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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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1. Heidegger’s Van Gogh


It’s certainly a question of feet and of many other things …

— Jacques Derrida

I. Introduction

This essay is devoted to some aspects of Heidegger’s philosophy of art as expressed in his essay “Der Ursprung des Kunstwerkes” (The Origin of the Work of Art), first given as a lecture in 1935 and 1936, and published in Holzwege in 1950.1 Some people would say that the title of my essay is a misnomer and argue that Heidegger never formulated a philosophy of art. Others would claim that Heidegger’s most profound thinking on art is contained in his later lectures and essays on poetry, especially on the poetry of Hölderlin. Whatever view one takes on the centrality of the Holzwege essay, it cannot be denied that “The Origin of the Work of Art” raises many important questions in the philosophy of art as well as about Heidegger’s approach to art.

In the next few pages I shall discuss the character and aims of Heidegger’s essay. The first part of my essay is devoted to an examination of Heidegger’s interpretation of a painting by van Gogh and the critical discussion of Heidegger’s use of van Gogh’s painting — a debate to which Derrida devoted his essay “Restitutions de la vérité en pointure” in La Vérité en peinture (1978).2 In the second part I discuss Heidegger’s elaborations of the view that art works have a world-revealing and world-disclosing nature.


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