Fewer and fewer Americans possess objects that have a patina, old furniture, grandparents pots and pans -- the used things, warm with generations of human touch, essential to a human landscape. Instead, we have our paper phantoms, transistorized landscapes. A featherweight portable museum.
It's a pleasure to share one's memories. Everything remembered is dear, endearing, touching, precious. At least the past is safe --though we didn't know it at the time. We know it now. Because it's in the past; because we have survived.
The best emotions to write out of are anger and fear or dread. The least energizing emotion to write out of is admiration. It is very difficult to write out of because the basic feeling that goes with admiration is a passive contemplative mood.
Using a camera appeases the anxiety which the work-driven feel about not working when they are on vacation and supposed to be having fun. They have something to do that is like a friendly imitation of work: they can take pictures.
Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world. To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world -- in order to set up a shadow world of meanings.
Jews and homosexuals are the outstanding creative minorities in contemporary urban culture. Creative, that is, in the truest sense: they are creators of sensibilities. The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish moral seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony.
Unfortunately, moral beauty in art -- like physical beauty in a person -- is extremely perishable. It is nowhere so durable as artistic or intellectual beauty. Moral beauty has a tendency to decay very rapidly into sententiousness or untimeliness.
Al forms of consensus about great books and perennial problems, once stabilized, tend to deteriorate eventually into something philistine. The real life of the mind is always at the frontiers of what is already known. Those great books don't only need custodians and transmitters. To stay alive, they also need adversaries. The most interesting ideas are heresies.
What pornographic literature does is precisely to drive a wedge between one's existence as a full human being and one's existence as a sexual being -- while in ordinary life a healthy person is one who prevents such a gap from opening up. Normally we don't experience, at least don't want to experience, our sexual fulfillment as distinct from or opposed to our personal fulfillment. But perhaps in part they are distinct, whether we like it or not.
Though collecting quotations could be considered as merely an ironic mimetism -- victimless collecting, as it were... in a world that is well on its way to becoming one vast quarry, the collector becomes someone engaged in a pious work of salvage. The course of modern history having already sapped the traditions and shattered the living wholes in which precious objects once found their place, the collector may now in good conscience go about excavating the choicer, more emblematic fragments.
Tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness -- pushing us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires, which range from the impulse to commit sudden arbitrary violence upon another person to the voluptuous yearning for the extinction of one's consciousness, for death itself. Even on the level of simple physical sensation and mood, making love surely resembles having an epileptic fit at least as much as, if not more than, it does eating a meal or conversing with someone.
One set of messages of the society we live in is: Consume. Grow. Do what you want. Amuse yourselves. The very working of this economic system, which has bestowed these unprecedented liberties, most cherished in the form of physical mobility and material prosperity, depends on encouraging people to defy limits.
The discovery of the good taste of bad taste can be very liberating. The man who insists on high and serious pleasures is depriving himself of pleasure; he continually restricts what he can enjoy; in the constant exercise of his good taste he will eventually price himself out of the market, so to speak. Here Camp taste supervenes upon good taste as a daring and witty hedonism. It makes the man of good taste cheerful, where before he ran the risk of being chronically frustrated. It is good for the digestion.
The hard truth is that what may be acceptable in elite culture may not be acceptable in mass culture, that tastes which pose only innocent ethical issues as the property of a minority become corrupting when they become more established. Taste is context, and the context has changed.
Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution. Poignant longings for beauty, for an end to probing below the surface, for a redemption and celebration of the body of the world. Ultimately, having an experience becomes identical with taking a photograph of it.
We live under continual threat of two equally fearful, but seemingly opposed, destinies: unremitting banality and inconceivable terror. It is fantasy, served out in large rations by the popular arts, which allows most people to cope with these twin specters.
Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. All the conditions of modern life -- its material plenitude, its sheer crowdedness -- conjoin to dull our sensory faculties.
Guns have metamorphosed into cameras in this earnest comedy, the ecology safari, because nature has ceased to be what it always had been -- what people needed protection from. Now nature tamed, endangered, mortal -- needs to be protected from people.
With the modern diseases (once TB, now cancer) the romantic idea that the disease expresses the character is invariably extended to assert that the character causes the disease -- because it has not expressed itself. Passion moves inward, striking and blighting the deepest cellular recesses.
For those who live neither with religious consolations about death nor with a sense of death (or of anything else) as natural, death is the obscene mystery, the ultimate affront, the thing that cannot be controlled. It can only be denied.
In most modern instances, interpretation amounts to the philistine refusal to leave the work of art alone. Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable.
The aim of all commentary on art now should be to make works of art -- and, by analogy, our own experience -- more, rather than less, real to us. The function of criticism should be to show how it is what it is, even that it is what it is, rather than to show what it means.
Cancer patients are lied to, not just because the disease is (or is thought to be) a death sentence, but because it is felt to be obscene--in the original meaning of that word: ill-omened, abominable, repugnant to the senses.
Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible. By getting us used to what, formerly, we could not bear to see or hear, because it was too shocking, painful, or embarrassing, art changes morals.