Autonomy

An example of figure-ground reversal:

Modernist art might even be defined by a loss of audience or loss of trust between audience and artist (as Cavell has famously suggested), making the question of trust, fraud, authenticity, reliability, and philosophical self-consciousness about art itself all wholly new sorts of aesthetic values, and ones that do not seem arbitrarily invented or at all reversible. (In most contexts the name for such attempts at reversibility is kitsch.)

We cannot make any sense of this phenomenon by restricting the account to the history of art or novels or drama or poetry alone, but only by trying to understand what has turned out to be the so unexpectedly poisonous, deracinating, the simultaneously oversocializing and desocializing effects of social and cultural “modernization.” One kind of sensemaking or explanation is seeing one phenomenon in the context of something wider and more comprehensive, so that a phenomenon such as Cavell’s distrust or loss of audience can begin to look like what we would expect in the aesthetic domain, given some fate for normative expectations generally. I have suggested that this larger context has to do with being called on by a historical situation “to be a subject,” lead a life, take up the reins, as it were, and that this is something at which, “modernism” discovers, we can fail (oddly, especially when we try very hard to do it).

Robert Pippin, The Persistence of Subjectivity

At the same time Clementine and Leo deluded themselves, like everyone whose mind has been formed by the prevailing customs and literature, that their passions, characters, destinies, and actions made them dependent on each other. In truth, of course, more than half of life consists not of actions but of formulas, of opinions we make our own, of on-the-one-hands and on-the-other-hands, and of all the piled-up impersonality of everything one has heard and knows. The fate of this husband and wife depended mostly on a murky, persistent, confused structuring of ideas that were not even their own but belonged to public opinion and shifted with it, without their being able to defend themselves against it. Compared with this dependence their personal dependence on each other represented only a tiny fraction, a wildly overestimated residue. And while they deluded themselves that they had their own private lives, and questioned each other’s character and will, the agonizing difficulty lay in the unreality of the conflict, which they covered with every possible peevishness.

Robert Musil, The Man Without Qualities, ch. 51