Contextual Authority and Aesthetic Truth

SUNY Press
Free sample

This book explores the relationship between authority and context and attempts to establish the ways in which authority is a function of a particular agent or set of agents, and the degree to which it is a product of a context rather than an agent. The work is not a sociological or psychological study but rather a literary/philosophical speculation into the roots of our conceptions of authority. It declares all authority to be aesthetic in nature and is based on an analysis of several key texts from various different cultural backgrounds: Foucault, Weber, Nietzsche, Confucius, and Homer.
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About the author

James S. Hans is Professor of English at Wake Forest University. His previous books are The Fate of Desire; The Origins of the Gods; The Value(s) of Literature, all published by SUNY Press; The Play of the World; Imitation and the Image of Man; and The Question of Value: Thinking Through Nietzsche, Heidegger and Freud. He has published numerous essays on modern and contemporary American literature and contemporary literary theory and Continental philosophy.

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Additional Information

Publisher
SUNY Press
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Pages
354
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ISBN
9781438405674
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Challenging prevailing trends toward aesthetic neutrality, James S. Hans argues that there is such a thing as good and bad taste, that taste is something one is born with, and that it is firmly rooted in the mechanics of biology.

Taste is everything, Hans says, for it produces the primary values that guide our lives. Taste is the fundamental organizing mechanism of human bodies, a lifelong effort to fit one's own rhythms to the rhythms and patterns of the natural world and the larger human community. It is an aesthetic sorting process by which one determines what belongs in--a conversation, a curriculum, a committee, a piece of art, a meal, a logical argument--and what should be left out. On the one hand, taste is the source of beauty, justice, and a sense of the good. On the other hand, as an arbiter of the laws of fair and free play, taste enters into more ominous and destructive patterns--but patterns nonetheless--of resentment and violence.

Hans develops his conception of taste through astute readings of five literary landmarks: Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Sophocles' Oedipus the King, William Faulkner's Light in August, and the poetry of Emily Dickinson and the Polish Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz. These texts explore the art of soulmaking and the quest for personal expression: the costs as well as the fruits that come from acceding to the imperatives of one's being. They also reveal how the collision of personal and collective rhythms, whether in the Greek citadel or the Mississippi countryside, leads to violence and ritualized sacrifice.

Elegant, principled, and provocative, The Sovereignty of Taste is an essential book that restores taste to its rightful place of influence, shoring up the ground beneath civilization's feet and offering hope for the future of integrity, value, and aesthetic truth.
Based on Nietzsche’s critique of religion and culture, and engaging the contemporary offshoots of that critique, this book assesses the myths of origins that have been used to articulate the fundamental attitude toward the relationship between shame and beauty. In reconsidering some of the myths upon which the West is based, from Hesiod and Greek mythology to Plato and the Bible, Hans pursues the ways in which we have habitually separated shame and beauty in order to create the grounds that would provide us with the authority for our lives we think we need. By juxtaposing Socrates’ repression of violence in The Republic and Nietzsche’s conception of the overman, the author revises the network of relations that are associated with the religious, the aesthetic, and the political, asserting that the religious derives from the aesthetic rather than the other way around, and establishing a necessary connection between the political and the aesthetic.

Hans aims to raise yet again the questions embodied in Nietzsche’s attempt to prompt humans to face the true status of their actions in the world: are we finally able to address our shame without immediately projecting it onto another or repressing it? If so, what changes might we see in the psychological, social, and political worlds we would create out of such an acknowledgment? What value is to be found in accepting the uneasy relationship between shame and beauty upon which our lives rest? While The Origins of the Gods provides no definitive answers to such questions simply because none are possible, it makes use of such queries in order to reassert the great importance of Nietzsche’s affirmation of the value of the world as it is. It argues that this affirmation has something crucial to offer if we are willing to forgo an authorized existence and confront the beauty and shame from which our lives are inevitably constituted.
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