Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Monument and the Thing Itself

Guy Tal is a fellow who angers me every single time I read his blog. I think you should probably take that as an endorsement, though. He's tackling the Big Issues all the time, and I am pretty sure that I find him irritating because he's not me.

Anyways, he's got a piece up recently (which, incredibly, turned up on PetaPixel, a place not exactly famed for publishing think pieces). He's trying to apply Russell to an idea of photography. Now, as I noted in a comment over there, you gotta be careful with Russell. His philosophy was kind of self serving.

I could (and in earlier drafts of this remark, did) have some fun disintegrating Guy's arguments, but really, it's just a guy noodling out loud so doing that is wildly unfair.

However, there's one thing worth calling out specifically.

Guy notes that as time unfolds all is washed away. Nothing is permanent, nothing will remain eternally. Like many people, he feels that this creates a problem with doing things of value, and falls in to a version of the nihilism/hedonism trap. He thereby betrays that he is confusing the thing itself with the monument.

If someone performs an act of great heroism, and a statue commemorating that event is duly erected, where does the value lie? Is it in the monument, or in the act itself? If the monument is washed away, does the value of that act of heroism dimimish?

It does not, and only a fool would imagine it. It follows, inexorably, that the ultimate dissolution of the universe cannot have any effect on the value of what we do, or do not, do. If we make Art, if we make a child laugh, if we scratch a dog's ear, these acts will have value per the socially constructed value system (and there is nothing else, unless you defer all to God or similar, and you will tend to find that God's Objective Will often bears a startling resemblance to the constructed social system).

That value occurred, and it was real. When the dog dies, when the child forgets, when the Art vanishes in the heat death of the universe, the original value will still have been. Despite Guy's efforts, the fact that all things will pass is irrelevant to whether you take pictures strictly for yourself, or for others.

The argument I have made, and which I stand behind still, for making pictures for yourself is that nothing else works.


  1. Phew.

    I never read such a dense, up to the point but still easy to read statement why our actions do matter.

    This I will print big in my mind and on paper, trying to have it at hand when this question of "what for" arises.


  2. Great piece. I think it is interesting to consider your remarks with respect to the toppling of statues of once revered (or feared) heroes like Saddam or Lenin. Their deeds live on (whatever one thinks about them) and the consequences of their deeds cannot be expunged. The symbolic value of the toppling, however, cannot be underestimated.

  3. "The veil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones." ????

    With best regards,


  4. Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

  5. Speaking of lazy-maybe you ought to spend tiny bit of effort and proofread the opening sentence, which reads as follows: "It is incredible to me the laziness embodies our public discourse."

    1. I always leave a few typos to avoid offending the gods, who reserve perfection to themselves jealously.