PHI 610: Philosophy and the Arts after Derrida
Christopher La Barbera
Aesthetics as Sense-Experience
Since this course centers on the Continental Aesthetics Reader, it would probably be helpful to know what aesthetics actually is. We defined aesthetics as the study of the experience of the world through the senses. It might be helpful to have another definition, so here’s one:
Aesthetics originates from the original Greek term for sense-experience, aisthEtikos. The contemporary term originated from Baumgarten in the 18th century.
Truth as Disclosure
We started, also, with a discussion of Heidegger’s account of truth as disclosure. For instance, in the case of the “peasant woman’s shoes,” we began to separate the truth of the represented shoes from the free association of the specific mind of the single thinker (Heidegger). For instance, just because Heidegger may have had hang-ups about peasant women, that does not establish the truth of the shoes actually being “peasant woman shoes.” Truth as disclosure, by contrast, is something that happens in the relationship between the critic/viewer and the artistic object. In other words, truth is not entirely in the mind of the observer; rather, it is co-determined and “disclosed” in the relationship between the viewer and the thing. Thus, truth can’t be said to be lodged, entirely, in the object itself, nor can it be said to be entirely a product of the ideas of the viewer.
If we consider truth to be “disclosure,” then, we would have to give up on the binary relationship between truth and falsehood, and rather adopt a concept of truth as that which is revealed from concealedness. If something is not disclosed or revealed, it is simply not disclosed. Truth has to be dealt with each time it is disclosed.
Dufrenne and the Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience
- Published in 1953, doctoral thesis
- Dufrenne lived during WWII, in captivity with Ricoeur.
- Difficult time for French intellectuals: Dufrenne (born 1910), Sartre (1905),
De Beauvoir (1908), others
- Permitted access to books, including the philosophy of Husserl
Husserl’s Phenomenology, Sartre’s Existentialism and the Impact on Dufrenne
To understand Dufrenne’s writings in the Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience, it would be useful, first, to point to Husserl’s phenomenology and the impact that existential phenomenology had on Dufrenne. Since I have absolutely no technical aptitude for drawing little arrows in Microsoft word, I will attempt to explain the triangular relationship between the writer, literature, and the reader, in words (bear with me).
According to this formulation, the writer’s obligation is to communicate a message of freedom to the reader, and this the writer does through the production of literature (in Sartre’s case, through plays and novels). In the process, the reader will realize her own radical freedom, bringing to consciousness the primary philosophical problem according to the existentialists: namely, that each and every human consciousness is free. Sartre believes that the relationship to freedom must always be an active process – we are transcendent egos, rather than immanent objects. To write (in French, écrire) is an active function of the ego, as well as a free act.
This relates to Husserl’s phenomenology, insofar as the transcendental ego uses this method of active communication to relate to the external object world. Just as the concern of the writer is to relate the message of freedom to her audience, so too must the transcendental ego relate its consciousness to the world. The transcendental ego finds its object through its being directed to the external world, through intentionality.
This brings us to a fundamental distinction in Husserl’s phenomenology, between the noesis, or consciousness’s directedness to the object world, and the noema, or the meaning given by consciousness in the sentient world. Noesis is an active mental process, as well as that which brings us to experience the external object world. The noema is understood at the meaning of the object, as given to consciousness.
According to Sartre, the noetic, active “directedness” of consciousness to the world is strongly related to the claim that our radical freedom is realized when the subject exists for-itself (pour-soi). This is contrasted to the noematic world of the given external object, which is presented to consciousness, and whose being may be said to exist in-itself (en-soi). For Sartre, meaning originates in the thing (out there), and there is nothing in my consciousness save freedom.
Let’s Talk About Dufrenne, Baby
What is the status of the aesthetic object, according to Dufrenne? The aesthetic object has meaning, and is meaningful. This is not simply the immanent object world of objects-to-consciousness; Rather, Dufrenne’s object world is live and alive, and presented to consciousness as something with a world of meaning in itself.
Dufrenne’s represented world, which we contrasted to the “real” world of tangible, physical objects, is concerned with the way the arts (music, painting, dance, film…) are represented to consciousness. In particular, we must understand the represented object as opening a world of possibilities to consciousness. The represented world and the expressed world are both aspects of the aesthetic object itself, rather than aspects to the mental world of the ego confronting that object.
For example, the real object may be the coke bottle, while the represented object could be a painting of the coke bottle. In representation, the object becomes lifted from the finite world of laws and limits that we confront in the “real world,” and enters the limitless, law-free, open potentiality of the represented world. While the real world may “leak through” to the represented world, the represented world need not refer to the actual world in any real way.
This is not to be confused with the expressed world, which we said evokes some quality of the subject of the representation itself. In the expressed world, the qualities of the aesthetic object are “pressing out” (picture juicing an orange), and in the process we are shown some essence of the object we wish to express.
The expressed world corresponds to the a priori (prior to experience) quality or qualities of the object. These are the properties that would exist independently of experience. The represented world, however, is contingent on some experience in the real world and is related to the world; thus, the represented world evokes the a posteriori (dependent upon worldly experience) qualities of the object. The represented world and the expressed world are both entirely part of the aesthetic object, itself.
At least part of our feeling of the aesthetic object is actually prior to experience. This is what we defined as the affective a priori: the world of experience that is independent of experience.