Sunday, April 22, 2018

Legitimizing Everyday Aesthetics

I just want to give a shoutout here for Yuriko Saito's Aesthetics of the Familiar:  Everyday Life and World Making.  (Oxford U. Press, 2017).   Saito is already well-known in the world of philosophical aesthetics for her work Everyday Aesthetics. (OUP 2007).  These books together help establish this new sub-discipline of aesthetics.  In this post I am just going to talk about her second chapter.  "Challenges and Responses to Everyday Aesthetics."  There is hardly anything I disagree with in this chapter and so the notes may be a bit scattered, more like musings.   One of the things I always enjoy in reading Saito is the wide range of her reading.  She goes directly from Melchionne's defense of everyday aesthetics to Callicott's views on land aesthetics, and then to Howes and Class,  cultural anthropologists on Ways of Sensing, and then Buffalo Bird Woman on cooking.   I agree that everyday aesthetic phenomena are not limited to objects and can include our experiences of activity:  for example cooking.  I agree that although one can appreciate the baseball game qua baseball game one can also frame the experience somewhat differently, where what is appreciated is a day at the park.  The second kind of appreciation would be focuses as much on the small of hot dogs, for example.   I agree that there are certain values that permeate "our everyday life such as fellowship, reciprocity, care, and love."  (56)  I agree that there are alternative to judgment-oriented aesthetics, and that "a phenomenological description rather than a critical discourse is more suited for this dimension of our everyday aesthetic life."  (58)  

I might be a bit more critical of Juhani Pallasmaa's idea that there is a problem with "increasingly visual primary of experiencing architecture."  (59)  Drawing on Dewey's concept of medium I would hold that one of the ways in which art forms can have power is that they can focus on one sense to the exclusion of our usual incorporation of the other senses.  The senses of small and hearing are absent from our experience of a painting as painting, but they are also in a strange way evoked.  This concentration on one sense produces an experience of the work as having aura.  So, thinking about architecture, although it is not entirely visual in the way that painting is, it is not exactly a lot more tactile, and it seldom involves the sense of smell.  So focusing on architecture as architecture is focusing on the medium of architecture.  So I think it is over the top for Pllasmaa to say "The nihilistic eye deliberately advances sensory and mental detachment and alienation.  Instead of reinforcing one's body-centered and integrated experience of the world, nihilistic architecture disengages and isolates the body..."  nihilistic architecture being architecture that is visual centered.  (59)    Sure, we can go too far in the direction of vision-centeredness in our society, but to throw out all of this is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  I would agree with Dewey in strongly opposing this quote that Saito gives from Pallasmaa's 2007 book The Eyes of the Skin:  Architecture and the Senses:  "The problems arise from the isolation of the eye outside its natural interaction with other sense modalities, and from the limitations and suppression of other senses, which increasingly reduce and restrict the experience of the world into the sphere of vision."  (64)  Would he similarly have a problem with music qua music excluding the other senses?  The wonder of music is that it creates worlds of its own without the other senses, just as people who are blind are able to get along pretty well (as least sometimes and with some assistance) without the sense of sight:  they do not lose the world.

Interested in learning more?  See my book:  Thomas Leddy The Extraordinary in the Ordinary:  The Aesthetics of Everyday Life.  Broadview Press, 2012.  Available at Amazon in paperback, and an electronic version at google where you can also find most of the first 32 pages including the table of contents.  You can also buy it from Broadview. 


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