Essay

PHENOMENOLOGY AND AESTHETICS

„Has the Postmodern era erased the question of the essence of art? Has the introduction of the idea of “art as commodity” ended the trust in aesthetics as a valid philosophical discipline? At the same time, has posthumanism—with its renewed interests in the fundamentals of human existence — reintroduced the focus on aesthetics? What role can phenomenological aesthetics play in the modern investigation not only of art and its perception but also in conjunction with nature/ecology, culture, the aesthetics/ethics axis, human/nonhuman identity, human passions, gender and its perceived aesthetic expectations, classification of arts, aesthetic principles of narrative, etc.”

Dear Friends,

While addressing above issues I will not be referring to commonly known opinions. Nor will I scrutinise general statements and popular trends nowadays. I will neither quote the experts who are commonly associated with the realm of a human activity known as aesthetics.

I am aware how risky my approach is. It is a nonconformist attitude which is truly free. However, it is a difficult approach. It is hard not only to hold it but also in the way the supporter is perceived. It not an easy feat to constantly defend your views against jealous people – those who are a scourge to themselves and become a scourge to Another Human Being. I do not claim that one should not value one’s life but holding the balance with regard to self-assessment should continually mark any human activity. Honesty is the right word. Self-honesty as well as being honest to Another Human Being. Awareness. Lucidity.

It takes courage to admit: I am not perfect. However, it takes much more courage to claim: I am so persevering, I have so much of an internal drive that no obstacles will obstruct my actions. I will not give ground until I decide to do it myself.

Therefore, this approach is unexceptionable itself. My actions do not depend on other people but only on me! I hold full responsibility for my actions. Only me. Nobody else. Always.
Even if my attitude – that is a fully authentic self-expression – turns out to be too inconvenient for others who will knowingly strive for annihilating them, they cannot fall prey to these circumstances!

Retaining its core value will be hard but they should by no means doubt for a single moment. No doubt in being a worthy human being. With all probability, this person has to be aware that they surpass those who try do destroy them. As a result, a person like this becomes subjected to ridicule and shame.

It seems that any bright mind – before being able to voice an opinion – has to face resistance from those who are not a par intellectually (and often morally). Edmund Husserl serves as an example.

‘Husserl did not have an easy life at the University of Göttingen. He was appointed professor against the faculty’s will which favoured the philosophy historian instead. Wilhelm Dilthey was crucial in his nomination for full professor in Göttingen by the Berlin ministry – it was a personal faculty not formally tied to the department. As a result, Husserl was boycotted for many years. While the ministry planned to appoint him full professor in 1907, the department thought otherwise by claiming he was devoid of talent. He got severely dejected by that fact. Initially, Husserl had to convince the audience to get support during his lectures. There used to be only few students attending his lectures at an initial stage for a few years. Moreover, he was addressing the topics almost unknown to the audience.’ [Website:
http://www.iphils.uj.edu.pl/~m.kuninski/Edmund%20Husserl%20-%20Alicja%20Bochenska.htm, (last visit: 08.04.2018)

It is not a coincidence that I started my presentation with a few ethics-based remarks. The Greek word αἰσθητῐκός (aisthetikos) stands for not only ‘perceptible’ but also ‘sensitive’. What is ‘sensitivity’ then? One can be sensitive to a particular colour or a specific sound. What is more, one can be sensitive to a particular shape (form) or a music scale (harmony). Nonetheless, the intellectual and moral sensitivity should be of utmost importance if we consider any type of intellectualization of an aesthetic nature. Due to the fact that my attitude does not seem to stand in stark contrast with Immanuel Kant’s approach, let me quote a relevant fragment of his statement:

Genius is the talent (or natural gift) which gives the rule to Art. Since talent, as the innate productive faculty of the artist, belongs itself to Nature, we may express the matter thus: Genius is the innate mental disposition (ingenium) through which Nature gives the rule to Art. Whatever may be thought of this definition, whether it is merely arbitrary or whether it is adequate to the concept that we are accustomed to combine with the word genius (…), we can prove already beforehand that (…) beautiful arts must necessarily be considered as arts of genius. [Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, § 46]

What do these words mean?

Every individual was given not only life but also endowed with various possibilities available only to that particular individual to fulfil it. It happens so by virtue of the supreme laws of nature which are also fundamental for the fulfilment of the world around us. In view of the foregoing, every human being is morally obliged to develop their skills.

A human being gets stronger morally by fulfilling one’s moral duty through cultivating one’s abilities. There emerges a sense of responsibility for one’s own existence. If one starts feeling responsible for themselves, it will unmistakably lead to the sense of mutuality and responsibility for Another Human Being. Only then is it possible to act righteously, i.e. without cheating Another Human Being.

Righteousness should serve as a basis of every action. However, how can one get insight into what is precisely righteous and how can one discern what is not righteous? In that case, what shall constitute a significator of moral actions? The answer is unambiguous – responsibility. Nevertheless, is it measurable? If it is doable, how can it be done? Responsibility is measurable only through action. There are various ‘actions’, however… Trivial actions are not the case here, such as following the code of conduct (in other words, conventionalism). I will act specifically because it is the norm, I am supposed to do it, I was brought up this way. No. I will act so that it is truly relevant for me, i.e. a given action has a real value because I act for the sake of a moral value of the action. Being honest with myself is a moral value in that case. Therefore, I am responsible for myself as I am honest with myself. I know there are certain areas of life which I can be better at. If I know I can be better – and I can clearly define the word ‘better’ – I do everything in order to become better. However, I do not impose a specific way of acting on myself. I act accordingly because I have a moral sense which directs my actions appropriately. Thus, every relevant action clearly results from my moral constitution which itself constitutes my personal identity.

At this point let us focus how the above mentioned refers to the issue of aesthetics per se.

Due to the fact that aesthetics is encompassed by human experience – much as the understanding of the said human experience – it precludes the notion of aesthetics being based on something non-human, i.e. transcendental with regard to a sphere of human experience. Let us address the following issue: if we consider the area of human experience, it seems that it is based on something primordial – a factor which constitutes the area.

If so, how is that possible to ignore a transcendental sphere with relation to a human being? If we consider the realm of human experience, can we ignore the foundation on which the human experience is based?

From an ontical perspective – absolutely not. Ignoring the ground on which a plant grows makes it impossible to define conditions necessary for its growth, its individual constitution. However, a growing plant directs itself towards light essential for its growth. A flower does not need to discern the ground and location which is a complementary part of. The flower is. The flower experiences. The plant does not need to describe its surroundings nor concomitant experiences. The plant probably is an experience itself (here: sensation).

In the case of a human being, the world is a manifestation. The world manifests and this manifestation is the root cause which a human being aspires to understand. A human being  strives for the self-understanding in relation to what surrounds them and what manifests itself by means of trying to understand the essence of the world. From a general perspective, a human first asks what they see and what manifests itself, then asks how a given object is perceived. The sequence of questions is not coincidental. It is determined by our natural human orientation. We have a natural tendency to deem the manifested world as real – in a way which it manifests itself to us. By perceiving a given phenomenon we acknowledge the existence of a given object, the proportions of which are supposed to be defined by the said phenomenon.

Husserl conceptualised this issue by means of the distinction between natural sciences and philosophical sciences.

Therefore:

‘The natural attitude of mind is as yet unconcerned with the critique of cognition. Whether in the act of intuiting or in the act of thinking, in the natural mode of reflection we are turned to the objects as they are given to us each time and as a matter of course, even though they are given in different ways and in different modes of being, according to the source and level of our cognition.’ [Edmund Husserl, The Idea of Phenomenology, Martinus Nijhoff, 1973, p.13]

By perceiving only the object x, we undergo the phase of a blooming flower. The object x constitutes a complementary part of the world around. At this stage, we do not need to go to the bother to understand this phenomenon. One can even say that the phenomenon x equals the object x at the lowest level of involvement. As a result, we incorporate the phenomenon-object within the boundaries of our awareness while being non distant whatsoever which enables us to create space which in turn conditions the initiation of the cognitive process of a higher level, i.e. the process where higher cognitive structures of a person are activated.

Nevertheless, a human being creates one’s own identity by making an effort which is related to any cognitive activity of a human being vs. the world around. Thus, every person, while being a part of the world that surrounds them, develops one’s own distinctiveness. There are various levels of the said distinctiveness, the most significant of which is the activity of a human mind. One has to highlight its autonomy when we consider the activity of a human mind. An intellectual autonomy is not associated with the spread of prevailing norms, habits, as well as human actions the approval of which would lead to the development of conventional actions – they would later have to be prescribed by the law and societal rules. In consequence, we get not so much of a permission but rather a prescription with guidelines as to what a human behaviour should be like.

An intellectual self-reliance accounts for an indicator of a subject-oriented attitude towards the world around. For that reason, an intellectual development is of the crucial role for the verification of the phenomena given to us. A dependent person – i.e. somebody devoid of analytic and synthetic skills when faced with incoming information – will always scrape the bottom of the barrel, anything that is commonly known as decent. What it means is that the work of art should be mellow and not thought-provoking. The image cannot be too complex – therefore too demanding for a cognitive perception. While discussing a personal perception set within the scope of aesthetics, we should not slim the phenomenon down only to an act of perceiving it. One should take into consideration that we are dealing with an intentional form. The intentionality of a phenomenon requires the content referring to the phenomenon. Despite the fact that every available phenomenon contains some content, it is not always synonymous with a message intended for a recipient. However, we can speculate on a case where a ‘message’ is perceived as if it was sent by something indefinable. The very something – which should be presented as a real being – enables us to perceive a given phenomenon in order to mediate its existence. As a result, it is important to make a distinction in relation to the realm of the object of cognition in order to be as precise as possible, which will help us discover the right proportions of the object of cognition.

For that reason, Husserl made the following suggestion:

‘(…) If we disregard any metaphysical purpose of the critique of cognition and confine ourselves purely to the task of clarifying the essence of cognition and of being an object of cognition, then this will be phenomenology of cognition and of being an object of cognition and will be the first and principal part of phenomenology as a whole.’ [Edmund Husserl, The Idea of Phenomenology, Martinus Nijhoff, 1973, p.18]

One should heed the fact that this distinction should be the first step to continue our discussion.

Aesthetics is strictly connected to a sphere of a human action – such a sphere where a human being is privileged. This realm, which is fully dependent on a person, is governed by slightly  different rules of relevance (here: the existence mode of relevant values).

Therefore, we do not perceive the manifestations of a real being but rather an intentional one. A human being creates its own work by attributing a shape to a form in a particular way. The whole process takes place according to established rules, i.e. in such a way that an intended image is accessible to another person being a recipient of the said content. It is not so much important if the image is intended to be seen, heard, touched, or is a fusion of these. By defining a specific image, the sender builds a message which also accounts for the content of a created phenomenon. Only another human being can be a recipient of this phenomenon. It results from the fact that all images created by a human being (regardless of the form) are a system of signs which – by being given a proper form – turns out to be a coded message sent to the recipient by the sender. Thus, a phenomenon of this kind needs to be considered as unique as there is no importance to it whatsoever in a non-human realm. What poses as a phenomenon to us is so because we have an ability to interpret a presented content. It happens so by means of a mental analysis and synthesis of an appearance available to us. If we considered an image as a sphere taking over the realm of a human experience, we would only deal with the object x being an element of a real being X. This object would be automatically devoid of any content.

Husserl rightly noticed:

‘(…) The ego as a person, as a thing in the world, and the mental life as the mental life of this person, are arranged – no matter even if quite indefinitely- on objective time; they are all transcendent and epistemologically null.’ [Edmund Husserl, The Idea of Phenomenology, Martinus Nijhoff, 1973, p.34]

We are, however, concerned only with the realm of a human experience and the object contained therein carrying a certain message which generates a specific phenomenon. Just like in the case of a written language – there are various levels of the language of a sign and/or a symbol. The level of a given language is fully dependent on mental level showcased by the language user. In terms of aesthetics, the user of a language of signs often becomes an initiator of a visual representation of a prior natural language. As the communication taking place between sender-initiator and addressee-recipient takes place only with the boundaries determined by the human sphere, one should emphasize that aesthetics as such can only be intersubjective. If a given message as a phenomenon is fully dependent on the sender, i.e. who creates the message, the message content will also be dependent on who generates the message. If that is the case, the opposite situation seems to be obvious. The higher the analytic-synthetic level of the addressee-recipient, the more receptive they are with regard to highly abstract messages. A unique sensitivity to a real manifestation of a given person emerges. One should bear in mind that there are actions not related to righteousness towards another person. For example, propaganda-related actions solely aiming at gaining material profit by those resorting to manipulative techniques. As a result, a human being gets degraded a commercial commodity. However, an internally integral recipient will be able to recognize the real value of what is perceived. In other words, the recipient’s awareness is as important as the sender’s awareness because they are inextricable. It clearly brings us to the conclusion that self-development is not only an obligation of authors but also recipients. A mutual openness and an authentic dialogue is only possible when both parties develop mentally.

Thank you for your attention.

Łódź, 03–06.05.2018                                                                                              Anna K.J. Issaïeff


 

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