Alphabet of Aesthetics

A is for art.

A is for aesthetics (because aesthetics is much larger than art – if art is conceived in miniature as contemporary art).

A is also for Adorno, for he deserves a mention and I am fundamentally shaped by his aesthetics. Adorno conceives a tortured space of contradiction, in which beauty appears only to disappear and disappears only to appear.

A is also, of course, for Aristotle. He let the poets back in, but equally qualified their particular role.

B is for beauty, the key model of aesthetic experience.

B is Baumgarten and his notion of a mode of sensible thought – a stage towards reason, but also an awkward double.

B is also for all manner of French philosophers and critics who are concerned with aesthetics (in various guises) – Badiou, Bataille, Blanchot, Barthes, Bourdieu, Baudrillard, Bourriaud, etc.

B is also for Bakhtin who so precisely describes a carnivalesque aesthetic sensibility.

C is for the carnivalesque, which for me provides a model for how art and society can be conceived, in terms particularly of representing an intimate and indeterminable relationship between continuity and change.

D is for Dewey and his sense of the intimate relation between art and everyday experience.

E is for Empedocles and his understanding of the sensible mediation of the world.

E is for Eagleton’s Ideology of the Aesthetic.

F is for forests, for becoming lost in forests – for instance, (F)rancis Ponge’s Notes on the Pinewoods.

G is for gestalt. The magic of aesthetics is to see everything at once – to perceive a specific quantity, for instance, without the need to count.

H is Hegel and Heidegger. Hegel for restricting aesthetics to the history and philosophy of art. Heidegger for envisaging the complexity of appearance and disappearance in art.

H is also for Hesiod, who conceives not only a blind, aesthetically cast basis for human experience, but also a divine accession to knowledge and truth that is framed aesthetically as the intercession of the divine.

I is for intoxication. Plato also writes of intoxication.

J is for January, the month I was born.

K is Kant and his defining conception of aesthetics.

L is for Leibniz and his crucial sense of a graduated space between rational insight and irrational blindness.

M is for Martin – Agnes Martin, one of my favourite painters, who understands the relationship between meticulous process and transcendence.

N is for Nietzsche. His sense of Greek tragedy as a reconciliation between Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies in Greek culture has proved very important for me.

O is for Ong and his account of oral techniques of memory.

P is for Parmenides, particularly his aesthetically cast transition beyond common thought.

P is for Plato’s rejection of the poets as a corrupting influence, conveying illusory truths.

Q is for quiet – the reflective quiet of aesthetics.

R is for Ranciere and his notion of art as dissensus and aesthetics as the self-understanding of art.

S is for the sublime.

S is for Schiller and his argument that aesthetics provides the only sound basis for enlightened political community.

S is for Schelling who regarded art as the highest truth because it partakes of what lies beyond the conscious, subjective and rational articulation of truth.

T is for time, the curious time of aesthetics.

U is for the underworld – as a liminal field of experience.

V is for vision, though aesthetics need not involve vision.

W is for whatever.

X is for X (according to Leibniz).

Y is for yes, yesterday and yellow.

Z is for Zeno and the impossibility of ever reaching the door.

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