Second course seminar with professor Liora Bresler from the University of Illinois, USA, together with Swedish hosts Lars Lindström and Eva Österlind (Stockholm University) and some twenty master and doctoral students. Akira Kurosawa’s movie Rashomon from 1949 provides a common ground for discussions about truth on different levels.
Most people agree there exists such a thing as objective reality; in Rashomon, it is represented by a man found dead in the forest. The characters involved are struggling to understand the course of events. Their tales are told and retold in multiple layers: by Kurosawa’s choice of sounds and images in making the film; within the story by the actors acting them over and over, each time from another point of view; and when the movie ends, by our thinking and talking over it. On each level, interpretations are constructed, negotiated and created anew; if there is a true story about what happened, it remains an enigma. Still, the memory stays with us, the gesture of seeking truth and meaning.
So, where is the difference, really, between the researcher’s mode of understanding reality and the artist’s? Is it only a matter of context, of different communities and traditions? Here’s one attempt at an answer, from John Dewey in 1934:
“The rhythm of loss of integration with environment and recovery of union not only persists in man but becomes conscious with him; its conditions are material out of which he forms purposes.
Since the artist cares in a peculiar way for the phase of experience in which union is achieved, he does not shun moments of resistance and tension. He rather cultivates them, not for their own sake but because of their potentialities, bringing to living consciousness an experience that is unified and total. In contrast with the person whose purpose is esthetic, the scientific man is interested in problems, in situations wherein tension between the matter of observation and of thought is marked.
The difference between the esthetic and the intellectual is thus one of the place where emphasis falls in the constant rhytm that marks the interaction of the live creature with his surroundings.”
John Dewey, Art as Experience (1934)