April 26th, 2004

play critique

I am a member of The Chicago Dramatists which is a wonderful organization. They are half theater, half school, and half networking organization. Yes, I know, too many halves.

I took a number of classes about playwriting there, seminar-style classes given by Chicago playwrights and directors, and out of all those classes I started writing a play.

I'd never written a full-length play before, so it was quite a challenge, of the kind I enjoy.

One of the services that Chicago Dramatists offers to member is a critiquing service, where you send in your script and one of their "resident playwrights" writes up a critique for you. I have done this twice for the same play.

Of course, I made some changes in between.

The first critique, from about a year ago, felt brutal to me. However, I read it carefully and thought about it, and made some major changes.

I just got the new critique, which is obviously written by a different person. This critic still sees room for changes. I will have to think over his/her suggestions and see what I want to use. But this critic was pretty positive overall, telling me I had the makings of a good play. Well, all right! I like hearing that.

Visit Chicago Dramatists at: http://www.chicagodramatists.org

Rhyme of the day:

Criticism can be rough
But sometimes it is useful stuff.

Student or Enemy of Objectivism

During the time of NBI, and for some time thereafter, subscribers to The Objectivist Newsletter were instructed NOT to refer to themselves as Objectivists, but rather to style themselves as "Students of Objectivism." In New York, at least, this was an accepted phrase among people I knew. I even knew a young woman who had shortened it to "S. of O.", which was faster to say at least.

This "student of Objectivism" usage was recommended in print by Nathaniel Branden in "A Message To Our Readers" in the April, 1965 issue of The Objectivist Newsletter. Actually, in the article, he says that "supporter of Objectivism" would also be acceptable, and in my opinion it's a much better phrase, but the phrase that stuck was "student of Objectivism."

The article repeatedly evinces concern that people will be fooled into thinking that some self-styled "Objectivist" is actually an approved spokesperson for Rand and Branden's philosophy.

However, the article also launches an attack upon those who try to use Objectivism without giving it proper credit, perhaps because they fear association with someone so controversial as Ayn Rand.

In practice, a funny double bind emerged from these considerations. You were to give credit, but you were not to take credit thereby. It wasn't always easy to tell where to draw the line between the two.

Say you were opening a psychotherapy practice and you wanted to indicate, on your flyer, something about what you believed in. Is it okay to put "Rational selfishness" as something you believe in? Is it wrong to put this, but not mention Rand specifically, since you are then failing to credit her with an idea you got from her?

So maybe you put her name, or her philosophy's name, on your flyer somewhere, with appropriate disclaimers saying you're not a spokesperson for anyone or anything.

Well, soon you would get a letter from one of Rand's lawyers asking you to stop using her name. It didn't ask you to stop using "rational selfishness," so you left that in. But if you had any flyers left, you tossed them in the trash.

The problem was finding a way to give credit, without seeming to claim that you actually understood something. In practice, the lawyers cared more about protecting Rand's name and her philosophy's name. So in practice, at least in print, you used other words.

At that time, I formed a jocular pet theory that being an "enemy of Objectivism" was the best self-description to adopt. As an enemy of Objectivism, no one would be concerned to hold it against you that you disagreed on some small point of the philosophy. As an avowed enemy, no one would ever confuse you with a spokesman for the philosophy.

Indeed, Rand had complained at times about the low quality of her enemies. I figured I could set myself up to raise the quality of her enemies. I would give her an enemy who actually agreed with her rather a great deal. As an enemy I would not be bound by all these strictures. I could put "Enemy of Objectivism" on my business card, and what would her lawyers have to complain about?

I would not have put "Enemy of Ayn Rand." Not in a million years. I felt too much gratitude and admiration to do such a thing. But "Enemy of Objectivism" seemed fine.

The problem I had was that I wasn't sure I really disagreed with Objectivism, properly understood, in any substantial way. So I never executed my plan.

Rhyme of the day:

I put myself on the list
Of enemies who might exist.

Aristotle on morality in music and sculpture

Ayn Rand made various remarks suggesting that artworks in general carry implicit moral messages. These remarks have been criticized by Torres and Kamhi in their book, What Art Is. In their view, "her view of art as the 'concretizaton of the moral ideal' applies only to some literature and to art works in other media which rely on a literary or narrative base.' (p.31)

Of course, that's not what *she* thought.

In this, she had something of an ally in Aristotle. You wouldn't know this from reading Aristotle's Poetics, which is what we usually think of as his big work on an aesthetic topic.

But if you look into his Politics, particularly Book 8, you find he thought that music had definite character-shaping qualities, and that sculpture had some such influence, albeit much milder and not felt by all.

The relevant passage is quoted at the end of this entry. It's not easy reading, particularly if you haven't read much Aristotle before. Of course, that Aristotle said it does not make it so.

"The habit of feeling pleasure or pain at
mere representations is not far removed from the same feeling about
realities; for example, if any one delights in the sight of a statue
for its beauty only, it necessarily follows that the sight of the
original will be pleasant to him. The objects of no other sense,
such as taste or touch, have any resemblance to moral qualities; in
visible objects there is only a little, for there are figures which
are of a moral character, but only to a slight extent, and all do
not participate in the feeling about them. Again, figures and colors
are not imitations, but signs, of moral habits, indications which
the body gives of states of feeling. The connection of them with
morals is slight, but in so far as there is any, young men should be
taught to look, not at the works of Pauson, but at those of
Polygnotus, or any other painter or sculptor who expresses moral
ideas. On the other hand, even in mere melodies there is an
imitation of character, for the musical modes differ essentially
from one another, and those who hear them are differently affected
by each. Some of them make men sad and grave, like the so-called
Mixolydian, others enfeeble the mind, like the relaxed modes, another,
again, produces a moderate and settled temper, which appears to be the
peculiar effect of the Dorian; the Phrygian inspires enthusiasm. The
whole subject has been well treated by philosophical writers on this
branch of education, and they confirm their arguments by facts. The
same principles apply to rhythms; some have a character of rest,
others of motion, and of these latter again, some have a more
vulgar, others a nobler movement. Enough has been said to show that
music has a power of forming the character, and should therefore be
introduced into the education of the young."

From Jowett's translation of the Politics, Book 8, Chapter 5, which is mostly about music. (Note, when discussing Aristotle's works, a "Book" is like a modern chapter and a "Chapter" is like a subsection of a modern chapter.)

2nd rhyme of the day:

Aristotle's say-so does NOT make it so.
But he was called master of all who know.