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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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The artists have been too much occupied in the practice; the philosophers have done little; and what they have done, was mostly with a view to their own schemes and systems.

— Edmund Burke (1757)

The essays in the present volume span over a period of more than twenty years. Most of the essays originate from conferences and symposia I have attended in various venues. Although my approach to the problems of aesthetics and the philosophy of art — I do not think they are the same — has remained virtually identical over the years I have learnt much by participating in conferences organized by the British Society of Aesthetics, the Slovenian Society of Aesthetics, the German Society of Aesthetics, the Austrian Wittgenstein Society, the International Association for Aesthetics as well conferences organized by the Nordic Society of Aesthetics. If nothing else, the conferences I have attended have made me aware of the extreme heterogeneity of approaches to the arts and to culture that go under the name of “aesthetics”.

The essays in the first part, “Art and Aesthetics”, deal primarily with questions concerning the nature and function of aesthetics as a discipline, or, should I say, its lack of discipline. The first essay, “The Nature and Limits of Analytic Aesthetics” (I.1), was occasioned by the publication of the collection of essays, Analytic Aesthetics (1989), edited by Richard Shusterman, and Karlheinz Lüdeking’s Analytische Philosophie der Kunst (1988). In this essay I discuss some of...

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