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Philosophy of Music Education Review 12.1 (2004) 89-93

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Richard Shusterman, Performing Live: Aesthetic Alternatives for the Ends of Art (New York: Cornell University Press, 2000)

Performing Live can be ascribed to post-modern American pragmatism in its widest expression. The author's intention is to revalue aesthetic experience, as well as to expand its realm to the extent where such experience also encompasses areas alien to traditional aesthetics (for example, popular art or the somatic arts of self-improvement), reaching "the art of living" and reclaiming life itself as performance.

After the introduction, titled "Aesthetic Renewal for the Ends of Art: An Overture," the text is organized in two main parts: "Aesthetic Experience and Popular Art" and "Soma, Self, and Society." Along with its ambitious title, the book's organization and structure promise a consistency of approach and narrative that somewhat dissolves during the reading. Shusterman recognizes that the stylistic problems that arise from a compilation of articles spanning ten years, mixing newly written and revised articles, but appeals to the reader's appreciation of the "quality of the mix" (11). Despite this feature, he is a lucid and thoughtful communicator and his writing style is excellent.

In order to propose new or revitalized alternatives for the ends of art, Shusterman [End Page 89] explores the crisis in traditional visions of art, pointing to the compartmentalization and lack of credibility in current artistic thought and practice. Hegel, Walter Benjamin, Gianni Vattimo, and Arthur Danto provide him with the philosophical arguments accounting for the modern "exhaustion" of art. He supports a dialectical approach, both naturalistic and historicist, and builds a solid case for the possibility of alternatives in aesthetic thought and experience. He proposes two alternatives in his introduction:

The two most prominent sites for today's aesthetic alternatives are clearly the mass-media popular arts and the complex cluster of disciplines devoted to bodily beauty and the art of living as expressed in today's preoccupation with aesthetic lifestyles.

It is unclear why these alternatives are "clearly" "the two most prominent." The author does not build a case for this assumption or for the "newness" of these alternatives. The "compilation style" mentioned above and this lack of justification for one of the most original elements in the book make this text often read as a philosophical drafting board. Keeping these characteristics in mind and also critically pondering the degrees of success in the enterprise, the reader must give Shusterman credit for taking risks while suggesting concrete examples for an experiential, holistic philosophy. In this sense, he mentions (in a different context) that "all of us [are caught] between conceptual history and futuristic speculation" (145), and he takes to heart this situation and its challenges.

The first chapter in Performing Live aims to redeem or revalue the concept of aesthetic experience. For Shusterman, the loss of "felt experience" in art makes the interest in this concept utterly relevant for art's survival. He traces the lineage of this aesthetic philosophy to John Dewey, Monroe Beardsley, Nelson Goodman, and Arthur Danto. Besides focusing on these authors, his analysis revisits some of the main currents of thought in Western philosophy on the topic (for example, Plato, Hume, Kant, Dickie, Adorno, Benjamin, Gadamer). He concludes that a pragmatic approach to aesthetics, applying the concept of aesthetic experience directionally (as a means towards the actual experience rather than as a definable concept), can provide new paths for revitalizing art. Throughout the text this concept is also used expansively. The post-modern justification of the proposed aesthetics, by allowing the extension of aesthetic experience to embrace "the art of living," can leave the reader wondering if Shusterman has not simply turned Kierkegaard's existentialist stages to self-realization upside down.

The second chapter is an open defense of popular art, carried out by contesting the main complaints found in current art criticism. Shusterman's defense is not directed to the products of popular art, but against the claim that popular art is aesthetically "worthless." His definition of "popular art...


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