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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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2. Formalism in Music:Eduard Hanslick and Peter Kivy


Feelings accompany our grasp of a piece of music as they accompany events in our life.

— Ludwig Wittgenstein (1931)

I. Introduction

In the first part of my essay I shall present Hanslick’s main arguments, and in the second part I will comment on Peter Kivy’s semi-Hanslickian views on the power and meaning of music and relate them to Hanslick’s position.

On the Musically Beautiful (Vom Musikalisch-Schönen)1 is one of the most influential treatises in the aesthetics of music. Hanslick’s small treatise, which numbers no more than a hundred pages, was published in 1854; it went through no less than nine editions before the end of the century. It was translated into several European languages; the first English translation, by Gustav Cohen, in 1891 is entitled The Beautiful in Music, a somewhat misleading translation of the German title Vom Musikalisch-Schönen. As Geoffrey Payzant, who re-translated the work into English in 1986, points out, Cohen’s title suggests that Hanslick was thinking of beauty in the generic sense, the beautiful in music being a species of the beautiful as such. Hanslick had nothing of the sort in mind, he was only concerned with musical beauty, the specific beauty that can be found in music; he did not proceed from a general idea of beauty, of which beauty in music would be an instance. Payzant’s rendering of the title is therefore superior to Cohen’s. Cohen’s translation is also in other respects...

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