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The Prospects of Aesthetics Guest Editor’s Preface H EGEL’S AESTHETICS is undoubtedly the most comprehensive philosophical account of the arts to date. Yet, this monumental work on aesthetics also declares art to be a thing of the past— not, however, that it will cease altogether to exist, but that it has lost its significance for the spirit and must make way for higher forms of con­ sciousness. That a work of aesthetics would find art to be obsolete is in­ deed a remarkable and troubling state of affairs, one that has prompted numerous thinkers who remain committed to the continuing vitality of art to question the adequacy of aesthetics to art. For these thinkers, it is aesthetics, and not art, that has failed. Heidegger, who identifies aesthetics with metaphysics, argues in “ The Origin of the Work of Art” that art be freed from the terms of expression and impression and viewed instead as a happening of truth. Benjamin, after establishing that art has escaped the realm of beautiful semblance, proceeds in “ The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’’ to explore a notion of the art­ work stripped of its aura that would participate in a collective and critical reception and function as a training ground for the acquisition of skills to survive in contemporary society. Blanchot, for his part, having characterized aesthetics as the theoretical investigation of art, suggests in his critical essays an approach to the artwork that is more responsive to its singularity than interested in deepening it conceptually in terms of general or universal issues. To this list, several other critical delimitations of aesthetics would have to be added—those by Adorno, Levinas, Lacan, Lyotard, de Man, to name a few. Still, despite the strength of this work and the cogency of its critique, with the exception of Adorno none of these assaults on aesthetics has led to a systematic exposition of the limits of the aesthetic approach, nor has it prompted any major treatises of a distinctly different vista on either art in general or any specific artform. Is this merely accidental, or is there perhaps some more fundamental reason that has prevented the reflection on art from decisively exiting the dead end of aesthetics? Heidegger, for example, as we now understand, was thoroughly indebted to Hegel’s Aesthetics for his own reflections on art. Does this debt suggest that Heidegger’s attempt to free art from the aesthetic Vol. XXXV, No. 3 3 L ’E sprit C réateur approach could not but look for its tools and horizons within the limits of what it would overcome? Although Heidegger’s notion of art as a happening of truth implies a conception of truth that differs from Hegel’s, it recalls the notion of speculative aesthetics that art is the most beautiful side of the unfolding of truth. Rather than radically breaking with aesthetics, might all the (evidently necessary) attempts to reach beyond traditional aesthetics be elaborations of limit-possibilities that open up within the traditional discipline itself? The beyond of aesthetics would thus be a beyond in aesthetics itself, rather than a simple outside. But it is also possible that the difficulty of breaking with aesthetic con­ templation lies with art “ itself.” While seeking to demarcate itself from traditional aesthetic conceptualization and perception, art speaks of itself in the aftermath of Hegel’s own categorization of the forms of art after art, in ways that remain more often than not tributary to these cate­ gorizations. In other words, art’s struggle for itself, for a new concept of itself, may have to rely on possibilities at the limit of the metaphysical concept of art itself. To address these difficulties, one must begin by taking stock of the different kinds of criticism that aesthetics has undergone during this cen­ tury. By expounding and analyzing the reasons for which aesthetics has been put to the test, and by elaborating on the different shapes that its questioning has taken, the fundamental problem of philosophy’s relation to art, as well as of the pertinence and implications of the theory of the death of art—problems that frame all discussion concerning the future of...


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