Thus I was delighted when (it is only slightly misleading to put it this way) Voyou desoeuvre pointed me to this bit of blather by the editors of that most beloved to me rag N+1. Look: not only can one continue to speak from the Delphic high chair as if on matters of great significance, one need even know what one is talking about as one does so. I mean: what's with that invocation of Kant?
A matter of peculiar timing, as just yesterday—the same day I encountered the N+1 piece—was also the meeting of the third critique reading group I'm in discussing §§43–54, that is, the sections on fine art, which also veered off into free vs. dependent beauty and the third moment generally, the third moment being the first home of the remarks about the form of purposiveness without a particular purpose, invoked to unclear effect by the editors. It really is peculiar, for a number of reasons, here presented in a disorganized fashion:
(a) We are meant to deride Ben Marcus' support of difficult fiction for the brain exercise reading it supposedly provides. This seems sensible. However, one would like the invoker of Kant who also derides Marcus to say something about the sections on the intellectual interest in the beautiful, the connection of aesthetic ideas to morality (and the section on the beautiful as a symbol of morality), the two Introductions which seem to make clear that Kant is interested in the beautiful at least in part for reasons having to do with the way the experience of beauty is reveals something about the possibility and workings of theoretical cognition (an unhappy and perhaps even inaccurate but not completely off-base formulation), and various other passages making relatively clear that if you want to defend art pour l'art Kant isn't really your man.
(b) How did we get from art to adherent beauty? Well, recall from §48 that "if the object is given as a product of art, and is as such supposed to be declared to be beautiful, then, since art always presupposes an end in the cause (and its causality), a concept must first be the ground of what the thing is supposed to be, and, since the agreement of the manifold in a thing with its inner determination as an end is the perfection of the thing, in the judging of the beauty of art the perfection of the thing will also have to be taken into account", following which we get again some of the examples of adherent natural beauties from the third moment (horses, persons). Judgments of adherent natural beauty are not pure judgments of taste in part because some particular purpose is at their base. If judgments pertaining to artistic beauty are like that, the invocation of the purposiveness slogan seems simply misplaced. And after all, the second half of §45's chiastic formula asserts that art is only beautiful if "we are aware that it is art and yet it looks to us like nature"—admittedly not a statement about purposiveness, but nevertheless marking a difference between the discussion of the beauty of art and that of natural beauty in the moments.
(Here was the site of a long, architectonically-motivated discussion about what "nature" in §§45–46 meant—the "nature" the thoughts of whose comprehensibility of whose organization according to laws and of whose friendliness to our mental powers the experience of natural beauty is supposed to encourage, all of matter and its attendant laws? something different? I am inclined to think organically here, in response to the gloss at the end of §45, that a product of art "appears as nature … if we find it to agree punctiliously but not painstakingly with rules … that is, without the academic form showing through", &c.—organic in the way Schlegel praised Goethe's Meister for being. Something like: its parts seem to be purposive though without any particular purpose; it has, seemingly, the unity of a creature. Couldn't a video game, despite its manifest and obvious artificiality, appear as natural in that respect, when we make (as we must) allowances for the way in which it must be experienced at all? I don't see why not.)
(c) The authors assert that Lanchester's contentions that (i) video games frequently present the player with beautiful sights and (ii) one plays them are mutually destructive, since the desire to win is an interest and (this is where they bring Kant in) judgments of beauty are disinterested. This is strictly idiotic; it is possible that at the period when one is admiring and judging beautiful the game's vistas one is not simultaneously trying to win (the editors' point that looking nice isn't the same thing as being beautiful qua art is irrelevant—just construe Lanchester otherwise!). Of course even in that case one wouldn't necessarily be saying that the game but rather this presentation within it is beautiful, and one might not even be saying that it's beautiful the way works of art are beautiful (it is important to remember that Kant discusses, in the sections on "natural beauty", things which are in fact human productions—aimless designs for wallpaper being the most memorable such example, for me). What beauty for a game as a whole would come to is another question, and it's not really obvious to me to what extent being interested in playing.
Why, anyway, must we assume that winning is always the interest of the thing? Many like playing games for other reasons than that and presumably appreciate them, when they do, for more sophisticated reasons than that they were able to win. It is true that, as the editors say, frequently in a videogame one refers to the point at which one influences the action of the game as "I" (I fell down the stairs while burdened and wielding a cockatrice corpse in my gloved hands; landing on the corpse I turned to stone and died). This only makes sense, since it is, after all, the point of participation (it's like saying "I can't fit there" when driving a car; of course you can fit there, but the car can't). This is supposed to have great moral significance. Since it is never made clear what is claimed when a videogame is claimed to be beautiful, or art, or beautiful art, it is hard to know how to assess this.
(As for the undeniability of the fact that if one wishes to win or even continue playing the game one is dependent on its existence and to that extent, extrapolating from §2, interested—it proves too much; one is also dependent on the continued existence of the paper on which is printed the poem one reads and the actors playing the parts in the tragedy one views, and so on, so long as there is an appreciable temporal extent to the thing.)
(d) Given that Lanchester's claim about beauty appears to be limited to the beautiful scenes with which a game might present its player as he plays, and that this is really not very interesting, why are we talking about beauty here? There are more ways of assessing an artwork, or something as an artwork, than with regard to its beauty; frankly, the term schöne Künste to the side, frequently "beauty" seems entirely the wrong assessment. Drama—is it beautiful? (Moreover, does it please strictly in the judging as regards its form?) Sometimes perhaps, but it sounds odd to me. Which leads to the natural next question (hinted at by Voyou's post's title mentioning faculties), why are we talking about Kant here? How much of the Kantian project do the editors buy into?1One suspects that the answer to the last question is obviously "not much", and hopes that the answer to the question of what Kant is doing there is has a more respectable answer (though one has been disappointed before and thus hems in one's hope). Certainly this sentence, occurring between the first and second invocations of the sage of Königsberg, does not inspire one to overmuch confidence in the editors' grasp of the basic Kantian aesthetic framework: "The beauty of an image within a story depends on its place within an irreversible narrative." I mean—this is a plausible thing to think. But as far as the image itself is concerned, it is not obviously a very Kantian thing to think. It seems more likely that Kant is just there to be a sufficiently ponderous representative of a tradition of detached contemplation when it comes to beauty, where that is indifferent as to whether it is really natural beauty, a human production appreciated as natural beauties are (that wallpaper again), or a product of art as such. But, of course, there is still the question of whether or not the fact that one also is playing the game means one can't take up such an attitude to it in other respects (perhaps even when one is not playing it at all, but after one has played it and thus can judge!), let alone the question of whether that's the right approach in the first place.
In the end, though, I have basically come to think of N+1's editorials as what Holbo, in the bad old days when he concerned himself with such things, called the writings of e.g. Zizek—as argufication; the expression of a sensibility (one which is to me distasteful—supercilious, self-satisfied, high-minded but not thoughtful). (I also regard the entire preceding post as more or less a waste of time, since I can't imagine anyone reading the linked editorial and thinking it the least bit worthwhile, it being so obviously a passel of gestures, but so it goes.) One might say: "nature in the subject" here has indeed provided rich material for an editorial, only the editors want "a talent that has been academically trained, in order to make a use of [that nature] that can stand up to the power of judgment".
I can't resist quoting and commenting on this:
For now we don’t need a new Parnassus in which games take their place alongside novels, poetry, film, and opera. Ah yes, film! A member since its inception of the pantheon of arts—I believe Urania was reassigned to it—certainly not the subject of controversy regarding its status as an art. (If it had been, the controversy probably wouldn't have concerned anything like the worries of identification that consume the editors.) Did you know Kant recognized landscape architecture as a fine art? True! (Odd that "for now", presumably otiose given the preceding text.)
1. Amusing: "Or so, once upon a time, most philosophers of art would have claimed", the editors write, regarding disinterestedness. They then mention Kant. The next (and only other) philosopher they mention is Nietzsche, who was not of one mind with Kant, and did not come all that much after him. Stendhal, whom they also mention, was at least a theoretician if not a philosopher of art, came even closer after Kant, and was also not exactly an acolyte. Ah well.