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March 08, 2009


By: Bernard Chazelle

Kant wrote beautifully about beauty. He called it "finality without end." To understand this sentence, you have to go back to the original meaning of the word finality, which in French has a kinetic quality mostly lost in translation. It conveys purpose and a state of becoming (as in German). In English the emphasis is the destination; in French it's about the planning and the execution. If I draw a circle by hand, my lousy drawing will suggest a perfect circle and draw you toward this imaginary ideal. It will create movement. Much like a dominant 7th pulls you toward the tonic. It gives the art finality. Yes, but it also gives it an end, ie, the perfect circle or the root chord. This destination, for Kant, denies it real beauty. Bach's music is beautiful because it suggests a destination without telling you which one. In fact, Bach was a master at deceptive cadences, the kind of chord sequences that trick you into making wrong predictions. The poet is no longer an artist the minute you can finish his sentences. In music, art is locally predictable (you've got rules) and globally mysterious. The overall finality should never be "resolved."

Finality can mean something else.

Seventeen months ago, lawyers for a man facing execution sought extra time to file a last-minute appeal. Judge Keller refused to delay the closing of her clerk’s office past 5 p.m., even though late filings are common on the day of a scheduled execution. The man, Michael Richard, was put to death by lethal injection a few hours later.

In 1998, Judge Keller rejected the request for a new trial for a mentally retarded man convicted of rape and murder, even though DNA tests after his trial showed that it was not his semen in the victim.

We can’t give new trials to everyone who establishes, after conviction, that they might be innocent,” she later told the television news program “Frontline.” “We would have no finality in the criminal justice system, and finality is important.

There's hope Keller will experience her brand of finality first-hand when she's disbarred. Kant would not call it beauty but belated justice.

— Bernard Chazelle

Posted at March 8, 2009 03:08 PM

Her remarks in the Criner case are pretty vile (tho' Dubya eventually pardoned the chap) but the circumstances in the case she's facing disbarment over seem more ambiguous (as in, an appalling result, but possibly someone else's fault). Which is to say, that's a vewwy, vewwy balanced report from the Gray Lady there.

"People also say they admire how Judge Keller has raised her son as a single mother and how close she is with her extended family, which financed the bulk of her campaign to join the court."
Family values are terribly important in a hanging judge, you know.

Posted by: RobWeaver at March 8, 2009 08:06 PM

Thanks Tim, I hadn't seen that. It's a problem Bill Thurston gave me many years ago. He was collecting different solutions for the problem, and I gave him one. Neat little puzzle. My favorite solution was one by Peter Doyle using electrical networks. Bill's of course had to do with hyperbolic geometry.

So you read CACM, huh?

Posted by: Bernard Chazelle at March 8, 2009 09:47 PM

I forget who said it, and it doesn't matter anymore, because I taken it for my own,
nothing humans do is alien to me" not anymore.
We are the, 'perfect flaw'. And that flaw has been pronounced and highlighted rather starkly in the last decade or so. I have spoke before of American Enantiodromia (thing that become their opposite). Further, Thomas Moore wrote in Dark Eros: The Imagination of Sadism , that in any culture that does not acknowledge it's skeletons, --it's sins, if you will-- will have that imagination played out in real life.

The ways of Sade are not limited to bedroom and scenes of bondage or porno theaters or forbidden books. Any aspect of culture, from the great to the small, insofar as it is engaged in issues of power has therefore Sadean qualities. Furthermore, since life is never perfect, every aspect of culture will know the split of power into torture and suffering, dominance and submission, or sentimentality and cruelty.

Welcome to Sadeian Nation. There is no secret chord, one that pleased the lord...

Posted by: Uncle $cam at March 8, 2009 10:40 PM

opps, pardon my OCD...

Posted by: Uncle $cam at March 8, 2009 10:55 PM

Anymore, I really do wish that there were some way I could renounce my membership in this species....

Posted by: NomadUK at March 9, 2009 08:37 AM

Iirc, your understanding of "finality" is condensed in the veritable grammar of the language, in the verb tenses "perfect" and 'pluperfect."

Posted by: woody at March 9, 2009 08:46 AM

Bernard; reading yes, understanding not so much. Like your problem there.. reads like an April Fool's joke to me. If it was Mad Magazine it would be just as believable.

Posted by: tim at March 9, 2009 11:29 AM

“We can’t give new trials to everyone who establishes, after conviction, that they might be innocent,” she later told the television news program “Frontline.” “We would have no finality in the criminal justice system, and finality is important.”

So goodbye, dear Lady. I would be saddened by our parting, even now, save that you are no longer the woman that I once loved.

Posted by: tim at March 9, 2009 11:52 AM

"Devout Catholic", who doesn't have a problem with executing people?

Posted by: Bob at March 9, 2009 06:27 PM

Opus Dei?

Posted by: Uncle $cam at March 10, 2009 09:49 AM