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PETER DE BOLLA
Over the last twenty years or so it has become a commonplace in discussions of “aesthetics” or of “art” in the most general sense to note that the term “aesthetics” was only very recently invented by Alexander Baumgarten in 1735, where it appears in his Meditationes philosophicae de nonnullis ad poema pertinentibus [see Menke 40; Dickie; Eagleton]. But the force of this observation in regard to the relative youth of the concept is rarely, if ever, commented upon. As many philosophers and critics have pointed out, Baumgarten’s use of the term was not primarily angled at what today might be unproblematically called “artworks”—say, paintings in the European grand master tradition—since his new kind of investigation was to be a “science of sensual recognition,” that is, a general inquiry into how we come to know the world from the evidence of our senses. But, as is also frequently remarked, early on in the tradition of speculation now associated with “aesthetics as the study of art” the mutual attraction (to put it in the most anodyne terms) of “art” and “aesthetics” seems to have been extremely strong. As Jonathan Ree remarks, “the real begetter of the philosophical doctrine connecting the arts with the empirical senses—what we might call the aesthetic theory of the arts—was Gotthold Ephraim Lessing” . From this point on (for heuristic purposes it may be identified with the date of publication of Lessing’s Laokoon in 1766), artworks, which heretofore had not required a specific branch of inquiry in order for them to make sense or be conceptually grounded as art, are almost universally assumed to require “aesthetic” contemplation or appreciation.1 It is curious, then, that before 1766 such a mode of experiencing artworks had not been felt to be lacking. One might understand this observation both historically and philosophically, and both approaches, it seems to me, are needed. In the case of the first, a number of material effects conspired across mid-eighteenth-century Europe to produce what was in essence the modern art market. These include the legal establishment of copyright, first in England in 1709 but only by the end of the century in France and Germany; the foundation of various institutions whose primary purpose was the promotion and establishment of the fine arts: academies of painting, sculpture, or letters either with or without royal patronage; the public exhibition of paintings (from 1737 in France and 1761 in England); the opening of royal collections to public view (during the second half of the century in London, Paris, Munich, Vienna and Rome); the development of public concerts of secular music (in small scale from the 1670s in England but only becoming fully integrated in fashionable social life by mid-century); the construction of purposebuilt concert venues (the Gewandthaus in Leipzig, a former cloth merchant’s hall, was remodeled in 1781 in order to accommodate a resident orchestra, in effect becoming the first dedicated concert hall in Europe); the foundation of literary periodicals and review media; the emergence of social spaces and rituals encompassing polite discussion of
1. The story of how this came about is well told in Larry Shiner’s The Invention of Art.
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But if it did so it also. artworks themselves are bound to repetitively inquire of their status as objects seemingly distinct from nonartworks. Architecture. “From Aesthetics to Art Criticism”]. ethics. G. Prior to the mid-eighteenth century (though of course it would be foolish to imagine that a precise date could be given for the invention of such a category). a much expanded version is in Brewer’s The Pleasures of the Imagination: English Culture in the Eighteenth Century.literature (coffeehouses. considered in other lights—say.” which throughout the eighteenth century comprised a much broader set of interlocking concerns and interests including. and France: Charles Batteux’s Les beaux arts reduit a un meme principe. under the aesthetic theory of the arts. competitions.2 By the 1770s the category of the “fine arts” was well established in Britain. that is. those things we now. These and other material conditions helped define the fine arts and construct a market in and for them. Musick.Painting. was quickly translated into English as The Polite Arts. in effect. the hierarchy of the fine arts. simultaneously. or. 3. and the public display of architectural drawings in exhibition contexts (the Royal Academy yearly show included both drawings and models).3 So. the empirical and theoretical elaboration of the sublime and the beautiful. destabilizing its architectonic as it first posed the question: what is art? And having done this it unwittingly consigned what has turned out to be the predominant future philosophical discussion of aesthetics to the repetitive posing of this question. first published in France in 1746. challenged the stability of this new category. 20 . Moreover. by and large. that the concept of the aesthetic itself produced a category of objects that were understood to require a particular form of contemplation. philosophical criticism. It required a conceptual or philosophical revolution (and it was a revolution in the sense that everything changed for the foreseeable future and retrospectively objects that had not been understood under the category “art” were now reconceptualized) to provide the legislating theory which made “art” intelligible as art. A good brief account of the British context can be found in John Brewer’s “Cultural Production.” See his “Art after the End of Art” 121. and the development of what would become psychology. under the auspices of the “aesthetic theory of the arts. Consumption and the Place of the Artist in Eighteenth Century England”. All of this points to the fact that the concept of the “artwork” is subject to both historical and material pressures. the construction of dedicated library rooms in domestic settings).” regard as works of art had been. all artworks are doomed to endlessly rehearse the question of their 2. But the proximity and mutual interests of both the historical and philosophical pressures I have just outlined conspired to weld the one— the formation of the category “art”—to the other—the development of “aesthetics. Sulzer. under a certain description. objects produced through the utilization and deployment of particular skills which in themselves may have been highly prized and relatively uncommon— but such works were not thought to require a special form of appreciation [see Danto. and Eloquence in 1749 and into German in 1751. Arthur Danto has expressed the view that such “philosophical self-consciousness” leads to the “end of art. and the promotion of architecture to a fine art through various societies. aesthetics invented art. According to this account. a Dissertation on Poetry. By 1771 a four-volume General Theory of the Fine Arts had been published for the German public by J.” And so it often seems. a byproduct of the development of inquiry into “aesthetics. Such an inquiry in any event did not primarily set out to provide a conceptual grounding for what we now consensually take to be works of art. amongst others. at least according to a predominant strain in recent commentary on the aesthetic realm. It is important to note here that this legislating theory was. as craft works. Germany. the study of rhetoric.
An example of a historicist definition can be found in the work of Jerrold Levinson.4 Thus it would appear that since the invention of aesthetics. on account of extrinsic factors. what is. or should. Dickie. We shall have discovered the essential quality of a work of art. has been Jerome Stolnitz. complementary way of trying to break in upon the definition of art comprises the attempt to discover whether those objects in the world we deem to be artworks are so on account of qualities inherent within them. “[The] disinterested (with no ulterior purpose) and sympathetic attention to and contemplation of any object of awareness whatever. where t is a time no earlier than the time at which the item is made.own grounding. These may be grouped into three distinct approaches: functionalist. and certainly since the hegemony of the aesthetic theory of the arts.  Another. now famously. Here is a good example of a recent attempt at a functionalist definition: An item is a work of art at time t. count as an artwork has consistently proven problematic. the so-called “intrinsic” or essentialist definition.5 Although this immensely truncated snapshot of the main lines of argument 4. who wrote in 1914: . in its philosophical guise. it is a “somewhat simplified version of the definition” . as he remarks. alternatively. whether or not it is in a central art form and whether or not it was intended to fulfil such a function. and institutional. proposed the following in his book Art and the Aesthetic in 1974: A work of art in the classificatory sense is (1) an artifact (2) a set of the aspects of which has had conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the artworld). there are a number of well-rehearsed positions in respect to the problem of art’s definition. but also see the brilliant exposition on the force of the name “art” in de Duve esp. The institutional definition is strongly associated with the philosophers Arthur Danto and George Dickie. [Stecker 50] The author of this definition readily admits to the necessity of honing and polishing it since. Within the mainstream philosophical literature of the last century. the quality he called “significant form. 5. if we can discover some quality common and peculiar to all the objects that provoke [the aesthetic emotion]. . We shall have solved what I take to be the central problem of aesthetics. 3– 86. both of whom have vigorously pursued this line of inquiry in a number of books and philosophical papers.” The most vigorous proponent of the latter. [Bell 17] His answer was. for example. regard in any of the ways works of art existing prior to it have been correctly regarded” [Levinson 6]. The most extensive account of this endless return to art’s ontological basis can be found in Schaeffer. who claims “a work of art is a thing intended for regard-as-a-work-of-art. . for its own sake alone” [Stolnitz 34–35]. or. In respect of the former. the so-called “aesthetic attitude” theory. historicist. the best-known exponent is Clive Bell. diacritics / spring 2002 21 . return again and again to the question of the ontology of art. if and only if (a) either it is one of the central art forms at t and is made with the intention of fulfilling a function art has at t or (b) it is an artifact that achieves excellence in fulfilling such a function. or.
• •• • •• •• • •• • •• •• • • • •• •• 22 .
the “question of art” is not. Art. diacritics / spring 2002 23 . Although Greenberg did not read the Third Critique as a philosopher. And. he nevertheless took from the Kantian text emphases and observations that have merely been out of fashion rather than incorrect.. and even that very sketchily—it nevertheless gives the flavor of philosophical approaches to the question of art in the most recent past. Far more extensive and reliable digests of this large literature can be found in Dickie. I shall first rehearse some of the salient arguments in Kant’s text before turning to some more recent attempts to address the knowingness of the artwork. Introduction to Aesthetics.8 And I want to claim that this slightly different focus leads to the thought that artworks may be considered as ways of knowing. ed. has been widely characterized as misreading Kant as a way of constructing a theory of modernism which—so opponents of Greenberg assert—merely sets out to justify Greenberg’s particular taste in visual art. for example. In order to explore what I take to be this underdeveloped avenue of inquiry. Some recent work on this important critic of the visual arts has begun to read his essays along these lines [see. it has determined the overdevelopment of one branch of inquiry to the detriment of others which. 9. Carroll. Writers in this camp include Jacques Derrida. Philosophy of Art. Theories of Art Today. and for a good anthology of recent essays Carroll. While the question of ontology as it occurs in artworks is a topic of interest in these other inquiries. 7. Kant’s 6. For this reason I shall use the slightly clumsy phrase “art experience” in place of “aesthetic experience” when I mean to refer to encounters with art that are not subsumed within the aesthetic theory of art. for example. namely its difference with respect to determinant judgment. and Jean-Luc Nancy. In what follows I want to return to Kant’s text not because of the often-implied reason that the Third Critique is the last word on the field of inquiry called aesthetics—Kant got it right—but rather because Kant’s critique opens up a way of understanding artworks that I take to be underdeveloped in the post-Kantian tradition. commented upon below. on account of its prestige. Kivy. Jean-Francois Lyotard. one more concerned with the epistemological claims made by artworks rather than their status as distinct from nonart entities. needs to be uncoupled from the aesthetic theory of art.9 As is well known. According to this way of seeing things. as will become clear. 8. In recent years a new orthodoxy has begun to emerge under the aegis of an emphasis made by the Paul de Man and his “return to Kant” in his last essays and lectures. Stecker. they nevertheless have one thing in common: the avoidance of what I regard as the principal error of the philosophical tradition adverted to above. and the material in order to compose a very different account of the aesthetic. formalization.” In another way of reading Kant. Although my essay is clearly connected to this new orthodoxy. then. De Man argues that Kant’s Third Critique has predominantly been misread—he singles out Schiller as the first culprit—and this has resulted in the hegemony of “aesthetic ideology. under another rubric or way of understanding Kant and the subsequent tradition of aesthetic speculation. seem to be more fruitful.7 While not all the alternative forms of inquiry I have in mind take this as their principal aim. such experiences are aesthetic. “art” is independent of “aesthetics” even if the category “art” only appeared at the moment when aesthetics was born. even though. Melville]. de Man here approves of Kleist and promotes him as one of the first truly attentive readers and develops an account of aesthetics which brings into alignment some Kantian concepts such as singularity. This is to signal a different emphasis. the latter’s concerns are more focused on the aesthetic as a philosopheme—and all that entails concerning subjectivity. at least to me. That error. The art critic Clement Greenberg. Even where this alternative has been developed it has often been misunderstood or even derided. Davies. is to ignore the force of Kant’s preliminary observation regarding aesthetic judgment.6 I believe this long and in many cases philosophically distinguished tradition to be misguided.within a long tradition of philosophical speculation is certainly inadequate—it represents only at best a part of the “analytic” tradition.
but in both cases the purposiveness of the ethics. called aesthetic. thereby beginning with the evidence of the senses before proceeding toward those concepts which are required for the evidence to be known and knowable. instead of moving from concepts to the evidence of the senses.” whereas in the former the mind remains “in restful contemplation” [CJ 101]. For a good account of the consequences of the revisionary reading of “aesthetic ideology” and de Man’s efforts on its behalf see Plotnitsky. when carried over into the philosophical discussion of the concept “art. and political freedom.” while the aesthetic reflective power of judgment may operate upon the beautiful as well as the sublime. the search for a philosophically coherent and consistent concept “art” under which one might be able to make sense of specific artworks as art would be to consign the feelings of pleasure or displeasure aroused by artworks to determinant judgment. My concern is more narrowly targeted at the epistemological status of artworks. “A Critique of Practical Aesthetics. The continuation of this paragraph points toward a way of understanding the cognitive component of our experience of artworks. This observation is frequently made. This is not so in Regenia Gagnier’s. Essentially “reflective judgement” acts as a kind of bridge between the theoretical judgments of the “faculty of knowing. in epistemology.” searches for the concept from the data supplied by the experience.” the question that has obsessed analytic aesthetics for nearly a century—“what is art?”—would be unintelligible under Kant’s rubric of aesthetic judgment if the concept were deemed to be a necessary a priori category enabling something like affective or aesthetic experience. it is clear that one would first be required to conceptualize “art” before any evidence from our senses would become intelligible (and in an important sense knowable). “reflective judgment. but its consequences in respect to art are often left unexplored. in the latter case the feeling of the sublime brings with it a “mental agitation connected with our judging of the object.” where “practical” is aligned with the political in a progressive project which aims to reclaim the social. which concern the beautiful and the sublime in nature or in art” [CJ 6] that another kind of judgment is proposed. very little to do with the class of objects we have come to call artworks. In that earlier work. Kant proposed a different kind of judgment as a way of solving a problem that had occurred in his own philosophical project. and cultural power of art on behalf of those who produce it.” outlined in the First Critique. and were one to use this form of knowing the world in an account of artworks. as Kant notes in section 24 of the Critique of Judgement.10 This kind of judgment is particularly helpful in regard to the “formlessness” of something like the sublime. The Kantian text reads: But (since we like the sublime) this agitation is to be judged subjectively purposive.” outlined in the Second Critique. Kant outlined the ways in which “determinant judgment” is applied to our experience of the world around us. this new kind of judgment. 24 . It seems important to register that this is a solution to a problem in how we come to know the world. economic. and the practical judgments of the “faculty of desire. This way of knowing the world proceeds from the concept to the evidence of the senses. In other words.interest in aesthetics derived from earlier work on the relation between the sensible and the rational. and it has. 10. “On Dividing an Investigation of the Feeling of the Sublime. since Kant makes it clear that it is precisely because determinant judgment does not seem to work in the case of “those judgments. as yet. and so the imagination will refer this agitation either to the cognitive power or to the power of desire. This is sometimes taken by contemporary literary theorists to indicate that a concept of “the aesthetic” is required before we can experience something called “art. Nevertheless. In this unusual case. but it remains in the background of the rest of the Third Critique.” But this does not chime with the project of the Third Critique.
But this is unimportant in regard to the effect of this feeling. Hume. they cannot be established publicly. and make them exactly with the idea that they will create it. which does mediate between the faculties of cogni11. or usable rules. anyway that what we are pointing to is there.” But in both cases the sublime enables us to think the relation between the sensible and supersensible. that is. This tradition is very well developed in the period immediately prior to Kant’s writing his Third Critique.given presentation will be judged only with regard to these powers (without any purpose or interest). diacritics / spring 2002 25 . Kant does not suggest that this techne of the sublime is itself ¯ knowable or representable. a reflective judgment.12 This transference or translation can be said to be the source of the subsequent tradition’s endless worry over the source of “artness. Shaftesbury. 12.” In the tradition of inquiry into beauty. or altering. attunement of the mind. And so we attribute both these kinds of agitation to the object. and the fact that. [89n] 13. or increasing this “property. Gerard.11 So we extrapolate from an experience qualities which are then deemed to be inherent to the thing we have experienced—it is “as if” the beautiful or the sublime were a quality of the object itself. which is to prompt an agitation of the mind. The first kind of agitation is a mathematical. that is. John Sallis characterizes this agitation as a “tremoring” [126–31]. and Kames. it is more like: is the category “art” an intrinsic property of artworks or a feature of a particular mode of perception? For Kant it is both. The distinction Kant makes here concerns the route by which we arrive at knowledge: in the first instance through “theoretical judgment” and in the second through “practical judgement. while we know not everyone will agree with us when we say it is present. or another. and was of particular interest to writers in the English language such as Hutcheson. What does Kant mean by claiming that the agitation of the mind associated with a feeling of the sublime is “referred” to either the cognitive power or the power of desire? And. it allows us to conceptualize something which otherwise would be impossible without this articulation of relation.” Then why not just say it isn’t a property of an object? I suppose there would be no reason not to say this. [CJ 101] I am going to circle around this very important moment in the Third Critique for most of the rest of this essay. the formulation goes: does beauty lie in the thing itself or in the eye of the beholder?13 In the philosophical tradition of aesthetic inquiry that follows Kant. the dynamical. in the object. or erasing. and hence present the object as sublime in these two ways.” the mathematical. if we could find another way of recording our conviction that it is one. by the penultimate sentence this has bifurcated into one “kind. Stanley Cavell comments on this “as if” in Kant’s description of “beauty as if it were a property of things”: Only “as if” because it cannot be an ordinary property of things: its presence or absence cannot be established in the way ordinary properties are. for producing. which is to note that we do not gain knowledge of the object (and the object here is the concept of the sublime) from the feeling of the sublime. and we don’t know (there aren’t any) causal conditions. which certainly predates Kant’s Third Critique. the second a dynamical. we think they are missing something if they don’t. But I shall begin by highlighting the last sentence: here Kant makes it clear that although what he calls the “agitation of the mind” aroused in the judging of the object is clearly a mental phenomenon—it happens in the mind of the perceiving subject—this feeling/agitation (the feeling brings with it an agitation of the mind) is attributed to the object. and our knowledge that men make objects that create this response in us. where at first it seems there is but a single “agitation of the mind” connected to the feeling of the sublime.
26 . according to Kant. possible. The inquiry into what after Kant became known as “aesthetics” (understood as the philosophical interrogation of aesthetic forms.” Kant notes. that Kant proposes a radical subjectivity. This claim was made in the early eighteenth century by Francis Hutcheson and became a staple of theories of taste long before Kant wrote his Third Critique [see Caygill.tion and desire. with the subjectivity of judgments of taste: 14. that they might also be understood as necessary and unmotivated. yet the power of attribution may create the virtual feeling that the artwork knows. valid for all persons. including art) began by asking if it is possible to have knowledge of the world and our relation to it through experiences of objects (be they natural or man-made) arousing feelings of pleasure or displeasure in the registers of the sublime or beautiful. or knowing? This formulation must be understood as determined by the transferential impetus noted above whereby a quality of mental activity associated with the process of coming to judgment is attributed to the object perceived—it is “as if” the artwork has animation. This is so even if such judgments are subjective. Kant’s spin on the problem was to begin with the notion that judgments of taste are both “aesthetic” (which is the term he uses to distinguish them from cognitive judgments) and “subjective” (to distinguish them from objective judgments). since these experiences are singular and individual. but this did not preclude the possibility. then.and post-Kantian theories of art and aesthetics and to rehearse the Kantian solution to this problem. the concept “art. then. In other words. the imagination refers this agitation to the means by which we come to knowledge. of course. I not only speak as if the source of this beauty lies in the thing itself but also assume this quality to be universally perceptible. the self-interest of the agent was not understood to impinge upon the judgment. and that agitation constructs a relation to these two faculties. but it does not attend to the immanent sensation of an aesthetic judgment as described by Kant. I want to formulate what I take to be the central problem faced by both pre. esp. Continuing the analogy: the feeling aroused by our encounter with art (affective experience) sets up an agitation of the mind that constitutes a relation to the ways in which we know the world. 53–62]. in “taste”?15 The most efficacious way of addressing this issue was to claim that judgments of taste were disinterested. In order to open this out a little further. that is. that is. Given this how can one arrive at universal conclusions.14 Common sense would seem to dictate that art has no agency and therefore could not comprise a way of knowing. The classic account here is Bourdieu’s Distinction. If one were to conceive of art as an analogy of the sublime. Does art. We might say. when such experiences are grounded in individual or subjective sense experience. for in the Kantian description of aesthetic judgment this subjectivity does not preclude the possibility of another agent undergoing precisely the same subjective experience. A sociological answer is. but this does not mean that our experience of art is entirely without relation to knowledge. The importance of this notion of the subjective in Kant’s architectonic is signaled by the fact that the text begins here. the same would hold true: the object. 15. Gerard Genette claims that the entire groundwork of aesthetic judgment is laid by the occultation of the causal relation between the property seen “as if” in the object and the judgment itself [see Genette 67–68]. Kant set out to show how aesthetic judgment was not simply something to do with an individual but was also in some way necessitated by the thing that prompted the judgment of taste in the first place. since its singularity is capable of being shared in common. As Kant says. When I state that “x is beautiful. that is. be they practical or theoretical. hold within itself something like knowledge.” is unknowable in the sense outlined above (its definition cannot be supplied by either theoretical or practical means). available to anyone as an object of judgment.
16 When this is applied to the concept of art. they are immediate. For a good account of this trend see Kenshur. Two further features of aesthetic judgment complete the Kantian architecture: the focus of such judgments is on the formal features of the object. and consequently the most easily identifiable kind of aesthetic judgment attends to the harmony of form in an object of contemplation. and for a misguided attempt to characterize a “new aestheticism” that offers “ethics. accordingly. aesthetic judgments are radically subjective. which in Kant’s critical philosophy would make reflective judgments equivalent to determinant judgments. As I have already noted. This holds that aesthetic judgments are absolutely distinct from ethical. This particular emphasis on the subjective is often overlooked or misunderstood— it leads to the incorrect view that Kant held judgments of taste to be merely contingent upon the individual experiencing a personal preference and no more. rather. truth and freedom as the very embodiment and result diacritics / spring 2002 27 . [CJ 44] These judgments of taste have a number of distinct qualities. we do not use understanding to refer the presentation to the object so as to give rise to cognition. the judgment is nonconceptual.If we wish to decide whether something is beautiful or not. where the qualifier signals the incoherence or inconsistency of the combinatory “subjective-universal. or political considerations (and it is this supposed “pure” realm of the aesthetic that has had such bad press in the recent past from those holding to the thesis that art is ideology). a way of noting the relation between aesthetic judgments. in spite of the fact that they must also have universal validity by which they not only apply to the person making the judgment but to all other persons.” which claims that the material or use-value of the object is irrelevant. Kant notes that the determining basis for aesthetic judgments can only be subjective—this is because the feeling of pleasure or displeasure occurs to an individual experiencing agent—but the judgment then made by this individual does not remain in the realm of personal taste or opinion. According to Kant aesthetic judgment is an abstraction from the merely contingent and is therefore universal. Fifthly. we use imagination (perhaps in connection with understanding) to refer the representation to the subject and his feeling of pleasure or displeasure. Hence a judgement of taste is not a cognitive judgement and so is not a logical judgement but an aesthetic one. This leads to the thesis of “disinterestedness. Secondly. generated warps in the reception of Kant’s entire architecture. one thing. For Kant this provides a way of tracking back toward the conceptual basis of determinant judgment. In the first place they are grounded in feelings of pleasure or pain. not based upon our cognitive judgments. however. which for Kant signifies that they are not based on a process of reasoning. it leads to 16. It is important to register that all of these observations bear upon the distinctiveness of aesthetic judgment. For this reason aesthetic judgement is said to be imaginative. is certain: the extraction of the thesis of disinterest has formed the basis for one particularly prevalent view of the distinctiveness of the aesthetic. these judgments are particular. Fourthly. social.” This notion of the radically subjective basis for aesthetic judgement is also immune from considerations of utility or interest. Thirdly. and the forms of knowledge that are dependent upon reason. In the tradition following Kant certain of these features have been taken up independently of the others and have. by which we mean a judgement whose determining basis cannot be other than subjective. they are the result of an individual experiencing subject responding to a specific object. which are not grounded in a priori concepts. This may or may not be problematic depending on one’s assessment of the Kantian argument. aesthetic judgments are subjective.
. one of the most powerful readings of the legacy of Kant’s Third Critique [see de Man. if not indifferent. Or. like his British eighteenth-century forebears. Here we should recall that Kant’s project finds its origin in a critique of the theory of taste: Kant. however. and live luxuriantly in the free. which has also had a fair amount of recent coverage. For some it merely reinforces the inevitable bifurcation (or confusion) of the aesthetic. The left turn: smash truth. Reflective judgments are far from being indifferent to the realm of the political or ethical. when read in its entirety. is concerned with the problems that are thrown up by evaluative statements about objects (of nature or artworks) deemed to contain aesthetic properties (where “aesthetic” designates the qualities of objects identified by a theory of beauty). perhaps most clearly in the imperative that accompanies an aesthetic judgment.19 It is worth noting that this connection to the ethical does appear earlier in the Critique of Judgment. and whoever declares something to be beautiful holds that everyone ought to give his approval to the object at hand and that he too should declare it beautiful. even worse. 28 . It remains. its Janus-like demeanor which allows it to be a force for progressive change and a resistance to progress.18 Indeed the aim of the closing section of the Third Critique. In Eagleton’s words. is the thesis that the inquiry into the distinct realm of aesthetics leads to the “aestheticization of politics. Kant brings the pressure of the ought to bear upon this issue as a way of finding a solution. A different conclusion about the relation of aesthetics to politics. the latter borrows from the former in the pressure brought to bear upon the universal character of an aesthetic judgment.17 This would have been understood as a very unusual turn in the argument by Kant. [CJ 86] While the ethical remains distinct from the aesthetic. Aesthetic Ideology 154–55]. 18. cling to the sensuously particular. This argument is not immediately transparent in de Man’s texts. and its fortunes have been enmeshed in the personal and political history of the author. both a motor for social and cultural improvement and the brake that aligns it with rebarbative political ends. proposes ways in which reflective judgments must be seen in terms of teleology. 19. groundless play of your creative powers. . Kant writes: A judgement of taste requires everyone to assent. and the reply to this essay by Bowie. an accomplice in the mystification of art and culture for political ends [see Bennett]. in fact they help us toward the ultimate route to freedom: end-directed moral judgments. it can “either take a left or a right turn. De Man’s version of the “aesthetic ideology” argues a similar position but for a different reason. view society as a self-grounding organism” [368–69]. How can these statements be universally applicable.20 Kant does not think that everyone will agree with my judgment of taste.” is to unite the “physical” and “ethical” in an “ultimate end” of human freedom that is grounded on natural and moral laws. “Confessions of an Aesthete. that is. not simply my own opinion? Should everyone arrive at the same statements when faced with the same object? As the above citation makes clear. of non-partisanship” and defends “aesthetics as an ethically displaced politics” see Beech and Roberts 103.” 17. It should be pointed out that this is not universally taken to be a solution. forget about theoretical analysis. “Methodology of the Teleological Judgement. which Kant divides into “physical” and “ethical” teleology. he merely notes that they ought to. According to his thesis the power of the notion of aesthetic autonomy overwhelmed the original Kantian formulation so that what the aesthetic was supposed to enable and indeed serve was supplanted by an “aesthetic ideology” with disastrous effects in the realm of politics and ethics. 20.” For a good brief survey of this argument see Jay. since the Third Critique. cognition and morality.the notion that the artwork is beyond or indifferent to the realms of politics or ethics. which are all just ideology. On the tendency to read the Third Critique as if it comprised only the first half of the work “The Critique of Aesthetic Judgement. The right turn .” see Zammito.
“belong to the cognitive power alone. some one hundred and seventy pages later. within the Kantian argument itself the connec21. in their different ways a number of writers both within the continental and analytic traditions have pressed the question of the cogni- diacritics / spring 2002 29 . I do not mean to imply that this focus is unique to me. . our experience of the object in the form of an aesthetic judgment does not provide us with knowledge of the work.” While I take this to be raised within Kant’s own philosophy. I shall begin by recalling that aesthetic judgments. De Man. according to Kant. provided only that I do not contradict myself. knowing (Wissen). 22. since that power has its a priori principles in concepts of reason.” so that it is possible to think things in themselves but not to know them. But he does say enough to suggest a way in which a theory of art. according to Kant.Now I wish to address what I earlier claimed was an underdeveloped line of argument in Kant’s text. . And yet a critical inquiry [in search] of a principle of judgement in them is the most important part of a critique of this power. The “agitation of the mind” that attends a feeling of the sublime precisely establishes a relation between the faculties of cognition and of desire. whereas knowing something implies that what is known is capable of being verified by experience. Part of the problem here—and it is a problem no less for Kant than for us—is the reach of what should count as knowledge: precisely the terrain opened up by the triangulation—connection. that a further elaboration is provided. namely the epistemological claims that might be made by works of art.” This seems to suggest that in the case of a work of art. in the preface to the Critique of Judgement. For though these judgements do not by themselves contribute anything whatever to our cognition of things. are related to cognition. they still belong to the cognitive power alone and prove a direct relation of this power to the feeling of pleasure or displeasure according to some a priori principle. the incommensurability of trope and language. invagination. to the cognitive power.21 Thus. as opposed to aesthetics. While the present essay does not attend to this linguistic materiality it is nevertheless sensitive to the materiality of the experience of art. Kant does not say much more about this relation. Kant writes: This perplexity about a principle (whether it is subjective or objective) arises mainly in those judgements. “I can think whatever I please. say. and cognition (Erkenntnis). called aesthetic. which concern the beautiful and the sublime in nature or in art. This extremely dense essay circles around a de Manian crux. and it is not until the discussion of fine art. letters. might begin to explore the cognitive element of artworks. and cognition. I have written at greater length on this in Art Matters. in order to sensitize a reading of the Third Critique to its material base in expression—words. commenting upon the use of denken in section 29. it has remained substantially neglected in the greater part of the ensuing philosophical commentary upon his work. in distinction from knowing?” [“Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant” 77]. the seeds for such an inquiry are already sown.22 Furthermore. nevertheless. writes: “How are we to understand the verb ‘to think’ . nevertheless. overlapping—of thinking. syllables. Kant leaves hanging what might result from this in terms of knowledge. without there being any confusion of this principle with the one that can be the basis determining the power of desire. knowing. or indeed how the agitation of the mind might be understood with reference to the mental activities he distinguished as thinking (Denken). What needs to be exposed is the connection or nonconnection that reflective judgments have to “knowledge. but the judgment belongs. [CJ 6] So although aesthetic judgments do not “contribute to our cognition of things” they do.
Derrida. Jay Bernstein has called the alternative. essentially constructing a simplistic subjectivization of the aesthetic. It is agreeable art if its purpose is that the pleasure should accompany presentations that are mere sensations. some writers. Adorno reacts against the prevailing subjectivism of the post-Kantian tradition and proposes to reclaim the objectivity of art: “aesthetics must try to articulate what its object in its immediacy is driving at” [appendix A-1 370]. See his The Fate of Art. The latter is either agreeable or fine art. but if what it intends directly is [to arouse] the feeling of pleasure.23 In the recent literature in this tradition perhaps the most extensive elaboration of this notion is to be found in Hans Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method. the autonomy of art—and argues that Heidegger. 24. While Kant does not go on to develop to any great degree how these “ways of cognizing” differ from determinant judgment. For a critique of Gadamer’s reading of Kant. including Schiller and Adorno. see also Cascardi. However. see Bowie. Referring to his own text. and Adorno challenge this thesis. [CJ 172] Here Kant suggests that in the case of fine art the merely sensational is replaced by a purpose whose aim is to connect the feeling of pleasure to the means by which intuitions correspond to concepts (what Kant means by “presentation” [Darstellung]). He writes in the context of a discussion of the various kinds of art: If art merely performs the acts that are required to make a possible object actual. include Stanley Cavell. 30 . Aesthetics and Subjectivity 31– 32. then it is called aesthetic art. albeit with different trajectories and aims.24 Rather I want to pick up on his particular approach to the question of the aesthetic. which leads him to propose that there may be more than one “mode” of knowing. then it is mechanical art. thereby suggesting that aesthetic judgments are “known” or knowable or quanta of knowledge since they are capable of verification under the special rubric of the aesthetic. in order to defend that experience of truth that comes to us through the work of art against the aesthetic theory that lets itself be restricted to a scientific concept of truth. Martin Heidegger. Gadamer continues. it is fine art if its purpose is that the pleasure should accompany presentations that are ways of cognizing. In the introduction to that work Gadamer sets out his project in these terms: Hence the following investigation starts with a critique of aesthetic consciousness. but I do not want to dwell upon the veracity of Gadamer’s view. one way Kant addresses this issue will be helpful in furthering my line of argument: where he makes a distinction between “mechanical” and “aesthetical” art. adequately to our cognition of that object. This characterization of Kant’s argument and its effects on the ensuing tradition has detractors as well as supporters. 23. and Jacques Derrida. predominant strain of aesthetic speculation “aesthetic alienation”—the thesis that art inhabits an entirely distinct realm.tion of reflective judgment to knowledge is slightly sidestepped in the observation that aesthetic experiences may be verified in aesthetic terms. But how such “aesthetic knowing or knowledge” might relate to the form of knowledge we gain from determinant judgment is left slightly unclear (we should remember that Kant does begin by saying how these things relate structurally—see the quotation above from page six of the text). tive or knowledge claims made by artworks. have gone on to explore some of the implications. [xiii] Gadamer believes the post-Kantian tradition to have developed in an unhelpful way. Writers following this line of investigation.
He writes: The transcendental function that Kant ascribes to the aesthetic judgement is sufficient to distinguish it from conceptual knowledge and hence to determine the phenomena of the beautiful and of art. from Schiller through romanticism to modernism. He insists that art is a kind of knowledge and that “the experience of the work of art is a sharing of this knowledge” . not the last word. Where Kant ran aground. but Gadamer wishes to make his point of departure more clear-cut. the application of aesthetic judgement to the beautiful and sublime in nature is more important than the transcendental foundation of art. This tension between “ways of knowing” and knowledge—conceptual knowledge and reflective judgment—is present in Kant’s text. Indeed aesthetic experience is itself a “mode of self-understanding” . as I see it. Kant’s transcendental justification of aesthetic judgment was the first step toward a greater understanding of the aesthetic realm.  Gadamer wishes to reverse this priority so that the transcendental foundation of art takes center stage. was in his resistance to the notion that there might be theoretical knowledge outside the parameters of natural science. He goes on to ask: 25. . in the attempt to disentangle art from a particular version of aesthetics. as I pointed out above. “. misreadings that both represent and re-present aesthetic over determination” . according to Gadamer. . he nevertheless remains resistant to the notion that there might be other kinds of knowledge or ways of knowing. but at the same time in it truth comes to speech. It is precisely this notion of genius and its drive toward originality and authenticity that has kept discussion of aesthetics in the shadow of a particular misreading of art. Thus I would want to rephrase the following comment. [xiii] For Gadamer. But is it right to reserve the concept of truth for conceptual knowledge? Must we not also admit that the work of art possesses truth?  Gadamer’s account of the Third Critique continues by pointing out the crucial part played by “genius” in Kant’s argument and by noting that in the final analysis Kant is really uninterested in art as such:25 We should not forget that the second part of the Critique of Judgement is concerned only with nature (and with its being judged by concepts of finality) and not at all with art. helped intensify the subsumption of art into the aesthetic theory of art.But the book does not stop at the justification of the truth of art. so as to emphasize the misreading of art that has resulted from the development of the aesthetic theory of art. the aesthetic theory of art. the aesthetic itself is. through a predisposition to sensory or ideological pollution. to be found in a fine essay by Geoffrey Galt Harpham. This emphasis on genius has. This is to say that while Kant’s distinction between conceptual knowledge and reflective judgment is helpful in delimiting the object for inquiry in aesthetic theory. responsible for the misreadings that have plagued it. Just as in the experience of art we are concerned with truths that go essentially beyond the range of methodical knowledge. so the same thing is true of the whole of the human sciences. diacritics / spring 2002 31 . in which our historical tradition in all its forms is certainly made the object of investigation. instead it tries to develop from this starting point a concept of knowledge and of truth which corresponds to the whole of our hermeneutic experience. Such misreadings continue when Heidegger’s philosophy is seen as participating in the project of aesthetics rather than. Thus for the systematic intention of the whole.
and we enquire into the mode of being of that which is experienced in this way. Works of art. artworks are said to have cognitive value. The consequence of this implication is far more disturbing to Kant’s transcendental project than is often assumed.” In both the humanist defense of art and in certain branches of analytic aesthetics. though they may have very long lives as documentary evidence) or seek to persuade us of ethical principles. They may illustrate certain propositions: Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.Is there to be no knowledge in art? Does not the experience of art contain a claim to truth which is certainly different from that of science. These images provide knowledge about both the distinct properties of light and the specific occasions on which the painter observed and then painted the cathedral. for example. A poem may. a correct reading of the novel either provides or enhances this knowledge. certainly different from that sensory knowledge which provides science with the data from which it constructs the knowledge of nature. They may contain propositional knowledge (not very frequently) or set out to illustrate propositions about the world.  In the terms I am attempting to develop.” but I am going to leave this aside in order to stay slightly closer to the Kantian notion of the plurality of “ways of cognizing. While all of these examples certainly demonstrate how works of art may contain particular forms and quanta of knowledge. illustrates the wisdom of some kinds of behavior and the folly of others. it is held. for example.e. it is its materiality. but still knowledge. which does not leave him who has it unchanged.26 Gadamer also proposes something similar in his analysis of what he calls “play. The information component in a Jane Austen novel. the transmission of truth?  It is clear that for Gadamer “knowledge” has a specific sense and that the force of the term “truth” will become decisive. they do not do so as works of art. I take this to indicate that we must explore more carefully the proposition that the artwork is a way of knowing. since this experience is the only material of aesthetic judgment. especially paintings. and certainly different from all moral rational knowledge and indeed from all conceptual knowledge. So we hope to understand better what kind of truth it is that encounters us there. but we do not regard the latter as a work of art. is no different from that found in a conduct book. For a good account in relation to de Man’s late work see Warminski. 32 . In doing so we should ask the question “what is the truth of aesthetics?” He writes: In the experience of art we see a genuine experience induced by the work. They may present political arguments (often works that are manifestly political have short lives as valued works of art. In Gadamer’s project this “knowledge” is approached via the ontology of the work of art and its basis in what he designates as “play. But in so doing we do 26. This is to point to a category mistake: artworks may comprise a number of things. And we may attend to these distinct aspects in preference to their aesthetic qualities. such as Monet’s canvases depicting Rouen Cathedral under different light conditions. So. may be illustrative in a more obvious way. And in order to do that our first line of inquiry must be the affective experience that results from our encounter with the artwork.” According to him we need to overcome the subjectivization of aesthetics that has dominated the Kantian critique in a move that parallels Heidegger’s attempt to overcome the subjectivization of metaphysics. tell you how to construct a boat. for example. but equally certainly is not inferior to it? And is not the task of aesthetics precisely to provide a basis for the fact that artistic experience is a mode of knowledge of a unique kind. i.
• • • •• • ••• diacritics / spring 2002 •• •• • • •• •• • • 33 .
In conclusion I wish to enlist some moments from Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe’s recent Poetry as Experience in order to break in upon the strangeness and beauty of our encounters with art. to undergo here means that we endure it. The art historian Kenneth Clark once remarked that an aesthetic experience lasts about the 34 . strikes us. suffer it. to what I called above the materiality of aesthetic judgment. a person.” but about the singular experience coming into writing: it asks if.” and I take this to be.  Art experiences are singular in the sense that they can only occur to the perceiving subject—they are subjective in the way Kant describes—but they do not belong to that subject. in the hope that we might begin the task of understanding better the materiality of aesthetic judgment. Its main line of argument is not explicitly concerned with art but with poetry. at base. comes over us. one must first inquire into its “idiom.” for it seems to me that this is the wrong category to reach for in attempting to inquire into the peculiar ways of knowing we attribute to objects of aesthetic judgment. strike or befall us. And as this terminology suggests. or a god— means that this something befalls us.” My question asks not just about the “text.not advance the thought that artworks understood with reference to their particular quality of “artness” may be ways of knowing. a little further on: “Is there. the same thing. receive it as it strikes us and submit to it. in effect. we mean specifically that the experience is not of our own making. We must avoid confusing this with another. he suggests.” and this. Consequently the most efficacious way of furthering the thought that artworks are a way of knowing is to attend to the distinct experiences occasioned by artworks. LacoueLabarthe asks. being singular. by the very fact of language. Lacoue-Labarthe suggests. a question about art experience. they have duration: like the thunderbolt of Burke’s sublime we submit to the instant of this experience. relatively secondary or derivative question. at origin or en route to destination. and then it is gone. Can there be such a thing if it is to be singular? Close to the end of his book Lacoue-Labarthe recalls a passage from Heidegger’s On the Way to Language where the nature of our sense or perception of having an experience is investigated. nor are they made by the subject. overwhelms and transforms us. As Heidegger notes they come over us. Heidegger writes: To undergo an experience with something—be it a thing. I have written elsewhere about this—here I want to focus on the issue of singularity [see de Bolla 11–16]. that of the “readable” and the “unreadable. This short and deeply resonant text is essentially a meditation upon two poems by Paul Celan. And here I depart from Gadamer in his attachment to the concept of “truth. but for present purposes I shall take them as. When we talk of “undergoing” an experience. In order to get started reading Celan’s poetry. is tantamount to asking if there is such a thing as “pure idiom” .  This raises a number of very difficult questions about the nature of experience per se as well as the distinct kind of experience—affective or art experience—that may be prompted by our coming into contact with artworks. What I mean to emphasize here is the “art” component of aesthetic forms. or if from the moment of writing its very singularity is not forever lost and borne away in one way or another. that which is appreciated or experienced as art. as a form and way of being. can there be a singular experience?. experience can be written. This is then worried a little further: The question I have called that of idiom is therefore more exactly that of singularity.
art is both unknowable and the cause for our experiencing different ways of knowing. Ed. touches us. Clive. The Fate of Art: Aesthetic Alientaion from Kant to Derrida and Adorno. a project most vigorously pursued by Maurice Merleau-Ponty in The Phenomenology of Perception.” New Left Review 218 (July/ August 1996): 103.” Under a different version of the aesthetic. Bernstein. in some sense. 27. should be examined in respect of its materiality. but through us. This might be the only way in which art as a way of knowing will become intelligible to us. The materiality of an art response is the virtual sensation of the artwork as a way of knowing. The materiality of this experience is clearly. since. C. This is what prompts the lure or seduction of art. Is it possible to extend such experiences. London: Routledge.” Outside Literature. 1990. Art. But not to us. “experience marks the absence of what is lived. “Really Useless ‘Knowledge’: A Political Critique of Aesthetics. W. aesthetic experience. Under one version of the aesthetic—that which attempts to construct a philosophically coherent account of the distinct objects we call art—artworks must be appreciated according to the theory it presents. immaterial. WORKS CITED Adorno. diacritics / spring 2002 35 . T. not as part of a continuum of our senses of being. Beech. Aesthetic Theory. we have come to understand how presence comes wrapped up in nonpresence. in the terms I have argued for from Kant. if there is no such thing as “poetic experience” it is simply because experience marks the absence of what is “lived. Trans. and if so how?27 But. University Park: Pennsylvania State UP. Dave. Yet such encounters feel as if they open a terrain. 1992. and John Roberts. And this yokes art to a particular version of “aesthetic art. “Spectres of the Aesthetic. In order to attend to this knowing. the singularity of the experience is immediately compromised in the “after-shock”: at the moment experience strikes us it has crossed from one thing to another: In the end. Gretel Adorno and Rolf Tiedemann. J. which would require patient and careful elaborations of specific encounters with art. what is outside the domain of experience. Bennett. as Lacoue-Labarthe phrases it. 27–45. as if the work itself marks us. or. New York: Routledge. how negation is not simply antagonistic to or the inverse of proposition.” But at least since Heidegger. This may well be the standard duration—one of the aspects of any inquiry into affective experience that needs greater elaboration is precisely this issue of duration. Bell. 1984.length of time one can detect the aroma of a just-peeled orange.”  This suggests that the particular quality of an encounter with art is our coming to understand what we cannot live. Lenhardt. This is to inquire into the phenomenology of aesthetic experience. but this does not imply that the experience cannot happen through me. Art experience. a text that will become increasingly important in the current return to the aesthetic. we must subject our experiences of art—even when they are not properly speaking “experienced”—to much greater scrutiny. an alternative that I have argued is sketched out in Kant’s Critique of Judgment. give onto a clearing in which something like experience seems to happen. I cannot live that response as an experience. Tony. 1958. as Lacoue-Labarthe intimates. New York: Capricorn. M. and certainly since Derrida. since it holds out the prospect of knowing otherwise.
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