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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. Susanne Langer on Representation and Emotion in Music

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I. Introduction

Susanne K. Langer’s theory of music is treated with respect by recent philosophers of music, even though nobody seems to accept her theory. Her theory remains, in spite of fundamental weaknesses, a significant contribution to the philosophy of music. I shall first present Langer’s main theses as I understand them and then assess them critically. In the second part I shall try to relate her theory of music to more recent theories of the role of emotion in music.

Peter Kivy notes in The Corded Shell (1980) that his own theory of expressiveness in music resembles Langer’s theory in certain respects. “Both Langer and I”, he says, “claim that music bears some resemblance to the ‘emotive life,’ and that, one way or another, therein lies the explanation of its expressiveness”.1 There are, to be sure, important differences between Langer’s and Kivy’s views regarding the nature of the emotive and expressive qualities of music. Langer and Kivy also differ as to what would constitute a proper account of the expressive properties of music. I will return to these matters when trying to sketch out some of the options regarding the expressive qualities of music.

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