Talons Philosophy

An Open Online Highschool Philosophy Course

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The Eye of the Beholder ✎

What do you see? A nice painting, the face of “beauty” staring you in the face, or is it the sun grazing the horizon sinking beneath the clouds? These scenes that I described likely painted a picture inside your head prompting you to recall the momentary essence of an aesthetic experience you’ve had in the past. Just as Rene Descartes once said, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” where the defining factor of beauty is entirely subjective to individual taste. My internalized definition of an aesthetic experience is primarily based on this principle of taste. Simultaneously, I am also a believer that an aesthetic experience does require some form of rational thought, sometimes enhanced by more senses initiated by the preceptor sense of vision and even memory. Yes, beauty does go beyond what meets the eye. After all, the etymology of the word ‘aesthetic’ relates to perception by the senses, or as the beloved Kant puts it: “science which treats of the conditions of sensuous perception” [OED].

On a personal note, an aesthetic experience can be enhanced (or created) with the simultaneous stimulation of various senses. Say you’re sitting at the beach as the sunset slowly approaches and you find it aesthetically pleasing regardless of the theories of immediacy (taste) or rationalist judgment (“actual” thinking). If you were to put on some ear-phones and play a fitting tune to the scene, how would this affect the entirety of the aesthetic experience? Now focus on the distinct smell of the sea breeze, the feeling of sand in your hands? If the combined essence of each sense is creating an increase in appeal to the sunset, then your aesthetic experience is being heightened by various external senses— sound, smell, feeling, and of course sight. As the experience is subjective to each individual, my experience would likely be a rational one, not an innately immediate aesthetic experience. The sunset itself may instigate immediate sensations of disinterested aesthetic appeal, yet as more senses are being stimulated, the more thought-provoking the experience becomes—each sense adding an element of internal pleasure in the judgment of beauty. In my mind an aesthetic experience can be one or a combination of the internalist and externalist theories of the aesthetic experience, just as I believe that an individual is not pre-fixed to be a rationalist or an empiricist thinker since conclusions of thoughts are drawn circumstantially.

Internalist theories appeal to features internal to experience, typically to phenomenological features, whereas externalist theories appeal to features external to the experience, typically to features of the object experienced.[1]

In this excerpt, the debate of contemporary philosophers Monroe Beardsley (internalist) and George Dickey (externalist) in the mid-late twentieth-century draws the difference–to put it simply– between the experience of features (internals) and the features of experience (externalism).


Whilst an aesthetic experience can require rational thought there is often plentiful ‘space’ for immediate appeal. As the University of Stanford’s Department of Philosophy puts it: 

The fundamental idea behind any such theory—which we may call the immediacy thesis—is that judgments of beauty are not (or at least not primarily) mediated by inferences from principles or applications of concepts, but rather have all the immediacy of straightforwardly sensory judgments.[1]

When judging the beauty in a landscape, a street corner, a person or a piece of art– whether that be verbal, visual or both– sometimes we activate this sense of immediacy, this seemingly intuitive and pleasing experience not challenged by rational thinking. If we directly refer to Kant’s point of view on the fine arts, illustrating the boundaries of rationalism drawn within aesthetic judgments, he argues that there exists an absence of concepts, or things that can be known about a subject that provides an aesthetic experience purely based on intuitive sensation. In other words, if you find something physically appealing you’re not deliberately thinking about why or how it pleases you, the subject matter just makes you feel that way. When strictly speaking of art, Kant argues that while we may appreciate the technique and skill used to craft an aesthetically pleasing work, it is often forced upon our judgment of beauty. Appreciation of ‘beauty’ derives from its form, but not on its process of creation


During the holidays I went on a trip to Mexico City to see the family. It was a unique kind of trip. Just me and my brother going back to visit after three years of not being back “home”. To be entirely honest, I did not retain many ‘new’ aesthetic experiences in a deliberate form of immediacy other than looking at San Francisco from my airplane window some form of attraction to particular women— I know, it sounds kind of cheesy but we’ve all been there. I did however, re-visit the architecture of the City as well as the good food which all offered their own unique form of aesthetic appeal.

Tacos Al Pastor in ‘El Tizoncito’, Mexico City

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Soumaya Plaza Carso Museum, Mexico City

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Torres de Satelite in the night, Mexico City

Instead, I experienced aesthetic appeal to places of my childhood, with a sense of nostalgia manipulating my sensuous perception. Re-visiting the houses of my family members– and my own for that matter– restaurants, buildings or even parks generated an aesthetic experience where I was fascinated and appraising of settings in which I felt inherently unified with. While I did feel a sense of immediate pleasure upon arriving to Mexico (because I hadn’t been there for so long) this form of aesthetic pleasure was a much more rational one, situated on an epistemological foundation. My experiences were heightened–as seen in my post on epistemology– by the accumulated synthesis of conscious experiences.

As the US National Library of Medicine states, my aesthetic was defined:

as an experience qualitatively different from everyday experience and similar to other exceptional states of mind. Three crucial characteristics of aesthetic experience are discussed: fascination with an aesthetic object (high arousal and attention), appraisal of the symbolic reality of an object (high cognitive engagement), and a strong feeling of unity with the object of aesthetic fascination and aesthetic appraisal.,[2]

What I discovered is that often an aesthetic experience is more meaningful when an epistemological foundation is inherently linked to the aesthetic (which usually tends to occur). In my case, going back to Mexico City re-amped my emotions towards places linked to my memory. Each building, restaurant, house, park and street corner re-visited was an aesthetic experience in itself.

 

References:

Shelley, J. (2009, September 11). The Concept of the Aesthetic. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aesthetic-concept/#ConAes [1]

Marković, S. (2012). Components of aesthetic experience: aesthetic fascination, aesthetic appraisal, and aesthetic emotion. Retrieved January 22, 2017, from    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3485814/ [2]

Kant and the Problem of Disinterestedness. (n.d.). Retrieved January 22, 2017, from http://public.wsu.edu/~kimander/teraray.htm [3]

 

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Love: Decades in the Making

Amour is the 5 time Oscar nominated, masterpiece directed by Auteur Michael Haneke. The trailer to the film is embed above, and I will mostly try to refer to the trailer when discussing the film however I will refer  non-trailer scenes at times. I recommend all of you to see the film which opens on 18 January at Fifth Avenue Cinemas.

Amour tells the story of an Octogenarian Parisian couple, Annes and Georges, and their daughter, Eva, who lives abroad. Anne’s bond of love with her husband and the unity of her family are tested as she suffers from multiple strokes which progressively paralyses one side of her body. All of this is told in true Haneke-ian style of minimalism, simplicity, and the cold barren truth. It leaves no time for frivolous scenes and gets straight to punching you in the gut.

The best stories are the ones that are built on some basis of truth, and this for me is why Amour is the best Haneke film ever. Haneke’s films, while often fictional, are presented so real that you couldn’t tell that they were just the figments of the director’s imagination delivering a message such as anti-violence or etc. Amour on the other hand is a film that was built on a similar series of events that had happened in Haneke’s life which to me explains why this film has an extra edge over the rest of Haneke’s filmography.

Film can be aesthetically pleasing in many different ways; some like The Social Network are made in a perfect normative form but may not be descriptively perfect to many viewers. Others like Mamma Mia! is perfect in a Descriptive and emotional connection aspect, but sorely lacking or non-existent in the normative department. Mamma Mia horribly shot, and sometimes not even framed in a coherent manner; but it’s funny, emotional, and connects well with the audience.

Amour is both; perfectly made and impossibly impactful. Let’s first focus on the technical aspects of movie. There are multiple things that Amour does so well in this department. The Screenplay is short and to the point, totalling at only 68 pages it is shorter than most screenplays but no less brilliant. The worst thing a movie could do is tell but not show, say too much when a simple shot or action sequence could suffice. In the trailer there is a scene where Anne is playing the piano, and it turns out that Georges is just reminiscing about a healthy Anne. Haneke could’ve easily gone and taken the easy route with some dialogue, making Georges talk about his memory of Anne to indicate that it was a memory. Instead he just shows Georges sitting in a chair pensive, as Anne plays the piano. Then, he turns off the stereo revealing that Anne isn’t really playing the piano but instead Georges is listening to a recording of Anne and remembering her. When we cut back to the piano, Anne isn’t there anymore. To help augment this point Haneke makes masterful use of cinematography, blocking, and production techniques. For example, the natural light streaming through the window hits Anne and gives her an ethereal quality helping make the memory of Anne seem more like a memory and less real. Secondly, the way the shot is framed there is a large grand piano separating us from Anne which acts as the physical manifestation of the barrier separating us from reality and fantasy. Haneke also uses blocking and cinematography in a very masterful way to keep the tone of the movie steady. The movie intended to tell this story of love and loss in its own sombre and steadfast way. Even in moments of anger, Haneke frames the shot so that the angry person is in the background while the calm person is in the foreground so that despite that moment of heated emotion the sombre and steady tone of the movie still permeates through. Another example is that since the entire movie is set in an apartment in Paris it could potentially feel extremely constricting and claustrophobic which destroy the sombre and steady mood intended. So what Haneke does is that he cleverly uses the hallways to shoot into rooms and natural lighting to elongate the rooms, making them seem brighter and ergo larger. This gives us a sense of calm and almost quiet grandeur despite taking place entirely in a small space.

Emotionally the film is no different. What Amour really gets right is that it connects with each and everyone one of you. It is difficult to imagine that a person has gone through his or her life without having known or cared for a terminally ill or since deceased friend or family member. Amour fails to idealise that experience and instead tells the story as it is which is why it evokes emotion among the viewers. It is a humbling experience and makes you appreciate the wonders and value of love and life more than ever. The beauty of this whole movie is that it can be interpreted in so many different ways whether it be the cynicism of life, the enduring bonds of love, the ostracisation of the elderly, or etc. but it doesn’t matter according to Haneke:

Everybody is right! It’s their own interpretation. I try to construct all my films in such a way that each viewer constructs his or her own film. There’s nothing more boring than a film that immediately answers every question that it raises. You forget it immediately after you leave the screening room.

The film connects because it tells a human story in a way that it is believable and relate-able and no matter how you look at this movie you can take a unique touching message away from it. This emotional message is the true and most important part of the movie that makes it so great and so valuable; the normative perfection is just the icing on top that helps us engage with the message and make the movie more visually pleasing.

 
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