Good literature, good music, beauty of form and good rhythm all depend on goodness of character—not lack of awareness of the world which we politely call ‘goodness,’ but a mind and character well-formed. Are not these the things which our youth must pursue? The graphic arts are full of the same qualities and so are the related crafts, weaving and embroidery, architecture, and the manufacture of furniture, and the same for living things, animals and plants. For in all of them we find beauty and ugliness. And ugliness of form and bad rhythm and disharmony are akin to poor quality of expression and character, and their opposites, good character and discipline. –book three, The Republic
What’s the one thing which terrifies the avant-garde?
Colleges won’t touch it.
Intellectuals are afraid of it.
Artists feel dread at the mere mention of its name.
It’s far more horrifying, divisive and forbidden than violence, sex, politics or religion.
In a discussion with Christopher Woodman on the Louise Gluck thread, I put it honestly on the table: Gluck’s lost beauty. Gluck was not insincere when she said she “didn’t want to be a Longfellow,” because Professor Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s fame was, by its very nature, a “flaw;” yet Gluck’s grumble betrays a petulant crankiness, which, on closer examination, reveals a psychological reversal: it isn’t that she doesn’t want Longfellow’s acclaim; Gluck is resigned to the fact that she’ll never have it. Gluck’s grumble is honest, because she believes that at one time she could have had fame—otherwise her grumbly complaint, which only makes her look like a crank, would never have been made. It was made, however. Why? Louise Gluck is a distinguished (if not a wildly acclaimed) poet, and not known for personal outbursts or gaffes. Why would she make such a grumble in public? Regret. What does she regret? She would never have made the by now famous “Longfellow- acclaim-grumble” had she lacked confidence in her importance above and beyond acclaim; yet why should the ‘above and beyond’ ever fall to crankiness? If it’s really ‘above and beyond,’ it shouldn’t. Gluck had a cranky moment, in our opinion, for a very simple, human reason: she regrets her youthful beauty is gone and that it can no longer participate in any acclaim.
This is Gluck’s unspoken truth. Unspoken, for her once ravishing beauty lies at the center of her complaint, and it must lie in silence, for the Modernists knocked beauty and harmony and discipline off the throne, and placed the vanity of intellectual obfuscation and difficulty there, instead.
Some will assume it then follows that there’s no such thing as inner beauty.
Of course there is. There is inner beauty, or beauty of the mind, which is, at least according to Socrates, what we should chiefly adore.
But we love and respond to a person’s inner loveliness only when that person is honest about their desire for beauty which they do not possess.
This is what does not get taught in schools; it’s dangerous (and impolite to all the ugly people) to worship beauty as it truly exists.
But all great artists must ‘go through’ this first (honest) step to get to the next one: inner beauty which desires to be beautiful.
Beauty is attractive, and thus, it will always have a certain amount of acclaim. This is natural, and to reject acclaim is to embrace the ugly.
The Modernist response to this problem is the sour-grapes approach; Modernist aesthetics placates the non-beautiful by renouncing beauty altogether, saying beauty is nothing but a hindrance, an obsolete illusion of an ignorant people. This is what has become the academic, postmosternist ideal: The heckling of beauty, the worship of non-beauty.
It’s a classic case of repression: for what is the morose, ugly intellectualism of modernism/post-modernism, if not the vengeful ghost of Platonism entering secretly through the back door?
Socrates is explicit on this point: art that moves us too well is for that very reason forbidden from his utopian republic.
The reasonable and beautiful search for harmony and good by Socrates has been chopped up and stored under the floorboards by modern intellectualism, which considers itself free of that Socratic quest for harmony and good. Today we are embarrassed by those dialogues of Plato; and yet, what is this elite, sour, and free-ranging intellectualism which we call modernism/post-modernism, but that which has banned art from the republic, not by banning it, but by making it harsh and ugly, so that a vast majority of the republic’s citizens are unmoved by art, such that outright banning isn’t necessary? What is modernism and postmodernism but a harsh and hidden Platonism asserting itself in an unconscious and repressed manner in the unconsciously-agreeable, avant-garde mind?
The ‘found’ poem or ‘found’ art, for instance, produces smirks among the clever avant garde artistes, and only a quizzical shrug in the populace—and the latter reaction gives the clever artistes a certain superior satisfaction; however, the clever artistes don’t realize that they (the clever artistes) are the willing slaves of plato’s ideas—for the good of that art-hating, hard-working populace.
Louise Gluck—belonging, with her colleagues and defenders, to the modernist/post-modernist/university writing program tradition, which self-consciously defines itself, explicitly, in complete opposition to artists like Longfellow, why should the once-young and beautiful Louise Gluck admit that she wants to be admired by the hard-working, art-hating masses of plato’s real and modern republic? This would be like Gluck saying she wants to be young, again, and pretty, and invited to the ball, where Socrates—look! he’s young and handsome, too! waits, trembling with excitement, to dance with her.