The divergent interpretations of the relationship between music and language in modernity are inseparable from the main divergences between philosophical conceptions of language. Music provides an ideal illustration of the need for the approach, precisely because, as Paul de Man shows, it helps us to ask vital questions about the nature of language in relation to metaphysics and aesthetics. Music is inextricably linked to the emergence both of aesthetic autonomy and of the modern idea of literature. The idea of Logos, whether in the form of a liturgical text or of the words of a song, is still basic to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's conception. A valid conception of Romanticism, for Walter Benjamin, depends on how one approaches the possibilities of the exploration, and the question of 'reflection', the splitting into related aspects that mediate each other, is central to a conception.
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This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on some of 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. It discusses the work of two of the founding figures of aesthetics: Alexander Baumgarten and J.G. Hamann. Baumgarten's Aesthetica and Hamann's Aesthetica in nuce, begin to suggest what is at stake in the emergence of aesthetics as an independent branch of philosophy. The book describes the story of modernity told by the proponents of the 'postmodern condition', like Jean-François Lyotard, has its roots in the work of Heidegger. It also describes the power of Heidegger's ideas is evident in the way they have influenced many contemporary theories of modernity.
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. Immanuel Kant's main work on aesthetics, the 'third Critique', the Critique of Judgement (CJ), forms part of his response to unresolved questions which emerge from his Critique of Pure Reason (CPR) and Critique of Practical Reason. Dieter Henrich regards the crux of Kant's epistemology as the justification of 'forms of cognition from the form and nature of self-consciousness'. Kant's attempts to come to terms with the 'supersensuous substrate' of the subject's relationship to the object threaten to invalidate the boundary between law-bound nature and the autonomy of rational beings which was essential to the CPR. Kant himself actually follows aspects of the Enlightenment tradition of understanding music and objects, by seeing music as a 'language of emotions'.