Personal Goal

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HJN, Hand. Fired clay with partial glaze.

When I was a student of literature I recall being influenced by a school of critical theory (Rene Wellek?) that said an author’s biography was irrelevant to a consideration of his or her text. Once it was loosed from the pen it had an existence of its own irrespective of the character and deeds of its author.

I think the predisposition acquired in those studies to seek a direct, unmediated confrontation with art has stayed with me as I ponder the current climate in which the work of certain artists in various media, both living and dead, is being reconsidered by some, shunned by some, in light of crimes or abuses known or alleged to have been committed by the artists. I can’t see how this serves art.

I hope that, in the realm of human conduct, decency will prevail and justice will be served where justice is due. My duty as citizen of a struggling democracy with flawed institutions is to exert myself however possible to support the good and resist the bad. Where art is concerned, my goal is to try to keep my eyes, ears and mind wide open to the art as art.

[Copyright (c) 2018 James Mansfield Nichols. All rights reserved.]

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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7 Responses to Personal Goal

  1. I’m still thinking about this one and am not sure that I’ll arrive at a ‘position’ (I may just grapple with each artist/ case individually).

    • JMN says:

      You make a good point, and I wish I’d said something to that effect. Case by case is the pragmatic and realistic way to go. I can never really fix myself in a dogmatic stance comfortably about anything. I flounder in the gray zone much of the time, hope my comment didn’t imply too firm a position. Thanks so much for your thinking and your comment!

      • Your post sounded like you’d put some thought into it and I appreciated that. I think part of saying things aloud is testing how they hold up – and maybe seeing what kind of discussions arise. Things do evolve and change over time for many of us.

      • JMN says:

        Well observed. I think the value and dignity inherent in changing one’s mind now and again are undervalued!

  2. Daedalus Lex says:

    You might be thinking also of Wimsatt and Beardsley, The Intentional Fallacy (and the Affective Fallacy), the point of which was that we should evaluate a work on its own terms, not based on what was intended or how it was received by this or that audience. Surely Shakespeare was unaware of Marxist or modern gender theories but that doesn’t mean the texts aren’t packed with hidden values that can be brought to light with those tools. A study of the effects of smoking must be judged on its merits, not on whether the author herself is a smoker. The same with race. Statements about race should be judged on the merits of the argument, not on whether we can dig through and figure out the author’s skin color. Sometimes I think some of my younger liberal friends are unwilling to say whether 2 + 2 is 4 until they know the race and gender of the speaker. I find this counterproductive. All that said, as a literary critic, I DO find biographical criticism is often a useful supplement, but it overplays its hand in the age of identity politics, where skin color seems the first measure of everything.

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