Jean-Paul RIOPELLE, L'hommage à Rosa Luxemburg, 1992 (détail) [ * ]


As co-editor, I am honoured and delighted to introduce the first issue of Æ : The Canadian Journal of Aesthetics / Revue canadienne d'esthétique, the publication of the Canadian Society for Aesthetics / Société canadienne d'esthétique. The electronic format of Æ anticipates a journal with recorded music, films, and images and is flexible enough at present to meet the publishing demands of a rapidly changing and exciting field of inquiry.

The most striking development in recent thinking about art is the shift from aesthetics as implicitly or explicitly a defense or celebration of the arts to a critical perspective. The historicization of the concept of art, the notion of the anti-aesthetic, Paul de Man's "aesthetic ideology," and Terry Eagleton's The Ideology of the Aesthetic mark a decisive shift. This critical perspective of "theory" has generated new ideas about the historical embeddedness of the arts and poses a lively challenge to tacit boosterism.

The statements of work in progress by three aestheticians and the designer of the sculpture garden of the Canadian Center for Architecture that constitute the first issue of Æ afford us some idea of the diverse sorts of discourse that we invite. While we may now mostly be Wittgensteinians or Eagletonians in our rejection of the quest for the essential nature of art, it seems perfectly plausible to speak of the aesthetic of jazz, rock, or rap. The virtue in this, in my view, is that it gives us a maker's perspective on artistic practice, a view that dominated thought about art from antiquity to the eighteenth century. Melvin Charney offers an insight into the making of his art, and one source of the power of Arthur Danto's theories is that they are in very close touch with specific artistic practices, whatever one thinks about the larger claims he makes. At the other end of the spectrum, Gregory Currie's research into the relation between imagination and art takes its place in the tradition which seeks to understand art from a scientific perspective. While such work has as yet not become part of the tradition, the current advances in the cognitive sciences will not be ignored by aestheticians. Between the maker's and scientist's perspectives is the mainstream of philosophical speculation on art and the aesthetic, here represented by Currie's interest in narrative and Joseph Margolis's ideas about aesthetic pragmatism. The methodological diversity of these brief reports, the opening of new areas mentioned above, and the advent of a critical perspective on the concept of art give some indication of what today takes place under the banner of aesthetics.

My anxieties about assessment of articles for publication stem not from questions about what is and is not within the bounds of the aesthetic, or whether art is a merely historical notion, but from my experience as a reader for two philosophical journals. Æ is, for better and worse, a journal about a subject whose history is part of its present, which means that contributors should know the intellectual traditions and recent contributions that are related to their projects. This self-consciousness about where one's work fits strikes me as a constitutive convention of our enterprise. I should perhaps say that interesting and plausible claims, sound arguments and evidence are the primary desiderata.

The diphthong Æ of our title should be taken quite seriously, for we are not, at least for now, accepting how-to-do-it essays about make-up and color coordination, i.e., esthetics in the lifestyle sense of the term. We embrace multitudes, but not that--at least not yet. However, the subject matter of aesthetics has now gone beyond what Francis Sparshott called and wrote the summa of, the theory of the [fine] arts. The return of nature via the "environment" is the most striking instance of this development, the concern with popular culture and the media another. Happily, these wider ethical concerns of intentionality are also suggested by the Old English meaning of "æ" as the way or direction of moral truth, from the Gothic and Sanskrit ewa for course. The word "æ" was used to translate the Hebrew word "Torah" in its original sense as direction or law. In our title Æ, the sentimental archaism of Baumgarten's "æsthetic" as the realm of the senses thus meets the moral direction of the senses as well as the attractive directions they take. This means that we shall construe "aesthetics" broadly.

And as Canadians who say "eh" instead of "huh," we have a special affection for the diphthong--Canadian eh. Canadian Æ!

Roger Seamon

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