Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College

Can White People Sing the Blues?

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It_Serves_You_Right_to_Suffer.jpeg

Listen to these classic John Lee Hooker songs, "It Serves You Right to Suffer" and "Tupelo." Joel Rubinow explores the claim that white people cannot play the blues because (a) they do so inauthentically, (b) African-Americans are proprietors of the blues and other are not, and (c) African-Americans have experiential access to the roots that spawned the blues (and white people do not). 

Is Rubinow correct -- can white people not sing the blues? What would it take to sing these John Lee Hooker songs authentically? 

Grand Theft Auto and Moral Guilt

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In video games like Grand Theft Auto, one does extremely violent things including brutally killing others in the game. Normally, video games can causes us to feel a variety of emotions such as anger, joy, etc. However, few gamers feel guilt or shame about the simulated violence they commit. 

First, how can video games cause us to feel certain emotions like anger but not others like guilt and shame? 

Second, should gamers who play these games feel shame or guilt for the violence they committed in these video games? 

Tolhurst on Swift

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Tolhurst argues that Anti-Intentionalists have a difficult time making sense of irony. He uses Swift's "A Modest Proposal" as an example of "pure irony"; irony for which there is no internal evidence. Consider these passages from Swift.

“There is likewise another great advantage in my scheme, that it will prevent those voluntary abortions, and that horrid practice of women murdering their bastard children, alas! too frequent among us, sacrificing the poor innocent babes, I doubt, more to avoid the expense than the shame, which would move tears and pity in the most savage and inhuman breast.”

”I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricasie, or a ragoust.” 

First, the irony is evident in the text's meaning. It is an ironic text. Second, the sentence meaning is not ironic. Given that the text's meaning is a product of sentence and utterer's meaning, then it must be ironic because of the intentions of Swift. So, is pure irony a problem for Anti-Intentionalists? Why or why not? 

Nathan's Paradox of Intentionalism

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Daniel Nathan argues that there is a paradox in Intentionalism. His argument can be summarized as follows: 

  1. Necessarily, if an artwork is produced for the public,then it is produced with a secondary intention that any primary intention relevant to the work’s meaning must be accessible in the work itself.

  2. Artworks are produced for the public.

  3. . ∴ They are produced with a secondary intention that any primary intention relevant to the work’s meaning must be accessible in the work itself. 

First, is this paradoxical? Second, is this a problem for Intentionalism? 

W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, Anti-Intentionalists

W. K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley, Anti-Intentionalists

Paradox of Fiction and Scary Movies

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Consider the following three claims:

  1. When one watches Paranormal Activity one doesn’t believe they are in danger.
  2. If one is afraid, they believe they are in danger.
  3. When one watches Paranormal Activity they are afraid.

Notice that (1), (2), and (3) cannot all be true. Which one would you reject to avoid the paradox of fiction and why? 

Hanslick on Expression

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Eduard Hanslick argues against two claims: (a) the aim of absolute music (i.e. instrumental music) is to excite emotion, and (b) absolute music represents or is about emotions. One argument against (b) is this: 

  1. Necessarily, emotions are constituted in part by propositional attitudes (e.g. beliefs). 
  2. Absolute music cannot express such attitudes.
  3. ∴ Absolute music cannot express emotions.

Is this a good argument? 

One or Two? Radiohead and Radiodread

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imgres.jpg

Consider the song "Let Down" off of Radiohead's Ok Computer, 

imgres-1.jpg

and compare it to Toots and the Maytal's "version", "Let Down."

Here are the lyrics to "both" songs. 

Transport
Motorways and tramlines
Starting and then stopping
Taking off and landing

The emptiest of feelings
Disappointed people
Clinging onto bottles
And when it comes it's so so disappointing

Let down and hanging around
Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around

Shell smashed, juices flowing
Wings twitch legs are going
Don't get sentimental
It always ends up drivel

One day I am gonna grow wings
A chemical reaction
Hysterical and useless
Hysterical and

Let down and hanging around
Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around

Let down and hanging
Let down
Let down

You know, you know where you are with
You know where you are with
Floor collapsing, floating
Bouncing back and

One day I am gonna grow wings
A chemical reaction
(You know where you are)
Hysterical and useless
(You know where you are)
Hysterical and
(You know where you are)

Let down and hanging around
Crushed like a bug in the ground
Let down and hanging around

Songwriters
YORKE, THOMAS / O'BRIEN, EDWARD JOHN / GREENWOOD, COLIN CHARLES / GREENWOOD, JONATHAN RICHARD GUY / SELWAY, PHILIP

Published by
Lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc.


Questions: (a) Are Radiohead and Toots and the Maytals two recordings of the same song or are they recordings of different songs? (b) Regardless, how do Radiohead's original and Toots and the Maytals' remake differ? (E.g. is one sadder than the other? Does one seem "truer" to the lyrical content?)


 

Carroll on the "Power" of Film; or How do Theater and Film Compare?

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Philip Seymour Hoffman in Death of a Salesman and Capote

Philip Seymour Hoffman in Death of a Salesman and Capote

Noel Carroll claims that the power of film resides in the fact that (a) pictorial representation employs object recognition, (b) film utilizes technical resources that theater doesn't (or can't), and (c) movies are fictional narratives. What is one artistic limitation that film lacks and theater has and one limitation that film has but theater lacks? 

Scruton on Photography as Non-Representational

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Roger claims that photography is not representational. According to his view, a work is representational only if it is intentional. However, photographs are not intentional. Therefore, they are not representational. First, can a photograph be transparent and representational? Second, what would Ted Cohen say in response? 

Barbara Radova, Sad Landscape

Barbara Radova, Sad Landscape

Walton on Tranparency

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Kendall Walton writes, 

Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Death on a Misty Morning, 1883

Timothy H. O’Sullivan, Death on a Misty Morning, 1883

With the assistance of the camera, we can see not only around corners and what is distant or small; we can also see into the past. We see long deceased ancestors when we look at dusty snapshots of them. To view a screening of Frederic Wiseman’s Titicut Follies (1967) in San Francisco in 1984 is to watch events which occurred in 1967 at the Bridgewater State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Photographs are transparent. We see the world through them... My claim is that we see, quite literally, our dead relatives themselves when we look at photographs of them. (71) 

Question: Is Walton right that we can literally see things that don't currently exist through photographs? 

Pictorial Recognition and Blindsight

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Chuck Close "Big Self Portrait", 1968

Chuck Close "Big Self Portrait", 1968

Some individuals are blindsighted. "Blindsighted" people are cortically blind due to lesions in the striate cortex, but who can respond to visual stimuli they cannot not consciously see. That is, they can see x but have no conscious experience of seeing x. Consider a blindsighted person who looks at a painting; say this one by Chuck Close. Suppose they recognize the person in the painting is Chuck Close. Would the case of blindsight be a problem for Lopes' account of pictorial representation? 

Occlusion Shape and Pictorial Representation

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Consider a picture of a unicorn. Let's say the occlusion shape of an object is its outline or silhouette from a particular perspective. Consider the following principle.  

http://coloringpagesfun.com/my-little-pony-unicorn-coloring-pages/

http://coloringpagesfun.com/my-little-pony-unicorn-coloring-pages/

If a picture represents an object, then the occlusion shape of an object must be identical to the smallest part of a picture that depicts it. 

Since there are no unicorns, then a picture cannot represent one. John Hyman revises this principle distinguishing between an "external subject" and a "internal subject." Roughly,

If a picture represents an internal subject, then the occlusion shape of the picture's internal subject must be identical to the smallest part of a picture that depicts it. 

This avoids the above problem since the internal subject (the unicorn) can have the same occlusion shape as the smallest part of the picture that depicts it. 

Question: Do you find this necessary condition of Hyman's account of pictorial representation plausible? Are there any implausible consequences of his view? 


Seeing-in and Visual Art

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Richard Wollheim

Richard Wollheim

According to Richard Wollheim, what is distinctive about representational seeing is that we "see-in" to the painting. We simultaneously see the marked surface and the subject. Can you find an example of (a) a painting which does not give rise to an experience of "twofoldness" (e.g. one can see the subject but not the marked surface) or (b) a painting that gives rise to an experience of twofoldness, but is not representational? 

Depiction and Intention

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Richard Wollheim writes, 

What is unique to the seeing appropriate to representations is this: that a standard of correctness applies to and this standard derives from the intention of the maker of the representation, or “the artist” as he is usually called - ... (262)

Consider the following case.

A famous portraitist is commissioned to paint a King; he is named John. King John arrives for the sitting, but is called away hurriedly due to uprisings in the kingdom. Fortunately, King John thinks to himself, "I could just have my twin Sir Jack sit for me!" So, King John enlists Sir Jack to sit in his place and our artist is none the wiser. After all, the brothers look exactly alike and he intends to paint the King. After a weeks worth of work, the portrait is hung and is finally viewed by the royal family. After a pleasant evening of food and wine, King John's sister Justine looks upon the painting and remarks, "This is such a wonderful depiction of King John." Question: is she correct that it is a depiction of King John? Why? If she is incorrect, who is it a depiction of?Why? 

Perceptual Indistinguishability and Forgery

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Nelson Goodman, in his Languages of Art, asks us to consider Rembrandt's Lucretia and a forgery of it. 

Rembrandt van Rijn, Lucretia, 1666  

Rembrandt van Rijn, Lucretia, 1666

 

An aesthetic empiricist accepts that necessarily if two paintings are perceptual indistinguishable, then they are aesthetically indistinguishable.* Thus, if it is possible for an original such as Lucretia to be perceptually indistinguishable from a forgery, then they could not different aesthetically. We can put these ideas into the following argument: 

  1. Necessarily if two paintings are perceptual indistinguishable, then they are aesthetically indistinguishable.
  2. An original Lucretia and a perfect forgery are perceptually indistinguishable.
  3. Therefore, an original Lucretia and a perfect forgery are aesthetically indistinguishable.

Questions: (a) Do you accept the conclusion is true on the basis of (1) and (2)? (b) If not, then do you reject (1) or (2) and why? 

*Formalists like Clive Bell and Clement Greenberg are thought of as aesthetic empiricists. 

Realism in Painting

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One topic we have talked about is realism in painting. So, here is your pair of questions. First, what do you think makes a painting "realistic"? Second, Ambrose Vollard was a famous French art collector who supported Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, and many other artists. Which portrait below is most realistic of him given your answer to the first question? 

Realism.png

Blogging Introduction

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Each week you should contribute to the class blog twice. During each week, I will write a prompt that contains a question, comment, or argument on which you will comment. You can comment on my prompt or on another blogger’s post. This helps ensure you are keeping up with the readings. Again, you will do fine if you have done the readings with care.  The first blog post will occur next week on Monday January 27, 2014. Whenever you post, you should choose a name that I can recognize as yours. E.g. "first name, last initial."