This collection of essays deals with the complicated issue of double-aspect perception and its relation to pictorial representation. The book is constituted by independent contributions that trace the concepts of seeing-as and seeing-in to their origins in the writings of Wittgenstein and Wollheim. Although most of the contributions engage substantially in textual analysis and quote sources at length, it would be a mistake to regard the book as purely exegetical in character. Most chapters suggest thought-provoking readings of famous passages by Wittgenstein and Wollheim, as well as by other authors—Gombrich, for instance, is an interlocutor who emerges more than once. Some contributions, such as the one by Fabian Dorsch, build on Wollheim’s insights to put forward an account of depiction that could count as a competitor for the other available contemporary accounts, discussed by philosophers such as Robert Hopkins, Malcolm Budd and Dominic McIver Lopes. The book is divided into five parts. One could say, somewhat crudely, that the first three parts are more exegetical, whereas the last two are focused on exploiting Wollheim’s account in order to shed light on open questions in the philosophy of art. The first part, containing only Charles Travis’s contribution, is an ambitious reconstruction of Wittgenstein’s discussion of seeing-as, tracing it back to the Tractatus and aiming principally to determine the objectivity of seeing-as experiences. The issue is discussed by Travis as ‘Frege’s challenge’: the experience of seeing-as cannot take the form of a purely subjective Vorstellung (a representation, in Frege’s sense). Wittgenstein himself repeatedly manifested hostility to the idea that we might make sense of mental life by appealing to ‘inner pictures’, that is, to the sort of private experiences Frege would have called Vorstellungen. In the concluding paragraph of his contribution, Travis claims that seeing-as, as analysed by Wittgenstein, provides additional support to a disjunctivist theory of perception. The two following parts of the collection stress, respectively, the difficulties and benefits of Wollheim’s borrowing from Wittgenstein: while the latter’s reflections on aspect perception have certainly been crucial to Wollheim’s account of pictorial representation, Wollheim is not always faithful to Wittgenstein’s original characterization of seeing-as. Part II opens with Joachim Schulte’s contribution. Schulte claims that Wittgenstein’s analysis of seeing-as can be used to discuss certain problems in aesthetics. In particular, there are characteristic ways of responding to the dawning of an aspect, some spontaneous and instinctive, others acquired and to an extent conventional. Many of Wittgenstein’s remarks seem to point to characteristic experiences associated with seeing-as: ‘Now I see it as a rabbit’, Shulte observes, is to be intended as an exclamation, rather than as a simple statement. Such exclamations convey the character of a particularly striking experience, that of the dawning of an aspect. These responses to experiences of seeing-as, Schulte claims, could be considered as analogous to certain aesthetic responses, or better, as a rudimentary model of those responses. Avner Baz stresses how Wollheim’s conception of seeing-as differs from Wittgenstein’s. The latter took aspect perception to be a pre-conceptual experience, whereas Wollheim thought that it involved a judgement or belief. This is a point that returns various times in the book, but Baz’s contribution examines this issue in more depth than any other essay in the collection. Wittgenstein is described by Baz as sharing with philosophers such as Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty the rejection of the Kantian dogma according to which only the subsumption of the sensible under the conceptual allows us to move past the merely subjective. The experience of the dawning of an aspect does not then, as Wollheim thought, support the idea that perception is always shaped by a cognitive stock that takes the form of concepts applied to sensible material. Rather, it supports the opposite conclusion: much of our perception is indeterminate, in that the sensible material is processed at a pre-conceptual level. Baz’s essay—one of the most interesting in the collection—concludes with a suggestive parallel with the Kantian conception of beauty: Kant characterized beauty as a meaningful unity that is not possibly captured by any set of concepts, and this naturally lends itself to an interpretation in terms of the dawning of an aspect, an experience that is perceptual, intersubjective, and yet pre-conceptual. There is here, perhaps, an echo of Schulte’s idea that the phenomenology of aspect perception could be useful in describing some basic aesthetic concepts. Hans-Johann Glock rejects what he calls the ‘ubiquity thesis’: like Baz, and against Wollheim, he contends that seeing-as should not be understood as the ubiquitous presence of concepts in our visual perception; seeing-as is rather the experience of the dawning of an aspect, that is, a special case of perception. One of the main elements of originality in Glock’s contribution is the attempt to show how such an account of seeing-as, closer to Wittgenstein than it is to Wollheim, could cast light on the issue of animal minds: if seeing-as, as the dawning of an aspect, does not require verbalization or conceptualization, then non-human animals, although lacking language, and arguably concepts, could be in intentional states directed to external objects, without this intentionality being construed in terms of propositional attitudes. Volker A. Munz attempts to trace a parallel between seeing-in in Wollheim and seeing-as in Wittgenstein. In order to do this, he examines the various sorts of visual phenomena discussed by Wittgenstein as cases of seeing-as. From this taxonomy, however, there is no conclusive moral to draw: faithfully to Wittgenstein’s spirit, Munz denies that a unified account of seeing-as could be produced. Part III of the book starts with a contribution by Garry Hagberg that might be of special interest to art historians and critics, as it is the chapter that relies most on the discussion of specific paintings. Hagberg offers a number of examples in support of his thesis, from Rembrandt to Cézanne, Picasso and Jasper Johns. Particularly interesting is his discussion of Hauerbach’s works after Titian, which he uses to illustrate various salient features of seeing-in. Gabriel M. Mras discusses the issue of pictorial surface in Wollheim by contrasting his views on intentions and imagination with R. G. Collingwood’s. While both believed the artist’s intention to be essential to the meaning of a picture, Wollheim departs from the mentalist conception of a work’s meaning defended by Collingwood. The two are also far apart on the topic of imagining: according to Wollheim, the surface of a painting is not a mere bearer of meaning, something we get past in order to grasp the painting’s content. It is rather the simultaneous awareness of the representational content and of the features of the pictorial surface that characterizes the experience of pictures: this is the two-foldedness that Wollheim considered crucial to pictorial experience. In the case of Lucian Freud’s late self-portraits, for instance, we have an experience of the painter’s face that is determined by our experience of the particular brushstrokes and application of paint that characterized his style. The configurational aspect of the picture (the painted surface) is constantly intertwined with the recognitional one (the represented content). Richard Heinrich’s contribution is of particular interest. He sets out to provide an accurate reconstruction of the historical development of Wollheim’s thought. This chapter, although not particularly ambitious, is remarkably clear, and could be a good starting point for those who approach this collection without much previous knowledge of Wollheim’s aesthetics. Part IV contains essays by Gary Kemp and Fabian Dorsch. These are perhaps the most original in the whole collection, and they will be of greatest interest to those who are involved in the contemporary debate on the nature of pictorial depiction. Both contend that a suitably qualified version of Wollheim’s account could represent a stronger theory of depiction than the ones currently available. The purpose of this part of the book is to exploit the resource of Wollheim’s account of pictorial representation in order to discuss and criticize contemporary theories of depiction. Gary Kemp first returns to the question of whether aspect perception means that perception is always permeated by thought and agrees with other authors in the volume that this is not the case. His main claim is that Wollheim’s account, appropriately qualified, is more defensible than Hopkins’ resemblance account. Kemp argues that seeing-as and seeing-in are in fact closer than Wollheim thought, but this is not a problem for a Wollheim-inspired account of depiction, as the central feature of pictures is that of two-foldedness. Fabian Dorsch also defends a revised version of Wollheim’s account of depiction against contemporary theories. A viable theory of depiction, Dorsch claims, should be able to answer two fundamental questions: the Question of Content and the Question of Depth. These could be respectively expressed by the questions: ‘How are we aware that a given picture depicts X (rather than something else)?’ and ‘How are we aware of the depth of the depicted scene?’ He first considers the shortcomings of the Experienced Resemblance View (Hopkins) and of the Imagination View (Walton). These have complementary problems: while the first one cannot answer to the Question of Depth, the second has troubles with the Question of Content. Dorsch concludes the essay by endorsing what he dubs the Aspect View, a variation on Wollheim’s account that he believes to be able to answer both the Question of Depth and the Question of Content. The final part of the collection considers Wollheim’s account of depiction in the light of broader issues concerning the nature of emotions and the role of imagination. Michael Levine’s contribution attempts to link Wollheim’s theory of depiction to his theory of emotions, an enterprise that, as Levine appropriately stresses, has never been convincingly undertaken. Levine believes that a link between perceptual experience and emotions, as evident in Wollheim’s stress on the emotion’s capacity to colour perception, could be applied to art forms other than the figurative arts and briefly suggests how this could work in the case of pure music. David Hills examines Walton’s attempt to flesh out Wollheim’s account of pictorial representation in terms of imagination—a move that Wollheim himself rejected. This chapter constitutes a fascinating attempt at reviving a make-believe view of the experience of pictorial depiction. When a spectator plays a game of make-believe of the sort involved in the experience of depictions, what happens can be described from two points of view. Actually, the viewer is exploring the painted surface; fictionally, she is visually exploring the picture’s subject. One can recognize in this a reformulation of the two-foldedness thesis that is central to Wollheim’s view. On Hill’s account, depiction as an art is narrative, in that the experience of pictures is constituted by an exploration of its fictional space that unfolds over time, and collaborative, as its experience depends on how the spectator decides to explore the painted surface. Some of the chapters, and especially those in Parts II and III, overlap considerably in terms of content. To an extent, this is normal, although a more interdisciplinary approach would have probably been beneficial to a more varied treatment of the topic. What do cognitive scientists, art historians, and perhaps even artists have to say about the phenomenology of pictorial representation? The painter’s reflection on her own activity has become increasingly important in contemporary art—think of the way in which a painting such as David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash (1967) shows the ambiguous nature of the pictorial surface, at once visual configuration and locus of recognition. One imagines that the contribution of art historians and critics could bring some fresh air to the discussion of a topic that, in recent years, has received considerable philosophical attention. Overall, this collection provides an engaging and stimulating reading for anyone who is interested in pictorial representation, as well as for those who have an historical interest in the development of Wittgenstein’s philosophy and Wollheim’s account of depiction. However, most of the contributions are dense, rich in content and sometimes not as clearly structured as the average journal article. For these reasons, the book is probably only suitable for advanced undergraduates and graduate students. © British Society of Aesthetics 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the British Society of Aesthetics. All rights reserved. For Permissions, please email: email@example.com This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
The British Journal of Aesthetics – Oxford University Press
Published: Nov 28, 2017
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