Thursday, May 17, 2012

Can an ordinary good conversation be an aesthetic experience?

Noel Carroll in "Recent Approaches to Aesthetic Experience" just published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 70:2 (Spring 2012) 165-177 puts pretty serious limits on appreciating conversations aesthetically.  In an argument against Gary Iseminger, who stresses that experiencing something aesthetically is appreciating it for its own sake, Carroll argues Iseminger would hold the following type of convivial conversation between friends would be aesthetic: "Perhaps it is a conversation about some event in the past; maybe it is about the time when they all toured Frankfurt together on their senior year abroad in college.  Suppose the conversation moves smoothly.  Suppose everyone has something interesting to recall.  Suppose that the spirit or feeling of their adolescent companionship is rekindled in the retelling of these youthful adventures, although not because they are artfully narrated, but only because they are honestly spoken." (p. 167). He thinks this is not an aesthetic experience on his "ordinary construal" of that idea.  This seems obvious to Carroll, but not to me.  From the quote Carroll seems to assume that for the conversation to produce an aesthetic experience it must be "artfully narrated."  Or at least, being artfully narrated would do the trick. Although I am not a big fan of the phrase "for its own sake" I do think that a conversation does not need to be artful in any way to be aesthetic.  The conversation Carroll suggests has many aesthetic properties.  Moreover, it fits Dewey's concept of "an experience" as described in Art as Experience.  This seems like another example of separating the aesthetics of everyday life from the aesthetics of art, or subordinating one to the other.

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