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  • Art and Pornography
  • Hans Maes
Contemplating Art, by Jerrold Levinson, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2006, 423 pp., £65 cloth.

After Music, Art, and Metaphysics (1990) and The Pleasures of Aesthetics (1996), this is Jerrold Levinson’s third volume of essays, and it contains the bulk of his work in aesthetics over the past ten years. Twenty-four essays are grouped into seven parts. The first part is simply entitled “Art” and consists of essays on the concept and definition of art, emotion in response to art, and artistic creativity. The next three parts deal with philosophical issues specific to individual art forms. There are three essays on pictorial art, three essays on literary interpretation, and no fewer than eight essays concerning music, the art form that has always been Levinson’s principal occupation as an aesthetician. The final sections each contain only two essays. Part 5 deals with the nature of aesthetic properties, while Part 6 contains essays on two major figures in the history of aesthetics, Hume and Schopenhauer. Part 7 serves as a kind of bonus. Under the heading “Other Matters,” Levinson provides an analysis of two topics—humor and intrinsic value—that are not central but nevertheless relevant to contemporary aesthetics.

All of the essays have been published previously. Most are reprinted unchanged with only a few exceptions. “What Is Erotic Art?” and “Musical Chills” are expanded versions of earlier papers, while “Two Notions of Interpretation” is much shorter than the original essay, mainly because of a significant overlap with “Hypothetical Intentionalism: Statement, Objections, and Replies.” Some of the other essays could perhaps have done with some trimming as well (the first two essays in the book, for instance, both contain a discussion, in almost the same wording, of Paul Bloom’s intentional-historical theory of artifacts). On the whole, however, the author and editors at Oxford University Press have done a wonderful job in presenting a well-edited and beautifully produced book (with Gustav Klimt’s stunning Judith on the cover). It is in every respect a worthy addition to Oxford’s prestigious series of contemporary works in aesthetics.

Most professionals in the field will already be acquainted with a considerable portion of the essays brought together here. This does not mean, however, that Contemplating Art has nothing to offer them. This new [End Page 107] collection has at least two great advantages. First of all, there are some unexpected treasures to be found. Levinson’s work has generally received a lot of attention, but some essays have gone virtually unnoticed, mainly because they were published in lesser-known journals or books. These essays contain many challenging ideas and deserve a wider audience than they have thus far enjoyed. To offer just a few examples: in “Two Notions of Interpretation,” Levinson introduces and discusses a distinction between DM interpretations (that aim to answer the question “What does such and such mean?”) and CM interpretations (that aim to answer the question “What could such and such mean?”)—a distinction that should prove useful in the debate on intention and interpretation.1 In “Nonexistent Artforms and the Case of Visual Music,” he lays the foundations for an answer to the question of why certain art forms that seem eminently possible in fact fail to exist.2 “Musical Chills” addresses a well-known phenomenon—musical chills or “frissons”—that has been the focus of empirical studies but has received little or no attention from aestheticians.3 Finally, “Sound, Gesture, Space, and the Expression of Emotion in Music” investigates the role of spatial imagination in the grasp of musical gesture and the role of the latter in the grasp of musical expressiveness.4

Secondly, Contemplating Art gives readers the opportunity to examine the internal coherence of Levinson’s thinking. He has tackled many different topics from many different angles, and it is easy to lose sight of the common strands in his work. Such a book makes it possible to gain a clearer view of these common strands and of the basic ideas, notions, and affinities that inform the author’s thinking. For example, one can track the contours of Levinson’s nuanced but persistent intentionalism throughout the essays on...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-7809
Print ISSN
0021-8510
Pages
pp. 107-116
Launched on MUSE
2009-08-14
Open Access
No
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