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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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4. Aesthetics, Philosophy of Culture, and “The Aesthetic Turn”


We are without a doubt currently experiencing an aesthetics boom. It extends from individual styling, urban planning and the economy through to theory. More and more elements of reality are being aesthetically mantled, and reality as a whole is coming to count increasingly as an aesthetic construct to us.

— Wolfgang Welsch (1993)

A book advocating philosophy as the reasoned pursuit of aesthetic living cannot harbor an essential dualism between reason and aesthetics, reflected in an unbridgeable divide between the modern and postmodern.

— Richard Shusterman (1997)

Aesthetics should be […] rethought in such a way that it becomes embedded in a broader context within philosophy of human culture.

— Heinz Paetzold (1999)

I. Introduction

“Aesthetics is a chaotic field of inquiry which has had unusual difficulties defining and organizing itself. It is also one of the most fascinating and challenging branches of philosophy”, says Kendall Walton in his review of Michael Kelly’s Encyclopedia of Aesthetics.1 Walton evidently thinks of aesthetics as philosophical aesthetics, or, as philosophy of art, but aesthetics can be understood in a much wider context — as it often is today — as a general theory of art and aesthetic experience, as the theory of specific art forms, and as an integral part of the philosophy of culture. If philosophical aesthetics is a chaotic business, then what about aesthetics broadly conceived?

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