- The Aesthetic Turn: Reading Eliot Deutsch on Comparative Philosophy
The quality of the eleven contributions to The Aesthetic Turn: Reading Eliot Deutsch on Comparative Philosophy, edited by Roger T. Ames, which celebrates the work of Eliot Deutsch, is one measure of the man. The other is the man himself. It is no exaggeration to say that his efforts as a philosopher and editor of Philosophy East and West helped lay the foundation for the flourishing discipline now called comparative philosophy. In this work, some of the more important philosophers engaged in this worldwide effort comment on particular aspects of Deutsch's philosophy. The results are an exceptional tribute to an exceptional philosopher. Deutsch's responses show an open and gracious intelligence at work, one that is constantly learning from the insights of others.
Arthur Danto offers his understanding of the relation between mysticism and art in Deutsch's philosophy. Deutsch's response brings the reader back to the formative years at Columbia University and the still simmering debate over what constitutes a genuine work of art. By revisiting this debate on the ontological status of the modern and the commonplace in a work of art we are provided flashes of insight into Deutsch's understanding of the mystical dimension of "radiant form" as the source of beauty in art. Graham Parkes offers a meditation on the form of the Zen rock garden and thereby prompts an enlightening discussion of the place of the arbitrary and the perfect in aesthetic experience. Essays by J. N. Mohanty and Thomas Kasulis inquire into Deutsch's theory of truth as the real presence of ontological "rightness" and the "fulfillment" of attention. The influence of Advaita Vedānta on Deutsch's thought is nicely brought out as is the continuity of his ideas with other classical European views of truth. Gerald Larson explores the role of the "Tradition Text" in Deutsch's comparative philosophy. Postmodern philosophers could learn from Deutsch's careful handling of historical sources even as he appropriates the moving center of Indian philosophy for his own philosophical projects.
One of the most brilliant essays in this festschrift is contributed by Herbert Fingarette. By bringing together the art of "wei wuwei" and the act of suffering, understood as the process of letting be what is really happening, Fingarette restores to suffering its genuine spiritual core. To suffer is not just to suffer pain but rather to "Suffer the Way to be. Do not interfere. Be like water—passive, and yet in the end powerful" (p. 74). Deutsch is moved by this extraordinary essay to offer an exceptional restatement of the central doctrine of the Bhagavad Gītā and his own theory of free action and its relation to authentic art: "This power is compelling for others. It attracts, because it is evident; it calls because one recognizes its possibilities for oneself; it demands because it sets a standard by which one measures, as it were, one's own attainment as a person" (p. 193). The continuing presence of normative [End Page 116] thinking in the pursuit of liberation demonstrates just how serious and well-disciplined is the Asian understanding of moksha. This profound meditation by two wise men is one of the highlights of this book.
But Deutsch can also be very tough. The exchange between him and Daya Krishna on the possibility of effective worldly action, given the tenets of the Advaita Vedānta school, offers the spectacle of two very powerful minds struggling with ultimate issues of deep metaphysical concern. Deutsch's response involves careful distinctions to be drawn between concepts such as person, self, and individual. These in turn allow him to paint a very concrete portrait of the acting person as first of all and always a loving being. The continuing relevance of forms of idealistic thinking to a largely secular world is given a robust defense in Deutsch's review of his lifelong efforts to craft a theory of the person as having within its very being the moral, social...