Main Trends in Aesthetics and the Sciences of Art

By Mikel Dufrenne | Go to book overview

SECTION THREE: THE SCIENTIFIC APPROACHES

Art (including literature, for we are not attempting here to measure the specificity of literature or to enter into its relations with art) is today an activity mobilizing many people — producers and consumers — and a separate institution, if we adopt a functional standpoint, in the system of culture. It is therefore not surprising that it calls for the attention of the sciences — of practically all the sciences known as human and or social sciences. We shall see this when reviewing as completely as possible the various approaches to art. Each approach is described by a specialist, whose signature appears under the title. To these specialists we express our heartiest thanks.


1. THE HISTORICAL APPROACH, by Béla Köpeczi *

I. CURRENT PRODUCTION IN THE HISTORY OF LITERATURE AND ART

There has been much talk for some time about the crisis in the history of literature and art, a subject that some are inclined to equate with a positivist type of purely academic research, compared with an immanent analysis and criticism of works of art.

Formerly, writers and artists were the first to deny the need for this discipline, in the belief that it contributed nothing to aesthetic understanding. Some, like T. S. Eliot, even maintained that the concept of history is alien to the essence of art: 'The whole of the literature of Europe from Homer has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order'. 1. All works are therefore contemporaneous and their simultaneous perception renders any historical approach superfluous.

There are now some writers and artists, as well as theorists of art, who would limit the validity of the historical approach or question its usefulness. While maintaining the specific characteristics of art, they regard the historical approach as more or less 'extraneous', and in any event superfluous. Some seek to explain literary and artistic phenomena — particularly their thematic aspects — by factors of a psychological nature. Others dwell exclusively upon the form of the work of art, conceived as a system of signs designed for an aesthetic finality. 2.

____________________
*
See note *, page 19.
1.
"'Tradition and the individual talent'", p. 42 in ELIOT, The Sacred Wood ( 1920).
2.
We need only recall that W. KAYSER excludes literary history from the 'Literaturwissenschaft': cf. Das sprachliche Kunstwerk ( 1948). Less emphatic on this question, René WELLEK & A. WARREN, in their Theory of Literaure ( 1949), consider that literary history — as an extrinsic approach to literature — should reappraise its aims and methods, to be applied moreover to a very limited field. For the points of

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