AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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JAMES WOOD ON HOW CRITICISM WORKS

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Photo credit: Claire Messud

What follows is an interview of writer and literary critic James Wood, who is Professor of Literary Practice at Harvard. He is interviewed by Becca Rothfeld, a PhD candidate in philosophy at Harvard, and an essayist, literary critic, and contributor to The New Yorker, the New York Times Book ReviewThe Atlantic, and more. 

James Wood is Professor of Literary Practice at Harvard, a staff writer at The New Yorker, the author of two novels and six books of criticism, and the most exhilarating literary critic alive. He made his name writing long, ambitious, and often searingly negative essays, among them his famed takedown of so-called “hysterical realists”  and his evisceration of Paul Auster’s hypermasculine posturing. But I know Wood primarily as a lover of literature, and in recent years, he has done much to champion contemporary novelists, among them Ben Lerner and Teju Cole. Wood is a voracious quoter, and in his pieces he allows the works he loves to speak in their own voices. I love Wood for many reasons, some of which I fleshed out in my review of his latest essay collection, Serious Noticing. By way of summary, I love his beautiful prose, his appreciation for well-wrought sentences, and his argumentative and philosophical acumen. My favorite essay of his—perhaps my favorite piece of literary criticism in the world!—is his ravenous take on Moby-Dick and God. (The son of a minister, Wood’s vexed atheism rears its head in many of his essays.) In this interview, I spoke to him via email, initially about why he prefers to do interviews via email, ultimately about both his broader aesthetic commitments and what he thinks criticism amounts to.

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“WE ARE EVERYTHING AND WE ARE NOTHING”: AN INTERVIEW WITH ACTOR AND FILMMAKER JULIE DEPLY

What follows is a guest post by Hans Maes (University of Kent) and Katrien Schaubroeck (University of Antwerp).

As part of Routledge’s Philosophers on Film series, Hans Maes and Katrien Schaubroeck are editing a volume on the so-called Before trilogy directed by Richard Linklater. The trilogy chronicles the love of Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) who first meet up in Before Sunrise (1995), later reconnect in Before Sunset (2004) and finally experience a fall-out in Before Midnight (2013). Not only do the individual films present storylines and dilemmas that invite philosophical discussion, but philosophical conversation itself is at the very heart of the films.

Julie Delpy, who co-wrote the trilogy and was twice nominated for an Academy Award (best adapted screenplay) for Before Sunset and Before Midnight, agreed to be interviewed for the book because, as she explains, she has a soft spot for philosophy. What follows is an excerpt from that interview. The full text will be included in the volume that is scheduled to appear in 2021 and that will contain contributions from Christopher Cowley (University College Dublin), Diane Jeske (University of Iowa), James MacDowell (University of Warwick), Hans Maes (University of Kent), Kalle Puolakka (University of Helsinki), Anna Christina Ribeiro (Texas Tech University), Katrien Schaubroeck (University of Antwerp), Marya Schechtman (University of Illinois), Michael Smith (Princeton University), and Murray Smith (University of Kent).

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ARGUING ABOUT ART ON THE INTERNET, PART 1: WHY WE DO IT, AND WHY IT OFTEN GOES BADLY

What follows is a co-authored post by Brandon Polite and Matthew Strohl.

The ascendancy of the internet has generated a wide range of difficult new questions for philosophers of aesthetics. Our concern in this piece is the way the internet has reshaped aesthetic discourse and has made aesthetic disagreement far more immediate and pervasive. Social media allows users to broadcast their evaluations of artworks to hundreds or thousands of followers any time of day and, as a result, has ushered in the Golden Age of Everyone Having an Opinion. We are specifically concerned with the general tendency of the internet to promote hostility in aesthetic discourse. Rampant hostility has emerged in a wide variety of contexts, ranging from large-scale fan movements to remake a poorly received season of a widely loved television series or a controversial entry in a beloved film franchise, to casual Facebook threads about Greta Gerwig’s Little Women or HBO’s Watchmen series.

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INSTAGRAM FILTERS FOR THE SELF: AUTONOMY AND INTERNET “AESTHETICS”

Astute observers of life online may already be familiar with “Dark Academia”—a stylistic trend currently blowing up on TikTok that draws liberally from Donna Tartt novels, T. Hayashida’s Take Ivy, goth culture, and Dead Poets Society. One practitioner of the style sums up Dark Academia as “young people trying to dress like old people” and encourages initiates to immerse themselves in ancient Greek tragedies and stock up on tweed blazers. Others have compiled lists of guidelines and tips on adopting Dark Academia and visual guidelines for Dark Academia apparel.

If you’re scratching your head in puzzlement at this point, here’s a brief explainer: Dark Academia is just the latest of a number of different online styles or “aesthetics” that have spread largely through social media. Some of these—such as cottagecore, VSCO, and e-girls and e-boys—have attracted a decent amount of mainstream attention. But what’s notable is that these styles barely scratch the surface of a bewildering array of online aesthetics that includes goblincore, pastel goth, and yes, even Karencore.

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DIVERSIFY YOUR PHILOSOPHY OF ART READING LIST WITH THESE 60+ BIPOC AUTHORS

If you’re prepping a syllabus for the fall, you’re probably thinking about how to make your reading list more diverse or even how to decolonize your own and your students’ thinking about aesthetics and philosophy of art.

In an effort to help people do this, I’ve compiled the below list of suggested pieces by BIPOC authors, members of racial and ethnic groups that have often been marginalized in Western, Anglo-European philosophy, especially in the analytic tradition.

When multiple pieces are available, I have selected based on topic and suitability for teaching at the undergraduate level.

I hope that this list will aid efforts to build better syllabi, as well as expand your own personal reading and research!

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WHY I USE DUNGEONS & DRAGONS TO TEACH ETHICS

What follows is a guest post from Rebecca Scott, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Harper College.

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Photo credit: Rebecca Scott

As a philosopher who thinks a lot about teaching and learning, I have a tendency to experiment wildly in my teaching methods. I’m always searching for ways to make my classes more joyful, meaningful, relevant, and fun. Sometimes, my pedagogical experiments fail miserably, and other times they lead to unexpected and delightful encounters that transform my students and me in unexpected ways. A few semesters ago, I embarked on my favorite teaching experiment yet—I played Dungeons and Dragons with my Ethics classes. And what I discovered is that role-playing games have a lot to teach us about the importance of community and playfulness in the classroom.

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