Vol. 2 No. 1 (2013) Premodern Aesthetics

Click on image for entire issue or scroll down for individual articles.

Download entire issue

Joanna Demers

Introduction (pp. 1-6)

Premodern Aesthetics

S. D. Chrostowska

Collision:  A Collision of Gargoyles (pp. 10-20)

This article addresses the aesthetic status of gargoyles in medieval Gothic architecture. Irreducible to the grotesque yet manifestly discrepant with the core of cathedral and monastic buildings, the gargoyle serves as an entry point for an exploration of the stylistic relations comprising the Gothic and reflecting the cultural duality of the ecclesiastic sites of its historical emergence. The relation between gargoyles and the bulk of Gothic structures and ornamentation is discussed in terms of an “aesthetics of contrast.”

Download here.


Peter Hanly

Passionate Deceptions:  Nicole and Racine on the Theatre (pp. 21-41)

This paper is an attempt to re-consider the aesthetics of tragedy in the work of the seventeenth-century dramatist Jean Racine. The purpose of the essay is twofold. On the one hand, the intention is to re-invigorate the reading of a dramatist whose work is too easily buried beneath labels such as “French Classicism.” On the other, an attempt is made to use this re-reading to cast new light on some of the central questions of representation, pleasure and tragedy that were to become fundamental to later developments in aesthetic theory in the century that followed. We could cast Racine’s rejection of his mentor Pierre Nicole in familiar terms, describing it as the rejection of a repressive theological moralizing in favor of a hard-won “expressive freedom.” However, a closer examination of both Nicole’s aesthetics and Racine’s dramatic art reveals a different picture. As this paper will show, Nicole’s critique of seventeenth-century aesthetic practice is complex, nuanced, and trenchant. It is a critique that succeeds in posing significant questions about representation, self and other, and about the mechanics of “tragic pleasure.” In turn, Racine’s more private reflections (in his notes on Aristotle) as well as the development of his dramatic practice, indicate not a rejection, but a serious attempt to appropriate this critique, and transform his own dramatic practice in response to it.

Download here.


C. A. Tsakiridou

Art’s Self-Disclosure:  Hegelian Insights into Cinematic and Modernist Space (pp. 44-72)

This article uses Hegel’s analysis of the Romantic form to elucidate the relationship between aesthetic space and subjectivity in modernist painting (Paul Klee) and cinema (Sergei Eisenstein). The movement that brings art to realization in Hegel thus includes genres and modalities of art that did not exist in his time: in cinema and modernist painting, the Idea or truth of art evolves and brings itself to completion. Plasticity, the movement of aesthetic form toward self-expression, abandons the rigid substantiality it achieves in the Classical era and acquires unprecedented range, depth and resilience. In the Romantic form, the dynamism of the concept surfaces in full force and aesthetic boundaries expand. The emergence here of a new type of visual space is determined by a subjectivity that abandons the concrete, corporeal individuality associated with sculpture (most explicitly in Classical art) and imparts on sensuous form the fluidity of inner life. Music and poetry converge in the visual object which now assumes cinematic modality, a modality that also finds expression in modernist painting.

Download here.


James Wierzbicki

Laocoön Again?:  Simultaneous “Present Moments” in the Music of Elliott Carter and the Paintings of Jackson Pollock (pp. 73-104)

Ever since Lessing’s 1776 “Laocoön: An Essay upon the Limits of Poetry and Painting” aestheticians have been debating the essential differences between the temporal and the visual arts. Pace Lessing and his twentieth-century philosophical descendants, this essay explores the idea that the musical style cultivated by the American composer Elliott Carter in the years following World War II and the “action paintings” produced ca. 1947–53 by his compatriot Jackson Pollock in fact have quite a bit in common. The commonality, the essay argues, is not so much anything contained in the works themselves as something perceived – perhaps even viscerally felt – by persons who experience the paintings and the musical compositions. Although their musical and painterly efforts are in most ways as different as night and day, both Carter and Pollock managed in their postwar works – perhaps uniquely – to create the potent illusion of multiple times that seem to pass at the same time.

Download here.