Aesthetics of appearing. By Martin Seel. Translated by John Farrell. Stanford: Stanford university press. 2005. Pp. XIV + 238. £16.95 [Book Review]
One of the many virtues of Martin Seel’s Aesthetics of Appearing is that it lays its cards on the table at the very outset. The final three chapters consist in a series of complex digressions from the main discussion: one on the aesthetic significance of ‘resonating’(p. 139), one organized around the metaphysics of pictures, and one charged with defending the implausible claim that the artistic representation of violence is uniquely capable of revealing ‘what is violent about violence’ (p. 191). But the thesis of the book and its main arguments are stated in the preface, preceding even the acknowledgements. Seel writes, ‘[t]his book makes the proposal of having aesthetics begin not with concepts of being‐so or semblance but with a concept of appearing’ (p. xi). This might initially seem opaque, as though reducing aesthetics to a subtlety involving the meaning of the Greek word phainomai, but Seel immediately clarifies the stance that he wishes to advance. Seel’s position is that aesthetics is distinguished by attention to the indeterminable particularity of sensory experience; aesthetics so considered comprises the philosophy of art as well as non‐art experience; aesthetic experience is a legitimate mode of world‐encounter by virtue of its immediacy or ‘presence’ (p. xi)(Gegenwart – i.e., a contrary of ‘past’, rather than of ‘absence’); and because the presence of our experience reveals the presence of our lives, aesthetic experience constitutes an important form of self‐knowledge. The subsequent chapters are devoted to explicating this position in extraordinary detail. Seel’s position depends on a somewhat implicit account of subjectivity. In this account, what we fundamentally perceive, conditioned by conceptual activity but transcending any possible determinate content, is a ‘play’ of sensuous qualities (p. 47). Since it is ‘unfettered’ (p. 51) by theoretical interest, this form of perception is far qualitatively richer than our more structured experiences: here one is ‘able to perceive....
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