Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

Introduction: Two Modes of Contemporary Pragmatist Aesthetics

Academic journal article Contemporary Pragmatism

Introduction: Two Modes of Contemporary Pragmatist Aesthetics

Article excerpt

It is a welcome sign of the vitality of pragmatic approaches to the arts that Contemporary Pragmatism has devoted this special issue to topics in pragmatist aesthetics. Since the 1992 publication of Richard Shusterman's book Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, Rethinking Art, there has been an increased interest in pragmatist aesthetics, both in America and abroad. Shusterman's book did for pragmatist aesthetics what the debates between Rorty and Putman did for pragmatism generally - giving pragmatist aesthetics a second life, or as Mathias Girel puts it in his contribution to this issue, a first real life. Since the waning of the influence of pragmatism in the middle part of the last century in the wake of the ascendency of its analytic and continental rivals, pragmatism today now offers a third way between the perceived reductionist narrowness of analytic philosophy and the unnecessary obfuscation of the continental tradition, capable of reconciling the best tendencies of both, in aesthetics and in philosophy writ large. As such, it is significant that Contemporary Pragmatism, an important forum for the dissemination of research in pragmatism, has (finally) devoted an entire issue to the discussion of the current state of pragmatist aesthetics.

Although historically and conceptually rooted in Dewey's seminal work Art as Experience, pragmatist aesthetics in its contemporary iteration extends far beyond Dewey's interest in articulating a theory of aesthetic experience (although the concept of experience still remains central to some approaches to pragmatist aesthetics). One concern of contemporary pragmatist aesthetics is corrective. By providing pragmatic accounts of topics central to the philosophy of art generally, for example interpretation, the definition and ontology of art, expression, and aesthetic experience, pragmatist aesthetics offers a reconstruction of the philosophy of art congruent with the historicism, naturalism, anti-foundationalism and anti-essentialism that characterize pragmatism as a unique philosophical tradition. However, pragmatist aesthetics should not be understood as merely rounding out a pragmatist "system" in whichever ways are required by its broader philosophical commitments (a criticism famously leveled against Dewey's Art as Experience). Rather than being merely corrective, pragmatist aesthetics is also progressive, serving as a catalyst for two major trends in aesthetics which can no longer be reasonably claimed to be subsets of pragmatist aesthetics as such: Everyday Aesthetics and Somaesthetics. Thus, it is important to distinguish between the major theoretical approaches to pragmatist aesthetics that currently motivate much of the research in the field, a task to which this special issue taken a whole hopes to contribute. However, one must be doubly cautious. First, one must not reduce these offshoots of pragmatist aesthetics to the central features of the historical (Deweyan) phase of pragmatist aesthetics recognizing where they importantly diverge. But, conversely, one must also not identify pragmatist aesthetics as a whole with these more recent manifestations. While certainly there are pragmatist forms of everyday aesthetics, there are also other influential accounts that are not inspired by pragmatism (Yuriko Saito's most notably). And while somaesthetics can be viewed as an implication and expansion of pragmatist aesthetics, as an interdisciplinary program much of the research in somaesthetics has a tenuous relationship, as Thomas Leddy notes here, to both aesthetics and pragmatism as they are traditionally conceived. Pragmatists, after all, are pluralists, and while there is no single approach that is constitutive of pragmatist aesthetics in its entirety, it is important to articulate some of the leading approaches that characterize the field today.

In this introductory essay, I hope to provide not only a framework for approaching the diversity of contributions published in this special issue, but also to articulate two types or modes of pragmatist aesthetics that, although not mutually exclusive, help to theorize the general state of the field at the moment. …

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