March 31 – April 2, Pacific Grove
Participants in this year’s annual meeting of the Pacific Division were given written instructions about what to do in case of attacks by mountain lions, but as per usual nature appeared in her benign garb of nibbling deer, warbling birds, bright sun, some fog, and roaring surf, which half of us (but not, let it be said, the organizer) had a view of from our rooms. Some groused about the irony of talking about nature and the sublime inside while the real thing did its thing outside, but most managed some balance between theory and practice – and everyone, as far as I know, avoided being devoured in the juvenescence of this year.
Desperately seeking a pattern in the usual crazy-quilt of papers, I descry history. The theme was introduced in the Wednesday evening session on architecture, in which Russell Quacchia gave a repeat performance of his account of Julia Morgan, the architect of Asilomar, and how the center developed (sometimes not for the better) over the years. This was followed by Larry Shiner’s discussion of the century-old tussle between the visual arts and their public domiciles, the museums.
History appeared in a rather different guise in the book session, where David Davies defended his radical thesis that, “artworks must be conceived not as the products of generative performances, but as the performances themselves.” Here an artwork simply is its history.
History made its final appearance when Peter Kivy and Simon Williams placed, respectively, the tussle for primacy between words and music and Berlioz’s Romeo and Juliet in historical context. In the former case we were treated to an exemplary use of history to pursue a philosophical point (the music is in the music), and in the latter the use of history to foster appreciation of a perplexing work.
The remaining papers can be divided into those concerned with artistic value and those that dealt with problems that are found in the arts but which raise general philosophical questions. The conference opened with a session called “Values.” Brian Soucek wondered again about the aesthetic value of copies, Tim Christie tried to find cognitive value in narratives, and Jennifer McMahon came from Adelaide to tell us about how to ground beauty in the perceptual level of pictures. Value was also center-stage in the “Nature” session, where Nicole Hassoun discussed the contrast between the value of wilderness and “restructured human landscapes.” One wondered whether this will soon be moot? Emily Brady returned to Kant’s account of the sublime and argued for its aesthetic character. The conference closed with a consideration of two problems in taste: first, what Christopher Williams called “the Spenser judgment,” i.e., the unenjoyable, even unreadable, classic (the issue, we learned, was raised by Hume in his History of England); and, second, Kevin Sweeney, again starting with Hume, argued that gustatory taste can have “imaginative content.”
In a session on the paradox of fiction Anton Alterman and Alex Neill looked again at this still nagging issue. Anton argued against Currie and Ravenscroft’s notion of “desire-like imaginings,” and offered some of his own proposals. After teasing out two distinct problems in the paradox of fiction, Alex concluded that the central questions “all remain open,” and it would be no surprise if we heard about this again next year. Fictional worlds were also at issue in Geoffrey Goodman’s defense of author essentialism, Phil Jenkins’ effort to deal with the determinacy and inconsistency problems in fictions, and Kathleen Stock’s re-thinking of Walton’s “silly questions problem” (why is Caesar speaking English?) Finally, John Fisher, taking up some themes from his recent critique of Noël Carroll’s theory of mass art, offered a “Prolegomena to a Theory of Entertainment,” and James Hamilton gave a paper on shared intentions in theatrical performances: is this intentionsalism? And wasn’t it hard enough in the singular?
Aaron Meskin is the chair of next year’s session, and Sheila Lintott has agreed to take over for 2006. Thanks to both of them, for I learned that conferences are both more instructive and more fun when one is not the organizer. As a non-philosopher it was a little hard for me to know where to turn for commentators, and I appreciate the help of those who helped me find them. And thanks to the commentators themselves for trying to squeeze themselves, usually with success, into ten minutes.