Aesthetic quality is a residue of what was once the sacred. It has little to do with pleasure. Aesthetic quality is whatever in art is miraculous and hints at the numinous. It is what in form speaks of something more than form.
The Real Sin of Colonialism
The real sin of Western colonialism is not what it did to the subjugated but what it did to the West. For a few centuries, the West possessed powers that no other culture could match. But as in fable, the enjoyment of this magical potency disfigured those who exploited it.
Colonial success emasculated the West.
Masculinity is sustained and sharpened by contest between peers. When the domination of others is effortless, men are unmanned, grow soft, lose the ability to command the respect of even their own women.
Colonialism was not quite the moral evil that today's antiracists, themselves its distant beneficiaries, make it out to be. In many (but not all) instances, the conquered were as warlike and expansionist as the Europeans who conquered them, only not as well-armed. The true evil of colonialism was the degenerative effect it had on the West itself. Easy conquest abroad helped nurture and consolidate the modern worship of technology and "progress" and advanced the desacralization of Western societies. Colonialism abroad, liberalism at home. The results are what we see today: societies ruled by hysterical women, a vast enlargement of the mentally and physically defective portion of the population, the abolition of aesthetic discrimination, fatally coarsened social manners, and the totalitarianianism of the soulless and culture-destroying rule of corporate capital.
The Sin of Modernity
Rudolf Otto called Paul's intuition in Rom. 1:18 ff.—that the commission of sin is the punishment for sin—sublime. This is an intuition applicable to modernity. Is not "progress" the very thing that aflicts progressives? Is it not the very idea that everything is permitted that imprisons today's liberals in practices and ideologies that condemn them to disquiet, strife, lovelessness, anxiety and, ultimately, to constrictions more severe than the norms from which permissiveness was supposed to deliver them?
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;What has the modern proliferation of "rights" achieved? It has delivered us into the hands of the most unforgiving, unmerciful, and narcissistic among us, the vicious child advocates of "social jusice." These censorious vermin— whose grandparents were the mud-wallowing, free-loving Woodstock generation—are proof that when we cease to fear the wrath of God, we are forced to endure something worse, the tantrums of our rotten children.
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: (Rom. 1:28-31)
Feminism a Symptom Not a Cause
Feminism is a symptom not cause of the dissolution of patriarchy. The masculinization of women and the feminization of men is a measure of the encroachment of cultural entropy. It makes manifest a general disorder: the erasure of difference and a psychotic undoing of sexuation. Outside of patriarchy, there is no symbolic order. We are reabsorbed into the chaos of the matrix. But it was capital not feminism that liquidated patriarchy. It was capital and its ability to unite opposites (Marx) that fatally compromised the symbolic order.
Feminism, like all modern ideologies, covers up the disarticulation of the symbolic order by greeting it as an emancipation. But emancipation from difference is ultimately emancipation from sense itself. When women can be men and men can be women, just about every other distinction is compromised. We are overwhelmed by non-sense.It is in this context that "identity" comes to the forefront as a means of replacing failed conventional categories with arbitrary ones. Consequently we witness a proliferation of newly minted pronouns and transgendered renamings, all assertively, over-assertively, defended from interrogation. But the very extremity of their defense reveals their weakness. Forced language is not a durable defense against enduring truths.
Without patriarchy there is no culture, without culture and its "oppressive" conventions (oppressive because as Maistre noted, to have longevity, institutions and customs must be inspired not deliberated), there is no meaning. Life without meaning is intolerable. And so, ultimately, what modernity teaches is that the rule of the Father is indispensable. But it teaches this negatively, through its own squalor. Feminism is part of that squalor.
The New Primitivism
What drives progressive whites (perhaps the whitest of all whites) to identify with blacks?
I think the answer to that question, or at least a partial answer, resides in the exalted place the primitive has enjoyed in the European imagination since the moment Europeans began to appreciate what they lost when they dispensed with their own "superstitions" and became enlightened, whitened rationalists. The Woke worship of blackness then resolves into the latest version of European primitivism, which formerly fixated on the creative vitality of "savages" and is now entranced by the virility of black criminals.
It is all too easy to get sucked into participating in what is labelled a "culture war" that is really the self-immolation of a culture impoverished to the point that it has to burn down its own house in order to avoid freezing.
Today, practically all cultural activity in the West involves some form of anticultural "transgression," some form of performative debasement of a tradition or convention that can be safely debased because it no longer has sufficient life force in it to resist degredation let alone renew itself. So feminists abuse a patriarchy that was already extinct by the mid-19th century (as the inventors of modern communism acknowledged back in 1848). So effete academics dismantle literary and artistic canons that survive strictly as dessicated effigies.
We pull down statues in lieu of producing men of stature.
The Real and the Numinous
The Lacanian Real bears striking resemblance to the numinous in its resistance to conceptualization and its unapproachability. And Lacan's seminars make frequent reference to mystical experience. Object petit a would seem to be the hint of the numinous that desire discovers in the objects that arouse it. Overall, Lacan seems a great deal more sympathetic to mystical experience than Freud. One could perhaps make the case that his rereading of Freud is a recovery of what Freud's rationalism repressed in his investigation of the irrational. In this, Freud remained very much a demystifying representative of the Enlightenment. Lacan was a more complex case and at least recognized that symbolization has a limit.
Then too there is that convergence between the Lacanian Real as a void around which the drive ceaselessly orbits and the mystical characterization of the numinous as emptiness or nothing, about which Rudolf Otto observed:
This aspiration for the 'void' and for becoming void, no less than the aspiration of our western mystics for 'nothing' and becoming nothing, must seem a kind of lunacy to anyone who has no inner sympathy with for the esoteric language and ideograms of mysticism, and lacks the matrix from which these come necessarily to birth. To such an one Buddhism itself will be simply a morbid sort of pessimism. But in fact the 'void' of the eastern, like the 'nothing' of the western, mystic is a numinous ideogram of the 'wholly other.'The "wholly other" would appear to also be a close fit for the Real . Moreover, psychoanalysis as Lacan redefined it, bears resemblance to a process of mystical ascesis that gradually removes the barrier to communion with the numinous
I note these similarities. I am not convinced they prove a homology.
Update: Others, better versed in Lacan than I am, attest to his receptivity to mystical experiemce. See, for instance, Other Jouissance and Modern Mysticism.
Art is Sacred or Not at All
Historical evidence strongly suggests that what subsequently came to be called "art" was in its origins a means of consecrating the world. When modernity banished the sacred, it also deprived art of its fundamental purpose.
So then what is on display in modernism is an effort to appoint art itself as religion in order to compensate for the desacralization of the world. However, art exceeds its capability when it tries displace the sacred instead of serving it. Art does not have within itself the power of the numen. It is not in itself numinous. Thus, as an effort to re-sacralize the world by aestheticizing it, modernism was a noble failure. Aestheticism proved to be too precious, too enervated to replace worship. (Huysman's trajectory is pertinent.)
After modernism, i.e. after Duchamp—whose distinction is that he was one of the very first to recognize the redundancy of Western art and to find, through the idea of the readymade, an effective way to demonstrate this redundancy—art flaunts its own debasement, its own used-upness. It has no reason to continue. It longs for its own extinction, "the death of art." But having acquired value as commodity, it is forced to continue. But what can it express as commodity? Only its whoredom: It enacts and re-enacts its debasement, straining constantly to find new, more obscene ways of displaying its own desacration. Damien Hirst's work, among others, is a perfect illustration of this.
The Myth of the Avant-Garde
Art has always served power but in the premodern period, power, though associated with wealth was not its product, whereas contemporary power is wholly the power of dead capital. The power of capital is an excrementalizing power that art is hard-pressed to exalt. The real story of modern art, once one gets past the self-heroicizing bluster of the avant-garde, is the story of the difficulties that had to be surmounted (the craft that had to be forgotten, the qualms that had to be allayed) before art could be sufficiently debased to serve capital.
For art to serve capital, it had to develop the means to make vacuity glamorous. Adapting to an ugly age, art learned to glorify ugliness. Adapting to a materialist age from the sacred had fled, art learned to glorify inanity. Adapting to an age of diminished men, art learned to glorify stunted tastes and feelings. Adapting to an age emasculated by the worship of technology, art learned to glorify effeminacy, lameness, indeterminacy. Adapting to an age “emancipated” from patriarchy, art learned to glorify perpetual adolescence, impotent rebellion, formlessness. At every step, these adaptations had to overcome the resistance of artists and intellects that still retained a connection to nobler ages. Finally, with the advent of postmodernism, the eradication of every lingering trace of decency was consolidated under a rubric that made a virtue out of the wholesale inversion of standards and norms.
With each step forward into artistic debasement, the diminution of quality was accompanied by an expansion of quantity until, today, the term art is applied to the slightest affectation. This pervasive artification of the late modern world hides its concurrent uglification. What is merely cultural breakdown is given the appearance of deliberate "avant garde" trangression. The encroachment of entropy is represented as forceful innovation. The loss of aesthetic discrimination is heralded as liberation from various "phobias."
Here, finally, the real historical significance of the avant-garde is revealed. The avante-garde enabled cultural and artistic decadence to assume the form of a heroic emancipation from oppressive conventions. The delusion persists, now more necessary than ever, therefore magnified. As cultural breakdown accelerates, as one cultural category after another unravels and dissolves into its opposite, the descent into mass psychosis is greeted as a triumph of wilfull deconstruction. The splendor of a transhuman utopia urges onward into extinction.
Once culture is separated from its past, it succumbs to fashion. The tyranny of the present is expressed as the tyranny of fashion.
When the present is everything, one exists only in the moment and only to the degree that one can gain the attention of the moment. To fail to do so is existential nullification, a fate worse than death.
The terror of being overlooked by the present underlies all manner of social pathologies ranging from social media “addiction” to acts of random mass violence. In the bad old patriarchal days, they used to call this condition hell. Hell is not "other people." Hell is the present without past or future. Hell is fashion.
The hardest thing for any man to achieve is worldliness: getting past his own anxieties, injuries, petty prejudices, vanity, sentimentality and seeing the world as it is, with a keen eye for what hides under shifting forms.
The worldly man stands apart from popular crazes and fashions. He is neither reactionary nor progressive. Least of all is he an “activist” of any kind, being perfectly aware that changes come of their own accord and for reasons that their ardent promoters themselves cannot fathom.
He knows that trying to “change the world” is as much of a fool’s errand as trying to prevent it from changing. The world has its own reasons, and it regularly employs fools to achieve them.