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.
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.
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