Call for Book Chapters: "Art as experience of the living body"

Call for chapters in a prospective publication by Vernon Press, directed by Christine Vial Kayser.

Reception of abstracts of 250 words by 1st January 2021; reception of selected manuscripts 15 March 2021. Language: French or English. Length ca. 45 000 characters.

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This call for chapter aims at theoretical contributions as well as case studies in various art practices, permitting to clarify, illuminate and nourish the debates on embodied cognition and embodied aesthetics, with insights from philosophy (in particular phenomenology, pragmatism and enactivism), art history, the creative arts, anthropology and neurosciences.

The theoretical premises are based on the pragmatist/phenomenological/enactive postulate that human being are ontologically “living in the world” in a dynamic flux of experience. The body is central to this encounter, it conditions and form: “ (the body is) the eye of the cyclone, the origin of the coordinates, the place where the constant emphasis is placed during our experience” because “the world we experience presents itself at all times with our body as its centre, centre of vision, centre of action, centre of interest” (James 2005, p. 137-138; see also Johnson 2007, p. 169). For John Dewey the basic fact of human life is “that man uses the materials and energies of nature with intent to expand his life, and (…) does so in accord with the structure of his organism – brain, sense organs, and muscular system” (1934, p. 25). Thus to understand the mechanism of human consciousness and the origin of all mental representations (symbols, concepts, language) one needs to pay attention to the living body's data (sensuous, visceral, kinaesthetic, and affective cues) i.e. “organic and psycho-physical activities [which] supply mind with its footing and connection in nature; they provide meaning with their existential stuff.” (1925/2008, p. 220). Intellectualist, dualist, mentalist construct on which Cartesian philosophy, Kantian aesthetics and cognitive science are based are, for James “forever inadequate to the fulness of the reality to be known” (1916, p. 78). James thus distinguishes between “direct acquaintance with something” and “knowledge about something” (1918, vol. 2, p. 2). Direct acquaintance conveys a felt quality to the experience, impossible to construct mentally.

Dewey ascribes to art, in the general sense of an object devoid of immediate practical use, the capacity to enlighten us about this “situation”. Art is “the act of production [of] an experience in which the whole creature is alive” (1934, p. 27). This is why it is called “an artwork”. Work implies action and energy and thus “esthetic effect is due to art’s unique transcript of the energy of the things of the world” (id., p. 184). 

Phenomenology claims that perception of the world is made through the interaction between the living/organic body and consciousness within the “lived body” or “corps propre” and attempts to seize this encounter through the method of “epochè”. Here we refer to the “living body” as the subconscious, preconscious experience conveyed by the body in the encounter with/the making of art.

Following James and Dewey’s insights, we purport to examine how art may be conducive of an understanding of our consciousness as “grounded” in the sensuous, material interaction with objects, people, spaces; how art may help us reattune with our living body, with our vital energy, through the esthetic experience which is a form of “work”; and to interrogate more generally what art does in relation to life and energy, in the sense of somatic energy (bodily impulse), biological and psychological energy— including elation, arousal, sexuality, protention.

Contrary to Dewey’s equivalence between “aesthetics” and “life” experience, we want to reflect on the Western (and Indian) aesthetic principle that art is a game in which the action is postulated but not actually enacted; in which the mechanisms involved on daily life (such as focussing on significant details) are replaced by a more global —Gestalt like—, possibly detached form of evaluation, using a “default networks” akin to mind-wandering (Brincker 2014, p. 133). Art in this tradition has a reflective value, that of unravelling bundles of affect and experience. It asks, “what is the value of this presented object as an enduring matrix of experience” (Lewis, 1929/1956, p. 405). This may account for art’s “defamiliarising/ refamiliarising” effects (Scarinzi 2014, p. 263) from our habitus, which aim is social adaptability and efficiency (Bourdieu, 2002, p. 92). Contrary to pragmatism that focusses on individual action in an almost Darwinist position on life as individual survival, we also want to consider the role of repose, of listlessness, of aporia, of meditation, of passivity, of letting go, an important dimension of Eastern aesthetic in particular.

While early enactivism focuses on sensorimotor interactions we want to look at the affective component of the experience of art; how does it morph into concepts of pleasure and displeasure;

We would like to examine how sensuous artistic data can be informed by other experiences of life and then inform art; we suggest considering for example the role of erotic energy in art.

The art considered may involve fine arts, installations, still and moving images, language, architecture, and performances—artistic or ritualistic.

Questions to be addressed are for example:

I Philosophy, art theory, art practice

We aim at theoretical and/or practical contributions on the relation between art and the living (kinaesthetic, biological, affective) body.

  • Which body patterns are implemented by artists, performers, musicians to promote their creativity.
  • Which body patterns are involved in the aesthetic experience of the viewer/ listener. What is the role of clothing, gestures, and other Habitus in the aesthetic experience.
  • What is the possible interplay of somatic (kinesthetic, visceral, biological) energy in the making and the reception of art.
  • How does a physical, mnemonic and emotional experience of the living body sets in motion thoughts and imaginations in the artist and the viewer.
  • What happens to the viewer’s imagination when concepts are reembodied in material form—as in conceptual art and architecture?
  • What is the bodily, affective content of digital art?
  • Examples of defamilarising/refamiliarising processes (such as the use of the uncanny, poetic playing with syntax, metaphors etc.).
  • What do art forms related to trauma, to death, to repose, to aporia bring into the viewers’ consciousness. How is this art?
  • Does James’s distinction between “direct acquaintance with something and knowledge aboutsomething” apply to the aesthetic experience? How does this relate potentially to qualia,e. the felt quality of experience or the "colours of feelings" and to the metaphoric power of art? How does this relate to “transmodality”.
  • What do art / ritual practices related to sublimating the senses, absorbing energies, disengagement from action bring into the viewers’ consciousness.
  • What is the role of sexuality in art : e. g. reclamations and celebrations of the erotic as life-force in literature, film, music and other arts.

II Neuroaesthetics, psychoaesthetics…

Do neuroscience /psychology help understand patterns linking the living body and the creation and perception of art forms (visual, auditory and others, of architecture)? In particular what can theory of modal and amodal symbolisation say about the embodied experience of art? Limits and potentiality of mirror neurons.

Can aesthetic experience help advance the debate between “internalist” and “externalist” view of our encounter with the world?

Can the existence of “preafference loop” and “limbic basin” (Freeman, p. 14 et seq.) explain the role of art in defamiliarising our engagement with the environment. Role of feedback processes in the creative imagination.

Bibliography

  • Bourdieu, Pierre, Méditations pascaliennes, 1997, Le Seuil, ebook.
  • Brincker, Maria, The Aesthetic Stance–On the Conditions and Consequences of Becoming a Beholder, ch. 8 in Aesthetics and the Embodied Mind: Beyond Art Theory and the Cartesian Mind-Body Dichotomy, A. Scarinzi (Ed.), Springer, 2014. Online Researchgate.
  • Dewey, John, Art as Experience, Penguin, 1934.
  • —————, The Later Works of John Dewey, 1925-1953: 1925 Experience and nature, SIU, 2008.
  • Freeman, Walter, Emotion is Essential to All Intentional Behaviors, Chapter 8 in Emotion, Development, and Self-Organization Dynamic Systems Approaches to Emotional Development, M. Lewis & I. Granic (Eds), Cambridge University Press, 2000, pp. 209-235. Online Researchgate.
  • James, William, The principles of psychology, New York, Henry Bolt, 1918. Online Gutenberg.org.
  • _____________, Some problems of philosophy, Longmans Green, 1916.
  • _____________, L’expérience de l’activité, in Id., Essais d’empirisme radical. Marseille, Agone, 2005.
  • Johnson, Mark, The Meaning of the Body, Chicago University Press, 2007.
  • Lewis, Clarence, Mind and the World-order: Outline of a Theory of Knowledge (1929) Courier Corporation, 1956.
  • Scarinzi, Alfonsina, Enactive literariness and aesthetic experience: from mental schemata to anti-representationlism, in id. (ed.), Aesthetics and the Embodied Mind: Beyond Art Theory and the Cartesian Mind-Body Dichotomy, Spinger, 2014, ch. 16.

Practical aspects:

Please send an abstract of 250 words with a title, and a short biography at christine.vialkayser@gmail.com by 1st January 2020. The authors will be advised on the 2nd January.

Selected manuscripts are expected by 15 March 2021. Language: French and / or English. Length 35 000-65 000 characters. (space included). The selected contributions will be peer reviewed, which may lead to full acceptance, acceptance with requested revisions, or non-acceptance.

N.B.: We are aiming at selecting10 chapters maximum, as we already have contributions from participants in an earlier seminar.

This proposal is due at January 1st 2021.

Page last updated on October 21st 2020. All information correct at the time, but subject to change.

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