Hazard, Form, & Value [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 26 (3):546-546 (1973)

This is a fresh and stimulating analysis of the esthetic experience in terms of the import it gives to the role of "affective hazard" in the constitution of the esthetic form. The author, who comes with a background in English literature, proposes that all esthetic experiences have one common feature, their form as felt unity which endows the object with a value that distinguishes it from other objects. The experiencer as one of the terms of the relationship is confronted with a manifold of elements one of which stands out in a hazardous way as an impediment to the union of the terms. Its very hazardousness, however, impregnates the whole structure, and in spite of an apparent obstruction to the order it actually bestows a balance and symmetry that would otherwise be lacking. There is a bending, but no breaking; the fragility itself is a necessary precondition for the form that constitutes the esthetic experience marking the object as a potentiality for some form yet unactualized but implicitly determined. The scholastic notion of being is evident in Slattery’s analysis of form as the principle of "unity," "intelligibility," and "determination." Rather than emphasize the static quality of things she chooses to focus on the object as both open and closed; open to receive many forms but closed in that it is only actualized as one form by a mind who at will chooses it from a manifold of other possible forms which it rejects. Unlike the Aristotelian form which inheres in the thing independent of the experiencer the form in the esthetic object is constituted by an experiencer who is an active participant in the relationship. This active term also confers upon the object its value which defines it as an object of esthetic quality. Interspersed throughout the book are descriptive analyses of various esthetic forms that illustrate what Slattery means by the decisive role of "affective hazard," and it is here that she is at her best. So well does she capture the essence of the dynamic richness peculiar to the esthetic object that she evokes in the reader an affective excitement and an awareness of a felt unity. This in itself verifies her thesis, and we could only have wished that she furnished us with more of the heightening experiences.—K. R. M.
Keywords Catholic Tradition  Contemporary Philosophy  General Interest
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ISBN(s) 0034-6632
DOI revmetaph197326339
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