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Notions of the Aesthetic and of Aesthetics

Essays on Art, Aesthetics, and Culture

Lars-Olof Ahlberg

The essays in the first part of this book, «Art and Aesthetics», are devoted to the invention and development of aesthetics as a discipline. The essays’ topics range from the nature of analytic aesthetics and the invention of modern aesthetics to notions of the aesthetic and of aesthetics. Further study in this part explores the «aesthetic turn», Bourdieu’s critique of aesthetics and understanding and appreciating art. The second part, «Music, Literature, and Painting», deals with questions of form and content, musical formalism, Susanne Langer’s theory of music as well as with the analogy between ornament and music and the values of literature. In addition, there is an essay on «Northern Light and Darkness in Music and Painting». The third part, «Heidegger and the Essence of Art», is devoted to Heidegger’s philosophy of art, in particular to the role he assigns to van Gogh and Hölderlin. And in the fourth and final part, «Modernity/Postmodernity and Culture», postmodern conceptions of history and Lyotard’s theory of the postmodern sublime are discussed, and in the last essay the challenge of evolutionary psychology to the humanities is addressed.
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3. Notions of the Aesthetic and of Aesthetics


We cannot get beyond aesthetics … we have a world which people gradually created: their aesthetics.

— Friedrich Nietzsche (1880–1882)

An upswing? Isn’t aesthetics dead? Or, to put it a little more gently: doesn’t it lead a languishing life in the lumber rooms of scholarship?

— Ewert Wrangel (1898)*

… we must gain some insight into the prejudices that are present in the concept of philosophical aesthetics. In the last analysis, we need to overcome the concept of aesthetics itself.

— Hans-Georg Gadamer (1960)

Reality has proven itself again and again to be constituted not “realistically” but “aesthetically” … This has resulted in a general significance for aesthetic thinking today and in a need for a change in the structure of the discipline of aesthetics, so that it becomes an aesthetics beyond traditional aesthetics comprising the whole range of aisthesis in everyday life, science, politics, arts, ethics, and so on.

— Wolfgang Welsch (1996)

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