kanye vs. kant

Today I’m going to write about Kanye West.

No, I’m not going to review his new album The Life of Pablo; I won’t talk about his problematic, sometimes misogynistic lyrics (something that I struggle to reconcile with enjoying his music); and I’m not gonna discuss that horrible “BILL COSBY IS INNOCENT” tweet. Again, problematic, and something that others can do a much better job expounding on than I can.

Instead, I’m going to write about Kanye West and taste.

Kanye’s return to Twitter has been one hell of a ride. He’s no longer going on about being responsible for empty water bottles left on planes, nor bemoaning the lack of cherub imagery on his Persian rugs, nor getting emotional over fonts.

But now he tweets about his music, clothing line and debt; creativity and inspiration; his reverence of Will Ferrell; and critiquing his critics.

At first glance, particularly for someone who doesn’t follow the man on Twitter, Kanye’s tweets about the Grammys seem to be the rants of a self-obsessed man with such a pathetic take on losing that he downs too much Hennessy and then, once properly hammered, takes to Twitter to enact a clumsy revenge.

But peek between the lines, Dear Reader, and you’ll see something else.

“Everybody with any form of taste.” The implication? Taste is something objectively good. You and I don’t get to decide what is tasteful on with our personal opinions.

And that’s when I thought, “Well, shit. Am I reading Kanye or Kant? It’s KANTYE.” (Please clap.)

See, the work of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher from the 1700s, has more in common with the Twitter account of Kanye West than one might expect. In his Critique of Judgment, he talks about something called sensus communis, or a common understanding of what constitutes “good” art.

But here’s where it gets tricky: Kant says we determine what is good art by using reason, the highest human faculty. Kanye … well, that’s not exactly his perspective. Or it doesn’t seem to be.

Again, taste. But this time Kanye implies something else: “cultural relevance.” Part of the reason the Grammys are not a valid awards show, Kanye insinuates, is because Grammy voters are out of touch with culture.

So here we wade into more complicated territory. Taste is something both objectively good and culturally relevant. That’s where Kanye and Kant diverge (feel free to argue; I haven’t studied Kant in depth for three years).

But if something that is Good is determined by a common consensus exclusively from those who are in touch with pop culture, then doesn’t that exclude or devalue the opinions of people who aren’t in touch? Why does Kanye assign different standards of taste depending on who listens to March Madness? And if only those people who are culturally relevant can have taste, then can taste truly be objective?

Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe Kanye’s understanding of art falls into what Kant would label the tier of art below the Good, which is the beautiful, or that which pleases. “In all judgements by which we describe anything as beautiful, we allow no one to be of another opinion,” wrote Kant.

But I get the feeling that Kanye thinks that art occupies more of a transcendental plane than merely a pleasurable one.

Hell, maybe Kanye’s tweets have more to do with class, race and power instead of art and taste. I’ll get to that too (probably). But for now, I’m thinking out loud here (and trying to remember how to blog instead of write journalistically), which means that I’m going to leave this post open-ended. If you have thoughts, I’d love to read them.

(Here’s the A$AP Rocky music video, by the way. I’d say “You decide whether it’s any good,” but, you know, we just discussed that.)

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