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The Sovereignty of Taste

The Sovereignty of Taste

Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 200
  • Book Info
    The Sovereignty of Taste
    Book Description:

    Challenging prevailing trends toward aesthetic neutrality, James S. Hans argues that there is such a thing as good and bad taste, that taste is something one is born with, and that it is firmly rooted in the mechanics of biology. _x000B__x000B_Taste is everything, Hans says, for it produces the primary values that guide our lives. Taste is the fundamental organizing mechanism of human bodies, a lifelong effort to fit one's own rhythms to the rhythms and patterns of the natural world and the larger human community. It is an aesthetic sorting process by which one determines what belongs in--a conversation, a curriculum, a committee, a piece of art, a meal, a logical argument--and what should be left out. On the one hand, taste is the source of beauty, justice, and a sense of the good. On the other hand, as an arbiter of the laws of fair and free play, taste enters into more ominous and destructive patterns--but patterns nonetheless--of resentment and violence._x000B__x000B_Hans develops his conception of taste through astute readings of five literary landmarks: Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Sophocles' Oedipus the King, William Faulkner's Light in August, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the Polish Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz. These texts explore the art of soulmaking and the quest for personal expression: the costs as well as the fruits that come from acceding to the imperatives of one's being. They also reveal how the collision of personal and collective rhythms, whether in the Greek citadel or the Mississippi countryside, leads to violence and ritualized sacrifice. _x000B__x000B_Elegant, principled, and provocative, The Sovereignty of Taste is an essential book that restores taste to its rightful place of influence, shoring up the ground beneath civilization's feet and offering hope for the future of integrity, value, and aesthetic truth.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09328-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    Twenty years ago, when I completed my first manuscript, I found myself in the midst of a dilemma. My work was based on a definition of the word play that could only be properly understood through a complete reading of the book: readers needed to know at the beginning the use of a word they could only comprehend once they had been through the entire work. In some respects this problem reflects the fundamental conundrum at the heart of all interpretation, as described by the hermeneutic circle: one must move back and forth from part to whole in order to...

  4. 1. To Thine Own Self Be True
    (pp. 17-45)

    On a daily basis, the most fundamental problem of human existence is that individuals are called upon to make choices with insufficient knowledge about the consequences. No matter how long one lives or how wise one becomes, one finds oneself in the same dilemma: one needs to make a decision, but the outcomes of the various possibilities remain unclear. This pragmatic space of individual lives has always been vexing for humans, and over the millennia much thought has been given to various ways of making choices. Many people have attempted to discern the structures through which humans make decisions in...

  5. 2. The Production of the Gods
    (pp. 46-78)

    The laws of beauty work themselves out in human lives in any number of ways. When people are fortunate, they discover the means through which to compose their lives in pleasing ways, and novels such as The Unbearable Lightness of Being express the richness of this everyday dimension of the laws of beauty. Any thought about the aesthetic rhythms that govern lives, though, must also address patterns of existence that individuals find less pleasing, most notably the rhythm of violence that has been central to all human communities. Although people are reluctant to concede that aesthetic principles are implicated in...

  6. 3. The Principle of Taste
    (pp. 79-106)

    The laws of beauty work themselves out in lives in a variety of ways. At their best they provide people with the pleasing rhythms they most deeply desire. At worst, they offer the most fearsome creation of the gods out of our desperate desire to restore the rhythms we have lost. Over the course of their lives humans do what they can to discern the presence of the rhythms on the basis of which their lives unfold, and the more adept they become at this practice, the more enriched their lives become. In this way they establish an idea of...

  7. 4. The Frenzy of Regret
    (pp. 107-139)

    Kundera’s laws of beauty, Kant’s archetype of taste, and Dickinson’s art of soulmaking all point to the processes on the basis of which human lives unfold when they are provided fitting contexts in which to express themselves. In the best of cases, even unpropitious circumstances can be overcome by individuals who learn to focus on what corresponds to their archetype of taste, who regularly recalibrate their sense of what is most appropriate for them at any given time. But there are many lives that don’t work themselves out in accord with the laws of beauty, that suggest soulmaking is impossible...

  8. 5. Demonic Possession
    (pp. 140-169)

    Once one begins to relate the laws of beauty to the archetypes of taste that produce the collective violence that is also central to human existence, one is engaged in the most difficult of inquiries because there is no easy way to distinguish between the archetype of taste that produces concord and the one that produces the dissolution of order. Joe Christmas strives for order in his life and has a clear intuitive sense of how things should be composed, but he cannot locate those patterns in everyday life. He may only once have declared “‘This is not my life,’”¹...

  9. 6. The City of Demons
    (pp. 170-182)

    If humans are devoted to the production of an idea of taste that can never be completely rendered, if individuals are bedeviled throughout life by the question of whether they are the instrument of good or evil spirits, then Czeslaw Milosz’s poetry is the consummate expression of our age. No poet has wrestled more powerfully with the forces that have made this such a horrible and glorious period, and no poet has worked harder to redefine our relations to the world in accord with the ancient imperatives of the daimonion. Like the early Greeks whose tragedies cautioned people that none...