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samedi 26 novembre 2011

READINGS: REPROPOSING AN OLD POST//Simmel Redux :"Aesthetic and Money "

Philosophie des Geldes first lecture
Wien , 1897.

He knew all before . 


Simmel Redux :"Aesthetic and Money "

I would like to show the universal significance of distance for supposedly objective valuation by an example that has nothing to do with economic values and which therefore illustrates the general principle, namely aesthetic valuation. What we call the enjoyment of the beauty of things developed relatively late. For no matter how much immediate sensual enjoyment may exist even today in the individual case, the specific quality of aesthetic enjoyment is the ability to appreciate and enjoy the object, not simply an experience of sensual or supra-sensual stimulation. Every cultivated person is able to make a clear distinction in principle between the aesthetic and the sensual enjoyment of female beauty, even though he may not be able to draw the line between these components of his impression on a particular occasion. In the one case we surrender to the object, while in the other case the object surrenders to us. Even though aesthetic value, like any other value, is not an integral part of the object but is rather a projection of our feelings, it has the peculiarity that the projection is complete. In other words, the content of the feeling is, as it were, absorbed by the object and confronts the subject as something which has autonomous significance, which is inherent in the object. What was the historical psychological process in which this objective aesthetic pleasure in things emerged, given that primitive enjoyment which was the basis for any more refined appreciation must have been tied to direct subjective satisfaction and utility? Perhaps we can find a clue in a very simple observation. If an object of any kind provides us with great pleasure or advantage we experience a feeling of joy at every later viewing of this object, even if any use or enjoyment is now out of the question. This joy, which resembles an echo, has a unique psychological character determined by the fact that we no longer want anything from the object. In place of the former concrete relationship with the object, it is now mere contemplation that is the source of enjoyable sensation; we leave the being of the object untouched, and our sentiment is attached only to its appearance, not to that which in any sense may be consumed. In short, whereas formerly the object was valuable as a means for our practical and eudaemonistic ends, it has now become an object of contemplation from which we derive pleasure by confronting it with reserve and remoteness, without touching it. It seems to me that the essential features of aesthetic enjoyment are foreshadowed here, but they can be shown more plainly if we follow the changes in sensation from the sphere of individual psychology to that of the species as a whole. The attempt has often been made to derive beauty from utility, but as a rule this has led only to a philistine coarsening of beauty. This might be avoided if the practical expediency and sensual eudaemonistic immediacy were placed far enough back in the history of the species, as a result of which an instinctive, reflex-like sense of enjoyment in our organism were attached to the appearance of objects; the physico-psychic connection would then be genetic and would become effective in the individual without any consciousness on his part of the utility of the object. There is no need to enter into the controversy about the inheritance of such acquired associations; it suffices here that the events occur as if such qualities were inheritable. Consequently, the beautiful would be for us what once proved useful for the species, and its contemplation would give us pleasure without our having any practical interest in the object as individuals. This would not of course imply uniformity or the reduction of individual taste to an average or collective level. These echoes of an earlier general utility are absorbed into the diversity of individual minds and transformed into new unique qualities, so that one might say that the detachment of the pleasurable sensation from the reality of its original cause has finally become a form of our consciousness, quite independent of the contents that first gave rise to it, and ready to absorb any other content that the psychic constellation permits. In those cases that offer realistic pleasure, our appreciation of the object is not specifically aesthetic, but practical; it becomes aesthetic only as a result of increasing distance, abstraction and sublimation. What happens here is the common phenomenon that, once a certain connection has been established, the connecting link itself disappears because it is no longer required. The connection between certain useful objects and the sense of pleasure has become so well established for the species through inheritance or some other mechanism, that the mere sight of these objects becomes pleasurable even in the absence of any utility. This explains what Kant calls 'aesthetic indifference', the lack of concern about the real existence of an object so long as its 'form', i.e. its visibility, is given. Hence also the radiance and transcendence of the beautiful, which arises from the temporal remoteness of the real motives in which we now discover the aesthetic. Hence the idea that the beautiful is something typical, supra-individual, and universally valid; for the evolution of the species has long ago eliminated from these inner states of mind anything specific and individual in the motives and experiences. In consequence it is often impossible to justify on rational grounds aesthetic judgments or the opposition that they sometimes present to what is useful and agreeable to the individual. The whole development of objects from utility value to aesthetic value is a process of objectification. When I call an object beautiful, its quality and significance become much more independent of the arrangements and the needs of the subject than if it is merely useful. So long as objects are merely useful they are interchangeable and everything can be replaced by anything else that performs the same service. But when they are beautiful they have a unique individual existence and the value of one cannot be replaced by another even though it may be just as beautiful in its own way. We need not pursue these brief remarks on the origin of aesthetic value into a discussion of all the ramifications of the subject in order to recognize that the objectification of value originates in the relative distance that emerges between the direct subjective origin of the valuation of the object and our momentary feeling concerning the object. The more remote for the species is the utility of the object that first created an interest and a value and is now forgotten, the purer is the aesthetic satisfaction derived from the mere form and appearance of the object. The more it stands before us in its own dignity, the more we attribute to it a significance that is not exhausted by haphazard subjective enjoyment, and the more the relationship of valuing the objects merely as means is replaced by a feeling of their independent value.

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