Prof. James Kirwan—The Aesthetics of Perfection

The Aesthetics of Perfection

James Kirwan (Kansai University)

This paper will explore the concept of an ‘aesthetics of imperfection’ by analyzing it into its components: (1) the notion of the ‘perfection’ of an object in terms of function or type (essentially a non-aesthetic concept, but one that has played a role in some aesthetic theories); (2) the notion of aesthetic value as a form of perfection (as expressed in Coleridge’s dictum: ‘Nothing can permanently please, which does not contain within itself the reason why it is so, and not otherwise’); (3) the notion of imperfection in terms of function or type, which may imply a negative aesthetic reaction (disgust or the perception of ugliness); (4) the notion of aesthetic imperfection, as a departure from what is expected from an object intended for aesthetic consumption (the bum note, the anticlimax, the avant garde), which may or may not defer to the notion of aesthetic perfection that gave rise to the object (the restored Sistine Chapel ceiling, polychrome classical statues). Through a consideration of these categories the paper will attempt to refine precisely what constitutes an aesthetics of imperfection as a positive aesthetic response to what is perceived as imperfect. It will take, as paradigm cases, the aesthetics of the tea ceremony as described in Saito’s ‘The Japanese Aesthetics of Imperfection and Insufficiency’ (1997), and the rise of the current fad for distressed and ripped jeans.

Brief bio

James Kirwan is Professor in the Faculty of Letters at Kansai University, Japan. His researches in literature and philosophical aesthetics have produced many journal articles in this cross-disciplinary field. In his conclusion to The Aesthetic in Kant (Continuum 2004), he makes the remarkable claim that aesthetics is ‘within philosophy, the last refuge of miracles’. He has published three other books: Sublimity: The Non-Rational and the Irrational in the History of Aesthetics (Routledge 2005); Beauty (Manchester UP 1999); and Literature, Rhetoric, Metaphysics: Literary Theory and Literary Aesthetics (Routledge 1990). He is currently completing a monograph on moral experience (expected 2018).

Lecture handout

The Aesthetics of Perfection

James Kirwan

 Perfection

1. An object may be perceived as perfect in relation to one’s idea of the object’s function.

Conspicuous instrumental value as an aesthetic experience

(Digression on the nature of aesthetic experience)

2. An object may be perceived as perfect in relation to one’s idea of the object’s type.

Perfection as a negative concept

Perfection as implicit in negative aesthetic experiences

Imperfection as a norm

Conspicuous truth-to-type as an aesthetic experience

(Aesthetic theories that posit perfection as the source of aesthetic                       experience)

3. Aesthetic perfection

Aesthetic perfection as an evaluation of the effect of the object rather than         the object itself

Why this is confined to art and ‘sights’

Imperfection

1. Imperfect in relation to the idea of the object’s function

2. Imperfect in relation to the idea of the object’s type

Negative aesthetic experiences of imperfection

Positive aesthetic experiences of imperfection

3. Imperfection as an element in the experience of art

Aesthetic imperfection

The accidentally imperfect

Perceived imperfection as the source of aesthetic experience

Manufactured imperfection as the source of aesthetic experience

This conference is supported by JSPS Kakenhi grant number 16K02109.

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