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  • From the Editor: Aesthetic Speculations
  • Laurent Dubreuil, Editor

The standard discourse of aesthetics routinely relies on three main fallacies: the preliminary neutralization of the heterogeneous; the obsession with beauty—or the sublime—as being the end or the ne plus ultra of the arts; the reduction of the latter to the sole regime of aisthēsis, of feelings, affects, and percepts. Such misconceptions are so pervasive that, along with other common pitfalls, they contribute to a very legitimate skepticism vis-à-vis the relevance of this sub-discipline. But, alternatively, one could argue that the need for thinking what the arts do—and do to us—is still pressing. So why not reclaim for this field of inquiry the eighteenth-century term of aesthetics, reworked and reshaped in order to avoid the unwanted and inherent distortions of the older approach inherited from the Enlightenment? Adorno’s negative aesthetics was certainly such an attempt at reconfiguring a problematic concept. Speculation might be another way, provided that the speculative not be identified with any particular doctrinal content. Speculation draws on both theoretical invention and reflexivity; it also alludes to mirroring effects (speculum). Another, speculative, aesthetics would be able to reflect on itself and to decipher the artistic refraction of the philosophical within the artistic. Thus, it would attribute forms of thinking to artworks, whose differences would not be nullified in advance. Inevitably, then, it would be affected by the artistic exposition of ideas: literary, experimental modes of writing could only appear to be consubstantial to the endeavor of a renewed aesthetics.

This issue of diacritics presents four essays in aesthetic speculation. John Hoffmann goes back to Kant’s foundational Critique of Judgment: he revisits the debate on the racial component of the philosopher’s aesthetic category, by stressing the role of an ultimately misguided but deliberate ambivalence. Javier Berzal de Dios shows how to think with Paolo Uccello—and with two authors the Tuscan painter inspired, Marcel Schwob and Antonin Artaud. Larry Jackson offers a series of seven scenes, or performative meditations, on the links between poetry and (extra)ordinary language. Peter Szendy, the author of the recently published All Ears: The Aesthetics of Espionage, proposes a brief and elliptic précis of stigmatology, where typographic invention has no decorative function but is a constitutive part of a philosophical project. In this issue, the art of Michael Mazur, whose work was so tightly linked to literary writing, goes beyond illustration: Mazur’s aesthetic gesture invites us to reflect back on the fluidity and contours of our ways of approaching the artistic experience.

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