Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Aesthetics as First Philosophy

This discussion has grown tentacles embracing multiple comments and several blogs. The following is a comment by Graham Harman of Object-Oriented Philosophy

Levi with ANOTHER GOOD PIECE, (from Larval Subjects) this one on the relation between aesthetics and ontology.

Aesthetics has long been treated as a fringe discipline of philosophy, a moderately respectable diversion for the aesthetes in our midst. But I like Santayana’s point that considerations of beauty play an overwhelming role in our day-to-day lives, despite being only a minor part of philosophy.

My own sense is that aesthetics perhaps deserves to be the central philosophical discipline. (Perhaps Levi didn’t mean to go quite that far, but I am happy to go that far.) I’ve already claimed in print that aesthetic phenomena and physical causation are first cousins, even though they lie on two opposite sides of the great divide created by modern philosophy (”subject” and “world”). I’ll continue to push this idea further in writings to come.

I've long felt that the central aesthetic problem for any artist, as opposed to the concerns of the critic, is the question of Being; why my emphasis on the Aesthectis of Process.

I think of the women... and I do think of them as women, deep in those caves of Spain and Southern France while the men were out hunting--drawing those extradordinary images of bison, elk, bears and mammoths (while having a bit of fun doing cartoon stick figures of their men (with erections, no less, as they did their manly business!)--what else were they doing, if not bodying forth the question of Being?

Why I find nothing could be more natural than Bryant's images from art and science to illustrate
his thinking. Reading Difference and Givenness, I wished he could have formated it more like Larval Subjects. Why can't a book of philosophy have illustrations... even CD's! "Here, when you have read this chapter... listen to Glen Gould playing the Goldberg Variations! And after this one--get in your car, open the windows, and put on Bob Marley!

I bet Nietzsche would have gone for it!


  1. From Paul Sheppard's's MAN IN THE LANDSCAPE (at Google Books):

    "What skimpy evidence we have from the caev art and the relict hunting tribes of today is that images of both self and the Mother Goddess were not so boldly fashioned [as the animal images]. We are dealing with an evolution of style in consciousness. To say that the dichotomy which men felt between themselves and their environment was less does not mean that the intensity of life was less; on the contrary, the color, smell, joy, anguish, and awe were probably more deeply felt. But with the domestication of plants and animals - with agriculture - there was set in motion the processes of thought and perspective that would eventually isolate the ego from the rest of the world".

    - Mark Crosby

  2. I don't pretend to offer a scientific hypothesis. The depth of the silence surrounding those images is beyond my ability to fanthom. All I can do is whisper into the emptyness and listen for the echoes, hoping they might reberberate with something more than the sound of my own voice.

  3. I would add, that "dealing with the evolution of style in consciousness" is no less speaking into the echo chamber... and in no way contradicts what I mean by imaging forth the question of Being.

  4. Jacob, do you interpret the quote I offered as a Scientific Hypothesis? (from some evopsych troll !?) Perhaps it's because I misspelled Paul Shepard's name and Paul Sheppard with 2 Ps Googles to some evangelist.. No. Paul Shepard was Avery Professor of Natural Philosophy and Human Ecology at Claremont College. Shepard's book, SO HUMAN AN ANIMAL, along with Gregory Bateson's STEPS TO AN ECOLOGY OF MIND, were two of the few natural philosophy books that I chanced to read while chained to a computer-science-business-option degree in the early 1980s. Probably a generation gap, here. Bye.. Mark

  5. I'm not sure what you're point is here?

    And why Anonymous? I never quite trust "anonymous." I ask, what's to hide? If we're to have a conversation... unless, of course, it would entail danger or other significant risk. But then, I'm unemployed, have no money, nothing to lose... so nothing to hide.

  6. ... which may be the only working definition of "freedom" we have in this world... nothing left to lose.

  7. ... and no, I never thought of you as a troll... else I wouldn't have published the comment... would have been "toast"