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.
Massio Leone, On Insignificance: The Loss of Meaning in he Post-Material Age
(Routledge, 2019), 234 pp.
Focusing on the anthropological consequences
of the disappearing of materiality and sensory embodiment, On Insignificance
highlights some of the most perturbing patterns of insignificance that have
seeped into our everyday lives. Seeking to explain the semiotic causes of
feelings of meaninglessness, Leone posits that caring for the singularities of
the world is the most viable way to resist the alienating effects of the
digital bureaucratization of meaning. The book will be of interest to scholars
of anthropology, cultural studies, semiotics, aesthetics, communication
studies, and social theory.
Philosophical Perspectives on Ruins,
Monuments, and Memorials,
edited by Jeanette Bicknell, Jennifer Judkins, Carolyn Corsmeyer (Routledge,
2019), 304 pp.
collection of newly published essays examines our relationship to physical
objects that invoke, commemorate, and honor the past. The recent destruction of
cultural heritage in war and controversies over Civil War monuments in the US
have foregrounded the importance of artifacts that embody history. The book
invites us to ask: How do memorials convey their meanings? What is our
responsibility for the preservation or reconstruction of historically
significant structures? How should we respond when the public display of a
monument divides a community? This anthology includes coverage of the
destruction of Palmyra and the Bamiyan Buddhas, the loss of cultural heritage
through war and natural disasters, the explosive controversies surrounding
Confederate-era monuments, and the decay of industry in the U.S. Rust Belt. The
authors consider issues of preservation and reconstruction, the nature of
ruins, the aesthetic and ethical values of memorials, and the relationship of
cultural memory to material artifacts that remain from the past. Written by a group
of philosophers, art historians, and archeologists, the 23 chapters cover
monuments and memorials from Dubai to Detroit, from the instant destruction of
Hiroshima to the gradual sinking of Venice.
Read an interview with the editors, published in Aesthetics for Birds: https://aestheticsforbirds.com/2019/11/29/whats-so-interesting-about-the-past-an-interview-about-ruins-monuments-and-memorials/
The Philosophy of Rhythm, eds. Peter Cheyne, Andy
Hamilton & Max Paddison (Oxford University Press, December 2019), 432 pp.
is the fundamental pulse that animates poetry, music, and dance across all
cultures. And yet the recent explosion of scholarly interest across disciplines
in the aural dimensions of aesthetic experience—particularly in sociology,
cultural and media theory, and literary studies—has yet to explore this category.
This book furthers the discussion of rhythm beyond the discrete conceptual
domains and technical vocabularies of musicology and prosody. With essays by
philosophers, psychologists, musicians, literary theorists, and
ethno-musicologists, The Philosophy
of Rhythm opens up wider-and plural-perspectives, examining formal
affinities between the historically interconnected fields of music, dance, and
poetry, while addressing concepts such as embodiment, movement, pulse, and
performance. Volume editors Peter Cheyne, Andy Hamilton, and Max Paddison bring
together a range of questions: What is the distinction between rhythm and
pulse? What is the relationship between everyday embodied experience, and the
specific experience of music, dance, and poetry? Can aesthetics offer an
understanding of rhythm that helps inform our responses to visual and other
arts, as well as music, dance, and poetry? And, what is the relation between
psychological conceptions of entrainment, and the humane concept of rhythm and
Korsmeyer, Things: In Touch with the Past
(Oxford University Press, 2019), 232 pp.
In Touch with the Past explores the value of artifacts that have survived from the
past and that can be said to "embody" their histories. Such genuine
or "real" things afford a particular kind of aesthetic experience-an
encounter with the past-despite the fact that genuineness is not a perceptually
detectable property. Although it often goes unnoticed, the sense of touch
underlies such encounters, even though one is often not permitted literal
Carolyn Korsmeyer begins her account with the claim that wonder or marvel at old
things fits within an "experiential" account of the aesthetic. She
then presents her main argument regarding the role of touch-both when literal
contact is made and when proximity suffices, for touch is a fundamental sense
that registers bodily position and location. Correct understanding of the
identity of objects is presumed when one values things just because of what
they are, and with discovery that a mistake has been made, admiration is often
withdrawn. Far from undermining the importance of the genuine, these errors of
identification confirm it. Korsmeyer elaborates this position with a comparison
between valuing artifacts and valuing persons. She also considers the ethical
issues of genuineness, for artifacts can be harmed in various ways ranging from
vandalism to botched restoration. She examines the differences between a real
thing and a replica in detail, making it clear that genuineness comes in
degrees. Her final chapter reviews the ontology that best suits an account of
persistence over time of things that are valued for being the real thing.
Ivan Gaskell, Paintings and the Past:
Philosophy, History, Art (Routledge, 2019), 246 pp.
This book is an exploration of how art―specifically paintings in the
European manner―can be mobilized to make knowledge claims about the past. No
type of human-made tangible thing makes more complex and bewildering demands in
this respect than paintings. Ivan Gaskell argues that the search for pictorial
meaning in paintings yields limited results and should be replaced by attempts
to define the point of such things, which is cumulative and ever subject
to change. He shows that while it is not possible to define what art is―other
than being an open kind―it is possible to define what a painting is, as a
species of drawing, regardless of whether that painting is an artwork or not at
any given time.
The book demonstrates that things can be artworks on some occasions but not
necessarily on others, though it is easier for a thing to acquire artwork
status than to lose it. That is, the movement of a thing into and out of the
artworld is not symmetrical. All such considerations are properly matters not
of ontology―what is and what is not an artwork―but of use; that is, how a thing
might or might not function as an artwork under any given circumstances. These
considerations necessarily affect the approach to paintings that at any given
time might be able to function as an artwork or might not be able to function
as such. Only by taking these factors into account can anyone make viable
knowledge about the past.
This discussion ranges over innumerable examples
of paintings, from Rembrandt to Rothko, as well as plenty of far less familiar
material from contemporary Catholic devotional works to the Chinese avant
garde. Its aim is to enhance philosophical acuity in respect of the analysis of
paintings, and to increase their amenability to philosophically satisfying
historical use. Paintings and the Past is a text for
all advanced students and scholars concerned with philosophy of art,
aesthetics, historical method, and art history.
On the Ugly: Aesthetic Exchanges, edited by Jane Forsey and Lars Aagaard-Mogensen (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019), 150 p.
collection of eight essays offers fresh approaches to the
investigation of the concept of ugliness. It is divided into three
parts: the idea of ugliness; Kantian conceptions of the ugly; and
ugliness and art. The papers in all three sections deal with problems in
the way that aesthetics has understood the concept of the ugly, in
aesthetic experience, in fine art, and in contrast with the beautiful.
These are new papers from a range of scholars from diverse philosophical
backgrounds, and use the most recent literature in their areas of
expertise. As a collection of the latest research in this field, it will
makes a contribution to recent and growing theoretical interest in
the place of the ugly in aesthetics.
Paths from the Philosophy of Art to Everyday Aesthetics, edited by Oiva Kuisma, Sanna Lehtinen and Harri Mäcklin (University of Helsinki, 2019), 232 p.
During the past few decades,
everyday aesthetics has established itself as a new branch of
philosophical aesthetics alongside the more traditional philosophy of
Paths from the Philosophy of Art to Everyday Aesthetics explores
the intimate relations between these two branches of contemporary
aesthetics. The essays collected in this volume discuss a wide range of
topics from aesthetic intimacy to the nature of
modernity and the essence of everydayness, which play important roles
both in the philosophy of art and everyday aesthetics. The list of
authors includes Morten Kyndrup, Ossi Naukkarinen,
Francisca Pérez-Carreño and Richard Shusterman. With their
essays, the writers and editors of this volume wish to commemorate
Professor Arto Haapala (University of Helsinki, Finland) on his 60th
The book is downloadable for free at
Lazzarato, Videophilosophy: the
Perception of Time in Post-Fordism, edited and translated by Jay Hetrick
(New York: Columbia University Press, 2019), 276 pp.
Italian philosopher Maurizio Lazzarato has been known for his analysis of
contemporary capitalism, in particular his concept of immaterial labor and his writings
on debt. In Videophilosophy, he reveals the underpinnings of
contemporary subjectivity in the aesthetics and politics of mass media. The
text was first written in French and published in Italian, it was then later
revised but never published in full. This publication discloses the conceptual
groundwork of Lazzarato’s thought as a whole for a time when his writings have
become increasingly relevant.
Drawing on Bergson, Nietzsche, Benjamin, Deleuze and Guattari, and the film
theory and practice of Dziga Vertov, Lazzarato constructs a new philosophy of
media that ties political economy to the politics of aesthetics. Through his
concept of "machines that crystallize time," he argues that the
proliferation of digital technologies over the past half-century marks the
transition to a new mode of capitalist production characterized by
unprecedented forms of subjection. This new era of the commodification of the
self, Lazzarato declares, demands novel types of political action that
challenge the commercialization and exploitation of time. This text offers new
perspectives on aesthetics, politics, and media and critical theory.
Chen, Chinese Environmental Aesthetics,
translated by Feng Su, edited by Gerald Cipriani (London and New York:
Routledge, 2015), 212 pp.
is currently afflicted by enormous environmental problems. This book, drawing
on ancient and modern Chinese environmental thinking, considers what it is that
makes an environment a desirable place for living. The book emphasizes ideas of
beauty and discusses how these ideas can be applied in natural, agricultural,
and urban environments in order to produce desirable environments. The book
argues that environment is both a product of nature and of human beings, and as
such has the potential to be altered by culture. The book explores the three
aspects of environmental beauty whereby such alteration might be beneficial:
integrated and holistic; ecological and man-made; and authentic and everyday.
book addresses environmental issues by suggesting that an aesthetic approach
inspired by ancient Chinese tradition could help us overcome the many problems
that human beings have created at local and global levels. Although its main
focus is the traditional and current contexts of the People’s Republic of
China, the book transcends national borders. An example of this global context is
the ancient Chinese thought system and cultural practice of Feng Shui (風水) that sought to negotiate how the natural environment
and human constructions can cohabit without destructing each other. The author
evokes that sought-after harmony through the powerful image of "gardens of life." The environmental beauty of these
gardens can be found in traditional Chinese gardens and palaces as well as in historically
and culturally preserved cities.
Visuality from Intercultural
Perspectives: Technologies of Imaging in Communication, Art and Social Science, edited by Michael Flemming
and Aleksandra Łukaszewicz Alcaraz, (Szczecin/London: Puno Press, 2018), 224
collection of essays centers on visual communication. Contributors to the volume investigate how
different visual literacies shape communication within and between different
communities and the cultural specificities of visual literacy in business
practices in different places. The essays offer theoretical insight and provide
case studies on visual communication. Public art, new media, and architecture
are among the topics discussed.
John M. Carvalho, Thinking
with Images: an Activist Aesthetics (Routledge, 2018), 160 pp.
This book advances an enactivist theory of aesthetics
through the study of inscrutable artworks that challenge us to think because we
do not know what to think about them. John M. Carvalho presents detailed
analyses a four artworks that share this unique characteristic: Francis Bacon’s
Study After Velázquez’s Portrait of Pope
Innocent X (1953), the photographs of Duane Michals, based on a
retrospective of his work, Storyteller,
at the Carnegie Museum of Art (2014), Étant
donnés (1968) by Marcel Duchamp, and Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 film Le Mépris (released in the United States
as Contempt). Carvalho argues against the application of theory to derive
appreciation or meaning from these artistic works. Rather, each study enacts an
embodied cognitive engagement with the specific artworks intended to
demonstrate the value of thinking about artworks that might be extended to our
engagement with the world in general. This thinking happens, as these studies
show, when we trust our embodied skills and their guide to what artworks and
the world around us afford for the activation and refinement of those skills.
Thinking with Images will be of interest to scholars working in the philosophy
of art and philosophical aesthetics, as well as art historians concerned with
the meaning and value of contemporary art.
Tanya Whitehouse, How
Ruins Acquire Aesthetic Value: Modern Ruins, Ruin Porn, and the Ruin Tradition
(Palgrave Pivot: 2018), 122 pp.
provides a philosophical account of how ruins acquire aesthetic value. It
draws on a variety of sources to explore modern ruins, the ruin tradition, and
the phenomenon of "ruin porn." It features a combination of
philosophical analysis, the author’s photography, and reviews of both new and
historically influential case studies, including Richard Haag’s Gas Works Park,
the ruins of Detroit, and remnants of the steel industry of Pennsylvania.
Tanya Whitehouse shows how the users of ruins can become architects of a new
order, transforming derelict sites into aesthetically significant places we
Isis Brook, Jonathan Prior, Between
Nature and Culture: The Aesthetics of Modified Environments (Rowan &
Littlefield International, 2018), 144 pp.
philosophy, an interest in aesthetics beyond the arts has encouraged the rapid
growth of environmental aesthetics. Within this literature, however, less
attention has been given to the spaces and places that emerge from various
nature-culture interactions. This has meant the relative neglect of types of
environments to which the majority of people have access, and interact with, in
a sustained manner. In this respect, these are the environments in which many
of us understand and value nature. Through a greater understanding of how
humans interact with these environments and the types of relationships that
emerge through this interaction, the authors seek to address this gap. Between Nature and Culture provides a
systematic, philosophical account of the main issues and problems that pertain
to the aesthetics of modified environments, as well as insights concerning the
generation and appreciation of landscapes and environments that fall between
(non-human) nature and (human) culture, including gardens, agricultural and
ecologically restored landscapes, and land and ecological art works.
John Powell, Dancing
with Time: The Garden as Art (Hachette livre, 2019), 200 pp.
Gardens provoke thought and engagement in ways that are
often overlooked. This book shines new light on long-held assumptions about
gardens and proposes novel ways in which we might reconsider them. The author
challenges traditional views of how we experience gardens, how we might think
of gardens as works of art, and how the everyday materials of gardens – plants,
light, water, earth – may become artful.
The author provides a detailed analysis of Tupare, a garden
in New Zealand, and uses it as source material for his analysis of the
philosophical issues art gardens raise. His new account of gardens highlights
the polymodal, multi-sensory, and improvisatory character of the garden
experience. It offers an ontological
comparison between gardens and humans and other animals, and it explains how
identical plants, and arrangements of plants, may be mundane when encountered
beyond the garden but artful, meaningful, and aesthetically valuable when
experienced within it. The content of Chapter 5 had its beginnings in “What is Temporal Art? A Persistent Question Revisited” published in Contemporary Aesthetics Vol. 13 (2015).
Stanley Cavell on Aesthetic
Understanding, edited by Gary L. Hagberg (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 356 p.
book investigates the scope and significance of Stanley Cavell’s lifelong and
lasting contribution to aesthetic understanding. Focusing on various strands of
the rich body of Cavell’s philosophical work, the authors explore connections
between his wide-ranging writings on literature, music, film, opera,
autobiography, Wittgenstein, and Austin to contemporary currents in aesthetic
thinking. Most centrally, the writings brought together here from an
international team of scholars explore the illuminating power of Cavell’s work
for our deeper and richer comprehension of the intricate relations between
aesthetic and ethical understanding. The chapters show what aesthetic
understanding consists of, how such understanding might be articulated in the
tradition of Cavell following Wittgenstein and J. L. Austin, and why this mode
of human understanding is particularly important. At a time of quickening
interest in Cavell and the tradition of which he is a central part and
present-day leading exponent, this book offers insight into the contributions
of a major American philosopher and the profound role that aesthetic experience
can play in the humane understanding of persons, society, and culture.
Snyder, End-of-Art Philosophy in Hegel,
Nietzsche and Danto (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 301 pp.
book examines the little understood end-of-art theses of Hegel, Nietzsche, and
Danto. The end-of-art claim is often associated with the end of a certain
standard of taste or skill. However, at a deeper level, it relates to a
transformation in how we philosophically understand our relation to the 'world.'
Hegel, Nietzsche, and Danto each strive philosophically to overcome Cartesian
dualism, redrawing the traditional lines between mind and matter. Hegel sees
the overcoming of the material in the ideal, Nietzsche levels the two worlds
into one, and Danto divides the world into representing and non-representing
material. These attempts to overcome dualism necessitate notions of the self
that differ significantly from traditional accounts; the redrawn boundaries
show that art and philosophy grasp essential but different aspects of human
existence. Neither perspective, however, fully grasps the duality. The
appearance of art’s end occurs when one aspect is given priority: for Hegel and
Danto, it is the essentialist lens of philosophy and, in Nietzsche’s case, the
transformative power of artistic creativity. Thus, the book makes the case that
the end-of-art claim is avoided if a theory of art links the internal practice
of artistic creation to all of art’s historical forms.
Stocker, Philosophy of the Novel
(Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 321 pp.
book explores the aesthetics of the novel from the perspective of
Continental European philosophy, presenting a theory on the
philosophical definition and importance of the novel as a literary genre.
It analyzes a variety of individuals whose work is reflected in
both theoretical literary criticism and Continental European
aesthetics, including Mikhail Bakhtin, Georg Lukács, Theodor Adorno,
and Walter Benjamin. Moving through material from eighteenth century and ancient
Greek philosophy and aesthetics, the book provides comprehensive coverage
of the major positions on the philosophy of the novel. Distinctive
features include the importance of Vico’s view of the epic to
understanding the novel, the importance of Kierkegaard’s view of the novel
and irony along with his other aesthetic views, the different
possibilities associated with seeing the novel as 'mimetic' and the importance
of Proust in understanding the genre in all its philosophical aspects. This
study relates the philosophical aesthetics of the novel with the issue of
philosophy written as a novel and the interaction between these two
Maryvonne Saison, La Nature artiste. Mikel Dufrenne de
l’esthétique au politique [in French] (Nature
as Artist: Mikel Dufrenne, from
aesthetics to politics)(Paris: Editions de la Sorbonne, 2018).
Mikel Dufrenne was preoccupied by the
main philosophical issues of the second half of the twentieth
century. He considered them with critical interest, concerned to find a
unique approach that would be both specific and rigorous, and that could sit
comfortably with the tradition of philosophical thought.
The changes in the reception of his work are worth noting. Praised
in the 1950s, interest slowly declined in France, especially in the 1970s, but
today his work is the subject of renewed interest. This study explains
how such variations were the result of a common misunderstanding that
regarded Dufrenne as the author of a single book, the Phénoménologie
de l’expérience esthétique (The
Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience). This book, taken
alone, does not enable one to understand the originality of his work as a
whole. To read Dufrenne more fully is to discover the
importance of his ethical and political thinking. We can recognize the strength
of a mind dedicated to the defense of the values of "the human." The reader will also
take pleasure in understanding the philosophical fictions proposed by Dufrenne
in response to the temptation to rationalize a worldview by a philosophy
of Nature supported by a priori thinking. The unity
of his work resides in the hypothesis of Nature as an artist that
Dufrenne developed within the frame of
a non-theological philosophy.
K. Ghosh, Essays in Literary Aesthetics
(Springer Singapore, 2018), 82 pp.
Essays in Literary Aesthetics deals with philosophical
issues concerning the understanding of the literary text and its distinctive
nature, meaning, and relevance to life. It also provides an occasion to revisit
many ideas towards these ends by contextualizing them in the current ongoing
philosophical discourse on art in general, and literary art in particular. Some
of the questions addressed in this book are: What is a literary text? What
do we understand by the concept of intention in the context of literary arts?
Are the feelings experienced in a literary text real? What, then,
is the sense of "truth" in literature which is fictional in
character? What relevance do moral concerns and perceptions have in
appreciation of the literary text? These are some of the questions that are
dealt with by critically responding to views of contemporary thinkers. In
short, the book makes an attempt to provide a critical overview of contemporary
debates and discussions of literary aesthetics mainly from a Western analytical
perspective. The author argues that understanding a literary text is not a purely
cognitive exercise; on the contrary, we experience aesthetic meaning
or truth in terms of valuable insights that play a role in our understanding of
life and emotions.
William Desmond's Philosophy
between Metaphysics, Religion, Ethics, and Aesthetics: Thinking Metaxologically, edited by Dennis Vandeen
Auweele (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018), 343 pp.
This volume collects seventeen new essays by established and junior
scholars on the philosophical relevance of metaxological philosophy and its
main proponent, William Desmond. The volume mines metaxological thought for its
salience in contemporary discussions in Continental philosophy, specifically in
the fields of metaphysics, philosophy of religion, ethics, and aesthetics.
Among others, topics under discussion include the goodness of being, the
existence and nature of God, and the aesthetic dimensions of human becoming.
Interest in metaxological philosophy has been on the rise in recent years, and
this volume provides both a practical introduction and thorough engagements
with it by scholars in the field. The volume concludes with a series of
responses by William Desmond on the issues raised by the contributors.
Winner, How Art Works: A Psychological
Exploration (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2018), 304 pp.
How Art Works explores puzzles that have
preoccupied philosophers as well as the general public: Can art be defined? How
de we decide what is good art? Why do we gravitate to sadness in art? Why do we
devalue a perfect fake? Could "my kid have done that?" Does reading
fiction enhance empathy? Drawing on the methods of social science using careful observations, probing interviews,
and clever experiments, Ellen Winner reveals surprising answers to these and
other artistic mysteries. We come away with a new understanding of how art
works on us.
Ryynänen & Zoltan Somhegyi, Learning
from Decay: Essays on the Aesthetics of Architectural Dereliction and Its
Consumption (Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien:
Peter Lang, 2018), 117 pp.
decay and the reasons, effects, appearance, and representation of ruination
have always been important sources of understanding the state of our culture.
The essays in this co-written book offer broad perspectives on the potential of
ruins, on the use and appropriation of derelict architecture, and on the
aesthetics and touristification of places by analyzing a variety of phenomena
that range from classical to fake ruins, from historic city centres to hot dog
stands, from debris to theme parks. The survey travels from Tallin through
Venice and Istanbul to Beirut, discussing, among others, actual spaces,
allegorical monuments, and nostalgic aestheticizations of the past in high and
popular culture, thus showing numerous inspiring opportunities of learning from