Aesthetics for Birds

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone

December 9, 2019
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8 Experts Reveal Their Top 5 in the Decade’s Writing

This year marks the end of the second decade of the 2000s. In honor of this, we thought we’d take a look back at our decade with an end-of-year series. The internet loves lists, especially year-end ones, and we’ll feed that love a little bit this December. We’ll be hosting seven lists of expert Decade-Best picks. We’ve done movies and games, and you can look forward to television, music, traditional visual arts, and one surprise list at the end. Our experts will include philosophers and other academics whose work concerns these topics, and people working in the relevant media. Up today: writing! Writing is a curious category, one that can be extremely broad, as writing touches so much of the arts. Movies have scripts; songs have lyrics; cookbooks have written instructions. So in our lists below, you’ll find novels as well as a selection of the best of what writing … Continue reading

October 7, 2019
by Alex King
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Culture Wars and Native American Literature in Los Angeles Review of Books

Adrian L. Jawort, a Northern Cheyenne Two Spirit journalist and writer, has written a piece for the Los Angeles Review of Books in which they reflect on the critical reception of two young adult novels by Native American author Rebecca Roanhorse. The controversy: Roanhorse is a member of the Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo tribe, but her novels feature a Diné (Navajo) protagonist, and center on events in Dinétah, the traditional land of the Diné people. The problem came in the form of a 2018 letter, signed by 14 Navajo writers, that accused Roanhorse of appropriating another tribe: “Trail of Lightning is an appropriation of Diné cultural beliefs.”

September 20, 2019
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You Think Make-believe is for Kids? Sherlock Holmes Will Teach You a Thing or Two

What follows is a guest post by Nils-Hennes Stear. How do fictions work? How do made-up characters and their made-up feelings make us cry or rejoice in sympathy? With what are we even sympathizing? Philosopher Kendall Walton has an answer. His theory of fiction, spelled out in his monograph Mimesis as Make-Believe, is among the most influential and celebrated contributions to the history of aesthetics, if not philosophy. So, when I promised to create an animated explainer film as part of my Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship at the University of Southampton, it seemed a promising subject to tackle.

August 29, 2019
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Reading Projects: Historical Schemes as Literary Artifacts

What follows is a guest post by David Alff. Last year I finished writing a book about projects. Not art projects or housing projects or chemistry projects, but the idea of projects itself. I wanted to learn how humans came to organize their lives and worlds through discrete endeavor. I wanted to understand how enterprise became such a widespread vehicle for ambition that we seldom notice its existence. What are projects anyway? Why are we always doing them? How else could we spend our time? These questions drove me to see the project as a distinct form with a traceable past rather than as a daunting abstraction or the container of something more salient. Studying projects on their own terms, I thought, would give me fresh vantage on the history of ideas. My book set out to reveal nothing less than the basic unit by which anything has ever been … Continue reading

May 18, 2019
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What Fandoms Can Teach Us About the Value of Plot Holes and the Badness of Bad Artists

What follows is a guest post by James Harold, Professor of Philosophy at Mount Holyoke College. Parts of this blog post draw from his article “The Value of Fictional Worlds (or, Why The Lord of the Rings is Worth Reading).” Critics and fans approach certain works (like The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars) very differently. The critics evaluate these works on their own merits, considered as art objects in their own right, while fans consider in terms of their contribution to a larger world of play and creative exploration. While philosophers, like art critics, have spent a lot of time thinking about artworks, they have spent relatively little time thinking about this playful, participatory world, the world that is the focus of fan culture.

April 25, 2019
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An Experiment in Philosophy and Poetry

What follows is a guest post by philosopher Aaron Meskin. He discusses a book that he and poet Helen Mort recently co-authored. In it, Mort “replies” to a variety of different philosophers’ papers with original poems, and the philosophers get to reflect on the poem and its relationship to their work. This piece is also cross-posted at Daily Nous.

January 31, 2019
by Aesthetics for Birds
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Sterling HolyWhiteMountain on Blood Quantum, Native Art, and Cultural Appropriation

Blackfeet author Sterling HolyWhiteMountain talks about what it means to call something “Native Art” and whether it’s a useful category. Continue reading

November 8, 2018
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What Makes Kafka Philosophical?

What follows is a guest post by Espen Hammer on his recent edited volume Kafka’s The Trial: Philosophical Perspectives. When reading works of literature, philosophers often look for very general assertions of a quasi-theoretical nature. Thus, Camus’s The Stranger – to pick an obvious example  ̶  is supposed to demonstrate the absurdity of human existence. Or, if that doesn’t satisfy them, they typically start discussing entirely abstract questions of meaning, representation, and reference – of interest to academics steeped in Frege, Russell, and Davidson yet devoid of any concrete relation to actual texts of literary significance. Kafka, however, on which a recent edited volume of mine entitled Kafka’s The Trial: Philosophical Perspectives (OUP, 2018) focuses, is peculiar in that his texts so vigorously seem to resist such general accounts. To be sure, many philosophers have tried to see in Kafka a kind of visionary thinker either of human existence as such … Continue reading

September 6, 2018
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JAAC X AFB: What Is Satire?

What follows is a post in our ongoing collaborative series with the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. This is based on a new article by Dieter Declercq, “A Definition of Satire (And Why a Definition Matters)” which you can find in the current issue of JAAC. Satire is infamously varied. The origins of the label date back to Roman times, as a classification for disgruntled verses by poets like Horace and Juvenal. Yet, although the Roman orator Quintilian tried to claim satire as “wholly ours” (satura tota nostra est), satire is clearly not limited to ancient Rome. Just think of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” (performed at Woodstock), Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Pussy Riot, Guerrilla Girls, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, Jordan Peel’s Get Out, Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger, Daliso Chaponda’s stand-up comedy…

September 19, 2017
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Philosophical Fiction

Frances Howard-Snyder (Western Washington University) answers a few short questions about her philosophical fiction posed by Skye Cleary (City College New York) for the APA Blog. She recounts her experiences at a recent workshop on fiction writing for philosophers. I particularly liked the idea that fiction writers often deal with quasi-philosophical topics and when they do their treatment could benefit from the skills of philosophers. And, regarding how professional philosophers’ fiction writing should be treated by universities: If you [write fiction] well and your work has philosophical content, your department and university ought to treat it as part of your scholarship. See the whole interview here. This raises lots of interesting questions. Are there some philosophical topics that are better, or even best, approached through fiction? Can philosophical fiction advance philosophical research? And if so, are philosophers sometimes better positioned to do that than non-philosophers? What do you think?