October 27-30, 1999, Washington DC
The 57th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics was held at the Washington Plaza Hotel in Washington, DC from October 27 to October 30, 1999. The meeting’s program presented a great variety of panels and papers that represent the varied interests and approaches of our members. It would be impossible in this brief report even to mention all of this diverse group of presentations, but I shall try to call attention to various categories of events which took place and to mention some highlights of the program. This would also be a good place to acknowledge the wonderful efforts of John Brown, our Local Arrangements Chair from the University of Maryland, who worked tirelessly to insure the smooth running of the program, and of Curtis Carter, our Secretary-Treasurer, who, along with his staff at the national office, both organized various receptions, and also prepared all of the meeting materials, with his usual efficiency and skill.
In addition to the usual wide variety of topics taken up in individual papers, this meeting featured a larger number of panels than are customarily on the program. I’ll discuss some categories of these panels, both to convey what took place at the meeting, and also because I believe that what took place at our meeting is a good indicator of the activities of aestheticians.
Several panels were organized by committee’s (and, also, by the Feminist Caucus) of the society. The Committee on the Status of Aesthetics in “Action Points for Aesthetics” gave us a fascinating glimpse of the role and the status of aesthetics in presentations from Deborah Knight, Dom Lopes, Denis Dutton and Michael Kelly. The Feminist Caucus organized a panel and lunch meeting on “The Aesthetics of Aging.” The Committee on Aesthetic Education sponsored a panel on Ellen Handler Spitz’s Picturing Childhood, in which Tom Leddy, Karen Haas, Gareth Matthews, and Cynthia Rostankowski responded to the book and then Ellen Handler Spitz responded to her commentators.
In addition to the panel on Ellen Handler Spitz’s book mentioned above, there were four other panels in which new books by some of our distinguished members were considered and in which the authors served as commentators on the panelists’ presentations. Peter Lamarque chaired a session in which Susan Feagin and John Carvalho discussed Joseph Margolis’ What, After All, Is a Work of Art? The author, one of the Society’s most faithful long-time members, responded to their comments. Timothy Gould’s Hearing Things: Voice and Method in the Writing of Stanley Cavell, was the subject for a session chaired by Paul Guyer in which Karen Hanson and Stephen Melville shared their responses to Gould’s important new book. Gould’s reply helped stimulate a lively discussion. A highlight of the program for many of us was the session on Ted Cohen’s Jokes because this book displays both the philosophical acumen and the legendary joke-telling prowess of its author, a former president of the ASA. Good humor prevailed in the session chaired by Tim Gould, and featuring papers by Peter Kivy and Robert Solomon, noted philosophers and noted joke-tellers themselves. The session organized and chaired by Stephen Melville on the distinguished art historian and critic Michael Fried’s Art and Objecthood was somewhat different in structure. The commentators, Richard Moran, Norton Batkin,
and Howard Singerman, tended to concentrate on the famous title essay from that collection, and to think about the contemporary art world scene in terms of it. Professor Fried was present to respond.
The remarkable range of topics for the other panels on the program shows both the diversity of interests of our members, and also some areas of aesthetics that are drawing particular attention. Anthony Cascardi organized and chaired a fascinating exploration of “The Aesthetics of Space: The Shaping of Experience, Meaning and Values” which included the perspectives of architecture and environmental design as well as of philosophy. Curtis Carter organized and chaired an important discussion of “Democracy and Public Support of the Arts” (especially appropriate given the locale of our national meeting) which included philosophers and representatives of the museum world and the world of community art activism. This produced a lively and stimulating discussion. Another panel, this one organized and chaired by Jerrold Levinson, brought together four visiting French philosophers to discuss “Anglo-American Aesthetics: A View from France.” This provided us with a rare opportunity to hear both how others view us, and also about the contemporary philosophical situation of philosophers in France influenced by the analytical philosophical traditions. The panels on more specific philosophical topics also were indicative of some important areas of contemporary aesthetics. For example, we had two panels on film and philosophy. “Thinking through Cinema: The Performance of New Selves,” organized and chaired by Angela Curran, featured Cynthia Freeland and Tom Wartenberg speaking about their new books which extend genre studies of film. Carl Plantinga commented on their presentations. The other of the film panels, “Philosophical Thought in the Films of Eric Rohmer,” was organized by William Rothman; he and Marian Keane gave papers and Stanley Cavell commented on their papers and on Rohmer.
An increasing interest in the work of Theodore Adorno would seem to be indicated by the two panels on Adorno’s work. In “Beauty, Negativity, and Autonomy: Art and Society in Adorno’s Aesthetic” J.M Bernstein and Lambert Zuidervaart, with commentary by Max Pensky, discussed general issues in Adorno’s aesthetics. In the other panel “Ornament, Function, and Truth: Adorno and Heidegger/Philosophy and Architecture” Andrew Benjamin concentrated on Adorno’s relevance for the philosophy of architecture, while Fred Rush did the same for Heidegger. Tom Brockelman commented on their papers. Finally, two other panels focused on distinguished contemporary thinkers. “The Love of Art: Pierre Bourdieu on Taste, Class, and Aesthetics Autonomy,” presented interesting and informative accounts of this important continental thinker by Sally Markowitz, Paul Mattick, and Alan Wallach with commentary by Susan Weisser. The panel “Marx Wartofsky’s Unfinished Aesthetic Theory” served both as a commentary on Wartofsky’s very interesting aesthetic theory and as a tribute to the late philosopher who had been an important member of the ASA.
This year there were two featured plenary sessions on the program. Many members of the society had heard Professor Arthur Danto lecturing on beauty in Washington the night before our regular sessions began. On Thursday evening, Peg Brand chaired the session Beauty Matters that featured Arthur Danto and the other contributors to her anthology which has the same title as this session. It was a vital contribution to the much-discussed revival of “beauty” which is currently taking place. Finally, on Friday evening we were privileged to have a reading from Roland Flint, one of America’s finest poets. The reading was both brilliant and memorable.
I cannot conclude this brief report without once again giving thanks to John Brown and Curtis Carter for their contributions to this very successful meeting. I would also like publicly to extend my personal thanks as well as the thanks of the American Society for Aesthetics to all of the members of the 1999 Program Committee: Curtis Carter, Angela Curran, Francis Dauer, Garry Hagberg, James Hamilton, Karen Hanson, Patricia Herzog, and Stephen Melville. Their promptness and care in the reading of paper submissions, and the efforts that several of them devoted to the organization of panels was exemplary and contributed greatly to the success of the meeting.