Parsons, Ch 6, Aesthetics of Engagement

“Nature and the Disembodied Aesthetic”

(Notes, not edited)


1.      Aes of engagement rejects traditional def of aes, involving a disembodied aes

         a.      Trad def: aes quality is visual/auditory appearance pleasing/displeasing for own sake

         b.      Only higher senses involved, no lower senses (smell, taste, touch) that are tied to and felt in the body

2.      Trad def (disembodied aes) requires physical distance between aes appreciator and object of appreciation

         a.      To see and hear better to not be in physical contact

         b.      Dress example

                   i.       Best appreciated on rack

                   ii.      If wearing it, aes app becomes harder

                            (1)    Have to look in a mirror

                            (2)    distracted by how it feels (itches)

3.      Physical separation required for calm, contemplative activity of aes app


4.      Nature is “sub-optimal”object of aes app when aes app understood this way

         a.      Aes app of nature more difficult than art

                   i.       Unlike art, nature does not cooperate to produce conditions conducive to aes app

                   ii.      Need to do extra work to make sure those circumstances exist

         b.      Nature blast us with icy winds

         c.      Drenches with rain

         d.      Surprise you with warm sun as breaks through clouds

         e.      Nature envelops us and impinges on us

         f.       Hard to attain contemplative, disembodied pleasure required for aes app


5.      Aes of engagement takes rejects this alleged sub-optimality of nature as aes object and claims the problem is with the def of aes app as disembodied, disengaged


6.      Berleant makes this case by arguing that art app requires engagement as well and not the disengaged, pure contemplative, physically removed appreciation of trad def

7.      Berleant’s examples

         a.      Sculpture that needs to be touched and entered to app

                   i.       Buildings can’t be appreciated from outside only!

         b.      Open Theater where spectators become part of the play

                   i.       Physical distance impossible, for if so miss whole point of the play


8.      Berleant’s def of aes: engage with the object trying to app

         a.      Try to diminish or remove distance between herself and object

         b.      Try to freely used all senses, not just vision and hearing

9.      Berleant understands aes of engagement as a joining of perceiver and object in perceptual unity

         a.      Object/subject of app merge, distance dissolves

         b.      What is app is not object, but the experience encompasses both me and the object



11.    Aes app of nature is not contemplative but total engagement, sensory immersion in the natural world that aims at unity

12.    Instead of nature aes app being difficult (as under traditional def of aes), since nature draws us into sensory immersion and envelops us

         a.      Diving into a lake or pile of leaves, violent storm enveloping us

13.    Nature becomes a paradigm of aes app (instead of art being that paradigm)

14.    Being swallowed up is at heart of aes exp and nature is good at doing that


15.    Foster’s elaboration of engagement approach has 3 features

16.    One: Involvement of “lower” senses

         a.      To be fully engaged with nature must do more than simply look and listen   

         b.      Feel wind on skin, smell scents from natural things and touch them

         c.      Reduces physical distance between our self and nature to zero

17.    Two: Diminished role of thought

         a.      Though remains in the background; we do think to some extent; but thinking does not play central/prominent role in the exp

         b.      Why? Because thinking involves cognitive separation of self and other (as well as different parts of world)

                   i.       If aim of engagement is perceptual unity, don’t want to be aware of such distinctions

                   ii.      Aim at jumble of sensation that meld object and observer

                   iii.     Diminishment of thinking can enhance our degree of engagement with nature (may be necessary for such engagement

         c.      If thinking means passive contemplation yes, this might reduce engagement; but not clear it must mean this

                   i.       If engagement means active doing in nature, then thinking might get in way

18.    Three: ineffability of engaged state

         a.      Words get in the way of this unity as they separate and undermine undifferentiated unity of sensations

19.    Worries

         a.      I think the unity part of “engagement” is problematic

         b.      But the all sensory part is important

         c.      And the active engagement and being in the midst of nature is important



21.    Sensory immersion in nature (plunging into pile of autumn leaves, midnight swim in mtn lake)

         a.      Such engagement is pleasurable, memorable, delightful, valuable

         b.      But is it the essence of aes exp of nature?

         c.      Is it aes at all?

         d.      Is it one type of legit way to exp nature, or part of the fullest, best aes app of nature?

22.    Not useful view of nature aes for the purpose of using aes in env decision-making

         a.      Because of in insistence on ineffability of the exp

                   i.       For it to be useful in conservation decisions it must be communicable to others

                            (1)    For that is only way to communicate value of the experience of engagement with nature to others

                   ii.      Reply: Have the decision makers go experience it for themselves; have them hike in the forest they are deciding if it should be preserved or logged

                            (1)    Point of Sierra Club getting people out into natural places

23.    Engagement does not manifest respectful attitude toward nature

         a.      Merge with nature, produce unity

         b.      Treats nature as a means/tool to producing this experience and fails to take it on own terms or respect it

         c.      “To appreciate the leaves on own terms would be to consider more than simply the kinds of sensations they happen to produce when we fall into a pile of them”


24.    Berleant’s idea that aes of engagement works better for art is mistaken

         a.      It works for some avant guard art, but not for much/most art

                   i.       Jump on state and get engaged with a production of Hamlet?

         b.      This definition of aes experience makes sense for some art but not other art

25.    Should not throw out traditional definition of aesthetics (disembodied pleasure in perception)

26.    Engagement with art/nature is not aesthetic appreciation, but some other sort of appreciation

27.    Parson recommends that for art meant to be appreciated with engagement, we say this is artistic appreciation of art, but not aesthetic appreciation of art

         a.      Some artist have become interested in facilitating forms of experience other than aesthetic experience, namely engagement

28.    Engagement is neither necessary nor sufficient for exp to be aes

         a.      Can have experiences that are aesthetic but don’t achieve unity

         b.      Can have unity experiences (sex) but they aren’t aesthetic

         c.      No one aside from proponent of engagement def of aesthetic thinks sex intercourse is an aes exp

29.    Engagement does not reveal anything about nature of aesthetic

         a.      That engagement is neither nec nor sufficient for aes exp would not show that it could not be an important component of a valuable aes exp

30.    Parsons accepts that nature is not optimal as object; hard to get aes app from nature when compared to art

         a.      Not surprising, as most art is arranged for purpose of providing aes exp

31.    Nature’s resistance to aes exp makes it a challenge that increases the richness and complexity and makes it more worth having

         a.      Does not diminish the worth or stature of nature app