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
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information about books they think will interest other readers of CA.
Larry Shiner, Art Scents:
Exploring the Aesthetics of Smell and the Olfactory Arts (Oxford University
Press, 2020), 372 pp.
Although the arts of incense and perfume making are among
the oldest of human cultural practices, it is only in the last two decades that
the use of odors in the creation of art has begun to attract attention under
the rubrics of 'olfactory art' or 'scent art.' Contemporary olfactory art
ranges from gallery and museum installations and the use of scents in music, film,
and drama, to the ambient scenting of stores and the use of scents in cuisine.
All these practices raise aesthetic and ethical issues, but there is a
long-standing philosophical tradition, most notably articulated in the work of
Kant and Hegel, which argues that the sense of smell lacks the cognitive
capacity to be a vehicle for either serious art or reflective aesthetic
experience. This neglect and denigration of the aesthetic potential of smell
was further reinforced by Darwin's and Freud's views of the human sense of
smell as a near useless evolutionary vestige. Smell has thus been widely
neglected within the philosophy of art.
Larry Shiner's wide-ranging book counters this tendency, aiming to reinvigorate
an interest in smell as an aesthetic experience. He begins by countering the
classic arguments against the aesthetic potential of smell with both
philosophical arguments and evidence from neuroscience, psychology,
anthropology, history, linguistics, and literature. He then draws on this
empirical evidence to explore the range of aesthetic issues that arise in each
of the major areas of the olfactory arts, whether those issues arise from the
use of scents with theater and music, sculpture and installation, architecture
and urban design, or avant-garde cuisine. Shiner gives special attention to the
art status of perfumes and to the ethical issues that arise from scenting the
body, the ambient scenting of buildings, and the use of scents in fast food.
Shiner's book provides both philosophers and other academic readers with not
only a comprehensive overview of the aesthetic issues raised by the emergence
of the olfactory arts, but also shows the way forward for further studies of
the aesthetics of smell.
The Aesthetics of
Global Protest: Visual Culture and Communication, eds. Aidan McGarry, Itir
Erhart, Hande Eslen-Ziya, Olu Jenzen, Umut Korkut (Amsterstam University Press,
2020), 298 pp.
Protestors across the world use aesthetics in order to
communicate their ideas and ensure their voices are heard. This book looks at
protest aesthetics, which we consider to be the visual and performative
elements of protest, such as images, symbols, graffiti, art, as well as the
choreography of protest actions in public spaces. Through the use of social
media, protestors have been able to create an alternative space for people to
engage with politics that is more inclusive and participatory than traditional
politics. This volume focuses on the role of visual culture in a highly
mediated environment and draws on case studies from Europe, Thailand, South
Africa, USA, Argentina, and the Middle East in order to demonstrate how
protestors use aesthetics to communicate their demands and ideas. It examines
how digital media is harnessed by protestors and argues that all protest
aesthetics are performative and communicative.
Monique Roelofs, Arts of Address: Being
Alive to Language and the World (New York: Columbia University Press,
2020), 327 pp.
Modes of address are forms of
signification that we direct at living beings, things, and places, and they at
us and at each other. Seeing is a form of address. So are speaking, singing,
and painting. Initiating or responding to such calls, we participate in
encounters with the world. Widely used yet less often examined in its own
right, the notion of address cries out for analysis.
Monique Roelofs offers a systematic model of the field of address and puts it
to work in the arts, critical theory, and social life. She shows how address
props up finely hewn modalities of relationality, agency, and normativity.
Address exceeds a one-on-one pairing of cultural productions with their
audiences. As ardently energizing tiny slippages and snippets as fueling larger
impulses in the society, it activates and reaestheticizes registers of race,
gender, class, coloniality, and cosmopolitanism. In readings of writers and
artists ranging from Julio Cortázar to Jamaica Kincaid and from Martha Rosler
to Pope.L, Roelofs demonstrates the centrality of address to freedom and a
critical political aesthetics. Under the banner of a unified concept of
address, Hume, Kant, and Foucault strike up conversations with Benjamin,
Barthes, Althusser, Fanon, Anzaldúa, and Butler. Drawing on a wide array of
artistic and theoretical sources and challenging disciplinary boundaries, the
book illuminates address’s significance to cultural existence and to our
reflexive aesthetic engagement in it. Keeping the reader on the lookout for
flash fiction that pops up out of nowhere and for insurgent whisperings that
take to the air, Arts of Address explores the aliveness of being alive.
Elisa Ganivet, Border Wall Aesthetics: Artworks in Border Spaces (New
York: Transcript Verlag, distrib. by Columbia University Press,
2020), 247 pp.
Thirty years after the fall of the
Berlin Wall, we live in a time of globalization and free trade. Nevertheless,
seventy new border walls have been built in this period―put together, they
would cover the total circumference of the Earth. While governments offer
manifold justifications for building these separation barriers, they invariably
attract the attention of artists. Is it merely the lure of transgression,
however, that attracts them―or is there a deeper significance in the artistic
encounter with border walls? And which artistic strategies do these artists
employ to approach them? In order to address these questions, Elisa Ganivet
revisits the history of border wall aesthetics and compares more recent
border-related works by 100 artists, including Joseph Beuys (Berlin), Banksy
(Israel-Palestine), and Frida Kahlo (Mexico-US). Through art and thus beyond
art, we understand the flaws and shortcomings of supposedly well-oiled systems.
Tonino Griffero and Marco Tedeschini, eds., Atmosphere and Aesthetics:
A Plural Perspective (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019),
This book provides a presentation of the concept of
'atmosphere' in the realm of aesthetics. An "atmosphere" is
understood to be an emotional space. Such idea of 'atmosphere' has been
more and more subsumed by human and social sciences in the last twenty years,
thereby becoming a technical notion. In many fields of the humanities,
affective life has been reassessed as a proper tool to understand the human
being, and is now considered crucial. In this context, the link between
atmospheres and aesthetics becomes decisive. Nowadays, aesthetics is no longer
only a theory of art but has recovered its original vocation: to be a general
theory of perception conceived of as an ordinary experience of pre-logical
character. In its four parts (Atmospheric turn?, Senses and Spaces,
Subjects and Communities, Aesthetics and Art Theory), this
collection considers whether atmospheres could take the prominent and
paradigmatic position previously held by art in order to make sense of such
sensible experience of the world.
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.