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Introduction to Hegelian Aesthetics

Lecturer: Daniel Fairfax

Originally Taught: Winter School 2014

6pm-8pm Tuesday nights for 5 weeks, starting June 17 | Room 0106

This course will offer an introductory overview of Hegel’s aesthetic system, as well as providing a discussion of the resonances of Hegelian aesthetics in 20th-century philosophy, in particular the contending variants of critical theory in the work of Georg Lukács and Theodor W. Adorno. Although the aesthetic theories of important predecessors to Hegel’s thinking (in particular, Lessing, Kant and Schiller) will be a point of reference for this course, the primary framework for understanding Hegel’s views on art and aesthetics will be his own philosophical system, grounded in a dialectical conception of logic that is glossed, in differing ways, in his Phenomenology of Spirit and the later work The Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences.

Course Schedule

The course’s first session will thus address the manner in which aesthetics is incorporated into Hegel’s broader philosophical outlook, while the next three sessions will pursue a close reading of the philosopher’s Lectures on Aesthetics. Here it will be argued that Hegel’s dialectical approach to art occurs on two main, intersecting levels: by offering a chronological “narrative” to the development of artistic forms that sees each historical stage as a dialectical supersession of its predecessor, and by elaborating an intricate taxonomic “classification” of the individual art forms (architecture, sculpture, painting, music and poetry) which is also dialectically structured. The fourth session, meanwhile, will be concerned with one of the most controversial aspects of Hegel’s aesthetic theory: the notion of an “end” of art predating the modern era, and will contend that his underlying argument, despite its melancholic overtones, retains an overall historical optimism. Finally, the fifth session will explore the “afterlife” of Hegel’s ideas on art in, notably, the dispute between Lukács and Adorno in the mid-20th century. While openly hostile to each other, the two philosophers both borrowed extensively from Hegel’s thinking in their rival attempts to forge a Marxist theory of aesthetics capable of understanding the vicissitudes of art and history in the 20th century.