The 56th Annual Meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics took place November 4-7, 1998 on the campus of Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Peg Brand served as Local Arrangements chair, and Indiana University proved to be a marvelous host, offering facilities and personnel for a banquet, a reception at the president’s house, a recital by Janos Starker, and a performance of scenes from Mozart’s Idomeneo, among other delights. 191 persons registered for the conference. The following reports on many of the conference sessions were provided by the chairs of the sessions, whose names appear after their contributions. They are, however, not responsible for additions and editing carried out by Richard Eldridge, the Program Chair, who collated the reports.
Thursday, November 5th
Lydia Goehr’s The Quest for Voice. Marc Weiner applauded Lydia Goehr’s insistence on the “doubleness” of musical works, i.e., their being both constructs of sounds and expressions of what transcends the sounds, and he endorsed her account of the discursive space opened up in the ‘gap’ between terms such as “material” and “transcendent,” “musical” and “extra-musical.” He criticized her, however, for attending to only one of the pairs of terms whose joint application makes musical works double. He challenged her distinction between the political and the ideological – where the political is open, regulated by underdetermined formal ideals, and the ideological is closed by the content that fills out the ideals – and argued that because the political is deemed superior it is imbued with content, and the distinction collapses. Musical practice, Goehr claims, because it is a human performance is always expressive, and the what that is expressed underdetermines the how. Couple this with Goehr’s claim that music can show what cannot be said, and Weiner’s criticism is that The Quest for Voice is a celebration of the (discursively) inexpressible and, hence, itself an exercise in ideology.
Garry Hagberg also approved Goehr’s not reducing the at times antagonistic relation between the social and the aesthetic that sustains the evolution of musical practices and gives them primacy over theory. He asked, however, about the nature of a musical meaning that is both autonomous and a comment on the world. How can pure music do this? The assumption that the music-world relationship is referential is as pernicious here as the assumption in the philosophy of language that all meaning is referential, and the question should be answered by looking at actual musical practice. Is a grasp of the details of the musical work sufficient to show how music can show what it cannot directly say? Is something unsayable because private? Hagberg objected on Wittgensteinian grounds to the thesis that meanings are private, but argued that unless Goehr fleshes out the idea of the unsayable the sweep of her thesis is at risk. He invited her to say that a musical performance constitutes, rather than, as she says, expresses the self, that significance is recognized in, not, as she says, through, a performance.
Lydia Goehr replied to both commentaries by emphasizing her reliance on the priority of performances and expressive acts to musical texts within musical practice. When we grasp this priority correctly, then we can understand how musical performances are situationally constrained explorations of the possibilities of free subjectivity. (Mary Wiseman)
Authorial Intentions. The two main speakers, Saam Trivedi and Raja Halwani raised issues that are central to any discussion of intentionality, following contemporary criticisms of intentionality’s complicity in power and the production of knowledge. Trivedi took up Noel Carrol’s discussion of the place of intentionality within a theory of communication. He argued that such a focus helps us locate “actual intentionality” in ascribing meaning to artworks. Halwani, on the other hand, took up issues of the reception of artworks, some of which have serious consequences, and raised issues about the moral responsibility of artists. Paul Taylor, in his elegant response, spoke mainly to Trivedi’s essay and expressed some reservations about his use of the terms “communication” and “conversation.” A lively discussion followed. (Pradeep A. Dhillon)
Nietzsche. Thomas Leddy’s paper, “Nietzsche, Matriarchal Aesthetics and Defining Art,” offered a challenging new interpretation of the “Dionysian” element of Nietzschean aesthetics, as developed in The Birth of Tragedy. Leddy argued for an an identification of “the Dionysian” and “the feminine” and noted some parallels between Nietzschean aesthetics and recent feminist work on aesthetics. Philip Pothen, in his paper, “Taste as Character: Nietzsche Contra Kant on Disinterestedness and the Judgment of the Beautiful,” presented a challenging contrast as well as comparison between Kantian and Nietzschean views of aesthetic judgment, empasizing their differences with regard to the “universality” of the latter. Salim Kemal took issue with the theses of both speakers in his “Remarks” and offered some insightful comments of his own regarding Nietzsche’s “Kantianism.” (Daniel Breazale)
Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge. Lawrence Kramer set forth a rationale for the work of the so-called “new musicology,” with its concern to articulate broadly intelligible, historically specific musical meanings not restricted to the expression of feeling or the unfolding of form. Critical musicology (his preferred caption) grounds musical meaning in the same cultural and social contexts that ground the construction of subjectivity. The ascription of meaning in critical interpretation is continuous with the process by which music assumes meaning in mixed media and in the informal discussions that occur as music is taught, rehearsed, or responded to in social and personal life.
Naomi Cummings argued that ascriptions of ‘meaning’ in music can be analytically supported through a study of concatenations of signs, so long as the domain of signification is conceived with sufficient breadth. She illustrated her way of grounding claims about musical meaning by focusing on a Bach solo violin sonata, noting how it draws on and develops specific historically established connotative musical devices.
David Schwarz focused on the signification attaching to the development of the musical surface (orchestration, timbre, intensity, etc.) in Anton Webern’s Six Pieces for Orchestra. He suggested that this piece portrayed the shape of the experience of a distinct modern subjectivity. (Jennifer Judkins)
The Metaphysics of Fiction. In “In Fictional Shoes: Mental Simulation and Fiction” Deborah Knight argued that while mental simulation might well help us to understand others’ feelings and beliefs and predict their actions, it does not adequately explain our interaction with fictional characters. Simulation fails to take into account what Knight later calls the “formal, narratological, stylistic, and thematic dimensions of fictional narratives.” Knight concludes with the Aristotelian observation that fictional characters exist in narratives driven by “entelechial causality.” Thus they don’t act freely, and this constitutes a prime disanalogy with everyday life.
In “From Work to Text: The Analytic Twist,” Katerina Reed-Tsocha argued that the analogy classifying both literature and painting as multiple arts based on their similar reproductive methods (printing and super-xeroxing, respectively) is mistaken and misleading. She maintains that painting is subject to absolute multiplicity resulting from exact replication, while multiplicity in the literary arts is different in kind, requiring medium translatability. Reed-Tsocha proposed in the end that a work’s method of production properly determines its singular or multiple status. (Stephanie Ross)
Encylopedia of Aesthetics. Whitney Davis, Susan Feagin and Gregg Horowitz provided three perspectives on the new Encyclopedia of Aesthetics (Oxford, 1998), Michael Kelly responded, and Anita Silvers summarized and expanded on their views.
Feagin noted that encyclopedias of fields of inquiry are needed when the discipline becomes too large and varied to be comprehended by all the professionals who practice it. But even for an encyclopedia, being comprehensive is a foolish or impossible goal. Feagin was pleased that the Encyclopedia makes no attempt to predigest topics but instead functions as an antidote to specialism by offering a broad reading of aesthetics.
Davis observed that the Encyclopedia not only recognizes, but indeed embraces, the heterogeneity of aesthetic phenomena. By doing so, the Encyclopedia challenges philosophical aesthetics’ traditional commitment to universality. Further, acknowledging heterogeneity provokes anxiety in traditionalists because it underscores the importance of cultivating an immensely diverse scholarship.
Horowitz similarly saw the Encyclopedia as a site of cultural anxiety. It breaks out of the idea of aesthetics as a discipline and successfully escapes retrograde efforts to fetishize art. It creates a geneology of the connectedness of aesthetics with cultural description, explanation and analysis.
Encyclopedia editor Michael Kelly replied that the Encyclopedia is probing for some kind of identity for aesthetics. Aesthetics has been in disorder for some time, and the strategy of the Encyclopedia is to bring the different perspectives – including views antithetical to aesthetics – into dynamic proximity.
Anita Silvers summarized the panelists’ analyses of how (well) the Encyclopedia achieved its goals – namely, to trace the genealogy of aesthetics so as to integrate its philosophical and cultural roles, and to contribute to a discursive public sphere in which multiple perspectives are articulated, dialogue fostered, and common ground constructed. Silvers also suggested ways in which the contributions of the Encyclopedia could be given visibility and the intellectual issues it raises be pursued. (Anita Silvers)
Presidential Address. Following an elegant introduction by Noël Carroll, Ted Cohen addressed the topic “Metaphors of Personal Identification.” How does one imagine oneself to be another, and how does another imagine herself to be me? Cohen stressed that any successes in these efforts are problematic moral achievements, depending on senses of likeness and difference that are not well settled and that ought not to be well settled by any theory of language or metaphor. These imaginings are explorations of the possibility and limits of relationship.
President Myles Brand and Local Arrangements Chair Peg Brand hosted a reception at Bryan House for the Society’s members following the talk.
Friday, November 6th
The Female Body in Art. Angela Bolte’s paper, “Bodies, Spectators, and Dance” offered a critical perspective on ballet, emphasizing the appearance of frailty and feminine dependence on the part of the dancer that classic ballet roles promote. Bolte expressed a preference for modern dance forms in which female strength is permitted more evidence, and which depends less on a traditionally feminine body type.
John Carvalho directed our attention to the presentation of two types of femininity that appear in paintings of the Renaissance in “Annunciations: Figuring the Ideal Female in Renaissance Painting.” With slides of artworks familiar and unfamiliar, he demonstrated two expressions of Mary upon the news that she is to be the mother of Christ: serene resignation and appalled recoil. He speculated that the different images of femininity that these represent are repeated in contemporary feminist discourse.
Joyce Brodsky commented on both papers, raising questions about essentialism that arise when one discusses “the feminine,” and about variations of ideas of femininity dependent on historical and cultural contexts. (Carolyn Korsmeyer)
Beyond Structural Listening. Andrew Dell’Antonio, Joseph Dubiel, Fred Everett Maus, and Martin Rudolf Scherziger each responded to an essay of Rose Subotnik’s on the importance of achieving musical understanding through attending to musical surfaces, lyrics, and music as cultural text, as well as to formal harmonic organization. Dell’Antonion and Maus illustrated how this might be done by attending to pieces of recent rock and punk music. Dubiel emphasized that what counts as musical form is a contested matter. Subotnik replied by stressing that she has always urged a variety of modes of musical understanding, not either formal analysis or style analysis alone.
After Political Criticism. In the session, “After Political Criticism?,” Tony Cascardi considered the politically transformative potential of a sensus communis aestheticus, in relation to the possibility of a Habermasian discourse ethics. Daniel Herwitz argued that reconciliation in South Africa requires two kinds of reversal, a Montaignesque reversal producing uncertainty, and a Hegelian reversal leading to mutual recognition. Marjorie Perloff criticized the trend in cultural theory toward commodifying artworks and using them merely as illustrative tools of theory. Shane Phelan discussed the motivations behind the desire to “end” political criticism and argued for a self-conscious embrace of the role of power and human needs in criticism. (Eileen John)
Recital and Reflections: Janos Starker. Janos Starker offered his thoughts about the role of the cellist in shaping the musical work presented in performance. He noted that some decisions are made momentarily in the course of playing on a particular occasion; others arise in collaboration with the composer in completing or revising the score. The effort is to produce as musically intelligent and full presentation as possible of what the composer and music ask of the performer. Professor Starker then played Bach’s 1st Suite for Unaccompanied Cello, G major. Questions from the floor and a lively discussion followed.
Saturday, November 7th Noël Carroll’s Philosophy of Mass Art. Invoking Frankfurt School analysis of mass culture, Cynthia Willett argued that Carroll was insufficiently attentive to mass culture as an instrument of political domination that induces docility and distraction, and insufficiently attentive as well to his own role as a theorist in furthering these instrumentalities. Carroll replied that mass art comes in many strikingly different instances, and that it often requires active attention and provokes political and moral thought. He is less interested in analyzing what all individual works of mass art necessarily do in common (since they often do little or nothing in common) than he is in describing the ontological specificities of mass art involved in its use of technologies of reproduction and transmission.
Richard Shusterman’s paper wondered why Carroll preferred the expression “mass art” to the more colloquial (to him) “popular art” or “popular culture. In reply Carroll emphasized the importance of modern mass technologies to mass art, rather than folkishness.
The Committee on the Status of Aesthetics held a lunch/business meeting, chaired by Mary Devereaux. Committee members received copies of the l997-98 Committee Report to the Board of Trustees and a report by Dom Lopes on the on-going survey of the status of aesthetics in North American philosophy departments. The survey has now been distributed to all doctoral programs in philosophy as well as a representative sampling of undergraduate and MA programs at public and private institutions. Response has so far been good (with over one hundred institutions already replying). The Committee plans to present the results of the survey and a series of recommended actions to the Society at a special session at the Washington, DC meeting. The Committe also decided to move ahead with plans for a future NEA summer seminar, possibly on the topic of the relationship between aesthetics and philosophy. Also agreed was to establish an on-line Committee mailing list. The list is now up and running. Members of the ASA who are interested in being added to the CSAA-L mailing list should contact Dominic Lopes . (Mary Devereaux)
Kant and Schlegel. Daniel Arenas’ paper in the session on Kant and Schlegel was entitled “Nature and Spirit in Kant’s Theory of Genius”. After reviewing some of the central passages in Kant’s account of genius, Arenas proposed a larger role for spirit, as bringing together imagination and understanding. This new role for spirit requires a new view of nature in Kant, whereby it is nature as spirit that “gives the rule to art.” Finally, Arena opposed this view of genius as spirit to the idea of genius is irrational and unconscious.
Fred Rush’s paper, “Ironies: The Kantian Roots of Early German Romanticism”, took up an important piece of the paradox of Kant’s influence on German Romanticism. Rush provocatively addressed the difficulties involved in finding both continuity (showing a genuine piece of Kantian influence on Schlegel and his generation) and discontinuity (showing the genuine originality of the Romantics vis a vis the Kantian problematic). His paper worked to revise the distinction between criticism (hence reception) and production and to rehabilitate the notion of irony, as something more than merely a rhetorical device, and to suggest its power as a genuine alternative to nihilism.
Richard Velkley’s commentary sharpened the issues neatly and intensified the paradoxes and tensions at the heart of each paper: that of nature and spirit in the first case and that of criticism and productivity in the second case. The discussion was lively and instructive. The irony of an academic reception of the category of irony was not a dismal acquiescence in formality but a provocation to further work. (Tim Gould)
Bodily Aesthetics and the Kiss. David Hoekema opened the session by describing the circumstances of the 1948 publication of the first Kinsey report, which combined elements of serious scholarship, iconoclastic attack on bourgeois morality, and a level of media manipulation probably unequalled in academia. He also reminded attendees of the correlative exhibit of photographs and other images from the Kinsey collection on view in the gallery of the School of Fine Arts.
Eva Kit Wah Man offered a wide-ranging survey of “Kissing in China,” illustrated with slides of erotic Chinese art, from the Han dynasty (200 B.C.E. – 200 C. E.) to the present. Taoist theories of sexuality call for a mutuality between the sexes, she observed, and they give kissing an important part in balancing yin and yang forces. Today in China, she added, the puritanical repression of doctrinaire Maoism is giving way to more relaxed Western attitudes, and discreet public kissing is being tolerated for the first time in half a century.
Jo Ellen Jacobs reflected on personal and cultural meanings of “The Kiss in the United States,” using images from painting and popular media to explore the relationship between kissing and the related phenomena of eating, talking, and engaging in sexual intimacy. “Since the 1960’s the kiss has begun to be replaced by sexual intercourse” as a conventional plot device in popular films, she noted, “but there is something unsatisfying in the substitute. Kissing points to intimacy, tenderness, and mutuality in ways that most scenes of intercourse do not.”
Completing our osculatory circuit of the globe by returning to Asia, Barbara Sandrisser employed a variety of still and video images, historical and contemporary, of “Kissing in Japan” to document the erosion in this century of Japanese traditions of privacy and concealment in kissing. A Japanese newspaper, for example, quoted the reaction of a middle-aged man to public kissing: “It’s a horrible thing to watch--it really makes me wonder where the Japanese sense of aesthetics has gone.” Sandrisser concluded her presentation, and our session, with a clip from the satirical film Tampopo which, she suggested, summed up “all the wit, sensuality, and sexiness of the kiss in Japan.”
This being the last session of the conference, several participants were observed bestowing polite, European-style kisses on the cheeks of colleagues as they prepared for their journey home.
Adorno: Music and Lyric. Roger W. H. Savage argued that the “new” musicology – a post positivistic, interpretative approach exemplified by Susan McClary’s feminist music criticism – is indebted to Adorno’s critical aesthetic theory. Savage suggested that this critical turn be followed by one toward hermeneutics. Susan Hahn, in “Authenticity and Impersonality in Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory,” argued that lyric poetry escapes Adorno’s near-wholesale rejection of “affirmative” art because it satisfies the apparently conflicting demands of authenticity and impersonality, a tension which Adorno purposely generates. Hahn went on to reconstruct Adorno’s Hegelian-Marxist solution for resolving the tension.
In response to Savage, Tom Huhn argued for a greater distinction between “society” and “social significance,” asking whether a “hermeneutics of new musicology,” as he terms it, will bring us closer to the artwork than does traditional formalist musicology. Huhn found Hahn’s characterization of the difficulties of the transition from authentic individual experience to universality convincing, but went on to suggest that the source of those difficulties resides in the very nature of experience.
Opera Session. Peter Kivy introduced Mozart’s Idomeneo by asking why the opera has a happy ending. The answer is that Mozart employed the techniques of opera seria, and these required first a set of arias each individually expressing a particular dominant emotion and second an ending in the tonic major. This ending-requirement directed Mozart to revise the plot accordingly.
Following a dinner banquet in the Indiana Memorial Union, members of the Indiana University School of Music presented selected scences from Idomeneo for the Society in the Musical Arts Center. After these scenes, the stage director Vince Liotta, the musical director, Peter Kivy, and Stanley Cavell discussed the opera and its presentation, together with members of the audience. Cavell wondered whether the end was quite so happy – one major character is exiled and another remains bereft of her husband and homeland – and he noted a surprising shift from D major to C# minor within an aria. There was considerable discussion of the spareness of the sets and the sumptuousness of the costuming as efforts to portray visually the psychological interiority of the drama.