Aesthetics and Athletics

IMG_8968I write sometimes about philosophy as a way of life, as an exercise (askēsis) of conversion or transformation. But one could also write a parallel story of art as a way of life, as an aesthetic askēsis likewise oriented around a re-constellation of sensing, feeling, and thinking.

Gabriel Trop writes this way about art as a way of life, and of poetry in particular. Trop’s idea is that art begins as a kind of mimesis, an imitation of the world, but ultimately drives at askēsis, a reconfiguration of the artist and the viewer of the work of art.

The art work is a material presence in the world, an attractor that interacts with and transforms the ordering of perceptual experience—art is a means of transforming the physiognomy of seeing; it is a way of re-patterning habitual modes of experience.

Aesthetic askēsis, the work of making art, is thus different from other modes of askēsis, like the critical self-examinations of philosophy or the practice routines of athletics and physical development, which are aimed at maintenance, improvement, and optimization.

The figure of the athlete shares in common many characteristics with the figure of the artist—they are both engaged in acts of askēsis—but they also exhibit important differences. The athlete has a special relationship to the program—to the set and predictable ordering of a routine, executed again and again with a ritual intensity that favors the mad person capable of unending repetition.

The artist, on the other hand, certainly partakes of the athletic sensibility in their upswing and development—as the artist builds strength in a craft—but the end result and aim is something quite different from that of general athletics.

The athlete operates within the structure of a pre-existing game. The artist creates new ones. Art is in this way a kind of anti-program; it is not a planned routine in the same way that athletic preparation is. Art delivers the unseen or the unforeseeable; it creates novelty.

Aesthetic askēsis aims at states of absorption without purpose, though as with every kind of askēsis, the work of art—both the artwork and the work required to produce it—links exercise and perception. Aesthetic work is an act of transforming perception and being.

These figures, the artist and the athlete, may cohere in the same person. The artist may be an athlete of preparation and the athlete may derive creativity through artistic inspiration—the great ones always do—but they are nevertheless distinct, if mutually enhancing, activities.

On Contemplative Philosophy

D3fzM13UIAAWpjvThe phrase “contemplative philosophy” denotes a specific understanding of theory and practice that transforms the meaning of both terms. One could say that this transformation implies a recursive relationship between theory and practice, but this move doesn’t go far enough.

A real contemplative philosophy marks a crossing over of theory into practice and practice into theory. In other words, on this view, theory is itself a kind of practice, and practice delivers what we normally think of as theoretical insight.

Theory involves marshaling a significant degree of attentional resources in the mode of discursive expression. It’s a training in a certain kind of directed thought, often afforded by the tools of writing and symbol use. Theory’s purpose is to feed back into action and perception.

Nondiscursive practices, such as meditation, craftwork, and athletics, also deliver insight and transform perception, action, and understanding. Practices create affordances for iterative and adaptive modes of sensing into the depth and complexity of the world.

In this sense, both theory and practice proceed via what phenomenologists call an intentional arc, a recursive interlocking of world, action, and understanding. Contemplative philosophy for this reason is grounded in the metaphor of tactility, of learning how to grasp the world.

Another meaning of contemplation is to “mark out a space for observation.” It’s not about observation itself, but about creating the grounds for seeing. It’s also about holding steady attention on an idea in the mind, perhaps to let it unfold by itself in new and unexpected ways.

In both cases—creating a space for observing & cultivating a sustained awareness—the contemplative act is itself something like an athletic skill, it’s a trainable exercise, a practice. The contemplative philosopher is an existential athlete, a trainer of new modes of awareness.

Interviewed on Emerge Podcast

I sat down with Daniel Thorson on his Emerge podcast to talk about philosophy as transformation in perception, concepts and experience, Pierre Hadot, askēsis, theory and practice, The Side View, determinism, Descartes, and more. The episode is available here.

The Side View Rolls Forward

While I won’t continue to post too many updates about The Side View here on Knowledge Ecology (which will remain my personal blog for philosophy-related work), I did want to give readers a quick status report on where TSV is today, a few weeks after launch.

A few quick updates and requests:

  • We’re continuing to roll out new ways to follow our work. You can now subscribe to our podcasts on iTunesYouTube, and SoundCloud. (We’re up to four episodes, with episode five coming on Monday.)
  • If you feel so inclined, please subscribe, rate, and review the podcast on iTunes.
  • We hit over 4,000 views in our first week, and we’re well over 5,000 views total as of this post—not bad for site that’s only 18 days old!
  • I also want to draw your attention to our Patreon page, which we’re using to help offset the costs of running the site and producing our content. Please consider donating to our efforts if it’s within your means.
  • We’re on Twitter @TheSideViewCo and we just set up our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/TheSideViewCo/
  • Finally, for those of you who have an idea for an essay, a recommendation for a podcast guest, or just want to reach out and talk about The Side View in general, please get in touch with us via our contact page.

Save for any major milestones or new pieces of content that might be of interest to Knowledge Ecology subscribers in particular, I won’t continue to post minor TSV updates like this one here. And as soon as this flurry of initial launch goals dies down, I’ll get back to posting about that dissertation of mine that still needs to be finished . . .

The Side View Launch Presentation

As part of The Side View launch last week, I gave a presentation on the philosophical background that informs the overall vision of the site.

At the start of the talk, I also read a short introduction about The Side View’s mission, which you can read here. My notes for the rest of the talk are below.

If you’re interested in participating in The Side View in some way, please be in touch through our contact page here. Continue reading