“I believe that introversion is my greatest strength. I have such a strong inner life that I’m never bored and only occasionally lonely. No matter what mayhem is happening around me, I know I can always turn inward.”—Susan Cain (via onlinecounsellingcollege)
“I’m here today because I am gay. And because… maybe I can make a difference. To help others have an easier and more hopeful time. Regardless, for me, I feel a personal obligation and a social responsibility. I also do it selﬁshly, because I am tired of hiding and I am tired of lying by omission. I suffered for years because I was scared to be out. My spirit suffered, my mental health suffered and my relationships suffered. And I’m standing here today, with all of you, on the other side of all that pain. I am young, yes, but what I have learned is that love, the beauty of it, the joy of it and yes, even the pain of it, is the most incredible gift to give and to receive as a human being. And we deserve to experience love fully, equally, without shame and without compromise.”—Ellen Page (x)
A work of art encountered as a work of art is an experience, not a statement or an answer to a question. Art is not only about something; it is something. A work of art is a thing in the world, not just a text or commentary on the world.
I am not saying that a work of art creates a world which is entirely self-referring. Of course, works of art (with the important exception of music) refer to the real world—to our knowledge, to our experience, to our values. They present information and evaluations. But their distinctive feature is that they give rise not to conceptual knowledge (which is the distinctive feature of discursive or scientific knowledge—e.g., philosophy, sociology, psychology, history) but to something like an excitation, a phenomenon of commitment, judgment in a state of thralldom or captivation. Which is to say that the knowledge we gain through art is an experience of the form or style of knowing something, rather than a knowledge of something (like a fact or a moral judgment) in itself.
This explains the preeminence of the value of expressiveness in works of art; and how the value of expressiveness-that is, of style—rightly takes precedence over content (when content is, falsely, isolated from style). The satisfactions of Paradise Lost for us do not he In its views on God and man, but in the superior kinds of energy, vitality, expressiveness which are incarnated in the poem.
Hence, too, the peculiar dependence of a work of art, however expressive, upon the cooperation of the person having the experience, for one may see what is “said” but remain unmoved, either through dullness or distraction. Art is seduction, not rape. A work of art proposes a type of experience designed to manifest the quality of imperiousness. But art cannot seduce without the complicity of the experiencing subject.
Inevitably, critics who regard works of art as statements will be wary of “style,” even as they pay lip service to “imagination.” All that imagination really means for them, anyway, is the supersensitive rendering of “reality.” It is this “reality” snared by the work of art that they continue to focus on, rather than on the extent to which a work of art engages the mind in certain transformations.
But when the metaphor of the work of art as a statement loses its authority, the ambivalence toward “style” should dissolve; for this ambivalence mirrors the presumed tension between the statement and the manner in which it is stated.