Emotions, feelings, and, generally, the whole sphere of affectivity make up one of the most fundamental elements of human life, and also play an essential (although sometimes problematic) role in art and aesthetic experience. In this regard, let us simply consider this: on one hand, it is certainly possible to think and talk of something like a “common world” in terms of sensations shared by all human beings; on the other hand, if we focus on each individual’s emotions and feelings, and the way the latter often condition our perception of the real, this same notion becomes somewhat ambiguous. If this is true concerning our experience of the world in general, it is even truer and clearer in the specific case of our experience with art. Reflections on the fundamental role played by affectivity in the whole realm of human experience leads us to recognize, for example, that every experienced object, apart from its purely factual properties, presents some “splits” into which the subject fits, so to speak—specifically, to recognize (following Merleau-Ponty) that our description of reality, even as it appears in perceptual experience, is always full of “anthropological predicates.” This becomes fully apparent if we consider such experiences as fantasizing and dreaming (or, in a more radical and even dramatic way, certain psychological pathologies in which the subject’s “private world,” especially influenced by his/her emotions and feelings, sometimes almost completely eclipses evidence of what we conventionally consider “real”), and also applies to a great extent to art and aesthetic experiences of different kinds. From Plato and Aristotle to modern and contemporary times, philosophers have always assumed a close connection between art and what we may call the realm of affectivity (passions, feelings, emotions), sometimes also developing forms of skepticism and suspiciousness towards them as supposedly non-rational or irrational components of human life. However, throughout the history of philosophy there have always been also other voices, so to speak, that have proposed to think about affectivity, feelings, and emotions in a different way, leading to identification with emotional and even instinctual aspects, such as that of the feeling of horror, no less than with the obscure origin of the brightness of ancient Greek culture and art (Nietzsche), or to acknowledgment of the undeniably powerful and indeed constitutive role of “attunement” and “mood” in human existence (Heidegger), or to the proposal for the rediscovery and rehabilitation of the specific “intelligence of emotions” (Nussbaum). Of course, philosophical reflection on affectivity, with a specific focus on its role in the aesthetic dimension, can also lead to questioning of the validity and appropriateness of categories such as “rational” and “irrational” that we sometimes tend to use in an easy, unproblematic, and somehow dualistic way, both in everyday language and in philosophical discourses. In fact, it is a widely shared and quite common belief that our feelings and emotions (or at least some of them) are irrational, but it is also true that many philosophers and especially artists (poets, novelists, composers, painters, performers, etc.) have shown that it is often very difficult to simply draw a line sharply differentiating between the rational and emotional components of our knowledge, inasmuch as the affective component is not at all marginal in the general economy of our convictions and beliefs.

Aesthetics and Affectivity, ed. by Laura La Bella, Stefano Marino, Vittoria Sisca, n. 60 (1/2021) of The Polish Journal of Aesthetics

Stefano Marino;
2021

Abstract

Emotions, feelings, and, generally, the whole sphere of affectivity make up one of the most fundamental elements of human life, and also play an essential (although sometimes problematic) role in art and aesthetic experience. In this regard, let us simply consider this: on one hand, it is certainly possible to think and talk of something like a “common world” in terms of sensations shared by all human beings; on the other hand, if we focus on each individual’s emotions and feelings, and the way the latter often condition our perception of the real, this same notion becomes somewhat ambiguous. If this is true concerning our experience of the world in general, it is even truer and clearer in the specific case of our experience with art. Reflections on the fundamental role played by affectivity in the whole realm of human experience leads us to recognize, for example, that every experienced object, apart from its purely factual properties, presents some “splits” into which the subject fits, so to speak—specifically, to recognize (following Merleau-Ponty) that our description of reality, even as it appears in perceptual experience, is always full of “anthropological predicates.” This becomes fully apparent if we consider such experiences as fantasizing and dreaming (or, in a more radical and even dramatic way, certain psychological pathologies in which the subject’s “private world,” especially influenced by his/her emotions and feelings, sometimes almost completely eclipses evidence of what we conventionally consider “real”), and also applies to a great extent to art and aesthetic experiences of different kinds. From Plato and Aristotle to modern and contemporary times, philosophers have always assumed a close connection between art and what we may call the realm of affectivity (passions, feelings, emotions), sometimes also developing forms of skepticism and suspiciousness towards them as supposedly non-rational or irrational components of human life. However, throughout the history of philosophy there have always been also other voices, so to speak, that have proposed to think about affectivity, feelings, and emotions in a different way, leading to identification with emotional and even instinctual aspects, such as that of the feeling of horror, no less than with the obscure origin of the brightness of ancient Greek culture and art (Nietzsche), or to acknowledgment of the undeniably powerful and indeed constitutive role of “attunement” and “mood” in human existence (Heidegger), or to the proposal for the rediscovery and rehabilitation of the specific “intelligence of emotions” (Nussbaum). Of course, philosophical reflection on affectivity, with a specific focus on its role in the aesthetic dimension, can also lead to questioning of the validity and appropriateness of categories such as “rational” and “irrational” that we sometimes tend to use in an easy, unproblematic, and somehow dualistic way, both in everyday language and in philosophical discourses. In fact, it is a widely shared and quite common belief that our feelings and emotions (or at least some of them) are irrational, but it is also true that many philosophers and especially artists (poets, novelists, composers, painters, performers, etc.) have shown that it is often very difficult to simply draw a line sharply differentiating between the rational and emotional components of our knowledge, inasmuch as the affective component is not at all marginal in the general economy of our convictions and beliefs.
134
THE POLISH JOURNAL OF AESTHETICS
Laura La Bella; Stefano Marino; Vittoria Sisca
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