Institut Jean Nicod

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The Sublime and Aesthetic Experiences

SublimAE (the Sublime and Aesthetic Experiences) seminar, in connection with SublimAE ANR project, will focus on the interdisciplinary study of Aesthetic Experiences with an eye to the sublime by bringing together philosophy, psychology, and social sciences. We will explore, on the one hand, how the experience of the sublime connects to other similar or contrast experiences (the beautiful, terrible beauty, awe, wonder, the uncanny, …), and, on the other hand, the impact these experiences, and more specifically aesthetic ones, have on our representation of the self. The seminar will feature presentations by members of the project, as well as by invited speakers.

Venue : Virtual BigBlueButton room

Contact : Margherita Arcangeli, Jérôme Dokic

For the full programme click here.

Session 1

5 Octobre 2020, de 13h00 à 15h00
Frédérique de Vignemont (CNRS-IJN)
50 shades of affective coloring of perception


Many sensory experiences somehow involve an affective dimension in addition to their sensory dimension. The crucial question is at which level the affective dimension kicks in. According to a conservative account, sensory experiences give rise to emotions, desires, and evaluative judgments, but they themselves are not affectively loaded. However, it has been recently proposed that there may be more to sensory experiences than what the conservatives assume, including evaluative content. It may then be that some sensory experiences can be endowed with features that are normally distinctive of emotional experiences.

Here I examine what it would require for visual experiences to have an affective phenomenal character. The objective of this paper is relatively modest. It is to draw the map of the various theoretical paths that a theory of affective perception could take. I will organize it around two main issues :

(i) Where is valence in perception ? In content ? In attitude ? Or in both ?

(ii) What is the relationship between the sensory and the affective components ?

We shall see that each path is filled with obstacles. Not only can one question whether visual content can represent evaluative properties, but even if it could, it is not clear that this would be sufficient for visual experiences to be affectively-loaded. Without affective mental paint, the affective phenomenology of our visual experiences might remain quite blend. The challenge then becomes almost artistic : how to blend affective and sensory mental paints ? What colour will it give rise to ?

Session 2

16 novembre 2020, de 13h00 à 15h00
Nicole Hall (Postdoctoral researcher, Philosophy, Texas A&M University)
On the Cusp of the Sublime : Environmental and Artistic Sublimity

Paradigm cases of the sublime relate to the natural environment. Is the natural environment its only domain, or is it possible to experience the sublime in works of art ? I argue that the sublime originates in the natural environment, but that some works of art overcome the difficulty of its non-representational structure and provide indirect access to sublime experience. The sublime is a case in which pleasure’s motivational profile may be understood differently from that of beauty. The motivational profile of the sublime in the natural environment is one of perceptual frustration, due to perception’s limited capacity for representing it in its entirety. Even as far back as the Longinian tradition, we learn that the artistic sublime finds its source in the natural sublime. I argue that while the sublime originates in the natural environment, the question about whether we experience it in art hinges on the role of the imagination in the experience of the sublime. While it might be thought that experiencing beauty in imagination is less vibrant than experiencing it in perception, I argue that the sublime manifests itself primarily in the imagination, allowing for the possibility of experiencing it in some artworks. I will end with some more general remarks on ethical implications of the sublime for the natural environment.

Session 3

23 novembre, de 17h00 à 19h00
Jerrold Levinson (University of Maryland)
Musical Sublimity

The aim of this talk is to identify and illustrate what music might specifically be categorized as sublime music–as opposed, among other things, to beautiful music, profound music, chill-inducing music, or intensely expressive music.

After recalling the influential views on the sublime of Kant and Schopenhauer I propose a characterization of the sublime in its original and primary sphere of application, namely that of nature, in terms of both describable properties of certain natural phenomena and distinctive experiences engendered by contemplation of such phenomena. I then consider how certain kinds of musicand certain kinds of musical experience might be regarded as analogous to sublime phenomena and sublime experiences in nature, thus justifying the notion of musics and musical experiences that are specifically sublime. A parallel is also drawn with certain modes of abstract painting that may reasonably be judged sublime.

The claims about musical sublimity in the second part of my talk will be illustrated with examples of music that is arguably sublime in the sense defended, from the oeuvres of composers such as Bach, Beethoven, Bruckner, Mahler, Scriabin, Schoenberg, Berg, Bartok, Messaien, Barber, Glass, and Penderecki.

Session 4

7 décembre, de 13h00 à 15h00
Pascal Engel (EHESS, CRAL)
Le mélo sublime : Douglas Sirk


Le mélodrame hollywoodien semble relever du kitsch. Mais Douglas Sirk l’a elevé jusqu’au sublime. Sirk est le créateur d’un genre dont il est l’un des rares représentants, par des films en apparence sentimentaux mais en réalité d’une subtile ironie, qui réussit à la fois à mimer le sublime et à le réaliser en acte.

Session 5

25 janvier, de 13h00 à 15h00
Julien Deonna (University of Geneva)
On the Good that Moves us


In this presentation, I provide a detailed characterization of being moved, which I claim is a distinct emotion. Being moved is the experience of being struck by the goodness of some specific positive value being exemplified. I start by expounding this account. Next, I discuss three issues that have emerged in the literature regarding it. These concern respectively the valence of being moved, the scope of the values that may constitute its particular objects, and the cognitive sophistication required for experiencing it. My main contention is that when we understand that the presence of the specific positive value must be apprehended as finallyimportantly, and impersonally good to trigger being moved, these issues do not arise.

Session 6

8 février, de 13h00 à 15h00
Filippo Contesi (Universitat de Barcelona)
Shareability in Art Appreciation

Session 7

15 mars, de 17h00 à 19h00
Emily Brady (Texas A&M University)
The Sublime and Wonder