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Senses of the World: Aesthetic Experience and the Birth of Thinking

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Organizer: Emily Sun

Co-Organizer: Eyal Peretz

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One way to describe what is at stake in the origination of the philosophical discourse of aesthetics in eighteenth century Europe is as an initial, though far from satisfactory, articulation of an irreducible disjunction between the dimension of knowledge (as conceptual representation, meaningful grasp, etc.) and the dimension of experience (understood as our primordial manner of being open to the world) or existence. There is an unbridgeable excess of experience or existence over knowledge or representation. The privileged site which registers this disjunction (a disjunction which can be described as the discovery of an opening, to the extent that it unsettles or even humiliates the desire of knowledge to reign supreme), allowing it to stay open, refusing the desire to eliminate it, is the work of art. Through this opening a creative dimension enters, that of a new thinking which, rather than confirming what is already known, revolves around a fundamental excess over knowledge which never lets knowledge close, always allowing it to be born anew out of that which it can never contain, an ineliminable internal strangeness.

Beyond being posited and theorized within the tradition of European philosophical aesthetics, this disjunction between experience and knowing is one that demonstrably obtains across different cultures, expressed in the infinite singular ways in which works of art are developed in evolving traditions and lifeworlds. Thus, for instance, we might have more works dedicated to examining or modulating the excessive experience of touch in South Asia, than we would have in Europe, which is, comparatively speaking, more fascinated by the excessive experience of sight. Or we might have more works dedicated to activating an affective excess over representation in one culture or period, or ones dedicated more to registering traumatic events of experiences that cannot be owned or grasped, in another culture or period, etc.  It might also be that in particular periods, say that of fascisms or other authoritarianisms, works of art have been summoned to close the gap between experience and knowledge, ending up as propaganda.

This seminar invites engagements with literary texts or other works of art across languages, cultures, and periods that illuminate the various modalities in which the constitutive excess of existence over knowledge and representation has been registered, and the various aims such modalities might serve.  It aims thus to function as a laboratory where we may learn and articulate anew how literature and the arts may teach us to read and, in reading, think together plurally.


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