Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Auden and I

Some things to get off my chest. The reason I’ve been falutin’ at different altitudes than usual is that I’ve started reading W.H. Auden’s “The Dyer’s Hand.” Good stuff, and deep – I think. I qualify it because he’s the kind of author that presents things in a beautiful way, ordered, concise, with intriguing examples. The examples or similes are such that, by the time you’ve worked out how they might apply, you’re on his side because you’ve forgotten to think about a counterargument. Here’s an example. He’s talking about the difference between a contract (which is the basis of a master-servant relationship, the point of which I’m still trying to figure out) and a law.

[T]he relationship of all individuals to a law is symmetric; it commands or prohibits the same thing to all who come under it.

So far, so good. The law doesn’t make master-servant relationships. It allows them, but they are not the basis of law and its enforcement. But then comes the thing that’s still gnawing at me.

Of any law one can ask the aesthetic question, “Is it enforceable?” and the ethical question, “Is it just?” An individual has the aesthetic right to break the law if he is powerful enough to do so with impunity, and it may be his ethical duty to break it if his conscience tells him that the law is unjust.

What gets me is the “aesthetic question” and the “aesthetic right.”
Aesthetics, as I understand it, involves beauty, nature, art, and the perception (and evaluation) thereof.

There are too many things going around in my mind surrounding this problem to put in a proper order, so I’ll just start spewing (please pardon me and skip this paragraph if it’s too tedious, I promise to finish up with something facetious). You prove your aesthetic right by exposing a law as unenforceable and therefore become an artist by cheating on taxes or hiring below minimum wage – this gets at the romanticism in certain crimes; criminals are artists; but are lawmakers or law-enforcers the artists on the other side; are laws beautiful or natural or artistic or are they the perception (and evaluation) of beauty, art and nature? - I’ll stop.

Other examples or points of his aren’t as well thought-out.

Between friends differences in taste or opinion are irritating in direct proportion to their triviality. If my friend takes up Vedanta, I can accept it, but if he prefers his steak well done, I feel it to be treachery.

And it is. Treachery to Vedanta. Imagine, a Hindu eating steak.

(I'm telling you, publishers who don't read this, I'd make a good proofreader on a conceptual level.)

No comments: