Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Matriarchal Aesthetics and Everyday Aesthetics

In my book The Extraordinary in the Ordinary I gave credit to feminist aesthetics in contributing to everyday aesthetics.  I did not there mention Heide Gottner-Abendroth, but in reading her "Nine Principles of Matriarchal Aesthetics" in Art and its Significance, Stephen David Ross ed., I find interesting parallels between this version of feminist thought and everyday aesthetics.  Gottner-Abendroth may be dismissed by some because of her perhaps unwarranted claims about the dominance of matriarchal societies in neolithic times.  However her position can be seen more as a reflection on ways in which prehistoric art and mythology and contemporary tribal art can inspire, or stand as a model for, a contemporary feminist art practice, one that involves various deconstructions that contribute to aestheticization of what was previously considered not aesthetic. 

Of all of the philosophers I teach Gottner-Abendroth is closest in spirit to Nietzsche.  Both stress the modern relevance of a total art form of the past, in her case tribal dance, in his case, Greek tragedy.  Both stress the Dionysian ecstatic element in aesthetic experience.  However, Nietzsche  would have rejected feminist aesthetics as he rejected feminism in general.  

Gottner-Abendroth's importance in my view lies in her treatment of aesthetics as not dominated by art aesthetics.  She sees matriarchal art (her ideal art form), in her first principle, as "beyond the fictional" in the sense that it rejects the notion of a separate fictional realm (hence rejecting Apollonian art?).  Art rather should be seen as "magic" which is to say that it has some influence in the real world, as she argues, in both psychic and social reality.  It does this by way of mythology (second principle), which she also interprets as "one of the fundamental categories of the human imagination." This is much like Nietzsche's interpretation of the Apollonian and the Dionysian as fundamental physiological forces.  Matriarchal aesthetics carries out various deconstructions of traditional distinctions, many of these deconstructions also conducive to promoting everyday aesthetics.  For example, in the third principle we learn that the author-text-reader distinction dissolves and that, in not being limited to producing products, matriarchal art expresses the inner structure found in ritual dance, this structure dissolving also the distinction between author and spectator.  The fourth principle of matriarchal aesthetics also dissolves the division between emotion and thought in that "emotional identification, theoretical reflection and symbolic action" all are parts or aspects of aesthetic experience, or to put it another way, "matriarchal art welds together feeling, thinking and doing" in order to "release true ecstasy in the participants."  The Nietzschean Dionysian element is present here, but also there are affinities with Dewey's aesthetics in the notion of a fusion of feeling, thinking and doing.  The fifth principle says that patriarchal art cannot be objectified and is a "dynamic process characterized by ecstasy...with a positive impact on reality." The sixth principle stresses the idea that the paradigm of art, in her case, ritual dance, embraces many genres of art.  It also says that in matriarchal art the division between art and non-art dissolves.  Thus matriarchal art can merge with nonconformist lifestyles and with "changes in the psychic and social sphere" which are subversive to patriarchal society.  Matriarchal aesthetics then becomes an aesthetics of life.  The idea of a breakdown of the art/life barrier is also found in the eighth and ninth principles, where there is a questioning of the division of elitist from popular art resulting in an "aestheticization of the whole of society."  Everyday aesthetics can be associated with such a program. 

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