Monday, March 18, 2013

Katya Mandoki on disinterestedness

Katya Mandoki, a leading exponent of everyday aesthetics, offers a nice argument against Kant’s notion of disinterestedness as necessary for aesthetic experience.  She observes that Paul Crowther (in a work of 1987) had come up with the idea that appreciating a mirage is a perfect example of Kant’s disinterestedness since one does not care whether or not the thing seen actually exists.  Her reply:

“Obviously in the mirage there is no objective aspect to detect, regardless of the amount of attention paid to it, because there is no ‘aesthetic object’ as understood by the naïve realism of analytic aesthetics. What, then, are the ‘aesthetic aspects’ that attention detects in this case? In fact, aspects only exist through a perceptive or aspectual activity of the subject… As far as disinterest goes when perceiving that imaginary landscape, find a single spectator who would not prefer the landscape to exist physically in order to enter it and increase the delight it can provide: to smell its aromas, taste the refreshing water, and feel the cool shade of its palm trees,,,. [Crowther] forgets that aesthetic delight in a landscape, as that in architecture, depends also on exploring it from the inside, smelling the wood, brick, leather ....You do not enjoy equally the façade of a building when reproduced by photography as you do the architectonic work in its entirety. ”  Katya Mandoki  Everyday Aesthetics

That seems right to me, although I think it is still possible to appreciate the look of a mirage while bracketing these other concerns.  My view is that disinterested perception is a useful strategy in aesthetic experience but hardly necessary or sufficient.  Lack of concern for the existence of the object seems the weakest aspect of Kant's notion of disinterest.  However, looking at something while bracketing out moral and cognitive concerns can yield various benefits:  it can, for example, allow us to see things independent of our prejudices.  It can also bring our formal qualities we might otherwise miss.  I advocate then the approach of alternating between the disinterested and the interested, between a-contextual and contextual perception, for best results.

Mandoki may be expressing a similar view when she says proposes a concept of aesthetic swinging. 
"I thus propose the concept of aesthetic swinging that Brecht practiced with mastery when he attracted the spectator toward the play by identification, and then distanced him by the Verfremdungseffekt. Painters, sculptors and architects also make use of this swinging when they provide a detailed view of the work seen at a close distance complemented by the overall view seen from afar. This swinging is evident when one observes a painter or a sculptor in action: we continuously move back and forth, away and near the work to better appreciate it. The spectator will later emulate this movement.Without aesthetic swinging it would be impossible to perceive what Monroe C.Beardsley, following Hutcheson, calls 'unity in diversity,' since the first requires distance and the second, nearness."  A similar idea is also found in writings by Peggy Brand and Tom Gracyk when they speak of aesthetic "toggling."


No comments: