Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jose Ortega y Gasset: The Dehumanization of Art (New Translation by Marciano Guerrero) - Part 2 of 3

ESPAÑA MADRID ORTEGA Y GASSET BARRIO LISTA 1¤I...Image by juan5731 Mopar 340 via Flickr
A Few Drops of Phenomenology

The reporter, like the doctor, is there for professional reasons and not out of a spontaneous human impulse. But while the doctor's profession requires him to intervene, the re­porter's requires him precisely to stay aloof; he has to confine himself to observing. To him the event is a mere scene, a pure spectacle that he is expected to report in his newspaper column. He doesn’t partake emotionally in what is happening there, he does not "live" the scene, he observes it. Yet he observes it with a view to telling his readers about it. He wants to interest them, to move them, and if possible to make his readers weep as if they were transient relatives of the dying man. From his schooldays he remembers reading Horace's recipe: "Si vis me fiere dolen­dum est primum ipsi tibi"— if you want me to weep you must first grieve yourself.

Obedient to Horace the reporter feigns emotion, hoping that it will nurture his literary perform­ance. As a result, though he does not "live" the scene, he at least “feigns” live it.

Lastly, the painter, completely unconcerned, does nothing but keep his eyes wide open. What is happening there is none of his business; he is, as it were, a hundred miles removed from the scene. His attitude is purely perceptive; indeed, he doesn’t perceive the event in its en­tirety; the painful inner sense of the event remains at the margin of his attention. He only pays attention to the exterior, to the lights and shadows, to the chromatic values. In the painter we find a maximum of distance and a minimum of sentimental in­tervention.
The inevitable weighty grief of this analysis might be compensated should we be allowed to speak with clarity about a scale of emotional distances between ourselves and reality.
In this scale, the degree of proximity is equivalent to the degree of emotional participation in the event; the degree of remoteness, on the other hand, means the degree to which we have freed ourselves from the real event, thus objectifying it and transforming it into a theme of pure observation. Situated at one end of the scale we face one part of the world —people, things, and situations— that is the "lived" reality; alternatively, at the other end we see everything in the aspect of "observed" reality.

At this point we must sound a warning that is essential in aesthetics, and without which it isn’t easy to penetrate into the physiology of either old or new art. Among the diverse aspects of reality that correspond to the different points of view, there’s one from which all the others derive and which they all presuppose. This is "lived" reality.

 If no one had ever "lived" in pure frantic aban­donment the agony of a man's death, the doctor would not bother with it, readers would not understand the reporter's pathetic gestures that describe the event, and the canvas on which the painter represents a person on a bed surrounded by mourning figures would be unintelligible. The same holds for any object, be it people or thing. 
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