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No, it is not all just opinion. Not ALL...

The problem with the "all artistic values are subjective" theory is that it fails to recognize that works of art - like other things - succeed or fail, not merely according to standards of "taste" applied by audiences, but by their own standards. Perhaps the most essential perception in judging a work of art is the perception of what it is trying to be, and perhaps the highest praise we can give a work is that in trying to be something strong, rich, challenging, or original it has carried out its intended idea with consistency and force. Obviously the artist is best positioned to know how well he has succeeded by that standard - he alone knows fully his intent - but works are acclaimed in no small part when the artist has succeeded in communicating a clear intention - a clear vision or concept - by carrying out its expression in a way that coheres and reinforces itself. Coherence - clarity of purpose, consistency of idea, and the appropriateness of means to ends - are admirable not merely as abstract ideals but as crucial conditions of effective aesthetic expression. And - essential to this discussion - they can to a great extent be perceived and are not simply matters of "opinion." That we do perceive them is a principal reason why certain works of music survive and give pleasure for centuries while others are forgotten. They are forgotten because, failing to make a cohesive appeal to our faculties of aesthetic perception and impress us with strong ideas tightly argued, they are intrinsically forgettable (or worse). Works that succeed in these things represent extraordinary achievements by extraordinary creative minds and rightly acquire reputations for superiority.

There are right and wrong, better and worse. decisions an artist can make as he makes the thousands of choices that confront him in the act of creation. What is wonderful for us, his audience, is that we have the power to intuit the appropriateness of his choices and to feel a profound pleasure at the results of his success - as well as a profound indifference or distaste at the results of his failures.
 

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^^^^@EdwardBast and dissident: I have no problem whatsoever with either of your posts/positions. I think we can all agree that Beauty, Excellence, "Greatness" resides not in the art object but in the perceptive net in which we apprehend the object (conditional propositions), I will be happy to affirm that, once this position is grasped, there is no further argument to be had.
The statement in bold is merely a paraphrase of "all artistic values are subjective" and misstates the contrary assertion, concisely stated by EdwardBast, that an artwork's quality does not "reside" within a set of "conditional propositions" but within the work's effectiveness in fulfilling the terms of those "propositions." A good piece of music, painting or poem employs coherently the aesthetic (cultural, stylistic, technical) premises it accepts, and uses the "language" of those premises to make something distinctive. In this way qualities of excellence have objective existence within a work: People's ability to perceive the artist's success may of course vary, along with the personal value people will assign the work once its qualities are perceived. But the subjective aspects of aesthetic appraisal do not invalidate the objective ones. That is just not a meaningful debate.
 

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That's still begging the question. What is it about that work that triggers that effect as opposed to Salieri's Falstaff?
Good example. We have two operas called Falstaff to compare (and we can throw in Nicolai's Die lustigen Weiber von Windsor as well). Why is Verdi's a masterpiece among comic operas, Nicolai's a pleasant work enjoyed in German- speaking countries but rarely elsewhere, and Salieri's a worthy curiosity which hasn't held the stage and - you can bank on it - never will?
 

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Who sets the criteria, the aesthetic premises that are accepted by that good piece of music or art? Does the art itself accept its own criteria? If not a cluster of like-minded people, then God? The Zeitgeist?
Good question. The artist sets, accepts, and fulfills (or not) the premises on which the work is based. He doesn't, for the most part, invent those premises - they are largely derived from his culture and profession - but he does, if he's not a mere imitator, find new ways of using those premises and of extending and modifying them. He is then admired for both his ability to grasp and exploit an inherited, common expressive language and for his creative originality.
 

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So the artist effectively sets their own criteria by which their work shall be estimated, usually based on the prevailing aesthetic, though sometimes on a countervailing aesthetic.

Given that the Baroque aesthetic and Romantic aesthetic are different, how do we determine comparative qualities across the years?
That depends on what we mean by "comparative qualities," doesn't it? What do we want to compare, and to what end?
 

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Surely you jest. I have just posted yet again for the ???? time that the workings of what we like or don't are being teased out by science and by what we can call maybe "information theory".
So you look to science to "explain" art? But what is being teased out? What can be teased out by science? What needs to be teased out, in order to determine what? Do we need science to tell us that Mozart's aria "Deh vieni non tardar" is a melodic miracle that none of Mozart's contemporaries could have written? Or do people have the ability to perceive this without precisely calibrated measuring devices and blackboards covered with equations, and is their perception (and other similar perceptions) the reason why Le Nozze di Figaro is still, after more than two centuries, a pillar of the repertoire while hundreds of other operas of the period are collecting dust in library basements?
 

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Again your own tautologies. Things are good and they are liked because certain purely subjective premises/criteria are met, criteria that have been imposed by the cluster so choosing them.
The term "purely subjective" seems problematic. What does it mean? And why "purely"? Does that imply "having no necessary relation to reality"? Does it mean "wholly arbitrary," "accidental," or "not derived from any facts of nature"? Is it like a hallucination? A derangement of the senses? An error of logic? A refusal to acknowledge the obvious, or to agree with a truth because we don't feel like it? Do "purely subjective" artistic premises materialize out of nothing? If not, where do they come from, and why would anyone value them or the products that express them?

The objectivity, I certainly, routinely agree, comes in the window when we declare that these subjective criteria have been met in the eyes and ears of their establishers.
Comes in a window? When we declare? How trivializing of artistic greatness! You are very dismissive of an artist's ability to meet, at a high level of accomplishment and invention, the demands of an artistic language. In fact, the level of dismissiveness required to refuse to acknowledge the magnitude of artistic achievement in the language of Western music represented by Bach's Mass in b-minor or Wagner's Ring of the Nibelung is mind-boggling. It's as if Bach and Wagner are celebrated for winning a pie-eating contest, and the important thing in evaluating their achievement is whether or not we like pie.
 

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Well it also depends on the "we", doesn't it. As I thought I'd said earlier, in a post that seems to have disappeared (I'll blame the new website), the "we" might be the many folks who like to compare stuff at TC and come up with endless lists of the greatest. They'd welcome a leg-up with this business, to be able to declare definitively, the top 3, the top tiers, the best Baroque, Handel's operas v Wagner's...you get the idea?
Well, you're really talking to the wrong person. I don't participate in compiling lists and rankings. The only value of such discussions is in the possibility of sharpening our perception and appreciation of things.
 

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I am impressed by the sheer number of rhetorical questions above asked! So many of them. I do admire your enthusiasm for maintaining the reputations of your favorites, as I do mine. But such encomiums are hardly necessary--no one is attacking anybody's favorite anythings--as you know, I scrupulously refrain from knocking anyone else's esthetic choices.
1. I'm not here to impress anyone.
2. I'm not attempting to maintain the reputations of anyone or anything.
3. The questions are not rhetorical, even if my rhetoric is exquisite (thank you).
4. The questions are different ways of approaching the same question, which is: are aesthetic principles derived from and intended to express and fulfill real needs, functions, tendencies and preferences of the human mind as such, or are they "purely subjective," and what does "purely subjective" mean?
 

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I don't think anyone is actually in disagreement with one another, it seems like that we're all operating on different premises or definitions.
I agree that much of the debate is the result of people talking past each other's assertions rather than actually addressing them. It's hard to say how this happens in every case, and hard to get past it.

I agree with Strange Magic that art does not contain immaterial greatness that exists independent of the observer, but it may be the case that his explanation was vague enough that posters came up with different yet valid interpretations.
The terms we use can be misleading and/or confusing. What exactly does "contain immaterial greatness" mean? When we say that Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet is a great ballet score, is it helpful to debate whether it has something called greatness inside it? Is anyone really arguing that greatness is a substance which objects contain? I haven't seen that argument offered. What is helpful and accurate is to ask what there is about the music that justifies the attribution of greatness to it. One extreme answer to this question is that nothing can justify doing so, that greatness - or any judgment of quality - can never properly be attributed to art, that the nearest we can come to legitimizing such terms is to recognize that an artist has done some specific thing well, while keeping in mind that doing one sort of thing well is just as artistiscally meaningful and impressive as doing any other thing well, and that all other assessments of quality or value are matters of individual or collective taste. Thus a stick man which perfectly renders every feature necessary to a stick man is not artistically inferior to Bernini's David, and is only considered to be so, carelessly, by cultural snobs who think that what the sculptor of the David is doing is more intrinsically interesting or admirable than what the maker of the stick man is doing.

It's not that pop music is considered greater because more people in general like it, it's more of, the "greatness" of the work is dependent on the criteria used for the "poll". If the only criterion is popularity, then you could say what is popular is better, but if the criteria is something like... "which widely available(!) works can yield a higher degree of enjoyment after repeated listening by people patient enough to listen to longer & unfamiliar works", then the classics would come out on top.
Of course that isn't an explanation, either of why popular music is more popular, or of why classical music's greatest achievements have reached artistic levels considered higher. I'll suggest that opposing popular to classical music is unnecessary and likely to obfuscate things further. There are many categories of music, but the questions at issue apply to all of them.

I think advocates for the total subjectivity of artistic value are forced to accept one of three views: 1. this work is good because I like it; 2. this work is good because a majority of people like it; or 3. no work should be called good or bad, and if I like looking at stick men more than looking at Bernini sculptures you can't say I'm not a man of exquisite taste.
 

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Precisely so! I prefer Rembrandt but am prepared to accept the consequences of my position. I do not share the aroma of desperation that surrounds those opposed to my viewpoint--people are afraid their choices will be destroyed by my iconoclasm.
I think the posited aroma of desperation and the supposed fear that your iconoclasm (is that what it is?) will destroy anyone's convictions are both things you've imagined or invented. I can't speak confidently for others, but I can say without hesitation that I have never feared the invalidation of my aesthetic judgments. I have occasionally altered them in the light of fresh insights, but never as a result of intimidation by either experts or those suspicious of expertise. I knew in my teens that Beethoven's late quartets were about as good as music gets, that Bach's b-minor mass occupied a rarefied summit in the choral literature, and that Wagner's operas are works of immense genius, and nearly sixty years of listening to, and loving, music of all sorts has left those judgments virtually intact. I listen to those things rarely now, but when I return to them the reasons for my esteem are no less obvious than ever.

Like you, I prefer Rembrandt to Ingres, but I would question your description of the latter's work as kitsch. First, I don't think anyone who believes that any person's aesthetic judgments are as good as any other's should use such a value-laden term, especially one with negative implications suggesting criticism of others' tastes. Second, I don't think Ingres' sensibility is for the most part kitschy. Kitsch is not so cool and impersonal, and it's rarely so technically virtuosic and refined. HIs work is mostly portraiture, and it was designed to be at once precise and flattering. We may - and I do - consider that objective to be profoundly shallow compared to Rembrandt's psychological penetration, but unlike you I have no objection to calling it a sign of artistic inferiority. Quality in art resides in what is expressed as well as how skilfully it's expressed. Those who prefer Ingres to Rembrandt - or the abovementioned stick figure to Rembrandt - are entitled to their preference, and may explain it, or not explain it, however they like. I remain confident, unintimidated by anyone's iconoclasm, in calling Rembrandt a greater artist. As for devotees of stick men - well, they'll grow up. Or not.
 

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You seem to hold the view, somehow, that I regard all art as equal in my own mind. Nothing could be further from the truth--my mind positively seethes with judgments and opinions that are mine. My notions of esthetics allows for the maximum of personal valuation of art, but you must admit that I very very rarely voice my negative judgments. For Ingres and kitsch, I make an exception.
Not at all! I know you don't. That's what's interesting. We both hold, in our own minds, some art to be superior. The difference seems to be that I think some art actually is, while you think that's just a feeling that you can somehow transmute into the language of fact.

Sounds like religion, Mr. Scientist!

BTW, I don't often express negative judgments of art either. I have no desire to rain on anyone's parade - and who cares what I think of Ethelbert Nevin anyway?
 

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Kitsch as compared to Rembrandt, say. Almost as kitsch as Thomas Kinkade You will think of other examples.
Poor Ingres! Does such a master craftsman really merit the worst insult you can pummel him with?

I find Ingres much bigger than Kincaide, and to see him as kitsch we have to miss his deeper nature. Think of his works as abstractions from reality by a cold, calculating mind, fascinating for the creepy, almost psychopathic vacuity behind his perfectly composed faces. Any kitschiness we perceive is incidental to the radicalness of an unwholesome vision, the product of a repressed and fractured psyche. Kitsch, by contrast, is generally healthy and tries to appeal to our positive feelings, but does so in a way that seems incompetent, crude, shallow and embarrassing. Ingres boldly eschews any such appeal, and so avoids the amusing embarrassment of failing at it. There's a perverse genius in that. Kincaide is neither genius nor perverse, but profoundly incompetent and laughably common to an almost incomparable degree. (He may, of course, simply be having one on us, purposely producing outrageous kitsch that convinces hordes of buyers that he speaks for their deepest souls. Maybe his success reveals a genius of a kind most lousy artists can't even dream of.)
 

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You asked me a question earlier, but to answer it now would seem to turn the discussion back unnecessarily. Instead, I'll just observe that while I'm very happy with these points, not everyone on the 'objective' side of the debate will be.

There are those here who wish to debate this issue to the nth degree (that is, at length within a thread and over time over a number of related threads) perhaps because the matter is not amenable to a simple resolution, but at any rate, because they find the topic of, shall we say 'abstract' interest. They might also read books about it and take a deep interest in matters of aesthetics.

There are others here who are wedded to their views and only wish to debate so far as it will prove their opinion to be a Universal Truth - that Bach or Cage or Carter or whoever is the Supreme Being and is so because of the intrinsic worth of his mighty compositions; not because of mere popularity; not just because of an establishment truth handed down over the years; not because he is the best of just the classical genre...

The reason this debate happens on a regular basis (and which the stalwarts tend to find tiresome) is not because no-one can agree a position, but partly because new people happen along who've not had the debate before; and partly because the prevailing view across, I would say, the majority of threads, is that there is an absolute hierarchy from sublime to crap, and this needs either reasserting or rebutting from time to time. Indeed, there is an explicit TC thread to establish a hierarchy which some enjoy debating for fun and others enjoy debating because they want to get it right.



And that's fine for me too. I join these discussions because when there is someone "wrong" on the internet, I like to put in my two penn'orth. Not because I am wedded to an absolutist, extreme subjective viewpoint which must be asserted, but because I enjoy the opportunity to turn the issue over and test what I think (which includes taking on those who have the "extreme objective viewpoint"). That said, I have my own temporary hierarchy which is simply of works - classical, rock, pop, etc - that have enduring value for me, regardless of what value it has for others. I fully expect that more pop/rock will be played at my funeral than classical, but that suits me - it's not a statement about the relative intrinsic merits of the music.

I just wish that there weren't so many members here who would think it is, and despair.
I'm only vaguely aware of the folks you talk about and their obsession - if such it is - with knowing what's better and what's best. Rating and ranking seems to be normal and widespread human behavior, so I don't resent or worry about those who like to do it, but I have little interest in threads where it goes on. Lately we've been comparing singers over in the opera forum, having singers "compete" in the same music, and everyone seems to understand that excellence comes in many forms that aren't directly comparable and that our preferences are just that, no matter how we justify them. Competition thus becomes not an end in itself but a way of gaining exposure and insight, and those of us who participate are grateful for the experience. A number of us have attested to a growth in our understanding of singing and what makes it good or bad. Yes, we do believe there is such a thing as good singing! But we also see that not all good singing is good in the same ways.

In the present rather challenging debates about aesthetic value, I see little to none of the essentially juvenile mentality that needs to rank everything, and I don't find, or recognize, anyone here with an "extreme objective viewpoint," if you mean a viewpoint that denies any meaningful subjective contribution to our evaluations of art. I myself come back to this subject from time to time, mostly because as a lifelong practicing creative artist and musical performer I have personal experience of making artistic judgments that have direct consequences for me, and because I enjoy thinking and talking about the process and fancy I can do so in a perceptive way on the basis of experience that not everyone shares.

It's interesting to me to observe that in the process of trying to describe artistic judgement, how it works and what it means, I have to make many judgments of an aesthetic nature, which has the pleasantly affirming effect of demonstrating to me the very points I'm making. That there really are better and worse artistic products is something no real artist has ever doubted. It's unfortunate that the implications of that - or what are imagined to be its implications - make some people uncomfortable.
 

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There is no question that there exist gradations of the value of art and of the means of establishing those gradations. All my position does is to bring this function down to the precise level where it is truly operative, the individual. Thus, the removal of the evaluating, judging function from A) the global population, B) special and distinct populations, and C) clusters of Experts and Enthusiasts, and instead imbuing each individual--unique, sui generis--with the power and the responsibility for evaluating art.
I've been debating this subject with you for a long time, and I have to say that the above does not sound like the position of someone who acts as if he is debating me. If your first sentence is true then we have no debate.

For the rest, I don't think you're fully describing how art is "truly operative" in the world. Despite the extreme atomization of modern life - loneliness is now a major cause of premature death - art still functions as a social product, and how it's collectively experienced, judged and propagated is still important at every level. This is particularly true of music; although we can all sit at home listening to our recordings or playing our pianos, it isn't, for the most part,"the individual" who decides what music gets programmed or recorded and who gets to perform it, or even, in many cases, who can afford to attend the symphony or opera to hear it. It's also true that any individual wishing to obtain a profound knowledge of music, classical music especially, has an important collective - the 'experts' you deride - to thank for much of what he or she learns. I know that in my early years as a lover and student of music my encounters with the opinions of those with far greater knowledge than my own were not only highly stimulating but formative.

In affirming that art has more than individual significance I'm not remotely suggesting that anyone's personal taste in music should be subordinated in any confrontation with any so-called consensus, but then I don't know anyone who actually advocates that kind of self-abnegation. I'm sure such humble souls exist, but I for one have no interest in debating them, and I'm surprised that arguing against them seems to you a worthwhile activity.
 

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^^^^@Woodduck: I agree with the bulk of your post #125 above, but as usual with our posts, we fail to fully understand one another. Minor example: how to interpret your statement; "If your first sentence is true then we have no debate". Is this A) that we are in perfect agreement, or B) that we cannot debate these issues; that I have somehow blocked the possibility of debate. An ambiguity. And C) I think you have yet to grasp the central point that I have attempted to have others understand--that art is entirely a human construct and has no meaning or existence in the external world--as art--unless there is human intervention to energize, vitalize, actualize it. In a sense, my position is a variant of Bishop Berkeley's curious thesis that to be is to be perceived in the one instance where his notion is correct. Our friend Waehnen, who is responsible for this whole thread by bringing out our easy weakness in discussing again this topic for the 47th time, tells me that a Bach fugue exists as a physical object, touting this as a refutation of my position of pure subjectivity of art. It would be folly to deny that said fugue exists as writing on a piece of paper, or as sound waves when rendered as such, or that a Bernini statue exists. But with no one to perceive it as such, as art, it has no existence as art. it is a variant of the well-worn notion that if a tree falls in the forest and there is no entity to hear it, does it make a noise?
As I indicated, all of your other points are true and good--the useful role of experts, the availability of a collective, your remarks about who gets to program, what gets programmed, who can afford,etc.--all well and good. But, again, this does not deal with the issue at hand, to my understanding.
I extract the following as your attempt to clarify "the central point [you] have attempted to have others understand":

"art is entirely a human construct and has no meaning or existence in the external world--as art--unless there is human intervention to energize, vitalize, actualize it."

I'm afraid that statement is not as clarifying as you may think it is. In fact I think it's terribly ambiguous. Art has no existence in the external world? What is filling the walls of museums and the shelves of libraries? Into what world did art emerge, if not the external one, when a painter or writer put his ideas onto canvas or paper? What do you mean by "as art"? By "intervention"? By "energize," "vitalize," "actualize"?

I have to assume that all of that means something more than "if a tree falls in the forest", etc. As far as that's concerned, I can't speak for anyone else here, but I'm sure I've never argued that music is communicating any meaning when it isn't audible, with no one to hear it. That seems so obvious, so epistemically elementary, as to be not worth mentioning, much less debating. I'm sure I've never debated it, and if you've imagined that I have I'd be curious to have my own statements to that effect read back to me. But it does not follow that art has no meaning except during the process of being heard or viewed. Nor does it follow that all worthwhile judgments about the meaning and quality of a piece of music are private, or that all private judgments about a painting or poem represent equally valid understandings of it. Moreover, it does not follow that there are no controlling factors inherent in the artwork and in the human mind that guide and place limits on reasonable interpretation. An Ingres portrait and a Rembrandt portrait cannot legitimately mean the same thing, no matter how drunk or insane the "sovereign individual" looking at them. Rembrandt and Ingres were very different individuals who have both mastered their craft sufficiently to make their differences abundantly clear, and their works contain a wealth of information about who the artists are and what they're trying to communicate. Our personal, individual responses to their work, however eccentric or bizarre, may matter more to us than what anyone else can tell us about them, but those paintings contain what they contain and not something other, and they are sure as hell "in the external world as art," whether or not we choose to "intervene" and "energize," "vitalize," or "actualize" them.

Our appreciation and enjoyment of art is only the final step in a sequence that began in the mind of the artist, and between his mind and ours stands the work - "as art," in the external world - full of implicit meanings bound up in words, sounds, colors, and ready to divulge those meanings to anyone willing and able to look for them. Are many of those meanings ambiguous, open-ended, suggested rather than defined? Of course. A work of art isn't a dissertaion or a sermon. We are expected to contribute. But we do so best when we're curious and humble, and not infatuated with our sovereign individuality.

It is not so much we who energize, vitalize and actualize art, as art that energizes, vitalizes and actualizes us, in ways we could never dream of. That's what art is for.
 

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I will attempt to clarify yet again by asking a question: If Bernini's sculpture of David or something very like it is sitting on the planet Thraa, several galaxies away, is it still art or simply just another oddly-shaped rock?
It is still art. It's the creation of a human mind, a mind that created it in a specific way with a specific purpose. Things don't lose their existence and identity because no one happens to be looking at them. If I remember correctly, we discover that in infancy.

"Art" objects so very obviously exist in the physical world that only a wet-lipped idiot would deny it, but they only obtain the status of Art by being perceived as such by human agency.
What you call "the status of Art" is merely a concept in your mind employing your own preferred definitions of words. It is not an objective description of reality. Objectively, a painting or a song is art because a person engaging in aesthetic thought and activity created it as art, and although that person hopes others will see or hear it, it doesn't cease to be art if that fails to happen. Nor does it suddenly become art again once seen or heard. The case is not equivalent to the tree falling in the forest, since sound (as opposed to sound waves) happens in the ear of the hearer. Art happens under the pen or brush of the creator.

And different perceivers will have different views as to its message, meaning, quality, integrity, some very far from the intention of the artist, if that has been stated by such.
Certainly. An artist understands and expects that his work may suggest meanings beyond his specific intentions. The meaning of a work of art is open-ended. That's part of what makes it wonderful. But you appear to infer from this that any view of the work is as valid as any other, including, presumably, the view of a two-year-old, of someone falling down drunk, of someone colorblind, or someone hallucinating on LSD, because validity in the understanding of art is a concept applicable only to the individual, with no factors existing objectively - in "external reality" - that limit what a work can legitimately be said to mean. After all, if a painting is art only when someone is looking at it, it must mean exactly what it is thought to mean while being looked at, no matter how outlandish a meaning it's assigned by the looker.

Whether this a correct deduction from your statements or not, I find it nonsensical.
 
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