TWOMBLY PEONIES FOR A DANTO MOON WALK
Belatedly, we mark the death (October 25) of the remarkable American philosopher, Arthur C. Danto (1924-2013).While tracking references online, we came across an autobiographical statement, in which Danto describes his decision to shelve his career as an artist in favor of philosophy, which for him represented a continuity of thought by different means:
DANTO’S “HEAD”: STOWED ON A HIGH SHELF
When we first encountered Danto in college, his open, humorous and generous voice offered welcome counterpoint to contemporaries like Rorty (b. 1931) and Rawls (b. 1921). His deep roots in analytic thought did not confine him to any one planet within the philosophical universe; in sentence after sentence, digression after digression, and book after book, Danto displays a wonderfully unrestrained spirit of adventure into the dark. Indeed, in a 2010 interview he referred to his mastery of the analytic idiom as his “space suit”:
In the same interview, Danto discusses the uneasy and even unruly relationship between beauty and meaning:
The following poem by Jon Swan caught our ear the first time we heard it (read by Mr. Swan), as it so perfectly captures one of the most bewildering dilemmas of our present moment. A gnawing sense of being an “accessory” bleeds into a second sense that we have no idea what is going on:
“God alone knows” to what we are an accessory, after the fact — and that fact remains ill-defined, ciphered, beyond empirical verification.
We live in a perpetual “haze of transmitted signals” that resonate and radiate through us, and within us, even if we might find their meaning and destination repellent. When the actions of the state are obscured or willfully misrepresented, the question of personal responsibility – difficult even in the best of times – becomes literally inconceivable. If the true nature of the polis lurks somewhere beyond perception, how can we speak of personal ethics?
A world in which humans struggle to retain some degree of autonomy while stumbling as best they can through a deadly empire of signs sounds like it might have been scripted by Philip K. Dick. Indeed, in a talk dated way back in 1978, How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later, PKD elaborates upon how the question of “the real” knots up with what it means to be an authentic human.
The entire talk is worth close reading; for DP we offer a slightly edited and re-formatted montage of excerpts:
HAZE OF TRANSMITTED SIGNALS
SPARAGMOS ALWAYS HURTS
HUMAN ADJUSTING TO A NEW ENVIRONMENT
THIS IS NOT TOAD HALL
Béatrice Coron, A WEB OF TIME
That last bit bears repeating, an idea that resides at the very heart of desperado philosophy: