From a letter by Morse Peckham in response to a New York Review of Books piece by Christopher Ricks on five of his works, “Out of Order (1971).”
(1) Any proposition can be used as a basis for judging art. (2) An indefinably wide range of propositions has so been used, and new ones will be thought up. The process will continue as long as there are people and art, and the question cannot be resolved. (3) So to use a proposition is to judge art on the basis of whether or not it is an exemplification of a proposition. Such activity ascribes to art a lesser value than the propositions used to judge it
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. Individuals intensely concerned with evaluating works of art appear to have as their central interest the severe restriction of the number of works of art to be taken seriously. (4) We judge art because we judge everything else. Value judgments of works of art are of great interest sociologically, but of little or no interest in understanding works of art.
I offer it here on the heels of yesterday’s piece on the new Rage for Order in Public Education: Common Core State Standards.
Replace “art” and “works of art” above with “people” or “humans” or “children” or “students.” Point number 3 above seems most instructive.
“Judge not lest ye be judged” is an impossible injunction. All we do is judge as it is the very basis of how we “work” as organic beings. All “evaluative” propositions of the culture are as Peckham says above, “of great interest sociologically, but of little or no interest in understanding (insert an X).” I would ask that we simply think about the Who, What, and Why of those making and enforcing evaluative propositions. They have designs upon us; they are using us.
The point might be simply this–Be attentive to judgement. It is prescriptive. With it you are proscribed.
And just because I can, here is Melville:
Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick — grow quarrelsome — don’t sleep of nights — do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing; — no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. And as for going as cook, — though I confess there is considerable glory in that, a cook being a sort of officer on ship-board — yet, somehow, I never fancied broiling fowls; — though once broiled, judiciously buttered, and judgmatically salted and peppered, there is no one who will speak more respectfully, not to say reverentially, of a broiled fowl than I will. It is out of the idolatrous dotings of the old Egyptians upon broiled ibis and roasted river horse, that you see the mummies of those creatures in their huge bake-houses the pyramids.