Contemporary Aesthetics does not publish book reviews. However, to inform our readers of new publications of interest, we do publish brief descriptions extracted from information provided by the publishers. These notices do not necessarily represent the views or judgment of this journal. Readers are invited to send us such information about books they think will interest other readers of CA.
Gheorghiu, Dragos. Artchaeology. A sensorial approach to the materiality of the past, with a foreword by Andrea Vianello (Bucharest: UNArte, 2009),120 pp. ISBN978-973-1922-61-4.
Artchaeology is an inquiry into contemporary art and archaeology by Professor Dragos Gheoghiu, University of Arts, Bucharest, Romania. Begun as a scientific inquiry into antiquity, the project soon took on an original approach. Andrea Vianello’s Foreword summarizes the long and troubled relationship between art and archaeology, and positions the project in its use of phenomenological and cognitive methodologies in contemporary archaeological research. This project may exemplify a new type of collaboration between artists and archaeologists.
Gheorghiu begins by presenting the material evidence, namely ceramics, kilns and houses, focusing on the human experience of handling and manufacturing such artifacts, including the use of ritual performances. The evidence shows that the production of artifacts was a personal creation while their consumption was shared by the community. The following section on environment considers landscape archaeology as the sensorial, artistic perception of the environment. It becomes evident that humans shape not only their environment but that they are also shaped by the environment in which they are immersed. Illustrations are offered to show how artists blended perceptions of the natural and human worlds, and how artifacts and architectural structures lose their materiality to acquire symbolic meanings. The volume balances scientific details and aesthetics to open a window into both the material record and the mind of the past.
Deleuze and the Fold: A Critical Reader, edited by Sjoerd van Tuinen and Niamh McDonnell (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 280 pp.
The aim of this volume is to provide, through a series of close textual engagements, critical readings of Gilles Deleuze's The Fold. Leibniz and the Baroque. As interest in the Deleuzean corpus grows, more detailed expositions of his work become necessary. The Fold is a notoriously intricate text that presents a unique reading both of Leibniz and of the Baroque by bringing them together under an operative concept that is also integral to Deleuze's own work. Since its appearance, the readership of the book has grown constantly, inspiring creative work across the fields of philosophy, aesthetics, and cultural theory. However, surprisingly little sustained critical work has been undertaken with regard to it. This volume opens up a number of the key areas of difficulty and complexity within the text in order to provide a readership across different fields with a number of critical perspectives on this work.
Peters, Gary. The Philosophy of Improvisation (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 200 pp.
Improvisation is usually either praised as an ecstatic experience of being in the moment or disparaged as the thoughtless recycling of clichés. Avoiding both of these orthodoxies, The Philosophy of Improvisation ranges across the arts—music, theater, dance, and comedy, and considers the improvised dimension of philosophy itself in order to elaborate an innovative concept of improvisation. Gary Peters turns to many of the major thinkers in continental philosophy, including Heidegger, Nietzsche, Adorno, Kant, Benjamin, and Deleuze, offering readings of their reflections on improvisation and exploring improvisational elements within their thinking. Expanding the range of what counts as improvisation, The Philosophy of Improvisation contributes an enlarged understanding of the creative process.
Milani, Raffaele. The Art of the Landscape (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009), 208 pp.
Aesthetics usually deals with art, a human construction, but the experience one has before nature is also an aesthetic feeling- the countryside is an extraordinary place of reflection. In The Art of the Landscape, Raffaele Milani interprets natural landscapes as an aesthetic category. Drawing from philosophical traditions, literature, and art, Milani calls the reader’s attention to a special consciousness, originally established during the pre-Romantic age, that has become a distinctive feature of contemporary spirituality. Focusing on the definition of landscapes in relation to concepts of nature, environment, territory, and man-made settings such as gardens and cities, Milani examines the origins of the predilection for natural scenery in the works of landscape painters and in travel literature. He addresses the distinctiveness of the aesthetic experience of landscapes, analyses the role of aesthetic categories, and explores landscape art as a medium of contemplation. What emerges is an original morphology of natural beauty derived from the scrutiny of landscape elements most frequently associated with aesthetic emotion- the colour of water and the sky, earth and stones, fire and volcanic eruptions, ruins and the mountains- an analysis especially relevant given the increasing fragility of our natural environment.
Allan, Derek. Art and the Human Adventure: André Malraux’s Theory of Art (Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi, 2009), 340 pp.
André Malraux was a major figure in French intellectual life in the twentieth century. A key component of his thought is his theory of art which presents a series of fundamental challenges to traditional explanations of the nature and purpose of art developed by post-Enlightenment aesthetics. For Malraux, art – whether visual art, literature or music – is much more than a locus of beauty or a source of “aesthetic pleasure”; it is one of the ways humanity defends itself against its fundamental sense of meaninglessness – one of the ways the “human adventure” is affirmed.
This book offers a comprehensive, step by step exposition, supported by illustrations, of Malraux’s theory of art as presented in major works such as The Voices of Silence and The Metamorphosis of the Gods. Suitable for both newcomers to Malraux and more advanced students, the study also examines critical responses to these works by figures such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Maurice Blanchot, Pierre Bourdieu, and E. H. Gombrich, and compares Malraux’s thinking with aspects of contemporary Anglo-American aesthetics. The study reveals a thoroughly coherent and highly enlightening system of thought with revolutionary implications for the way we think about art.
Bergmann, Sigurd. In the Beginning is the Icon: A Liberative Theology of Images, Visual Arts and Culture (London: Equinox Publ., 2009), 208 pp.
In the Beginning Is the Icon aims to contribute to raising awareness about the intrinsic value of images and image perception in reflection on God and on pictorial expressions of different experiences of encounters with divinity in earthly and historical situations. Reflections from iconology, art theory, philosophical aesthetics, art history, and the fairly recent field of anthropology of art intersect with reflections from theology and religious studies. A central question is how God, through the human creation and observation of pictures, can have a liberating function in images. Within the context of a liberation theological approach to the interpretation of God and an aesthetic that focuses on the love of the poor, the final chapter develops a constructive proposal for a contextual art theology. The roles of the hand and the eye in learning make up central and crucial notions in liberation pedagogy. In the globalized mass production of pictures, the pedagogy of art and iconology has a special significance in contributing to humanization and the liberation of man.
Hannah Kaihovirta-Rosvik, Images of Imagination - an Aesthetic Approach to Education (Åbo: Åbo University Press, 2009).
Images of Imagination- an aesthetic approach to education reveals how art and pedagogy create dialogical learning spaces in education. The dialogue is based on relational concepts and rhizomatic formations and promoted by art based learning practice. This inquiry into arts, education, cultural heritage, literacy and transformation articulates concepts central to art practice situated in education. Hannah Kaihovirta-Rosik has documented an arts educational journey using imagination as a catalyst for learning, which she has undertaken together with students, teachers and co-researchers.
Glenn Parsons and Allen Carlson, Functional Beauty (Oxford University Press, 2008), 255 pp.
The authors begin by developing and defending the concept of ‘functional beauty,’ exploring how the role of function in aesthetic appreciation has been treated in the history of aesthetics. They then consider the relationship to functional beauty of certain views in current aesthetic thought, especially “cognitively rich” approaches to the aesthetic appreciation of both art and nature. They argue that the philosophy of science can help solve certain philosophical problems that have been raised for the idea that knowledge of function plays an important role in aesthetic appreciation. In the second half of the book, Parsons and Carlson consider functional beauty in the aesthetic appreciation of nature, architecture, everyday artifacts, events, and activities, and finally in art and the art world.
Alan Marshall, Wild Design (North Atlantic Books, 2009), 168 pp.
In Wild Design, environmental designer and scientist Alan Marshall presents a manifesto on nature-inspired designs, including visionary concepts as well as exhibits of actual products, landscapes, and artwork from around the world. With elegant photographs and drawings, the book incorporates the ethos of sustainability by documenting many of the results of the Ecomimicry Project, an international experiment in ecodesign that marries the skills of local artists and ecologists from Western Australia and the Carpathian mountains in Eastern Europe. All the designs treat nature as an inspiration for ecofriendly innovations. Among the fascinating possibilities: a bike helmet based on the crustacean exoskeleton, a heliotropic house, and a car fueled by algae. Marshall argues that design should be the responsibility of all, not just a technological elite.
E.M. Dadlez, Mirrors to One Another: Emotion and Value in Jane Austen and David Hume (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 234 pp.
In this study E.M. Dadlez argues that perspectives on value and ethical reasoning expressed in Austen’s work converge with views concerning human nature and morality put forward by David Hume. Dadlez maintains that Austen’s novels provide us both with thought experiments and outright illustrations that support or demonstrate particular points which Hume himself made about moral reasoning, and about aesthetic and epistemic norms. If so, we can claim for Hume’s ethics, and for some of his philosophy of mind and epistemology and aesthetics as well, the same universality and breadth of accessibility that is ascribed to Austen. And while Austen can sometimes help us to understand and expand upon Hume, it is also the case that Hume can help us to understand and to expand upon Austen, by making salient features of her texts that are too often neglected.
Science Fiction and Philosophy: From Time Travel to Superintelligence, ed. Susan Schneider (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 350 pp.
Science Fiction and Philosophy explores philosophical issues such as the nature of persons and their minds, puzzles about virtual reality, transhumanism, whether time travel is possible, the nature of artificial intelligence, and topics In neuroethics.
Philosophy in The Twilight Zone, eds. Noël Carroll and Lester H. Hunt (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 194 pp.
Philosophy in The Twilight Zone delves into the philosophical strands woven throughout the The Twilight Zone series, issues including skepticism, the ethics of war and peace, and the nature of privacy, personal dignity, knowledge, love, happiness, and justice. This collection of original essays focuses on particular episodes or examines broader philosophical themes raised in the series. A critical and biographical introduction to series creator and principal writer Rod Serling is also included.
Jeffrey Melnick, 9/11 Culture (West Sussex, U.K.: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2009), 191 pp.
9/11 Culture is an introduction to the complexities of American culture in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. With a purview that includes film, music, literary fiction, and other popular arts, the volume explores how American cultural agents and audiences have “acted out” and “worked through” the national trauma of 9/11. 9/11 Culture examines a catalog of artifacts – film, music, photographs, memorials, comic strips, fiction, telethons, poetry, probing the various ways that 9/11 has exerted a shaping force on a wide range of practices, from the politics of masculinity to the poetics of redemption.
Jason Gaiger, Aesthetics & Painting (New York, NY: Continuum Press, 2008), 179 pp.
Aesthetics & Painting examines current debates and ideas in the aesthetics of painting. At the book’s centre is an investigation of the complex relationship between what a painting depicts and the means by which it is depicted. The book looks at classical theories of mimēsis, the relationship between the painted surface and the depicted subject, problems of reference and denotation, the analysis of pictorial style, painting as an historically reflexive and self-critical practice, the emergence of fully abstract art, the most recent technological and aesthetic developments and their implications, the contemporary challenges to painting.
Katherine Thomson-Jones, Aesthetics & Film (New York, NY: Continuum Press, 2009), 148 pp.
Aesthetics & Film is a philosophical study of the art of film. Its motivation is the recent surge of interest among analytic philosophers in the philosophical implications of central issues in film theory and the application of general issues in aesthetics to the specific case of film. Of particulate interest are questions concerning the distinctive representational capacities of film art, particularly in relation to realism and narration, the influence of the literary paradigm in understanding film authorship and interpretation, and our imaginative and affective engagement with film.
Ruth Ronen, Aesthetics of Anxiety (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2009), 183 pp.
What is the relation of anxiety to aesthetics? Aesthetics of Anxiety brings psychoanalysis into dialogue with aesthetics, providing provocative and original insights into aesthetic theory and experience. From Aristotle’s katharsis to the role played by pain and disgust in the aesthetics of the avant-garde, the notion of anxiety helps us understand the particular kind of discontent (or negative pleasure) that accompanies aesthetic experience. Anxiety, articulated through such notions as desire, the unconscious, and the real is also presented as a productive tool for understanding the Kantian aesthetic categories of pleasure, beauty, the sublime, and genius. Aesthetics of Anxiety goes beyond the idea that there is anxiety in aesthetics to place anxiety at the very heart of aesthetic experience, thus transforming anxiety into a particularly aesthetic affect that becomes part of our understanding of every work of art, every act of creation.
Maxine Sheets-Johnstone, The Corporeal Turn: An Interdisciplinary Reader,(Exeter, U.K.: Imprint Academic, April 2009), 400 pp.
The Corporeal Turn documents in a single text an impressive array of investigations of the body and bodily life, showing for each specific topic the need to fathom and elucidate complex and subtle structures of animate meaning. Maxine Sheets-Johnstone seamlessly unites work in phenomenology, evolutionary biology, developmental psychology and other disciplines to cast new light on many different aspects of bodily experience and activity. The corporeal turn is envisioned as an ever-expanding, continuous, and open-ended spiral of inquiry in which deeper and deeper understandings are forged. These essays span a 26-year period of meticulously presented and thought-provoking argument. The first thirteen essays have already been published as distinct articles. The two new essays constituting the final chapters are testimony to this open-ended spiral of inquiry.
Glenn Parsons, Aesthetics & Nature (New York, NY: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2008), 164 pp.
Aesthetics & Nature offers a clear and accessible introduction to the field of nature aesthetics. Glenn Parsons explores the current debates in the field, providing the reader with a thorough overview of the subject.
The book situates nature aesthetics in relation to two principal influences: aesthetics’ traditional project of understanding the value of art, and current thought on the ethics of our relationship with nature. The book outlines five major approaches to understanding the aesthetic value of nature and explores the aesthetic appreciation of nature as it occurs in wilderness, in gardens, and in environmental art. The book also includes a study of the idea that conserving nature’s beauty provides a compelling reason to preserve wilderness.
Denis Dutton, The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution ( Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2009).
The Art Instinct combines art and evolutionary science in a work that overturns a century of art theory and criticism and transforms our understanding of the arts. Human tastes in the arts, Dutton argues, are evolutionary traits, shaped by Darwinian selection. They are not, as the past century of art criticism and academic theory would have it, just “socially constructed.”
Our love of beauty is inborn, and many aesthetic tastes are shared across remote cultures. One example is the widespread preference for landscapes with water and distant trees, like the savannas where we evolved. Dutton shows that we must premise art criticism on an understanding of evolution, not on abstract “theory.” He restores the place of beauty, pleasure, and skill as artistic values. The Art Instinct offers new insights into both the nature of art and the workings of the human mind.
Via Transversa: Lost Cinema of the Former Eastern Bloc, eds. Eva Näripea, Andreas Trossek. Koht ja Paik, Place and Location: Studies in Environmental Aesthetics and Semiotics, VII (Roosikrantisi, Estonia: Place
and Location, 2008) 271 pp.
This volume, published as a special issue of the annual periodical Place and Location: Studies in Environmental Aesthetics and Semiotics, is an outcome of the international film conference Via Transversa: Lost Cinema of the Former Eastern Bloc, the fifth in the series Place and Location, which took place in Tallinn on October 5-6, 2007. The organizers sought to bring together specialists in the field from different parts of the world in order to contribute to the ongoing discussion of the filmic heritage of the former Eastern Bloc in the era between the end of World War II and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the post-Berlin Wall expanded Europe, we generally agree that two contrasting systems of film production and distribution, each more or less ‘curtained’ from the other, existed during the Cold War: capitalist (free market) and socialist (command economy). Yet, one has to ask what has changed in the field of film studies now that the Soviet Union has been ‘off the map’ for almost two decades? Leaving aside the DVD releases of works by certain legendary film-makers and socialist blockbusters, how much do we really know about the cinemas of the former Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland or the Soviet Union, the latter of which is, without making any further distinctions, all to often mistakenly equated with the cinema of Russia?
Considering that currently in film studies a great deal of the East European cinematic heritage has been lost, forgotten or implicitly downgraded, the organizers of the conference attempted to encourage the exchange of ideas on those films and viewpoints which are regarded somewhat marginal, second-rate ‘low-priorities’ in academia: popular cinema, cartoon animation, documentary film-making, educational cinema, children’s films, lo-brow comedies etc.- all of which indeed formed a remarkable percentage of the total output of the film industries of the former Eastern Bloc, yet are today remarkably less discussed than on e might expect. Nevertheless, these were the films that many post-war generations in the Soviet Bloc experienced as an important part of their everyday lives, whether connected with their individual entertainment, ennui, escape or resistance.
Philip V. Bohlman, Jewish Music and Modernity (Oxford University Press, Oct 2008), 320 pp.
Based on decades of fieldwork and archival study throughout the world, Bohlman intensively examines the many ways in which music has historically borne witness to the confrontation between modern Jews and the world around them. Weaving a historical narrative that spans from the end of the Middle Ages to the Holocaust, he moves through the vast confluence of musical styles and repertories. From the sacred and to the secular, from folk to popular music, and in the many languages in which it was written and performed, he accounts for areas of Jewish music that have rarely been considered before. Jewish music, argues Bohlman, both survived in isolation and transformed the nations in which it lived. When Jews and Jewish musicians entered modernity, authenticity became an ideal to be supplanted by the reality of complex traditions. Klezmer music emerged in rural communities cohabited by Jews and Roma; Jewish cabaret resulted from the collaborations of migrant Jews and non-Jews to the nineteenth-century metropoles of Berlin and Budapest, Prague and Vienna; cantors and composers experimented with new sounds. The modernist impulse from Felix Mendelssohn to Gustav Pick to Arnold Schoenberg and beyond became possible because of the ways music juxtaposed aesthetic and cultural differences.
Jewish Music and Modernity demonstrates how borders between repertories are crossed and the sound of modernity is enriched by the movement of music and musicians from the peripheries to the center of modern culture.