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Contemporary Aesthetics does not publish book reviews. However, to inform our readers of new publications of interest, we do publish brief descriptions extracted from information provided by the publishers. These notices do not necessarily represent the views or judgment of this journal. Readers are invited to send us such information about books they think will interest other readers of CA.


 

Christian Julmi, Situations and Atmospheres in Organizations. A (New)Pphenomenology of Being-in-the-Organization (Milan-Udine: Mimesis International, 2017), 154 pp. Series: Atmospheric Spaces n. 2.
ISBN 978-88-6977-081-4

Although situations and atmospheres are omnipresent in organizations and have a significant influence on the behavior of the members of the organization, they are only seldom regarded as relevant research subjects in management and organization research and investigated systematically. This book enters unknown territory in that it elevates situations and atmospheres to the most fundamental and everyday features of being-in-the-organization and investigates their development dynamics systematically. The new phenomenology of the German philosopher Hermann Schmitz, and critical supplements from his follower, Guido Rappe, serve as the theoretical foundation of the reflections. Human corporeality and subjectivity are at the center of the reflections.


Gernot Böhme, Critique of Aesthetic Capitalism, trans. by Edmund Jephcott (Milan-Udine, Mimesis International, 2017), 105 pp. Series: Atmospheric Spaces n. 1.
ISBN 9788869770296 

Gernot Böhme’s Critique of Aesthetic Capitalism presents the atmospheric based interpretation and critique of our capitalist age by one of the prominent figures in research on atmospheres. Böhme starts from the assumption that the true origin of the capitalist form of economy is an aesthetical one: luxury. He claims that the present phase of capitalist development has established it as a universal standard of living. This is the cause of the well-known discontent in prosperity. That is the affective situation in which, even though our standard of living is very high in comparison to earlier times and to the global standard, no one is truly satisfied. Böhme claims that the mise-en-scène of commodities is what puts a person on show, has given rise to a stressful performance society that has provoked such discontent. One must therefore rediscover a minimalist asceticism – a form of non-dependence on our emotions, and in particular on those elicited by the mise-en-scène of commodities – in order to win back our serenity.   

Atmospheric Spaces is a new book series that aims to become a point of reference for a community that works together on the philosophical and transdisciplinary subject of ‘Atmosphere,’ a sensorial and affective quality widespread in space. What an atmosphere is and how it determines the way one experiences her surroundings is its proper purpose.

 

Santiago Zabala, Why only Art Can Save Us: Aesthetics and the Absence of Emergency (Columbia University Press, 2017), 216 pp.
ISBN 9780231183482

The state of emergency, according to thinkers such as Carl Schmidt, Walter Benjamin, and Giorgio Agamben, is at the heart of any theory of politics. But today the problem is not the crises that we do confront, which are often used by governments to legitimize themselves, but the ones that political realism stops us from recognizing as emergencies, from widespread surveillance to climate change to the systemic shocks of neoliberalism. We need a way of disrupting the existing order that can energize radical democratic action rather than reinforcing the status quo. In this book, Santiago Zabala declares that in an age where the greatest emergency is the absence of emergency, only contemporary art’s capacity to alter reality can save us.

Why Only Art Can Save Us advances a new aesthetics centered on the nature of the emergency that characterizes the twenty-first century. Zabala draws on Martin Heidegger’s distinction between works of art that rescue us from emergency and those that are rescuers into emergency. The former are a means of cultural politics, conservers of the status quo that conceal emergencies; the latter are disruptive events that thrust us into emergencies. Building on Arthur Danto, Jacques Rancière, and Gianni Vattimo, who made aesthetics more responsive to contemporary art, Zabala argues that works of art are not simply a means of elevating consumerism or contemplating beauty but are points of departure to change the world. Radical artists create works that disclose and demand active intervention in ongoing crises. Interpreting works of art that aim to propel us into absent emergencies, Zabala shows how art’s ability to create new realities is fundamental to the politics of radical democracy in the state of emergency that is the present.


Thijs Lijster, Benjamin and Adorno on Art and Art Criticism (Amsterdam University Press, 2017), 368 pp.
ISBN 9789462981409

This book brings together two figures of twentieth-century criticism, Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno, to consider a topic that was central to their thinking: the place of and reason for art in society and culture. Thijs Lijster takes us through points of agreement and disagreement between the two on such key topics as the relationship between art and historical experience, between avant-garde art and mass culture, and between the intellectual and the public. He also addresses the continuing relevance of Benjamin and Adorno to ongoing debates in contemporary aesthetics, such as the end of art, the historical meaning of art, and the role of the critic.


Tonino Griffero, Quasi-Things: The Paradigm of Atmospheres, trans. Sarah De Sanctis (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 2017), 189 pp.
ISBN 9781438464053

In this book, Tonino Griffero introduces and analyzes a pathetic aesthetics based on an ontology of sensibilities he calls “quasi-things.” These do not exist fully in the traditional sense as substances or events, yet they exercise a powerful influence on us. He offers an original approach to the study of emotions, regarding them not as inner states of the subject, but as atmospheres, that is as powers poured out into the lived space we inhabit. Griffero first outlines the general and atmospheric characters of quasi-things, and then considers models of sensibility such as pain, shame, the gaze, and twilight, which he argues are responsible for penetrating and suggestive moods precisely because of their indeterminate boundaries. With frequent examples from literature and everyday life, Quasi-Things provides an accessible aesthetic and phenomenological account of feelings based on the paradigm of atmospheres.


Urban Encounters: Art and the Public, edited by Martha Radice & Alexandrine Boudreault-Fournier (McGill-Queen's University Press, 2017), 352 pp.
ISBN 978-0-7735-5006-3

Public art is on the urban agenda. Given recent claims about the importance of creativity to urban prosperity, opportunities for installing or performing art in the city have multiplied. As cities strive to appear culturally dynamic, the stakes of artistic production rise higher than ever.
Exploring the interaction between art and the public in Canadian cities, Urban Encounters features writing by artists, architects, curators, anthropologists, geographers, and urban studies specialists. They show how people and places affect the structure and content of public artworks, what kinds of urban spaces and socialities are generated through art, and how to investigate and interpret encounters between art and its viewers in the city. Discussing a variety of art forms, including mobile cinemas, street improvisation, audiovisual investigations, and assembled objects, the contributors treat public artworks not just as aesthetic installations but as agents that participate in the social and cultural evolution of cities. Urban Encounters reveals how art in the urban public space generates encounters that can transform both the city itself and the ways that people relate to it.


Ute Holl, Cinema, Trance, and Cybernetics (Amsterdam University Press, 2017), 352 pp.
ISBN 9789089646682

We've all had the experience of watching a film and feeling like we've been in a trance. This book takes that experience seriously, explaining cinema as a cultural technique of trance, one that unconsciously transforms our perceptions. Ute Holl moves from anthropological and experimental cinema through nineteenth-century psychological laboratories, which she shows developed techniques for testing, measuring, and classifying the mind that can be seen as a prehistory of cinema, one that allows us to see the links among cinema, anthropology, psychology, and cybernetics.


Steffen Hven, Cinema and Narrative Complexity: Embodying the Fabula (AUP, 2017), 26 pp.
ISBN 978 94 6298 077 8

Since the mid-1990s, a number of films from international filmmakers have experimented with increasingly complicated narrative strategies, including such hits as Run Lola Run, 21 Grams, and Memento. This book sets those films and others in context with earlier works that tried new narrative approaches, such as Stage Fright and Hiroshima, Mon Amour, to show how they reveal the limitations of most of our usual tools for analyzing film. In light of that, Steffen Hven argues for the deployment of an 'embodied' reconfiguration of the cinematic experience, one that allows us to rethink such core constituents of narrative understanding as cognition, emotion, and affect.


Benoît Dillet, The Political Space of Art. The Dardenne Brothers, Arundhhati Roy, Ai Weiwei and Burial (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 138 pp.
ISBN 9781783485680

This book discusses the work of four different kinds of artists from four different countries (Belgium, China, the UK and India) to examine how they create a space for politics in their work. The film directors Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne film parts of their natal city to refer to specific political problems in interpersonal relations. The novelist Arundhati Roy uses her poetic language to make room for people’s desires; her fiction is utterly political and her political essays make place for the role of narratives and poetic language. Ai Weiwei uses references to Chinese history to give consistency to its ‘economic miracle.’ Finally, Burial’s electronic music is firmly rooted in a living, breathing London; built to create a sound that is entirely new, and yet hauntingly familiar. These artists create in their own way a space for politics in their works and their oeuvre but their singularity comes together as a desire to reconstruct the political space within art from its ruins. These ruins were brought by the disenchantment of 1970s: the end of art, postmodernism, and the rise of design, marketing and communication. Each artwork bears the mark of the resistance against the depoliticization of society and the arts, at once rejecting cynicism and idealism, referring to themes and political concepts that are larger than their own domain. This book focuses on these productive tensions.

 

Arts, Pedagogy and Cultural Resistance: New Materialisms, edited by Anna Kickey-Moody and Tara Page (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 238 pp.
ISBN 9781783484874

This collection demonstrates how physical objects, materials, space and environments teach us, and redefines practice with theory (praxis) as a more-than-human network. The contributions illustrate how the materials, process, pedagogies and theories of arts making question and disrupt the many forms of cultural dominance that exist in our society. Each contribution synthesizes creative approaches to philosophy and new materialist understanding of practice to show how human-nonhuman interaction at the core of Arts practice is a critical post human pedagogy. Across fine art, dance, gallery education, film and philosophy, the book contends that certain kinds of Arts practice can be a critical pedagogy in which tactical engagements with community, space, place and materiality become means of not only disrupting dominant discourse but also of making new discourses come to matter. Arts, Pedagogy and Cultural Resistance demonstrates how embodied, located acts of making can materially disrupt cultural hegemony and suggest different ways the world might materialize. The book argues that the practice of arts making is a post human cultural pedagogy in which people become part of a broader assemblage of matter, and all aspects of this network are solidified in objects or processes that are themselves pedagogical. In doing so the book offers a fresh and theoretically engaged perspective on arts as pedagogy.

 

Andrew Benjamin, Art's Philosophical Work (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015), 296 pp.
ISBN 9781783482900

What is the work of art? How does art work as art? Andrew Benjamin contends that the only way to address these questions is by developing a radically new materialist philosophy of art, and by rethinking the history of art from within that perspective. A materialist philosophy of art starts with the contention that meaning is only ever the aftereffect of the way in which materials work. Starting with the relation between history, materials and work (art’s work), this book opens up a highly original reconfiguration of the philosophy of art. Benjamin undertakes a major project that seeks to develop a set of complex interarticulations between art history and an approach to art’s work that emphasizes art’s material presence. A philosophy of art emerges from the limitations of aesthetics.

 

Against Value in the Arts and Education, edited by Sam Ladkin, Robert McKay, and Emile Bojesen (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 446 pp.
ISBN 9781783484904

Against Value in the Arts and Education proposes that it is often the staunchest defenders of art who do it the most harm by suppressing or mollifying its dissenting voice, by neutralizing its painful truths, and by instrumentalizing its ambivalence. The result is that rather than expanding the autonomy of thought and feeling of the artist and the audience, art’s defenders make art self-satisfied, or otherwise an echo-chamber for the limited and limiting self-description of people’s lives lived in an “audit culture,” a culture pervaded by the direct and indirect excrescence of practices of accountability. This book diagnoses the counter-intuitive effects of the rhetoric of value. It posits that the auditing of values pervades the fabric of people’s work-lives, their education, and increasingly their everyday experience. The book uncovers figures of resentment, disenchantment, and alienation fostered by the dogma of value. It argues that value judgments can behave insidiously and incorporate aesthetic, ethical, or ideological values fundamentally opposed to the value they purportedly name and describe. This collection contains work from scholars in the UK and US with contributions from anthropology, the history of art, literature, education, musicology, political science, and philosophy.

 

The Aesthetic Ground of Critical Theory: New Readings of Benjamin and Adorno, edited by Nathan Ross (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2015), 232 pp.
ISBN 9781783482931

Walter Benjamin and Theodor W. Adorno are considered today to be the two most significant early theorists in founding critical theory. In their works and correspondence, both thinkers turn to art and the aesthetic as a vital way for understanding modern society and developing philosophical methods. This volume of essays seeks to understand how they influenced each other and disagreed with each other on fundamental questions about art and the aesthetic. The books deals with a variety of key philosophical questions, such as: How does art involve distinctive modes of experience? What is the political significance of modern art? What does aesthetic experience teach us about the limitations of conceptual thought? How is aesthetic experience implicated in the very medium of thought or language? Ultimately, the book presents a systematic argument for the foundational significance of the aesthetic in the development of the early critical theory movement.

 

Stevphen Shukaitis The Composition of Movements to Come: Aesthetics and Cultural Labour After the Avant-Garde (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016), 208 pp.
ISBN 9781783481736

How does the avant-garde create spaces in everyday life that subvert regimes of economic and political control? How do art, aesthetics, and activism inform one another? And how do strategic spaces of creativity become the basis for new forms of production and governance? The Composition of Movements to Come reconsiders the history and the practices of the avant-garde, from the Situationists to the Art Strike, revolutionary Constructivism to Laibach and Neue Slowenische Kunst, through an autonomist Marxist framework. Moving the framework beyond an overly narrow class analysis, the book explores broader questions of the changing nature of cultural labor and forms of resistance around this labor. It examines a doubly articulated process of refusal: the refusal of separating art from daily life and the re-fusing of these antagonistic energies by capitalist production and governance. This relationship opens up a new terrain for strategic thought in relation to everyday politics, where the history of the avant-garde is no longer separated from broader questions of political economy or movement, but becomes a point around which to reorient these considerations.

 

Giancomo Fronzi, Philosophical Considerations on Contemporary Music: Sounding Constellations (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017), 260 pp.
ISBN 9781443816984

The musical universe of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries is a force-field in which styles, instruments, personalities, and stories can be found that are ascribable to conceptual frameworks that may differ greatly from one another. Such complexity cannot be traced back to single theories or all-encompassing interpretations but may be tackled, philosophically, starting from certain characteristics. This book identifies nine such characteristics, namely: Extremes, Noise, Silence, Technology, Audience, Listening, Freedom, Disintegration, and New Media. Each of these permits us to open up unforeseen philosophical-cultural paths and interpret, in its multifarious variety, the developments of contemporary music, profoundly interwoven with the history of thought, culture, and society.


Jeffrey Strayer, Haecceities: Essentialism, Identity, and Abstraction (BRILL, 2017), 462 pp.
ISBN 9789004338432

Haecceities: Essentialism, Identity, and Abstraction is both an examination of the limits of abstraction in art and of kinds of radical identity that are determined in the identification of those limits. Building on his work, Subjects and Objects, Strayer shows how the fundamental conditions of making and apprehending works of art can be used, in concert with language, thought, and perception, as ‘material’ for producing the more abstract and radical artworks possible. Certain limits of abstraction and possibilities of radical identity are then identified that are critically and philosophically considered. They prove to be so extreme that the concepts artwork, abstraction, identity, and object in art, philosophy, and philosophy of art, have to be reconsidered.


David Howes & Constance Classen, Ways of Sensing: Understanding the Senses in Society (Routledge, 2014), 200 pp.
ISBN 9780415697156

Ways of Sensing is an exploration of the cultural, historical, and political dimensions of the world of the senses. The book spans a wide range of settings and makes comparisons between different cultures and epochs, revealing the power and diversity of sensory expressions across time and space. The chapters reflect on topics such as the tactile appeal of medieval art, the healing power of Navajo sand paintings, the aesthetic blight of the modern hospital, the role of the senses in the courtroom, and the branding of sensations in the marketplace. Howes and Classen further consider how political issues such as nationalism, gender equality, and the treatment of minority groups are shaped by sensory practices and metaphors. They also reveal how the phenomenon of synaesthesia, or mingling of the senses, can be seen as not simply a neurological condition but a vital cultural mode of creating social and cosmic interconnections. Ways of Sensing provides readers with an introduction to the life of the senses in society.


Paul Crowther, How Pictures Complete Us. The Beautiful, the Sublime, and the Divine (Stanford University Press, 2016), 208 pp.
ISBN 97808047955739

Despite the wonders of the digital world, people still go in record numbers to view drawings and paintings in galleries. Why? What is the magic that pictures work on us? This book provides an explanation, arguing that some pictures have special kinds of beauty and sublimity that offer aesthetic transcendence. They take us imaginatively beyond our finite limits, and even invoke a sense of the divine. Such aesthetic transcendence forges a relationship with the ultimate and completes us psychologically. Philosophers and theologians sometimes account for this as an effect of art, but How Pictures Complete Us reveals how this experience is embodied in pictorial structures and styles. Through discussions of artworks from the Renaissance through postmodern times, the author reappraises the entire scope of beauty and the sublime in the context of both representational and abstract art, offering insights into familiar phenomena such as Ideal beauty, pictorial perspective, and what pictures are in the first place.


Mathew Abbott, Abbas Kiarostami and Film-Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press, 2016), 234 pp.
ISBN 9780748699902

A deflationary, anti-theoretical film-philosophy through the cinema of Abbas Kiarostami.

Mathew Abbott presents a powerful new film-philosophy through the cinema of Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Mathew Abbott argues that Kiarostami’s films carry out cinematic thinking: they do not just illustrate pre-existing philosophical ideas, but do real philosophical work.

Crossing the divide between analytic and continental philosophy, he draws on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Stanley Cavell, John McDowell, Alice Crary, Noël Carroll, Giorgio Agamben, and Martin Heidegger, bringing out the thinking at work in Kiarostami’s most recent films: Taste of Cherry, The Wind Will Carry Us, ABC Africa, Ten, Five, Shirin, Certified Copy and Like Someone in Love.


Omid Tofighian, Myth and Philosophy in Platonic Dialogues  (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2016), 250 pp.
ISBN 9781137580436

This book rethinks Plato’s creation and use of myth by drawing on theories and methods from myth studies, religious studies, literary theory, and related fields. Individual myths function differently depending on cultural practice, religious context, or literary tradition, and this interdisciplinary study merges new perspectives in Plato studies with recent scholarship and theories pertaining to myth. Significant overlaps exist between prominent modern theories of myth and attitudes and approaches in studies of Plato’s myths. Considering recent developments in myth studies, this book asks new questions about the evaluation of myth in Plato. Its appreciation of the historical conditions shaping and directing the study of Plato’s myths opens deeper philosophical questions about the relationship between philosophy and myth and the relevance of myth studies to philosophical debates. It also extends the discussion to address philosophical questions and perspectives on the distinction between argument and narrative.


Sensory Arts and Design, edited by Ian Heywood (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017), 280 pp.
ISBN 9781474280211

Artists, designers and researchers are increasingly seeking new ways to understand and explore the creative and practical significance of the senses. Sensory Arts and Design brings art and design into the field of sensory studies providing a clear introduction to the field and outlining important developments and new directions.

An exploration of both theory and practice, Sensory Arts and Design brings together a wide variety of examples from contemporary art and design that share a sensory dimension in their development or user experience. Divided into three parts, the book examines the design applications of new technology with sensing capacities; the role of the senses in creating new imaginative environments; and the significance of the senses within different cultural practices. Thirteen chapters cover a diverse range of issues – from the urban environment, architecture, and soundscapes to gustatory art, multisensory perception in painting, music and drawing, and the relationship between vision and smell.