Barrelhouse, or, Some Reasons Why I Am Not an Impartial Reviewer and Don’t Care

Barrelhouse 10Barrelhouse is one of my favorite literary magazines. It’s one of the first I picked up, at Von’s Books in Lafayette, Indiana, along with the now-unfortunately-defunt Quick Fiction. It’s one of the magazines that I am proudest to have been able to contribute work to. What I am saying is that this is not, and really cannot be, an impartial review.

I’m not really that concerned about giving an impartial review here. Barrelhouse is great.

Barrelhouse 10 is out. It’s been out for a little while, actually. But when it first came out, I was in the middle of PhD exams – now passed, thankfully – and most of my reading was confined to like articles about Longinus and Burke and the concept of the frame and so forth.

I’ve since had the pleasure of sitting down with Barrelhouse 10. It’s lovely, duh.

Adam Robinson once told me that people who put out print journals are “doing the Lord’s work.” It’s basically impossible to put out a beautiful print journal and actually make back your printing costs. I know. I’ve tried. (Artifice, the magazine I edit, has moved to a quarterly, online format; we’re going to be focusing our print efforts on books for the time being.)

On the other hand, I don’t want to suggest for a minute that you should give Barrelhouse your money for their sake. That’s a ridiculous reason to support a magazine. Here are some good ones: Continue reading

“I Don’t Get Art”

Tracey Emin Money

Is it actually controversial to say that you don’t get art?

People act like it is. And maybe it seems that way, for some people, if for example they’re surrounded by other people who do “get art,” or pretend to get art, or are part of the art world, or however you want to frame it.

That seems, at any rate, to be the case here.

On the other hand, someone’s announcement that they don’t “get art” seems to always be followed by rounds of back-clapping and (self-)congratulations. People seem to take a lot of pride in announcing that they don’t get art. It seems to be a particularly easy way of being culturally brave.

Dismissing art, full-stop, is a lot easier than engaging with it. Than, for example, making the argument that this art, or this particular tendency in the art world, is wrong or facile or misguided or whatever. Than taking some actual stand regarding what constitutes good art, and why.

I don’t particularly agree with Michael Fried’s stance on art, for instance, but it does give a reason why certain art is bad. It thinks through why some art is good, why some art is bad, and what the difference between the two might be. It doesn’t dismiss, it argues.

Continue reading

In Which I Apologize for Having to Talk about the Nazis

When I did an image-search for “sublime,” literally all I got for 16 pages were promo pics of the band Sublime, and this plate of enchiladas:



Sorry guys: I don’t think we can talk about Longinus without talking about fascism. Which is to say, I don’t think we can talk about the sublime without talking about the dangers of the sublime. Continue reading

The Kind of Machine That Tragedy Is

Last time, I explored Plato’s theory of art; this time, I’d like to focus on Aristotle, particularly the Poetics, and see how Aristotle’s thought lines up with that of his former teacher Plato.

Plato has a tendency towards universalization that comes up again in the likes of Kant and Hegel; Aristotle tends to approach things each on its own terms, to keep the particulars particular. Whereas for Plato the question of poetry and mimesis could not be discussed outside of the larger questions of Truth and the Forms, for Aristotle poetry is just another topic, connected to some things and not to others.

He was, by most accounts, not nearly the stylist that Plato was; words like “able” and “passable” tend to come up when discussing Aristotle’s literary efforts (the introduction to my translation of the Poetics, something of an outlier, refers to the “graceful, at times impressive style” of his now-mostly-lost dialogues, which still seems like faint praise).

It’s possible that the fact that Aristotle was not quite so passionately attached to poetry as Plato gave him the distance to be able to see it more clearly, or at least more “scientifically.”

Throughout the Poetics, Aristotle is engaged in a sort of reverse-engineering of tragedy,* choosing those works that have been identified, by common agreement, as the most successful examples of the form, and then, like the good scientist he is, taking them apart, and trying to figure out how they work. He’s not interested in prescribing what good literature is, at least not as anything external to literature itself; at the beginning of the Poetics he lists “artistic success” among the topics to be discussed, but it is interesting as one of the various phenomena associated with tragedy. Unlike Plato, for Aristotle there’s no higher standard, external to art, that art must conform to. Continue reading

Kicking Out the Poets

For my post-introduction aesthetics post, I wanted to talk some about Plato, and specifically whether and why the poets need to be kicked out of our ideal city.

Originally I planned to cover Plato and Aristotle in one post, because Aristotle’s Poetics is often treated as a direct challenge or at least response to Plato’s ideas on the arts. But I found I had a lot more to say about Plato than could comfortably fit alongside Aristotle. So I’ll hold off on Aristotle till next time. Continue reading


Hi, Big Other. I’m new here, at least as a contributor.

My name is James Tadd Adcox. I’m kind of an aesthetics geek. I’m planning, over the next several weeks, to present a series of posts on aesthetic theory, tracing a certain line of aesthetic thought from classical philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Longinus) through the British Empiricists and German Idealists and on through till today, more or less. Along the way, there will be occasional detours for thinkers who seem important for this line of thought, even if they are not themselves primarily or even especially interested in aesthetics—particularly Martin Buber and Walter Benjamin.

While most of what I’m talking about is what you’d call theory, my interest here is ultimately practical. What are we doing as writers, as artists? Are we just prettifying political arguments and pop psychology? Is there something worthwhile that art and literature do that, say, a good argument or case study doesn’t? Continue reading