On Richard Rorty and Vladimir Nabokov

Daniel Green, editor of The Reading Experience, in Prose Toad:

In his essay “Trotsky and the Wild Orchid,” the philosopher Richard Rorty describes the personal and professional discoveries that allowed him, finally, to abandon the attempt to reconcile the twin values implicated in the essay’s title: the search for some kind of justice in the arrangement of human affairs on the one hand, with an appreciation of essentially aesthetic pleasures (represented by Rorty’s youthful interest in New Jersey orchids) on the other. As Rorty himself puts it:

Insofar as I had any project in mind, it was to reconcile Trotsky and the orchids. I wanted to find some intellectual or aesthetic framework which would let me—in a thrilling phrase which I came across in Yeats—“hold reality and justice in a single vision.” By reality I meant, more or less, the Wordsworthian moments in which. . .I had felt touched by something numinous, something of ineffable importance. By justice I meant. . .the liberation of the weak from the strong. I wanted a way to be both an intellectual and spiritual snob and a friend of humanity—a nerdy recluse and a fighter for justice.

It is only after rediscovering the American “pragmatic” philosophy of William James, John Dewey, and Sidney Hook that Rorty is led to see not merely the futility of trying to unite “reality and justice” in some kind of seamlessly perceived whole, but the undesirability of doing so. The consequence of such an attempt is to harden political aspirations into rigid ideologies and to distort reality by in effect aestheticizing it.

More here.