Friday, August 18, 2006

Distinction, Or The Ideology of the Aesthetic

Lindsay Beyerstein is puzzled:

"I've noticed an interesting cultural difference between freelance writers and freelance photographers. Economically, the two groups have similar concerns. Yet, for some reason, photographers are willing talk much more frankly about money.....Why is it that freelance writers (and the staffers who feel their pain) always conceal their legitimate economic anxiety behind endless squishy salvos in the blogger vs. journalist debate?

Anyone else noticed this cultural divide? Any thoughts on why it exists?"

The answer is to be found in the cultural arbitrary that confers distinction (Bourdieu). Photography, by and large, has less cultural capital than writing. Photography functions as a "popular aesthetic," and is thus considered to be based on "the affirmation of continuity between art and life, ... the subordination of form to function, or, one might say, on a refusal of the refusal which is the starting point of the high aesthetic, i.e., the clear-cut separation of ordinary dispositions from the specifically aesthetic disposition." Writers are trained to cultivate a "Kantian aesthetic" of "detachment, disinteredness, indifference"; to distinguish themselves by their "pure gaze," "a systematic refusal of all that is 'human,'.... the passions, emotions, and feelings which ordinary people put into their ordinary existence, and consequently all the themes and objects capable of evoking them." The habitus cultivated in the photographer is the "anti-Kantian aesthetic," that is, functional, easily read/understood, and "gratifying" to the senses rather than "pleasing." (Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste).


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