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Dissonance

Auditory Aesthetics in Ancient Greece

Sean Alexander Gurd

In the four centuries leading up to the death of Euripides, Greek singers, poets, and theorists delved deeply into auditory experience. They charted its capacity to develop topologies distinct from those of the other senses; contemplated its use as a communicator of information; calculated its power to express and cause extreme emotion. They made sound too, artfully and self-consciously creating songs and poems that reveled in sonorousness. Dissonance reveals the commonalities between ancient Greek auditory art and the concerns of contemporary sound studies, avant-garde music, and aesthetics, making the argument that "classical" Greek song and drama were, in fact, an early European avant-garde, a proto-exploration of the aesthetics of noise. The book thus develops an alternative to that romantic ideal which sees antiquity as a frozen and silent world.

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The Distorting Mirror

Visual Modernity in China

Laikwan Pang

The Distorting Mirror analyzes the multiple and complex ways in which urban Chinese subjects saw themselves interacting with the new visual culture that emerged during the turbulent period between the 1880s and the 1930s. The media and visual forms examined include lithography, photography, advertising, film, and theatrical performances. Urbanites actively engaged with and enjoyed this visual culture, which was largely driven by the subjective desire for the empty promises of modernity—promises comprised of such abstract and fleeting concepts as new, exciting, and fashionable. Detailing and analyzing the trajectories of development of various visual representations, Laikwan Pang emphasizes their interactions. In doing so, she demonstrates that visual modernity was not only a combination of independent cultural phenomena, but also a partially coherent sociocultural discourse whose influences were seen in different and collective parts of the culture. The work begins with an overall historical account and theorization of a new lithographic pictorial culture developing at the end of the nineteenth century and an examination of modernity’s obsession with the investigation of the real. Subsequent chapters treat the fascination with the image of the female body in the new visual culture; entertainment venues in which this culture unfolded and was performed; how urbanites came to terms with and interacted with the new reality; and the production and reception of images, the dynamics between these two being a theme explored throughout the book. Modernity, as the author shows, can be seen as spectacle. At the same time, she demonstrates that, although the excessiveness of this spectacle captivated the modern subject, it did not completely overwhelm or immobilize those who engaged with it. After all, she argues, they participated in and performed with this ephemeral visual culture in an attempt to come to terms with their own new, modern self.

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Dramatic Experiments

Life according to Diderot

Eyal Peretz

A major new interpretation of the philosophical significance of the oeuvre of Denis Diderot.

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Ecce Monstrum

Georges Bataille and the Sacrifice of Form

Jeremy Biles

In the 1930s, Georges Bataille proclaimed a ferociously religioussensibility characterized by simultaneous ecstasy and horror. Ecce Monstrum investigates the content and implications of this religious sensibility by examining Bataille's insistent linking of monstrosity and the sacred. Extending and sometimes challenging major interpretations of Bataille by thinkers like Denis Hollier and Rosalind Krauss the book reveals how his writings betray the monstrous marks of the affective and intellectual contradictions he seeks to produce in his readers. Charting a new approach to recent debates concerning Bataille's formulation of the informe (formless), the author demonstrates that the motif of monstrosity is keyed to Bataille's notion of sacrifice--an operation that ruptures the integrality of the individual form. Bataille enacts a monstrousmode of reading and writing in his approaches to other thinkers and artists--a mode that is at once agonistic and intimate. Ecce Monstrum examines this monstrous mode of reading and writing through investigations of Bataille's sacrificialinterpretations of Kojve's Hegel and Friedrich Nietzsche; his contentious relationship with Simone Weil and its implications for his mystical and writing practices; his fraught affiliation with surrealist Andr Breton and his attempt to displace surrealism with hyperchristianity; and his peculiar relations to artist Hans Bellmer, whose work evokes Bataille's religious sensibility.With its wide-ranging analyses, this book offers insights of interest to scholars of religion, philosophers, art historians, and students of French intellectual history and early modernism.

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The Ecstatic Quotidian

Phenomenological Sightings in Modern Art and Literature

Jennifer Anna Gosetti-Ferencei

Fascination with quotidian experience in modern art, literature, and philosophy promotes ecstatic forms of reflection on the very structure of the everyday world. Gosetti-Ferencei examines the ways in which modern art and literature enable a study of how we experience quotidian life. She shows that modernism, while exhibiting many strands of development, can be understood by investigating how its attentions to perception and expectation, to the common quality of things, or to childhood play gives way to experiences of ecstasis—the stepping outside of the ordinary familiarity of the world. While phenomenology grounds this study (through Husserl, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Bachelard), what makes this book more than a treatise on phenomenological aesthetics is the way in which modernity itself is examined in its relation to the quotidian. Through the works of artists and writers such as Benjamin, Cézanne, Frost, Klee, Newman, Pollock, Ponge, Proust, Rilke, Robbe-Grillet, Rothko, Sartre, and Twombly, the world of quotidian life can be seen to harbor a latent ecstasis. The breakdown of the quotidian through and after modernism then becomes an urgent question for understanding art and literature in its capacity to further human experience, and it points to the limits of phenomenological explications of the everyday.

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Environmental Aesthetics

Crossing Divides and Breaking Ground

Martin Drenthen is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Radboud University Nijmegen (The Netherlands).

Environmental aesthetics crosses several commonly recognized divides: between analytic and continental philosophy, Eastern and Western traditions, universalizing and historicizing approaches, and theoretical and practical concerns. This volume sets out to show how these,perspectives can be brought into conversation with one another. The first part surveys the development of the field and discusses some important future directions. The second part explains how widening the scope of environmental aesthetics demands a continual rethinking of the relationship between aesthetics and other fields. How does environmental aesthetics relate to ethics? Does aesthetic appreciation of the environment entail an attitude of respect? What is the relationship between the theory and practice? The third part is devoted to the relationship between the aesthetics of nature and the aesthetics of art. Can art help “save the Earth”? The final part illustrates the emergence of practical applications from theoretical studies by focusing on concrete case studies.

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Epochal Discordance

Holderlin's Philosophy of Tragedy

Friedrich Hölderlin must be considered not only a significant poet but also a philosophically important thinker within German Idealism. In both capacities, he was crucially preoccupied with the question of tragedy, yet, surprisingly, this book is the first in English to explore fully his philosophy of tragedy. Focusing on the thought of Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Reiner Schürmann, Véronique M. Fóti discusses the tragic turning in German philosophy that began at the close of the eighteenth century to provide a historical and philosophical context for an engagement with Hölderlin. She goes on to examine the three fragmentary versions of Hölderlin’s own tragedy, The Death of Empedocles, together with related essays, and his interpretation of Sophoclean tragedy. Fóti also addresses the relationship of his character Empedocles to the pre-Socratic philosopher and concludes by examining Heidegger’s dialogue with Hölderlin concerning tragedy and the tragic.

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Fateful Beauty

Aesthetic Environments, Juvenile Development, and Literature, 1860-1960

Douglas Mao

When Oscar Wilde said he had "seen wallpaper which must lead a boy brought up under its influence to a life of crime," his joke played on an idea that has often been taken quite seriously--both in Wilde's day and in our own. In Fateful Beauty, Douglas Mao recovers the lost intellectual, social, and literary history of the belief that the beauty--or ugliness--of the environment in which one is raised influences or even determines one's fate. Weaving together readings in literature, psychology, biology, philosophy, education, child-rearing advice, and interior design, he shows how this idea abetted a dramatic rise in attention to environment in many discourses and in many practices affecting the lives of the young between the late nineteenth century and the middle of the twentieth. Through original and detailed analyses of Wilde, Walter Pater, James Joyce, Theodore Dreiser, Rebecca West, and W. H. Auden, Mao shows that English-language writing of the period was informed in crucial but previously unrecognized ways by the possibility that beautiful environments might produce better people. He also reveals how these writers shared concerns about environment, evolution, determinism, freedom, and beauty with scientists and social theorists such as Herbert Spencer, Hermann von Helmholtz, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, and W.H.R. Rivers. In so doing, Mao challenges conventional views of the roles of beauty and the aesthetic in art and life during this time.

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Figures of Simplicity

Sensation and Thinking in Kleist and Melville

A fascinating comparison of the work of Heinrich von Kleist and Herman Melville. Figures of Simplicity explores a unique constellation of figures from philosophy and literature—Heinrich von Kleist, Herman Melville, G. W. Leibniz, and Alexander Baumgarten—in an attempt to recover alternative conceptions of aesthetics and dimensions of thinking lost in the disciplinary narration of aesthetics after Kant. This is done primarily by tracing a variety of “simpletons” that populate the writings of Kleist and Melville. These figures are not entirely ignorant, or stupid, but simple. Their simplicity is a way of thinking; one that author Birgit Mara Kaiser here suggests is affective thinking. Kaiser avers that Kleist and Melville are experimenting in their texts with an affective mode of thinking, and thereby continue, she argues, a key line within eighteenth-century aesthetics: the relation of rationality and sensibility. Through her analyses, she offers an outline of what thinking can look like if we take affectivity into account.

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Five Fictions in Search of Truth

Myra Jehlen

Fiction, far from being the opposite of truth, is wholly bent on finding it out, and writing novels is a way to know the real world as objectively as possible. In Five Fictions in Search of Truth, Myra Jehlen develops this idea through readings of works by Flaubert, James, and Nabokov. She invokes Proust's famous search for lost memory as the exemplary literary process, which strives, whatever its materials, for a true knowledge. In Salammbô, Flaubert digs up Carthage; in The Ambassadors, James plumbs the examined life and touches at its limits; while in Lolita, Nabokov traces a search for truth that becomes a trespass.

In these readings, form and style emerge as fiction's means for taking hold of reality, which is to say that they are as epistemological as they are aesthetic, each one emerging by way of the other. The aesthetic aspects of a literary work are just so many instruments for exploring a subject, and the beauty and pleasure of a work confirm the validity of its account of the world. For Flaubert, famously, a beautiful sentence was proven true by its beauty. James and Nabokov wrote on the same assumption--that form and style were at once the origin and the confirmation of a work's truth.

In Five Fictions in Search of Truth, Jehlen shows, moreover, that fiction's findings are not only about the world but immanent within it. Literature works concretely, through this form, that style, this image, that word, seeking a truth that is equally concrete. Writers write--and readers read--to discover an incarnate, secular knowledge, and in doing so they enact a basic concurrence between literature and science.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

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