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.
Monique Roelofs, The
Cultural Promise of the Aesthetic (Continuum, March 2014), 224 pp.
Aesthetic desire and distaste prime everyday life in
surprising ways. Monique Roelofs casts a
much-needed light on the complex mix of meanings our aesthetic activities weave
into cultural existence.
Anchoring aesthetic experience in our relationships with
persons, places, and things, this book explores aesthetic life as a multimodal,
socially embedded, corporeal endeavor. Highlighting
notions of relationality, address, and promising, this study shows these
concepts at work in visions of beauty, ugliness, detail, nation, ignorance, and
cultural boundary. Unexpected aesthetic
pleasures and pains crop up in sites where passion, perception, rationality,
and imagination go together but also are in conflict. Bonds between aesthetics and politics are
forged and reforged.
Cross-disciplinary in outlook, and engaging the work of
theorists and artists ranging from David Hume to Theodor W. Adorno, Frantz
Fanon, Clarice Lispector, and Barbara Johnson, The Cultural Promise of the Aesthetic lays open the interpretive
web that gives aesthetic agency its vast reach.
Analyzing Art and
Aesthetics, eds. Anne Collins Goodyear and Margaret A. Weitekamp
(Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 2013), 297 pp.
This ninth volume of the Artefacts
series explores how artists have responded to developments in science and
technology, past and present. Rather
than limiting the discussion to art alone, editors Anne Collins Goodyear and
Margaret Weitekamp also asked contributors to consider aesthetics: the scholarly consideration of sensory
responses to cultural objects. When
considered as aesthetic objects, how do scientific instruments or technological
innovations reflect and embody culturally grounded assessments about
appearance, feel, and use? And when
these objects become museum artifacts, what aesthetic factors affect their
exhibition? Contributors found answers
in the material objects themselves. This
volume reconsiders how science, technology, art, and aesthetics impact one
Gimme Shelter: Global Discourses in Aesthetics, eds. Jos
de Mul and Renée van de Vall, International Yearbook of Aesthetics,
Vol. 15, 2011 (Amsterdam University Press, 2013), 217 pp.
Gimme Shelter: Global Discourses in Aesthetics contains
a series of reflections on the impact of globalization on the arts and the
aesthetic reflection on the arts. The
authors - fifteen distinguished aestheticians from all over the world - discuss
a variety of aesthetic questions brought forth by the process of globalization: How do artistic practices and aesthetic
experience change in response to these developments? How should we articulate these changes on the
theoretical level? When reflections on
the significance of art and aesthetic experiences can no longer pretend to be
universal, is it still possible to lay claim to a wider validity than merely
that of one's own particular culture?
What type of vocabulary allows for mutual exchanges and understandings when different traditions meet
without obliterating local differences?
Is there a possibility for a creative re-description of
globalization? And is there a meaning of
'the global' that cannot be reduced to universalism and unification? Can we seek shelter in a legitimate way?
The Pursuit of
Comparative Aesthetics. An Interface
between the East and West, eds. Mazhar Hussain and Robert Wilkinson (Aldershot,
England: Ashgate, 2013), 264 pp.
Comparative aesthetics is the branch of philosophy that
compares the aesthetic concepts and practices of different cultures. The way in which cultures conceive of the
aesthetic dimension of life in general and art in particular reveals profound
attitudes and beliefs which themselves make up an important part of the culture
This anthology of essays by internationally recognized
scholars in this field brings into one volume important research in comparative
aesthetics, from classic early essays to previously unpublished contemporary
pieces. Ranging across cultures and time
periods as diverse as ancient Greece, India, China, Japan, and the modern West,
the essays reveal both similarities and deep differences among the aesthetic
traditions concerned. In the course of
these expositions and comparisons, there emerges the general conclusion that no
culture can be fully grasped if its aesthetic ideas are not understood.
Aesthetics in Poland. Masters and Their
Followers, ed., Krystyna Wilkoszewska (Warszawa: Semper, 2013), 292 pp.
Aesthetics understood as the philosophy of the fine arts has
always been an object of lively interest in Poland. Although the beginnings of academic aesthetics
in Poland date back to the first half of the 19th century, it flourished in the
period between the World Wars in the 20th century. This was when the giants of aesthetics –
Władysław Tatarkiewicz, Roman Ingarden, Stanisław Ossowski, and Henryk
Elzenberg – appeared and continued to
pursue their interest in aesthetics after the Second World War.
Moreover, a lively interest in the problems of aesthetics
was manifested by art and literary critics as well as by artists who combined
their artistic practice with theoretical reflection. Stanisław Ignacy Witkiewicz Jr. – called
Witkacy – and Władysław Strzemiński were outstanding artists of the first half
of the 20th century representing the formalist current, and were the authors of
original theories of art – the theory of Pure Form and the theory of Unism,
respectively. Leon Chwistek, a
mathematician, an artist, and a philosopher, was the author of the conception
of the plurality of realities in art. Through
their works and lectures, they were all teachers of subsequent generations of
Polish aestheticians. Their followers
include Stefan Morawski and Tadeusz Pawłowski who reached high positions in
aesthetics. Aesthetic theories were
assimilated and further developed within their related domains: in the theory of music (Zofia Lissa), in
architecture (Julian Żórawski), in pedagogy (Stefan Szuman), and in the history
of art – Jan Białostocki. What is more,
this contribution does deserve attention. In the 20th century, Władysław Tatarkiewicz,
Roman Ingarden, and later Stefan Morawski enjoyed great fame. Some of their works were published abroad and
translated into various languages. The
output of other authors, however, is also important enough to be preserved from
oblivion. Polish aesthetics is
characterized by the fact that it was the artists themselves who formulated the
theories. This book is a collection of
essays on these and other central figures in 20th century Polish aesthetics.
Nature and the
City. Beauty is taking on a New Form,
eds. Jale Erzen and Rafaele Milani (Yearbook of the International Association
for Aesthetics Proceedings of the Bologna Conference, June 2012), 475 pp.
The city, too, is landscape.
We can leave it by going into nature and exchanging the urban for the
rural, but we can also enter the city to live within the architecture and
contemplate its forms. Every
architectural structure is a landscape and promotes an educational or
paedeumatic relationship between spirit and the environment. Our gaze and our bodies activate a certain
way of contemplating that promotes the interchange between the external
perception of the physical world and an internal seeing, which is the psychic
perception of the visual image. There is
a close relationship between the aesthetic experience of the natural
environment and that of the urban landscape.
In the same way that humankind lives on the earth so, too, it lives in
This volume approaches the theme from various perspectives,
such as 'nature/culture,' 'city as human nature,' 'ecology and the city,'
symbols and metaphors, domesticated nature, nature interiorized, parks and
natural environments, and other related issues.
Ethics, Design and Planning of the Built Environment, eds.
Claudia Basta and Stefano Moroni (Springer, 2013), 224 pp.
Ethics, Design and Planning of the Built Environment consists of original contributions in research
areas shared by planning theory, architectural research, design and ethical
inquiry. The contributors gathered in
2010 at the Ethics of the Built Environment seminar organized by the editors at
Delft University of Technology. Both
prominent and emerging scholars presented their researches in the areas of
aesthetics, technological risks, planning theory and architecture. The scope of the seminar was highlighting
shared lines of ethical inquiry among the themes discussed, in order to
identify perspectives of innovative interdisciplinary research. After the seminar all seminar participants
have elaborated their proposed contributions. Some of the most prominent international
authors in the field were subsequently invited to join in with this inquiry.
bridges these disciplinary domains without privileging any normative
perspective, in doing so offering broad yet essential critical instruments to a
wide audience. It establishes new lines
of inquiry for, in particular, investigating values as design factors in a
domain in which this theme has found less rigorous definition in comparison to
others (e.g. IT technology and industrial design). It offers a set of rigorous theoretical
perspectives on urgent topics with regards to planning (risks, aesthetics,
duties and rights of users, etcetera) through which both scholars and
practitioners can gain valid critical instruments to approach real planning
Thomas M. Alexander, The
Human Eros (New York: Fordham
University Press, 2013), 436 pp.
The Human Eros
explores themes in classical American philosophy, primarily the thought of John
Dewey but also that of Ralph Waldo Emerson, George Santayana, and Native
American traditions. Alexander's primary
claim is that human beings have an inherent need to experience meaning and
value, a "Human Eros." Our
various cultures are symbolic environments or "spiritual ecologies"
within which the Human Eros seeks to thrive.
This is how we inhabit the earth.
Encircling and sustaining our cultural existence is nature,
yet Western philosophy has not provided adequate conceptual models for thinking
ecologically. Alexander introduces the
idea of "eco-ontology" to explore ways in which this might be done,
beginning with the primacy of Nature over Being and including the recognition
of possibility and potentiality as inherent aspects of existence. He argues for the centrality of Dewey's
thought to an effective ecological philosophy. Both "pragmatism" and
"naturalism," he shows, need to be contextualized within an emergentist,
relational, nonreductive view of nature and an aesthetic, imaginative,
nonreductive view of intelligence.
Xin Wu, Patricia
Johanson and the Re-Invention of Public Environmental Art, 1958-2010 (Farnham,
Surrey: Ashgate, 2013), 259 pp.
This book addresses the issue of translation between visual
arts and landscape design in the 50-year career of Patricia Johanson, an
important artist in the second half of the twentieth-century. Examining the artist's search for an
"art of the real" as a member of the post-World War II New York art
world, and how such a pursuit has led her from painting and sculpture to public
garden and environmental art, Xin Wu argues for the significance of the process
of art creation, challenging the centrality of art objects.
Following Johanson's artistic development, from its
formation in the 1960s American art scene to the very present day, across the fields
of art, architecture, garden, civil engineering and environmental aesthetics,
it investigates the process of creation in a transdisciplinary perspective, and
reveals a view of art as a domain of exploration of key issues for the contemporary
world. The artist's concept of nature is
highlighted, and particular impacts of Chinese aesthetics and thought
unveiled. Based on extensive analysis of
unpublished private archives, Xin Wu offers us the first comprehensive
scholarly interpretation of Patricia Johanson's oeuvre, including drawings, paintings,
sculptures, installations, garden proposals, and built and unbuilt projects in
the United States, Brazil, Kenya, and Korea.
Bennett, Practical Aesthetics: Events, Affects and Art After 9/11 (I.B.
Tauris & Co Ltd, 2012), 256 pp.
Aesthetics brings a pursuit, long seen as rarefied and indulgent, out of the
ivory tower and down to Ground Zero. It
is a new account of art's rootedness in the social world and of the value of
aesthetics to contemporary society. Beginning
with the cultural watershed of 9/11, Jill Bennett explores artistic
developments in relation to current events to argue that understanding
aesthetics is as vital to social and political theory as it is to the arts. Taking as its starting-point a definition of
art as the critical, self-conscious manipulation of media, Bennett examines a
wide range of events, from the "War on Terror" to the football World
Cup, to elucidate how aesthetic perception works in a social field, a process
that begins with the rich emotional content of the visual imagery with which we
are constantly bombarded. Now more than
ever, Bennett argues, understanding how what we see informs what we do is not
merely an artistic endeavor but one that is fundamental to our very being.
Gordon C. F. Bearn, Life
Drawing: A Deleuzean Aesthetics of
Existence (New York: Fordham
University Press, 2013),
In the lineage of Nietzsche, Life Drawing develops a fully affirmative Deleuzean aesthetics of
existence. For Foucault and Nehamas, the
challenge of an aesthetics of existence is to make your life, in one way or
another, a work of art. In contrast, Gordon
C. F. Bearn argues that art is too narrow a concept to guide this kind of
existential project. He turns instead to
the more generous notion of beauty, but he argues that the philosophical
tradition has mostly misconceived beauty in terms of perfection. Heraclitus and Kant are well-known exceptions
to this mistake, and Bearn suggests that because Heraclitean becoming is beyond
conceptual characterization, it promises a sensualized experience akin to what
Kant called free beauty. In this new
aesthetics of existence, the challenge is to become beautiful by releasing a
Deleuzean becoming: becoming becoming. In this context, Bearn's readings of
philosophical texts by Wittgenstein, Derrida, Plato, and others are of interest
in their own right.
Christopher Menke, Force: A Fundamental Concept of Aesthetic
Anthropology, trans. Gerrit Jackson (New York: Fordham University Press, 2013), 111 pp.
This book reconceives modern aesthetics by reconstructing
its genesis in the eighteenth century between Baumgarten’s Aesthetics and Kant’s Critique
of Judgment. Force
demonstrates that aesthetics, and hence modern philosophy, began twice. On the one hand, Baumgarten’s Aesthetics is organized around the new
concept of the “subject”—as a totality of faculties, an agent defined by
capabilities, one who is able. Yet an aesthetics
in the Baumgartian manner, as the theory of the sensible faculties of the
subject, immediately faces a different aesthetics: the aesthetics of force. This conceives the aesthetic not as sensible
cognition but as a play of expression propelled by a force that, rather than
being exercised like a faculty, does not recognize or represent anything
because it is obscure and unconscious: the
force of what in humanity is distinct from the subject. The aesthetics of force is thus a thinking of
the nature of man: of aesthetic nature
as distinct from the culture acquired by practice. It founds an anthropology of difference between force and faculty, human and
Ferrell, Sacred Exchanges: Images in Global Context (Columbia
University Press, March 2012), 192 pp.
As the international art market globalizes the
indigenous image, it changes its identity, status, value, and purpose in local
and larger contexts. Focusing on a
school of Australian Aboriginal painting that has become popular in the
contemporary art world, Robyn Ferrell traces the influence of cultural
exchanges on art, the self, and attitudes toward the other.
Aboriginal acrylic painting, produced by indigenous women artists of the
Australian Desert, bears a superficial resemblance to abstract expressionism
and is often read as such by viewers. Yet
to see this art only through a Western lens is to miss its unique ontology,
logics of sensation, and rich politics and religion. Ferrell explores the culture that produces
these paintings and connects its aesthetic to the brutal environmental and
economic realities of its people. From
here, she travels to urban locales, observing museums and department stores as
they traffic interchangeably in art and commodities.
Ferrell ties the history of these desert works to global acts of genocide and
dispossession. Rethinking the value of
the artistic image in the global market and different interpretations of the
sacred, she considers photojournalism, ecotourism, and other sacred sites of
the western subject, investigating the intersection of modern art and
postmodern culture. She ultimately
challenges the primacy of the "European gaze" and its fascination
with sacred cultures, constructing a more balanced intercultural dialogue that
deemphasizes the aesthetic of the real championed by western philosophy.
Black Sabbath and Philosophy: Mastering Reality, edited by William Irwin (New Jersey: Wiley Publishing, November, 2012), 280 pp.
Ear-splittingly loud, for some, and with lyrics that speak of apocalypse, death, and destruction, listening to Black Sabbath is not for everyone. In fact, some would tell you that the band worships Satan and that their songs promote violence and even try to convince teenagers to commit suicide. But is that really true, or could it be that those who tune into the masters of heavy metal know something about themselves and life that those of us who find it a terrifying experience are missing out on? In his new book, William Irwin (die-hard Sabbath fan and philosopher) and his team of fellow contributors travel deep into the heart of the band's music and lyrics to reveal that there's plenty more to the dark masters of reality than a whole lot of noise.
Drawing on the works of philosophers, including Plato, Aristotle, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche, each chapter discusses and debates the range of thought-provoking topics and themes that tell us more about who Black Sabbath is, why they created the sound they did, and what lies hidden in the music and lyrics of their songs. Whether it's an analysis of war, pollution, poverty, drug abuse, or dealing with the problems of modernity, what emerges is that each song, like philosophy itself, is a quest to discover truth and a means of facing up to reality.
The Critical Pulse, eds. Jeffrey J. Williams and Heather Steffen, (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 276 pp.
This anthology asks thirty-six literary and cultural critics to elaborate on the nature of their profession. Essays address literature and politics, with some focusing on the state of higher education and others concentrating on teaching and the fate of the humanities. All reflect the critics’ personal, particular experiences. Reflecting on the past, looking forward to the future, and committed to the power of productive critical thought, this volume proves the value of criticism for today’s skeptical audiences. These credos defend the function of criticism in contemporary society and exhibit its vitality in the era after theory.
Arnold Berleant, Aesthetics beyond the Arts: New and Recent Essays (Ashgate, 2012), 222 pp.
Taking the view that aesthetics is a study grounded in perception, the essays in this volume exhibit many sides of the perceptual complex that is the aesthetic field and develop them in different ways. The essays reinvigorate our understanding of such arts as music and architecture; they range across the natural landscape to the urban one; they reassess the place of beauty in the modern environment and reassess the significance of the contributions to aesthetic theory of Kant and Dewey; and they broach the kinds of meanings and the larger understanding that aesthetic engagement with the human environment can offer. Written over the past decade, these original and innovative essays lead to a fresh encounter with the possibilities of aesthetic experience, one that has constantly evolved, moving in recent years in the direction of what Berleant terms "social aesthetics," which enhances human-environmental integration and sociality.
David Boersema, Philosophy of Art: Aesthetic Theory and Practice (Westview Press, 2013), 360 pp.
This volume offers a range of mostly contemporary readings with introductions around three broad areas of philosophy: metaphysics, epistemology, and value theory. Concerns are raised about what is expressed, how it is expressed, and why it is expressed. Chapters on the artist, the audience, and the artwork are applied to the final chapters on the specific types of art. The differences between art and science as well as the relationship of art and society provide a refreshing discussion of overlooked areas in philosophy of art.