04 February 2007

Movie Machine

"What Goldman was saying was a version of something that has long been argued about art: that there is no way of getting beyond one's own impressions to arrive at some larger, objective truth. There are no rules to art, only the infinite variety of subjective experience. 'Beauty is no quality in things themselves,' the eighteenth-century Scottish philosopher David Hume wrote. 'It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.' Hume might as well have said that nobody knows anything.

But Hume had a Scottish counterpart, Lord Kames, and Lord Kames was equally convinced that traits like beauty, sublimity, and grandeur were indeed reducible to a rational system of rules and precepts. He devised principles of congruity, propriety, and perspicuity: an elevated subject, for instance, must be expressed in elevated language; sound and signification should be in concordance; a woman was most attractive when in distress; depicted misfortunes must never occur by chance.

He genuinely thought that the superiority of Virgil's hexameters to Horace's could be demonstrated with Euclidean precision, and for every Hume, it seems, there has always been a Kames -- someone arguing that if nobody knows anything it is only because nobody's looking hard enough."
-Malcolm Gladwell, The Formula-