Distinguishing the Aesthetic:
Politics and Art
CARSON. Was it an ordinary letter.?
WILDE. Certainly not.… It was a beautiful letter.
CARSON. Apart from Art?
WILDE. I cannot answer any questions apart from Art.1
My chapter title alludes to Pierre Bourdieu's Distinction, which, as we saw in Chapter 1, attempts to demystify the Kantian concept of taste and to collapse aesthetics into sociology. Whether you prefer Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, or the 'Blue Danube' waltz of Johann Strauss, or a popular song performed by Charles Aznavour is, Bourdieu claims to demonstrate, simply a matter of what class you belong to, through birth and education. It is remarkable that Bourdieu thinks his demonstration of the contingent involvement of class in particular aesthetic preferences (a point most people would readily concede) is sufficient on its own to refute Kant's carefully non-empirical analysis of the conditions of possibility of aesthetic judgement. For a Kantian, who may well not share Bourdieu's (snobbish?) concern with the height of people's brows, all, any, or none of the musical works cited might be deemed 'beautiful', while their arrangement into a hierarchy is no part of the judgement of taste (nor, in my view, of much interest anyway, outside the rebarbative ideological clamours of the culture wars).
As we have also seen, Kant's Critique of Judgement does not advance a developed art theory, only a theory of aesthetic judgement. But certainly, in the generations that followed, many laboured to produce art theories that supposedly followed from,
1 Cited Foldy (1997) 97.