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The End of Aesthetic Experience


Genealogy of aesthetic experience

1. Pre-modern period (Plato, Aristotle)
2. Early Modern period (Hume, Kant)
- The rise of science turns aesthetics to subjective
- Not only identify through, but also with subjective
3. 19 and early 20th century (Lebens-philosophies)
- Experience as basic epistemological concept
Trend: Religion replaced by art as the spirituality in the material
Aesthetic experience became the island of freedom, beauty, and
idealistic meaning in an otherwise coldly materialistic and lawdetermined world
Four dimensions of aesthetic experience: evaluative,
phenomenological, semantic


Continental critique of aesthetic experience

1. Phenomenological immediacy
2. Radical differentiation from ungodly reality
Adorno (member of the Frankfurt School, proponent of Critical

Its claim to pleasure is not the ideological contamination of

bourgeois hedonism, instead it is valuable, crucial and
self-abnegation and submission --- > transformative,
emancipation (culture industry: cultivation of false
psychological needs that can only be met and satisfied by
the products of capitalism)
blind to the ideological features structuring the artwork
immanent Verstehen to external critique of the artworks
ideological meaning and the socio-historical conditions that
shaped it
for no work in its immediate facticity portrays its meaning
adequately or can be understood in itself
changes in the nonaesthetic world affect our very
sensibilities and capacity for experience, aesthetic
experience cannot be a fixe natural kind (also as a central
theme for Benjamin)

Benjamin (closely related to Frankfurt School)


fragmentation and shocks of modern life

Our immediate experience of things no longer forms a
meaningful, coherent whole but is rather a welter of
fragmentary, unintegrated sensations something simply
lived through rather than meaningfully experienced. --- >
better to have temporally cumulative accretion
modernization and technology eroded aesthetic experience
aesthetic experience comes to pervade the everyday
world of popular culture and even politics, low art Vs high
contrast with Adorno, potentially emancipatory
does not deny the importance of aesthetic experience, only
its pure immediacy of meaning and isolation from the rest
of life

Gadamer (prominent figure in Hermeneutics, student of


conceptual link between immediacy and differentiation, do

no justice to its meaning and lasting impact
Heidegger: art is by nature a distinctive way in which
truth comes into being, that is becomes historical
assembled achievements of the human mind as it has
realized itself historically, it is necessary to adopt an
attitude that corresponds to the historical reality of
man, relation to the world and its claims to truth
cognitive dimension of aesthetic experience: what one
experiences in a work of art and what one is directed
towards is rather how true it is, i.e. to what extent one
knows and recognizes something and oneself
instead experience + understanding
as a game plays its players, submits those who wish to
understand it to the rigors of its structure

Derrida and Barthes (deconstructionism)


rejects experiential unity and stability

again challenges the radical differentiation and immediacy
without dismissing its importance and power of jouissance.

Bourdieu (sociologically informed genealogical analysis)


essentialist fallacy (e.g. people are essentially evil)

product of historical invention, results of reciprocally
reinforcing dimensions of arts institutional field and

inculcated habits of aesthetic contemplation. --- > takes

time and depends on the wider social field
Two main thrusts of the continental critique


aesthetic experience requires more than mere

phenomenological immediacy to achieve its full meaning
--- > poor and mistaken immediate reaction --- > priming of
- Aesthetic experience cannot be convinced as an
unchanging concept narrowly identified with fine arts
purely autonomous reception
--- > impoverished --- > extends to nature? --- >
conditioned by the world
- However, the claim that aesthetic experience must involve
more than immediacy and takes time does not entail that
such immediate feeling is not crucial to aesthetic
experience. --- > e.g. wine-tasting?
- decline of aesthetic experience stems from that false
inference and confusions arising from the diverse and
changing role of it.
The analytic trend
1. Three axes of contrast: evaluative Vs descriptive,
phenomenological vs semantic, transformational Vs
2. Claim: from Dewey to Danto, Anglo-American aesthetics
moves from the former poles to the latter poles --- > The fact
that aesthetic experience is still useful for other purposes has
been ignored

diverge from analytic aesthetics and accommodate themes

of continental aesthetics
central theme: naturalism, grounding aesthetics in the
natural needs, constitution, and activities of the embodied
human organism
recovering the continuity of its esthetic experience with
the normal processes of living , greater integration
between live and art
target against the museum conception of art & art as high
privileging dynamic aesthetic experience over the physical
aesthetic experience is experience in which the whole
creature is alive, all experience to be coherent and

meaningful, requires the germ of aesthetic unity and

development --- > manifold arts of living
an experience , immediate, phenomenological feeling
also as a definition of arts --- > bad arts? sunset?