On Objective Taste: The Self as Conditioned

Header: Vincenzo Camuccini’s painting, The Death of Julius Caesar.

The Taste for Objectivity

If subjective taste is taste grounded in the immediacy of the self as the contingent immediate ego,and its object is this same ego in artworks, then objective taste is determined at a level of mediation which removes this ego from center stage and places its immediacy no longer as of highest importance neither as basis nor as aim, but as derivative of another sphere which determines it. A taste for the objective, then, involves the awareness and knowing that the immediate subjective individual is not absolute and not of supreme importance. What matters in the immediate objective standpoint are the conditions and causes which determine things as objects, the external and impersonal forces of existence—in other words: for the objective taste and object of art, the conception of all reality is that it is absolute object and that subjectivity is a vanishing fiction. One who tastes for the objective exclusively essentially conceives their world and themselves as objects through and through, and so one is caught up with conceptions of the Absolute as mechanical, chemical, or externally teleological.

In Art this presents itself as first impersonal themes devoid of conscious subjects at all (it is the art of Nature); second as world narratives where the true subjects are not any particular individuals, but blind forces occurring in the background of individual immediacies; third as the objectification of freedom and free will in social narratives of social institutions of self-determination, i.e. as subjectivity aware of its objective conditions of existence and seeking to change these conditions. The first and second form belong to one sphere of objectivity in general, one in which people are conceived as merely mechanical parts be it of metaphysical, physical, or mental nature. The third form, however, concerns the objectification of subjective essence, i.e. actualizing freedom’s process as subsuming of any particular individual will through social mechanisms of action called institutions. This form of objectivity is the objectivity of right, particularly the self-determination of society as a whole as a self-conscious state.

The Objectivity of Subjectivity:
Freedom Externalized

The Immediate Objectivity of Nature: Object Without Subject

The impersonal form at first may seem quite rare, for such abstract objective concerns tend to be difficult to consider and portray in ways that are interesting; however, it is ubiquitous since it is the natural taste for nature’s beauty, i.e. natural beauty is the most basic objective beauty, but precisely because its object is Nature as it is, it is not artistic beauty which is being dealt with when we appreciate Nature’s objects as they simply happen to exist in Nature. This beauty is at its strongest in the beauty of laws, the orderly appearance of Nature. Proper objective taste does not refer to the taste for Nature’s beauty as such, but rather to a far deeper objectivity that arises in spiritual social life. Objective beauty becomes art when thinking beings create the image of Nature not as it naturally is, but as it is for mind and under the full sway of an aesthetic Idea. We see this artistically most in landscapes and animal scenes in paintings, but one can find it in music as well, mostly in so called atmospheric or background music to evoke intuitions of Natural places, and we also find this appearance in prose and poetry in which Nature is the subject.

The Mediate Objectivity of Spirit: Conditioned Subjectivity

The second form, that of the individual purely constituted by natural or social relations, is rare when compared to the voluminous output of the ‘art industry’ today, but it is relatively plentiful in history even in the last century, particularly in the science fiction genre of writing (most notable in its luminaries rather than in its common tropes), but also in the premodern great works of classical drama and epic poetry which often present the folly of man trying to overcome fate. While in the first form of objectivity, that of Nature, all that appears is Nature as determined endlessly from outside, what appears in the second form is not mere object alone, but object as essence and determiner to the appearance of consciousness and its freedom. What is revealed in such Art is the inability of Spirit to be more than what external forces of fate or Nature have preestablished for it. Spirit is here inescapably determined through and through by Nature, and all attempts to overcome Nature through will are in turn refuted by the consequence of Spirit’s own unconscious nature as a reaction against its will. This notion is beloved by the Right, for with it it justifies the injustice and inequity of the world by blaming it on ‘human nature’ or Nature more generally.

The Self-Mediated Objectivity of Spirit: Subjectivity Objectified

The third, the individual as constituted and determined by social forms of self-determination, is rare yet plentiful. However, much of what touches these concepts is abstract and one-sided about what these forms of self-determination are and how one truly relates to them. Narratives about political matters, about justice, about right, are the highest expression of objective art. Objective art, properly speaking, concerns not agents as objects, but rather the objectification or coming to be of free agency as real institutions in a social world, or in other words: of subjectivity becoming objective. How does subjectivity, freedom, become objective? By ‘setting in stone’ its form of activity in the world. Free subjectivity, or will, acts freely with others equal to it, and in intersubjective agreement founds public domains of activity as well as their public understanding as existent and enforceable. For those with the full cognition of this objectivity, there can be no higher domain of reality than politics in the polity of the state (or whatever one may call the organ of governance of community).

In the proper language of Hegelianism it would have to be said that what truly objective Art presents is Spirit in its determinate social form as a constitutional state of right. In such a state (society as organic whole) a subject does not find—as with Nature or subjective mind—their condition of freedom ready made and operative without any consciousness or thought. In a state of right the subject consciously knows, wills, and creates along with other subjects the domains of their own freedom, the very logical space in which the very conception of specific forms of freedom are made present to mind so that action may bring them to actuality. A right is first cognized and recognized intersubjectively in and as a practice, then institutions are created to maintain and enforce said right in the world outside of the subjective consciousness or agreement of any individuals, i.e. this recognitive will of individuals is objectified in an existing power structure capable of exerting real force to ensure the realization of rights. Any free person is free to not pursue the individual realization of a right, but none is capable of rescinding the very conditions of their right. For example: a person may decide not to enact their right to marriage, however, they cannot rescind that they have this right and its realization available to them if they so wish. All right is objective freedom actualized as an institution in the social world.

Objective Art corresponds to Spirit’s attempt to make freedom existent in objective form, but this objective form is in the end not enough to capture the reality of Spirit’s freedom. First, because the objective form is by its very essence subject to externalities and is incapable of perfect actualization of freedom; second, because the concept of the objective is not enough to reflect the essence of Spirit, an essence which transcends any finite existence and its externality. All art which is objective is the presentation of humanity’s external social life as purpose and condition, but human life, though social, has elements in it which are deeper than anything in the external world of social institutions could ever express. The yearning for the infinite, for absolute meaning, and for full knowledge of our place and purpose not just in a given society, but in the cosmic life of Nature or Universe itself, demands of Art the presentation of Truth as more than human, more than historical, and more than that which could ever be reduced to the small world of a civilization.

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