6. A Critique of Gadamer's Aesthetics
There are three main critiques through which Hans-Georg Gadamer develops his conception of aesthetics, which has a central role in his philosophical hermeneutics, which in turn is his principal contribution to philosophy in the twentieth century, all of which he amazingly witnessed. He offers a critique of the philosophy of art which regards art as a lie and that denies it is capable of making truth claims; a critique of aesthetic consciousness as an alienated abstraction from the experience of truth in art; and a critique of the subjectivization of modern aesthetics, which he traces back to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Judgment. These three critiques are integrally linked in Gadamer's work; for he thinks that the subjectivization of aesthetics is the conceptual twin of aesthetic consciousness, and that it is only from the perspective of subjective consciousness that art is unable to have any truth. These are powerful critiques and Gadamer makes strong arguments for each of them, as well as for their connectedness. Nevertheless, I would like to try to decouple and challenge these critiques separately. Specifically, I would like to defend Gadamer's critique of any philosophy of art that considers art to be a lie, though without conceding that art makes truth claims of its own; to challenge his critique of aesthetic consciousness because it reinforces rather than overcomes a fissure between consciousness and experience; and, finally, to resist his critique of the subjectivization of aesthetics because aesthetics, as well as art, is undeniably and unprob-lematically subjective, as is Gadamer's own aesthetics, or so I shall argue. I begin with the critique of truth since it concerns the ontology of art, which serves as the normative basis of the other two critiques.
ART AND TRUTH
Gadamer makes a very strong and unequivocal claim about the role of truth in art: “The fact that through a work of art a truth is experienced that we
The truth issue in Gadamer's aesthetics arises with his discussion of Plato's well-known critique of the poets, in Book X of the Republic, that a work of art is an imitation of an imitation of the truth. A picture of a bed, for example, is a mere appearance of a bed made by a carpenter, which in turn is an appearance of the Form of the bed, which is the one and only true bed. So the truth about art, for Plato, is that it is ontologically incapable of truth. Because art is unaware of this limitation, it continues to lay false claims to truth. In short, art is a lie. Gadamer rightfully challenges this ontology of art by arguing that a work of art is not to be understood in terms of its relationship to any other thing: “in the realm of art above all, it is self-evident that the work of art is not experienced in its own right if it is only acknowledged as a link in a chain that leads elsewhere”; we are compelled, he adds, “to dwell upon the individual appearance itself” (RBiG). A work is still an appearance, but it is not the appearance (/anything other than itself; it presents itself. Art qua appearance, and in the mode of self-presentation that distinguishes it, is its own truth.
Gadamer makes these points more concretely in Truth and Method while discussing how a picture is ontologically distinct from a mirror image and a copy, two things with which Plato and many philosophers after him mistakenly associate it. A mirror image is dependent for its being and truth on the thing, such as my own face, that it mirrors; take my face (or the mirror) away and the image disappears as well. So long as the image remains, its truth is understood in terms of the thing it mirrors, so much so that the image is self-effacing; it reflects my face more or less adequately, and such adequation determines the truth of the image. A copy of something, such as a photocopy of this page, is initially dependent for its being on the original page but, once it exists, it attains a relatively independent being: for somebody could just as easily read a photocopy of this page as the original. Yet despite the copy's ontological independence, its truth is still a function of how adequate it is relative to the original page; for a good photocopy is also self-effacing, while a poor one can obscure the content and truth of the original.
I think the starting point of Gadamer's ontology of a picture—and, by extension, the ontology of art as a whole—is correct, but I think he draws an unwarranted conclusion from it. He concludes from the truth about the ontology of art that art itself has truth content. He would assert, for example, not only that the being of a work of art is autonomous, but also that a work has truth content beyond what it may reveal to us about art. But what is this content, and how do we recognize it? This second question is particularly problematic for Gadamer, I believe, because he can appeal only to the experience of a work of art in which a truth is allegedly disclosed to confirm that a truth has in fact been disclosed. Gadamer acknowledges and, in fact, underscores this point when, in the quote at the start of this section, he says that the claim that truth is experienced in art asserts itself against any and all who would deny that there is truth in art; the truth experienced in art is thus self-evident. What is self-evident, however, is only that truth is experienced; the actual truth experienced is anything but self-evident: “The experience of art acknowledges that it cannot present the full truth of what it experiences in terms of definitive [that is, conceptual] knowledge” (TMioo). For more detail on this truth, even the truth about art itself, we have to turn from experience to aesthetics, whose task it is “to legitimate the experience of truth that occurs in the experience of art itself.” This suggests that aesthetics provides us with definitive knowledge of the truth experienced in art, which means the certainty that some truth has been experienced depends ultimately on aesthetics. For how can we be sure that truth has been experienced if we do not have a definitive sense of the truth that has been experienced? If aesthetics provides the certainty here, however, then the truth in art is hardly self-evident.
This is a result Gadamer would presumably not accept, as the cornerstone of his aesthetics seems to be the self-evidence of our experience of truth in art. If we look more closely at what he means by truth, however, it
The common thread running through all these senses of “truth” is that something shows itself as what it is (self-presentation); for, according to Gadamer, we say of whatever shows itself as it is that it is “true” (RBioS). The meaning of ‘true’ here is “unconcealed.” Applied to art, it means that the truth about art is that it discloses itself qua appearance. If that is the case, however, then I repeat my point that this is a truth about art, not a truth that art discloses about something other than itself. Moreover, Gadamer does not need the second point to make the first; in fact, as we shall see, the second only weakens the first by putting more cognitive pressure on art than it can bear.
Perhaps it would be best, for art, to take it out of the truth game entirely
There is yet another option here, however, besides dropping truth altogether: instead of saying that the experience of truth in art is self-evident, say only that the truth that art is autonomous is self-evident, though only in a historical context, as Gadamer himself argues. Beyond that, we could say not that art makes truth claims but that it introduces candidates for truth claims. The notion of “candidates” can readily, if indirectly, be linked to several of Gadamer's own ideas. First, the notion of truth as openness or unconcealment allows for the disclosure of possible truths in art without requiring that art itself make any truth claims. Second, Gadamer's idea of pre-understanding also opens art up to the realm of truth without implying that any truth claims are actually made by art. He says, “prior to all conceptual-scientific knowledge of the world, the way in which we look upon the world, and upon our whole being-in-the-world, takes shape in art” (RBi64). Although the meaning or content of art provides us with a pre-understanding of the world, it is up to aesthetics—or perhaps science—to validate the specific truths (not the fact) of this pre-understanding. As Gadamer says, truth is ultimately guaranteed by “a discipline of questioning
This alternative position about truth in relation to art is clearly different from Gadamer's, but I believe that it is consistent with many of his principal aims, for it allows him to argue that art is cognitive, even if it does not make any truth claims of its own. Evidence of art's cognitive status, for Gadamer, is its central role in human self-understanding, of which he gives a very good account in Truth and Method and subsequent writings. All cognition is recognition, and recognition is ultimately seZ/-recognition, albeit through the mediation of something other than the self (RBgS-ioo). So to say that art is cognitive is to say that it is part of the process of human self-recognition (knowledge, understanding). In Gadamer's words, art imposes “an ineluctable task on existence, namely, to achieve that continuity of self-understanding which alone can support human existence” (TMgG). We come to self-understanding by understanding something other than ourselves, such as a work of art: “Since we meet the artwork in the world and encounter a world in the individual artwork, the work of art is not some alien universe into which we are magically transported for a time. Rather, we learn to understand ourselves in and through it” (TMgy). Art is thus cog-nitively important because of its contribution to human self-understanding. Here, too, art's cognitive contribution is confined to introducing us to candidates for truth—about the world as well as ourselves, since self-understanding is mediated by our experience of the world. Now, if the restoration of this cognitive role is the aim in claiming that art has truth content, as I believe it is, it could be achieved without the further argument about truth claims made by art.
Of course, since truth serves as the normative basis of Gadamer's aesthetics, to challenge truth is to challenge this basis. Yet his discussion of truth in art could be reframed, I think, as a discussion of the normativity of art, and in two senses: first, the normativity of art itself, principally with respect to its autonomy and subjectivity; and second, the normativity of what is revealed through art, namely, the self-understanding and pre-understandingjust discussed. Gadamer himself suggests in Truth and Method that normativity is his concern when he criticizes Kant and others for eliminating the normative validity of four humanistic and aesthetic concepts: Bil-dung, taste, sensus communis, and judgment (TMg-4i). I believe their normativity
But, again, Gadamer could speak here of the truth about art—namely, that it has a cognitive role because we can gain certain insights from it via Bildung, sensus communis, judgment, and taste which we cannot get from science—without claiming that art makes truths claims. For being open to the past and to other points of view is an attitude, not a truth claim (even when what we are open to is a truth); sensus communis is later integrated by Gadamer into the notion of tradition where normativity could replace truth; Kant's notion of reflective judgment already captures Gadamer's point aboutjudgment and it does so without invoking truth; and since taste is a sensibility, the truth of what it senses is not something taste can be expected to verify. To propose that Gadamer dispense with the concept of truth in his critique of these humanistic concepts is thus not to deny that art is a rich source of insights about many things; on the contrary, it is to allow art to continue to be such a source without having too many cognitive demands placed on it, demands that arise when truth claims are raised and require verification, something that art cannot possibly provide, as Gadamer himself acknowledges.
The suggestion that Gadamer dispense with the concept of truth in art (though only after he establishes the truth (s) about art) will seemingly cause a major shift in what it means to understand a work of art, since the task of aesthetics on his account, as we have already noted, is to legitimate the truths experienced in art. But aesthetics still has plenty to do without truth, namely, the articulation and critical analysis of the truth candidates introduced by art, along with the self-knowledge and pre-understanding of the world achieved through art. Moreover, aesthetics is also still accountable for the ontology of art, which alone is a major task: for to establish that art is not a lie, to clarify the status of art as appearance, and to show what implications
The purpose of Gadamer's critique of aesthetic consciousness is “to do justice to the experience (Erfahrung) of art” as an experience of truth (TMioo). So this critique is clearly linked to the truth question just discussed. At the same time, however, the two critiques can and, I think, must be separated, especially if I am right that a significant step in Gadamer's truth critique is unconvincing and unnecessary. The claim about truth as the content of art is not needed to make Gadamer's case against aesthetic consciousness, which is, in short, that it abstracts from what makes art possible. Although I agree in part with this analysis, I think the alienation of aesthetic consciousness, as Gadamer describes it, is not due to the fact that aesthetics is subjective; rather, it is due to the wrong conception of subjectivity, which I shall discuss in the final section. Moreover, such alienation can be overcome without giving up aesthetic consciousness, for all that is needed here is for art to be understood as being capable of having nonaesthetic content. Gadamer's critique of aesthetic consciousness is part of his critique of Kant, and involves the philosophical consequences of the autonomy of aesthetics as well as of art. According to Gadamer, Kant's “main concern … was to give aesthetics an autonomous basis freed from the criterion of the concept, and … to base aesthetic judgment on the subjective a priori of our feeling of life, the harmony of our capacity for ‘knowledge in general’” (TM5g-6o). Kant thus grounded aesthetics in a priori subjectivity in order to secure the autonomy of aesthetics (not of art, which had already been secured, at least in principle). Although Gadamer agrees with Kant that aesthetics should be “freed from the criteria of the concept,” he regards the subjective turn in aesthetics which Kant formalized as an unfortunate event for the ontology of art. Although art “becomes a standpoint of its own and establishes its own autonomous claim to supremacy,” it is now “contrasted with practical reality and understood in terms of this contrast”; that is, “the concept of art is defined as appearance in contrast to reality.” Moreover, there is a profound irony in art's autonomy, according to Gadamer, for once art qua appearance becomes autonomous from reality and is seemingly related only to itself, it continues to be defined by the very reality from which it won its autonomy, at least so long as appearance is defined as such only in opposition to reality—as it was for Plato and Kant. If it is defined in this way, autonomous art has no truth. At the same time, it has no efficacy in the world and is thus alienated from reality (even as it is defined by it); its only
According to Gadamer, this alienated conception of art is the product of aesthetic consciousness, which itself is the effect of the autonomy of art; that is, aesthetics becomes autonomous after art does, but then aesthetics (too) is alienated, and its conception of art reflects this alienation. To overcome such alienation, Gadamer critiques aesthetic consciousness, particularly its process of aesthetic differentiation, which is as follows. Once aesthetics becomes autonomous, judgment replaces taste and consciousness becomes “the experiencing … center from which everything considered art is measured” (TM85). Whereas taste differentiates (that is, selects and rejects) on the basis of some content, “aesthetic differentiation is an abstraction that selects only on the basis of aesthetic quality as such” (TM85). Aesthetic consciousness thereby disregards everything in which a work of art is rooted (its original context of life, and the religious or secular function that gave it significance) so that it becomes visible as a “pure work of art” (TM85). Continuing with this same point, Gadamer concludes: “It practically defines aesthetic consciousness to say that it differentiates what is aesthetically intended from everything that is outside the aesthetic sphere” (TM85).
The consequences of “aesthetic differentiation” are mixed, according to Gadamer. What is good about it is that it separates the aesthetic from everything nonaesthetic and thus, in principle, allows the work of art to be seen in its true being as autonomous appearance. What is negative, and ultimately outweighs the positive contribution, is that the work is abstracted from the world in which it has meaning and now belongs only to the world of aesthetic consciousness: the work is autonomous but meaningless. What is at stake here, however, is not just the meaning of the work but, more fundamentally, its being a work in the first place. “What we call a work of art and experience (erleben) aesthetically depends on a process of abstraction” (TM85). In its extreme form, according to Gadamer, aesthetic consciousness “even abstracts from art” (TM8g). The work of art is thus reduced to an aesthetic object, that is, to an object of aesthetic consciousness (rather than of experience). As such it is an object but not a work.
This is a very strange history indeed. Art struggles for centuries to become autonomous—from reality or, more concretely, from religion, politics tied to monarchic rule, and metaphysics—and once it succeeds, aesthetics becomes autonomous as well. Understood only from the perspective of aesthetic consciousness, however, the work of art is alienated from reality. This means, however, that art is alienated from what makes it art—not just in terms of what makes something the particular historical work of art that it is, but in terms of what makes something a work of art in the first place. In effect, art stops being art once it becomes autonomous, at least so long as art is defined as appearance only in contrast to reality. To recover
These are very strong claims Gadamer is making. To understand them better, it is helpful to note their general philosophical context. Following Heidegger, Gadamer aims to break from the philosophical dichotomy between subject and object which is characteristic of modern philosophy. He claims, for example, that a general purpose of Truth and Method is “to show that understanding is never a subjective relation to a given ‘object’ but to the history of its effect; in other words, understanding belongs to the being of that which is understood” (TMxxxi). In the case of art, this means that “understanding belongs to the encounter with the work of art itself” (TMioo). This belonging can, in turn, “be illuminated only on the basis of the mode of being of the work of art itself” (TMioo). In other words, it is the mode of being of a work of art that determines our understanding of that work; so our understanding of the work is an effect of its mode of being. To capture this sense in which our understanding is an effect, Gadamer introduces the notion of “historically effected consciousness” (wirkungsgeschicht-liches Bewusstsein), by which he means “at once the consciousness effected in the course of history and determined by history, and the very consciousness of being thus effected and determined.” In the case of art, aesthetic consciousness is therefore an effect of the mode of being of art qua autonomous appearance. It is thus an effect of art's autonomy; that is, aesthetic consciousness is what is achieved when aesthetics, following art, becomes autonomous.
Although discussion of Gadamer's notion of historically effected consciousness helps to clarify how aesthetic consciousness is formed and what is at stake in his critique of it, it also raises a new question. If aesthetic consciousness is indeed an effect of history and specifically of the autonomy of art and aesthetics, how can Gadamer (or we) resist it? The basis of such resistance must be historical, if he is going to be consistent with his own notion of historically effected consciousness. Presumably, his answer would be that the basis is the experience of art, which he insists has priority over aesthetic consciousness; for example, on the question of whether there is any truth experienced in art, experience says “yes,” while consciousness says “no,” and Gadamer defends experience. Since such truth is not as perspicacious as he believes, however, his answer does not explain how experience can trump consciousness; for, again, we cannot be sure, based on experience alone, of the truth that allegedly gives experience an advantage. Truth aside, the more basic problem here, I think, is the fact that Gadamer opposes experience to consciousness and sides with the former. For example, he says, “The significance of that whose being consists in expressing
Perhaps Gadamer has overstated his case. His criticism of aesthetic consciousness is, as we have seen, that it loses sight of the work of art and ends up with only an object. But he also says, more provocatively, that the being of art cannot be defined as an object at all, not just of aesthetic consciousness, “because the aesthetic attitude is more than it knows of itself.” Gada-mer's claim is that experience is more than it knows of itself, and also that it is more than consciousness could ever know of it. Although this claim points to the limits of consciousness relative to the work or experience that it has taken as its object, such limits alone do not imply that art cannot be taken as an object at all. In addition, from the perspective of aesthetic consciousness, there is a relevant sense in which art (or the experience thereof) is an object, that is, an object of reflection. This object is not the same as the work of art that has been experienced, for reflection is not the same as experience. Yet the work that Gadamer is trying to recover is always already implicit in the object of aesthetic consciousness, so long as “object” here is understood as “the experience of the work of art.” Of course, the specific thing about the work of which aesthetic consciousness has allegedly lost sight is truth, but the principal truth about art that consciousness needs to acknowledge in order to understand the work properly is the truth that the work is autonomous. Surely, consciousness is capable of grasping this truth. Since it is precisely the extreme or absolute version of this same truth that has led to the problem of aesthetic consciousness in the first place, however, what is needed is a moderation of the autonomy of art (and of aesthetics) so that it does not undermine the very possibility of art. This is precisely what Gadamer proposes, and he can achieve this end, I believe, without abdicating aesthetic consciousness.
What Gadamer ultimately wants here, I think, is for art to have some content other than “aesthetic quality,” which means his aim is to recontextual-ize art while respecting its autonomy. But there are other ways of accomplishing this aim without abandoning aesthetic consciousness entirely. For example, in Gadamer's own earlier discussion of the cognitive dimension of art, namely, its role in human self-understanding, it was already established that what we experience in a work of art is a world other than that of consciousness; for self-understanding is possible only through mediation of something other than the conscious self, such as a work of art. Gadamer offers other examples of what he means by the content of art beyond “aesthetic
THE SUBJECTIVITY OF ART AND AESTHETICS
Gadamer critiques the subjectivization of aesthetics, a process that developed throughout the eighteenth century and culminated in Kant's Critique of Judgment. One of the principal motivations for Gadamer's critique is his interest in restoring the cognitive dimension of art, which he believes requires a new, nonsubjective foundation for aesthetics. What he is aiming for here, in short, is a conception of aesthetics “that transcends thinking from the perspective of subjectivity” (TMioo). I do not think such transcendence is either possible or desirable, even given Gadamer's own aims, as I interpret them.
According to Gadamer, “it was a methodological abstraction corresponding to a quite particular transcendental task of laying foundations which led Kant to relate aesthetic judgment entirely to the condition of the subject” (TMgy). The basis of Gadamer's challenge to Kant is, as we have seen, that an account of aesthetic judgment that excludes knowledge and truth from art runs into indissoluble contradiction with the “true experience of art.” He then counters the Kantian conception of aesthetic judgment with a her-meneutic ontology of art—characterized by play, symbol, and festival—as a mode of being that possesses knowledge and truth. Yet however attractive Gadamer's conception of art is, Kant—and no other theorist—is responsible for the subjectivization of aesthetics. There simply would be no aesthetics at all, at least not as we know it, had there not been—for complicated philosophical and social reasons—a subjective turn in our thinking about the production, experience, taste, and judgment of art.
Although the term ‘aesthetics’ (or at least ‘aesthetic’) has origins in Greek philosophy and a rich genealogy up to and beyond the Renaissance, it is well known that aesthetics did not emerge as an autonomous discipline within philosophy until the eighteenth century. One of the principal philosophical insights that contributed to this emergence is the realization that beauty (and, following it, any other aesthetic predicate) is neither a tran-scendens (as it was from Plato through at least medieval philosophy) nor a property of objects (as it was until, say, John Locke). Gadamer's own negative
Clearly, Gadamer does not mean to argue that we can uncritically revive the premodern philosophical belief in a nonsubjective conception of beauty (and of art in general). He is too historically minded in his thinking for such an argument. Yet he does believe that a contemporary version of the classical (principally Platonic/Aristotelian) conception of beauty linked to the good and truth could be hermeneutically appropriated if we could only overcome subjectivism in aesthetics. But this is the whole problem, I think: aesthetics is irreversibly subjective and so such an overcoming is impossible. The best way to argue this point against Gadamer, I think, is not to defend Kant or any other aesthetician or to criticize Plato and Aristotle, but rather to show that Gadamer's own aesthetic theory is more subjective than he would have us believe, given his earlier account of the cognitive role of art in human self-understanding.
To begin with, Gadamer acknowledges in a positive spirit that “modern aesthetics has fully recognized the ‘contribution of the subject’ to the construction of aesthetic experience” (RBisy). But what such theory overlooks, he adds, is that “the experience of art also presents that other dimension in which the play-like character of the creation, the very fact of its being ‘played’, comes to the fore” (RBiay). Although the concept of play is intended to capture the sense in which our experience of art is an event that happens to us beyond (and prior to) aesthetic consciousness, it is not opposed to subjectivity. Gadamer's underlying concern is rather to balance subjectivity with its other “dimension” rather than to overcome it. He is not always careful or consistent about this concern for balance, however. For example, the concept of art as play is explicitly introduced in Truth and Method as a way to overcome the subjectivity of aesthetics. In Gadamer's later writings, however, he uses the same concept to balance subjectivity, saying that it is through art as play that we catch sight of “what we are, what we might be, and what we are about” (RBi3o). In fact, he emphasizes the cognitive
Gadamer is therefore not against subjectivity tout court; rather, he is offering an alternative conception of it. It is this alternative, however sketchy it remains here, which provides evidence that Gadamer's aesthetics is more subjective than he claims. What he is interested in is a historically situated subjectivity rather than an abstract, alienated subjectivity in the form of aesthetic consciousness, as we saw in the previous section. In effect, he aims to recontextualize autonomous art. If so, then he must already acknowledge that the subjectivity of aesthetics—which, like the autonomy of art, is a historical achievement which both predates Kant and has still not been fully realized—cannot be transcended. We cannot transcend subjectivity because, as Gadamer himself emphasizes through his notion of historically effected consciousness, we cannot transcend our historicity. The task of aesthetics, in this light, is to understand the philosophical meaning and implications of the historical and ontological fact of art's subjectivity (along with its autonomy and historicity).
Gadamer is right that contemporary aesthetic theory is still marked by profound philosophical transformations in art that took place in the eighteenth century. Art was indeed severed from truth in that period, aesthetic consciousness did arise then along with the autonomy of art, and aesthetics, following art, did become deeply subjective. Although Gadamer's critiques of these transformations are rich with philosophical insights, I think it is a mistake to try to rehabilitate classical aesthetics. It is one thing to attain a better understanding of our contemporaneity by situating it in the context of its classical and modern genealogy; it is another thing entirely to
I agree with Gadamer that understanding the contemporary mode of art is the task of aesthetics today, and that recognizing that aesthetic understanding is historically effected is a philosophical precondition of this task. Although this recognition is by no means a guarantee that we shall get art right, getting it right is what aesthetics must constantly try to do as art continues to change its mode of being. Such is the hermeneutic nature of the historical dialogue about art to which Gadamer has contributed in ways that have only begun to be explored. My aim here has been to open up such exploration through a critical analysis of his aesthetics, which I believe may still help us to understand contemporary art, if only truth would not get in our way.
1. TMxxii-xxiii. For Gadamer's claim that such truth is unique to art, 105. I will return to this issue below. [BACK]
2. On the issue of truth claims in art see, for example, TMgy. Although the expression ‘truth claim’ suggests a notion of propositional truth, that is not what Gadamer has in mind; he works with a notion of truth as disclosure, which is discussed below. So, among other problems with this expression in Gadamer's aesthetics, his use of it is simply misleading. [BACK]
3. Joel Weinsheimer makes a three-way distinction regarding truth and art: the truth about art, the truth of art, and the truth about truth as revealed through the truth of art. Gadamer's Hermeneutics: A Reading of Truth and Method (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985), 99. In effect, I am confirming the first truth while criticizing the last two, and especially the second. [BACK]
4. Gadamer discusses other art forms, of course, but a modern picture is paradigmatic for him because it exists only along with “aesthetic consciousness” and, for that reason, it best exemplifies the results of “aesthetic differentiation”—two notions discussed below. [BACK]
5. TMi4o; RB35. The notion of “increase in being” is tied to (and, I think, could be replaced by) the notion of autonomy because it implies that a work of art is not a means to something else the way, for example, a mirror image is. [BACK]
6. TMi40. Gadamer makes much of the distinction between Darstellung (presentation) and Vorstellung (representation). [BACK]
7. RBno. For Gadamer, such self-fulfillment is what defines beauty, as the beautiful “fulfills itself in a kind of self-determination and enjoys its own selfrepresentation%
8. “The significance of that whose being consists in expressing an experience cannot be grasped except through an experience” (TMyo). This quote is discussed in more detail below. [BACK]
9. TMg8; cf. RBi6-i7;andTMioo: “We do not ask the experience of art to tell us how it conceives of itself, then, but what it truly is and what its truth is, even if it does not know what it is and cannot say what it knows.” [BACK]
10. Gadamer does acknowledge, however, that the experience of art constitutes a kind of evidence that is both too strong and too weak: too strong because nobody would venture to develop a model of progress in art as an analog to progress in science, too weak “in the sense that the artwork withholds the very truth that it embodies and prevents it from being conceptually concise” (“Reflections on My Philosophical Journey,” PHGG6). [BACK]
11. RBgg: “the meaning of the work of art lies in the fact that it is there.” [BACK]
12. Another issue here is whether the aesthetic qualities of a work of art can ever be isolated in the pure terms to which Gadamer claims aesthetic consciousness aspires. He may be mistaking their aspirations for achievements, aspirations which his own critique shows to be impossible to achieve. [BACK]
13. This point could also be tied to Heidegger's acknowledgment that it is misleading to call aktheia (unconcealment) truth because it is “not yet truth”; rather, aletheia “first grants the possibility of truth.” “The End of Philosophy and the Task of Thinking,” in On Time and Being, ed. and trans. Joan Stambaugh (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 69-70. [BACK]
14. Gadamer says that a text—and, by analogy, a work of art—“captivates us” before we are in a position “to test the claim to meaning that it makes” (TM4go). [BACK]
15. TM82. Cf. also PHGG44: “This was really the starting point of my whole hermeneutical theory. The artwork is a challenge for our understanding because over and over again it evades all our interpretations and puts up an invincible resistance to being transformed into the identity of the concept.” [BACK]
16. “In performing this abstraction, aesthetic consciousness … shows what a work of art is, and allows it to exist in its own right. I call this ‘aesthetic differentiation’” (TM8s). [BACK]
17. In Gadamer's words, “In order to do justice to art, aesthetics must go beyond itself and surrender the ‘purity’ of the aesthetic” (TMg2). Cf. alsoTMSi: “Is the aesthetic approach to a work of art the appropriate one? Or is what we call ‘aesthetic consciousness' an abstraction?” And “Heidegger's Later Philosophy” (PH2i8): “In the last analysis, we need to overcome the concept of aesthetics itself.” Based on interpretations of these quotes, some people consider Gadamer's aesthetics to be anti-aesthetics. I think, rather, that he critiques one type of aesthetic theory (the one based on what he calls “aesthetic consciousness”) and defends another, herme-neutic type (based on the experience of truth in art). I, in turn, am challenging Gadamer's aesthetics and proposing another, neither of which involves a critique of aesthetics tout court. [BACK]
18. TMxxxiv. Elsewhere, Gadamer says that historical consciousness in relation
19. Gadamer discusses two distinct notions of experience, Erlebnis and Erfahrung. He is not satisfied with the former because it stresses the fragmentariness of experience and thus cannot capture the truth of the hermeneutic continuity that constitutes human existence (TMg5-g7). The concept of Erfahrungis, introduced to capture this continuity (TMgy-gg). [BACK]
20. Is Gadamer setting up an opposition here between (the experience of) art and aesthetics, and siding with the former? Is this part of what some have referred to as his anti-aesthetics? If so, I again think that reconciliation rather than conflict is what is needed here. [BACK]
21. TMn6. See also PHGG43-44: the work of art distinguishes itself in “that one never completely understands it”; and 1*634: the fact that a work exists at all “represents an insurmountable resistance against any superior presumption that we can make sense of it all.” [BACK]
22. 16164, 32. There are some passages, however, that reaffirm the role of truth. Gadamer says, for example, that it is by virtue of the beautiful that we are able “to acquire a lasting remembrance of the true world” (RBi5). [BACK]
23. Amajor philosophical issue that the subjective ground of aesthetic judgment raises, of course, is how such judgment can be objective or universal. This is one of the issues which first gave rise to philosophical aesthetics in the eighteenth century and which has continued to trouble philosophers ever since. [BACK]
24. This confirms, I think, that truth is the normative basis of Gadamer's aesthetic critiques. [BACK]
25. Cf. RB, passim. Such appropriation is as much the means as the result of the overcoming of subjectivism Gadamer proposes. It consists of the redefinition of a number of central aesthetic concepts; in addition to beauty, see, for example, mimesis: TMi 13-15 and RBg2-io4, 116-22. [BACK]
26. Also at issue in Gadamer's critique of the subjectivization of aesthetics is its universality. Since the inception of modern aesthetics in the eighteenth century, subjectivity has been a virtual given because of the subjective status of beauty and, by extension, all other aesthetic concepts, and universality has been a problem because, prima facie, such subjectivity seems to preclude universality. For Gadamer, however, universality is a given (RB13) because of the truths we experience in art, and subjectivity poses a problem because it threatens to undermine the universality of such truths. Despite Gadamer's emphasis on universality, however, he acknowledges in his later writings that it is rather weak. For example, he says, “The only thing that is universally familiar to us today is unfamiliarity itself, momentarily illuminated by an ephemeral glimmer of meaning. But how can we express that in human form” (RB79)? He also says “there is no longer a unified symbolic language capable of commanding our acceptance” (RB75); in fact contemporary art is characterized by “the dearth of the symbol, the very renunciation of the symbolic” (RB674). Such doubts put the universality of art seriously into question. [BACK]
27. Gadamer would not agree that the ontology of art changes over time. On this point he is an essentialist, which enables him to claim that what Plato and Aristotle say about art still has truth for us today. Although I agree, as I have said, that we can
28. In his later writings on art, those after Truth and Method, Gadamer stresses the problem raised by contemporary art, namely, that it breaks from all the traditional ways in which art has been legitimated by philosophy (RBy, 10, 22, 46, 77-78, 83). Although I agree that contemporary art makes such a break, I also think that part of the break is a challenge to the assumption of traditional aesthetics that art is something that needs to be legitimated. It is only from the perspective of the theories that regard art as a lie that art needs to be legitimated. Once the ontology of art is altered in the way that Gadamer himself proposes, the need for legitimation ends. [BACK]