- Artistic Truth: Aesthetics, Discourse and Imaginative Disclosure
This thorough and far-reaching analysis of artistic truth in Western society is but the first publication in a two-part project, in which the author proposes an integrated aesthetic and social philosophy. Lambert Zuidervaart's main concern in this volume is to rescue the concept of artistic truth from twentieth-century scepticism and analytic reductionism. This he accomplishes via a meticulous overview of key moments in recent aesthetic theory, representing viewpoints from logical empiricism (Monroe Beardsley), nominalism (Nelson Goodman), realism (Nicholas Wolterstorff), and critical theory (Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas), among others. In the process, Zuidervaart expresses his own conception of artistic truth as 'imaginative disclosure,' a hermeneutic, critical process of 'cultural orientation' communicated through aesthetic symbols.
Zuidervaart reveals in the introduction that his philosophical training occurred in the little-known 'Amsterdam School,' which is not a school unto itself so much as a critical approach to traditional schools in the discipline: it employs a 'dialogical' and 'dialectical' methodology that traverses conventional academic boundaries and sets disparate arguments into conversation with one another. This radically transdisciplinary approach is the book's greatest strength as well as its greatest challenge. Rarely does a philosopher so deftly employ the technical language of philosophical traditions from both sides of the established cleavage between 'analytic' and 'continental' thought - much less in the same short volume. To his credit, Zuidervaart treats each view with equally careful consideration, even though his own stance is most influenced by the German existentialist Martin Heidegger ('the single most influential philosopher in twentieth-century European philosophy'). Zuidervaart's intellectual pluralism allows him to deconstruct assumptions about the [End Page 172] nature of truth and art, drawing fruitful comparisons that otherwise might have remained dormant beneath age-old biases. To the reader, the depth and breadth of the excavation might be daunting, but Zuidervaart is committed to giving a fair rendition of each view he presents.
Zuidervaart puts forward three criteria for artistic truth, or 'modes of imaginative disclosure,' which he labels 'authenticity,' 'significance,' and 'integrity.' The kind of truth they disclose is 'truth with respect to,' as opposed to the truth yielded exclusively (on some theories) by propositions, or (on others) by some metaphysical correspondence between fact and representation. The epistemology that Zuidervaart rejects is not foreign to philosophers, but the one he defends is more difficult to grasp. In a sense, this is precisely the point: art talk is dynamic and interpretative, and artistic truth therefore resists being reduced to static propositional form. Zuidervaart asks us to consider the artwork in its cultural and historical milieu, where its meaning is given by a combination of the artist's imaginative processes, the artwork's 'internal demands,' the audience's interpretive needs, and the shared principles of their environment. These concepts would be more accessible with concrete examples, which are surprisingly infrequent in the book (a certain Van Gogh painting recurs a few times, but the bulk of the argument is theoretical). For all his analytic acumen, Zuidervaart uses terms to describe artistic truth - informed heavily by Heidegger's ontology and Habermas's communicative action theory - that might still strike some readers as jargony or abstract.
Standing at the intersection of epistemology, aesthetics, philosophy of language, and social thought, this book, as well as its forthcoming companion volume, will no doubt have wide appeal. More importantly, it is poised to open a debate about the hermeneutic life of an artwork and the limitations of contemporary analytic conceptions of 'truth.' If the notion of artistic truth is to enjoy any future, it will require more non-denominational reconsideration along the lines that Zuidervaart has achieved. Zuidervaart deserves praise for his efforts to make philosophers intelligible to each other, and to make art intelligible to those who question its cognitive relevance. [End Page 173]
Lauren Bialystok, Department of Philosophy, University of Toronto