AESTHETICS FOR BIRDS

Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art for Everyone


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GETTING PAST FORM: ON THE VALUE OF LITERARY IDEAS

 

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What follows is a guest post by Patrick Fessenbecker.

In a recent column in The New York Times, Ross Douthat contends that English professors aren’t having the right kind of arguments. Reflecting on the analysis of the decline of the humanities in a series of essays in the Chronicle of Higher Education over the last year, Douthat makes a familiar diagnosis: the problem is that we literature professors no longer believe in the real value of the objects we study. Engaging Simon During’s account of the decline of the humanities as a “second secularization” in particular, Douthat argues that secular attempts to defend the humanities will fail just as surely as secular attempts to defend religious ethics and norms did: it doesn’t work unless you really believe in the thing. Correspondingly, the debates literary scholars are having about how to expand the range of texts and subjects we teach are premised on a basic mistake about what such an expansion involves. As he puts it:

This should, by rights, be a moment of exciting curricular debates, over which global and rediscovered and post-colonial works belong on the syllabus with Shakespeare, over whether it’s possible to teach an American canon and a global canon all at once. Instead, humanists have often trapped themselves in a false choice between “dead white males” and “we don’t transmit value.”

In other words, we ought to be in the business of considering how our conceptions of value and their application should change as scholars recognize the incredible cultural wealth inherent in the diversity of the world. But instead we’re caught between reactionary conservatism and nihilistic critique. Continue reading


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CULTURE WARS AND NATIVE AMERICAN LITERATURE IN LOS ANGELES REVIEW OF BOOKS

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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.” Continue reading


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READING PROJECTS: HISTORICAL SCHEMES AS LITERARY ARTIFACTS

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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 done. Continue reading


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STERLING HOLYWHITEMOUNTAIN ON BLOOD QUANTUM, “NATIVE ART”, AND CULTURAL APPROPRIATION

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“Entrenched” by Evan Thompson

Sterling HolyWhiteMountain interviewed by Matt Strohl for AFB

Sterling HolyWhiteMountain grew up on the Blackfeet Reservation in northwest Montana. He holds a BA in English creative writing from the University of Montana and an MFA in fiction from the University of Iowa. He was also a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. His work has appeared in volumes 1 and 2 of Off the Path: An Anthology of 21st Century American Indian and Indigenous Writers, The Montana Quarterly, ESPN.com and The Atlantic. Prior to being a Stegner Fellow he directed the writing center at Blackfeet Community College. He is currently at work on a collection of stories. Continue reading


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WHAT MAKES KAFKA PHILOSOPHICAL?

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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 or under specific circumstances, in particular those of modernity. Classical accounts of The Trial have focused on theology (“this is what the human condition looks like without God”), psychoanalysis (“this is what guilt and paranoia looks like”), and sociology (“this is the fate of the individual in a society integrated through anonymous, bureaucratic measures”). The list, of course, could be made very long. Note, though, that all the suggested interpretive keys stand in danger of violating our sense of Kafka’s mystery and ineffability. They all do what philosophers too often do: they reduce the text to a unified set of graspable, general meanings. Continue reading


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ARTIST INTERVIEW: SIMON MORRIS

Conceptual Artist Simon Morris interviewed by philosopher Darren Hudson Hick

Though he seems to spend most of his time playing with cats, Darren Hudson Hick is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Texas Tech University, where his research focuses on the ontology of art, philosophical problems in intellectual property law, and related issues. He is the author of Introducing Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Art (Continuum, 2012). For more on Darren, go to www.typetoken.com.

Simon Morris (b. 1968) is a conceptual writer and teacher. He is a Reader in Fine Art at the University of Teesside in the UK. His work appears in the form of exhibitions, publications, installations, films, actions and texts which all revolve around the form of the book and often involve collaborations with people from the fields of art, creative technology, literature and psychoanalysis. In 2002, he founded the publishing imprint information as material. He is the author of numerous experimental books, including; Bibliomania (1998); The Royal Road to the Unconscious (2003); Re-Writing Freud (2005); Getting Inside Jack Kerouac’s Head (2010); and Pigeon Reader (2012). He is an occasional curator and a regular lecturer on contemporary art and also directed the documentary films sucking on words: Kenneth Goldsmith (2007) and making nothing happen: Pavel Büchler (2010). Further information can be found here: www.informationasmaterial.org

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IMAGINATION, TRANSPORTATION, AND MORAL PERSUASION

What follows is a guest post by M. B. Willard, a metaphysician with an aesthetics problem. She is Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Weber State University.

Imagine becoming adrift in a novel in the way often described by avid readers: You’ve become lost in the book. Perhaps you’ve become so engrossed that your coffee grows cold, neglected on the table beside you. Perhaps you’ve lost track of time, to be startled when the clock chimes. Perhaps the story is deeply sad, and you spend the rest of the day in a mild malaise. Perhaps the story’s protagonist struggled in abject poverty, and you come away believing that while of course the story is made up, people really do live like that, and you resolve to increase your annual contributions to charity.

(Or perhaps you watched Star Trek; you spend the rest of the day mildly keyed up against injustice, and rebuke the man in front of you at Starbucks when he is rude to the barista. No judgment, Walter Mitty.)

You’ve been transported (cf. Gerrig 1993); through fiction, you’ve visited a new world, and you’ve returned somewhat changed. Continue reading