.

Phrases That Sound Like the Same Thing, but Aren't

"Art for art's sake"

Under the sun there neither exists nor can exist any work more thoroughly dignified, more supremely noble, than this very poem, this poem per se, this poem which is a poem and nothing more, this poem written solely for the poem's sake.
--Edgar Allen Poe, 1850, "The Poetic Principle"

The decorative work of art exists only by virtue of its destination, it is animated only by the relations established between it and the given objects. Essentially dependent, necessarily incomplete, it must in the first place satisfy the mind so as not to distract it from the display which justifies and completes it. It is an organ.
A painting carries within itself its raison d’etre. You may take it with impunity from a church to a drawing-room, from a museum to a study. Essentially independent, necessarily complete, it need not immediately satisfy the mind: on the contrary, it should lead it, little by little, toward the imaginative depths where burns the light of organization. It does not harmonize with this or that ensemble, it harmonizes with the totality of things, with the universe: it is an organism.
--(Gleizes & Metzinger 1912, "Cubism")

This phrase will usually be in quotes.  See Wikipedia: Art for art's sake, and also theartstory.org: Art for Art's Sake, for a history of its use.  In the early 19th century, its meaning was clear: it was a reaction against the view of the neoclassical period (~1650-1800, depending where you were) that art must be morally edifying [1].

The phrase became muddled over time as people who were reacting against other things picked it up.  John Ruskin used it to dismiss moralizing art, but also Romanticism, saying "art for art's sake" meant it wasn't for the sake of manipulating emotions.  He liked his art dry and intellectual.  Oscar Wilde said it meant just the opposite--that art was only for the sake of manipulating emotions.

The Wikipedia article doesn't mention Oscar Wilde, the most-famous proponent of "art for art's sake", who wrote "All art is quite useless" in the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890.  A fan wrote him a letter asking what he meant, and he wrote back:

My dear Sir

Art is useless because its aim is simply to create a mood. It is not meant to instruct, or to influence action in any way. It is superbly sterile, and the note of its pleasure is sterility. If the contemplation of a work of art is followed by activity of any kind, the work is either of a very second-rate order, or the spectator has failed to realise the complete artistic impression.

A work of art is useless as a flower is useless. A flower blossoms for its own joy. We gain a moment of joy by looking at it. That is all that is to be said about our relations to flowers. Of course man may sell the flower, and so make it useful to him, but this has nothing to do with the flower. It is not part of its essence. It is accidental. It is a misuse. All this is I fear very obscure. But the subject is a long one.

Truly yours,

Oscar Wilde

Wilde's explanation is an appealing but confused and self-contradictory one.  Wilde says on one hand that the purpose of art is only pleasure or to produce an emotional response--seemingly, from the second paragraph, a positive one, indicating the purpose of art is entertainment.  Not many artists believe that art is entertainment; that's usually how grim propagandists straw-man everyone who doesn't want art to be propaganda.  Then Wilde says that a flower blossoms for its own joy, implying art literally is for its own sake, and not for the sake of humans.

Wilde also wrote essays on art, and went far beyond saying that art's purpose isn't to morally edify, to the point of saying an artist must be amoral.  He made this point in an essay about a famous murderer in which he argued that an artist must, like a murderer, be above morality.

The phrase became popular with the avant-garde after that, and with modern artists after that.  Formalism means a theory that judges art without regard to its meaning.  Non-representational art is usually formalist.  "Art for art's sake" was then taken to mean "formalist art", and used to justify making non-representational art that nobody liked, even though that seems to be the opposite of what Wilde had meant.

The next step after that was to attach Marxist and post-modern dogmas to it:

Art for Art's Sake is basically a call for release from the tyranny of meaning and purpose. From a progressive modernist's point of view, it was a further exercise of freedom. It was also a ploy, another deliberate affront to bourgeois sensibility which demanded art with meaning or that had some purpose such as to instruct, or delight, or to moralize, and generally to reflect in some way their own purposeful and purpose-filled world.
--Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe 1997, "Modernism"

I sometimes think that some postmodernists take it literally--to mean that art is somehow for its own sake, as if it were conscious.

Autotelic artifacts

In his essay on "The Function of Criticism" (1923), T. S. Eliot wrote: "I have assumed as axiomatic that a creation, a work of art, is autotelic; and that criticism, by definition, is about something other than Itself." Also, even if it "may be affirmed to serve ends beyond itself", it need not be aware of them; what is more, it "performs its function.., much better by indifference to them".

This is only the 2nd known use of the word "autotelic" in English. It means a thing which is complete in itself, or exists for its own sake.

Unfortunately, this means different things, depending on whether you're speaking teleologically, semantically, or causally.  That is, are we saying the autotelic artifact serves no purpose other than its own (closer to "art for art's sake"), that it is about nothing but itself, or that it is self-sufficient and depends on nothing else in order to fulfill its function?

Since Eliot contrasted it with criticism that is "about something other than Itself", I think he meant the second.  But then he spoke of "ends beyond itself," and so meant also the first.  His own poetry could fit only the first criterion, though, since it was about modernist alienation, and it depended on hundreds of references to earlier poems.

If you're wondering what art that was about itself would look like, check out some Gertrude Stein poetry.

[Gertrude] Stein's valorizing of the "autotelic artifact" allows her to place the masterpiece outside of time, away from "relation and necessity," in a familiar, if conservative, formulation of literary value and canonicity.
--Aaron Jaffe 2016. Modernist Star Maps: Celebrity, Modernity, Culture (no pagination). Routledge.

Later critics often assumed Eliot meant autotelic in the first (teleological, purpose) and the third (causal dependence) sense:

"The text (is analysed) as an autotelic artifact, something complete within itself, written for its own sake, unified in its form and not dependent on its relation to the author's life or intent, history, or anything else." (Warren Hedges; New Criticism Explained).

Here Hedges jumps from saying that Eliot said the poem had no external purpose (teleologically autotelic) to saying Eliot meant that the poem had no external dependencies (causally autotelic).  That's how Eliot's careless, unexplained use of a Greek word became one of the grounds for the later false charge that the New Critics didn't want people to consider "the author's life or intent, history, or anything else."  (I'll post much more on that much later; I have dozens of posts to get through before New Criticism.  $2+ Patreon donors can see my drafts-in-progress of "New Criticism" and "Myths and Unspoken Truths About the New Critics".)

(Oh, Eliot is considered a precursor of New Criticism.)

Autonomous art

"Autonomous art" also seems to mean the same thing as the other two phrases.  Horkheimer & Adorno might have invented the phrase (Horkheimer & Adorno 1944/2002); it occurs once in the English translation of their famous rant "The Culture Industry", where it appears to mean "art for art's sake" in the sense of being art that isn't for pleasure.

(Shiner 1990 chapter 10: "Art as Redemptive Revelation") relates the phrase to developments in the late 18th & early 19th century:

  • the separation of music from religions & social contexts
  • the rise in status of instrumental music, as being more "pure" than opera because it didn't depend on words
  • the dropping of sermons and non-fiction from the category "literature"
  • the Romantic idea that art was pursuing different truths than reason
  • the Romantic view of art as a substitute for religion rather than a support for religion

Writers after (H&A 1944), e.g., (Lukács 1951/1993 p. 335, Gray 1993 p. 157-9), refer the distinction between "autonomous art", and ideological art, back to Heinrich Heine's claims in (Heine 1828): that the Romantic era was one in which art had been elevated to (autonomous) Art, the production of individual works by individual geniuses--but that the Romantic era was now over, and now responsible art should be political, collective (ideological) art. [4]

According to Heine's diagnosis in [(Heine 1833)], modern conditions make it impossible to recover that unity and wholeness that was still in its original state in antiquity. If one attempted it, it would lead to either outmoded, spiritualistic reveries, as in Romanticism, which--like the works of Goethe--are perfect, glorious and quiet, but also cold, lifeless and barren marble statues, not least because their creators have succumbed to the temptation to proclaim the second world of art "as the highest, and to turn away from the claims of that first real world which deserves primacy" (B III , 393).
--Barbara Thums 2007, abstract (transl. mostly by Google Translate)

The majority believe that with the death of Goethe a new literary era begins in Germany; that with him the old Germany also descended to its grave; that the aristocratic period of literature was ended, and the democratic just beginning; or, as a French journal recently phrased it, "The intellectual dominion of the individual has ceased,—the intellectual rule of the many has commenced.
--(Heine 1833/1882 p. 3)

There is a serious contradiction here: Heine declared autonomous Art dead in 1828; (Shiner 1990 chapters 10+11) brings 30 pages of evidence to bear that the autonomy of Art began around 1830 (p. 189).

"Autonomous art" became the popular phrase to use in the 1970s, as the solution to two seemingly unsolvable problems.

First was the dilemma faced by young leftist academics when they developed a strategy to kick out the conservative New Critics.  The New Critics focused on formal properties of poems--properties that depend on the general relationships between the different parts of a poem, but not on its specific content or meaning.  The young academics would say that this meant the New Critics ignored the historical, social, and biographical context of literature.

There were two problems with this plan:

  • "Art should ignore the historical, social, and biographical context" is a subset of "art for art's sake," but most people still thought "art for art's sake" was good.
  • The New Critics were conspicuous abstainers from the common claim that art was for art's sake; they liked Elizabethan poetry that was not "written for its own sake" or "autonomous", and did not like (or critique) modernist poetry (such as Gertrude Stein's) that was.

So the young academics couldn't use the phrase "art for art's sake".  They borrowed Horkheimer & Adorno's phrase, which sounded like it meant the same thing, which they then used to slander the New Critics [2].

The second problem was that as Marxism became dominant in the European art world, the contradiction between "art for art's sake" and the Marxist desire to make art Marxist got harder to ignore [3].  The solution Adorno came up with in Aesthetic Theory (1970) was to convert "autonomous art" into a phrase that would trigger the same applause as "art for art's sake", and which made it sound like you favored art for art's sake, but which meant the opposite: art should not be apolitical, but specifically Marxist.

(Fair warning:  I haven't read Aesthetic Theory, just summaries of it.)

Adorno said that real art is "autonomous", which he said means that it doesn't serve the State's ideology.  But also, real art is subversive (a thing which, ironically, I've said myself), “the social antithesis of society”.  Basically, the same thing Heine said in 1828.

[Adorno] feels that modern art's freedom from such restrictions as cult and imperial functions that had plagued previous eras of art has led to art's expanded critical capacity and increased formal autonomy. With this expanded autonomy comes art's increased responsibility for societal commentary.
--Wikipedia: Aesthetic Theory

This was also echoing Heine, who was one of the first continental thinkers to warn that art could be used to distract people from political oppression (Shiner 1990 p. 189).  (Probably not coincidentally, Heine was a close friend of Karl Marx [5].)

Not blatant propaganda of the Brechtian kind, though, but art that subtly raises revolutionary consciousness by making people uncomfortable and unhappy with their lives, like a Beckett play does.  (Remember this point.  We'll come back to it in later posts.)

Under the conditions of late capitalism, the best art, and politically the most effective, so thoroughly works out its own internal contradictions that the hidden contradictions in society can no longer be ignored. The plays of Samuel Beckett, to whom Adorno had intended to dedicate Aesthetic Theory, are emblematic in that regard. Adorno finds them more true than many other artworks.
--Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Theodor W. Adorno"

And as long as we live in "capitalist" societies, subversive art is of course Marxist.  That went without saying.

Adorno's "autonomous art" is "formally" autonomous, yet must have a social purpose.  This is impossible, as "formal" autonomy means that art is defined by a set of formal (one could say syntactic) properties, without reference to social content.  Obviously it is impossible to say that art is defined by formal qualities alone, and yet also defined by its political content.  But Adorno had to commit some logical fallacy to bring "art for art's sake" full circle: "autonomous art" now meant "art for art's sake" that was obligated to be political, rather than art that was not political.

Fortunately for the young leftists, Aesthetic Theory wasn't translated into English until 1984, so they were free to use "autonomous art" as synonymous with "art for art's sake" until then.

Now, you can use "autonomous art" when you want to make political art but still get credit for being on the side of "art for art's sake",  So, for instance, Irmgard Emmelhainz can talk about "autonomous, committed art", which was formerly an oxymoron.

When considering the relationship between contemporary art and politics, it is simply assumed that art, in one way or another, can serve as a catalyst for political action or participation, as it can reveal capitalism’s “hidden” contradictions.
--Emmelhainz 2013,  "Art and the Cultural Turn: Farewell to Committed, Autonomous Art?" (an article accusing museums and the art industry of destroying "autonomous art" by limiting the expression of Marxist ideas)

Meanwhile, the phrase "autotelic art" is being revived for when you want to say art for art's sake is bad (e.g., New Critical).  And some people didn't read their (Adorno 1970), and are still using "autonomous art" as if it meant "art for art's sake".  This includes anybody still using the term to talk about the New Critics.

In short, these three synonyms for "art for art's sake" have been used to mean:

  • art should not be political
  • art should not be emotional
  • art is purely emotional
  • art should be defined by its formal properties
  • art has nothing to do with humans
  • art should be Marxist
  • art should be meaningless and purposeless

Autopoietic art

This is a phrase that is seldom used, and usually misspelled or misinterpreted if it is.  When used correctly, it means something similar to but stronger than "causally autotelic": a thing which creates and sustains itself.  Art (which, remember, is artifice, made by people) doesn't do that (at least not yet!), so any usage of this term in art criticism is probably incorrect.


[1]  This view is one reason why neoclassical literature and painting sucked.  If you consult a list of famous writers and painters, you'll find the 18th century represented only by satirists, a few early Romantics, and Daniel Defoe.

[2]  The foundations of their slander were:

  • to ignore the context New Criticism was supposed to occupy in a total system of criticism
  • to pretend that TS Eliot and Wimsatt & Beardsley represented the New Critics, while ignoring the important New Critics
  • to misinterpret Wimsatt & Beardsley
  • to ignore the contents of the many books full of examples of New Critical analysis, even while citing them

[3]  Many Marxist artists declared themselves to be "anti-art" for just that reason.  Lots more on that in upcoming posts.

[4]  Heine claimed in (Heine 1833) to have said that the age of Art was over by saying that the period of Art ("der Kunstperiode") had ended, although now (in 1833) he no longer believed that. Oddly, he never had said that.  He had only said that  "der früheren Kunstperiode" ("the earlier art period") had ended.  But his own misquotation of himself has been repeated ever since as an early claim that Europe had reached the end of art.

[5]  Heine was born Jewish, but raised Christian.  The closeness of Marx and the Heines is evidence that Marx was not as anti-semitic as his "On the Jewish Question" makes him out to be.

I just wrote a Patreon post entirely about Heinrich Heine, because I found it interesting that he connects all of the main threads of intellectual thought in Europe of his day: Romanticism, Hegelianism, communism, and (for lack of a better term) Nazism.  Heinrich Heine was a Romantic poet and literary critic, a student of Hegel, a close friend of Karl Marx, and a Jew, who predicted that the intellectual battles of the 1820s would eventually lead to a violent struggle and the oppressive rule of either the brutal proto-Nazis or the communists.


Theodor Adorno, 1970. Ästhetische Theorie. Ed. Gretel Adorno & Rolf Tiedemann. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1970.

Theodor Adorno 1970, transl. 1984. Aesthetic Theory. Ed. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann. Trans. Christian Lenhardt. London and Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984.

T. S. Eliot, 1923. "The Function of Criticism", In Selected Essays. London:  Faber & Faber, 1948.

Irmgard Emmelhainz, 2013. "Art and the Cultural Turn: Farewell to Committed, Autonomous Art?" e-flux #42, February 2013.

Albert Gleizes & Jean Metzinger, 1912. "Cubism." In Harrison & Wood 1992, p. 187-196.

Richard T. Gray, 1995. Stations of the Divided Subject: Contestation and Ideological Legitimation in German Bourgeois Literature, 1770-1914. Stanford U. Press.

Heinrich Heine, 1828. "Die deutsche Literatur von Wolfgang Menzel" (a review of a review by Wolfgang Menzel of German literature). Stuttgart: Gebrüder Frankh. I can find no English translation.

Heinrich Heine, 1833. Die Romantische Schule (The Romantic School). Paris. Reprinted 1867, Hamburg: Hoffman & Campe.

Heinrich Heine 1833, transl. S.L. Fleishman 1882.The Romantic School. NYC: Henry Holt.

Max Horkheimer & Theodor Adorno 1944, transl. 2002. “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.” In Dialectics of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, Stanford U. Press, 2002.

Georg Lukács 1951, transl. 1993. German Realists in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Larry Shiner, 1990. The Invention of Art: A Cultural History. U. of Chicago Press.

Barbara Thums 2007. "Ende der Kunstperiode? Heinrich Heine's Florentinische Nächte". In: Kruse J.A. (eds) Heine-Jahrbuch 2007. J.B. Metzler, Stuttgart.

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Comments ( 28 )

I kept thinking of the way Dalì used to describe his process for making paintings and so for a while I was very confused.

In any case, bravo! This post was excellent

Art seems to be a tool by which the Superior point out their wit and talent while degrading the Inferior for their lack thereof.

If one Superior decides that sticking dead bees on styrofoam in geometric patterns is a sign of Talent (and therefore Superior people), and enough other Superiors agree, it becomes Superior Art, at least for the moment, and all the people who agree then gain slight amounts of Superior by reflection.

Of course, if another Superior decides to put bees on styrofoam in non-geometric patterns, this meme can travel through the ranks of the Superior until it becomes a sign of Superiorness, and all those who still prefer the past begin to edge ever so much closer to the Inferior pool of muck and slime.

About right? (FYI: It is a Superior credit to agree with me)

4737282 How did he describe it?

Author Interviewer

All I know is that somewhere out there is a person named "Horkheimer", and I feel bad for them. :C

4737479 It is unfortunately impossible to say in German without hocking a loogie.


This is all third hand from my highschool art teacher, but what she taught us was that Dalì would sit in front of a blank canvas for hours, until he achieved a

a paranoid state, then meticulously develop and paint the hallucinatory images he had seen. It was all about creating pieces that were startling, yet authentic, with different interpretations and associations abounding.

She called this the automatic method, although now I'm wondering if she was going off of misconceptions or if I'm misremembering.

Anyway, he'd basically hallucinate on purpose deliberately and then paint what he saw.

4737571 That is certainly art with no conscious agenda. Almost like psychotherapy.
Perhaps someday we will be able to record our dreams and play them back when we wake.

But I wonder why, then, Dali drew certain things over and over, like elephants with legs like stilts?

The problem with the misunderstanding and misuse of these terms, and even their existence to some degree, is that they are largely based on a fundamental and entirely false dichotomy between "art" and "propaganda", and the idea that Art must serve a singular Purpose, whether that be to Edify, Beautify, Entertain, or Instigate.

Art, at its most basic, core nature, is communication; that is, "The communication of abstract concepts in a tangible medium". Art can, and does serve multiple purposes; indeed, it is quite likely impossible to create art that does not.

"Art should ignore the historical, social, and biographical context" is also a viewpoint that is fundamentally broken. Art does not, and cannot, exist in a vacuum. All art is a product of the particular zeitgeist in which it is created. When we speak of "timeless" art, we speak of qualities that transcend that zeitgeist, that can speak across times and cultures. But very often that is at the expense of meanings and purposes which were recognized by those who existed within the same zeitgeist as the artist, and which may be utterly misunderstood, or even incomprehensible, to viewers who do not possess those shared experiences and worldviews. "The historical, social, and biographical context" of a work of art is not necessary to appreciate it, but it is critical to fully understanding it.


But I wonder why, then, Dali drew certain things over and over, like elephants with legs like stilts?

I'm a fan of surrealism, so I've accumulated some trivia on Dalì even though I don't like him as an artist.

One possible reason is that that was not the only technique he used: another one he used was

...he would put a tin plate on the floor and then sit by a chair beside it, holding a spoon over the plate. He would then totally relax his body; sometimes he would begin to fall asleep. The moment that he began to doze the spoon would slip from his fingers and clang on the plate, immediately waking him to capture the surreal images.

So, considering recurring nightmares and dreams are a thing, this is a paper thin justification for this.
Another possible explanation is that he was obsessed by those things, and for that reason would make himself allucinate them.

A more cynical take is that he was also maximizing his own profits (a friend of his (Andrè Breton) did nickname him Avida Dollars for just this reason). And thus, by riding the wave of Jungian philosophy and inserting symbols for specific meanings, he would intrigue the people admiring his paintings to increase his own fame.

The only constant of art across time seems to be that no one can agree on what it is. Or means. Which I find comical. Though sometimes I wonder if asking for a static idea of art is like asking a scientist to be happy when there is finally nothing more to know in the universe. Or asking a buffalo to sing. We're not taking into account the nature of the thing performing the act. Though I suppose I am discussing what is, not what ought to be.

I'm curious, has immersing yourself in lit crit theory made it, like, harder to write fiction, with so many differing and opposing ideas on what fiction even is or does floating around in your head? Has it had any impact at all on how or what you write?


I'm curious, has immersing yourself in lit crit theory made it, like, harder to write fiction, with so many differing and opposing ideas on what fiction even is or does floating around in your head? Has it had any impact at all on how or what you write?

That's a great question. One impact is that I'm more willing to accept "All the Pretty Pony Princesses" as a story, because I've developed a broader view of what a story is. But I don't write fiction according to a theory, at least not so far. I write when I have an image of someone doing something that makes me emotional. I turn to theory when things seem to have gone terribly wrong and I don't know whether something strange I've produced is a mistake, a hopeful monster, or a happy accident.

I've written things that may misrepresent my opinions, like "Keepers". To me, that story was about the writer's problem of knowing when to keep your mistakes, but it can be read as an anti-abortion message. I've written post-modernist fiction, like "Shut Up", which I didn't realize was postmodern until Ghost pointed out to me how it resembles Nabokov's "Pale Fire". OTOH "mortality report" was deliberately ideological.

I certainly wouldn't have spent as much time on it as I have just to improve my writing. For that purpose, I'd do better to have spent that time writing or reading fiction. I've been drawn further and further into it because I've discovered that critical theory is a major force in the world today which is bent on plunging Western civilization into another Dark Age, and I want to show people that's what it's all about. I've also found that many political, ethical, and philosophical disagreements are so intractable because they're based on disagreements about metaphysics that people don't even know they believe in. Theories of art explain humans better than mere history does.

4737609 Yes, I agree with all that. I think the argument is between people who both believe in a Platonic or Aristotelian metaphysics, in which "art" must be an eternal essence.

On one hand are the people who want to believe in a Platonic Form of the perfect and most-pure Art (as in 19th century museum art). These are Platonists who think mainly about the central exemplars of categories.

On the other hand are monists, who object to differentiating concepts in general unless you can demonstrate that your differentiating principle is universally true, and neither splits things of the same essence into two categories, nor combines things of different essence into a single category. These are Platonists who think mainly about the boundary cases of categories. They attack concepts like "art" as making false distinctions that aren't universally true, rather than as making useful distinctions that have some degree of truth. Post-modernists obviously fall into this class of Platonist.

(These two types of Platonist may correspond to "near" and "far" thinking, though it seems to me that all Platonists are mostly "far" thinkers.)

Sensible people don't get into the argument, because it never occurs to them that it's a problem if a category doesn't have a membership predicate that produces either "true" or "false" for every "cave-world" (Plato's cave) instance.

To summarize my next 100 or posts on this subject, I think there are 3 main sources of human conflict:
- Resource limitation, including status as a limited resource
- Evolutionary dynamics
- Bad metaphysics, predominantly the belief in eternal essences

The only one we can do anything about is the last one. The number of ways that believing in eternal essences makes people psychotic is surprisingly large, and seems to account for all of history's violent ideologies (as opposed to pragmatic violence, eg the Assyrians and Romans).

Because he developed certain symbolic archetypes that he repeatedly resorted to. And much of his imagery came from his own obsessions.

Dali called his method "Critical Paranoia", and it was essentially a sort of advanced pareidolia. Most of his image archetypes are from the landscape around him, you can see various elements repeated, such as the giant nose-and-mustache rock, because they were images that he had developed from the scenery in his hometown.

Other images were aspects of human psychology, filtered through a Freudian lense (as was most Surrealism), and exaggerated. Young Vrigin Auto-Sodomized By Her Own Chastity being one such example that comes to mind.


Dali was certainly a very effective self-promoter, possibly even moreso than he was an artist, and much of his later work was in this vein. He had an obsession with celebrity and celebrity status, and with messing with peoples' heads. There's no doubt that he created and courted controversy as well, as part of his public image, which he created and maintained very painstakingly over the years.

I think this is interesting, but I've never understood how you seem to not agree with the bullshit of art/lit "critical" analysis, yet you're so well-versed in it. I'm usually uncertain what to get out of these posts, other than some interesting ideas, which is still valid motivation.

Maybe it's just posts for posts' sake. :trollestia:

"We're a regular Algonquin End Table!" -- Leisuretown

EDIT: prefer a more contemporary version?


Mm. Personally I suspect the bad metaphysics are just rationalizations of the first two causes, in which case "just sit back and enjoy th' evolutionary process!" -- Zippy the Pinhead

4737947 Or, under pressure due to resource limitations, people have evolved a tendency to think in ways that lead to metaphysics that lead them to love their neighbors and kill their slightly-more-distant neighbors.

4737870 I'm not well-versed in it--the people who do this full-time have a shocking amount of material that's considered basic. I appear well-informed because I search out relevant writings as I write, but often read only the parts relevant to what I'm writing.

I do all this because (see 4737676).


If you're born with a love for the wrote and the writ,
People of letters, your warning stands clear:
Pay heed to your heart and not to your wit--
Don't say in a letter what you can't in my ear.

Whenever you write you are the scop in the meadhall, the skald the longhouse, the bard in Tenby at the kalends or the storyteller on a windy streetcorner in Baghdad. Your one job is to catch the passing ear and make it your listener, whatever its more pressing concerns of business, war or love. Even if you're an academic writing for other academics, this is still your job, for they have papers to grade and grants to win and each others' spouses to fuck. And you must turn them, for a moment, from that purpose. Hweat! Allons! You court silencers, get me silence! Hear, oh effendi! It's all the same and always has been.

En cette foi je veuil vivre et mourir.

This all reinforces the idea that I need to read your Celestiadamn writings sooner rather than later. :facehoof: Still haven't managed to breach that levee.

When anyone asks me about art and its merits, I just point them to Jim Davis' philosophical masterpiece.

4738534 Ceci n'est pas une pipe .


I certainly wouldn't have spent as much time on it as I have just to improve my writing. For that purpose, I'd do better to have spent that time writing or reading fiction. I've been drawn further and further into it because I've discovered that critical theory is a major force in the world today which is bent on plunging Western civilization into another Dark Age, and I want to show people that's what it's all about.

This was going to be my next question, actually. Do you ever plan to publish any of the results of your research or your conclusions from it, such as what's expressed in this blog? I've assumed for a while you do, but reading your comments I'm not so sure.

I wholeheartedly agree, there are a number of forces trying to drive Western civilization into another Dark Age. To be honest at this point I fear they'll be successful. I do not have much hope here, my outlook is rather grim.

Hm, I wouldn't have classified Shut Up as post-modernist. Granted, I'm not very educated on the subject. Was Nobakov post-modern, or just Pale Fire? I've read "Glory", and a bit of Lolita, neither which I thought were post-modern. But again, that likely isn't saying much.

4738694 The post-modern element is that both "Shut Up" and "Pale Fire" are stories in which the narrator tells one story, while letting slip details that reveal a different story. That's a little bit post-modern. Anything which points to the picture frame and says "this is a story", and shakes your confidence in the narration, and in whether anything is true or known, is a little postmodern.

I'd like to publish stuff! I have some mental block against taking the final step, though. Mostly because I would always rather capture new thoughts then keep fiddling with last year's thoughts.

Ah, I see now. And it works for Shut Up, too.

You know I wouldn't be surprised if part of that block is the enormity of the undertaking. It's no small field you'll be jumping into, after all, as you well know. And it isn't as if you'd be publishing popular opinions. You wanna be ready to fight an uphill battle like that. Though I guess it's just as likely they'd try to completely ignore you.

...I really don't know what I'm talking about. :P


 I've been drawn further and further into it because I've discovered that critical theory is a major force in the world today which is bent on plunging Western civilization into another Dark Age, and I want to show people that's what it's all about.

As much as I tend to disagree with you on other philosophical points, this is fairly spot on. Critical Theory, particularly the neo-Marxist/Postmodernist strain that predominates in contemporary thought, is an intellectual cancer.


I think a distinction needs to be made between literary/artistic post-modernism, and Postmodernism as a socio-political movement. The former can be an interesting and useful stylistic device that enables deeper exploration of the nature of art and our relationship to it; while the later is little more than lazy and self-indulgent anti-intellectualism tarted up and sold as a philosophical school of thought.

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