Contemporary Aesthetics does not publish book reviews.
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publish brief descriptions extracted from information provided by the
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information about books they think will interest other readers of CA.
Gernot Boehme, Critique
of Aesthetic Capitalism, trans. by
Edmund Jephcott (Milan-Udine, Mimesis International, 2017), 105 pp. Series:
Atmospheric Spaces n. 1.
Gernot Böhme’s Critique of Aesthetic Capitalism
presents the atmospheric based interpretation and critique of our capitalist
age by one of the prominent figures in research on atmospheres. Böhme starts
from the assumption that the true origin of the capitalist form of economy is
an aesthetical one: luxury. He claims that the present phase of capitalist
development has established it as a universal standard of living. This is the
cause of the well-known discontent in prosperity. That is the affective situation in
which, even though our standard of living is very high in comparison to earlier
times and to the global standard, no one is truly satisfied. Böhme claims that
the mise-en-scène of commodities is what puts a person on show, has given rise
to a stressful performance society that has provoked such discontent. One must
therefore rediscover a minimalist asceticism – a form of non-dependence on our
emotions, and in particular on those elicited by the mise-en-scène of commodities
– in order to win back our serenity.
Atmospheric Spaces is a new book series that aims to
become a point of reference for a community that works together on the
philosophical and transdisciplinary subject of ‘Atmosphere,’ a sensorial and
affective quality widespread in space. What an atmosphere is and how it
determines the way one experiences her surroundings is its proper purpose.
Santiago Zabala, Why
only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency (Columbia
University Press, 2017), 216 pp.
The state of emergency, according to thinkers such as Carl
Schmidt, Walter Benjamin, and Giorgio Agamben, is at the heart of any theory of
politics. But today the problem is not the crises that we do confront, which
are often used by governments to legitimize themselves, but the ones that
political realism stops us from recognizing as emergencies, from widespread
surveillance to climate change to the systemic shocks of neoliberalism. We need
a way of disrupting the existing order that can energize radical democratic
action rather than reinforcing the status quo. In this book, Santiago Zabala
declares that in an age where the greatest emergency is the absence of
emergency, only contemporary art’s capacity to alter reality can save us.
Why Only Art Can Save Us advances a new aesthetics centered on the
nature of the emergency that characterizes the twenty-first century. Zabala
draws on Martin Heidegger’s distinction between works of art that rescue us
from emergency and those that are rescuers into emergency. The former
are a means of cultural politics, conservers of the status quo that conceal
emergencies; the latter are disruptive events that thrust us into emergencies.
Building on Arthur Danto, Jacques Rancière, and Gianni Vattimo, who made
aesthetics more responsive to contemporary art, Zabala argues that works of art
are not simply a means of elevating consumerism or contemplating beauty but are
points of departure to change the world. Radical artists create works that
disclose and demand active intervention in ongoing crises. Interpreting works
of art that aim to propel us into absent emergencies, Zabala shows how art’s
ability to create new realities is fundamental to the politics of radical
democracy in the state of emergency that is the present.
Thijs Lijster, Benjamin
and Adorno on Art and Art Criticism (Amsterdam University Press, 2017), 368
This book brings together two figures of twentieth-century
criticism, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, to consider a topic that was
central to their thinking: the place of and reason for art in society and
culture. Thijs Lijster takes us through points of agreement and disagreement
between the two on such key topics as the relationship between art and
historical experience, between avant-garde art and mass culture, and between
the intellectual and the public. He also addresses the continuing relevance of
Benjamin and Adorno to ongoing debates in contemporary aesthetics, such as the
end of art, the historical meaning of art, and the role of the critic.
Tonino Griffero, Quasi-Things:
The Paradigm of Atmospheres, trans. Sarah De Sanctis (Albany, New York:
SUNY Press, 2017), 189 pp.
In this book, Tonino Griffero introduces and analyzes a pathetic
aesthetics based on an ontology of sensibilities he calls “quasi-things.” These
do not exist fully in the traditional sense as substances or events, yet they exercise
a powerful influence on us. He offers an original approach to the study of
emotions, regarding them not as inner states of the subject, but as
atmospheres, that is as powers poured out into the lived space we inhabit.
Griffero first outlines the general and atmospheric characters of quasi-things,
and then considers models of sensibility such as pain, shame, the gaze, and
twilight, which he argues are responsible for penetrating and suggestive moods
precisely because of their indeterminate boundaries. With frequent examples
from literature and everyday life, Quasi-Things provides an accessible
aesthetic and phenomenological account of feelings based on the paradigm of
Urban Encounters: Art
and the Public, edited by Martha Radice & Alexandrine
Boudreault-Fournier (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017), 352 pp.
Public art is on the urban agenda. Given recent claims about
the importance of creativity to urban prosperity, opportunities for installing
or performing art in the city have multiplied. As cities strive to appear
culturally dynamic, the stakes of artistic production rise higher than ever.
Exploring the interaction between art and the public in Canadian cities, Urban Encounters features writing
by artists, architects, curators, anthropologists, geographers, and urban
studies specialists. They show how people and places affect the structure and
content of public artworks, what kinds of urban spaces and socialities are
generated through art, and how to investigate and interpret encounters between
art and its viewers in the city. Discussing a variety of art forms, including
mobile cinemas, street improvisation, audiovisual investigations, and assembled
objects, the contributors treat public artworks not just as aesthetic
installations but as agents that participate in the social and cultural
evolution of cities. Urban
Encounters reveals how art in the urban public space generates
encounters that can transform both the city itself and the ways that people
relate to it.
Ute Holl, Cinema,
Trance, and Cybernetics (Amsterdam University Press, 2017), 352 pp.
We've all had the experience of watching a film and feeling
like we've been in a trance. This book takes that experience seriously,
explaining cinema as a cultural technique of trance, one that unconsciously
transforms our perceptions. Ute Holl moves from anthropological and
experimental cinema through nineteenth-century psychological laboratories,
which she shows developed techniques for testing, measuring, and classifying
the mind that can be seen as a prehistory of cinema, one that allows us to see
the links among cinema, anthropology, psychology, and cybernetics.
Steffen Hven, Cinema
and Narrative Complexity: Embodying the Fabula (AUP, 2017), 26 pp.
ISBN 978 94 6298 077 8
Since the mid-1990s, a number of films from international
filmmakers have experimented with increasingly complicated narrative strategies,
including such hits as Run Lola Run, 21 Grams, and Memento. This book sets those films and others in context with
earlier works that tried new narrative approaches, such as Stage Fright and Hiroshima,
Mon Amour, to show how they reveal the limitations of most of our usual
tools for analyzing film. In light of that, Steffen Hven argues for the
deployment of an 'embodied' reconfiguration of the cinematic experience, one
that allows us to rethink such core constituents of narrative understanding as
cognition, emotion, and affect.
Benoît Dillet, The
Political Space of Art. The Dardenne Brothers, Arundhhati Roy, Ai Weiwei and
Burial (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 138 pp.
This book discusses the work of four different kinds of
artists from four different countries (Belgium, China, the UK and India) to
examine how they create a space for politics in their work. The film directors
Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne film parts of their natal city to refer to
specific political problems in interpersonal relations. The novelist Arundhati
Roy uses her poetic language to make room for people’s desires; her fiction is
utterly political and her political essays make place for the role of
narratives and poetic language. Ai Weiwei uses references to Chinese history to
give consistency to its ‘economic miracle.’ Finally, Burial’s electronic music
is firmly rooted in a living, breathing London; built to create a sound that is
entirely new, and yet hauntingly familiar. These artists create in their own
way a space for politics in their works and their oeuvre but their singularity
comes together as a desire to reconstruct the political space within art from
its ruins. These ruins were brought by the disenchantment of 1970s: the end of
art, postmodernism, and the rise of design, marketing and communication. Each
artwork bears the mark of the resistance against the depoliticization of
society and the arts, at once rejecting cynicism and idealism, referring to
themes and political concepts that are larger than their own domain. This book
focuses on these productive tensions.
Arts, Pedagogy and
Cultural Resistance: New Materialisms, edited by Anna Kickey-Moody and Tara
Page (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 238 pp.
This collection demonstrates how physical objects,
materials, space and environments teach us, and redefines practice with theory
(praxis) as a more-than-human network. The contributions illustrate how the
materials, process, pedagogies and theories of arts making question and disrupt
the many forms of cultural dominance that exist in our society. Each
contribution synthesizes creative approaches to philosophy and new materialist
understanding of practice to show how human-nonhuman interaction at the core of
Arts practice is a critical post human pedagogy. Across fine art, dance,
gallery education, film and philosophy, the book contends that certain kinds of
Arts practice can be a critical pedagogy in which tactical engagements with
community, space, place and materiality become means of not only disrupting
dominant discourse but also of making new discourses come to matter. Arts, Pedagogy and Cultural Resistance
demonstrates how embodied, located acts of making can materially disrupt
cultural hegemony and suggest different ways the world might materialize. The
book argues that the practice of arts making is a post human cultural pedagogy
in which people become part of a broader assemblage of matter, and all aspects
of this network are solidified in objects or processes that are themselves
pedagogical. In doing so the book offers a fresh and theoretically engaged
perspective on arts as pedagogy.
Andrew Benjamin, Art's
Philosophical Work (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015), 296 pp.
What is the work of art? How does art work as art? Andrew
Benjamin contends that the only way to address these questions is by developing
a radically new materialist philosophy of art, and by rethinking the history of
art from within that perspective. A materialist philosophy of art starts with
the contention that meaning is only ever the aftereffect of the way in which
materials work. Starting with the relation between history, materials and work
(art’s work), this book opens up a highly original reconfiguration of the
philosophy of art. Benjamin undertakes a major project that seeks to develop a
set of complex interarticulations between art history and an approach to art’s
work that emphasizes art’s material presence. A philosophy of art emerges from
the limitations of aesthetics.
Against Value in the
Arts and Education, edited by Sam Ladkin, Robert McKay, and Emile Bojesen
(Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 446 pp.
Against Value in the
Arts and Education proposes that it is often the staunchest defenders of
art who do it the most harm by suppressing or mollifying its dissenting voice,
by neutralizing its painful truths, and by instrumentalizing its ambivalence.
The result is that rather than expanding the autonomy of thought and feeling of
the artist and the audience, art’s defenders make art self-satisfied, or
otherwise an echo-chamber for the limited and limiting self-description of
people’s lives lived in an “audit culture,” a culture pervaded by the direct
and indirect excrescence of practices of accountability. This book diagnoses
the counter-intuitive effects of the rhetoric of value. It posits that the
auditing of values pervades the fabric of people’s work-lives, their education,
and increasingly their everyday experience. The book uncovers figures of
resentment, disenchantment, and alienation fostered by the dogma of value. It
argues that value judgments can behave insidiously and incorporate aesthetic,
ethical, or ideological values fundamentally opposed to the value they purportedly
name and describe. This collection contains work from scholars in the UK and US
with contributions from anthropology, the history of art, literature,
education, musicology, political science, and philosophy.
The Aesthetic Ground
of Critical Theory: New Readings of Benjamin and Adorno, edited by Nathan
Ross (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015), 232 pp.
Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno are considered today
to be the two most significant early theorists in founding critical theory. In
their works and correspondence, both thinkers turn to art and the aesthetic as
a vital way for understanding modern society and developing philosophical
methods. This volume of essays seeks to understand how they influenced each
other and disagreed with each other on fundamental questions about art and the
aesthetic. The books deals with a variety of key philosophical questions, such
as: How does art involve distinctive modes of experience? What is the political
significance of modern art? What does aesthetic experience teach us about the
limitations of conceptual thought? How is aesthetic experience implicated in
the very medium of thought or language? Ultimately, the book presents a
systematic argument for the foundational significance of the aesthetic in the
development of the early critical theory movement.
Stevphen Shukaitis The
Composition of Movements to Come: Aesthetics and Cultural Labour After the
Avant-Garde (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 208 pp.
How does the avant-garde create spaces in everyday life that
subvert regimes of economic and political control? How do art, aesthetics, and
activism inform one another? And how do strategic spaces of creativity become
the basis for new forms of production and governance? The Composition of Movements to Come reconsiders the history and
the practices of the avant-garde, from the Situationists to the Art Strike,
revolutionary Constructivism to Laibach and Neue Slowenische Kunst, through an
autonomist Marxist framework. Moving the framework beyond an overly narrow
class analysis, the book explores broader questions of the changing nature of
cultural labor and forms of resistance around this labor. It examines a doubly
articulated process of refusal: the refusal of separating art from daily life
and the re-fusing of these antagonistic energies by capitalist production and
governance. This relationship opens up a new terrain for strategic thought in
relation to everyday politics, where the history of the avant-garde is no
longer separated from broader questions of political economy or movement, but
becomes a point around which to reorient these considerations.
Giancomo Fronzi, Philosophical
Considerations on Contemporary Music: Sounding Constellations (Cambridge
Scholars Publishing, 2017), 260 pp.
The musical universe of the twentieth and twenty-first
centuries is a force-field in which styles, instruments, personalities, and
stories can be found that are ascribable to conceptual frameworks that may
differ greatly from one another. Such complexity cannot be traced back to
single theories or all-encompassing interpretations but may be tackled,
philosophically, starting from certain characteristics. This book identifies
nine such characteristics, namely: Extremes, Noise, Silence, Technology,
Audience, Listening, Freedom, Disintegration, and New Media. Each of these
permits us to open up unforeseen philosophical-cultural paths and interpret, in
its multifarious variety, the developments of contemporary music, profoundly
interwoven with the history of thought, culture, and society.
Jeffrey Strayer, Haecceities:
Essentialism, Identity, and Abstraction (BRILL, 2017), 462 pp.
Haecceities: Essentialism, Identity, and Abstraction
is both an examination of the limits of abstraction in art and of kinds of
radical identity that are determined in the identification of those limits.
Building on his work, Subjects and Objects, Strayer shows how the
fundamental conditions of making and apprehending works of art can be used, in
concert with language, thought, and perception, as ‘material’ for producing the
more abstract and radical artworks possible. Certain limits of abstraction and
possibilities of radical identity are then identified that are critically and
philosophically considered. They prove to be so extreme that the concepts artwork,
abstraction, identity, and object in art, philosophy, and philosophy
of art, have to be reconsidered.
David Howes &
Constance Classen, Ways of Sensing:
Understanding the Senses in Society (Routledge, 2014), 200 pp.
Ways of Sensing is an exploration
of the cultural, historical, and political dimensions of the world of the
senses. The book spans a wide range of settings and makes comparisons between
different cultures and epochs, revealing the power and diversity of sensory
expressions across time and space. The chapters reflect on topics such as the
tactile appeal of medieval art, the healing power of Navajo sand paintings, the
aesthetic blight of the modern hospital, the role of the senses in the
courtroom, and the branding of sensations in the marketplace. Howes and Classen
further consider how political issues such as nationalism, gender equality, and
the treatment of minority groups are shaped by sensory practices and metaphors.
They also reveal how the phenomenon of synaesthesia, or mingling of the senses,
can be seen as not simply a neurological condition but a vital cultural mode of
creating social and cosmic interconnections. Ways of Sensing provides readers with an introduction to the life
of the senses in society.
Paul Crowther, How
Pictures Complete Us. The Beautiful, the Sublime, and the Divine (Stanford
University Press, 2016), 208 pp.
Despite the wonders of the digital world, people still go in
record numbers to view drawings and paintings in galleries. Why? What is the
magic that pictures work on us? This book provides an explanation, arguing that
some pictures have special kinds of beauty and sublimity that offer aesthetic
transcendence. They take us imaginatively beyond our finite limits, and even
invoke a sense of the divine. Such aesthetic transcendence forges a
relationship with the ultimate and completes us psychologically. Philosophers
and theologians sometimes account for this as an effect of art, but How Pictures Complete Us reveals how
this experience is embodied in pictorial structures and styles. Through
discussions of artworks from the Renaissance through postmodern times, the
author reappraises the entire scope of beauty and the sublime in the context of
both representational and abstract art, offering insights into familiar
phenomena such as Ideal beauty, pictorial perspective, and what pictures are in
the first place.
Mathew Abbott, Abbas
Kiarostami and Film-Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 234 pp.
anti-theoretical film-philosophy through the cinema of Abbas Kiarostami.
Mathew Abbott presents a powerful new film-philosophy
through the cinema of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Mathew Abbott argues
that Kiarostami’s films carry out cinematic thinking: they do not just
illustrate pre-existing philosophical ideas, but do real philosophical work.
Crossing the divide between analytic and continental
philosophy, he draws on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell, John McDowell,
Alice Crary, Noël Carroll, Giorgio Agamben, and Martin Heidegger, bringing out
the thinking at work in Kiarostami’s most recent films: Taste of Cherry,
The Wind Will Carry Us, ABC Africa, Ten, Five, Shirin,
Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love.
Omid Tofighian, Myth
and Philosophy in Platonic Dialogues (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016), 250 pp.
This book rethinks Plato’s creation and use of myth by
drawing on theories and methods from myth studies, religious studies, literary theory,
and related fields. Individual myths function differently depending on cultural
practice, religious context, or literary tradition, and this interdisciplinary
study merges new perspectives in Plato studies with recent scholarship and
theories pertaining to myth. Significant overlaps exist between prominent
modern theories of myth and attitudes and approaches in studies of Plato’s
myths. Considering recent developments in myth studies, this book asks new
questions about the evaluation of myth in Plato. Its appreciation of the
historical conditions shaping and directing the study of Plato’s myths opens
deeper philosophical questions about the relationship between philosophy and
myth and the relevance of myth studies to philosophical debates. It also extends
the discussion to address philosophical questions and perspectives on the
distinction between argument and narrative.
Sensory Arts and
Design, edited by Ian Heywood (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), 280 pp.
Artists, designers and researchers are increasingly seeking
new ways to understand and explore the creative and practical significance of
the senses. Sensory Arts and Design
brings art and design into the field of sensory studies providing a clear
introduction to the field and outlining important developments and new
An exploration of both theory and practice, Sensory Arts and Design
brings together a wide variety of examples from contemporary art and design
that share a sensory dimension in their development or user experience. Divided
into three parts, the book examines the design applications of new technology
with sensing capacities; the role of the senses in creating new imaginative
environments; and the significance of the senses within different cultural
practices. Thirteen chapters cover a diverse range of issues – from the urban
environment, architecture, and soundscapes to gustatory art, multisensory
perception in painting, music and drawing, and the relationship between vision