Man's Rage for Chaos: Biology, Behavior, and the Arts

Review of Metaphysics 21 (2):376-376 (1967)
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Abstract

The title of this work is a somewhat saucy overstatement of its thesis—that perceivers seek in works of art experiences of "discontinuity" and "disorientation," as a kind of "rehearsal" for "real life" situations in which they must negotiate intellectual tensions, resulting from a disparity between what they expect and what actually happens. Art-perceiving, the author asserts, is a "biological, adaptive" mechanism characteristic of the human organism. Peckham, like most thoughtful readers of art history, is irritated by the preposterous assertions that man's perceptions are a mad, disorderly blizzard of phenomena, and the artist alone can bring "order" to the mess. Of course, it is obvious that neither of these notions is very sensible, but the unfortunate truth about the lay psychology of most criticism is that Dr. Peckham's assertions in this connection will probably be regarded as controversial in many departments of literature and fine arts. The author is at his best when barbedly [[sic]] criticizing his colleagues; he is at less than his best, however, when he assumes the mantle of philosophical psychology in order to bring authority to his arguments. Intent upon finding confirmation in both the fashionable and passe schools of behavioral science and philosophy, he masses gluts of aphorisms from Gestalt psychology, Husserl, Heidegger, Susanne Langer, and Paul Ziff (the last pair being very indiscreetly aligned to form notions which are no less intuitive than those of the various art-historians he is admonishing. In the area of psychology, Peckham ignores all of the current approaches, and in the area of philosophy he refers to linguistic analysis or philosophy of science as though each were substantively and methodologically unified, and possessed clear-cut views about the universe. Peckham's central thesis, moreover, leaves one unable to distinguish a work of creative physics from a novel.—E. H. W.

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