Friday, April 17, 2009

Object - ness

The Perfect Object

Plato's Theory of Forms holds that there is a perfect model for each object in the world, that the objects we have are just imperfect copies of the perfect model. For instance, there is a perfect model of a chair that embodies all of the qualities of"chair-ness".

Well, hey, this is a pretty useful theory in all practicality in that it holds that we can speculate what makes a perfect chair (or any other object) and then strive to that standard. And, for some reason, I have always tended to ascribe to this theory,whether or not it actually makes sense. For instance, I can visualize what I would think is the perfect pitcher, the perfect vase, the perfect candlestick, the perfect house, the perfect road, etc. Probably no one else would agree to my visualizations, so that would make this a "theory of forms for one."

This is also okay, it just means that my approach tothe world, when making things or renderings of things, is individualized. Perfectly good, I just have my own unique take on Everything. For an artist or craftsman, this is what constitutes value and aesthetics - eh? My perfect ideal, rendered as close to my conception of perfection as possible.

The other side of this is mass-production - hundreds, thousands, millions of objects all the same. (including art, music, literature) Not so good, not so aesthetically pleasing, lowest common denominator stuff that we are just stuck with, since due to the"economy of scale"it is cheaper to produce.

Of course, this approach has its upside - mass consumer culture (if that's an upside), autos for everyone and so forth. This approach to reality got a lot of bad press when it was starting out,not so much anymore. It was derided as "creeping conformity" and the pursuit of mass-produced objects as "keeping up with the Joneses."

The heighth of the creepiness around conformity wasthe 50s, when movies like "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" came out. People were afraid that all of the sameness was robbing them of their souls. And, it probably was (and is). The sixties went sort of backlash on conformity, resulting in a conformity of non-conformity. This type of conformity you may remember from different movements where everyonewas trying to look like individuals but wound up looking remarkably similar: the beatniks, the hippies, and later, the punks.

The antidote was not a complete cure. So back we go to the individual ideal of perfection, individual commitment. But how does this ideal square with the universal - we do have universal needs like the needs not to blow up, pollute and otherwise screw up the planet. If I'm busy with my individual pursuit, how does that square up with the collective need? Is the universal good conformity? Individualism? A blend of the two?

As you might remember, the social experiments based on the perfect race (the Nazi's "Master Race") and the perfect society (Nazis again, the Soviets and Red Chinese) didn't pan out so well for millions of slaughtered people and people interred in concentration camp due to their defects. When applying the theory of forms to society, really bad things happen.

I'm still looking for my perfect pitcher, however.

Around and around we go.

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