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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. Being, Art, and Great Art


How much there is in art that is beautiful, if only one can remember what one has seen, one is never empty or truly lonely, and never alone.

— Vincent van Gogh

Music is not only beautiful [—] Music is true.

— Sergiu Celibidache

Heidegger’s essay “The Origin of the Work of Art” continues to engage and to challenge both Heideggerians and non-Heideggerians.1 The status of ← 261 | 262 → Heidegger’s essay is controversial, not everybody agrees with Jacques Derrida’s view that “The Origin of the Work of Art” is “one of the last great discourses on art”.2 Why “last” and why “great” one may well ask. In any case, Heidegger’s essay is a prime example of a speculative philosophy of art that seems outmoded to most Anglo-Saxon philosophers of art, but which finds resonance with many cultural theorists and continental philosophers of art both on the European continent and in Anglo-Saxon academia.3 In the recent past several substantial contributions to the discussion of Heidegger’s essay and his philosophy of art have appeared,4 and continues to appear. In this essay, a sequel to the previous essay on Heidegger’s van Gogh written more than twenty years ago, I propose to discuss some of the most important recent interpretations of Heidegger’s essay. In contrast to my earlier essay, I have also drawn on Heidegger’s Nietzsche and ← 262 | 263 → Hölderlin lectures in the thirties and some other relevant texts by Heidegger in order to bring...

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