Friday, March 9, 2012

Truth And Pornography

I'm going to blog about politics. Rational, coherent discussion of politics in the US is impossible: There are just too many cannibals and whores filling both parties. I'm going to try to say nothing at all on any political topic during an election year. And I will fail. Nevertheless, this is why I'll try.

Reading classics is a Good Idea. The political axe grinding of Pliny can be ignored because it is irrelevant today. Let's suppose you're a Whig Party faithful. While I'm discussing demonology, I make a snarky comment about Daniel Webster--the Whig statesman of two centuries ago. You will NOT BE thinking about the things I write about the Devil because you're thinking about what I said about Daniel Webster.

Now, substitute the word Whig with Democrat or Republican, and replace the name Daniel Webster with whoever the other party's leaders are demonizing this week. This is why I don't want to say anything at all about anyone except Whigs this election year.

I believe that Art tells the Truth.

The truth is complicated. There are aspects of the truth that support or undermine any partisan political camp. If you make any assertion, and you keep looking, you'll find exceptions to that proposition. 2+2 is 4? Yes, but what if you're working in a mathematical context called Galois Field 4? Then 2+2=0. OK, that's an exception.

In anything non-trivial there are exceptions to exceptions--like the turtles that hold up the world, there are turtles all the way down.  The Mandlebrot set has little balls sticking off the sides that in turn have smaller balls sticking off the sides of the little balls. And tiny balls sticking off the sides of the smaller balls. The truth is complicated like the Mandlebrot set is complicated because of those exceptions to exceptions.

People are more complicated than mathematical objects. And this means that in every person you'll find a mix of good and evil. Alexander Solzhenitsyn said that the line between good and evil passes through the heart of every person. This means your protagonist must have a dark side, and your antagonist must have some redeeming qualities. If you fail to do that, you aren't telling the truth about a realistic character.

Fail to give your hero that dark side, and you'll probably be accused of creating a Mary Sue character. Your most convincing antagonists will be good people who are pursuing good ends that just happen to have evil means. E.g. "Terribly sorry, Mr. Hero, but I must stick a knife in your back for the greater good." You can't tell the truth about people without relating their flaws.

Ayn Rand would disagree. If you've got a hero with a wart on the nose, don't show the wart or else all the good of the hero will be undermined by the wart. Because that wart will be taken out of proportion. She has a point. When young Hugh Hefner published photographs of Marylin Monroe, he airbrushed them. We're not talking about Eleanor Rigby, he airbrushed Marylin Monroe!

The truth is that the girl is not the Platonic ideal feminine form, but a realization of that form in an Aristotelian world of particulars. You can always find something wrong with the girl if you look close enough. (If you're in a relationship right now, it's wise not to look too closely for that person's faults.)

I believe that Pornography is Airbrushed.

Pornographers airbrush the parts of the truth that are complicated--the parts of the truth that undermine the message they're sending. For Mr. Hefner, that message was "here is feminine perfection." For Ms. Rand, that message was "here is objectivist heroism." I'll let others critique Ayn Rand's writing, except to note that John Galt and Dagney Taggart never evinced self-doubt or uncertainty such as is common to all mankind.

A filmmaker recently said that the subject of his biography--a politician--had no flaws. Really? Pliny's Panegyricus Traiani finds no flaws in the Emperor Trajan, but many flaws in former-Emperor Domitian. The truth is that both men were imperfect leaders who succeeded and failed in mixed measure as do we all. Airbrushing failures off of Trajan and on to Domitian is just as pornographic as Playboy magazine. Corollary: All propaganda is in this sense pornographic.

I advise that you write the truth--warts and all. If you're a Whig writing about a Whig protagonist, then you'll know some facts that support and some facts that undermine the Whig platform. A pornographer/propagandist will write only those things that support and make a strawman of what undermines the party platform.

I happen to have a political viewpoint that you can determine, but I believe I have an obligation to write the things that undermine both partisan positions--particularly my own.


  1. Yet, does a painter's brush reflect the inner truth on the canvas or does the child of shadow twist the truth into something more digestible for us to swallow.

  2. I was thinking about photography and writing, but you raise a good point about painting.

    According to German philosophers, the portraitist seeks the "fruitful moment" that distills the essence of the subject. Yet this distillation, what we'd call inner truth, is only a first-order approximation. It omits the exceptions and exceptions to exceptions. It is easier to swallow and the naive modernist would mistake this first-order approximation for truth. In many contexts the successive approximations converge so quickly that we can ignore these higher-order terms.

    In other contexts, the successive approximations do not converge so quickly and significant information remains in the higher-order terms. The propagandist, shill, and/or pornographer will not only ignores, but suppresses these higher-order terms.


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