When you lose yourself in a book or a piece of music or a work of art, where do you go? This interesting piece from the digital magazine Psyche blends aesthetics and phenomenology to consider this question.
"No wonder, then, that there is a certain sense of wistfulness when it all ends, when the lights come up or the last page is turned, and we find ourselves back where we were, forced to carry on with our daily lives. ... Here we face what I call the paradox of aesthetic immersion: when I’m immersed in artwork, I seem to go somewhere without going anywhere, and I seem to be in two worlds at once, and yet I’m not properly in either. So what kind of ‘travelling’ are we talking about? ... An artwork necessarily requires a physical basis, such as pigments on a canvas, a block of marble, letters on a page, people on the stage – in short, an external object or state of affairs that the perceiver can engage with. However, the work also needs a perceiver to blossom into what [Polish phenomenologist Roman] Ingarden called the aesthetic object, the artwork as experienced: it is the consciousness of the perceiver that turns the letters on a page into an imagined world, sees a landscape in a painted surface, or hears sadness in a melody. ... Indeed, when perceiving an artwork, we often literally overlook the artwork as a physical object; I’m not usually aware of the letters on the page or the pigments on the canvas, as my consciousness glides over them and attends to the depicted or narrated world that opens up in engagement with the artwork. This world is not localisable in physical space. No map can lead me there. The only entry goes through the artwork. Neither is the artwork’s world a mere mental event inside my consciousness, like a phantasm or a memory, because I experience the artwork’s world as something external to my consciousness. ... The dull habituality of everyday life can easily make us forget how rich and varied human experience can be. We usually live through our daily hustle and bustle with a certain automatism that stultifies our ways of relating to the world and ourselves. By altering the basic experiential structures that sustain our sense of the everyday world, immersive artworks can show us that there are more possibilities of thinking, feeling and imagining than we usually realise. Immersion mobilises the mind, and makes its gears run in a new fashion. Though immersive experiences might not teach us anything in terms of ‘X is Y’, we do not necessarily return from immersion unchanged. Many are probably familiar with the way art’s magic can linger after immersion itself has dissipated, and how the world appears, at least for a while, richer, deeper and more enchanting than before. I believe such experiences are vital in leading towards a more curious and nuanced relation to the world. As the German philosopher J G Fichte (1762-1814) put it, aesthetic experiences might not straightforwardly make us wiser or better people, but ‘the unploughed fields of our minds are nevertheless opened up, and if for other reasons we one day decide in freedom to take possession of them, we find half the resistance removed and half the work done.’"
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