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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. Postmodernism, History, and “The Linguistic Turn”


A historical fact is […] something that happened in history […] it really is there entirely independently of the historian.

— Richard Evans (1997)

When we study history we are not studying the past but what historians have constructed about the past.

— Keith Jenkins (1991)

I. Introduction

“The postmodernist’s aim […] is to pull the carpet out under the feet of science and modernism”, says Frank Ankersmit, in his article “Historiography and Postmodernism”, and he continues, “the best illustration of the postmodernist thesis is actually provided by historiography”.1 In this essay I propose to discuss some of the issues concerning the relationship between interpretation, fiction and reality raised by postmodern approaches and challenges to traditional, academic history and historiography. Postmodern approaches to history are heavily influenced by “the linguistic turn” in the humanities, particularly by poststructuralist and deconstructivist thought — not that poststructuralism and deconstruction should be identified with postmodernism. The impact of postmodern theory, however, made itself felt later in historiography than in cultural theory, literary studies, literary criticism, and art theory. There is, for example, no discussion of history and historiography in Steven Connor’s Postmodernist Culture (1997), probably the most comprehensive survey of postmodernism in various fields,2 and the collection Postmodernism and the Social Sciences (1992),3 which has a chapter on the postmodern child but none on postmodern views on history. ← 323 | 324 → Whereas the popularity of postmodern theory in aesthetics and the aesthetic disciplines as well as...

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