FIU - Philosophy Department

Category: Aesthetics (Page 1 of 2)

Can food be art?

One of my favorite units in my Global Aesthetics class is “Can food be art?” Philosophers are paying more attention to the aesthetics of taste and the ethics of food production.

For my unit on food, I ask students to read the Telfer, “Can Food Be Art?” – and in 2020 I won (hooray!) an instructional video contest through Humanities Edge! It was my first attempt at a video for class (done at the beginning of COVID) – I’m not as good as most of my students, but it was fun to do. I won in the category “how to disagree with experts.”

Video about whether food can be art (video does have captions)

But my attempt at a video cannot compare to the videos submitted by my students! For the class, I asked students to make an instructional video on how to make a “dish” important to their identity (e.g., as a Cuban-American, as a college student, as a Miamian, etc.).

Here are just a few of the amazing videos submitted. I learn more than a few cooking tips and I learned some really interesting things about my students.

Alexa teaches us how to make Cuban coffee (and we learn some slang as well from her Dad).
Ale teaches us how to make good pasta (from the culture of learning how to cook)
Christopher teaches us to make pupusas!

Well done all!

Pre-Oscar Movie Wrap-Up

We’re over a year into COVID, which led loads of people to watch more movies. I wish I could say I got to see more films too but for half the year I was experiencing vertigo, which prevented me from watching as many movies as I’d like.  

The strongest Oscar-contenders this year, I believe, are in the best feature-length documentary category. I think documentaries deserve their own list, and I loved so many of them this year (including Crip Camp, My Octopus Teacher, and Time – all nominated- but so many that deserved a nom and didn’t get one). 

For this brief post, I’ll tell you the three categories I’m looking forward to while watching the Oscars, and then list some movies I really enjoyed this year. 

Cinematography: Joshua James Richards, Nomadland

I think Zhao’s The Rider is a far superior movie (see my letterboxd review), but I do think the cinematography in both Nomadland and The Rider is drop dead gorgeous. And both were thanks to Joshua James Richards.

Writing (Original Screenplay): Aaron Sorkin, The Trial of the Chicago 7

You either love Sorkin or hate him – and I love him. I think it’s a weakness. I just love the dialogue and hope he wins for this movie. President Bartlet forever. 

Directing: Another Round, Thomas Vinterberg

*I* *haven’t* *seen**Minari**yet* – so I know I’m not a competent judge.  But I do love Vinterberg for his moody interiors and strained relationships. I’m a Dogme95 fan (The Celebration)– and he seems to work well with Mads (he’s excellent in Vinterberg’s The Hunt). I was charmed by the movie – drunk it in. 

(Although I think it would be awesome for an Asian woman to win the best director…it’s just hard for me to give Zhao it for this one. I hope that now she’s getting the attention she deserves she doesn’t cave to corporate control. Amazon got off way too easy in Nomadland.)

Here are some great movies from this past year that got ZERO Oscar recognition:

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Family Romance LLC  

This technically might be 2019 (?) but wasn’t available to me until 2020. Directed by Werner Herzog, it reads like a documentary, although it is a fiction film. I won’t give too much away but it is about a Japanese man who runs a business “renting out” actors to perform important social roles (think rent a father for a wedding, or rent a girlfriend for a family dinner). It so easily could be morally flatfooted, but isn’t. 

——————————————————————————————–

Never Rarely Sometimes Always

I don’t quite understand how this got nominated for nothing. It’s on a bunch of critics ‘best of’ lists – and is on mine. The teenage actors were great – and the titular scene was heartbreaking and beautiful. 

—————————————————————————————-

I’m No Longer Here (Ya no estoy aqui)

Beautifully shot! Director of a fav tv show of mine, “Los Espookys.” This movie follows teenagers who are obsessed with the cumbia music and dancing scene. I found the movie mesmerizing. 

—————————————————————————————-

Controversial likes from this past year: Cuties/MignonnesBacurauDeerskin, Tommaso

Favorite horror from 2020: Gretel & HanselShe Dies Tomorrow   

*I haven’t seen Possessor yet (but like both Cronenberg the elder and younger)

A movie that made a big emotional impact on you? (Syllabus Easter Egg Edition)

Every semester I put “Easter Eggs” in my syllabus. These are extra credit opportunities one can find ONLY when reading through the syllabus carefully. This semester I asked students to answer the following question: “What was a movie that made a big emotional impact on you?” This easter egg was embedded in a unit on the Paradox of Fiction. Two students took up my challenge and provided two very different answers. You can find their submissions below:

Shelley Duvall in The Shining

“I avoided watching Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining for years as a promise to a friend, who insisted I watched it for the first time with him. However, last semester I took a film class that required me to watch it. I knew nothing about the plot, and in fact, only knew about the abuse Shelley Duvall was put through on set at the hands of Stanley Kubrick. I knew various scenes containing Duvall were essentially not made up of acting but of real fear. When I finally had to watch it, my blood ran hot the entire time, I couldn’t believe how angry I actually was. Throughout my viewing, I was deeply put off by the fact that I could not distinguish which scenes were made up of acting and which were made up of documented abuse. I wasn’t angry at the fiction, but the reality behind it.”  -Pau

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is a film that tackles responsibility as the main character, Gilbert, asserts little agency of his own as he battles between responsibility to his mentally disabled little brother, his failing local grocery store, his morbidly obese mother, his married lover, and a new girl which seems to understand and care for him. He bears it all with a strong character but they all collectively overwhelm him, he hits his little brother in a fit of anger after he ruins a cake, he is seen by his boss at the competing mega store buying a new cake, essentially betraying him, runs away scaring her mother by reminding her of his father, his lover that he no longer wants to be with sees him with a younger girl, and the new girl can leave as anytime as soon as her mother’s car is repaired.  It’s tragic because Gilbert doesn’t ask or bring on any of these conditions, he reminds me a lot of my own obligations to my family, friends, girlfriend, school, future career, and the decisions that I have made and will most likely have to make that jeopardizes one over the other. But in the way Gilbert does what feels he must do, trying his best to not hurt the ones around him and do what he feels that he must do, he expresses a kind of freedom, the freedom of your choice feeling like a duty, as there is no other way to move through your life but this. And in this freedom, he recovers what he can from his life and shares it with those around him through his love. The emotional pain along the way is unavoidable but also helps us with the decisions we have to make. This film teaches that in a way that is honest and asks for our deeper emotional reflection on the nature of responsibility through identification with Gilbert.” – Jonathan

Your ‘extra’ money: The Life You Can Save

For many years I have scheduled a charity exercise in my Introduction to Ethics class. I modify the “Giving Game” (instructions for which you can find here). I first ask the students to keep track of their expenses for 48 hours. After which I ask them to highlight the expenses Peter Singer (a famous Utilitarian ethicist) would say are not “morally significant.” For example, I might highlight going to get drinks with friends. While friendship might be morally significant, I need not spend $80 at a club to maintain friendships (especially when I could, according to Singer, donate that money to prevent starvation, lack of medical care, and/or houselessness). We then total up the “extra” money for the entire class. While at FIU, the “extra” spending for a class of 32 students over the course of 48 hours is usually around $2,000-$6,000 (this, for the record, is much higher than the other Universities I’ve taught at).

I ask my students to make passion pleas for their favorite charity the aim of which is to get their fellow students to vote for their presentation. The winning presentation gets a real-life donation from me. I know many professors who do such an exercise in their classes. I think it works extremely well and this semester I’ve been especially thrilled with the results. Since we’re doing our classes virtual due to COVID, many of these pleas were in the form of short videos. I wanted to share with you two of the videos. Two great videos and two really great charities below:

EvidenceAction.org

(Song had to be changed for copyright – the original song for this video was Andra Day – Rise Up)

Fred Hollows Foundation – https://www.hollows.org

It isn’t a surprise that both of these charities focus on issues outside the United States. Part of Effective Altruism is thinking about the maximum impact a dollar could have. Our dollar goes a lot further in countries with less purchasing power.

These are a few of my favorite…novels 2020

Before the winter holidays I was asked by several students for reading recommendations. I tried to think about recent books that (a) I enjoyed and (b) I would have especially enjoyed when I was in college. I can’t say these are my favorite novels of all time, but they’re pretty good (for the time being). I’m going to add another list of book that are end of the world / pandemic related. These books should be more of an escape from our current circumstances. So here are some novels to feed your soul while you study:

Ruth Ozeki, A Tale For The Time Being

“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING: When I asked folks for their advice for this list, I was so thrilled to learn I wasn’t the only one who loved this book. I’ve enjoyed Ozeki’s other books as well (especially My Year of Meats), but this one has a special place in my heart. The plot device of the book is pretty silly – I’ll admit – but it works. The tale follows two ‘time beings’ (people) – separated by a continent and time. One is a teenage girl in Japan, and another in a middle-aged writer in British Columbia. The writer stumbles upon a literal time capsule that washed up on her beach (thus the silly plot device); the capsule includes the teen’s diary. What follows is the story of three women: the writer, the teen girl, and the girl’s Zen Buddhist Grandmother (who the teen turns to for guidance). <Warning: discussions of suicide>

Bernardine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other

this is not about feeling something or about speaking words
this is about being
together.

GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER: I’m not alone in loving this book. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2019 (which is a pretty big deal). The book follows twelve different people (girls, women, and others) focusing on the Black British experience. I was invested in some of their stories more than others (Amma!) but I read this in almost one sitting. Each person’s story is told in different prose. It is not a difficult book, but raises difficult themes. <Warning: some sexual violence>

Donna Tartt, The Secret History

It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal!

THE SECRET HISTORY: Another professor reminded me of this book – how fantastic it would have been to read as a college student! Donna Tartt is best known for The Goldfinch (don’t judge a book by its movie – The Goldfinch was such a terrible movie). The Goldfinch (the book) was good – but The Secret History is better. When I searched for an (albeit bad) image of this book the search tag that appeared was “dark academia books.” It’s dark. It’s a mystery. It’s about Classics students who love their professor a little too much – and take it a bit too far. So fun – I think you’ll enjoy! <Warning: violence>

Madeline Miller, Circe

“When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.”

CIRCE: You don’t have to know anything about Greek myths, or have read (or liked) Homer’s Odyssey to love this book. To be reductive, the book is a retelling of Odysseus’ time spent with Circe (daughter of a god) on a remote island on his way back from the Trojan War. Many of us who remember our mythology know how the story will turn out, but have never heard it from Circe’s perspective. Like most good books, this one speaks to universal themes- loneliness, power, loss, romance and betrayal. Men – if you can’t live with them, might as well turn them all into swine.

I’m happy to give you more personalized recommendations – you only have to ask! And if you do end up reading any of these recommendations, please let me know what you thought! (escarbro at fiu.edu)

MONUMENTS

Image description: Robert E. Lee Monument in Richmond’s historic Monument Avenue. It now stands as the only remaining Confederate statue on Monument Avenue. Projected on the statue is the image of George Floyd. Graffiti adorns the plinth – some of which reads: ACAB, BLM, HOW MUCH MORE BLOOD?

Monuments have been in the news and on my mind for some time. I recently wrote a guest post on Aesthetics for Birds on tearing down racist monuments. I also have an article forthcoming in The Philosopher’s Magazine on putting these monuments in a monument graveyard.

This Friday I am excited to host a panel discussion at the American Society for Aesthetics called “Monuments.” This panel was inspired by an interview I heard with Dr. Michele Moody-Adams (Professor of Political Philosophy and Legal Theory at Columbia University) on the UNMUTE podcast.

Our panel will features two artists and two philosophers. Artist, writer, and museum professional Shaun Slifer will be presenting his work on historical markers. Artist Sandow Birk will also present some of his work on imaginary monuments. Dr. Moody-Adams talk is entitled, “Why Monuments Still Matter,” and we will have a presentation from Dr. Gary Shapiro, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Richmond. His talk is titled, “Report from Richmond: Public Art, National Trauma, Being with the Dead.”

I can’t wait for this panel – it was organized well before protestors around the world this summer toppled monuments so it feels more relevant than ever. Information about the conference can be found here.

If this is a topic you are interested in, might I suggest two additional resources:

All Monuments Must Fall: A Collaboratively Produced Syllabus

Monument Lab

Top 5 (Top 5 Documentaries)

First I want to say that the name of this post is a reference (homage?) to an underrated Chris Rock movie, Top 5.

But today I wanted to talk about “Top 5” lists. Recently I wrote two Top 5 lists for Aesthetics For Birds: my top five movies of the past ten years and top five novels of the past ten years. Aesthetics For Birds did a series of top five lists for movies, writing, art, TV shows, games, music, and a really fun top ten anything list

Well, my movie list (with brief justificatory summary) was overwhelmingly non-English speaking and male. On the foreign language heavy focus of my list: I’m with Bong Joon Ho whose Golden Globe speech implored folks to get beyond the “1-inch tall barrier of subtitles.” Your world literally opens up if you watch world cinema. However, I do feel uncomfortable with the maleness of the list I presented. 

When I think of some of my favorite documentaries of the past ten years, my list is overwhelmingly English-language but not that more gender-balanced. So I urge you to read everyone’s lists over at Aesthetics for Birds, and I’d like to add a list of five favorite documentaries of the past ten years below (in no particular order): 

  1. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (Herzog, 2010)
  2. I am not your negro (Peck, 2016)
  3. Exit Through the Gift Shop (Banksy? 2010)
  4. Faces Places (Varda and J.R., 2017)
  5. Shirkers (Tan, 2018) 

I’m not including The Act of Killing on this list, since it made my overall best of the last ten year list (but The Act of Killing is a favorite documentary of mine). And I’m not even sure if these are the documentaries I think are *the best* but they are the ones I’ve enjoyed watching the most. 

Some honorable mentions: Finding Vivian Maier, Leviathan, Kedi, and The Black Power Mixtape. 

Moral Monsters and Magnificent Movies

Hi all! I wrote this years ago when I was working at the Grand Illusion Cinema and thinking about these issues (Midnight in Paris must have just come out). This week in class we will be talking about the artwork of moral monsters, so I thought I’d dust this off to give my students some context on the directors I would be discussing. There is a really good Aesthetics for Birds roundtable on this very issues which you can find here.

“Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that every nasty thing ever said about Woody Allen is true. What would that then imply about his movies? Can the man and his work be separated, or are the two inextricably entwined? And if they are entwined, are you – the movie goer – doing something wrong in enjoying and supporting the film? 

These sorts of debates have been going on in the super-tiny bubble world of philosophical aesthetic for decades and have been pushed to the forefront by the recent attention given to Allen’s personal life. It is important that this is not the first time in American cinematic history someone’s character has been invoked to besmirch artistic achievement.

In 1999 Eliz Kazan received lifetime achievement award at the Academy Awards despite providing names of fellow actors and directors to the House of Un-American Activities Committee in 1952. Kazan, who had been a member of the Communist Party for two years (1934-1936), turned “friendly witness” for the HUAC and named several of his friends and colleagues associated with the Communist party, effectively ruining their careers. Kazan believed either he testified or he would never make a movie in Hollywood again. His first hit after this affair, On The Waterfront, was written by (Budd Schulberg) and acted in (Lee J. Cobb) by other HUAC informants. What does Kazan’s moral digression show? Many believe it showed a true lack of loyalty, but can we see any of that in On The Waterfront? Perhaps. Brando’s character named names against corrupt labor leaders, and is doing so is valorized. Thus, the rat (in this case) is vindicated. As Jules Dassin stated, a screenwriter that Kazan blacklisted, “There is no way for the films of Kazan to be amputated from the rest of him.”[i]

The classic example given in these cases is that of Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. Generally regarded as a cinematic masterpiece, the movie glorifies the Nazi party. We might be able to say that while the technical achievements are no less marvelous, the movie would have been better –all things considered– if it hadn’t heralded a morally despicable cause. Or, is what we like about the picture precisely the bizarre juxtaposition between artistic exemplariness and its extreme moral wickedness? 

And of course who can forget Roman Polanski’s rape of an underage girl while in Jack Nicholson’s hot tub. The man still won the best picture Oscar for The Pianist, although he could not re-enter the United States to accept the award. Here we might ask: do Polanski’s movies glorify rape or rape culture? Does the morally objectionable thing he did seep into his work somehow? I would argue no; there is nothing in The Pianist that glorifies rape culture. In fact, the movie reminds us of what Hannah Arendt called “the banality of evil,” and I would say the “banality of good,” – it reminds us how people are capable of unfathomable cruelty and unexpected kindness in almost equal measure. Further, Polanski’s Repulsion is a movie that, I believe, demonizes rape culture. The protagonist of the film (if you could call her that) is perpetually terrified and lashes out in violent ways. We learn she has become this way because of what men have done to her. It is, I believe, an anti-rape movie — one made by a rapist.

And finally, Woody Allen. Ah, Woody Allen whose movies often have a ‘Woody Allen’ character in them: Alvy Singer of Annie Hall, Isaac of Manhattan, Harry Block of Deconstructing Harry, and Mickey of Hannah and Her Sisters, just to name a few. It is much harder in the case of Woody Allen to separate the man from his work because the man is literallyinhis work. In the grand tradition of other auteur directors, his work is about his life. We believe Guido Anselmi (played by Marcello Mastrioanni) is some sort of wish fulfillment on behalf of Fellini in his 8 1/2. Similarly I suspect Woody Allen’s ‘Woody Allen’ characters are half fact, half fiction. Again we can ask: is there anything about Allen’s films that glorify rape culture, sexual abuse, or child abuse? And it is here where you have to be familiar with the movies to come up with an answer. Isaac in Manhattan has a sexual relationship with a seventeen year old, the ultimate conclusion of which is (perhaps) that the child is more grow-up than the man. (See Joan Didion’s 1976 scathing review of Manhattan for more on this theme)[ii]. As a young woman watching this movie for the first time at 17, I found the premise incredibly creepy. ‘Who would want to date that guy?’ I thought. 17-year-old me shrugged it off as yet another man living out in film what he couldn’t and/or shouldn’t do in life. (To be fair to auteur directors with wish fulfillment, at least Guido’s banished women staged a revolt!) 

What’s interesting to see is how people responded in these three cases. In the case of Kazan, people who attended the Oscars but who were outraged that the man was receiving an award refused to clap when he was honored: a small, silent protest captured aptly by the cameras for the viewers at home In the case of Polanski, a documentary film was made examining his arrest and subsequent abscondment (Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, 2008). And in the case of Woody Allen, some people have boycotted his films since the first allegations of child abuse came out (for example, my mother), but most have ignored the issue. 

Do you praise the work and demonize the man? Do you boycott anything related to Woody Allen, as my mother has done for decades? Do you watch the movies, and discuss the moral implications with your friends afterward? Do you try to separate, the best you can, the artist from their artwork? This is your – the movie goers — choice. Being reflective about this choice is a good first step.”


[i]http://www.cnn.com/SHOWBIZ/Movies/9903/16/kazan.oscar/).


[ii]Find it here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1979/aug/16/letter-from-manhattan/

Here are some relevant articles:

On John Wayne, Cancel Culture, and the Art of Problematic Artists

Aesthetics for Birds: The Art of Immoral Artists

Dylan Farrow’s Open Letter

What Do We Do with the Art of Monstruous Men?

Imaginative resistance and the Woody Allen problem

Philosophy Podcasts

One of the joys of a long commute (ha!) is the opportunity to listen to Podcasts. To be perfectly honest, lately I’ve been listening to “David Tennant Does a Podcast With….” but I thought I’d put together a list of philosophical podcasts for students.

Here is a list of 100 podcasts collected by Daily Nous (Updated July 2021): https://dailynous.com/2020/11/23/big-list-philosophy-podcasts/

In what follows is a non-exhaustive list of some of my favorites and some recommendations from other philosophers:

UNMUTEA Podcast where philosophy and real-world issues collide.
Hosted by Myisha Cherry, the podcast focuses on diverse philosophers. “It is called UnMute because we want to give a platform to people and topics that have been silenced.” I really liked Episode 037 with Dr. Michele Moody-Adams discussing monuments and memorials, but UnMute has loads of great topics.

PHILOSOPHY BITES
This is one of the more popular philosophy podcasts – with over 400 ‘bites.’ There is also an ‘Aesthetics Bites’ version. Nigel Warburton interviews well-known philosophers on a wide variety of topics. Try a bite from May 30, 2017: Aaron Meskin on The Definition of Art.

NO NARROW THING– “The podcast that gets philosophical about everything.
For full disclosure, I went to grad school with one of the hosts, Dustyn Addington. The podcast is fun and thoughtful. I’d recommend #30: “Microaggressions and Trans Identity with Sam Sumpter.”

HI-PHI NATION (SLATE) – “A show about philosophy that turns stories into ideas.
Another very popular podcast produced by SLATE. It is very well produced and probably sounds a bit more like what you think a podcast would sound like.

PARTIALLY EXAMINED LIFE – “A philosophy podcast by some guys who were at one point set on doing philosophy for a living …
Another popular podcast, airing episodes for over ten years. There are episodes dedicated to discussing the work of particular philosophers. For example, Episode 16 was on Danto’s work (and I guess the hosts joked that Danto would never listen to it- but he did and he liked it!).

PHILOSOPHY TALK (NPR) – “The program that questions everything…except your intelligence.
Technically a show on NPR, you can listen to the old shows online as if it were a podcasts. This was the first all philosophy show I was every aware of (and hosted by pretty famous professional philosophers).

And here are some recommendations from friends:

VERY BAD WIZARDS – “A philosopher and a psychologist ponder human morality

NEW BOOKS IN PHILOSOPHY A podcast from the New Books Network – you can search through books based on subject (which is a nice feature).

ELUCIDATIONS – A University of Chicago Podcast

HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY (without any gaps)

CONVERSATIONS WITH DIOTIMA: History of Women Philosophers and Scientists While not techically a podcast, you can click on episodes which will bring you to YouTube.

BBC4 Radio’s “IN OUR TIME” has programing on philosophical themes. This one is on Aristotle’s Biology.

CONTRAPOINTS – Again while not technically a podcast, a YouTube series with some philosophical themes (fun, some explicit language).

Best movies of 2018?

Best films of 2018?

The Golden Globes have come and gone, so have the SAG awards. But we’ve yet to get to the Oscars so it means that it is the perfect time for film year in review! It’s so hard for me to come up with my top films in a ranked list, so I’ll mention some films I liked in three tiers, but allow the films to remain unranked within each tier. That being said, my favorite film of the past year is probably ROMA. I was lucky enough to see it at a movie theater and I think that made all the difference. It’s a beautiful film, which requires a large screen and undivided attention (in my opinion).

TIER I

Roma

Shoplifters

The Rider (this movie is not getting enough love!)

 

TIER II

The Favourite

Leave No Trace

Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Sorry to Bother You

Happy as Lazzaro

 

TIER III

BlacKKKlansman

If Beale Street Could Talk

First Reformed

Eight Grade

Shirkers

The Other Side of the Wind

Faces/Places

Transit

 

Films I still need to see that might change this list:
Cold War

Burning

The Wife

I am not a witch

Zama

 

Enjoy – or rage at my quasi-rankings! Either way come chat with me about these films. I have office hours Tuesdays-Thursdays.

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