Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Some Ways to Speculative Aesthetics

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Some Ways to Speculative Aesthetics

Article excerpt

For my friends in Perm

The Emergence of Aesthetics in Contemporary Speculative Philosophy

When the landmark edited collection The Speculative Turn was published in 2011 the theme of aesthetics was for the most part absent from the book's twenty-five essays and interviews, save for an exchange between Steven Shaviro and Graham Harman.1 In 2013 a manifesto appeared on the Australian Aesthetics After Finitude blog, indicating the need to fill this gap in the literature. The group's mission reads like this:

Via the collective close-reading of key speculative realist texts we hope to confront the marginalisation of aesthetics in the wake of the speculative turn and reconsider the consequences of such thought for human systems of representation in order to discover new possibilities for artistic, and specifically literary, practice. This reading group will consolidate and invigorate engagement with speculative realism in Australia, creating a local hub for Antipodean work on new materialisms and new realisms.2

While many have noted the conspicuous absence of ethics and politics in object-oriented ontology (OOO) and speculative realism (SR), it is only in the last year or two that the subject of aesthetics has stepped out of the shadow cast by epistemology and metaphysics over the field of contemporary speculative philosophy. Indeed, the need for speculative aesthetics has made itself apparent. Today a number of texts and thinkers have begun to consider the prospects for speculative aesthetics, although the meaning of this phrase is still very much under discussion. Before looking in more detail at one iteration of speculative aesthetics, Graham Harman's, I would like to signal some of the places where a speculative approach to aesthetics is currently underway.

The fifth issue of the journal Speculations (published in 2014) is devoted to "Aesthetics in the 21st Century." It is effectively an issue on speculative aesthetics. Arguably the most interesting paper is the one by N. Katherine Hayles, which I will discuss at the end of this essay. Incidentally, Hayles was also one of the co-conveners of the 2011 speculative aesthetics working group in the Franklin Humanities Center at Duke University. At the end of 2014, Urbanomic-the publisher responsible for disseminating the transcript of the 2007 speculative realism roundtable at Goldsmiths college and who devoted the second issue of Collapse to the theme of speculative realism-published a volume called Speculative Aesthetics, a collection of papers originally presented at a 2013 roundtable discussion on the book's theme.3 While acknowledging and lamenting the influence of speculative realism and object-oriented ontology on the contemporary art world, the editors of this volume tell us that "speculative aesthetics here reaffirms a relation between the aesthetic and human creativity, but within a conceptual framework that refuses to relinquish either of them to ineffability or to immutability." The editors go on to note that the various contributions to the volume both naturalize and denaturalize aesthetics, while "representation is rehabilitated, abstraction materialized, and cognition accelerated."4 Their desire to see speculative aesthetics disengaged from speculative realism, and realigned with accelerationism, is obvious. With a marked derision toward speculative realism and object-oriented philosophy, the editors of Speculative Aesthetics notably embrace the promise of representation, abstraction, and cognition, while devaluing the "ineffable" Theirs is certainly a movement that counters, or perhaps exploits, the well-entrenched "critique of representation" now passé in continental philosophy and postmodern theory.

Unfortunately, most of the contributions to Urbanomic's Speculative Aesthetics volume only engage aesthetics briefly and proleptically. Some of them are only marginally concerned with aesthetics. On the whole, and apart from the revealing polemical introduction to the volume, which wears its contempt for the influence of SR/OOO on its sleeve, there is little substance in its contents. …

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