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In this elegant new study Galen Johnson retrieves the concept of the beautiful through the framework of Merleau Ponty’s aesthetics Although Merleau Ponty seldom spoke directly of beauty his philosophy is essentially about the beautifulIn Johnson’s formulation the ontology of Flesh as element and the ontology of the Beautiful as elemental are folded together for Desire Love and Beauty are part of the fabric of the world’s element Flesh itself the term at which Merleau Ponty arrived to replace Substance Matter or Life as the name of BeingMerleau Ponty’s Eye and Mind is at the core of the book so Johnson engages as Merleau Ponty did the writings and visual work of Paul Cézanne Auguste Rodin and Paul Klee as well as Rilke’s commentary on Cézanne and Rodin From these widely varying aesthetics emerge the fundamental themes of the retrieval of the beautiful desire repetition difference rhythm and the sublime The third part of Johnson’s book takes each of these up in turn bringing Merleau Ponty’s aesthetic thinking into dialogue with classical philosophy as well as Sartre Heidegger Nietzsche and Deleuze Johnson concludes his final chapter with a direct dialogue with Kant and Merleau Ponty and also Lyotard on the subject of the beautiful and the sublime As we experience with Rodin’s Balzac beauty and the sublime blend into one another when the beautiful grows powerful majestic mysterious and transcendent

10 thoughts on “The Retrieval of the Beautiful

  1. says:

    070218 i read this over two days very long flight then morning here this interrogates one late essay by merleau ponty 'eye and mind' this reminds me how much i am inspired by m p how other philosophers can interpret his works even offer the unspoken ideas invisible in his visible ideas with m p's early death there is a lot of room to extrapolate argue insist on where he was headed though this 'reprises' what we might consider his finished texts even the unfinished and what can be thought in lack of explicit aestheticspart one is mainly concerned with suggesting modern philosophy and modern art the usual thought area of 'aesthetics' has developed a negative impression of the 'beautiful' how it is either not taken seriously or completely dismissed by both philosophers and artists here it might be relevant to suggest you as reader need to have some art history or familiarity with some thinkers on the arts like kant heidegger to understand where m p is coming from in the one essay here from his later years product of the sixteen months before going back to visible invisible 'eye and mind'part two offers some reproductions in greys of black and white of those artists m p finds most relevant to his arguments in 'eye and mind' Cezanne Rodin Klee these artist have left some written works on their processes works intentions and have in turn been subject to some critical readings there is little new here if you know of cezanne but there is contention that in his work he manifests a 'strong beauty' that he goes beyond 'classical' ideals of philosophers as much as artists no ideal forms proportion symmetry etc rodin is recipient of cezanne's honour and it is clear how he succeeded in recasting sculpture in a way no one could predict particularly in his revaluation of 'the ugly' by attending not to some platonic ideal but to the exacting details shapes masses of living being not simply the cliche 'the kiss' but also emotions of 'i am beautiful' and 'burghers of calais' here the obvious forerunner of modern sculpture and of course little loved by critics of the time klee is also one who wrote seemed most aware of the changes of colour abstraction rather than simply line and contours not the cartesian line but he i have seen least i know little and by the reproduction cannot see his particular skill with colourspart three is 'the retrieval of the beautiful' and the most purely philosophical section first is contentious definitions of 'beauty' relevance of 'shape' denigration of 'desire' particularly through sartre apparently because 'beauty' is not 'cognitive' and 'shape' only of its time then the stimulation of 'desire' is a bad thing second is beauty 'repetition' 'difference' and the extent to which beauty asks to be repeated asked to be slightly 'different' and in some ways this too is not cognitive symbolized judged scientifically but 'repetition' is a good thing not exactly as the boredom of exactly the same as in nietzsche but leading to the new future rather than 'recall' of the past third is beauty and sublime and here the main interlocutor is kant in his creation of a gap between beauty which is essentially human and the 'sublime' which is from nature is essentially threatening magnitudes beyond humans here m p argues here johnson gives the work and claims of the artist barnett newman against such definition for b n is consciously aiming at 'the sublime'this book shows how m p is the most useful philosopher in using uestioning claiming through the arts and aesthetics and this is a remarkable book on just the one essay maybe it helps to know some art history maybe it helps to know some philosophy history

  2. says:

    This is one of the best books written about Merleau Ponty's philosophy It is about the power and does a wonderful join explaining how Merleau Ponty understood art in several ways that give it significance to our lives but it also gives the sweep of his entire thought in beautifully rendered expressions Johnson is one of the only commentators on Merleau Ponty who gets the full depth and radical nature of what he thought a must read