October 27-29, Houston
This Society’s 2004 Annual Meeting took place from 27 to 29 October at the Warwick Hotel in the Gallery District of Houston, Texas. Attending the meeting were philosophers, architects, art historians, curators, digital artists, and literary historians, linguists, musicologists from across the United States and Canada, as well as Britain, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand.
Two plenary sessions set the meeting’s tone. Daniel Mendelsohn, who teaches classics at Princeton University and frequently reviews books, movies, and plays in periodicals such as the New York Review of Books, traced the changing aesthetics of death in the poetry of Constantine Cavafy, which evolved from verse which visualizes and eroticizes dead bodies to verse which mimics fragmented epigraphs to give the dead a voice.
In his Presidential Address, Kendall Walton asked “Aesthetics – What, Why, and Wherefore?” and answered that aesthetics cannot be defined by a single question – such as “what is art?” – but covers a far from unified field of phenomena and raises a smorgasbord of questions. Nevertheless, he argued, general aesthetics is a viable and worthwhile enterprise – we need not view the field as individual philosophies of the individual arts.
This year refereed papers were presented in the morning and invited papers in the afternoon, with morning and afternoon sessions paired thematically. Day one focused on value theoretic aesthetics. In one pairing, a morning of papers on the cognitive value of literature led to an invited panel on cognitive poetics bringing together linguists, literary scholars, and philosophers. In a second pairing, papers on art and the aesthetic led to a panel of papers by Jesse Prinz (UNC) and James Shelley (Auburn University), with Prinz leveraging psychological studies of the perception of bodliy beauty to argue against aesthetic value realism and Shelley mounting an argument against aesthetic empiricism. The day’s third pair of sessions traversed the history of aesthetics, from Hume and Kant in the morning to an afternoon of Enlightenment (and) Aesthetics, including papers on moral beauty and Diderot.
The new visual arts were featured in one stream of the second day of proceedings. Three digital photographers, Bennie Flores Ansell and Soody Sharifi of Houston, and Osamu James Nakagawa from Indiana University presented their work as digital photographers. They were followed by presentations of papers by James Conant (University of Chicago) and George Wilson (UC Davis). The ontology of art provided a second stream, with three papers on the ontology of music and pictures leading to a discussion between Justin London (Music, Carleton College), Ted Gracyk (Moorehead State University), and John Covach (Music, University of North Carolina) about authenticity in popular music. The theme of the day’s third stream was interpretation, including papers on critical pluralism, intentionalism, and image interpretation, as well as a debate between Tamar Gendler and Brian Weatherson (both of Cornell University) on puzzles of imaginative resistance.
Two pairs of sessions on the final day of talks were given over to specific artforms. A morning of papers on the familiar topic of depiction was paired with a session on the less familiar topic of sculpture, comprising papers by Curtis Carter (Marquette University) on democracy and public aert and Robert Hopkins (University of Sheffield) on sculptural perspective. Likewise, three papers on the familiar topic of environmental aesthetics set up a panel on recent new work on architecture and ethics by Michael Levine (University of Western Australia), Kristine (University of Minnesota), and Bill Taylor (University of Western Australia). Rounding out the day were papers on somaesthetics, race in film, and emotion in music, and a panel of papers flowing from a recent NEH Summer Seminar on Emerson.
As a break from the daily routine of presentations, commentaries, and formal discussion, Cynthia Freeland (University of Houston) arranged a rich menu of social activities. In addition to the traditional opening night reception, special receptions were put on at the Blaffer Gallery at the University of Houston and the Barbara Davis Gallery, conveniently located in the Warwick Hotel. To unwind at the end of the meeting, attendees had a choice of a tour of the Menil Collection (and the nearby Rothko Chapel and Byzantine Icon Chapel) or a gig featuring the Aesthetic Attitude jazz ensemble (and an impromptu proof that philosophers can dance).
Dominic McIver Lopes