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Paskow, Alan. the Paradoxes of Art: A Phenomenological Investigation.

by John B. Brough PASKOW, Alan. The Paradoxes of Art: A Phenomenological Investigation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004. xi + 260 pp. Cloth, $65.00--Much recent discussion in philosophical aesthetics has focused on the issue of defining art, particularly visual art. Such efforts generally presume that art is important without explaining why it is important. It is the latter question that Alan Paskow addresses. He is interested in discovering how and why art, and especially painting, matter in out lives. This is an important topic. If art did hot matter to people in some deeply personal sense, it would not be the subject of such intense interest, whether on the part of the art-appreciating public or of academic philosophers. Paskow attempts to link the work of art to the viewer's existence, to show its continuity with life, and to provide a framework that makes sense of the many effects art can have on those who experience it. To classify something as an artwork is to identify it as the kind of thing that can and should have value in our lives; and such value is not a question of pure, disinterested contemplation cut off from quotidian existence. Paskow's approach is phenomenological, drawing on Husserl and especially Heidegger, although not ignoring developments in analytic aesthetics. He finds particularly useful Husserl's emphasis on first-person consciousness, arguing that we might make better progress in understanding why art is important if we start with "our personal experience of artworks, the sensuous and affective dimension that takes place in our first-person engagement with them" (p. 204). The third-person perspective, which Paskow takes to be characteristic of analytic aesthetics and which approaches the artwork from the "outside," will have a role to play as well, although it will remain subordinate to the individual's personal experience. Paskow is willing to take bold stands. In chapter 1 he argues that the characters in fiction and the people and things depicted in painting are much more real than most philosophers grant. They are not sealed off in a world of their own, nor are they simply images in the mind. From the first-person perspective, they are "out there," real in the sense of having an affect on our lives, of being the subjects of emotion and concern, and even of assuming a place in the midst of ordinary reality. To be sure, this claire has its difficulties, which Paskow attempts to meet by appealing to a distinction between what he terms "[consciousness.sub.l]," which is consciousness absorbed in the quasi-real world of the work, and "[consciousness.sub.2]," which reminds [consciousness.sub.1] from a third-person perspective that what it is experiencing is, after all, an image or fiction. This reminder, however, does not erase the personal, existential impact of the work, "which continues to reverberate in my world" (p. 64). (One might ask whether it would hot be more plausible to speak here of a single consciousness carrying out two different but complementary activities, rather than of two separate conscious agents, as the author does on p. 63). In chapters 2 and 3, Paskow sets the stage for his full account of why painting matters by drawing out implications of Heidegger's notions of being-in-the-world and being-with-others, and the relation of both to Seinskonnen, out potentiality to become more authentic in our being with others in the world. Experience is not comprised of isolated Cartesian minds striving to connect with objects. Connection or "co-being" is there from the start. Persons and even things have an immediate emotional and existential resonance and the capability of changing us. This, the author argues in chapter 4, is equally true of what is depicted in paintings. Paintings matter to us and effect our lives when we enter into and dwell "with their depicted worlds" (p. 204), allowing them "to speak to us" (p. 159). Just as our properly human being is to be in the world

with others, so our genuine experience of the artwork is to enter into its world. Being-in-theworld, however, is hot merely a model for the way in which we should relate to the worlds depicted in paintings. Rather, there is an existential bond between my relation to the world of the work and my relation to the real world and to the others who inhabit it with me. I bring my experience of the world to my experience of the work, and the world of the work in turn deepens my appreciation of the ordinary universe. In that sense, depicted beings are not simply "about" the world but are in and of it, for they can change my world and how I relate to others and to their worlds. The work is "a quasi-living being who can be a special 'other' to challenge the way in which we have determinedly spent our lives shaping our destiny" (p. 226). The final chapter, on interpretation, balances the claim that one should give full weight to one's personal experience of an artwork with the work's complex contextual and cultural character, which calls for interpretation. In an illuminating array of interpretive vignettes--Marxist, feminist, and others--directed toward Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance, Paskow makes a strong case that interpretation, however useful, must remain subordinate to the first-person inhabiting of the work. There are encouraging signs that aestheticians are beginning to venture into the territory this book so ably explores. Paskow's timely and important study places him in the vanguard of that movement.--John B. Brough, Georgetown University.
Questia Media America, Inc. www.questia.com Publication Information: Article Title: Paskow, Alan. the Paradoxes of Art: A Phenomenological Investigation. Contributors: John B. Brough - author. Journal Title: The Review of Metaphysics. Volume: 59. Issue: 4. Publication Year: 2006. Page Number: 895+. COPYRIGHT 2006 Philosophy Education Society, Inc.; COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group