Nick Riggle (University of San Diego), "Convergence, Community, and Force in Aesthetic Discourse"
The film criticism duo Siskel and Ebert often disagreed. Their contentious review of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet circles around the thought that Lynch wants to play his audience like a piano. Their review concludes with Ebert saying:
“If [Lynch] wants to play me like a piano, he’d better get some music worth listening to.”
To which Siskel responds:
“I think this is a good song.”
In good spirits, they move on. Is this a successful aesthetic conversation?
A lot of philosophers would say (or be committed to saying) ‘No’. After all, Siskel and Ebert do not arrive at a shared aesthetic belief about the aesthetic value of the film. They do not ‘converge’. But convergence is often thought to be the aim of aesthetic conversation, or of evaluative conversation in general, or, even more generally, of conversation. Andy Egan argues that convergence is the ‘central business’ of aesthetic assertion. (2010: 260) Others see in aesthetic conversation the aim of establishing a ‘community of feeling which expresses itself in identical value judgments’. (Isenberg 1949) Still others take convergence beyond normative and aesthetic discourse and see it as the basic point of conversation. Perez Carballo and Santorio claim that for all conversations “. . . as long as [the interlocutors] think that there is a point to engaging in conversation, they must think that they ought to converge on some live possibility. Converging on some live possibility is just what the point of conversation is.” (2016: 631; see also 634)
Siskel and Ebert did not converge on the merits of Blue Velvet, and so they failed in their attempt to have a successful aesthetic conversation.
In my view, Siskel and Ebert’s conversation is not only acceptable but paradigmatic of good aesthetic conversation. The aim of aesthetic conversation is not to converge but to vibe, where vibing is a matter of achieving a kind of ‘harmony of individuality’: we vibe when our individual aesthetic valuing practices are mutually supportive. I may or may not share your sensibility, but I might anyway be moved by it—fascinated, interested, amazing, or inspired. And you might be moved by mine in turn. We appreciate each other’s insights and aesthetic perspectives, finding them generative for our own aesthetic insights, furthering each other’s aesthetic valuing in turn. Since we don’t have to agree to enter into this kind of mutually supportive aesthetic valuing, we can invite each other into excellent aesthetic conversations even when we have wildly and wonderfully different individualities. Siskel and Ebert often disagreed, but that did not stop them from giving two thumbs up to each other.
The paper contains the many details: I argue that since vibing is the point of aesthetic conversation, invitation is the typical illocutionary force of everyday aesthetic claims; that Kant, who thought that aesthetic claims ‘demand’ agreement, was wrong about all of this; that aesthetic community is the aesthetic-discourse-governing value; that, unlike the moral and non-evaluative domains, there is no general point to sharing sensibilities in aesthetic life; and I develop a formal account of the dynamic pragmatics of aesthetic conversation.
You might not agree, but this is philosophy—surely that won’t stop us from vibing.
Egan, Andy (2010). Disputing About Taste. In Ted Warfield and Richard Feldman (Eds.), Disagreement (247–86). Oxford University Press.
Isenberg, Arnold (1949). Critical Communication. The Philosophical Review, 58 (4), 330–44.
Pérez Carballo, Alejandro and Paolo Santorio (2016). Communication for Expressivists. Ethics, 126(3), 607–35.
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