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Between Philosophy and Art
Though our time is often said to be post-religious and post-metaphysical, many continue to seek some encounter with otherness and transcendence in art. This book deals diversely with the issues of art, origins, and otherness, both in themselves and in philosophical engagements with the works of Plato, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. Addressing themes such as eros and mania, genius and the sublime, transcendence and the saving power of art, William Desmond tries to make sense of the paradox that too much has been asked of art that now almost nothing is asked of it. He argues that there is more to be said philosophically of art, and claims that art has the power to open up mindfulness beyond objectifying knowledge, as well as beyond thinking that claims to be entirely self-determining.
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.
Reading Hannah Arendt's Denktagebuch
Artifacts of Thinking: Reading Arendt’s Denktagebuch offers a path through Hannah Arendt’s recently published Denktagebuch, or “Book of Thoughts.” In this book a number of innovative Arendt scholars come together to ask how we should think about these remarkable writings in the context of Arendt’s published writing and broader political thinking. Unique in its form, the Denktagebuch offers brilliant insights into Arendt’s practice of thinking and writing. Artifacts of Thinking provides an introduction to the Denktagebuch as well as a glimpse of these fascinating but untranslated fragments that reveal not only Arendt’s understanding of “the life of the mind,” but her true lived experience of it.
Art and Technology in Human Experience
"As familiar and widely appreciated works of modern technology, bridges are a good place to study the relationship between the aesthetic and the technical. Fully engaged technical design is at once aesthetic and structural. In the best work (the best design, the most well made), the look and feel of a device (its aesthetic, perceptual interface) is as important a part of the design problem as its mechanism (the interface of parts and systems). We have no idea how to make something that is merely efficient, a rational instrument blindly indifferent to how it appears. No engineer can design such a thing and none has ever been built."-from Artifice and Design
In an intriguing book about the aesthetics of technological objects and the relationship between technical and artistic accomplishment, Barry Allen develops the philosophical implications of a series of interrelated concepts-knowledge, artifact, design, tool, art, and technology-and uses them to explore parallel questions about artistry in technology and technics in art. This may be seen at the heart of Artifice and Design in Allen's discussion of seven bridges: he focuses at length on two New York bridges-the Hell Gate Bridge and the Bayonne Bridge-and makes use of original sources for insight into the designers' ideas about the aesthetic dimensions of their work. Allen starts from the conviction that art and technology must be treated together, as two aspects of a common, technical human nature.
The topics covered in Artifice and Design are wide-ranging and interdisciplinary, drawing from evolutionary biology, cognitive psychology, and the history and anthropology of art and technology. The book concludes that it is a mistake to think of art as something subjective, or as an arbitrary social representation, and of Technology as an instrumental form of purposive rationality. "By segregating art and technology," Allen writes, "we divide ourselves against ourselves, casting up self-made obstacles to the ingenuity of art and technology."
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.
Meaning, Definition, Value
What is art? What is it to understand a work of art? What is the value of art? Robert Stecker seeks to answer these central questions of aesthetics by placing them within the context of an ongoing debate criticizing, but also explaining what can be learned from, alternative views. His unified philosophy of art, defined in terms of its evolving functions, is used to explain and to justify current interpretive practices and to motivate an investigation of artistic value.
Stecker defines art (roughly) as an item that is an artwork at time t if and only if it is in one of the central art forms at t and is intended to fulfill a function art has at t, or it is an artifact that achieves excellence in fulfilling such a function. Further, he sees the standard of acceptability for interpretations of artworks to be relative to their aim. Finally, he tries to understand the value of artworks through an analysis of literature and the identification of the most important functions of literary works.
In addition to offering original answers to major questions of aesthetics, Artworks covers most of the major issues in contemporary analytic aesthetics and discusses many major, as well as many minor, figures who have written about these issues, including Stanley Fish, Joseph Margolis, Richard Rorty, and Richard Shusterman.
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.