Does Art Imply Theology?: Henry James, Hans-Georg Gadamer, David Jones and Hans Urs von Balthasar
Abstract: In modern philosophy aesthetics has been divided from other fields of cognition in a three-way division, the other fields being ontology-epistemology, and ethics. Of the three fields, ethics and aesthetics have often been viewed as problematic, compared to the normative ontology-epistemology, as in Kant’s privileging of this latter in his famous trilogy. More recently attempts have been made to treat aesthetics as typical of cognition, or central to it – such as Gadamer’s contention that a hermeneutical aesthetics is exemplary for hermeneutical cognition generally, or Balthasar’s prioritising of the aesthetic in his own major trilogy, in answer to Kant’s. However, whether approaches to aesthetics prioritise it as a field of cognition or treat it as anomalous, a difficult-to-explain excess of meaning, or an elusive quality, is seen to attach to the aesthetic object, and this elusive quality is often described with religious language, even when the approach in question is not aiming at a religious explanation. This paper will argue, through addressing works of four writers, that the elusive quality of aesthetic cognition tends to force a resort to religious language, and furthermore that the elusive element so described will either remain simply enigmatic, or be recognised as an irruption of the transcendent into the ordinary.
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