In 1796 a German politico-philosophical manifesto proclaims the 'highest act of reason' as an 'aesthetic act'. The ways in which this transformation relates to the development of some of the major directions in modern philosophy is the focus of this book. The book focuses on the main accounts of the human subject and on the conceptions of art and language which emerge within the Kantian and post-Kantian history of aesthetics. Immanuel Kant's main work on aesthetics, the 'third Critique', the Critique of Judgement, forms part of his response to unresolved questions which emerge from his Critique of Pure Reason and Critique of Practical Reason. The early Romantics, who, after all, themselves established the term, can be characterized in a way which distinguishes them from later German Romanticism. The 'Oldest System Programme of German Idealism', is a manifesto for a new philosophy and exemplifies the spirit of early Idealism, not least with regard to mythology. The crucial question posed by the Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling of the System of Transcendental Idealism (STI) is how art relates to philosophy, a question which has recently reappeared in post-structuralism and in aspects of pragmatism. Despite his undoubted insights, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's insufficiency in relation to music is part of his more general problem with adequately theorising self-consciousness, and thus with his aesthetic theory. Friedrich Schleiermacher argues in the hermeneutics that interpretation of the meaning of Kunst is itself also an 'art'. The book concludes with a discussion on music, language, and Romantic thought.
The interest in aesthetics in philosophy, literary and cultural studies is growing rapidly. This book contains exemplary essays by key practitioners in these fields which demonstrate the importance of this area of enquiry. New aestheticism remains a troubled term and in current parlance it already comes loaded with the baggage of the 'philistine controversy' which first emerged in an exchange that originally that took place in the New Left Review during the mid-1990s. A serious aesthetic education is necessary for resisting the advance of 'philistinism'. Contemporary aesthetic production may be decentred and belonging to the past, but that is not a reason to underestimate what great works do that nothing else can. Despite well-established feminist work in literary criticism, film theory and art history, feminist aesthetics 'is a relatively young discipline, dating from the early 1990s'. The book focuses on the critical interrogation of the historical status of mimesis in the context of a gendered and racial politics of modernity. Throughout the history of literary and art criticism the focus has fallen on the creation or reception of works and texts. The book also identifies a fragmentary Romantic residue in contemporary aesthetics. The Alexandrian aesthetic underlies the experience of the 'allegorical'. 'Cultural poetics' makes clear the expansion of 'poetics' into a domain that is no longer strictly associated with 'poetry'. The book also presents an account of a Kantian aesthetic criticism, discussing Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Aesthetic Judgement and Critique of Judgement.
Modern philosophy and
the emergence of aesthetic theory:
Self-consciousness, knowledge and freedom
The importance attributed to aesthetic questions in recent philosophy becomes
easier to grasp if one considers the reasons for the emergence of modern aesthetic theory. Kant’s main work on aesthetics, the ‘third Critique’, the Critique
of Judgement (CJ) (1790), forms part of his response to unresolved questions
which emerge from his CritiqueofPureReason (CPR) (1781) and Critique of
Practical Reason (1787).1 In order to understand the signiﬁcance of the CJ
something termed ‘aesthetics’. I will here briefly revisit the three distinct senses given
to the term ‘aesthetic’ in Kant’s three critiques, suggesting thereby an agenda for an
expansion of the term beyond the restricted notion which presently is the major one
Kant’s CritiqueofPureReason opens with a section entitled the ‘transcendental aesthetic’. In this part of the work Kant treats of the contribution to knowledge provided
by sensibility. The use of the term ‘aesthetic’ to describe the notion of sensibility was
1 W. Benjamin, ‘Experience’ in M. Bullock and M. W. Jennings (eds), Selected Writings
Volume 1: 1913–1926 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 3–5 (p. 5).
2 Agathon, in Plato, Symposium, trans. C. Gill (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1999), p. 29.
3 Benjamin, ‘Experience’, pp. 3–5. See also I. Kant, CritiqueofPureReason, 2nd edn (1787),
trans. J. M. D. Meiklejohn (London: Dent, 1946), p. 30.
4 Benjamin, ‘Experience’, p. 3. I suggest the alignment with modernism so that we can see
the emergence of these new forms
latter work is
rather lesser known than his more abstract treatises it is worth noting that
Lettres was deliberately written to demystify his theories. Rather than being
a merely apologetic tract, Lettres was also a popularised version of thoughts
which he had previously expressed in a theoretical language. One could
perhaps say that Lettres stands in the same relationship to Du Contrat
Social as Kant’s Prolegomena stands to his CritiqueofPureReason. In Lettres
Rousseau proceeded through examples rather than through stringent
deductive reasoning. The result was a
is a good phrase,
communicating well the burden under which people go into the world, or fail
to go into it; a phrase that implies, in Kantian terms, a critiqueofpurereason.
The importance of Kantian thought to American writing, its principles
and the problems it brought forth, cannot be overstated. Which is neither to
say that all significant American poets have been Kantians, nor even that Kant
has been on most American poets’ reading lists – though famously, of course,
he was on Stevens’. Kant is central because he was foundational for the
the scientific community represented in Bacon’s fable and
elsewhere in his work continued in various shapes and forms.
The French philosophes of the Enlightenment highlight the social
and humanitarian function of scientific knowledge in Bacon’s
writings,36 and his ideas were implicitly regarded as being central
to the Encyclopedists’ focus on the mechanical arts, practical
science and classificatory schemes.37 Immanuel Kant dedicated his
CritiqueofPureReason (1781) to Bacon and refers to the ‘fresh
vigour’ ‘wise Bacon’ gave to the seventeenth century’s ‘new
indeed to Adorno’s recasting of Kantian antinomy as dialectic of enlightenment
see G. Rose, Hegel contra Sociology (London: Athlone, 1981).
8 The notion of antinomy here has a history going back to the writings of Kant, in his
CritiqueofPureReason (1781, 1787), in which he analyses the antinomies of the understanding with respect to the deployment of concepts. Kant sets out an antinomy of practical reason in his Critique of Practical Reason, which concerns the diﬀerent trajectories of an
analysis of virtue and of happiness respectively. The argument considers the
area of private
life as possible over which the state has no right to trespass. Indeed, he
declared that the right to the greatest possible degree of freedom was
second only to the right to life.
Running through Kant’s many
works, most notably CritiqueofPureReason (1781), Critique of
Practical Reason (1788), Critique of Judgement (1790), is the