Category: Readings


“Anyway it worked because Charlie actually managed to marry twice, (probably someone with nursing ambitions), which just goes to show that there’s a lid for every pot. Sometimes there are as many as nine lids for the same pot. Also when I was a teenager I could buy pot in lids. But I don’t think you can anymore . . . can you?”

(Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2012. p 44-45)



Edna St. Vincent Millay

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.
(Published in Poetry magazine in May 1919)


The Emperor of Ice-Cream

Wallace Stevens

Call the roller of big cigars,
The muscular one, and bid him whip
In kitchen cups concupiscent curds.
Let the wenches dawdle in such dress
As they are used to wear, and let the boys
Bring flowers in last month’s newspapers.
Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.

Take from the dresser of deal,
Lacking the three glass knobs, that sheet
On which she embroidered fantails once
And spread it so as to cover her face.
If her horny feet protrude, they come
To show how cold she is, and dumb.
Let the lamp affix its beam.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.


(published in Steven’s first book Harmonium by Vintage Books in 1923)

Aesthetic Theory

From Aesthetic Theory, Theodor Adorno, (1970)

Contemporary aesthetics is dominated by the controversy over whether it is subjective or objective. These terms, however, are equivocal. Variously the controversy may focus on the conclusion drawn from subjective relations to artworks, in contrast to the intentio recta toward them, the intentio recta being considered precritical according to the current schema of epistemology. Or the two concepts could refer to the primacy of objective or subjective elements in the artworks themselves, in keeping, for instance, with the distinction made in the history of ideas between classical and romantic. Or, lastly, the issue may be the objectivity of the aesthetic judgment of taste… Still, the starting point of Critique of Judgment was not simply inimical to an objective aesthetics… Kant envisioned a subjectively mediated but objective aesthetics. The Kantian concept of the judgment of taste, by its subjectively directed query, concerns the core of objective aesthetics: the question of quality—good and bad, true and false—in the artwork… Kant achieves his goal of the objectivity of aesthetics, just as he does that of the objectivity of ethics, by way of universally conceptual formalization. This formalization is, however, contrary to aesthetic phenomena as what is constitutively particular. What each artwork would need to be according to its pure concept is essential to none. Formalization, an act of subjective reason, forces art back into precisely that merely subject sphere—ultimately that of contingency—from which Kant wanted to wrest it and which art itself resists… In the artwork the subject is neither the observer nor the creator nor absolute spirit but rather spirit bound up with, preformed and mediated by the object.

For artwork and thus for its theory, subject and object are its own proper elements and they are dialectical in such a fashion that whatever the work is composed of—material, expression, and form—is always both. The materials are shaped by the hand from which the artwork received them; expression, objectivated in the artwork and objective in itself, enters as a subjective impulse; form, if it is not to have a mechanical relationship to what is formed, must be produced subjectively according to the demands of the object…

By entrusting itself fully to its material, production results in something universal born out of the utmost individuation. The force with which the private I is externalized in the work is the I’s collective essence; it constitutes the linguistic quality of works. The labor in the artwork becomes social by way of the individual, though the individual need not be conscious of society; perhaps this is all the more true the less the individual is conscious of society. The intervening individual subject is scarcely more than a limiting value, something minimal required by the artwork for its crystallization. The emancipation of the artwork from the artist is no l’art pour l’art delusion of grandeur but the simplest expression of the work’s constitution as the expression of a social relation that bears in itself the law of its own reification…

Inasmuch as subject and object have become disjoint in historical reality, art is possible only in that it passed through the subject. For mimesis of what is not administered by the subject has no other locus than in the living subject. The objectivation of art through its immanent execution requires the historical subject… Subjectivity, however, though a necessary condition of the artwork is not the aesthetic quality as such but becomes it only through objectivation; to this extent subjectivity in the artwork is self-alienated and concealed.

Adorno, Theodor W. Aesthetic Theory. Trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor. London: Bloomsburg Academic, 1997. Print.
The excerpt is from the “chapter” on Subject-Object.

© 2023 Electric Text

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑