Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Pontynen, Arthur. Cultural Renewal: Restoring the Liberal and Fine Arts

Academic journal article The Review of Metaphysics

Pontynen, Arthur. Cultural Renewal: Restoring the Liberal and Fine Arts

Article excerpt

PONTYNEN, Arthur. Cultural Renewal: Restoring the Liberal and Fine Arts. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 2015. xiv + 302 pp.--Pontynen's recent work is an ambitious and spirited book. It addresses the problem of "the decline (if not collapse) of interest in the Liberal and Fine Arts, and in the humanities." Pontynen takes the current situation to have "significant social consequences." The consequences reach deep and wide across cultures, and there is a centrally important role for the academy in the predicament, both in regard to how it came about and in regard to possible escapes from it.

Pontynen acknowledges that the problems he addresses are widely recognized and that numerous hypotheses have been offered. Still, he believes that most accounts of the issue "neglect the root cause of the problem and are therefore inadequate." The key issue is that "their [the liberal and fine arts'] importance is now tragically denied by the academy to which they are entrusted, and which they legitimatize." The author writes: "This book is a contribution to the attempt ... to understand why culture and the Liberal and Fine Arts have so radically declined in importance. But as Confucius advises, we must study the old to find the new. History is viewed as nostalgia by postmodern historicism. But to wisdom-seeking traditions, history is the attempt to recognize the eternal present." Modernism and postmodernism are critiqued heavily, and the academy's abdication of its proper role aggravates the situation considerably.

Certain themes are repeated, some of them many times. The repetition, however, elaborates upon and develops the refrain through analysis. The repetition has a purpose; it is not simply stylistic or an editorial lapse. Points are raised repeatedly, but each time these same points have a new emphasis or additional texture added to them.

For example, we read: "Unable to define (that is, understand) what Fine Art is, we admit an inability to understand reality or life beyond a fact-based, willful violence." Pontynen then expounds upon that claim: "Both a materialistic hedonism and an immanentized ecological purity are necessarily accompanied by an anti-cultural sociology of violence." Nearly a hundred pages later, Pontynen writes: "A wisdom-based understanding produces belief in the free and responsible pursuit of nonviolent Perfection." There is thematic continuity along with new elaboration. Among the chief themes are the interrelatedness of theory and practice, the theoretical and practical implications of realism and nominalism, and the ways that the study and transmission of tradition can enable us to appreciate and to be improved by recognition of the normative authority of a hierarchy of being.

This book differs from many others lamenting the declining presence of the humanities and liberal arts in education, the professionalization and specialization of scholarship, and the increasingly instrumental character of education in its undisguised defense of a version of Neoplatonism. "Culture (and therefore science and reason) is grounded in the assumption that the world is intrinsically intelligible." Also, "in contrast to postmodern historicism and progressivism, it is recognized that the human condition involves certain perennial intellectual and qualitative concerns." And, what is at stake is whether "we seek to rise to greater degrees of ontological Perfection in the name of responsible freedom and civilization."

Pontynen's elaboration of Neoplatonism is meant to show why it is that for human rationality to be well ordered it must be responsive to a normatively authoritative reality, the understanding of which perfects human beings both intellectually and practically. …

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