The Aesthetic Idea

Theory and Criticism 9635 [A] 

Professor John Vanderheide

Course Outline

In his infamous condemnation of representational poetry in Republic X, Plato’s Socrates initiates a longstanding inquiry into the relationship between art and the Idea.  However ironically meant, Socrates’ condemnation provides a paradigm for thinking the opposition of the Beautiful not only to the True but also the Good.  Does art introduce error into thought and dissension into the social body?  Does its alliance to the sensible and the pleasurable in fact set it outside the domain of the Idea altogether?  Can there only be rational and political Ideas?  Or is there a properly aesthetic Idea?  In this course we explore a number of attempts to formulate the relation between the Idea and art, ideation and artistic expression.  The figures that we will study can be grouped loosely within three key epochs of the history of critical theory: Greek and Hellenic antiquity, the age of German Idealism, and modernity, the turning point between modernism and poststructuralism within which we ourselves still dwell.  Of course, the manner in which these figures approach the complex relations between ideation and artistic expression depends on how they conceive of the Idea as such.  Is the Idea an eternal entity (Platonism), a concept without a possible intuition (Kant), an objectification of the will (Schopenhauer), a constellation (Benjamin), a virtual multiplicity (Deleuze), or the subjectivation of an interplay between a truth procedure and a representation of History (Badiou)?  Over which rift does artistic expression stretch: between the sensible and intelligible, the empirical and the transcendental, representation and will, the material and the formal, the actual and virtual, the animal and the immortal?  If these questions direct us to a general investigation of the relationships between art, philosophy and politics, it will also lead us to historical and speculative investigations into the relationships between particular rational, political and aesthetic ideas.  Did tragedy really introduce dissension into the Greek polis, or did it function conservatively in its maintenance?  What role did the Trauerspiel play in the Prussian State, and in Reformation Europe?  What kind of art would be the correlate of poststructuralist thought, or be adequate to the Idea of Communism? 

Week 1 Introduction
Week 2 Plato
Week 3 Aristotle
Week 4 Plotinus
Week 5 Kant
Week 6 Schopenhauer
Week 7 Hegel
Week 8 Nietzsche
Week 9 Benjamin
Week 10 Deleuze
Week 11 Deleuze and Guattari
Week 12 Badiou, Zizek et. al
Week 13 Badiou, Zizek et. al

Primary Readings
Plato, Ion, Republic (Selections)
Aristotle, Poetics, Metaphysics (Selections)
Plotinus, Enneads (Selections)
Kant. Critique of the Power of Judgment (Selections)
Hegel. Aesthetics (Selections)
Schopenhauer, World as Will and Representation (Selections)
Nietzsche, Birth of TragedyGenealogy of Morals (Selections)
Benjamin, “Epistemo-Critical Prologue,” Origins of German Tragic Drama
Deleuze, Difference and Repetition (Selections)
Deleuze and Guattari, What is Philosophy? A Thousand Plateaus (Selections)
Badiou, Second Manifesto for Philosophy
Zizek, et. al. The Idea of Communism (Selections)