July 12-14, St. John’s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico
The Rocky Mountain Division of the American Society for Aesthetics conducted its annual meeting July 12-14 at St. John’s College, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The First Session featured three philosophers and began with Christine P. Watling, University of Alberta, who argued in her paper, “Art and Neuroscience: Evidence for Art’s Cognitive Role,” that aesthetic experience not only colors what we know, but may be necessary for knowing at all. Don Roberts, University of Waterloo, followed with “Beauty, Like Certain Other Figments, Is More than Skin Deep,” in which he contended, following Peirce, that constructs of the imagination may be more real than sense data. Manuel M. Davenport, Texas A&M, concluded with “Art vs. Morality,” which explored the paradox that what is aesthetically good serves what is morally good much better than the moral serves the aesthetic.
John Haddox, Philosophy, University of Texas at El Paso, began the Second Session with “Jose Vasconcelos and Aesthetic Education,” an account of the conflict in Mexico between aesthetic intuition and the tyranny of positivism. Charles Johnson, Philosophy, Utah State University, in “Aesthetic Perception: Aspect Recognition and the Language of Criticism,” suggested that the psychology of perception provides an unsuspected link between criticism and aesthetic appreciation. Robert Warden, Architecture, Texas A&M University, speculated in “Kierkegaard, Hegel, and Peirce: A Triadic Dialogue of Art” that Peirce’s “Thirdness” is a higher synthesis of the Hegelian dialectic and Kierkegaard’s “Either/Or.”
In the Keynote Session, Arnold Krupat, English, Sarah Lawrence College, presented “American Histories,” based on the thesis that the history of North America from the perspective of the Native American Indians is no less accurate and true than the history of North America viewed from the perspective of the European conquerors and settlers.
On the following day, the Fourth Session featured two concurrent panels, “Context and Image” and “Narrative Registers.” The former began with a paper, “The Naturalist and the Gardener: Two Ways of Imitating in Art,” by Ira Newman, Philosophy, Mansfield University, in which he examined Aristotelian and other concepts of imitation by means of the metaphors stated in the title. Michael Manson, English, University College of Cape Breton, by using Tennyson’s work revealed how the belief that poetry was woman’s work was overcome by “The (R)emasculation of Art in Victorian England.” In “Florence and the Development of Howells’ Contextual Aesthetics,” John Samson, English, Texas Tech University, held that William Dean Howells should be recognized as a pioneer in contextual aesthetics.
In the second panel Patricia Ross, English, New York University, in her paper, “Reconciling the Broken World: The Magic of Contradictions’ and Willa Cather’s A Lost Lady,” illustrated the use of art in creating both personal and metaphysical reconciliations. Eileen John, Philosophy, University of Louisville, contended in her paper, “You’ll Always Want Nothing:’ Conceptual Investigation in Literary Experience,” that the search for meaning in art is self-limiting. Edward Sankowski, Philosophy, University of Oklahoma, revealed in “Autonomy, Blame, Fiction, and Emotion,” the extent to which literature can supplement moral philosophy in clarifying concepts of freedom and responsibility.
The Fifth Session, “Desert Place and Landscape,” reported by Tina Watling, was initiated by Bob J. Frye, English, Texas Christian University, who used excerpts from Richard Shelton’s Going Back to Bisbee and John Graves’ Goodbye to a River to convey the importance of the word in summoning up for the reader a sense of place. Allen Carlson, Philosophy, University of Alberta, in “Hillerman’s Landscapes,” while arguing that a place has aesthetic value in its own right, rejected the notion that a landscape has aesthetic importance merely because of significant events or persons associated with it. Pursuing a related notion, Marcia Eaton, in “Fact and Fiction in the Appreciation of Forests,” claimed that uninformed and sentimental notions of forest creatures, for example, Bambi, can lead to uninformed and often harmful efforts to “save” the environment.
In a separate panel, Alastair Beattie, Foreign Language and Literature, University of the Andes, concluded with “The Aesthetics of Physical and Metaphysical Dimension,” which expressed most clearly what was an underlying theme of the conference: the phenomenal and the noumenal are united by the aesthetic.
Saturday afternoon was devoted to the “Artists at Work” session. Pam Chadick, who directs the studio art work at the U.S. Air Force Academy, described and provided examples of “Intersects: Where Line and Letter Meet.” She and James Morrison, a writer from Colorado Springs who was not present, have been working together to integrate his prose and poetry with her ink drawings in order to create contemporary versions of illuminated manuscripts. Their results, however, are neither luminous nor mystical but are dark, earthy, and only lightly touched by a dry humor.
The second artist, Bruce Hucko, a photographer from Santa Fe, in his presentation, “Where There Is No Name: The Art of Tewa Pueblo Children,” exhibited photos of art work created under his “coaching” by Indian children of elementary school age which are remarkable for their integration of Tewa symbols and Anglo-American icons. These photos and his comments will be published as a book in the near future.
On Sunday morning the Seventh Session, with two concurrent panels, began with “The Analogy Between Food and Art: Tolstoy and Eaton,” presented by Spencer K. Wertz, Philosophy, Texas Christian University, in which he defended Tolstoy’s analogy against the criticism of Marcia Eaton, who was present. Jeffrey A. Bell, History and Government, Southeastern Louisiana University, argued most convincingly in “Nietzsche, Music, and the Transcendental Deduction” that the key to understanding the unity of Nietzsche’s thought is his use and appreciation of music. Donald Driscoll, Philosophy, University of Southern Colorado, claimed in “Sublime Boredom” that for Schopenhauer, who should have been a Zen Buddhist, boredom would be worse than extinction.
In the second panel, which focused on western American literature and is reported by Reuben Ellis, George Moore, Sewall Academic Program, University of Colorado at Boulder, discussed the study of western American literature as an arena for debate concerning identity politics and intercultural poetics as it confronts us with “A Thousand Frontiers: The Dialogic Model of Cultural Interaction.” Robin Jones, English, University of Colorado at Boulder, in her paper, “The Potential of Borders: Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek,” focused on the concept of “borderlands,” comparing it with Chela Sandoval’s notion of “differential consciousness” which mediates tensions between ethnic and gender identity. In “The Handiwork of Landscape: Representing the Anasazi in Western Nature Writing,” Reuben Ellis, English, Hope College, examined and questioned the common representation of the Anasazi as inseparable from their “Cliff Dwelling” landscape.
At the annual business meeting, Reuben Ellis ended his three-year term as president and was succeeded by Manuel M. Davenport. George Moore was elected to serve as the new vice president and Don Driscoll agreed to continue as secretary/treasurer. A unanimous expression of gratitude was made for Reuben Ellis’s excellent and gracious service and for his making each conference better than the last. Speaking of this year’s Marcia Eaton quoted that famous artist, Mae West: “too much of a good thing is wonderful!”
Manuel M. Davenport