Architecture, wine, tragedy, God

We’re all doing Philosophy Bites today in CoPhi: Alain de Botton on architecture, Barry Smith on wine, Alex Neill on tragedy, and Don Cupitt on God. Connecting the dots will be interesting. Or impossible. But that’s how the world generally hangs together, isn’t it? Loosely, at best?

I’m having a harder than usual time threading the needle this morning, after spending most of yesterday immersed in job applications. and then a long negotiating session with colleagues to come up with an impossibly-sudden short list. Our department is in the rare position of hiring, and there are lots and lots of highly qualified job seekers out there. Well, at least on paper. Wish we could hire them all, especially those who got glowing recommendations with comments like “ideal colleague” or “unfailingly pleasant.” How many of us can say that?

Plus, the needle is pretty thin today. Or esoteric. I do like Alain de Botton’s thoughts on the art and beauty of great architecture, and how we’re better people when we live in beautiful surroundings. But, to draw a connection with something we spoke of Monday in EEA, functionality and efficiency are beautiful too. Windmills and solar panels are far more beautiful to me than internal combustion engines, and “earthships” more than ranch houses. The art of sustainability is beautiful.

The philosophy of wine? In vino veritas? Well, Barry Smith’s focus is even tighter. (Is “tight”still a euphemism for inebriation, btw? Along with things like pissed, sloshed, blitzed, plastered, etc.?) But he’s not interested, as William James was, in biochemically altered states of consciousness as vehicles of experience whose pursuit may be both mind-expanding and soul-destroying (and thus “tragic”).

No, Smith’s concerned with connoisseurship, the refined aesthetic splitting of hairs as to the fine phenomenological differences that can be bottled and capped and sold for outrageous sums to ostentatious self-congratulatory tipplers. What would Peter Singer say?

But ultimately, Smith’s obsession with spirits (like de Botton’s with architecture) is about the pursuit of happiness. I think Nigel’s right to wonder “what’s special about wine”? Smith’s reply does not go out of its way to recognize  the mutual inner significance of such devotions as his. How does he know someone couldn’t get as romantic and rhapsodic about orange juice as he does about his Cabernet? Our respective delights must be known at first hand to be appreciated.

Next, Alex Neill wonders how tragedy can be so pleasurable, how the painful feelings generated by the suffering of a dramatic character on stage or screen can be experienced as art. Beyond that, why do some of us enjoy horror, murder mysteries, roller coasters? Takes all kinds, is all. Or not all, but that’s about the extent of my own interest in this question. Others may differ. Bottom line is still, again, what makes you happy. That may be enough to redeem the paradoxical experience of tragedy.

Don Cupitt’s “God,” no omnipotent hegemonic universe-maker, is an anthropomorphic Jungian symbolic projection of love, perfection, bliss. He/It is an archetypal reflection of recurrent mortal human hopes and fears, and “doesn’t exist apart from from our faith in him.” That’s not what they taught me in Sunday School, but I do recall forming an early impression of a “very large human being, probably of the male sex.” Only later would I encounter New Age/New Thought notions of the omni-gendered “Father-Mother God(dess).”

For his part, Cupitt says “commitment to co-humanity has become my religion.” He’s a humanist, like (he says) Jesus. [Manifestos] And, I’ll bet, like the job applicant who says “straight edge punk is my religion” or the other one who was ready to make the sacred case for baseball. We all have our projections to bear.

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2 Responses to “Architecture, wine, tragedy, God”

  1. Brad Hornick Says:

    FQ: Alain de Botton believed we could better ourselves by surrounding us with aesthetically pleasing architecture. True.
    DQ: If those who don’t have the resources to surround themselves with aesthetically pleasing architecture should we take measures (taxes) to put them there or to bring architecture to them? Why or why not.

    I agree with de Botton’s assumptions that architecture is art and that art can be a process such as folding clothes or helping feed a baby formula. Whether or not this art is necessary for us to better ourselves can be debated. I both agree and disagree. I agree if you survey your surroundings and notice them to be pleasing either to your eyes, ears, or smell it can improve your mood. Travelling to a city such as Washington D.C. or Chicago during the fall undoubtedly will enrich my mood…….to a degree. I remember a few buddies and I were lost while hiking the Appalachian Trail with little water and food left yet I felt completely calm and at ease appreciating the wildlife and vegetation around us. I disagree that architecture can improve our existence simply because our individual happiness comes from within ourselves and only ourselves. I vividly remember attempting to navigate from Berlin to Prague with eleven other people (9 cadets and 2 officers), I had taken a wrong tern when we entered Austria and wound up an hour off course on a road over looking the countryside as a picture perfect sunset unfolded. Everyone in our contingent was awe struck at the beautiful sight except for me. No matter how amazing the sight or sweet the sound I was in misery as I had mad a mistake and didn’t correct it until we were way off course. We make our own happiness. It’s our reality and we will do what we want with it.

  2. osopher Says:

    We’re all “lost in the cosmos,” Walker Percy said. He was criticizing Carl Sagan, but maybe your attitude in the woods is better: not lost, just exploring! On the other hand, I can see how the beauty of a sunset would be harder to appreciate after a wrong turn that you fear might get you reprimanded or worse. Attitude has more to do with aesthetics than maybe we appreciate.

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