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The End of Aesthetic Experience

Richard Shusterman

The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 55, No. 1. (Winter, 1997), pp. 29-41.

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Mon Feb 18 14:33:49 2008

The End of Aesthetic Experience

Experience, quipped Oscar Wilde, is the name prime importance. Some see it as playing a
one gives to one's mistakes. Does aesthetic ex- major role, avant la lettre and in diverse guises,
perience then name the central blunder of mod- in premodern aesthetics (e.g., in Plato's, Aris-
ern aesthetics? Though long considered the totle's, and Aquinas's accounts of the experience
most essential of aesthetic concepts, as includ- of beauty, and in Alberti's and Gravina's con-
ing but also surpassing the realm of art, aes- cepts of lentezza and delirio).4 But there can be
thetic experience has in the last half-century no doubt that its dominance was established in
come under increasing critique. Not only its modernity, when the term "aesthetic" was offi-
value but its very existence has been questioned. cially established. Once modern science and
How has this once vital concept lost its appeal? philosophy had destroyed the classical, me-
Does it still offer anything of value? The am- dieval, and Renaissance faith that properties
biguous title, "The End of Aesthetic Experience," like beauty were objective features of the world,
suggests my two goals: a reasoned account of its modern aesthetics turned to subjective experi-
demise, and an argument for reconceiving and ence to explain and ground them. Even when
thus redeeming its purpose.' seeking an intersubjective consensus or stan-
Though briefly noting the continental critique dard that would do the critical job of realist ob-
of this concept, I shall mostly focus on its pro- jectivism, philosophy typically identified the
gressive decline in twentieth-century Anglo- aesthetic not only through, but also with subjec-
American philosophy. Not only because here its tive experience.
descent is most extreme, but because it is in this "Beauty," said Hume in arguing for a stan-
tradition-that of John Dewey, Monroe Beards- dard of taste, "is no quality in things them-
ley, Nelson Goodman, and Arthur Danto-that selves; it exists merely in the mind which con-
I situate my own aesthetic work.2 While Dewey templates them," though some minds are, of
celebrated aesthetic experience, making it the course, more judicious and authoritative than
very center of his philosophy of art, Danto others. Kant explicitly identified the subject's
virtually shuns the concept, warning (after experience "of pleasure or displeasure" as "the
Duchamp) that its "aesthetic delectation is a determining ground" of aesthetic judgment.5
danger to be avoided."3 The decline of aesthetic The notion of aesthetic experience moreover
experience from Dewey to Danto reflects, I shall helped provide an umbrella concept for diverse
argue, deep confusion about this concept's di- qualities that were distinguished from beauty
verse forms and theoretical functions. But it but still closely related to taste and art: concepts
also reflects a growing preoccupation with the like the sublime and the picturesque.
anaesthetic thrust of this century's artistic In the nineteenth and early twentieth cen-
avant-garde, itself symptomatic of much larger turies, aesthetic experience gained still greater
transformations in our basic sensibility as we importance through the general celebration of
move increasingly from an experiential to an in- experience by influential Lebensphilosophies
formational culture. aimed at combating the threat of mechanistic
To appreciate the decline of the concept of determinism (seen not merely in science but
aesthetic experience, we must first recall its also in the ravages of industrialization). In these
The Journal of Aesthetics an d Art Criticism 55:l Winter 1997
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

philosophies, experience replaced atomistic sen- These features of aesthetic experience do not
sation as the basic epistemological concept, and seem, prima facie, collectively inconsistent. Yet,
its link to vividly felt life is clear not only from as we shall see, they generate theoretical ten-
the German term "Erlebnis" but also from the sions that propel recent analytic philosophy to-
vitalistic experiential theories of Bergson, James, ward growing marginalization of this concept
and Dewey. As art subsumed religion's role by and have even inspired some analysts (most no-
providing a nonsupematural spirituality in the tably George Dickie) to deny its very existence.6
material world, so experience emerged as the Before concentrating on the Anglo-American
naturalistic yet nonmechanistic expression of scene, we would do well to note the major lines
mind. The union of art and experience engen- of recent continental critique. For only by com-
dered a notion of aesthetic experience that parison can we grasp the full measure of the an-
achieved, through the turn of the century's great alytic depreciation of aesthetic experience.
aestheticist movement, enormous cultural im-
portance and almost religious intensity.
Aesthetic experience became the island of
freedom, beauty, and idealistic meaning in an From critical theory and hermeneutics to decon-
otherwise coldly materialistic and law-deter- struction and genealogical analysis, the conti-
mined world; it was not only the locus of the nental critique of aesthetic experience has
highest pleasures, but a means of spiritual con- mostly focused on challenging its phenomeno-
version and transcendence; it accordingly be- logical immediacy and its radical differentiation.
came the central concept for explaining the dis- Although Adorno rejects its claim to pleasure as
tinctive nature and value of art, which had itself the ideological contamination of bourgeois he-
become increasingly autonomous and isolated donism, he joins the virtually unanimous conti-
from the mainstream of material life and praxis. nental verdict that aesthetic experience is not
The doctrine of artfor art's sake could only mean only valuable and meaningful but that the con-
that art was for the sake of its own experience. cept of experience is crucial for the philosophy
And seeking to expand art's dominion, its adher- of art. Unlike facile pleasure of the subject,
ents argued that anything could be rendered art if "real aesthetic experience," for Adorno, "re-
it could engender the appropriate experience. quires self-abnegation" and submission to "the
This hasty genealogy of aesthetic experience objective constitution of the artwork itself."'
does not, of course, do justice to the complex de- This can transform the subject, thereby suggest-
velopment of this concept, nor to the variety of ing new avenues of emancipation and a renewed
theories and conceptions it embraces. But it promesse de bonheur more potent than simple
should at least highlight four features that are pleasure.
central to the tradition of aesthetic experience Here we see the transformational, passional
and whose interplay shapes yet confuses twenti- aspect of aesthetic experience; it is something
eth-century accounts of this concept. First, aes- undergone or suffered. Though the experiencing
thetic experience is essentially valuable and subject is dynamic, not inert, she is far from a
enjoyable; call this its evaluative dimension. fully controlling agent and so remains captive
Second, it is something vividly felt and subjec- and blind to the ideological features structuring
tively savored, affectively absorbing us and fo- the artwork she follows. Hence a proper, eman-
cusing our attention on its immediate presence cipator~understanding of art requires going be-
and thus standing out from the ordinary flow of yond immediate experience, beyond immanent
routine experience; call this its phenomenologi- Verstehen, to external critique ("secondary re-
cal dimension. Third, it is meaningful experi- flection") of the work's ideological meaning and
ence, not mere sensation; call this its semantic the socio-historical conditions which shaped it.
dimension. (Its affective power and meaning to- "Experience is essential," Adorno dialectically
gether explain how aesthetic experience can be concludes, "but so is thought, for no work in its
so transfigurative.) Fourth, it is a distinctive ex- immediate facticity portrays its meaning ade-
perience closely identified with the distinction of quately or can be understood in itself" (AT,
fine art and representing art's essential aim; call p. 479).
this the demarcational-definitional dimension. In the same dialectical manner, while affirm-
Shusterman The End of Aesthetic Experience

ing aesthetic experience's marked differentia- which are even conceptually linked. By radi-
tion from "ungodly reality," he recognizes that cally differentiating the artwork from the socio-
such apparent autonomy is itself only the prod- historical world in which it is created and re-
uct of social forces which ultimately condition ceived, by treating it as an object purely of direct
the nature of aesthetic experience by constrain- aesthetic delight, aesthetic consciousness re-
ing both the structure of artworks and our mode duces the work's meaning to what is immedi-
of responding to them (AT, pp. 320-322, ately experienced. But, Gadamer argues, this at-
478-479). Since changes in the nonaesthetic titude simply cannot do justice to art's meaning
world affect our very sensibilities and capacity and lasting impact on our lives and world:
for experience, aesthetic experience cannot be a
fixed natural kind. The pantheon of art is not a timeless presence which
This is a central theme in Walter Benjamin's offers itself to pure aesthetic consciousness but the
critique of the immediate meaning of Erlebnis assembled achievements of the human mind as it has
privileged by phenomenology. Through the realized itself historically. ... Inasmuch as we en-
fragmentation and shocks of modern life, the counter the work of art in the world, ... it is necessary
mechanical repetition of assembly-line labor, to adopt an attitude to the beautiful and to art that
and the haphazardly juxtaposed information does not lay claim to immediacy, but corresponds to
and raw sensationalism of the mass media, our the historical reality of man. The appeal to immedi-
immediate experience of things no longer forms acy, to the genius of the moment, to the significance
a meaningful, coherent whole but is rather a of the "experience," cannot withstand the claim of
welter of fragmentary, unintegrated sensations- human existence to continuity and unity of self-un-
something simply lived through (erlebt) rather derstanding.10
than meaningfully experienced. Benjamin in-
stead advocated a notion of experience (as Er- To take the work as merely experienced imme-
fahrung) that requires the mediated, temporally diacy is to rob it of enduring wholeness and cu-
cumulative accretion of coherent, transmittable mulative meaning through communicative tra-
wisdom, though he doubted whether it could dition, disintegrating "the unity of the aesthetic
still be achieved in modern society.8 object into the multiplicity of experiences"
Modernization and technology, Benjamin (TM, p. 85) and ignoring art's relation to the
likewise argued, have eroded aesthetic experi- world and its claims to truth.
ence's identification with the distinctive, tran- Such critique of immediate, differentiated
scendent autonomy of art. Such experience once aesthetic consciousness does not, however, con-
had what Benjamin called aura, a cultic quality stitute a repudiation of the central importance of
resulting from the artwork's uniqueness and dis- experience for aesthetics. Indeed, Gadamer
tance from the ordinary world. But with the ad- claims it is undertaken "in order to do justice to
vent of mechanical modes of reproduction like the experience of art" by insisting that this ex-
photography, art's distinctive aura has been lost, perience "includes understanding," which must
and aesthetic experience comes to pervade the exceed the immediacy of pure presence (TM,
everyday world of popular culture and even pol- pp. 89, 90).11 Rather than identifying art with
itics. Aesthetic experience can no longer be used its objects as in typical analytic philosophy,
to define and delimit the realm of high art. Un- Gadamer insists "that the work of art has its true
like Adorno, Benjamin saw this loss of aura and being in the fact that it becomes an experience
differentiation as potentially emancipatory (al- changing the person experiencing it"; this expe-
though he condemned its deadly results in the rience "is not the subjectivity of the person who
aesthetics of fascist politics). In any case, Ben- experiences it, but the work itself" (TM, p. 92),
jamin's critique does not deny the continuing which, as a game plays its players, submits those
importance of aesthetic experience, only its ro- who wish to understand it to the rigors of its
mantic conceptualization as pure immediacy of structures.
meaning and isolation from the rest of life. Although it rejects Gadamer's faith in experi-
Clearly inspired by Heidegger's critique of ential unity and stability, the deconstructionism
aesthetic experience,g Gadamer attacks the same of Derrida and Barthes takes a roughly similar
two features of immediacy and differentiation, stand: its radical critique of firm disciplinary
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

boundaries and the "myth of presence" chal- mediacy and vivid feeling does not entail that
lenges the radical differentiation and immediacy such immediate feeling is not crucial to aes-
of aesthetic experience without dismissing its thetic experience. Likewise, Bourdieu's con-
importance and power of jouissance. From a vincing claim that aesthetic experience requires
quite different perspective, that of sociologi- cultural mediation does not entail that its con-
cally informed genealogical critique, Pierre tent cannot be experienced as immediate. Though
Bourdieu attacks the very same two targets. it surely took some time for English to become a
"The experience of the work of art as being im- language and for me to learn it, I can still expe-
mediately endowed with meaning and value" rience its meanings as immediate, grasping
that are pure and autonomous is an essentialist them as immediately as the smell of a rose
fallacy. Aesthetic experience is "itself an institu- (which itself may require the mediation of gar-
tion which is the product of historical inven- dening and complex cognitive processes of
tion," the result of the reciprocally reinforcing sense and individuation).l3
dimensions of art's institutional field and incul- The decline of aesthetic experience in ana-
cated habits of aesthetic contemplation.12 Both lytic philosophy partly reflects such false infer-
take considerable time to get established, not ences. But it also stems from confusions arising
only in the general social field but also in the from the changing role of this concept in Anglo-
course of each individual's aesthetic apprentice- American philosophy from Dewey to Danto,
ship. Moreover, their establishment in both and especially from the fact that this diversity
cases depends on the wider social field that de- of roles has not been adequately recognized.
termines an institution's conditions of possibil- Viewed as a univocal concept, aesthetic experi-
ity, power, and attraction, as well as the options ence seems too confused to be redeemed as use-
of the individual's involvement in it. ful; so the first task is to articulate its contrast-
What shall we make of the two main thrusts ing conceptions.
of the continental critique? Aesthetic experience
cannot be conceived as an unchanging concept
narrowly identified with fine art's purely au-
tonomous reception. For not only is such recep- The contrasting conceptions of aesthetic experi-
tion impoverished, but aesthetic experience ex- ence are best mapped in terms of three different
tends beyond fine art (to nature, for example). axes of contrast whose opposing poles capture
Moreover, aesthetic experience is conditioned all four of its already noted dimensions. First,
by changes in the nonartistic world that affect we can ask whether the concept of aesthetic ex-
not only the field of art but our very capacities perience is intrinsically honorific or instead de-
for experience in general. scriptively neutral. Second, is it robustly phe-
The second charge, that aesthetic experience nomenological or simply semantic? In other
requires more than mere phenomenological im- words, are affect and subjective intentionality
mediacy to achieve its full meaning, is equally essential dimensions of this experience, or is it
convincing. Immediate reactions are often poor rather only a certain kind of meaning or style of
and mistaken, so interpretation is generally symbolization that renders an experience aes-
needed to enhance our experience. Moreover, thetic? Third, is this concept's primary theoret-
prior assumptions and habits of perception, in- ical function transformational, aiming to revise
cluding prior acts of interpretation, are neces- or enlarge the aesthetic field, or is it instead de-
sary for the shaping of appropriate responses marcational, i.e., to define, delimit, and explain
that are experienced as immediate. This insis- the aesthetic status quo?
tence on the interpretive is also the crux of the My claim is that, since Dewey, Anglo-Amer-
Goodman-Danto critique of aesthetic experi- ican theories of aesthetic experience have
ence. So when Gadamer urges that "aesthetics moved steadily from the former to the latter
must be absorbed into hermeneutics" (TM, poles, resulting eventually in the concept's loss
p. 146), he is expressing precisely the dominant of power and interest. In other words, Dewey's
analytic line. essentially evaluative, phenomenological, and
However, the claim that aesthetic experience transformational notion of aesthetic experience
must involve more than phenomenological im- has been gradually replaced by a purely descrip-
Shusterman The End of Aesthetic Experience

tive, semantic one whose chief purpose is to ex- coherent and meaningful, requires the germ of
plain and thus support the established demarca- aesthetic unity and development. By rethinking
tion of art from other human domains. Such art in terms of aesthetic experience, Dewey
changes generate tensions that make the concept hoped we could radically enlarge and democra-
suspicious. Moreover, when aesthetic experi- tize the domain of art, integrating it more fully
ence proves unable to supply this definition, as into the real world which would be greatly im-
Danto concludes, the whole concept is aban- proved by the pursuit of such manifold arts of
doned for one that promises to do so-interpre- living.
tation. That aesthetic experience may nonethe- Its potential pervasiveness did not mean that
less be fruitful for other purposes is simply, but aesthetic experience could not be distinguished
I think wrongly, ignored. To substantiate this from ordinary experience. Its distinction, how-
line of narrative and argument, we must exam- ever, is essentially qualitative. From the hum-
ine the theories of Dewey, Beardsley, Goodman, drum flow of routine experience, it stands out,
and Danto. says Dewey, as a distinctly memorable, reward-
Dewey's prime use of aesthetic experience is ing whole-as not just experience but "an ex-
aimed not at distinguishing art from the rest of perience"-because in it we feel "most alive"
life, but rather at "recovering the continuity of and fulfilled through the active, satisfying en-
its esthetic experience with the normal pro- gagement of all our human faculties (sensual,
cesses of living," so that both art and life will be emotive, and cognitive) that contribute to this
improved by their greater integration.14 His integrated whole. Aesthetic experience is differ-
goal was to break the stifling hold of what he entiated not by its unique possession of some
called "the museum conception of art," which specific element or its unique focus on some
compartmentalizes the aesthetic from real life, particular dimension, but by its more zestful in-
remitting it to a separate realm remote from the tegration of all the elements of ordinary experi-
vital interests of ordinary men and women. This ence into an absorbing, developing whole that
"esoteric idea of fine art" gains power from the provides "a satisfyingly emotional quality" of
sacralization of art objects-sequestered in muse- some sort and so exceeds the threshold of per-
ums and private collections. Dewey therefore ception that it can be appreciated for its own
insisted on privileging dynamic aesthetic expe- sake (AE, pp. 42,45, 63).l6 An essential part of
rience over the physical objects that conven- that appreciation is the immediate, phenomeno-
tional dogma identifies and then fetishizes as logical feel of aesthetic experience, whose sense
art. For Dewey, the essence and value of art are of unity, affect, and value is "directly fulfilling"
not in such artifacts per se but in the dynamic rather than deferred for some other time or end.
and developing experiential activity through The transformational, phenomenological, and
which they are created and perceived. He there- evaluative thrust of Deweyan aesthetic expe-
fore distinguished between the physical "art rience should now be clear. So should the use-
product" that, once created, can exist "apart fulness of such a concept for provoking rec-
from human experience" and "the actual work ognition of artistic potentialities and aesthetic
of art [which] is what the product does with and satisfactions in pursuits previously considered
in experience" (AE, pp. 9, 167, 329). This pri- nonaesthetic. It is further useful in reminding us
macy of aesthetic experience not only frees art that, even in fine art, directly fulfilling experi-
from object fetishism but also from its confine- ence rather than collecting or scholarly criticism
ment to the traditional domain of fine art. For is the primary value. Nor does this emphasis on
aesthetic experience clearly exceeds the limits phenomenological immediacy and affect pre-
of fine art, as, for example, in the appreciation clude the semantic dimension of aesthetic expe-
of nature. ' 5 rience. Meaning is not incompatible with qualia
Dewey insisted that aesthetic experience and affect.
could likewise occur in the ~ u r s u i tof science Unfortunately, Dewey does not confine him-
and philosophy, in sport, and in haute cuisine, self to transformational provocation, but also
contributing much to the appeal of these prac- proposes aesthetic experience as a theoretical
tices. Indeed, it could be achieved in virtually definition of art. By standard philosophical cri-
any domain of action, since all experience, to be teria, this definition is hopelessly inadequate,
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

grossly misrepresenting our current concept of of actively exercising constructive powers of

art. Much art, particularly bad art, fails to en- the mind" (A, p. 527; APV, pp. 287-289). And
gender Deweyan aesthetic experience, which, he clarifies such defining characteristics of this
on the other hand, often arises outside art's in- experience in considerable detail.18
stitutional limits. Moreover, though the concept After careful scrutiny, analytic aesthetics has
of art (as an historically determined concept) rejected Beardsley's theory on three major
can be somewhat reshaped, it cannot be con- grounds. One is skepticism about its phenome-
vincingly defined in such a global way so as to nological validity. George Dickie, an influential
be coextensive with aesthetic experience. No advocate of this line of critique, offers two prin-
matter how powerful and universal is the aes- cipal arguments19 First, Beardsley must be
thetic experience of sunsets, we are hardly going wrong to describe the aesthetic experience as
to reclassify them as art." By employing the unified, coherent, etc., because doing so is sim-
concept of aesthetic experience both to define ply a category mistake-treating the term "ex-
what art in fact is and to transform it into some- perience" as if it denoted a real thing that could
thing quite different, Dewey creates consider- bear such descriptions instead of recognizing
able confusion. Hence analytic philosophers that it is merely a empty term denoting nothing
typically dismiss his whole idea of aesthetic ex- real. Talk about aesthetic experience is just a
perience as a disastrous muddle. roundabout and ontologically inflationary way
The major exception is Monroe Beardsley, of talking about the aesthetic object as perceived
who reconstructs this concept as the core of his or experienced. Beardsley's claim of the "unity
analytic philosophy of art, which, like most an- of experience" is simply a misleading way of de-
alytic aesthetics, is preoccupied with projects of scribing the experienced, phenomenal unity of
differentiation. Instead of Dewey's quest to the artwork. It alone can have such properties of
unite art to the rest of life, Beardsley's aim is to coherence or wholeness. Particular subjective
clearly distinguish art and the aesthetic from affects resulting from the work cannot have
other practices. This means renouncing the these properties, and the global aesthetic expe-
transformational use of aesthetic experience. In- rience that purports to have them is just a lin-
stead, this concept serves to define what is dis- guistically constructed metaphysical phantom.
tinctive of works of art and what is constitutive Secondly, Dickie argues, even what is wrongly
of their value (issuing in what Beardsley calls a identified as aesthetic experience does not al-
"persuasive analysis of artistic goodness," APV, ways have the affective content that Beardsley
p. 79). claims; and this critique can be extended to tra-
Beardsley's strategy is to argue that art can be ditional claims that aesthetic experience is al-
defined as a distinctive function class if there is ways pleasurable or unified.
a particular function that works of art "can do What should one make of these two argu-
that other things cannot do, or do as completely ments? To the first, we can reply that empirical
or fullyn(A, p. 526). The production of aesthetic psychologists do accept the reality of experi-
experience is claimed as this function, and so he ences (including aesthetic ones) and the validity
explains both the general value of art and the of describing them in terms of predicates (like
differing value of its particular works through unity, intensity, etc.) that, admittedly, are more
the basic value and intrinsic pleasure of that ex- often used to describe the objects of such expe-
perience; better works, for Beardsley, are those riences.20 Of course, one could challenge this re-
capable of producing "aesthetic experiences of a sponse by dismissing it as confused folk psy-
greater magnitude" (A, p. 531). Beardsley thus chology and adopting philosophy of mind's
retains the Deweyan evaluative, affective, and once fashionable trend of dismissing the role of
phenomenological features of aesthetic experi- consciousness or first-person experience. For
ence. It is, he says, an "intrinsically enjoyable" many reasons (including aesthetic ones), I think
"experience of some intensity" where "atten- this trend should be resisted, and consciousness
tion" and "the succession of one's mental states" is indeed making a comeback in recent philoso-
is focused on and directed by some phenomenal phy of mind.21
field in a way that generates a satisfying "feel- The argument that Beardsley's phenomeno-
ing" of coherence or "wholeness" and "a sense logical ascriptions of affect, unity, and pleasure
Shusterman The End of Aesthetic Experience

are in fact phenomenologically incorrect can be of Nelson Goodman's theory of aesthetic expe-
considered along with the second major criti- rience. Though he shares Beardsley's analytic
cism of his theory: that (the capacity to produce) goal of demarcational definition, of "distin-
aesthetic experience just cannot serve to identify guishing in general between aesthetic and non-
and individuate works of art. Here the standard aesthetic objects and experience" (LA, p. 243),
strategy is to show that such a definition would he insists that such distinction must be "inde-
be both too wide and too narrow. It has been pendent of all consideration of aesthetic value,"
charged, for instance, that by Beardsley's crite- since the existence of bad art means "being aes-
ria of aesthetic experience, good sexual experi- thetic does not exclude being ... aesthetically
ence would be falsely included as art, a conclu- bad" (LA, pp. 244, 255). Aesthetic experience
sion Dewey would have welcomed but which must also be defined independently of phenom-
runs against Beardsley's analytic aim of ex- enological accounts of mental states or immedi-

plaining established classifications.22 ate feelings and meanings. For Goodman rejects
However, Beardsley's definition is most often intentional entities, explaining all meaning in
attacked for being too narrow. It wrongly ex- terms of varieties of reference, just as he re-
cludes the many artworks that are not capable of nounces the very idea of an immediate given be-
producing enjoyable experiences of unity and fore or apart from its symbolic representation.
affect. Certain good works neither produce nor Nor can aesthetic experience be distinguished
even try to produce such experiences, but by its peculiarly emotive character, since "some
clearly the problem is most severe with bad works-of art have little or no emotive content."
works of art. Since Beardsley's concept of aes- Even when emotion is present, its role, Good-
thetic experience is essentially honorific and def- man argues, is simply the cognitive one "of dis-
initional, it cannot accommodate bad works as cerning what properties a work has and ex-
aesthetic objects or art, and yet clearly this is presses" by providing "a mode of sensitivity" to
how we analytic philosophers think they must it (LA, pp. 248, 250, 251). But such cognitive
be classified. The concepts of art and aesthetic use of emotion (as Dewey also tirelessly urged)
must allow for bad instances. Being a work of is equally present in science. Goodman con-
art cannot entail being a good work of art, oth- cludes that while emotion is not an aesthetic
erwise negative evaluations of artworks would constant, cognition of some sort is. He therefore
be impossible. defines aesthetic experience as "cognitive expe-
This leads to the third major difficulty: the in- rience distinguished[from science and other do-
adequacy of Beardsley's theory of aesthetic ex- mains] by the dominance of certain symbolic
perience to explain our judgments of value. Be- characteristics"(LA, p. 262).24
cause this experience is by definition enjoyable Goodman calls these features "symptoms of
or positive, it can in no way account for strongly the aesthetic" and individuates five of them:
negative aesthetic judgments (e.g., of hideous-
ness, repulsion, etc.), which cannot be explained (1) syntactic density, where the finest differences in
by the mere absence of a positive aesthetic certain respects constitute a difference between sym-
experience. Yet negative verdicts are central to bols-for example, an ungraded mercury thermome-
the field of aesthetics, and any concept which ter as contrasted with an electronic digital-read-out
claims to define this field must be able to ac- instrument; (2) semantic density, where symbols are
count for bad as well as good art.23 provided for things distinguished by the finest differ-
Two conclusions emerge from all this cri- ences in certain respects (not only the ungraduated
tique. If aesthetic experience is to do the job of thermometer again but also ordinary English, though
demarcating the entire realm of art, then its es- it is not syntactically dense); (3) relative repleteness,
sentially evaluative content must be abandoned. where comparatively many aspects of a symbol are
Moreover, if one is suspicious of subjectivity significant-for example a single-line drawing of a
and immediate feeling, then one must find a no- mountain by Hokusai where every feature of shape,
tion of aesthetic experience not centered on line, thickness, etc. counts, in contrast with perhaps
first-person phenomenology but rather on non- the same line as a chart of daily stock market aver-
subjective accounts of meaning. These two in- ages, where all that counts is the height of the line
ferences determine the new semantic direction above the base; (4) exemplification, where a symbol,
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

whether or not it denotes, symbolizes by serving as a rience that cuts across disciplinary boundaries
sample of properties it literally or metaphorically while maintaining its evaluative sense as enjoy-
possesses; and finally (5) multiple and complex ref- ably heightened, affective, and meaningful ex-
erence, where a symbol performs several integrated perience. Yet such a concept is fruitfully em-
and interacting referential functions, some direct and ployed in common usage, not only in Dewey.
some mediated through other symbols. (WW, pp. 67- A second problem with Goodman's definition
68) of aesthetic experience is that it seems to render
the very notion of experience-the conscious,
If an object's "functioning exhibits all these phenomenological feel of things-entirely su-
symptoms," Goodman claims, "then very likely perfluous. If the aesthetic is defined entirely in
the object is a work of art. If it shows almost terms of the dominance of certain modes of
none, then it probably isn't" (OMM, p. 199). Al- symbolization, with no essential reference to
though these symptoms may fall short of being sentience, immediate feeling, and affect, then
disjunctively necessary and conjunctively suffi- what is the point of speaking about aesthetic ex-
cient conditions for defining our concept of art, perience at all? We might as well just talk about
Goodman blames this on the fact that ordinary the semantic symptoms of art and aesthetics,
usage of this concept is too "vague and vagrant" and simply drop the term "experience" (as
to allow any clear definition and thus requires Goodman indeed does in his most recent discus-
reform (WW, p. 69). His symptoms are therefore sions). But apart from the once chic suspicion of
offered provisionally in the "search for a defini- consciousness, is there any reason why the con-
tion" (OMM, p. 135) that will achieve this clar- cept of aesthetic experience must omit this phe-
ification. nomenological dimension with its immediacy of
Rather than focusing on provisional symp- quality and affect? Goodman's discussion sug-
toms, criticism of Goodman's theory should be gests (though never fully articulates) the follow-
directed at the underlying premises that gener- ing argument: aesthetic experience is essentially
ate their proposal. Three problems seem most meaningful and cognitive through its use of
central. First is the premise of radical aesthetic symbols. Use of symbols implies mediation and
differentiation, with its consequent presumption dynamic processing of information, while phe-
that the function of the concept of aesthetic ex- nomenological feeling and affect imply passiv-
perience is to explain art's compartmentalized ity and immediacy that cannot account for
distinction. Goodman's theory, like Beardsley 's, meaning. Hence, aesthetic experience cannot be
is haunted by this goal of clearly defining art essentially phenomenological, immediate, or af-
from all other realms, of seeking (in his words) fective.
"a way of distinguishing aesthetic from all other This argument is very problematic. First,
experience" (LA, p. 25 1). Thus, though keen to even assuming all its premises, what follows is
emphasize the great affinities between art and only that aesthetic experience requires more
science, he feels compelled to seek a definition than these phenomenological features, not that
that will clearly mark off aesthetic from scien- they are not central to such experience. Sec-
tific experience. Invoking his symbolic symp- ondly, we can challenge the by arguing
toms to achieve this, he rightly worries that they that phenomenological consciousness can in-
cannot adequately do the job by providing nec- clude immediate perceptions of meaning, even
essary and sufficient conditions. if such immediate understandings on the con-
Yet such worries only arise by presuming that scious level require unconscious mediated pro-
the concept of aesthetic experience should be cessing, or rely on a background of past con-
co-extensive with art, that aesthetic experience scious mediation. Further, one can argue that
cannot occur in science and other standardly phenomenological feeling involves more than
nonartistic pursuits, but must apply in all art no immediacy, just as affect (on both psychological
matter how bad. There is ample testimony to and physiological levels) involves more than
challenge this presumption, but Goodman must passivity. Moreover, if Goodman brings the ar-
ignore it. Methodologically wedded to the proj- gument that affect is not central to aesthetic ex-
ect of demarcating art by aesthetic experience, perience because it is not always present in the
he cannot recognize a concept of aesthetic expe- experience of artworks, we can counter by chal-
Shusterman The End of Aesthetic Experience

lenging the presumption that aesthetic experi- demarcate art, Danto virtually ignores it, subor-
ence can only be understood as an artistically dinating it to another concept that he thinks can
demarcational concept, applying necessarily to do the definitional job (and do it with the same
our encounter with all (and only) artworks, no semantic emphasis that Goodman advocated).
matter how feeble the encounter and the works This concept is interpretation. "There is," he
may be. says "no appreciation without interpretation,"
Finally, Goodman's semiotic theory of aes- since "interpretations are what constitute works";
thetic experience has a third grave problem. Not and "interpretation consists in determining the
only does it neglect the phenomenology and relationship between a work of art and its mate-
nonartistic extension of that experience, it is rial counterpart" (TC, p. 113; PD, p. 45). As I
also wholly inadequate for its designated role of argue in "Beneath Interpretation,"25 I think
demarcating the realm of art. For its use in this these claims are problematic. But even granting
role requires that we already know whether or them does not nullify the idea of aesthetic expe-
not we are dealing with artworks. Here is the ar- rience. Its failure to provide a nonevaluative def-
gument. According to Goodman an object is an inition of our current concept of art does not en-
artwork when its symbolic functioning saliently tail that it has no important role to play in
employs the symptomatically aesthetic modes aesthetics, though we need, of course, to specify
of symbolization. But an object does not wear what role this could be.
its symbolic use on its sleeve; a visually identi- Danto, however, suggests a further argument.
cal sign may function differently in different The concept of aesthetic experience is not only
symbolic systems. For instance, as Goodman useless but a "danger," because the very notion
remarks, the same drawn line may be a "replete" of the aesthetic intrinsically trivializes art by
character artistically representing a mountain or seeing it as "fit only for pleasure," rather than
instead a nonreplete character merely represent- for meaning and truth (PD, pp. xiv, 13). This ar-
ing profits in a chart. But we do not know which gument not only falsely equates the aesthetic per
symbolic functioning the object has until we se with a caricature of the narrowest of Kantian
know whether the object is an artwork or just a formalisms, it also wrongly suggests a divide
chart. Hence symbolic functioning (and thus between pleasure and meaning, feeling and cog-
aesthetic experience as symbolic functioning) nition, enjoyment and understanding, when in-
cannot be the basis for defining the artistic sta- stead, they tend, in art, to constitute each other.
tus of an object. As T. S. Eliot remarked, "To understand a poem
This argument is, of course, a variation of the comes to the same thing as to enjoy it for the
argument from indiscernibles employed by right reasons."*6
Arthur Danto to argue that perceptual properties We can reinforce this point and the centrality
alone, including those involved in aesthetic ex- of aesthetic feeling by adopting Danto's argu-
perience, are insufficient for distinguishing be- ment from indiscernibles, but applying it this
tween artworks and nonart, between Warhol's time not to objects but to subjects. Imagine two
Brillo Boxes and their nonartistic counterparts. visually identical art viewers who offer identical
Our experience should differ, Danto says, "de- interpretations of the very powerful paintings
pending upon whether the response is to an art- and poems before them. One is a human being
work or to a mere real thing that cannot be told who thrills to what he sees and interprets. he
apart from it." But "we cannot appeal to [such other, however, is only a cyborg who, experienc-
differences] ... in order to get our definition of ing no qualia, feels no pleasure, indeed no emo-
art, inasmuch as we [first] need the definition of tion at all, but merely mechanically processes
art in order to identify the sorts of aesthetic re- the perceptual and artworld data to deliver his in-
sponses appropriate to works of art in contrast terpretive propositions. We would surely say here
with mere real things0(T, pp. 94-95). Aesthetic that the cyborg, in an important sense, doesn't
experience has the further problem, Danto really understand these works. He doesn't, in a
notes, of being traditionally defined as inher- big way, get the point of such art, even if he rec-
ently positive, while many artworks, being bad, ognizes that some feeling he cannot feel is
induce negative responses (T, p. 92). somehow appropriate. For much of the point is
Since aesthetic experience cannot adequately precisely to feel or savor art's qualia and mean-
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

ing, not just compute an interpretive output Forsaking such experience for semiotic defi-
from the work's signs and artworld context. nitions of art should not be seen as merely the
For this reason, even if the cyborg's interpre- arbitrary preference of linguistic philosophers
tive propositions were d e ~ c r i ~ t i v e l ~ maccu-
ore addicted to semantic theory. Goodman and
rate than the human being's, we would still say Danto were sensitively reflecting developments
that the human's general response to art was su- in the artworld, which required ever more inter-
perior and that the cyborg: since he feels ab- pretation as art became more cerebrally concep-
solutely nothing, does not really grasp what art tual in pursuing what Danto describes as its
is all about. Now imagine further that aesthetic Hegelian quest to become its own philosophy:
experience was entirely expunged from our civ- art as theory of art. Goodman and Danto were
ilization, since we were all transformed into also responsive to artworld realities in claiming
such cyborgs or exterminated by them. Art against Beardsley and Dewey that much con-
might linger on a bit through inertia, but could it temporary art neither evokes nor aims to evoke
continue to flourish and robustlv survive? What powerful experiences having enjoyable affect
would be the point of creating and attending to and coherent meaning.
it, if it promised no enriching phenomenological So much the worse, one might say, for con-
feeling or pleasure? temporary art, which, having completed its
The uncertainty of art's future in such a sci-fi philosophical transformation and lost the finan-
scenario implies the centrality of aesthetic expe- cial prop of eighties speculation, now finds it
rience-in its evaluative and phenomenological has lost an experiential point and a public to fall
sense-for the concept of art. Though surely back on. For the public retains a deep need for
neither a necessary or sufficient condition for aesthetic experiences, and as these became ar-
application of this concept, it might be regarded tistically dtpasst, it learned to satisfy this need
as a more general background condition for art. outside the official realm of contemporary art,
In other words, though many artworks fail to beyond the white cube of gallery space. So aes-
produce aesthetic experience-in the sense of thetic interest is increasingly directed toward
satisfyingly heightened, absorbing, meaningful, popular art, which has not yet learned to eschew
and affective experience-if such experience the experiential goals of pleasure, affect, and
could never be had and never had through the meaningful coherence, even if it often fails to
production of works, art could probably never achieve them. Mourning the artworld's loss of a
have existed.27 If artworks universally flouted public, the prominent artists Komar and Mel-
this interest (and not just on occasion to make a amid, together with The Nation, engaged a sci-
radical point), art, as we know it, would disap- entific marketing-survey of popular aesthetic
pear. In contrast to necessary and sufficient con- taste in the (perhaps ironic) quest to develop a
ditions that aim at mapping art's demarcational new plastic art that would engage people as
limits, such a background condition concerns broadly and as powerfully as popular music
the point rather than the extension of the concept does. One point emerging from the polling sta-
of art. In naming and so marking this point, aes- tistics is the demand that art provide positive af-
thetic experience is not a useless concept.28 fective experience through coherence.29
My futuristic cyborg parables are not so hard Branding this demand as stiflingly conserva-
to imagine because they reflect real developments tive, we may insist that art should not be con-
in recent aesthetics and contemporary life. Re- fined to supplying agreeable unities or emo-
jecting what he calls the traditional "strong and tions. We may rightly claim that today some of
cold" "grip of aestheticism on the philosophy of our most exciting, rewarding artistic encounters
art" (PD, p. 33), Danto joins Goodman and many involve unpleasant shock and fragmentation.
others in what might be termed a radical anaes- But can we make sense of art as a whole without
theticization of aesthetics. Felt experience is vir- admitting the traditional and still formative cen-
tually ignored and entirely subordinated to trality of vivid, meaningful, phenomenological
third-person semantic theories of artistic sym- experience that is directly felt as valuable, even
bolization and its interpretation. Once a potent if not always as pleasant and unified?
embodiment of art's sense and value, aesthetic Of course, the presence of such experience
experience is now "hermeneutered." does not entail the presence of art; so it cannot
Shusterman The End of Aesthetic Experience

in itself legitimize popular art as true art, just as ential, affective capacities are wearing thin, so
it cannot alone justify the claim that a given thin that we risk assimilation to the mechanical
work is good art. In all these cases, since expe- information processors that are already our
rience itself is mute, critical discourse is needed. most intimate companions in work and play.
Still, the power of aesthetic experience impels This worry is expressed nowhere more clearly
one to undertake such legitimating discourse than in cyborg fiction. The only way of distin-
through its felt value, just as it impels the public guishing human beings from their physically
toward the arts wherein it can be found. If the identical cyborg Terminators or Replicants is
experience has this power, then the concept of the human capacity to feel, which itself is con-
such experience has value in reminding us of it tinuously buffeted and jeopardized by the un-
and directing us toward its use. manageable flux and grind of futuristic living.
If art is in extremis, deprived (through com- In the story Blade Runner (though not in the
pletion) of its sustaining narrative of progress film) there is even a crucial device to reinforce
and thus groping without direction in what these affective experiential capacities-an "em-
Danto calls its "posthistory," where anything pathy box" that produces through virtual reality
goes; if art's groping is as lonely as it is aimless, a powerful aesthetico-religious experience of
cut off from the popular currents of taste in a dem- empathetic fusion with others likewise plugged
ocratic culture, then the concept of aesthetic ex- in.32
perience is worth recalling: not for formal def- It may seem very "retro" to suggest that aes-
inition but for art's reorientation toward values thetic experience can function something like
and populations that could restore its vitality an empathy box, restoring both our ability and
and sense of purpose.30 inclination for the sorts of vivid, moving, shared
Art's turn from the aesthetic experience of en- experience that one once sought in art. Perhaps
joyable affective unities is no more an act of our informational evolution has already gone
perverse willfulness than Danto and Goodman's too far, so that an evening of beauty at the Met
semantic anaesthetics. Like them, contempo- can do nothing to counter a life on Wall Street's
rary artists are simply responding to changes in chaotic trading floor. Perhaps aesthetic experi-
our lifeworld, as we move from a more unified ence, and not just the philosophical value of its
experiential culture to an increasingly modular, concept, has almost reached its end. How could
informational one. This results in art that high- philosophy do anything to forestall its total
lights fragmentation and complexities of infor- loss?
mation-flow that are often too helter-skelter to First, it can remind us of the variety this con-
provide the coherence needed for traditional cept still embraces as heightened, meaningful,
aesthetic experience's pleasurable sense of fo- and valuable phenomenological experience. So
cused. funded affect. Already in the 1930s Wal- the threatened loss of one traditional form does
ter Benjamin drew a stark contrast between ex- not entail its utter extinction. Second, in any of
perience and information, expressing the fear its rewarding forms, aesthetic experience will be
that through the fragmentation of modern life strengthened and preserved the more it is expe-
and the disjointed sensationalism of the news- rienced; it will be more experienced the more we
papers, we were losing the capacity for deep ex- are directed to such experience; and one good
perience and feeling. We have since undergone a way of directing us to such experience is fuller
far more extensive series of informational revo- recognition of its importance and richness
lutions-from television and facsimile to the through greater attention to the concept of aes-
Internet and newer interactive systems of cyber- thetic experience. We thus find at least one good
space and virtual reality. use for philosophical recognition of this con-
Given this informational overload, it is not cept: its orientation toward having the experi-
surprising that "the waning of affect" (in ence it names. Rather than defining art or justi-
Fredric Jameson's phrase) is diagnosed as a fying critical verdicts, the concept is directional,
prime symptom of our postmodern condition.31 reminding us of what is worth seeking in art and
There is growing concern, far beyond the acad- elsewhere in life. Wittgenstein said: "The work
emy, that we are being so thoroughly reshaped of the philosopher consists in assembling re-
by our informational technology that our experi- minders for a particular purpose."33 If the same
The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism

holds for philosophical concepts, that of aes- Without a Subject: Walter Benjamin and the Novel," New
thetic experience should not go unemployed. Formations 20 (1993): 145-155.
9. Challenging the idea that art is something for detached,
immediate "appreciation and enjoyment," Heidegger insists
RICHARD SHUSTERMAN that "art is by nature ... a distinctive way in which truth
Department of Philosophy comes into being, that is, becomes historical." It therefore
Temple University cannot be separated from the world of its truth-disclosure
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19122 simply for the narrow goal of experienced pleasure. In this
sense, Heidegger warns, "perhaps experience is the element
in which art dies." See Martin Heidegger, "The Origin of the
Work of Art," in Poetr)! Language, Thought (New York:
INTERNET: SHUSRICH@ASTRO.OCIS,TEMPLE.EDU Harper & Row, 1975), pp. 78,79.
10. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method (New York:
Crossroad, 1982), pp. 86-87; henceforth TM.
11. In highlighting the cognitive dimension of aesthetic
1. One reason for my interest in this concept is its impor- experience, Gadamer writes: "What one experiences in a
tant role in my pragmatist aesthetics. See Richard Shuster- work of art and what one is directed towards is rather how
man, Pragmatist Aesthetics (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992), es- true it is, i.e., to what extent one knows and recognizes
pecially chap. 2. something and oneself." The joy of aesthetic experience "is
2. I also see Joseph Margolis and Richard Rorty as major the joy of knowledge" (TM, pp. 101, 102).
figures in the aesthetic tradition that shapes my work, but 12. See Pierre Bourdieu, "The Historical Genesis of a
their theories are not so central to the topic of this paper. Pure Aesthetic," in Analytic Aesthetics, ed. Richard Shus-
3. See Arthur C. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfran- terman (Oxford: Blackwell, 1989), pp. 147-160, citations
chisement of Art (Columbia University Press, 1986), p. 13; from pp. 148, 150.
henceforth referred to as PD. I shall also be using the fol- 13. For more detailed argument of this point, see the
lowing abbreviations in referring to other works of Danto, chapter on "Beneath Interpretation" in Pragmatist Aesthet-
Beardsley, Dewey, and Goodman: Arthur C. Danto, The ics. I develop the arguments further in Sous I'interpritation
Transfiguration of the Commonplace (Harvard University (Paris: L'Cclat, 1994), and Practicing Philosophy: Pragma-
Press, 1981): TC; Monroe C. Beardsley, Aestherics: Prob- tism and the Philosophical Life (New York: Routledge,
lems in the Philosophy of Criticism (New York: Harcourt 1997).
Brace, 1958): A, and The Aesthetic Point of View', (Cornell 14. Dewey thus sees aesthetic experience as central not
University Press, 1982,): APV; John Dewey, Art as Experi- only to art but to the philosophy of experience in general.
ence (Southern Illinois University Press, 1987): AE; Nelson "To esthetic experience," he therefore claims, "the philoso-
Goodman, Languages of Art (Oxford: Oxford University pher must go to understand what experience is" (AE, p. 11).
Press, 1968): LA, Ways of Worldmaking (Indianapolis: 15. Although I think this is obvious, there is an argument
Hackett, 1978): WW, and Of Mind and Other Matters (Har- that denies it, asserting that our appreciation of natural
vard University Press, 1984): OMM. beauty is entirely dependent on and constrained by our mod-
4. See, for example, the account by the renowned Polish ern concept of fine art, as indeed is all our aesthetic experi-
historian of aesthetics, W. Tatarkiewicz in his A History of ence. For a critique of this argument and a fuller discussion
Si.r Ideas (The Hague: Nijhoff, 1980), pp. 3 10-338. of Dewey's views, see PragmatistAesthetics, chaps. 1 and 2.
5. See David Hume, "Of the Standard of Taste," in Essays 16. As Dewey later adds, "The experience is marked by a
Moral, Political, and Literary (Oxford: Oxford University greater inclusiveness of all psychological factors than occurs
Press, 1963), p. 234: and Immanuel Kant, The Critique of in ordinary experiences, not by reduction of them to a single
Judgement (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1957), response" (AE, p. 259).
pp. 41-42. 17. Even if we could effect this reclassification, Dewey's
6. See George Dickie, "Beardsley's Phantom Aesthetic definition of art as aesthetic experience would remain prob-
Experience," Journal of Philosophy 62 (1965): 129-136. lematic. For this experience is itself never clearly defined
Eddy Zemach also argues that there is no such thing as the but instead asserted to be ultimately indefinable because of
aesthetic experience in his (Hebrew) book, Aestherics (Tel its essential immediacy; "it can," he says, "only be felt, that
Aviv University Press, 1976), pp. 42-53. is, immediately experienced" (AE, p. 196). For more de-
7. Theodor Adorno, Aesthetic Theory (London: Rout- tailed critique of Dewey's definition of art as experience, see
ledge, 1984), pp. 474,476; henceforth AT. Pragmatist Aesthetics, chaps. 1 and 2.
8. Though he advocates Erfahrung over Erlebnis, Ben- 18. Beardsley's precise list of defining characteristics of
jamin is critical of the neo-Kantian and positivist notion of aesthetic experience changes slightly over the years, but al-
Ecfahrung as being too narrowly rationalistic and thin. My most all his accounts insist on the features I mention. Apart
compressed account of Benjamin is based on his essays from his book Aesthetics, his most detailed treatments of
"The Storyteller," "On Some Motifs in Baudelaire," and aesthetic experience can be found in 'Aesthetic Experience
"The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction." Regained" and 'Aesthetic Experience," both reprinted in
All these texts are found in Walter Benjamin, Illuminations APV (pp. 77-92,285-297).
(New York: Schocken, 1968). Fuller discussions of Ben- 19. See Dickie's "Beardsley's Phantom Aesthetic Experi-
jamin's theme of experience can be found in Richard Wolin, ence," and his Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analy-
Walter Benjamin: An Aesthetic of Redemption (Columbia sis (Cornell University Press, 1974).
University Press, 1982), and in Martin Jay, "Experience 20. Beardsley himself cites Maslow's psychological re-
Shusterman The End of Aesthetic Experience

search into peak experiences (APV,p. 85). See A. H. Maslow, count for the survival of humanity itself. Such experiences,
Toward a Psychology of Being (Princeton University Press, says the Oxford anatomist J. 2. Young, "have the most cen-
1962). Use of the notion of experience and its characteriza- tral of biological functions-of insisting that life be worth-
tion in terms of coherence and intensity is also found in more while, which, after all, is the final guarantee of its continu-
contemporary experimental psychology. For one example, ance." J. Z. Young, An Introduction to the Study of Man
see the influential work of Daniel Stem. The Interpersonal (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), p. 38. A more re-
World of the Infant (New York: Basic Books, 1985). cent and detailed case for the evolutionary value of art and
21. For a vigorous defense of the centrality of conscious- its affective experience can be found in Ellen Dissanayake,
ness, see John Searle, The Rediscovery of the Mind (MIT Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why (New
Press, 1992). More specifically, I defend the notion of imme- York: Free Press, 1992). See also Nathan Kogan, "Aesthetics
diate experience against charges that it is cognitively empty and Its Origins: Some Psychobiological and Evolutionary
and entails commitment to foundationalism's myth of the Considerations," Social Research 61 (1994):139-165.
given; see Richard Shusterman, "Dewey on Experience," 28. The idea that aesthetic experience fails miserably at
Philosophical Forum 26 (1994): 127-148; and the chapter on formally defining art's extension but nonetheless is essential
somatic experience in Practicing Philosophy, chap. 6. for understanding art's point and value is developed in more
22. See Joel Kupperman, 'Art and Aesthetic Experience," detail in my Pragmatist Aesthetics, chaps. 1 and 2. I empha-
The British Journal of Aesthetics 15 (1975), and Beardsley's size there (and the point bears repeating) that art's valuable
response in APV, p. 296. uses go far beyond the creation of aesthetic experience. I
23. There is also the problem that aesthetic experience in should also note that Richard Wollheim draws a somewhat
itself is too elusive, ineffable, subjectively variable, and im- similar distinction between a concept's "conditions of appli-
measurable in magnitude to provide sufficient grounds for cation" and its background "assumptions of applicability" in
justifying particular evaluative verdicts. Thus, when it came "Danto's Gallery of Indiscernibles," in Danto and His Crit-
to actual critical practice, Beardsley recognized that one had ics, ed. Mark Rollins (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), pp. 28-38.
to demonstrate the unity, complexity, and intensity of the 29. See "Painting by Numbers: The Search for a People's
actual work, not of its experience. However, he held that Art," in The Nation, March 14, 1994, pp. 334-348, particu-
demonstration of the former could allow inference of capac- larly questions 68 and 70, which relate to art's coherence
ity for the latter, and it was the latter (i.e., experience) that and ability to "make us happy."
constituted actual aesthetic value. 30. These values include not only heightened, positive af-
24. Since these characteristics make no reference to phe- fect but an enhanced appreciation of the nonconceptual and
nomenological consciousness, Goodman's concept of aes- the sensual. Another possible value of aesthetic experience
thetic experience can be characterized as semantic rather comes from its making us aware, through its power to trans-
than phenomenological. Like Dewey and Beardsley, Good- port us, of the benefits that can be derived by opening or
man insists on the dynamic nature of aesthetic experience, submitting oneself to things typically seen as mere objects
but he does not emphasize, as they do, the passive aspect in of our domination and use. This holds, of course, as much
which one surrenders oneself to the work. This idea may be for the experience of nature as well as art, and it bespeaks of
too suggestive of subjectivity and affect for Goodman. But the transformational role of experience in which, as Dewey
the etymology of "experience" suggests the peril of undergo- insisted, we are subjects as well as agents, undergoing as
ing something, and it is perhaps not too fanciful to note that well as acting. Heidegger makes a similar point: "To un-
some notion of submission is even hinted at by the "under" dergo an experience of something ... means that this some-
in the word "understanding." For more on this, see note 30. thing befalls us, strikes us, comes over us, overwhelms and
25. See Pragmatist Aesthetics, chap. 5. transforms us." Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language
26. T. S. Eliot, "The Frontiers of Poetry," in OfPoetry and (New York: Harper & Row, 1971), p. 57.
Poets (London: Faber, 1957), p. 115. Eliot adds that this 31. Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or the Cultural
means "enjoying it to the right degree and in the right way, Logic of Late Capitalism (Duke University Press, 1991), pp.
relative to other poems. ... It should hardly be necessary to 10-16. For a specific study of the problematics of embod-
add that this implies one shouldn't enjoy bad poems-un- ied, affective aesthetic experience and the new media, see
less their badness is of a sort that appeals to our sense of hu- Richard Shusterman, "Soma und Medien," Kunstforum In-
mour." For a detailed account of Eliot's theory of literary ternational 132 (1996): 210-215.
understanding, see Richard Shusterman, T S. Eliot and the 32. See Philip K. Dick, Blade Runner (originally, Do An-
Philosophy of Criticism (Columbia University Press, 1988), droids Dream of Electric Sheep) (Ballantine: New York,
chaps. 5 and 6. 1982).
27. A growing number of sociobiologists further maintain 33. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
that the gratifications of aesthetic experience not only ex- (Oxford: Blackwell, 1956), 5 127.
plain art's emergence and staying power but also help ac-