Thanks to our readers for another great year at Aesthetics for Birds! Here were our most-viewed posts this year. Scroll through to make sure you haven’t missed something big. (You can also check out our Top 5 of previous years: 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.)
The great composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim recently passed away at the age of 91. His cool cleverness and skeptical, often ironic, intellectual character have long been commented on. It is not hard to find pieces with titles like “The Case for Sondheim as Existentialist,” or an obituary describing him as a “philosopher of music.”
So I was struck, but not surprised, by the sheer number and diversity of philosophers I could see who, like me, were taking it hard over the loss of so marvelous and so philosophical an artist. No less a figure than Cornel West (who interviewed Sondheim back in 2002) offered praise in such terms: “His genius shall live forever! He was profound in content, subversive in form and always beautifully lyrical.” It is hard to imagine any other composer for the stage in the last century commanding as much attention and respect from the philosophical community.
To honor his passing, and to celebrate his work, we have assembled a symposium of thinkers to mull on and explore the artistic, philosophical, and social legacy of Stephen Sondheim.
What follows is a guest post by Wesley D. Cray (Texas Christian University).
At the beginning of this semester—Fall 2021—I announced my resignation from higher education. I’d be leaving my tenured position at Texas Christian University and taking up the position of Director of LGBTQIA+ Programming at the largest provider of virtual intensive outpatient therapy in the United States, where roughly 70% of our clients are members of LGBTQIA+ communities. Since then, I’ve been very careful to clarify whenever it comes up that I’m not leaving academia, but just the university system. My research communities, including the American Society for Aesthetics, are too dear to my heart for me to not remain connected as much as is manageable. Ideally, that connection will include continuing to attend various conferences, which I’ve always found—on the whole—invigorating and affirming, on both professional and personal levels.
It’s incredibly disheartening, then, to hear that apathetic attitudes toward pronoun usage and basic respect toward persons and their gender identities still constitute a noteworthy presence in our communities. Even if such attitudes are not the dominant attitudes, their effects can be felt, and those effects matter—whether they impact a senior, long-time member of the profession or a graduate student who had their first in-person conference experience tarnished by a pattern of disrespect.
What follows is a guest post by Meg Wallace (University of Kentucky)
The circus is ridiculous. Or: most people think it’s ridiculous. We even express our disdain for disorganized, poorly run groups by claiming, disparagingly, that such entities are “run like a circus.” (This isn’t true, of course. The amount of organization, discipline, and hard work that it takes to run a circus is mind-blowingly impressive.) But this is one reason why I teach Circus and Philosophy. I want to show students a new way into philosophy – through doing ridiculous things.
Philosopher and Podcaster Barry Lam interviewed by Alex King
Barry Lam is Executive Producer at Host of the Hi-Phi Nation podcast on Slate, the only narrative philosophy show at a major podcast network, which is currently in its fifth season. He is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Vassar College, and Associate Director of the Marc Sanders Foundation.
What follows is a guest post by Nicholas Whittaker (CUNY Graduate Center). It is based on ideas found in the article “Blackening Aesthetic Experience” in the Fall 2021 issue of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism.
Let’s start with something we can all agree on: there are things in the world we call artworks. Songs and plays, memes and movies, novels and dances and even perfumes. And of course, these things don’t just exist; we engage with them, we experience them!
End of story, right? I’m not being glib. It really does seem like this picture is just basically right: we, human beings, experience artworks that exist in the world. I think it is basically right. You’re not about to get some arch “Well, how do we know Bach’s Aggripina or Real Housewives of Atlanta aren’t just figments of our imagination?” argument here.
Instead, this post is about a way of talking about that basic picture—a way of talking that sneakily adds elements to it, and strips others away. This is a way of talking that seems so basic that it can be taken for granted as the only possibility. In taking it for granted, we don’t ask what it adds and what it takes away. We don’t even think to ask if it actually is basic. But we should.
So Dave Chappelle is back again with yet another Netflix special, The Closer. Its humor, which is hostile to LGBTQ+ people, dismissive of ‘pussyhat’ feminism, and defensive of celebrities like Kevin Hart, landed very badly to say the least. And the outcry has been loud.