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Ästhetisches Denken, 6th ed., by Wolfgang Welsch. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1990 (2003), 223 pp.
Aisthetik: Vorlesungen Über Ästhetik Als Allgemeine Wahrnehmungslehre, by Gernot Böhme. Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 2001, 199 pp.
Ästhetische Korrespondenzen: Denken Im Technischen Raum, by Reinhard Knodt. Stuttgart: Reclam, 1994, 166 pp.

The relationship between the Anglo-American and German aesthetic traditions is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, acquaintance with one or more figures from the “great tradition” in German aesthetic thought over the last 250 years is a given for most philosophically oriented writers on aesthetics in Britain and America. Thinkers such as Kant or Adorno form a real and abiding part of our background. In some cases the connection with German intellectual lineages goes a good deal further. As an extreme case, take Terry Eagleton’s The Ideology of the Aesthetic,1 whose engagement with German thought is so deep that I have come across it as a set text for aesthetics courses in German universities (despite the fact that none of the dozen authors Eagleton analyzes are cited in their original language). On the other hand, interest in contemporary German aesthetics in English and American circles appears to be relatively slight. One would have little idea, from reading any of the philosophical journals in English, of just how much activity there is in this area, only a small proportion of which has been translated, cited, or reviewed. And yet the past two decades have seen the publication of dozens of relevant books by German authors, many proposing independent theoretical approaches. Among these—aside from the books reviewed here—are the substantial work done on performance and performativity by Erika Fischer-Lichte (Ästhetik des Performativen, 2004) and Dieter Mersch (Ereignis und Aura, 2002); the theoretical oeuvre of the prize-winning literary critic Karl Heinz Bohrer, of which Suddenness: On the Moment of Aesthetic Appearance, originally published in 1981, has made it into English; Ruth Sonderegger’s Romantic-leaning plea Für eine Ästhetik des Spiels (2000); Dieter Heinrich’s work on the philosophy of art and subjectivity, Fixpunkte: Aufsätze [End Page 117] und Essays zur Theorie der Kunst (2003); Martin Seel’s Aesthetics of Appearing (2004); the traditional neo-Kantian perspective of the late Rüdiger Bubner as set out in his Ästhetische Erfahrung (1989); Gábor Paál’s Was ist schön?—Ästhetik und Erkenntnis (2003); Konrad Paul Liessmann’s Reiz und Rührung: Über ästhetische Empfindungen (2003) . . . the list could be continued. And this is not to mention empirical-psychological approaches, works on the history of aesthetics, the reception accorded to analytical aesthetics and American philosophers such as Goodman and Danto, or the continuation of European poststructuralist and Frankfurt School traditions (for example, in the work of Albrecht Wellmer and Christoph Menke).

Given this large “backlog” of writing not yet assimilated into Anglo-American discussion, it makes sense to be selective and range a little further than the most recently published texts. Owing to sheer diversity, I cannot honestly claim that the three books I am going to discuss here are “representative” of the interests driving contemporary German aesthetics. But I have chosen them for certain common traits, traditions, and emphases that seem to me to present a stimulating contrast with the approach of Anglo-American philosophical aesthetics, while retaining many points of contact with non-German thought. That the contrast does not come down to the crass standoff of “analytical” vs. “Continental,” and all the clichés about academic style that go with it, should become obvious. It is more interesting than that, and although I want to leave the details to the discussion of the three books, I can mention at the outset a few aspects I regard as important. One is that none of these authors addresses themselves exclusively to either the philosophy of art or to the aesthetics of nature and the environment. Instead they tend to make points relating to both, or to regard both as aspects of a single situation. “Environmental aesthetics” in Anglo-American philosophy—for instance, the work of Allen Carlson—is not only of recent date but is still a subdiscipline separated from aesthetics...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1543-7809
Print ISSN
0021-8510
Pages
pp. 117-127
Launched on MUSE
2009-08-14
Open Access
N
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