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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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5. The Distinction Between Aesthetics and the Sociology of Art: Remarks on Bourdieu’s Critique of Aesthetics



Pierre Bourdieu is without doubt one of the most influential sociologists of culture and art. In several publications, notably in his magnum opus, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, and in the collection of essays, The Field of Cultural Production, he has subjected aesthetics and traditional art history to a searching critique.

Since the heading “aesthetics” covers a great variety of theoretical and practical pursuits it may be useful to make a few distinctions in order to obtain a clearer view of Bourdieu’s critique. The analysis of artistic programmes and ideo­logies and the study of the history of art and the history of criticism are all part of the broad conception of aesthetics which includes all kinds of theoretical and historical interest in the arts. But “aesthetics” can also be equated with the philosophy of art, as is often the case in the Anglo-Saxon world. But even if we define aesthetics as philosophical aesthetics, that is, as the philosophy of art, we have not made things much clearer since the philosophy of art can also be many things, or, as the evil spirit says in the Scriptures, “My name is legion: for we are many” (Mark 5:9).

When I speak of philosophical aesthetics or the philosophy of art I have in mind the analysis of fundamental concepts in the discourses on art, such as the concept of art itself, the concept of the aesthetic, genre concepts,...

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