Dewey, John - UNCW Faculty and Staff Web John John Dewey (18591952) ... first chapter of Art as Experience is entitled The Live Creature, and it and all the ...

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  • Dewey,John

    JohnDewey(18591952)isprobablythegreatestofAmericanpragmatistphilosophersandcertainlythemostinfluentialforculturalcriticismandaesthetics.Hisvoluminouswritingscoverallthemajorphilosophicaldisciplines,andamonghisprimarythemesarenaturalism,instrumentalism,experienceandexperimentation,andanantifoundationalisthistoricismthatseesphilosophicalproblemsasthereflectionofrealpracticalproblemsthatemergethroughsocialandscientificchange.Apartfromhiseminenceasaprofessionalphilosopher,Deweywasalsoanimportantpublicfigure,acontroversialeducationalreformer,andanoutspokensupporterofthelabormovementandotherprogressivecauses.Notonlyhisethicsandpoliticsbutalsohisepistemologyandphilosophyofscienceweredeeplyimbuedwithacommitmenttoparticipatorydemocracyandtheopennessofinquiry.

    IshallconcentratehereonDewey'saestheticsasrepresentedprimarilyin ArtasExperience(1934),which,however,involvesmuchmorethanaestheticsastraditionallyconceived.ThoughDewey'saestheticsinitiallyarousedmuchinterestamongartistsandcriticsaswellasphilosophers,itwas,inacademiccircles,totallyeclipsedbyanalyticphilosophyofart,whichbyandlargedismissedDewey'saesthetictheoryas"ahodgepodgeofconflictingmethodsandundisciplinedspeculations"(Isenberg128).Deweyanaestheticsisbestportrayedbycontrasttoanalyticaesthetics,anditcontainsmanyofthemajorthemesofcontemporaryContinentaltheorythatanalyticphilosophyeitherignoresorrepudiates.

    OneofthemostcentralfeaturesofDewey'saestheticsisitsnaturalism.Thefirstchapterof ArtasExperienceisentitled"TheLiveCreature,"anditandallthesubsequentchaptersarededicatedtogroundingaestheticsinthenaturalneeds,constitution,andactivitiesoftheembodiedhumanorganism.Deweyaimsat"recoveringthecontinuity ofestheticexperiencewithnormalprocessesofliving"(16).Estheticunderstandingmuststartwithandneverforgettherootsofartandbeautyinthe"basicvitalfunctions,"the"biologicalcommonplaces"peoplesharewith"birdandbeast"(1920).For Dewey,allartistheproductofinteractionbetweenthelivingorganismanditsenvironment,anundergoingandadoingthatinvolvesareorganizationofenergies,actions,andmaterials.Thoughhumanartshavebecomemorespiritualized,"theorganicsubstratumremainsasthequickeninganddeepfoundation,"thesustainingsourceoftheemotionalenergiesofart,whichmakeitsoenhancivetolife(3031,85).Thisessentialphysiologicalstratumisnotconfinedtotheartist.Theperceiver,too,mustengagehisorhernaturalfeelingsandenergiesaswellashisorherphysiologicalsensorymotorresponsesinordertoappreciateart,whichforDeweyamountstoreconstitutingsomethingasartinaestheticexperience(60,1034).

    Incontrast,themajorthrustofanalyticaestheticsissharplyopposedtonaturalizingartanditsaestheticvalue.G.E.Mooreestablishedthisattitudewithhisdoctrineofthenaturalisticfallacy,afallacythat"hasbeenquiteascommonlycommittedwithregardtobeautyaswithregardtogood"(Principia201).Aestheticqualitiesmustnotbeidentifiedwithnaturalonesandarenotevenreducibleorlogicallyentailedbythem.

  • PartofDewey'snaturalismistoinsistthatart'saim"istoservethewholecreatureinhisunifiedvitality,"a"livecreature"demandingnaturalsatisfactions(Art122).ThisstandsinsharpcontrasttotheextremeemphasisondisinterestednessthatanalyticaestheticsinheritedfromImmanuelKant.ThisemphasisgoesbeyondthemereMooreanpointthatbeauty,likegood,isapurelyintrinsicvalueorendinitselfthatcanonlybemisconceivedasameans.Thereisthefurthercharacterizationofartassomethingessentiallydefinedbyitsnoninstrumentalityandgratuitousness.Theunderlyingmotiveforsuchanalyticattemptstopurifyartfromanyfunctionalitywasnottodenigrateitasworthlesslyuselessbuttoplaceitsworthapartfromandabovetherealmofinstrumentalvalueandnaturalsatisfactions.Howevernobletheintention,thisattitudeportrayedaestheticexperienceaseviscerateandsociallyirrelevant.NowondertheoristshaveturnedtoFriedrichNietzsche,GeorgesBataille,and MichelFoucaultforrecognitionofthebodilyfactorsanddesiresinvolvedintheaesthetic,justastheyturntoContinentalMarxiantheoriesforgreaterappreciationofart'shistoricopoliticalandsocioeconomicdeterminantsandinstrumentalpower.

    ButtheseverythemescanbefoundinDewey.Thoughnolessdevotedthantheanalyststodefendingtheaestheticandtoprovingitsinfungibleworth,Deweydidsobyinsistingonart'sgreatbutglobal instrumentalvalue.Foranythingtohavehumanvalue,itmustinsomewayservetheneedsandenhancethelifeanddevelopmentofthehumanorganismincopingwithitsenvironingworld.ThemistakeoftheKantiantraditionwastoassumethatsincearthadnospecific,identifiablefunctionthatitcouldperformbetterthananythingelse,itcouldonlybedefendedasbeingbeyonduseandfunction.Dewey'simportantcorrectiveistoarguethatart'sspecialfunctionandvaluelienotinanyspecialized,particularendbutinsatisfyingthelivecreatureinamoreglobalway,byservingavarietyofends,andmostimportant,byenhancingourimmediateexperience,whichinvigoratesandvitalizesus,thusaidingourachievementofwhateverfurtherendswepursue.Notonlydoestheworksongsungintheharvestfieldsprovidetheharvesterswithasatisfyingaestheticexperiencebutitszestcarriesoverintotheirworkandinvigoratesandenhancesit.Thesamecanbesaidforworksofhighart.Theyarenotmerelytoolsforgeneratingaestheticexperience:theymodifyandenhanceperceptionandcommunicationtheyenergizeandinspirebecauseaestheticexperienceisalwaysspillingoverandgettingintegratedintoourotheractivities,enhancinganddeepeningthem.

    Dewey'srecognitionoftheglobalfunctionalityofartisrelatedtoanotherviewinwhichheseemstodiffersharplyfromanalyticphilosophersthephilosophicalprimacyandcentralityofartandtheaesthetic.ForDewey,theaestheticexperienceisthe"experienceinwhichthewholecreatureisalive"andmostalive(33 seealso2425,109)."Toestheticexperience,then,thephilosophermustgotounderstandwhatexperienceis"(278).WhileDeweysawartasthequalitativemeasureofanysociety(347),analyticphilosopherssawscienceastheidealandparadigmofhuman achievement.Andanalyticaesthetics,atleastinitially,waslargelyanattempttoapplythelogicallyrigorousandprecisemethodsofscientificphilosophytothewaywardandwoollyrealmofart.YetDewey,appreciativeashewasofscientificmethodandprogress,couldnothelpbutregardscientificexperienceasthinnerthanart.Forartengagesmoreofthehumanorganisminamoremeaningfulandimmediateway(9091,126,278),includingthehighercomplexitiesofthinking:"The

    http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/immanuel_kant.htmlhttp://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/friedrich_nietzsche.htmlhttp://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/georges_bataille.htmlhttp://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/michel_foucault.html

  • productionofaworkof genuineartprobablydemandsmoreintelligencethandoesmostofthesocalledthinkingthatgoesonamongthosewhopridethemselvesonbeing'intellectuals'"(52).Hethereforeheld"thatartthemodeofactivitythatischargedwithmeaningscapableofimmediatelyenjoyedpossessionisthecompleteculminationofnature,andthat'science'isproperlyahandmaidenthatconductsnaturaleventstothishappyissue"(Experience358).

    Deweytriestodeconstructthetraditionalprivilegingoppositionofscienceoverartnotonlybyreversingtheprivilegebutbydenyingthatthereisanyrigiddichotomyoroppositionbetweenthetwo.Heinsiststhat"scienceisanart,"for"estheticquality...mayinhereinscientificwork,"andbothenterprisesperformthesameessentialfunctionofhelpingusorderandcopewithexperience(Experience358 Art33,12526,202).LikeJacquesDerrida'sideaofthegeneraltext,Dewey'scentralcontinuitythesiswasaimedatbreakingthestrangleholdofentrencheddualismsandrigiddisciplinarydistinctionsthatstiflecreativethoughtandfragmentbothindividualexperienceandsociallife.Hesoughttoconnectaspectsofhumanexperienceandactivitythathadbeendividedbyspecialized,compartmentalizingthoughtandthenmorebrutallysunderedbyspecialist,departmentalizinginstitutionsinwhichsuchfragmenteddisciplinarythinkingisreinscribedandreinforced(Shusterman1217,4655).InthesewayshealsoanticipatesTheodorW.AdornoandFoucault.

    Dewey'saestheticnaturalism,aimedat"recoveringthecontinuityofestheticexperiencewithnormalprocessesofliving,"ispartofhisattempttobreakthestiflingholdof"thecompartmentalconceptionoffineart,"thatoldandinstitutionallyentrenchedphilosophicalideologyoftheaestheticthatsharplydistinguishesartfromreallifeandremitsit"toaseparaterealm"themuseum,thetheater,andtheconcerthall (Art9,14).ButDewey'saestheticsofcontinuityandholismnotonlyunderminestheart/scienceandart/lifedichotomiesbutalsoinsistsonthefundamentalcontinuityofahostoftraditionalbinarynotionsandgenredistinctionswhoselongassumedoppositionalcontrasthasstructuredsomuchofphilosophicalaesthetics:form/content,fine/practicalart,high/popularculture,spatial/temporalarts,artist/audience,tonamebutafew.

    Analyticaesthetics,pursuedundertheidealofscience,thustendedtoshirkissuesofevaluationandreform.Theaimwastoanalyzeandclarifytheestablishedconceptsandpracticesofartcriticism,nottorevisethemtogiveatrueaccountofourconceptofart,nottochangeit.Invividcontrast,Deweyanaestheticsisinterestednotintruthfortruth'ssakebutinachievingricherandmoresatisfyingexperience.ForDewey'spragmatism,experience,nottruth,isthefinalstandard.Theultimateaimofallenquiry,scientificoraesthetic,isnotknowledgeitselfbutbetterexperienceorexperiencedvalue,andDeweyinsistson"theimmediacyofaestheticexperience"anditsexperiencedvalue(123).Fromthisfollowshisviewofthesupremacyoftheaesthetic:art's"immediatelyenjoyed,"activeexperienceis"thecompleteculminationofnature,"forwhichtruthorscienceservesasanauxiliary"handmaiden"(Experience358).Italsofollowsthataestheticvaluescannotbepermanentlyfixedbyaesthetictheoryorcriticismbutmustbecontinuallytestedandmaybeoverturnedbythetribunalofchangingexperience.

    Amoredramaticandradicalconsequenceofthisexperientialstandardisthatouraestheticconcepts,includingtheconceptofartitself,arerevealedasmereinstrumentsthatneedtobechallengedandrevisedwhentheyfailtoprovidethebestexperience.Thiscan

    http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/jacques_derrida.htmlhttp://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/theodor_w._adorno.html

  • accountforDewey'sobviousattempttodirecthisaesthetictheoryatradicallyreformingourconceptsofartandtheaesthetic.Deweydeploresthedominantelitisttraditionoffineart,whichheattacksunderthelabelsof"themuseumconceptionofart"and"theesotericideaoffineart"(Art12,90).Theprimemotiveforhisoppositiontothespiritualizedsequestrationofartwasnotontological considerationsofnaturalisticcontinuityandemergence.Rather,themotivewastheinstrumentalaimofimprovingourimmediateexperiencethroughasocioculturaltransformationinwhichartwouldbericherandmoresatisfyingtomorepeoplebecauseitwouldbeclosertotheirmostvitalinterestsandbetterintegratedintotheirlives.Thecompartmentalizationandspiritualizationofartasanelevated"separaterealm"set"uponaremotepedestal,"divorcedfromthematerialsandaimsofallotherhumaneffort,hasremovedartfromthedailyexperienceofmostofusandthushasimpoverishedtheestheticqualityofourlives(916).

    Butmorethanartsuffersfromitsspiritualizedsequestrationnorwasthiscompartmentalizationestablishedsimplybyandforaesthetestosecureandpurifytheirpleasures.Theideaofartandtheaestheticasaseparaterealmdistinguishedbyitsfreedom,imagination,andpleasurehasasitsunderlyingcorrelativethedismalassumptionthatordinarylifeisnecessarilyoneofjoyless,unimaginativecoercion.Thisprovidesthepowersandinstitutionsstructuringoureverydaylifewiththebestexcusefortheirincreasinglybrutalindifferencetonaturalhumanneedsforthepleasuresofbeautyandimaginativefreedom.Thesearetobesought,notinreallife,butinfineart,anescapethatgivestemporaryrelief.Artbecomes,inDewey'smordantphrase,"thebeauty parlorofcivilization"(339),coveringwithanopulentaestheticsurfaceitsuglyhorrorsandbrutalities,which,forDewey,includeclasssnobberyandcapitalism'sprofitseekingoppressionandalienationoflabor.Modernsocioeconomicforceshavesodividedbetweenjoyless"externallyenforcedlabor"andfreeenjoymentandbetweenproductionandconsumptionthatthe"chasmbetweenordinaryandestheticexperience,"artandreallife,hasbecometheoreticallyconvincing(1516,285).Thus,forDewey,notonlyartbutphilosophicaltheoriesaboutartaresignificantlyshapedby"extraneous"socioeconomicconditions,soourconceptofartneedstobereformedaspartandparcelofthereformofsocietythathassoconstitutedit.

    IconcludewithDewey'sperhapsmostcentralaesthetictheme:theprivilegingofaestheticexperienceoverthematerialobjectthatordinary,reifiedthinkingidentifies(andthencommodifiesandfetishizes)astheworkofart.ForDeweytheessenceandvalueofartisnotinsuchartifactsbutinthedynamicanddevelopingexperientialactivitythroughwhichtheyarecreatedandperceived.Hethereforedistinguishesbetweenthe"artproduct"and"theactualworkofart[which]iswhattheproductdoeswithandinexperience"(9).Dewey'semphasisonartasexperiencestandsinsharpoppositiontoanalyticphilosophy'ssuspicionofaestheticexperience,whichittypically regardedastooelusive,variable,andpsychologistictoserveasthecenterofphilosophyofart.Analyticphilosophyinsteadprivilegedart'sobjects,anditexpendedenormouseffortsintryingtofixtheprecisecriteriaforidentifyingthesameobjectinitsvariousmanifestations(e.g.,authenticcopiesandperformances)andforindividuatingitfromotherobjectsandinauthenticmanifestations(e.g.,forgeries).

    Deweythusanticipatespoststructuralismin attackingthenotionoftheartworkasafullyfixed,selfsufficient,andinviolableobjectandininsistingontheactiveroleandopennessofaestheticperceptionasacreativepracticethatreconstitutesaesthetic

  • meaning.ThepoststructuralistmovefromclosedworktoopentextualpracticewasprefiguredinDewey'smovefromaclosedartisticproducttoopentransformativeaestheticexperience.ButDeweyseemsmoremoderatethanmostpoststructuralistsinhisrejectionoftraditionalideasofunityandstructure.Whileherepudiatesforbothontologicalandaestheticreasonsthenotionsofstructuralfixityandreification,headvocatesflexiblestabilitiesanddurableunitiesthrough change,assertingthatsuchrelativestabilitiesandunitiesarenecessaryingredientsforthefashioningofasatisfyinglifeandforfruitfulsocialaction.

    PragmatismhasrecentlybeenrevivedinliterarytheorythroughthewritingsofStanleyFishandRichardRorty.ButneitherofthempaysattentiontoDewey'saesthetics,andindeedtheypresenttheoriesthatareunDeweyanintheirdisembodied"textualism"andelitistprofessionalism.ThoughsomeofDewey'saestheticideasandjudgmentsmaybedated,hisworkstillrepresentsthebestpointofdepartureforprogressivepragmatistliterarytheoryandaesthetics.

    RichardShusterman

    http://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/stanley_fish.htmlhttp://www.press.jhu.edu/books/hopkins_guide_to_literary_theory/richard_rorty.html

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