Anette Stenslund, our new prospective Ph.D.-student, and I attended the Conference Art and Identity, hosted by the Danish Society for Philosophy and Psychology. Among the speakers were prominent names like Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Mark Johnson and Andrew Bowie – quite a line-up for a Danish conference.

All in all, it was a great experience with both stimulating lectures and interesting discussions. There was a general consensus amongst the speakers about the need for embracing aesthetics, embodiment, presence and the non-reductive nature of experience as the starting points for a new philosophy of subjectivity.

Personally, I am in complete agreement with this approach (as evidenced by my dissertation). The cynic in me, however, could not help feeling that general agreement (at the conference and in the humanities in general) about embodiment as the foundational aspects of a new philosophy of subjectivity made it seem like the interest in embodiment had somehow jumped the shark. Perhaps aesthetics is a more fruitful way of approaching a new philosophy of experience, particularly in a museum setting like ours.

Anyway, rather than attempting to summarize the talks, I will just post some one-liners from my notes on the talks, on the topics of aesthetics and meaning.

On aesthetics:

  • Aesthetics is becoming aware of the sensuous reality of everyday experience
  • Aesthetics is overcoming the pragmatic nature of the everyday
  • The felt sense of the world is foundational, not epiphenomenal to consciousness
  • Abstraction is run on the machinery of perception
  • We do not yet have an adequate language or resources for explaining the role of aesthetics in meaning
  • Aesthetics is human meaning that goes beneath language into the depths of our engagement with the world
  • Aesthetics is founded on the opacity of ourselves to our self
  • The problem of aesthetics is the problem of subjectivity

On meaning:

  • We are in the death throes of the modern dream of objectivity and the last gasps of the ontological intertwining of meaning and consciousness/language
  • Meaning emerges from structures, qualities and the felt direction of embodied experience
  • Meaning is tied to sensory-motor processes that have structure and emotional valence
  • Abstract concepts are metaphorical extensions of sensory-moslund, our tor processes
  • The deepest insight is non-conceptual
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