Thursday, April 23, 2020

Everyday Aesthetics: quote by Kierkegaard

Consider the following quote, which I found in Adorno's Aesthetics (302):    "To transform the leap of life into a gait, absolutely to express the sublime in the pedestrian - that only the knight of faith can do - and that is the only miracle." Soren Kierkegaard.  Fear and Trembling.  tr. Sylvia Walsh (Cambridge U. Press, 2006) 34.  When I read Kierkegaard as a graduate student I wondered what if anything I could do with him.  I was then, and still am, an atheist, and Kierkegaard's message seems entirely for the religious-minded, and even more so for the Christian.  And yet even atheistic existentialists were inspired by him. 

A question that has often exercised me is something like "what is the highest calling for everyday aesthetics?"  I think that the Kierkegaard quote speaks to this, and it is psychologically helpful for me that I find it in a work by Adorno, who, although like Kierkegaard, influenced strongly by Hegel, is no ally to orthodox religious thinking.  I also find interesting the idea of "the only miracle" since I take this to mean that no miracle produced by any religious hero goes beyond this.  This is as metaphysical as it gets.  Also, one would think (might well think, falsely) that the everyday aesthetician would be committed to what Kierkegaard believed to be the lowest kind of life, the sensuous.  But then it turns out the the highest form of life, the life of "the knight of faith," is a matter of bringing the extraordinary down to the ordinary, to "express the sublime in the pedestrian."  I think that everyday aesthetics can serve many purposes, but the most important of these is to find a new home for religious sentiments, a home for atheists and agnostics during a time of crisis.  

So this connects with another question which is how does one find meaning in life during the time of the Covid epidemic.  For those who still believe in God the path may well be similar, but I will only address it for the non-believer.  To put it simply, to find meaning one must every day find meaning in what is experienced every day.  This takes on a special potency in a time in which the significant moments of our days are associated with the daily walks, working in the garden, cooking at home, and so on.  The daily walk is of particular interest here.  I have been reading Wanderlust: A History of Walking by Rebecca Solnit.  Solnit treats walking as a kind of secular meditation, as, one could say, did Thoreau.  Kierkegaard's point, for me, is to try to experience what I see, hear, and smell as I walk (the last requires taking my mask off for a bit when no one is around) in such a way as to experience the extraordinary, the sublime, in the ordinary, in the, literally, pedestrian.   


Tuan Nguyen said...
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Tuan Nguyen said...

Dear Dr. Leddy. I've been reading Dewey's Art as Experience. One interesting sentence I really like is "... we have an experience when the material experienced runs its course to fulfillment" (Dewey, 1934, p.36). He then listed some examples of "an experience". A game is an experience when it is played to its conclusion. The conclusion is the consummation of a moment. During this pandemic, I think that time is slower when I attend to a song, a painting, or a movie. Usually, I experienced the intense moments in working and doing many things. The pressure was there. But now that same pressure is no longer existing. A conversation with a colleague becomes somehow meaningful. I found a photograph of me that should be lost 8 years ago. I have fulfillment in looking at that photo. It is not fulfillment that this photo was about me. I feel fulfilled because each moment (finding the old photo and looking at it) is so intense. But the intensity is not annoying like how I was forced to do something. Regarding your take on Kierkegaard, I agree. I start appreciating the simple things that happen in life. Sometimes, I jokingly tell my friends that I'm very spiritual although I'm not religious.

For this point, I think we do not need to be persuaded by a religious authority to see the beauty in something. In Brandom's work Articulating Reasons, he mentions two types of conceptualization, Platonic, and pragmatic approach. The Platonic approach is a top-down solution, having concepts, rules, and principles in understanding. The pragmatic is a bottom-up approach by which we evaluate separately each case. I think the latter resonates with Kierkegaard and Dewey. Sometimes, we are drawn into the scientific knowledge of x, y, z. Science is helpful and practical, but it should be a necessary, not sufficient condition for human life. Obviously, when we are sick, we need doctors and nurses. But somehow when we lose a loved one or become confused by a negative event like COVID-19, science might not help us find the meaning and the beauty in ordinary things and activities. Recently, I had more time and called an old friend. It is an experience different from the text messages or Facebook group conversations