Monday, March 9, 2015

Hegel's Introduction to Aesthetics

Normally we think of this material with some distaste.  How can we take seriously, for example, the setting up of a hierarchy of cultures, moving from the East to Greece and from there to the Christian "Romantic" era.  This just seems like blatant ethnocentrism.  And I am not sure that is wrong.  But it is always worthwhile to try to read the great philosophers with view to how that reading can illuminate our own world.  In the case of Hegel what strikes me now is his conviction that taste is not just, as Hume would have it, a matter of discriminating and evaluating small parts in order to evaluate a whole, but a matter of determining something about the relationship between form and content and something about how this plays out in history.  (For Hegel, these issues are not just isolated in the world of art but have to do with the culture as a whole and in particular in the development of religious thought which happens in tandem with that of art.)  This, of course, is a bit more like Kant, for whom taste was a judgment of beauty, and such judgments had moral significance, although Kant leaves out the history part.  Kant thought also that works of genius gave us aesthetic ideas which themselves were intimations of a supersensible realm.  So at least the concept of genius stresses content in the way that Hegel's concept does, although for Kant the content is indeterminate.  One senses that, for Kant, the works of genius are the closest one is going to get to the supersensible realm, whereas for Hegel, they are simply preliminary to the death of art and its replacement by philosophy, Hegel being more like Plato in this regard. 

An issue that nags or should nag a Humean in taste is how a new style can come along and seem to resolve issues left unresolved in previous styles.  One can see the ancient Greek kouros maker looking at Egyptian sculptures and finding a certain dissatisfaction there, ultimately replace the Egyptian style with one that is more humanistic, also in accord with differences between Egyptian and Greek religion.  One can also still sees these kinds of moves as signifying an advance in humanity.  One can also see a Renaissance painter like Rembrandt looking at the great Greek models and feeling that something is lacking, responding in turn by creating works that seem to exude a deeply inner life that seems absent from the Greek models, while also capturing something of the spirit of a new age.  This would be the "romantic" reaction to the "classical."  One can also see these shifts as abstract models that can be repeated in history, where in a particular style there is a symbolic, classical and romantic stage, a kind of life of the style itself, where the romantic itself contains internal contradictions, although frankly I cannot see these as pointing forward to erasure of art in favor of philosophy, unless we posit a four stage, call it the "conceptual" after which there must be a reaction that brings us back to something like the symbolic stage again.  (How come this reaction is never discussed, not even by Danto.)  So let's consider the development of rock and roll along these lines:  the symbolic being the relatively crude adaptations of African-American traditions by young Elvis, the Beetles, etc., followed by the classical period in which form and content both become more sophisticated as well as harmoniously correlated, perhaps reaching its final moment in the White Album, and then this followed in turn by a time of greater interiority, spiritual inwardness characterized by the Romantic, this followed by a spare moment of conceptual art and then the reaction of Punk music with its return to the crude symbolic level.  Taste in all of this might be conflicted as many will see the next stage as resolving the contradictions of the previous stages and will project the beauty of that for all to admire, while at the same time, those who are loyal to the older style will disagree.  Hume might call this an "innocent" disagreement, but where do we with that? 


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