The Insistence of Art: Aesthetic Philosophy after Early Modernity

By Lupton, Julia Reinhard | Shakespeare Studies, Annual 2018 | Go to article overview

The Insistence of Art: Aesthetic Philosophy after Early Modernity


Lupton, Julia Reinhard, Shakespeare Studies


The Insistence of Art: Aesthetic Philosophy After Early Modernity

Edited by Paul A. Kottman

Fordham University Press, 2017

This powerful and wide-ranging collection of essays takes flight from the premise that the philosophy of art and aesthetics, in the line of Kant, Herder, and Hegel, derives special energy from the theoretical insights enacted by Renaissance and early modern creative achievements, yet is rarely brought back into dialogue with such works, thanks to biases that beleaguer the fields of both art theory and early modern studies. Editor Paul Kottman, highly accomplished in both philosophy and Shakespeare studies, lays out the reasons for this non-encounter in his masterful introduction. From the side of the philosophy of art, preference for classical examples skewed commentators such as Winkelmann away from a genuine engagement with modern creative practices. In early modern studies, the preference for discourse over formal analysis, whether as a descriptive history of ideas or as ideological criticism, inventoried early modern works as part of the history of art, but sidestepped real dialogue between early modern art and modern aesthetics. Finally, the very idea of the Renaissance as a bounded period dissuades critics from bringing the art of the past into productive contact with later philosophies of art.

Responding to these limits, The Insistence of Art aims to show how early modern creative activity contributed to the birth of modern aesthetics, by reading works of art created before 1800 and critical texts written in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries in dynamic relationship to each other. The aim is to disclose both the historical horizons in which the autonomy of the aesthetic made itself felt in early modern art and to show how those works might continue to challenge and engage aesthetic philosophy in the current moment. Although most literary scholars today would agree that "art is not the passive mirror for already established socio-historical realities, but a fundamental matrix through which social reality is established, brought into being" (16), Kottman is right to suggest that most scholarship on early modern art takes the moment of historical production rather than the unfolding effectivity of works in a longer critical duree as its proper domain. The assembled essays share a hermeneutic interest in the circuit of attention and response that connects modern aesthetics (whether represented by Hegel, Herder, Pater, Benjamin, Adorno, or Greenberg) to the innovations of early modernity (as practiced by Shakespeare, Donne, Descartes, Goya, and Caravaggio, among others). Not every piece in the volume perfectly traces this itinerary, but all of them "suggest ways in which artworks and practices of the early modern period show the essentiality of aesthetic experience for philosophical reflection, and in particular for the rise of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline, while also showing art's need for philosophy" (1-2).

At the center of the book, forming its spine as it were, is the German philosophy of art, admirably addressed in tour de force essays by Kristin Gjesdal (on Shakespeare and Herder) and Paul Kottman (on Shakespeare and Hegel). Gjesdal demonstrates the philosophical and historical-hermeneutic significance of Herder's "Shakespeare" essay (1770-73), written in three drafts that successively reveal Herder's deepening argument about the unfolding of reason in history manifested by literature and uniquely exemplified by Shakespeare. Rarely read in English studies, Herder's essay makes room for Shakespeare in the canon of world literature by arguing that Greek standards cannot and should not applied to works created in a later historical moment and a different cultural locale. In order to mount this argument, Herder must account for the intertwined historicity of literary norms, artistic production, and critical reception, in a manner that both anticipates and, Gjesdal argues, goes beyond, the hermeneutics of Hans Georg Gadamer. …

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