In Pragmatist Aesthetics (Blackwell, 1992), I presented a pragmatist approach as providing a more fruitful middle way between the limitations of analytic aesthetics and the problematic extremes of much continental philosophy of art. This did not mean that my pragmatist approach did not absorb important insights from those other aesthetic traditions, even when my arguments sought to overcome conclusions based on those insights. One key continental approach that my pragmatist aesthetics drew on and debated was German critical theory, associated with the so-called Frankfurt School. That approach also played a role in the development of somaesthetics. In my lecture “Pragmatist Aesthetics in Dialogue,” I explore this critical engagement with key thinkers in critical theory: Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, and Herbert Marcuse. I plan to give particular attention to Marcuse’s work on the erotic and the aesthetic dimension because of its relationship to my recent work on ars erotica.
Richard Shusterman is the Dorothy F. Schmidt Eminent Scholar in the Humanities at Florida Atlantic University, and Director of the Center for Body, Mind, and Culture at Florida Atlantic University. His major authored books include Ars Erotica. Sex and Somaesthetics in Classical Arts of Love (2021); The Adventures of the Man in Gold (2016); Thinking Through the Body (2012); Body Consciousness (2008); Surface and Depth (2002); Performing Live (2000); Practicing Philosophy (1997); and Pragmatist Aesthetics (1992, now published in fifteen languages). Shusterman received his doctorate in philosophy from Oxford and has held academic appointments in France, Germany, Israel, and Japan. The French government honored him as a Chevalier de l'Ordre des Palmes Académiques, and he was awarded research grants from the NEH, Fulbright Commission, ACLS, Humboldt Foundation, and UNESCO.
Pragmatist aesthetics in general, and somaesthetics in particular have insisted on the fact that the field of aesthetics covers all the faculties of sensibility, and is not restricted solely to the realm of the arts.
From this perspective, aesthetic experience covers not just how we think and imagine but also how we inhabit the world. Yet the pragmatist focus on sensibility and the senses should not be restricted by a predetermined concept of the body, in particular the human body taken as an individual.
With the idea of ecosomaesthetics, I intend to extend the field of somaesthetics into ecological thinking. To do that we need to reframe the idea of the body as a sphere of collective relationships. Ecosomaesthetics would then provide an approach for redefining the soma from the standpoint of ecosystems, and for enhancing its aesthetic qualities by introducing categories that are not human and not intentional. I will be drawing some lines of argument from Shusterman’s work but also from Thomas Alexander’s research in The Human Eros: Eco-ontology and the Aesthetics of Existence (2013).
Barbara Formis, PhD in philosophy, is Senior Lecturer in Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art in the Department of Fine Arts and Art Sciences at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris, France. She is Director of EsPAS a research team on the Aesthetics of Performance Art at the Institute A.C.T.E. (Arts, Creations, Theories, Aesthetics, UMR 8218, C.N.R.S.). She is the co-founder and co-director with Melanie Perrier, of the Laboratoire du Geste (The Gesture Laboratory), a platform which promotes research, publication and creation in the field of the live arts. Her research concerns the aesthetics and philosophy of the body, with a particular focus on live arts (performance, dance, happenings, events) and their relationship to social phenomena and everyday practices. In 2010 she published Aesthetics of Ordinary Life in the collection ‘Lignes d’Art’ (Art Lines) with Presses Universitaires de France. She has also edited two anthologies: Gestes à l’oeuvre (Gestures at Work) published by L’Incidence éditions at the end of 2008 (republished in 2015) and Penser en Corps (Thinking through the Bodies) with L'Harmattan at the end of 2009. She directed an external seminar at the International College of Philosophy, and was a researcher in the Theory Department at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht. She has published various articles in journals such as Art Press, La Revue d’esthétique, Multitudes, Alter, and La Part de l’œil. She has been a dancer and has also worked as a dramaturge.
Soma Design builds on the somaesthetic theories, turning them into an active, creative, somatically grounded design approach. It consists broadly of two parts. First, a Soma Design process foregrounds the lived body of the designer, seeking to develop extensive bodily experience through personal practice. Second, through engaging somatically with the digital materials, their somaesthetic potential is revealed and can be shaped into felt, orchestrated experiences relevant to the design aims. The design aim, ultimately, is to design interactions that lets our users to deepen their aesthetic appreciation and meaning-making from a position as sentient, subjective selves.
Based on Soma Design we have developed for example: interactive furniture, a mat and a lamp, to increase body awareness (in collaboration with IKEA); an interactive chair that lets women train their pelvic floor muscle; a shape-shifting communicating corset that when worn by members of an audience, lets them ‘feel’ the torso movements of the singer; interactive devices that lets young women learn more about their menstruation cycle in a bodily, sensed, manner; deep pressure interaction around the torso to help those suffering from anxiety; uncomfortable and thrilling experiences touching our sense of balance; drones acting in an opera, performing together with a dancer; and many other applications. Taken together, these applications probe and explore what we refer to as a Soma Design program.
In my talk, I will show some of these applications and discuss some of the long-term participant studies we have performed, and how our designs lead to somaesthetic entanglements of technology and participant.
Kristina Höök is a full Professor in Interaction Design at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), Stockholm, Sweden. She is known for her work on social navigation, seamfulness, mobile services, affective interaction and lately, designing for bodily engagement in interaction through somaesthetics. Höök has obtained numerous national and international grants, awards, and fellowships including the Cor Baayen Fellowship by ERCIM (European Research Consortium for Informatics and Mathematics) for her thesis work in 1997, the INGVAR award from the Strategic Research Foundation (SSF) in 2004, she is an ACM Distinguished Scientist since 2014, and she is an ACM distinguished speaker. Her magnum opus so far appeared at MIT Press in 2018: Designing with the Body: Somaesthetic Interaction Design.
Shusterman’s Pragmatist Aesthetics does not directly address philosophy or aesthetics in East Asia. In retrospect, it is an appeal to East Asian researchers of Western-style philosophical aesthetics— including myself—to transform their style of thinking. This has become clearer since the publication of its second edition in 2000. In a new chapter titled “Somaesthetics: A Disciplinary Proposal,” the author cites the “Asian practices of Hatha yoga, Zen meditation, and T’ai chi ch’uan” as examples of somatic training. The potential of pragmatist aesthetics—or even somaesthetics—in the East Asian cultural sphere has been highlighted briefly by Shusterman himself in a later work (Shusterman 2004). Inspired by his insights, I focus on an outstanding Japanese figure of the late 19th and early 20 th centuries, Kakuzô Okakura (pseudonym: Tenshin) (1863–1913), to clarify the scope of pragmatist aesthetics or somaesthetics in the globalized era.
I address his 1906 masterpiece, The Book of Tea, published in English. His philosophical thought is based on the Taoist idea of “dào” (or “dô,” in the Sino-Japanese reading). Dào or dô literally means the way or path; however, Okakura interprets dào as the “passage,” not in the static, physical sense but in the active, pragmatic sense of passing through, and defines Taoism as the “art of being in the world” or the “art of living.” This concept of dô is peculiar to Japan. It is attached to words designating various fields in the sciences and arts, conveying a connotation of physico-mental training. The traditional Japanese view of art in the sense of gei-dô (literally, “the way of art”) tends to include all arts that involve physico-mental training (such as Jû-dô, or Ki-dô, namely, Japanese chess).
Okakura characterizes the tea ceremony as follows: First, it is an aestheticization of the ordinary action of drinking tea, which testifies that beauty lies in treating life’s smallest incidents aesthetically. Second, it is conducted among a certain number of persons (namely, a host and their guests) in a teahouse specially designed for the ceremony and is thus interactive, with a focus on creating a convivial space. Third, it is not the work of art as a consequence that is at issue but the process of performance and steady physico-mental training. Pragmatist aesthetics therefore provides a key for appropriately approaching Japanese aesthetic theory.
Tanehisa Otabe is professor of aesthetics at the University of Tokyo and the former President of the Japanese Society for Aesthetics. Professor Tanehisa Otabe is the foremost authority on aesthetics and Romantic philosophy in Japan today and the former President of the Japanese Schelling Society. His areas of interest cover eighteenth century German aesthetics as well as intercultural aesthetics. His publications in German include: Ästhetische Subjektivität. Romantik und Moderne (Würzburg 2005) and Kulturelle Identität und Selbstbild. Aufklärung und Moderne in Japan und Deutschland (Berlin 2011). Professor Otabe is the author of ten books—six singled-authored—covering a variety of topics, from the history of Western aesthetics to contemporary art theory.