Off Topic on Bad Books

Tanaquil2 at Tanaquil2 at
Thu Sep 2 01:14:04 EDT 1999

In a message dated 9/1/99 8:34:23 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
hedberg at writes:

>I really object to the idea of any arts judgement we make as "objective".
>From what "objective" point are you making this judgement? There are
>cultural standards, which we all have inherited one way or another, but I
>just don't buy that there's ANY objective basis of aesthetic judgement that
>cannot be challenged and put on its head.

        Heh heh.  I feel this way about those slightly-to-the-left or 
slightly-to-the-right news shows, where the hosts and the guests are all 
congratulating themselves on being 'reasonable' and 'rational' and 'fair' and 
'impartial' but most of all CORRECT.  But all the time they're being so 
'objective', they make zero allowance for all the alternative points of view, 
and refuse to acknowledge that the world looks different depending on who's 
doing the looking.  Or, worse yet, they acknowledge it, but still 'know' 
theirs is the only 'right' viewpoint.  I certainly want to turn *them* on 
their heads!

>A lot of what I'm working on now is precisely the question of what people
>get from "bad" writing. "Objectively," I don't think it's all that different
>from what we get from Jones.

        I agree.  I think that's part of why I really liked #3 in Melissa's 

>Hated it--poorly written (bad)
>Hated it--well written (good)
>Loved it--poorly written (guilty pleasure)
>Loved it--well written (good taste) :)

        It acknowledges that 'bad' is subjective, and you can still obtain 
something of value (in this case pleasure) from something that others might 
judge to be 'bad' (hence the guilt).  I also liked it because it made me 
        If you are referring very specifically to "aesthetic" objectivity 
then, yes, aesthetics are subjective.  If you are stressing the "objectivity" 
part however, then I think that *within certain parameters* (in the case of 
the list to take a handy example, which identifies 'well written' and 'poorly 
written' as the parameters) I believe it *is* possible to be objective, and 
that's where #2 in the list comes in.  'I subjectively hated this book, but I 
acknowledge it was well written, therefore within those parameters it is a 
good book.'  This works provided that the criteria for 'well written' and 
'poorly written' are defined.  They might be something like: no glaring 
contradictions in logic, or avoidance of convoluted high-flown language, or 
no gratuitous violence, or whatever you care to mention.  Within those 
*stated* parameters I think it is possible to be objective.  But if you are 
referring strictly to 'aesthetic' then it is subjective by definition.  (It 
is, too, because I looked it up)   ;)

        proof---->Definition: "Aesthetic: pertaining to, involving, or 
concerned with pure emotion and sensation as opposed to pure intellectuality" 
 (Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictonary of the English Language.)  
(Who'd've thought that when all those English teachers said substantiate your 
arguments and cite your references, it would come in so handy in real life???)
(Of course, subversive little devil's advocate that I am, I might add that 
some might question whether 'intellectual' and 'objective' are synonyms, as I 
think this definition somehow implies, with it's suggestion that beauty can 
only be perceived through the emotions.  What about the pleasure of having a 
math equation come out right.  (or in my case, I suppose, the surprise  ;) ). 
 I think there is a sort of pleasure of the intellect, and that that pleasure 
is no less valid than so-called emotional pleasure, and it could, therefore, 
be argued to be subjective--not everyone might consider math equations 
Hmm.  I just looked up 'intellect' in the above-mentioned dictionary.  (Thank 
you, Noah)  It says: "The power or faculty of the mind by which one knows or 
understands, as distinguished from that by which one feels and that by which 
one wills; the faculty of thinking and acquiring knowledge."  Well!  What 
about intuition??  One can 'acquire knowledge' via intuition.  One can 
'understand' something through empathy.  Clearly there's more to this 
definition business than meets the eye.
But I'm not a trained philospher or semanticist, so no doubt someone could 
demolish all these statements if they chose.  Plus, I digress).

>"Objectively," I don't think it's all that different
>from what we get from Jones. 
>At the core of wanting to read a book, see a
>film, look at a painting, listen to music, or whatever, is the experience of
>being down in the middle of something DIFFERENT.

        I think this could be considered subjective.  Some people only read 
repair manuals and watch training films, and think anything that isn't 
honest-to-God 'real' is frivolous and pointless and bad, bad, bad.  I've 
heard people talk this way about fantasy (how dare they).  The last thing 
they want in a book or a film or music is the experience of being down in the 
middle of something different.  (I'm not sure *what* exactly they would want 
from a book or a film (assuming they branch out from technical ones) other 
than confirmation perhaps that *they* are right and objective and impartial 

>And our different tastes,
>and beyond that, our different fundamental ideas of what is Good Art and
>what is Schlock, have much more to do with our society, our social selves,
>and our experiences outside the work in question, than they do to the work

        I apply this to the way various cultures rate human physical beauty, 
and I agree 100%.  Those sorts of standards are learned, no question.  And 
unfortunately it's a case of the loudest voice making the rules, and the 
perverse saying to hell with the rules ('scuse language, and thank the lord 
for the perverse).  Of course the advantage in this ties back to what Paul 
(Barnier not Andinanc (sp?)) was saying about Miyazaki, and that someone else 
also commented on (sorry, 'someone else' , I can't find your reference 
because I have about 1000 e-mails to search through): that women being 
marginalized opens up the door to fresh ways of approaching heroic and other 
stereotyped roles.  The silver lining I suppose.
    Still, taking it all in all, I guess on the whole I prefer a world of 
strong emotional response to complete objectivity.  When I feel strongly 
about something, I know I'm alive.  When I hear someone reacting strongly it 
gets the old blood flowing, I can agree or disagree, but it's hard to have a 
conversation with objectivity.  Except to say things like "You're so right!"  
which gets pretty dull after a while.  (Of course, there's such a thing as 
too strong; verbal aggression has a tendency to kill communication dead.  
Which is probably the point, come to think of it.)  And when I read a book, I 
cannot read it 'objectively'.  I may be able to *comment* on it objectively 
(always assuming that my belief about using parameters is actually true, 
which you may not believe to be the case), but I have to force myself, and 
that takes away so much of the pleasure of reading for me.  Like you, I want 
the "experience of being down in the middle of something different".  I want 
to know I'm there, not just observing and taking slide samples or something.

>Sorry to sound like a flame, but I do get het up about this stuff.

        *Was* this a flame directed at someone specific?  I hadn't thought it 
was, I thought it was more an outburst of anguish ;)  --but if it was then I 
think it ties in with something I learned from workshops, which is the need 
for everyone within a group to feel safe.  I am wondering if so many people 
on list, esp the younger ones, came out from lurking recently because they 
finally felt safe enough to do so?

>This list
>is such a great way to crystallize ART IS A TOOL (working title). And now
>I've got some time in October and January to write up this stuff. I expect
>I'll be running it past you all... and in the meantime as well.

        Yum!  Like Deborah, I am exploiting you and everyone else shamefully 
(or shamelessly depending on your pt of view) for my thesis.  You all have 
the coolest insights, and the clearest way of making your points.  An 
education in itself.  Thanks!!


PS  I will be away for the next six days, so if anyone posts anything (ha 
ha--what do I mean 'if'?)  I should say if anyone posts anything that 
specifically expects a reply from Tanaquil2, I won't be able to reply for six 
days, plus the two years it will take me to read all your tasty posts.  Bye,  

Have fun, guys!
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