Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Jose Ortega y Gasset: The Dehumanization of Art (New Translation by Marciano Guerrero) Part 1 of 3

ESPAÑA MADRID ORTEGA Y GASSET BARRIO LISTA 1¤I...Image by juan5731 Mopar 340 cu.in. via Flickr


[Part 1 of 3]

A great man is dying. His wife is by his bedside. A doctor takes the dying man's pulse. In the background two more persons are present: a reporter who watches the passing scene for professional reasons, and a painter whom mere chance has brought here. Wife, doctor, reporter, and painter witness one and the same event. However, this identical event —a man's agony— appears to each of them in a different aspect. So different indeed are these aspects that they barely have a common nucleus. The difference of what this scene means to the grieving wife and what it means to the painter who looks on impassively is so vast that we should say: both wife and painter are witnessing two entirely distinct events.

As a result, one and the same reality may split up into many diverse realities when it is be­held from different points of view. And we cannot help asking ourselves: which of all these multiple realities is the real and authentic one? Any decision we make cannot but be arbitrary. Our preference for one or the other can be based on whim only. All these realities are equivalent, each being authentic for its congruent point of view. All we can do is to classify the points of view and choose among them the one that seems, in a practical way, most normal or most spon­taneous. Thus we arrive at a notion of reality that is by no means absolute, but at least practical and nor­mative.

The clearest method to assess the points of view of the four persons present at the deathbed consists in measuring one of their dimensions: the emotional distance between each person and the common event, the agony, they all witness. For the wife of the dying man the distance is so minimal that it is almost non-existent.
That lamentable event so tortures her heart and overfills her soul that it fuses with her person, or to put it inversely: the woman intervenes in the scene, she is part of it. In order to see something, for a fact to become an object that we observe we need to separate it from ourselves; it must cease to form a living part of our being. Thus the wife is not present at the scene, she is in it. She does not behold it, she "lives" it.
The doctor is a little more removed. To him this is a professional case. He doesn’t intervene in the event with the frantic and blinding anguish that floods the soul of the poor woman. However, his professional duty compels him to take a serious interest in what is happening: he carries responsibility, perhaps even his prestige is in danger. Hence he too, albeit in a less integral and less intimate way, takes part in the event, the scene overpowers him, dragging him into its dramatic interior, seizing him not his heart but the professional portion of his self. He too "lives" the sad happening, although with emotions emanating not from within, but from his professional periphery.

When we now put ourselves in the vantage point of the re­porter we realize that we have moved a long distance away from that painful reality.
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