A confession that some will misread as hateful boasting: there is an excellent chance that you will actively despise much of what you are about to read, and I don't care. "So you're a troll?", somebody will respond. No, a troll very much does care about how people feel about him - he wants them to feel badly. I don't. I just don't crave the approval of total strangers. I don't mind getting it, but I'm not going to hold back on the sincere expression of my views or from reasonable argumentation in support of them where appropriate in order to win any popularity contests.

"Yeah, **** the PTA! Fight the power! Let the dilberts deal with it!", somebody screams, as the cockroaches scurry out of the three day growth of stubble on his face, because they just can't deal with the stench any more. Soap is so bourgeois, you know. But then again, in so many ways, so am I, and glad to be so. If you see this picture

Image copyrighted 2008 Joseph Dunphy, all rights reserved

and read the post on Ex Nihilo in which it appears (a review of JacksonPollock.org), you mind sense the presence of a little mockery of the pretensions of Art School Crowd and the "emperor's new clothes" school of criticism. I am not part of the avante garde crowd and don't wish to be. "Yeah, modern art is garbage, just random slop thrown at the canvas without thought, you tell them, buddy", somebody with a "support our troops" button yells ... and then he runs into this followup post on "Stumbling into the Void", and finds that I haven't voiced my support for that position at all, only being left with questions which, much to his dissatisfaction, to which he finds that I won't offer any glib, soundbite answers.

However reviewers may have designed their sites, with simple 1-5 star ratings in the case of Yelp, or even worse, a thumbs up vs. thumbs down distinction in the case of StumbleUpon, I'm going to maintain that those searching for simple answers should find themselves feeling frustrated at the end of a review, because they base their desires on a false premise - that the goodness or badness of something is a simple thing that can be ranked in a linear manner. Not so. There will be some things that are likable about a place or a piece, some that won't be, and how does one weigh these? What matters most varies from person to person - what are his likes, his dislikes, his priorities ... what is he in a mood for? That will vary from person to person, so sometimes I will simply lay my notes out on the table and leave the reader to sort through them to find an answer that suits him, and he filters what he is reading through his own set of priorities and preferences, something he will know far more about than I will. As long as he has arrived at them in an honest and fair-minded fashion, without pretense or prejudgment, they are not mine to question, because there is no right or wrong about them, any more than there is any rightness or wrongness in being blondhaired or left handed - they just are, part of what nature has made him.

But that's precisely the problem, isn't it, especially in the United States? Pretense or prejudgement? One admits to having enjoyed the food on one's trip to New Mexico, or anything else there for that matter, and soon runs into the sort of person who inspired this tiresome fictional character

who would probably have something to say about the fact that I had been caught watching a sitcom, and even worse, enjoyed it. This is somebody who, I would say, ironically shows his lack of philosophical sophistication in the process of showing off his imagined artistic sophistication, revealing himself in midle age to be, emotionally, where some of us were in our teens. "Meaning that the wise man shuns worldy pleasures, seeing them to be meaningless?", somebody might ask. No, I see asceticism as being nothing more than a manifestation of a different sort of snobbery, that of a human being who wouldn't be caught dead admitting that he was flesh and blood. No, the lack of sophistication is to be found in the belief that an experience can be defined without making reference to the personal history that lead up to it. I'm reminded of a friend of mine

... "A 'friend' of yours, Joseph? Does this 'friend' have a name?" "No, he doesn't. Shut up."

... yes, a friend of mine who, when he was in high school, went back to somewhere in Elmhurst, Illinois called the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art, and immediately felt embarrassed, disappointed and distressed. What had looked so beautiful and brilliant to him when he was a child, now looked tacky and sad, just pure kitsch. It suffered by comparison to what he had seen in other museums, before they were priced beyond his reach, as the vast majority art often does in hindsight when compared to the work of a Rembrandt or a Monet. But often only in hindsight, and that's what our adolescent, so fearful of being confused with the child he used to be, wasn't prepared to see. He saw the beauty of the fine art that he had come to enjoy as being something innate, definable outside of the experience of the viewer, and that experience as something that just was, static and eternal, defining, not the beauty of the piece, but the judgment of the observer.

He felt much the same sense of disillusionment that a child feels at discovering that one of his old heroes wasn't as amazing as he thought he was - not that he would ever have admitted that - and a little foolish for having been so fooled. But he had missed the point, a number of points, in fact. His appreciation of what he was seeing wasn't something that had existed in a vacuum. Think of how it is that one acquires in a taste in almost anything. One starts out with tastes that are considered by some to be rather unsophisticated, childlike, and gradually tweaks them.

Think of the child who insists that a particular dessert be served far sweeter than tradition would dictate, as his mother rolls her eyes with a smile and indulges him in this. Then, as he gets a little older, he wants a little less sugar - just a little less - and maybe he wouldn't mind trying a few of those seasonings that seemed so disturbing last year - tweaking, and tweaking and tweaking some more until, gradually, he drifts into desiring what is seen as being the best version of the dish. Had he been served poorer versions all along? Not at all, because each time he had the dish, the frame of mind he brought to the next tasting was changed by the experience, so the pleasure that, for him, was to be found in the adult version, contained within it the pleasure his past selves had felt in those "cruder" variants. The more "sophisticated" pleasures are reached using the "less sophisticated" as stepping stones, and would not be so fully appreciated otherwise. To try to skip ahead would not be to sacrifice honest pleasure for the sake of falsely impressing one's peers, behavior that one should have outgrown by one's twenties, because it doesn't serve anybody particularly well.

Beauty isn't a static thing, existing timelessly and objectively in and of itself, it's a process of self-discovery and self-creation. That's a point that a snob will miss, acting as one who walks in on a play at the beginning, scornfully observing that they haven't skipped to the fourth act, and then trembling in shame before the one who impatiently recites the words to the beginning of the fifth, and asks out loud why he isn't hearing them from the actors - and then goes out to burn down a conservatory.

As some of these people will acknowledge, when speaking of the works of other cultures that are considered great, fine art has often built on folk art, so, again, when you look at one work, you're not just looking at that work, you're looking at all of the works that lead up to it, one building on another. Remembering this, they might grudgingly honor the folk artist abroad, and then see nothing odd about scorning his counterpart at home. But if a real national culture is ever to take root here, it's going to be built on the foundation laid by those scorned folk artists, so what we see in the snob is his disdain for "humble things" and those who see value in them, is pure selfishness. A culture run on the terms he sets forth would be a parasitic presence at best, enjoying what has grown out of the traditions created by others, without setting into motion the process that would lead to the creation of an authentic tradition of its own to share.

What we see is the attitude of a society that esteems the consumer and scorns the producer, one that considers the useless dandy who lives on inherited "old money" (while creating nothing himself) to be "high class", while considering those who would work for a living to be "low class", measuring a man's worth by what he is given rather than by what he gives. It is the attitude of a society, decadent in the worst sense of that word, on its way out and unlikely to be missed. It's an attitude that we should scorn, because it leads a culture to make unsustainable choices. If, at times, I seem overly obsessed with the lower class elements of my own background, this is why. It's not defensiveness that you're seeing. It's pride.

You'll probably notice, in the years to come, that the vast majority of the reviews you'll see will be positive ones. This is not because I can't pan anything, but because, seeing little point to telling you where to find a bad experience, I'll usually not bother to review something that I don't like. Tourist traps in prominent locations are worth saying something about, but is there a healthy reason to go into some out of the way location, just to bad mouth it? Am I going to invite the reader to take a long trip just to see how bad it is, for himself? That's not pleasure, that's schadenfreude.

As I've said elsewhere, my purpose, in reviewing, is never to tell you that it's wrong for you to enjoy something. My purpose is to say "hey, there's this wonderful thing I've enjoyed, and I'd like to share it with you", maybe pointing you down that path that doesn't just lead to the pleasure, but is the pleasure. I'll show you what it is that I love about it, without clinging to any modernist conceit that I've uncovered some absolute truth. I see reviewing, not as an opportunity to apply some imagined objective measure of aesthetic worth, created by a philosopher or an art student, with a bad case of Physics envy, but as a subgenre of autobiographical literature. This is my experience. Decide for yourself how relevant it is, for you.

Part of that experience will consist of the attempted creation of creative works of my own, with no promises coming from me that they won't be terrible. I'm a rank amateur, and don't pretend to be anything else. Part of it will be what this site of mine is about, very often - commenting on my earlier commentary, as you saw me do in the "followup post" I mentioned before. Immediately following a joke by saying "but seriously, folks ..." would be lame, but if you're here, I'm not doing that to you. You've wandered around, having found no direct link from the comment to the meta-comment (comment about a comment), and so the delay needed comes naturally.

What you're seeing is me being me, writing about my day as I write my pages. It is what is likely to become the center of my sites, where everything gets tied together, and so, in addition to the metacommentary already in place, you can look forward to reviews of books, movies, websites, places to visit in the real world (almost all of them in Chicago or nearby), music I've listened to ... and yes, there will be more tea and coffee. Shot in color, this time, instead of in black and white as on another site of mine, which, while thematically fitting, doesn't always show the beverages in the most attractive way.

My metablog is ahead, readable either on Deadjournal or Scribbld. When you decide that you'd like to return to your ring, links back to the ring will be present on that blog and all associated pages (my profile on Flickr, my Youtube channel, etc), in the spirit of "better than full webring navigability" (a notion to be explained elsewhere). But, before you go, would you maybe like to visit the main page for this site, and see what else I have here? Don't worry. There are links back to the ring on the rest of this site, as well, so you should be able to find your way back without difficulty.