Vol. 3 No. 3 (2015) Vital Materialism

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Mandy-Suzanne Wong

Introductory Editorial:  Towards a Vital Materialist Aesthetics (pp. 1-16) 


Aesthetic Inquiries

Adam Schipper

Collision:  The Pleasure of Reading:  Playing Games with Time in Tristram Shandy (pp. 18-27)

The aesthetic experience of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinion of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman is not reducible to an interpretation of plot or a linear critical analysis on the level of structure. Instead, it is thematized around a particular paradox of “double chronology” of autobiography, which continues the unfolding of the text yet simultaneously disrupts it. As such, Tristram Shandy’s lack of plot is a secondary phenomenon to the textual game of detour and digression it plays. This essay is less concerned with providing a closed argument and much more concerned with opening up inquiry into time and the aesthetics of reading with brief recourse to Paul Ricoeur and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Overall, I hope to indicate how Tristram Shandy provides a space wherein the pleasure of reading itself is disclosed.

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Joshua M. Hall

Rearticulating Languages of Art:  Dancing with Goodman (pp. 28-53)

In this article, I explore the relationship between dance and the work of Nelson Goodman, which is found primarily in his early book, Languages of Art. Drawing upon the book’s first main thread, I examine Goodman’s example of a dance gesture as a symbol that exemplifies itself. I argue that self-exemplifying dance gestures are unique (among other self-exemplifying symbols) in that they are often independent and internally motivated, or “meta-self-exemplifying.” Drawing upon the book’s second main thread, I retrace Goodman’s analysis of dance’s relationship to both notation in general and also Labanotation in particular. My argument is that dance gives the false impression of being notational, or is “meta-notational.”

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Ryan Johnson

Kantian Excentricities (pp. 54-77)

Perhaps one of the most troubling passages in all three of Kant’s Critiques is a short, confusing passage in which Kant claims that a judgment of taste must precede the feeling of pleasure. Many interpreters have argued that such a claim necessitates a viciously circular argument. But this circularity might not be vicious at all. In fact, this revolving shape actually leads to the most important site of the entire Analytic: the logic of the “without” as in the famous “purposiveness without purpose.” From an alternative position we will see that this spiraling shape repeats throughout the text, especially the four moments of the Analytic of Beauty. We will try to distinguish this aesthetic spiral from the classic hermeneutic circle, then return to the circular order of precedence in aesthetic judgment. Finally, we will try to clarify what is universally communicated in the demand on others involved in a judgment of taste.

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Vital Materialism 

Eric Lubarsky

Collision:  A Cameo of Frances Pelton-Jones (pp. 80-90)

This essay sketches the musical art of Frances Pelton-Jones, an American harpsichordist active at the beginning of the twentieth century. Almost entirely unknown today, she was widely acclaimed in her day for performing elaborate costume recitals dressed as Marie Antoinette. More than just a recitalist in costume, Pelton-Jones staged elaborate tableaux vivants with environmental decor to elicit fantasies of the past. Bridging the worlds of fashion, environmental design, and music, her performances offer a compelling case study to investigate the aesthetic applications of Jane Bennett’s ecological theory of assemblages. Exploring how different human and nonhuman actants (including costumes, instruments, staging, and performers) collaborated in Pelton-Jones’ art to evoke whole historical atmospheres for her audiences, I elaborate Bennett’s argument about the synthetic potential of combining certain materials to conjure an affect, highlighting how the delicacy of the assemblage as a whole often is contingent upon the frailty of the individual materials involved. Ultimately, Bennett’s theory affirms the aesthetic sensibilities of Pelton-Jones whose musical productions delighted audiences by harnessing the synthetic potential of well-coordinated vital materials.

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Jane Bennett

Encounters with an Art-Thing (pp. 91-110)

What kind of things are damaged art-objects? Are they junk, trash, mere stuff? Or do they remain art by virtue of their distinguished provenance or still discernible design? What kind of powers do such things have as material bodies and forces? Instead of attempting to locate proper concepts for salvaged art-things, this essay, from a perspective centered on the power of bodies-in-encounter – where “power” in Spinoza’s sense is the capacity to affect and be affected – attempts to home in on the presence of a material vibrancy in the hope of better understanding the postures, reactions, and comportments that damaged art pieces inspire as we engage with them. This article proposes that even so-called “inanimate” things convey specific degrees of animacy even if not all of them qualify under the biological definition of life.

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