The Turn from the Aesthetic

Galand, Joel

The aesthetic can lead to revelations concerning that about which we care deeply. Revelation arises in rifts, such as that faced when we encounter others. It is tempting to dismiss Enlightenment aesthetics on the grounds that it entails a false universalization of subjective experience that verges on an ethics of mastery and possession. But such mastery would involve treating the other as a thing, a tool, a means rather than an end. Without saving some space for the relative autonomy of aesthetic experience, not only might we lose the critical function of art, but Tomlinson's sublime vision of a commitment to "a thousand different musics"-and to their makers-will have given up its role as a regulative demand and become an empty utopia. I argue in part one of this essay that the postmodernist distrust of the aesthetic needs to be tempered by a recovery of what was originally at stake in the positing of such an autonomous sphere. A second, related issue, to be explored in part two, concerns Tomlinson's description of how we encounter others. I question his account of incommensurability between the conceptual schemes that interlocutors bring into such encounters.



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Columbia University
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January 23, 2015