The first presenter of the international conference The Promise of Pragmatist Aesthetics: Looking Forward after 30 Years organised in May 2022 by the MOME Doctoral School was Richard Shusterman, author of the book Pragmatist Aesthetics published 30 years ago. In his talk he recounted the balancing act between the two poles of the spectrum – analytical and continental philosophy – he performed when writing the book. Herbert Marcuse’s aesthetic commentary on eroticism were also mentioned in the context of somaesthetics, bringing us to Shusterman’s latest book, Ars Erotica, published only last year.
The Promise of Pragmatist Aesthetics: Looking Back after 30 Years – An Interview with Richard Shusterman: During his stay at MOME, we sat down with Professor Shusterman for a video interview to discuss his Pragmatist Aesthetics and its background, his somaesthetics, the influences of various somatic practices and cultural traditions on his thought, his most recent works, as well as his performance art and the significance of the human body in the field of design. Richard Shusterman is a professor at Florida Atlantic University. The interview was conducted by Botond Csuka, senior lecturer at the Hungarian University of Physical Education and Sport Sciences.
Professor of the University of Tokyo Tanehisa Otabe explored the potential correlations between East Asian philosophy and Shusterman’s pragmatist aesthetics through the Japanese tea ceremony. Following in the footsteps of Kakuzô Okakura’s legendary The Book of Tea, he also defines Taoism as the ‘art of existing in the world’ or ‘the art of life’, and brings into focus an aesthetics that underlines physical and mental exercise, ritual, and the aesthetic appreciation of the tiny occurrences of life. According to Professor Otabe, Western somaesthetics and the Japanese mindset dovetail in this regard.
Kristina Höök, author of Designing with the Body and an expert on interaction design described the possibilities offered by Soma Design. The concept takes into account the physical dimensions of a designer’s own body as well as the special characteristics of digital design and digital technologies. Höök encourages accomplishments that will open vistas for users to enjoy an in-depth aesthetic experience and reflective interpretation. With her team, she designed interactive furniture that improve body awareness, a device to reduce anxiety and drones that coordinate with dancers. These experiments all form part of the Soma Design project that Höök gave a glimpse of through her own designer and teaching experience.
One of the keynote speakers was Kristina Höök, professor at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology and interaction design expert, who spoke about the possibilities of Soma Design. Höök's concept takes into account the designer's own physical dimension and the specificities of digital design and digital technology. As the author of “Designing with the Body”, she encourages results that open the way for users to a deeper aesthetic experience and reflective interpretation. With her team, she has designed interactive fixtures and furniture that increase body awareness, but she has also created anxiety-reducing devices and drones that interact with dancers. These experiments are all part of the Soma Design programme, which Höök is giving insights into through her own experience as a designer and educator. Kristina Höök was interviewed by Thomas Fogarasy, UX-designer and Head of the Interaction Design MA programme at MOME.
The second major lecturer of the conference, Barbara Formis is a professor at Sorbonne. Her talk entitled A Plea for Eco-Somaesthetics lent an ecological dimension to pragmatist aesthetics and somaesthetics. She argues that our sensory perception should not be limited to the concept of the individual human body. With this premise, Formis points toward an eco-somaesthetics that reinterprets the body as a sphere of multiple overlaps and collective connections, and takes into account its non-human, unintentional components. She sets soma – the living body – in a web of different ecosystems, made particularly interesting by her approach not only as an academic, but also a performer and dancer.