Making Sense of Aisthesis: The Return of Sensibility

Field: Estetik
Project leader: Cecilia Sjöholm
Starting year: 2009
Project type: Project

“Making Sense of Aisthesis: The Return of Sensibility” is a research project involving four scholars, Katarina Elam, Sara Danius, Cecilia Sjöholm and Sven-Olov Wallenstein, contributing to a vivid international debate concerning a contemporary ”aesthetic turn”. Our lifeworld has been aestheticized to an extraordinary degree, whilst at the same time our way of looking at the world has been affected by medias and technologies enhancing the experience of a new kind of sensibility. How are we to understand the aesthetic turn? The academic study of aesthetics is concerned with perception, i.e. the capacity of the human body to approach the world. ”Aesthetics” is referring to the Greek concept of aisthesis, referring to perception and sensibility. How do the sense mediate between man and world, body and consciousness, ideas and objects? How are we to explain the relation between the experience of sensibility and modern technologies of perception? What happens with the sense in modernity? Do they have a social and political history? In what way can we interpret the history of aesthetics through contemporary art? In what way do questions of sexuality and gender relate to theories of aesthetics? The research project “Making Sense of Aisthesis: The Return of Sensibility” intends to examine the relation between the history of the aesthetics as an academic discipline, and greater cultural and social shifts involving an impact of the senses. The project involves different parts, comprising isolating moments in a development spanning over three hundred years. To begin with, the establishment of the study of aesthetics during the 18th century is being examined, then the development of realism in the 19th century, and the asthetization of literature and art, continuing to the performance-art of the 60s and the development of a new aesthetic space, involving corporeality. Finally we intend to analyze the aesthetization of ordinary life in contemporary society, and its reliance on visual communication above all.

The project aims to take particular interest in cultural shifts that carry a high social and political significance, thereby establishing its historical method. Aesthetic expression becomes a symptom of farreaching social and cultural change. An academic study of aesthetics that is interested in the history of sensibility, establishing a broad concept of aesthetics as aesthesis, will open for a new form of theoretical reflection in the humanities, calling for a pluralistic and interdisciplinary approach. On this point the project ties into a growing interest in the theoretical and historical study of the experience of sensibility. The academic discipline of aesthetics has a particular place in the countries surrounding the Baltic Sea. The German tradition stretching from Baumgarten, Winckelmann and Kant up to Welsch has examined the concept of aesthetics in a systematic manner. There is, however, another reason fo tying the project to the geographical region of the Baltic Sea: in several countries in this area there is a vivid interest in the continued study of the aesthetics tradition. The specific place of the study of aesthetics in the region of the academy Baltic Sea can be further developed.