Aesthetic preconceptions

What is the aesthetic? I continue to pose this question to myself. It tends to summon all kinds of qualifications. For instance, in line with a mainstream view, I remind myself that the notion of the aesthetic as a distinct sphere of experience, is historically specific. It emerged within the Enlightenment philosophy as a means of designating (and re-designating) the problem of sense – and more particularly modes of thinking that are affected by sense, that are not entirely reducible to logic. We encounter then within the specific question of the aesthetic the whole problem of how thought is conceived in Western philosophy, of how the field of bodily experience, imagination and understanding relates to and is distinguished from the logos – the field of rational, logically articulated cognition and knowledge. While this historically and philosophically nuanced view of the aesthetic is important, it can also mean that any effort to more straightforwardly describe the concept is endlessly postponed. So while we preserve some rough sense of what the term means, this meaning never quite becomes explicit. It is subject to critical bracketing at any moment that it might risk being expressed.

So here I would like to adopt a different strategy. Dropping my critical guard, here I will simply list a set of terms that seem pertinent to my understanding of what the aesthetic means. At this stage, I will not even make an effort to properly organise this list or to eliminate any redundant terms. It is intended as an unfiltered brain dump that exposes my behind the scenes, preconceived notion of the aesthetic.

  • Play
  • Reflection
  • Recollection/projection
  • Fancy/dream/imagination
  • Rhythm
  • Melody
  • Harmony
  • Timbre
  • Syncopation
  • Counterpoint
  • Variety/multiple voicing
  • Tracing/invention
  • Vision/invisibility (limits of vision/sense/experience/comprehension/imagination)
  • Continuity/discontinuity
  • Pattern/irregularity/variation
  • Simplicity/complexity
  • Raw/refined
  • Resolved/open
  • General/particular
  • Abstract/actual (immanence)
  • Generative
  • Beauty
  • Style
  • Appearance (as mystery and conceived as superfluous to function)
  • Wonder
  • Thrill
  • Sensitivity
  • Observation
  • Intoxication
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