NIHILISM AND THE AESTHETIC TURN II

NIHILISM AND THE AESTHETIC TURN 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Adorno rightly points out, this may very well be true but these are not attributes unique to aesthetics. Aesthetics is no more controversial than any other discipline within philosophy. There are no more differing opinions in aesthetics that cause it to “blow about” than in any other philosophical disciplines.

The dictionary writer’s insight is neither sufficiently novel nor generous to aesthetics; however, the entry does reveal a certain paradigm within philosophy. One does not need to look at aesthetics because it is derivative, depending “on the concept of the objects held by the theory of knowledge.”

In other words, the philosophy of art is not interesting because it depends on theories of knowledge. The author reveals a prevalent mindset within the history of philosophy that disregards questions of aesthetics as secondary concerns next to other questions within philosophy.

With few exceptions, art in philosophy has ordinarily been thought of one of two ways. As Adorno points out,

 

Philosophical aesthetics found itself confronted with the fatal alternative between

dumb and trivial universality on the one hand and, on the other, arbitrary

judgments usually derived from conventional opinions

 

 

Traditionally, aesthetics has either been understood as something fixed and therefore grafted onto the questions of metaphysics; or, aesthetics has been understood as something unfounded, unjustified, unsubstantiated, decided solely on tastes, and, therefore, declared arbitrary by outsiders. Nevertheless, many times, understanding aesthetics as solely concerned with tastes and the mere sensory was thought to be a consequence, repercussion, or implication of metaphysical questions.

 

Examples of both sorts are hardly scarce. In illustrations of the first way, Plato removes art from the ideal society because of its potential danger. As Heidegger understands Plato, the danger arises after Plato discovers that art, namely poetry, distracts men from truth, justice, temperance, and other metaphysical entities. After Plato is able to identify and understand the metaphysical structure of reality, then, the implication of this discovery is that art is a problem.

 

For Heidegger, Plato’s exclusion of poetry may be interpreted as an example of the first way that art is subjugated. Some of the central motifs within medieval philosophy can also be understood as examples of the subjugated role of art. For both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, questions of art and aesthetics are mere byproducts of questions of God and metaphysics. Questions of art and aesthetics were discussed as implications to conclusions already reached inmetaphysics and theology.

 

Pope Gregory IX once referred to theology as “the Queen of the sciences”9 and, consequently, all edicts and rulings come down from the queen to her subjects. Even though Augustine and Aquinas approach metaphysics from two different traditions, questions of art contain the same method laid out by the church; art ought to work in the service of the church. Despite some of the beautiful articulations that came from the some of the medieval theologians, specifically from Bonaventure and the other Franciscan philosophers in particular, questions of art and aesthetics were understood as secondary to questions of religion. Within these examples, questions of art are considered as byproducts of other questions. The questions of art are simply the consequences of questions already determined.

 

 

Both Alexander Baumgarten and the entry from the dictionary of philosophy above can be understood as examples of the second way. As the father of modern aesthetics, Baumgarten understands questions of aesthetics as judgments applied to the realm of the sensory. Art, then, only deals with things of the senses and does not have anything to say about “the big questions” within metaphysics. If this is true, then, as the philosophy dictionary pointed out, art ought not to be discussed because no agreement or interpersonal insight could possibly be reached with regard to classical conceptions of truth or metaphysics. As seen by the dictionary of philosophy’s author, if art is only forthe sensory and for affection, then any resulting answer from an aesthetic question could be blown “about by every philosophical, cultural, and scientific gust.”

 

Heidegger, however, places emphasis on art because art is necessary to confront the problems created from modernity. Only from an aesthetic turn can society hope to confront the problems of modernity.

 

Humanity faces a serious problem. Because of certain factors, however, humanity is unable to see the problem it faces. Western metaphysics as we know it is at an end. The end of structured, static, objective, and absolute metaphysics (such as Platonism) is at an end. As Heidegger understands it, Nietzsche’s declaration “God is dead” is the flat line hum of classical western metaphysics. Heidegger praises Nietzsche’s interpretation of the history of Western metaphysics “as the rise of nihilism,” yet, despite this praise, Heidegger, nevertheless accuses Nietzsche of being infected with this same nihilism himself.

 

The end of classical Western metaphysics comes about for a couple reasons. One, the rise of the scientific and technological age demystifies and demythologizes our world, removing our need to abstract to religious sensibilities and miracles to explain natural phenomena. Two, because science and technology have taken the place of religion, religious explanations become obsolete in such a way as to not hold sway over individuals within a community. Three, this problem has been intensified by the entity that has taken religion’s place, technology.

 

As Heidegger sees it, technology does not allow one to progress toward a solution to humanity’s problem.

 

 

 

It is important to note that in the course of western history the meaning of technology has undergone a significant change. On one hand, as Heidegger points out, technology is closely tied to the Greek word techné, from where technology gets its name. Since art was considered a kind of techné in ancient Greece one can not understand technology in a wholly negative light. Fair enough. Heidegger said, “What is dangerous is not technology. Technology is not demonic.”

 

However, since technology has taken on a much more complex dimension than that of its usage in ancient Greece, one has to consider Heidegger’s thoughts on technology holistically and from a modern perspective. What is significant for this discussion is not whether technology is essentially corrupt or unredeemable but rather what technology means in the modern world and what its effects are upon those who use it. The problem is with modern technology’s Gestell, or “enframing.”

 

 

 

Heidegger reverses the common narrative regarding the rise of technology. For Heidegger, it is this attitude of technological enframing that precedes and gives rise to modern science and technology, rather than the rise of technology that gives rise to technological enframing.

 

In this view, technology creates a structuring. This is not awfully significant since everything is a structuring. However, the kind of structuring associated with modern technology is the structure of enframing. Paul Gomer says, “This difficult notion [enframing] combines the idea of a technological way of revealing in which entities are revealed as claiming us, taking possession of us.”

 This structuring from technology is one of the major contributors to the problem of nihilism because humankind not only because it is leveling, but, just as important, because we cannot be easily removed from this particular structure. The enframing created by modern technology is one that is not easily cast off.

 

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