Perl draws some interesting conclusions near the end of one of the lectures
about a potential conflict between Modernist ethics and Modernist aesthetics:
.. . . I want to return briefly to where we started. I want to return to T.S.
Eliot and nightingales and William Carlos Williams, because I think were now
in a better position to understand that moral dictum of Williams' with which
I started, "It would be better, than to deprive birds of their song, to call
them all nightingales." I think you're now in a position to understand that
that sentence is a Paleo-Modernist's nightmare. What Eliot or Pound or Yates
or James or D.H. Lawrence most feared was that the attempt to reconcile high
culture with egalitarian or democratic ethics would cause us to accept as art
things that were NOT art; would cause us to accept that all birds are
nightingales. Some of them are chickens. Eliot wrote as World War 2 came to a
close in his 'Notes Towards a Definition of Culture': "If the reader says
that the state of affairs which I wish to bring about is right or is just or
is inevitable and if this must lead to a further deterioration of culture and
we must accept that deterioration then I can have no quarrel with him. I
might even in some circumstances feel obliged to support him." In other
words, what Eliot was saying, and people weren't listening, is that reforms
made out of moral necessity would be, by definition, necessary reforms.
(Right? A necessary reform is a necessary reform). But that would NOT mean
that the standard of culture produced by those reforms, would not be, in the
context, a decline. Certain necessary moral reforms, Eliot was saying, may
cause cultural decline. We would have to do them anyway because they are
necessary. . . [Eliot] concludes the passage I was quoting from earlier, "No
one society and no one age of it, realizes all the values of civilization.
Not all of these values may be compatible with each other". He's suggesting,
I think, that Western ethics and Western aesthetics are, at some level,
inherently incompatible. The improvement of Western ethics would cause the
decline of Western aesthetics.
-- Steve --