Monday, January 16, 2017

Further thoughts on Liu Yuedi

I have previously posted on Liu Yuedi here but have new motivation to look at his ideas especially as expressed in his  "'Living Aesthetics' From the Perspective of the Intercultural Turn." [see previous post for reference] Part of the motivation is that I plan to teach my Philosophy of Art class this semester as a World Philosophy class.  The title in itself is interesting.  I am not entirely happy with the term "Living Aesthetics," because in English this would imply a distinction between living and dead aesthetics, and I am not sure of the value of that or that it meets Yuedi's intention.  A better title for his project might be "The Aesthetics of Life."  I think I have used this phrase before myself. 

Although mainly I have been writing in the field called "the aesthetics of everyday life" the appeal of "the aesthetics of life" is that it is broader and will definitely include the aesthetics of parties and ritual as well as more strictly everyday life phenomena.  

The other aspect of the title is also intriguing:  we have had "the linguistic turn" and then also I think "the pragmatist turn."  Is there, or has there been, an intercultural turn?   Perhaps there is one in the offing and if my decision to teach a course in world aesthetics is any indication then perhaps we have a trend, but who is to say.  In any case, it is at least interesting that Yuedi elaborates this thought in terms of the notion that the closely related fields of environmental aesthetics and art aesthetics are now gaining a sort of prominence that puts them up there with the philosophy of art as central to aesthetic theory in general. Rereading Yuedi's essay suggests that thinking in terms of world trends has its attractions. Some of the historical context he gives is familiar to me and some not:  isn't it fascinating to look at the rising field of everyday aesthetics from a very different perspective, i.e. from the standpoint in this case of Chinese aesthetics and contemporary art theory?   Yuedi says that "the dialogues between West and the East....are bound to be more frequent" and I hope that this is the case.

Yuedi says "with the boundaries between art and everyday life being dismissed by contemporary art and the environment turning into the environment of human life; contemporary philosophy of art and environmental aesthetics have taken on a tendency to fuse into aesthetics of living."  (14-15)  Yes, maybe.  Contemporary art does sometimes dismiss such boundaries, although to be frank, I seldom have trouble distinguishing between an object of contemporary art and an object of everyday aesthetic interest.  I usually find contemporary art in galleries, whereas I find everyday objects outside of galleries, for example.  Contemporary art is certainly interested in everyday life.  

The other claim about fusion of philosophy of art and environmental aesthetics into another broader field, an aesthetics of living, is intriguing.  Dewey long argued against separation of art and life.  Current debates in everyday aesthetics often center around whether we should understand it in terms of traditional categories of art aesthetics or in terms of something very distinct from art aesthetics.  Yuedi's solution is admirably to try to overcome the dualism between art and life implied in such debates.

Yuedi writes that "The aesthetic is acknowledged to be the 'profound standard' for the quality of human life and development of the environment and lifeworld."  If that were true then the aesthetic would be immensely important, far more important than philosophers in the U.S., at least, take it to be.  The word "the" here also seem to imply that the profound standard would no longer be religion or ethics, and that would be momentous.

"there is a deep-routed tradition of aestheticizing everyday life in Chinese culture and art." (15)  This seems to be so, and if part of the goal of the aesthetics of everyday life is to actually promote this, then the West has a lot to learn from China.  Yuedi uses this also to make the aesthetics of everyday life into a bridge between Chinese and Western aesthetics.  

Yuedi also observes different motives in the move to "living aesthetics" from the East and the West, where the move from the East is more a matter of appropriating what is already theirs, and the move from the West is to react against fine art-centric ways of looking at aesthetics that go back to Hegel, at least. (I would argue that the problem is even deeper historically, that it goes back to the dominance of dualism and rationalism and can be found in the Cartesian and even the Platonic violence against aesthetics, especially against aesthetics of everyday life, a violence which is often, however, deeply ambiguous and hence open to deconstruction.)

In another related paper Yuedi discusses what he calls Neo-Chineseness.  This is "Chinese Contemporary Art: From De-Chin eseness to Re-Chineseness" in Mary B. Wiseman and Liu Yuedi eds.  Subversive Strategies in Contemporary Chinese Art:  Western Criticism and Chinese Aesthetics (Leiden and Boston:  Bill Academic Publishers, 2011)  There he discusses the issue of natural or cultural identity in relation to matters of aesthetics and philosophy of art.  The specific danger for him is the Chinese art, as contemporary art, is "in danger of losing its identity" and must pass through a phase of "Re-Chineseness" as a necessary step to a "neo-Chineseness" based on the general principle that "The more ethnic features art reflects, the more universally acceptable it becomes." Back to the Living Aesthetics article, this move towards Neo-Chineseness is, in his view, "making important contributions to the two-way expansion of Chinese and Western aesthetics."  (15)  He calls for a "new pattern of development of world aesthetics" that goes beyond merely encountering and understanding "the Other."  

For Yuedi,  "art," "environment," and "lifeworld" are the "main trends of contemporary global aesthetics."  If so, this would mark a major shift in which concern for aesthetics of environment and aesthetics of life or lifeworld become much more important than they currently seem to be, at least in the West.  It is my view that some of the troubles of the marginalization that Aesthetics currently suffers from within philosophy is that (1) it is pushed aside by Ethics (why should Ethics eat up most of the realm of value?) and (2) it is ghettoized into the realm of high art, at least in the minds of other philosophers.  Contemporary philosophy just fails to recognize the centrality of aesthetics to any adequate philosophy of the person, philosophy of life, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, or even to and adequate epistemology or metaphysics.  The problem is mainly one of institutional structures, which is also related to the history of the discipline.  Any discipline that begins with an anti aesthetic anti-art bias will never be good to aesthetics.  The dominance within mainstream philosophy of a form of rationalism that gives priority to standard forms of logic over sensuous experience and intuition, the very problem that prompted Baumgarten to introduce the term "aesthetics" in the 18th century, continues today in this marginalization.  Chinese aesthetics, and perhaps world aesthetics, does not have this problem.

"aesthetics of everyday life is formed in breaking free of the confinement of art and returning to life."  (17)  Of course art is not always confining, but this sentence might be usefully rewritten to stress the confinement to fine art by a logic-centered rationalist philosophical orthodoxy and a returning to the aesthetics of life from that.

Yuedi has an interesting take on the evolution of aesthetics in relation to Danto's idea of the artworld, thinking that the end of art allows for a liberation which actually opens up to and is suggestive of an aesthetics of the everyday, and further, that defining art in terms of the artworld turns our attention once again to the world of human interactions (although, albeit, only one small part of it), the move to artworld being preliminary to the move to the lifeworld by way of the end of art.  Yuedi associates "the end of art" with specific artistic movements, e.g. conceptual art, performance art and land art, i.e. a continuation in which art does not really end but rather opens up to the lifeworld where art returns to body and nature, at least the second two instances, maybe becomes philosophy in the first, although Yuedi sees it as returning to "the concepts of real life." (19)

"These branches of aesthetics [conceptualism, somaesthetics, and natural aesthetics] further correspond to the conceptualism of the Chinese traditional Zen Buddhism, the syntheticism of Confucianism, and the natural aesthetics of Taoism."  (19)

Yuedi posits an important element of shift in the move within environmental aesthetics from the aesthetics of nature exclusively to a new concern for human environments, there being a radical change "in terms of the object of study."  I wouldn't say that this actually happened:  it was more that environmental aesthetics expanded to include human environments.  But I do like the his claim that "[w]hile aesthetics of everyday life is regarded by many as a part or a branch of environmental aesthetics, the inverse is also true.  That is, environmental aesthetics can also be considered a part of living aesthetics, in that we all 'live' in the environment." 

Yuedi himself favors the idea that "the environment is centered on human life" although he recognizes that this leads to the charge of anthropocentrism.  But without the human, he says, "who cares whether the environment exists or not?" and "The environment is always the environment for the human."  (21) However, I agree with those who would say that the environment is not always for the human, and that it is worthwhile for us sometimes to try to think outside of anthropocentrism.  Even though, as Yuedi has observed, our environment has been "humanized" over the last few thousand years, it still exists, for example, for the cat, when it comes to cat consciousness, and for the whale, when it comes to the whale.  Still, a recognition that we cannot ever entirely escape the human perspective does lead to the idea of environmental aesthetics fusing into the aesthetics of living.  Or as Yuedi also says, environmental aesthetics, ecological aesthetics (insofar as it also includes cultural ecology) and social aesthetics all lead to living aesthetics.  

"The Euro-American countries need living aesthetics because they want to go beyond analytic aesthetics, while China needs living aesthetics because it tries to rediscover the tradition of Confucianism, Taoism and Zenism."  Both seek to "underline the necessity of appreciating asrt by way of living aesthetics, and looking at everyday life by way of art."  (23)

Why?  "profound changes have taking place in contemporary culture and art, such that living aesthetics rises as a direct reaction against them" and "in an age of globalization, three is a two-way, pan-aesthetic movement sweeping the world" but "life as art" and "art as life" (the later happening when art loses its "aura" in Benjamin's sense).  This all is directed against "aesthetic disinterestedness" and "autonomy of art" so central to classical aesthetics, the former idea actually challenged by "the aestheticization of everyday life."  

"Chinese classical aesthetics is in essence a real living aesthetics, and provides an ideal of human life."  Confucianism for example centers on the concept of "qing" meaning emotion/feeling, the essence of Confucianism being a unity of li (rituals) and yue (music) the harmony of these being perfect beauty and goodness.

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