Force: A Fundamental Concept of Aesthetic Anthropology

Force: A Fundamental Concept of Aesthetic Anthropology

Force: A Fundamental Concept of Aesthetic Anthropology

Force: A Fundamental Concept of Aesthetic Anthropology

Excerpt

WHY AESTHETICS? The answer seems obvious: aesthetics exists—and is, in fact, necessary—because the aesthetic exists. It exists because there are objects—such as music, art, architecture, design, fashion, ballet, athletic competition—which we designate as sublime or beautiful and which lend themselves to philosophical reflection. Because there are aesthetic objects, there must be an aesthetic theory that accounts for them. Thus aesthetics must take its rightful place among the other subdisciplines of philosophy, namely, political philosophy, ethics, philosophy of science, and philosophy of culture.

Nonetheless, can it not be argued that what we call “art”—such as design, fashion, even athletics—is merely another part of the economy, of the so-called culture industry? Or that what we call “beautiful” is merely a trigger for pleasurable sensations in the brain? Is it even obvious that these objects form a coherent domain that can be called “aesthetic”? Are they not just a group of very different entities? It seems that we must already be convinced of the existence of aesthetic objects and interested in them in order to “do” aesthetics. If we answer the question “Why study aesthetics?” by naming the discipline’s objects, then does aesthetics not merely become the expression of a personal interest whose reputation will rise (or fall) as this interest waxes (or wanes)?

But aesthetic objects (and our interest in them) are not what make up aesthetics. It is, rather, aesthetics that makes up the domain of aesthetic objects. Aesthetics constitutes the theory of the aesthetic only because it defines a thing as an “aesthetic” object in the first place. We cannot answer the question “Why be concerned with aesthetics?” with the response “Because the aesthetic exists.” The question really means, Why . . .

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