10.02.2008

On the Nature of Sweet: A Dialogue II

See other posts in the "Is this sweet?" series.
See other posts in the "On the Nature of Sweet" series (more focused on the philosophy of sweetness).

The late-afternoon sun sparkles on the surface of the ocean. Waves lap against the sides of a party barge (the S.S. Tanked) upon which Demosthenes, king of speeches, and Emile Durkheim, father of Sociology (and definitely not Anthropology), share ideas over a few gin and tonics.

Durkheim: That restaurant was utterly disappointing. In fact, I resolve to never eat Thai again. Their selection of curries was uninspired. And those curtains!
Demosthenes: Say, Emile, do you ever wonder how we came to be engaged in this bizarre dialogue? I mean, putting aside the obvious temporal absurdity of the situation, shouldn’t there be some sort of explanation, at least?
Durkheim: Perhaps. Additionally, I’ve noted that the connection between what we say and our historical personal philosophies is tenuous at best, and, on occasion, bafflingly inconsistent.
Demosthenes: Indeed. Do you sometimes get the feeling that we’re just pawns of some cavalier author? Or that we’re being watched?
Durkheim: I haven’t paid my taxes since 1996, so I always feel that way.
Demosthenes: Oh, that’s actually pretty sweet.
Durkheim: Ah, you’ve just reminded me of the topic at hand: the concept of “Sweet!”
Demosthenes: Right, of course. My previous dialogue on this subject has endured widespread criticism from the liberal media.
Durkheim: Yes, I’m familiar with this exchange. I watched it on PBS. I was inspired to pledge one hundred dollars. Full disclosure, I also received a tote bag.
Demosthenes: My colleague Dr. OKAAAAAYGUYS (Matt) asserts that my discussion “provides us with no coherent criteria with which to judge,” and that I entirely eschew methodology, leaving the reader “adrift in a murky sea of confusion.” Ultimately, his qualms rest on my apparent inability to adequately define a conception of Sweet.
Durkheim: Some might call those, “fighting words.”
Demosthenes: My point, dear Emile, is that I need to address these bold accusations. My larger aim is to advance our understanding of Sweet for the sake of all those with a stake in this emergent field: “The Science of Sweet.” First, I’d like to point out the glaring hypocrisy of Mr. Sherrill’s criticism. After ridiculing my lack of methodology and judgment, he goes on to make equally unsupported claims. “Sweet”s fly from the tip of his pen with reckless abandon, concerning such matters as shadow puppets, Slash, and a gasoline tanker explosion. He even goes so far as to imply the existence of a hierarchy, presuming the ability to rank Sweetness on some undefined scale: “shadow puppets may be definitively sweeter than the sun” [emphasis added]. The admirable vigor of his prose is undercut by a failure to buttress any of his claims. Thus, to extend his metaphor, he denies our readers -- still adrift at sea -- any buoys by which to orient themselves in the tumult of the surf.
Durkheim: Can we stop using the sea metaphor? I’m feeling seasick right now.
Demosthenes: Nonsense – it’s just anomie. Also, that metaphor is the entire reason we’re literally on a boat right now. I know it’s gimmicky, but it only cost fifty dollars for the day.
Durkheim: Well, I think there are more urgent matters on which to take Mr. Sherrill to task. In particular, I believe you have endured unfair criticism as a result of a fundamental misreading of your original dialogue.
Demosthenes: How so?
Durkheim: Mr. Sherrill thoroughly confuses Sweet – the “formidable husk” of a concept -- with “Is this Sweet?” – the analytical question. He attacks your lack of definition, but you never intended to define Sweet in the first place. In fact, Sweetness is such a subjective and intricate concept that an attempt to boorishly shackle it with strict rules or criteria would be downright irresponsible. And so Mr. Sherrill’s demands for methodology and judgment are not only irrelevant, but bordering on na├»ve. In fact, this very complexity demonstrates the worth of “Is this Sweet?” in our studies. “Is this Sweet?” does not attempt to define Sweetness, nor does it presume an answer. It is a tool that allows for a more nimble, refined approach to the nuance of Sweet.
Demosthenes: A crucial distinction. Ashamedly, I have not conveyed my thoughts with a clarity befitting the great Demosthenes. And in accordance with Mr. Sherrill, my absurd mathematical proof admittedly did not help to illuminate our topic.
Durkheim: Au contraire! If we strip down your exercise to its bare elements, ignoring your unfortunate injection of Facebook and pseudo-math, we see that you attempt something totally Sweet -- unleashing “Is this sweet?” onto itself. Surely it is no less Sweet than Mr. Sherrill’s example of the broken bottle chain-reaction, which I found to be little more than a puzzling amalgamation of utilitarianism and Sweetness.
Demosthenes: I suppose they both agree with the spirit of learning and exploration.
Durkheim: There are some issues that have vexed me since your last dialogue. I must concede to you that Sweetness is a subjective matter; what is Sweet to one person could be decidedly not Sweet for another. But are we confined to a prison of total subjectivity? Could there not be some basic, commonly held criteria to judge that which is Sweet and not Sweet?
Demosthenes: I’m afraid that your position is indefensible, Emile.
Durkheim: Surely we can all agree that explosions are totally Sweet.
Demosthenes: Ah, but what of a hypothetical man being exploded IN the explosion? For him, the value of this Sweetness is greatly diminished.
Durkheim: True. At some level, however, I contend that the exploding man is thinking, “Ok, this sucks – but this is still kind of sweet.” Also, we are not giving enough weight to the type of explosion. For instance, the added Sweetness of a nuclear explosion would lend even further support to my claim.
Demosthenes: Were you that hypothetical man, I think you would recant your position.
Durkheim: I propose a middle-ground. Posing the question “Is this sweet?” impels us to consider the possible interpretations of a phenomenon from multiple perspectives. In other words, that which is not immediately Sweet to mine own sensibilities might be Sweet using another person’s paradigm. In this way, we can escape total subjectivity.
Demosthenes: I have to point out that this approach is fatally bound by the finite nature of human sympathy and experience. Since I am dependent upon myself to generate these alternate viewpoints, I can only accomplish so much.
Durkheim: You are correct, and I am not so reckless as to suggest that by this method we can reach an objective measure of Sweetness. By harnessing the shared experience of our social context, however, this “multi-faceted subjectivism” can provide a functional, collective sense of Sweetness.
Demosthenes: In other words, we could all say, “Oh man, that explosion was totally Sweet!” in chorus.
Durkheim: That’s my goal, yes.
Demosthenes: You know, the more we talk about things that are sweet, the more we risk hurtling into the weighty fields of metaphysics and aesthetics.
Durkheim: Until a philosopher writes the words, “Man, that was totally sweet,” we’ll always have our niche.

1 comment:

Andy Beers said...

Credit to Jessica for some killer editing help!

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