The 1997 meeting of the Eastern Division of the Society took place March 20-22, 1997 at The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts.
The opening session Friday morning began with Sally Markowitz (Willamette), presenting “The Bribe of Beauty: Freud on Sexuality and Aesthetics,” in which she examined Freud’s idea that aesthetic interests are a form of sublimated sexuality, and related this to several other hierarchical contrasts: “primitive” versus civilized, individual versus social, and work versus leisure. Concurrently a paper by Robert Innis (University of Massachusetts Lowell), “Aesthetic Critique,” was read by Hermann Cloeren due to Innis’s unavoidable absence. In it Innis probed Kant’s idea that since no experiential occasion leaves us indifferent all human experience has aesthetic import, and he argued that the Kantian framework contains the seeds of a social aesthetics which can be compared to key features of the work of Prall and Lyotard.
In the mid-morning session on continental aesthetics John Carvalho (Villanova) explored Derrida’s notion of a gift, relating this to Duchamps’s last installation, “Give: 1) the waterfall, 2) the illuminating gas…,” and to time-consciousness, narrative and deconstruction. Michael Kelly (Columbia) examined Adorno’s reflections on the incapacity of modern art to be conscious of itself as a symptom of the pathology of contemporary culture.
A concurrent program on Japanese aesthetics consisted of three papers. Mark Mili (SUNY Buffalo) discussed Motoori Norinaga’s attempt to reclaim native Japanese aesthetics, as distinct from Chinese imports (Confucianism, Buddhism). Norinaga’s key concept is that of mono no aware, which Meli finds to be interestingly related to the 18th century concept of having taste. Yuriko Saito (RISD) and Barbara Sandrisser explored the Japanese aesthetics of wrapping, in particular its expressive power both when first presented and then as the wrapping is undone.
In the late morning Friday session Sam Mallin (York), in “Thinking of the Future Archaically: In the Shape of a Peplos,” subjected Greek sculpture of the archaic period to minute analysis in a phenomenological mode, giving a singularly concrete application of ideas of Merleau-Ponty on painting and Heidegger on phusis. He found in the features of the figures multiple suggestions of a circular return to the ground of Being. Milton Curry (Cornell) presented “The Problem of Derivative Black Aesthetic Production,” in which he discussed the neutralizing effect on the qualities of resistance in black art which is exerted by the processes of reception of black art by the mainstream artworld. He contended that this effect is abetted by black artists’ insistence on accessibility to and acceptance by that artworld.
After lunch Michael Mitias (Millsaps), in “The Aesthetics of the Architectural Work,” argued that physical structure and spatial form deserve primacy in any account of the aesthetic experience of architecture, since they are the bearers of the aesthetic qualities attributed to the works. Concurrently, Jane Duran and Earl Stewart dealt with the racial essentialism of Alain Locke. They pointed out seemingly intractable problems in applying Locke’s theory to visual art, and argued that a more plausible case can be made for it in relation to Afro-North American music.
In the mid-afternoon session Barbara Savedoff (Baruch) discussed the impact of digital technology on photography. On the one hand digitalizing expands the range of possibility of photography, since images may be altered at will; but once this power is commonly exercised, photographs would seem necessarily to lose much of their authority as records of the real. As a result of that, they will likely also lose some of their present power to unsettle the viewer through weird or whimsical juxtapositions or occlusions. These alterations may bring photography more nearly to the condition of painting, where the composition is routinely assumed to stem from the artist’s imagination rather than from any direct relation to actuality.
Howard Metzger (North Texas) inquired into how far Wagner’s music dramas, particularly Tristan und Isolde, were perceived as anti-Semitic by their original audiences, and whether recent music scholars’ perceptions of them have been affected by knowledge of what was made of them due to subsequent events.
At the Plenary session James E. Young (English and Judaic Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst) presented a copiously illustrated review of Holocaust memorials worldwide (including unexecuted proposals) and of the controversy such memorials have engendered. Interwoven were reflections upon the perils of preserving memory by public monuments, however imaginative and varied they may be, when the matter to be memorialized exceeds by such a margin the limits of adequate representation. Other questions: should memorializing somehow include the experience of the descendants of the victims, do even the best memorials subtly soften the passion and vigilance needed to avoid genocide in the future, and may not the best memorial of the Holocaust perhaps be an unending debate as to how best to memorialize it?
Saturday morning began with a session on the teaching of aesthetics. Gary Brouhard argued for introductions to aesthetics that conjoin philosophic questioning with aesthetic contemplation of art works. Claire Detels then discussed difficulties impeding the integration of aesthetic education and training in the arts.
In the mid-morning session Ira Newman proposed to resuscitate the resemblance theory of depiction by acknowledging two ways of understanding imitation: first as an articulation of familiar visual properties (Aristotelian imitation), and second as extending the human repertoire of ways of seeing, as suggested by Oscar Wilde’s essay,”The Decay of Lying.” Kevin Melchionne probed the problems and possibilities of (a) living in an artwork (Philip Johnson’s Glass House) and (b) aestheticizing one’s life life within a domestic setting, artwork or not.
Hilde Hein (Holy Cross) delivered the keynote address, “Epistemological Pollution,” in which she surveyed ways in which technology wrongly understood has encouraged forms of thinking that have a corrosive effect upon human values, and recommended aesthetic experience as a partial antidote.
The final session Saturday afternoon took place in the Worcester Art Museum. James Croddy (West Chester State) offered an analysis of analytic cubism in terms of five formal traits which he claimed are coordinated in such a way as to create “environments for signs of representation” which are isomorphic with “environments for the signs in natural languages.” David Brubaker argued that Cezanne’s use of the color-patch as an object-independent element represents “color sensations prior to their encapsulation within… distinct perceptions” and that this “realizing [of] our sensations,” as Cezanne put it, accords with Merleau-Ponty’s idea that the sensuous background in perception is apprehended through pre-objective awareness of one’s body.
A short business meeting just before lunch approved nominations of David Fisher as chair of the 1998 coordinating committee, Elizabeth Dobie as chair of the 1998 program committee, Iona College (New Rochelle) as the site of the 1998 meeting with Chris Perricone as local arranger, and John Carvalho for a three-year term on the program committee. Also approved was the 1999 meeting site at Daemon College (Amherst, a suburb of Buffalo), with James O’Leary as the local arranger.
John H. Brown