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In the Wake of a Radical Aestheticism
Art’s Undoing is about radical aestheticism, the term that best describes a recurring event in some of the most powerful and resonating texts of nineteenth-century British literature. A radical aestheticism offers us the best way to reckon with what takes place at certain moments in certain texts by P.B. Shelley, Keats, Dickinson, Hopkins, D.G. Rossetti, and Wilde when aestheticized representations reach their radicalization. This aesthetic radicalization has profound consequences not only for the specific texts in which it occurs but for our understanding of the ambitious literary project undertaken by each of these writers and, finally, of our conception of the legacy of this literary tradition. This book explores what happens when these writers, deeply committed to certain versions of ethics or politics or theology, nonetheless produce the encounter with a radical aestheticism in their own work. These are the sites and occasions at which the authors’ projects are subjected to a fundamental crisis.A radical aestheticism offers no positive claims for art (either those based on ethical or political grounds or on aesthetic grounds, as in “art for art’s sake”): it provides no “transcendent or underlying ground” for their validation. In this sense, a radical aestheticism is the experience of a poesis that exerts such a pressure on the claims and workings of the aesthetic that it becomes a kind of black hole from which no illumination is possible. The radical aestheticism encountered in these writers is that which in the course of its very extremity takes us to the constitutive elements – the figures, the images, the semblances – that are at the root of any aestheticism, an encounter registered as evaporation, as combustion, as undoing. It is, therefore, an undoing by and of art and aesthetic experience, one that leaves this important literary tradition in its wake.In order to grasp the nature and consequences of this radical aestheticism, I turn to Walter Benjamin’s notion of the aura (Shelley, Hopkins), Roland Barthes’s accounts in his late work of “the third meaning” and the indolence of aesthetics (Keats), Jacques Derrida’s notion of the “event-machine” and Giorgio Agamben’s account of an originary poesis (Dickinson), Hans Urs von Balthasar’s theological aesthetics (Hopkins), absorption and theatricality according to Michael Fried (Rossetti), Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Zizek on the ethics of desire (Rossetti), and Georges Bataille’s notions of expenditure and sacrifice (Wilde). These diverse theoretical projects become in the course of the book something of a parallel text, one that reveals how some of the most significant theoretical and philosophical projects of our time remain within the wake of a radical aestheticism.
Psychic Distance in Comparative Aesthetics
Artistic Detachment in Japan and the West takes up the notion of artistic detachment, or psychic distance, as an intercultural motif for East-West comparative aesthetics. The work begins with an overview of aesthetic theory in the West from the eighteenth-century empiricists to contemporary aesthetics and concludes with a survey of various critiques of psychic distance. Throughout, the author takes a highly innovative approach by juxtaposing Western aesthetic theory against Eastern (primarily Japanese) aesthetic theory. Weaving between cultures and time periods, the author focuses on a remarkably wide range of theories: in the West, the Kantian notion of disinterested contemplation, Heidegger's Gelassenheit, semiotics, and pragmatism; in Japan, Zeami's notion of riken no ken, the Kyoto School's intepretation of nothingness, D. T. Suzuki's analysis of the function of no-mind, and the writings of Kuki Shuzo on Buddhist detachment. "Portrait of the artist" fiction by such writers as Henry James, James Joyce, Mori Ogai, and Natsume Soseki demonstrates how the main theme of detachment is expressed in literary traditions. The role of sympathy or pragmatism in relation to disinterest is examined, suggesting conflicts within or challenges to the notion of detachment. Researchers and students in Eastern and Western areas of study, including philosophers and religionists, as well as literary and cultural critics, will deem this work an invaluable contribution to cross-cultural philosophy and literary studies.
Levinas, Marcel, and the Contemporary Debate
Every other is truly other, but no other is wholly other.This is the claim that Aspects of Alterity defends. Taking up the question of otherness that so fascinates contemporary continental philosophy, this book asks what it means for something or someone to be other than the self. Levinas and those influenced by him point out that the philosophical tradition of the West has generally favored the self at the expense of the other. Such a self-centered perspective never encounters the other qua other, however. In response, postmodern thought insists on the absolute otherness of the other, epitomized by the deconstructive claim every other is wholly other.But absolute otherness generates problems and aporias of its own. This has led some thinkers to reevaluate the notion of relative otherness in light of the postmodern critique, arguing for a chiastic account that does justice to both the alterity and the similitude of the other. These latter two positions-absolute otherness and a rehabilitated account of relative otherness-are the main contenders in the contemporary debate.The philosophies of Emmanuel Levinas and Gabriel Marcel provide the point of embarkation for coming to understand the two positions on this question. Levinas and Marcel were contemporaries whose philosophies exhibit remarkably similar concern for the other but nevertheless remain fundamentally incompatible. Thus, these two thinkers provide a striking illustration of both the proximity of and the unbridgeable gap between two accounts of otherness.Aspects of Alterity delves into this debate, first in order understand the issues at stake in these two positions and second to determine which description better accounts for the experience of encountering the other.After a thorough assessment and critique of otherness in Levinas's and Marcel's work, including a discussion of the relationship of ethical alterity to theological assumptions, Aspects of Alterity traces the transmission and development of these two conceptions of otherness. Levinas's version of otherness can be seen in the work of Jacques Derrida and John D. Caputo, while Marcel's understanding of otherness influences the work of Paul Ricoeur and Richard Kearney.Ultimately, Aspects of Alterity makes a case for a hermeneutic account of otherness. Otherness itself is not absolute, but is a chiasm of alterity and similitude. Properly articulated, such an account is capable of addressing the legitimate ethical and epistemological concerns that lead thinkers to construe otherness in absolute terms, but without the absolute aporiasthat accompany such a characterization.
Essays on Religion and Theology in the Work of Charles Taylor
Aspiring to Fullness in a Secular Age, whose title is inspired by Charles Taylor's magisterial A Secular Age, offers a host of expert analyses of the religious and theological threads running throughout Taylor’s oeuvre, illuminating further his approaches to morality, politics, history, and philosophy. Although the scope of Taylor’s insight into modern secularity has been widely recognized by his fellow social theorists and philosophers, Aspiring to Fullness focuses on Taylor's insights regarding questions of religious experience. It is with a view to such experience that the volume’s contributors consider and assess Taylor’s broad analysis of the limits and potentialities of the present age in regard to human fullness or fulfillment. The essays in this volume address crucial questions about the function and significance of religious accounts of transcendence in Taylor’s overall philosophical project; the critical purchase and limitations of Taylor’s assessment of the centrality of codes and institutions in modern political ethics; the possibilities inherent in Taylor’s brand of post-Nietzschean theism; the significance and meaning of Taylor’s ambivalence about modern destiny; the possibility of a practical application of his insights within particular contemporary religious communities; and the overall implications of Taylor’s thought for theology and philosophy of religion. Although some commentators have referred to a recent religious “turn” in Taylor’s work, the contributors to Aspiring to Fullness in a Secular Age examine the ways in which transcendence functions, both explicitly and implicitly, in Taylor’s philosophical project as a whole.
A Philosophical Study
Among the most important, but frequently neglected, figures in the history of debates over skepticism is Augustine of Hippo (354–430 CE). His early dialogue, Against the Academics, together with substantial material from his other writings, constitutes a sustained attempt to respond to the tradition of skepticism with which he was familiar. This was the tradition of Academic skepticism, which had its home in Plato's Academy and was transmitted to the Roman world through the writings of Cicero (106–43 BCE). Augustine and Academic Skepticism is the first comprehensive treatment of Augustine’s critique of Academic skepticism. In clear and accessible prose, Blake D. Dutton presents that critique as a serious work of philosophy and engages with it precisely as such.
While Dutton provides an extensive review of Academic skepticism and Augustine’s encounter with it, his primary concern is to articulate and evaluate Augustine’s strategy to discredit Academic skepticism as a philosophical practice and vindicate the possibility of knowledge against the Academic denial of that possibility. In doing so, he sheds considerable light on Augustine’s views on philosophical inquiry and the acquisition of knowledge.
Confessions and Circumfession
At the heart of the current surge of interest in religion among contemporary Continental philosophers stands Augustine's Confessions. With Derrida's Circumfession constantly in the background, this volume takes up the provocative readings of Augustine by Heidegger, Lyotard, Arendt, and Ricoeur. Derrida himself presides over and comments on essays by major Continental philosophers and internationally recognized Augustine scholars. While studies on and about Augustine as a philosopher abound, none approach his work from such a uniquely postmodern point of view, showing both the continuing relevance of Augustine and the religious resonances within postmodernism. Posed at the intersection of philosophy, theology, and religious studies, this book will be of interest to scholars and students of Augustine as well as those interested in the invigorating discussion between philosophy, religion, and postmodernism.
Contributors include Geoffrey Bennington, Philippe Capelle, John D. Caputo, Elizabeth A. Clark, Hent de Vries, Jacques Derrida, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Richard Kearney, Catherine Malabou, James O'Donnell, Michael J. Scanlon, and Mark Vessey.
Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion -- Merold Westphal, general editor
Revising a Classical Ideal
Augustine and the Cure of Souls situates Augustine within the ancient philosophical tradition of using words to order emotions. Paul Kolbet uncovers a profound continuity in Augustine’s thought, from his earliest pre-baptismal writings to his final acts as bishop, revealing a man deeply indebted to the Roman past and yet distinctly Christian. Rather than supplanting his classical learning, Augustine’s Christianity reinvigorated precisely those elements of Roman wisdom that he believed were slipping into decadence. In particular, Kolbet addresses the manner in which Augustine not only used classical rhetorical theory to express his theological vision, but also infused it with theological content. This book offers a fresh reading of Augustine’s writings—particularly his numerous, though often neglected, sermons—and provides an accessible point of entry into the great North African bishop’s life and thought.