Phenomenological Aesthetics after the Centenary: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Trends

Alex Cosmescu

The Annual Colloquium of the Romanian Society for Phenomenology

On November 21, 2015, The University of Bucharest hosted the annual Colloquium of the Romanian Society for Phenomenology (SRF), “Phenomenological Aesthetics after the Centenary: Historical Perspectives and Contemporary Trends”, organized by Dr. Mădălina Diaconu (University of Vienna) and Dr. Christian Ferencz-Flatz (Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Bucharest). The 2015 Colloquium was held in memoriam prof. Walter Biemel (1918-2015), one of the spiritual patrons of the Romanian Society for Phenomenology.

The organizers proposed the topic of phenomenological aesthetics based on several considerations.

First, the aesthetic was a topic of reflection for several classics of the phenomenological tradition, from Moritz Geiger to Heidegger, Sartre, Dufrenne or Merleau-Ponty. Although the phenomenological approach to art continues to influence theoreticians and artists, and researchers continue to publish texts that present new perspectives on phenomenological aesthetics, as well as exegetic volumes dedicated to previous work in phenomenological aesthetics, one can say neither that the phenomenological approach occupies the main stage in the contemporary debates about the aesthetic, nor that the aesthetic is a favorite topic for a great number of phenomenologists.

Aware of this situation, the organizers of the Colloquium had a double aim: on the one side, to turn to account the phenomenological perspectives on the aesthetic, present in the work of the classics of the tradition, and, on the other side, to explore new perspectives offered by phenomenological reflection on the aesthetic and by the artists’ reflection, using phenomenological tools, on their own practice.

The scholars who responded to the organizers’ call touched upon these topics, in papers that aroused questions and long and productive discussions.

In the first presentation of the Colloquium, The Art of Making Oneself ‘Understood’. Communicating Experience through Artistic and Phenomenological Discourse, Alexandru Bejinariu (University of Bucharest) offered a novel reading of Erscheinungsdinge, as well as of other works by Günter Figal. The main question of the paper was in what sense one can say that the artwork transmits something and in what measure an investigation of art can elucidate fundamental phenomenological concepts.

This investigative line was continued by Remus Breazu (University of Bucharest). In Variation and the Artistic Object, after a review of Husserlian eidetic variation, its analogues in the history of philosophy, and the Bachelardian analysis of the poetic image, R. Breazu explored the way in which the poetic image is itself a specific form of variation and the prospects of this interpretative strategy for rethinking the workings of the poetic text.

In The Place of Subjectivity in Understanding the Work of Art: Heidegger vs. Schapiro, Ileana Borțun (Romanian Society for Phenomenology) offered a Heideggerian response to M. Schapiro’s critique of Heidegger’s interpretation of a painting by Van Gogh in his essay on the work of art, and, respectively, to Schapiro’s critique of the Heideggerian conception of art. Subsequently, I. Borțun explored, from a Heideggerian perspective, the possibility of thinking about the work of art without reference to the artist’s or the receiver’s subjectivity.

Bogdan Mincă (University of Bucharest), in Heidegger’s Reading of the Greek Arché as “Original Leap” (Ur-sprung) in the Essay The Origin of the Work of Art, offered a reading of Heidegger’s essay on the origin of the work of art in the context of the 1931-1932 courses, where Heidegger approached the problem of origin in a Greek context. According to B. Mincă, the essay’s title can be read as both objective genitive and subjective genitive – in the latter case, the work of art becomes itself an origin as Ur-sprung and offers new vistas for rethinking this concept.

Eveline Cioflec (Romanian Society for Phenomenology), in Aesthetic Valences of the Technical Reproduction of the Work of Art, offered a parallel reading of W. Benjamin’s essay on the work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction and Heidegger’s text on the origin of the work of art. E. Cioflec explored the tension between the two radically different texts written in almost the same time, offering alternative possibilities for rethinking the work of art – as the “becoming and happening of the truth” or as something affected in its essence by the possibility of technical reproduction.

In Film in the Early Phenomenology, Christian Ferencz-Flatz (Institute for Research in the Humanities, University of Bucharest) attempted a reconstruction, based on several passing references by the first-generation phenomenologists, of the implicit conception of film in early phenomenology. According to C. Ferencz-Flatz, it was tainted by the generalized prejudice against photographical reproduction and by a hostile attitude towards entertainment. The presentation ended with a reflection on phenomenology’s general tendency towards conservativism.

Alexandru Cosmescu (Academy of Sciences of Moldova) presented a paper on The Practice of Description in Phenomenology and Literature. Starting from the Alva Noe’s idea that art and philosophy are two species of the same genus – investigative reorganizational practices – A. Cosmescu explored how the similarity and difference between philosophy and literature are influenced by their usage of description as a discursive practice.

Mădălina Diaconu (University of Vienna), in For an Aesthetics of Atmospheric Conditions, explored the ways phenomenology can be used to account for the conditions in which meteorological phenomena can generate aesthetic experiences. The stakes of this project would include leaving behind the simplistic and cliché interpretations of atmospheric conditions (“blue-sky thinking”), raising awareness regarding climate change, as well as recovering, for phenomenology, the original, non-metaphoric signification of the atmosphere.

In Aisthesis as dialogue. An artist’s perspective on Bernhard Waldenfels’ responsive phenomenology, Teresa Leonhardmair (Musikschule Elijah, Sibiu) explored, from the perspective of an artist reflecting on her own practice, the significance of Bernhard Waldenfels’ work in an artistic context. The phenomenological thematization of the Alien, the lived body, the pathos, can fertilize as well as elucidate various experimental artistic projects – for example, the one T. Leonhardmair is currently preparing together with a team of disabled and non-disabled dancers.

The papers presented at the Colloquium brought together various topics and authors, important for phenomenological aesthetics, establishing a dialogue between phenomenology, other philosophical traditions, and artistic practice. The presentations have once again shown phenomenology’s prospects in interpreting aesthetic phenomena and have outlined new vistas for phenomenological explorations.

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