Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Rinaldo Enchanted by Armida, 1742 until 1745. Was this the kind of work Kant associated with charms and sensual delights of beauty? Making Sense of Kant's Senseless Sublime In the last decade of the 18th century Beethoven composed his 1st and 2nd piano concertos, Goya etched the series Los Caprichos, Jacques-Louis David painted The Death of Marat, and Mozart composed the Requiem in D Minor and the great Jupiter Symphony. These works coincided with the French Revolution, and together they guided European culture away from the extravagant art of Rococo exemplified by the sweetly-colored paintings of Boucher and Tiepolo, with their floating florid nymphs, cupids, silks, and princesses. Jacques-Louis David, Death of Marat, 1793. The period of the French Revolution marked a new period of art with more gravitas.   This was a paradigm shift from the superficial to gut wrenching passion, as if Western art was going back to its roots in the dramas of Aeschylus and Euripides; answering the big questions of what is the good and what is important while at the same time elevating the creative process by innovation and superlative skill. This wasn't for the faint of heart. The artists would have to face inner turmoil and outer rejection as they attempted to get patrons to sponsor wildly dramatic depictions of death, war, and executions, which didn’t lend themselves to the decorative palace dining room....
With the passage of the recent bipartisan budget agreement and its $300 billion assault on spending caps, coming on the heels of the GOP’s Tax Cut and Reform Bill and its sweeping $1.5 trillion reduction in taxes, at some point Republicans must focus their attention to a side of the spending coin that has never sat well with America—welfare. According to Gary D. Alexander, Pennsylvania’s former Secretary of Human Services, the federal government’s $1 trillion-a-year “limitless war on poverty” has spawned a kraken of runaway spending that threatens America’s economic survival. Currently, over 70 “unearned” public welfare programs within nine federal agencies— Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), cash and energy assistance programs, student loan subsidies, etc.—are “riddled with inefficiencies, abuse and fraud,” ingest 60% of every federal tax dollar, and account for almost half of states’ budgets. To Alexander, simply put, “No nation has ever spent itself into prosperity.” Likewise, according to The Heritage Foundation, the costs of America’s four largest entitlement programs—Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security—added to the interest on the national debt “are set to consume every dollar of taxes paid in just 20 years.” As the largest federal program, Social Security alone accounts for approximately one-fourth of all federal spending. On its current trajectory, trustees predict SSA trust funds will be depleted in 2034. The CBO forecasts...
The machine is a defining cultural element of the 20th century. The machine and mass production influences man’s view of himself, his evolving notions of beauty and form, what his very world is. Today we enter the postindustrial era, where machines are more nostalgic than futuristic, more virtual than real; man is being transformed by technology, though now by software and networks which are not so readily depicted but whose influence creates as much uncertainty as ever. Imagine for a moment a world without machines... A world where you don’t have a truck that can drive you up the Sierra Mountains for skiing... A world where you can’t pick up a phone and ask a friend for advice... A world where you have to take cold showers because the great old machine pumping hot water to your house is dying out of neglect and incompetence... Well this is sort of a world I grew up in. I was born in what was still communist Poland in a great old industrial city of Lodz. We didn’t have a car and there was only one phone in our building and it wasn’t ours. Every summer the city stopped hot water service for 2 months because the one and only power plant had to shut down for temporary maintenance. This was the 80s and we learned to keep candles all around the house because the power often went out at night... Poland was gray and sad and our industry was dying and there was no innovation to be seen anywhere around. But we knew, we all knew about a different sort of world... a world where...
Part 3—Hortense Briggs and Rita Eksler Dreiser’s Hortense Briggs and Rand’s Rita Eksler are both femmes fatales, but whereas Dreiser seethes with resentment that such a girl exists, Rand admires her and gives her her due. Hortense Briggs is Clyde’s first love interest. The courtship is short-lived, but it gives Dreiser the opportunity to set up and knock down the pretty, sensuous, and hard Hortense. Hortense is an energetic thrill seeker—“Gee, I’d die if I had to stay in one night”—who tries to make the most out of her youth and situation, “You gotta have a little fun when you work all day” (American Tragedy 72). Hortense, Dreiser complains, likes to look nice, likes to go out on dates, thinks highly of herself, and likes to draw attention to herself. Readers of Ayn Rand might wonder what the problem is. For Dreiser, the problem was that the ego was a fiction, and Hortense’s self-interest is a fiction too. Hortense’s actions have nothing to do with ego and everything to do with pathology, in keeping with Dreiser’s view of human nature—“an insignificant, will-less machine, buffeted in an inexorable complex of nature along with billions of other heedless machines” (Swanberg 61). Hortense, Dreiser insists, is no better than anyone else, regardless of what she thinks. Hortense cares about her appearance, a trait that Dreiser ridicules. He describes her efforts to look nice not as a sign of self-esteem but as a sign of conceit. For example, on a date with Clyde,...
Part 2—Esta Griffiths and Lydia Argounova The story of Esta Griffiths, Clyde’s sister, and the Griffiths’ elder daughter, is Hobbesian. From the start, Dreiser makes clear that there isn’t much to say. We get details about her character, but not a fully formed individual. While she is musical and plays the organ and sings at the revival meetings her parents hold, she is not interested in music. She does not study it or plan for a career. Dreiser does not give her a mind or afford her a purpose at all. As he sees it, she merely reacts, like a trained seal, to “the attention and comment her presence and singing evoked” (American Tragedy 5). She is not so much a character, Dreiser assures us, as a mood: “[I]n spite of her guarded up-bringing, and the seeming religious and moral fervor which at times appeared to characterize her, she was just a sensuous, weak, girl who did not by any means yet know what she thought” (American Tragedy 14). Esta is impressionable and romantic. She daydreams a lot, but the plot of her story is smugly conventional. Dreiser derides her interest in clothing and other finery, complaining that she drifted along with “a vague yearning toward pretty dresses, hats, shoes, ribbons and the like” and for “some bright, gay, wonderful love of some kind, with some one” (American Tragedy 15-16). Instead of finding love, however, Esta is seduced, deceived, betrayed, and abandoned by a young man “who scarcely cared for her at all.” As Esta is...

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