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Archive for November 28th, 2010

The Socrapic Dialogues

Posted by scott on November 28th, 2010

It’s been awhile since we’ve checked in with Ellis Washington, internet radio personality and former law clerk, so I think you’ve had plenty of time to heal.  And we’re in luck, because Clerk Washington (Ret.) is fresh from the gymnasium, flushed, dewy, and as naked as the Truth!

Symposium: Art, music and the Wagnerian dilemma

Socrates (470-399 B.C.) was a famous Greek philosopher from Athens who taught Plato, and Plato taught Aristotle, and Aristotle taught Alexander the Great.

And someone has finally taught Ellis how to use Wikipedia.

Socrates used a method of teaching by asking questions. The Greeks called this form “dialectic” – starting from a thesis or question, then discussing ideas and moving back and forth between points of view to determine how well ideas stand up to critical review, with the ultimate principle of the dialogue being Veritas– Truth.

Which, by a strange coincidence, happens to be Ellis’ gimmick too, “Veritas,” being a word he blurts with the regularity of a wacky sitcom neighbor popping in to deliver his rib-tickling catchphrase.


  • Socrates
  • Richard Wagner, German Romantic composer
  • Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler’s filmmaker
  • Wimsatt & Beardsley, The New Criticism School
  • Ezra Pound, American expatriate poet
  • Publius, Pupil of Socrates and conflicted lover of Wagner’s music

{Setting: Symposium of Socrates}

I see Ellis has found a way to recycle his Punky Brewster spec script.  (By the way, he provides a link to a YouTube of Wagner’s Lohengrin as “suggested background music.”  It’s nice — lush and epic — but after reading the following dialogue, I would have gone with “Surfin’ Bird.”)

Socrates: We are gathered here today at my Symposium to discuss the venerated discipline of aesthetics and to seek to answer this question of the ages – Can immoral art be good? Or more pointedly, can an immoral person create good art?

Sir?  Can you please sign my drop slip?

Wimsatt & Beardsley: Yes, Socrates, philosophers call this paradox the intentional fallacy…

Socrates: Oh gee, thanks for explaining philosophy to me, guys.  Maybe you can stick around after class and give me a quick tutorial on togas and pederasty, too.

Wimsatt & Beardsley: …which developed in the New Criticism School of the 1930s and was first used by us in a 1946 essay. A long-running debate in philosophy has centered around the question of whether art that is morally bad can itself be good (as art).

…then we saw An American Carol, and just decided to go get shitfaced instead.

Leni Riefenstahl: The question of the intentional fallacy has tended to focus on controversial figures like Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Andreas Serrano (“Pi– Christ” [1989]) or artists such as myself, for I was the German filmmaker for the Third Reich, the Nazi Party and for supreme chancellor of Germany, Adolf Hitler, whom I immortalized in such documentaries as “Triumph of the Will,” which chronicled the Nuremberg rallies, and “Olympia,” a documentary on the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I am profoundly ashamed of these movies now in light of Nazi atrocities and the human-rights genocide of the Holocaust, for my so-called art was exploited as Nazi propaganda. Nevertheless, many critics to this day consider my movies to be technically and artistically brilliant.

I had no idea playing with a Ouija board could be so dull.

Leni Riefenstahl: …but I have left the glorification of racial purity and fascist ideals behind me, and am currently developing a Porky’s-style teen comedy that I profoundly feel would be both morally and aesthetically good  for Zac Efron.

Socrates: To us, the ancient Greeks, the very idea of an intentional fallacy, the notion that one can separate art from beauty would have been readily dismissed, as for them the notions of beauty and moral goodness were inextricably linked –

Moreover, when I say “us” and “them,” I’m actually talking about “we.”  Remember, it’s philosophy, jackass, it’s supposed to be confusing!

–yet due largely to the modernist philosophy of relativism – the concept that points of view have no absolute truth or validity and have only relative, subjective values according to differences in perception and consideration – this question has proved more troublesome for the modern mind.

Socrates: But the verities of my time are as true today as they were in the 5th Century B.C.  Not only do the Ancient Greeks provide ethical guidance sufficient and appropriate to any conceivable dilemma, but us and them are also a good source of practical wisdom.  For instance, if you’re building an addition to your home — say, a new slave quarters — beware when you break ground for the foundation, for you may sever a subsurface gas or power line.  This can be avoided by praying to Tartarus, Erebos, or any other duly authorized chthonic god before you dig.

Much of modern art since 1900 isn’t about beauty, but has devolved into an unedifying mix of snobbishness, greed, grotesqueness and fetishism, which the intentional fallacy has only made worse. How?

Does it screw it up your Socratic method if I don’t feel like answering the question because I reject your bullshit premise?  If so, how?  And please show your work.

Because the New School Critics have legitimized the separation of God from art

Imagine how much more you would have enjoyed Too Close for Comfort had it been touched by the power of Zeus.

…goodness from beauty, art from truth, thus much of modern art has become an exaltation of evil, caricature, deception, politics and pride – rather than truth, virtue, beauty, realism and godliness.

As you may recall, Mr. Washington believes that Michael Savage is a Promethean figure, so if the pugnacious author and radio host is willing to recline on a rock for eternity while an eagle pecks at his liver, I think it would do much to reverse the trend toward snobbishness and greed by providing art that is not only morally good, but pretty damn entertaining.  Although it might make the grotesqueness and fetishism worse, especially if the Franklin Mint opts to immortalize the scene on a collectible plate.  Still, as Socrates himself would say, “Here, take a sip of this.  Does this taste funny to you?”