Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

Engaging with Philosophy's "Limit-Defying Provocateur": A Review of Shusterman's Pragmatism: Between Literature and Somaesthetics

Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

Engaging with Philosophy's "Limit-Defying Provocateur": A Review of Shusterman's Pragmatism: Between Literature and Somaesthetics

Article excerpt

This article reviews a volume edited by Dorota Koczanowicz and Wojciech Malecki titled Shusterman 's Pragmatism: Between Literature and Somaesthetics.

As the first edited collection to engage with the broad scope of Richard Shusterman's philosophical preoccupations, this book1 seeks to "shed light on why Shusterman is so widely read not only in different cultural contexts ... but also within different disciplines" (1). The editors pursue this aim by partitioning its twelve chapters into three sections, by providing an introductory overview of what they christen the "in between" nature of Shusterman's body of work, by opening the collection proper with an essay from Shusterman, and by closing it with his detailed responses to the preceding essays. As I hope to make clear in the body of this review, this is an exceptionally well organized and coherent collection, one which thereby provides insight into "the work of this interesting philosopher" (1).

In their "Introduction," Koczanowicz and Malecki take pains to demonstrate the connections between Shusterman's tum to Dewey and his development of somaesthetics, defined by Shusterman as "the critical, ameliorative study of one's experience and use of one's body as a locus of sensory-aesthetic appreciation (aesthesis) and creative self-fashioning" (quoted, 4). In particular, they emphasize how Dewey's exhortation to address "the problems of men" (rather than the professional puzzles of analytic epistemology or continental hermeneutics) directly informs Shusterman's recent efforts to apply somaesthetics to issues of gender and racial justice, efforts that, in turn, require ever greater interdisciplinarity.

These connections are more deeply explored, of course, in the opening essay by Shusterman himself, entitled "A Pragmatist Path Through the Play of Limits: From Literature to Somaesthetics." Indeed, he introduces his reflections by stating that "I decided that this essay could usefully trace how I came to pragmatist philosophy and how I was led from my initial focus on literary theory to a much broader philosophical project that eventually generated the interdisciplinary field of somaesthetics" (11). He takes this approach because of his suspicion that his own philosophical trajectory reflects "a deeper current in the history of aesthetics" (14). This is the need to overcome (or "transgress") limits, whether this need has its roots in his own impatience with the merely descriptive aims of much contemporary theorizing about art or in the larger historical failure of philosophers to provide a definition of art that is invulnerable to counterexample.2 This is thus why he turns to pragmatism and emphasizes its melioristic mission: "If art and aesthetic experience are crucial forms of human flourishing, then philosophy betrays its role if it merely looks on with neutrality without joining the struggle to extend their breadth and power" (22). More specifically, this is why he insists both that the value of conceptual analysis resides in its ability to make a concept "more meaningful and useful in improving our aesthetic understanding of experience" (22) and that we need to recover "the ancient ideal of philosophy as a way of life" (24). Given these convictions, his efforts to establish and promote the field of somaesthetics can therefore be seen as the culmination of his philosophical development: "Somaesthetics was thus conceived to complement the basic project of pragmatist aesthetics by elaborating the ways that a disciplined, ramified, and interdisciplinary attention to bodily experiences, methods, discourses, and performances could enrich our aesthetic experience and practice, not only in the fine arts but in the diverse arts of living" (23).

Just as the themes introduced in the editors' "Introduction" receive elaboration in the opening essay, the essays included in the first section of this collection, "Literary Theory and Philosophy of Art," further advance and illustrate the points that I have just summarized. …

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