aesthetics and futility

Some quotes from Terry Eagleton’s The Ideology of the Aesthetic.

On the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury (1671–1713), David Hume (1711–1776) and Edmund Burke (1729–1797):

What art is not able to offer, in that ideological reading of it known as the aesthetic, is a paradigm of more general social significance – an image of self-referentiality which in an audacious move seizes upon the very functionlessness of artistic practice and transforms it to a vision of the highest good. As a form of value grounded entirely in itself, without practical rhyme or reason, the aesthetic is at once eloquent testimony to the obscure origins and enigmatic nature of value in a society which would seem everywhere to deny it, and a utopian glimpse of an alternative to this sorry condition. For what the work of art imitates in its very pointlessness, in the constant movement by which it conjures itself up from its own inscrutable depths, is nothing less than human existence itself, which (scandalously for the rationalists and Utilitarians) requires no rationale beyond its own self-delight. For this Romantic doctrine, the art work is most rich in political implications where it is most gloriously futile.1

On Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805):

The aesthetic is a kind of creative impasse, a nirvanic suspension of all determinacy and desire overflowing with entirely unspecific contents. Since it nullifies the limits of sensation along with its compulsiveness, it becomes a kind of sublime infinity of possibilities. In the aesthetic state, ‘man is Nought, if we are thinking of any particular result rather than of the totality of his powers, and considering the absence of any specific determination’2; but this negativity is thereby everything, a pure boundless being which eludes all specificity. Taken as a whole, the aesthetic condition is supremely positive; yet it is also sheer emptiness, a deep and dazzling darkness in which all determinations are grey, an infinity of nothingness. The wretched social condition which Schiller mourns – the fragmentation of human faculties in the division of labour, the specialization and reifying of capacities, the mechanizing and dissociating of human powers – must be redeemed by a condition which is, precisely, nothing in particular. (108)

  1. Eagleton, Terry (1990) The Ideology of the Aesthetic. Oxford, Blackwell Publishing, p.65. All subsequent references to this text will be given parenthetically after quotations.
  2. Schiller, Friedrich (1967) On the Aesthetic Education of Man, ed. Elizabeth M. Wilkinson and L. A. Willoughby. Oxford, p.146.

Alternatives: HomeShop interview

An interview with Elaine W. Ho and Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga at HomeShop.

HomeShop, Beijing

Edward Sanderson: Elaine, you’ve been here three years, how did HomeShop start? Have you and Fotini been working together the whole time?

Fotini Lazaridou-Hatzigoga: I’ve been to China a few times now, and we have collaborated on several projects, but it’s only at this moment that I’m joining in, as we are trying to think about HomeShop’s future. Elaine will be able to tell you more about what she’s been doing so far.

Elaine W. Ho: I think HomeShop really came out of my experience of living in China and my fascination with the juxtapositions between public space and private space here, which I think a lot of people notice or are intrigued by when they come here. A lot of the work that I do involves the public space and looking at alternative settings with which one is interfaced with an idea or a “work”, and because of that particular interest in negotiating a public space and a private space—not only on a spatial level but also on a social, economic level—this idea came to me: let’s play with the commercial space and see what we can do with that. So this was how it originally came about, and all the projects we’ve done here are based around this environment and the people here and are determined to a great extent by the architecture and the way that this space in particular relates to the community.

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Brian Eno on bells and systematic music

Would very much like to get Brian Eno over to talk about generative music as part of the project I’m working on, but he’s a difficult person to track down, unsurprisingly.

You may not know that there’s a tradition of bell-ringing in Britain that might well be the only case of Britain’s own music, because you won’t find it in any other part of the world. It probably has more to do with maths than music. The people who design these clocks or bells have a set of rules to work with, for instance, if there are eight bells, how to work out all the combination of them? There are a lot of rules, such as no neighbouring bells shall ring consequently, etc. Some people treat this tradition seriously. We have a weekly magazine, and all you’ll find in it are maths problems about different sounds produced by all kinds of clocks and bells. I once write to the editor of The Ringing World weekly saying, ‘I like your music very much, can you tell me where can I buy your CDs?’ And he replied furiously, ‘We are not making music. We are mathematicians.’

Why did I bore you with such a long and blabbering story? Because you can see that these people never think about or care about music – they avoid the topic – but what they produce is the best music that you can hear in Britain. This is quite inspiring for an exploratory musician or those who want to make totally different systematic music; it’s encouraging for me as well. When I make this kind of music, for instance a systematic piece, the first thing I would think about is the technical aspect, and then the content. The system I designed could generate music automatically, and when that happens, I’m not a musician, but an audience. The creating of this kind of music is a bit like evolution, it has become a very interesting discipline in itself – cellular automata or ‘self-evolving cellular science’, there’s a connection between the two.

Eno, Brian (2007). Sonic images in a material world. A talk with Brian Eno. Interviewed by Chinnery, Colin. In: Yan Jun & Gray, Louise (eds.) Sound and the City: British Council China SATC Anthology. Shanghai, China, 世纪出版集团/British Council. pp.71–72.

Rong Rong on Chinese photography

Based on his experience of the submissions for the annual Three Shadows Photography Award, Rong Rong makes the following observations in an interview with Dan Edwards for RealTime Arts:

One thing I noticed is that everyone wanted to express their private selves. Unlike older photographic trends that were focussed on society or big topics, younger artists are focussed on their inner world.

This is certainly a strong trend in art-making here in China, something which I’ve been aware of ever since I arrived here, but it’s interesting to hear this from someone who has such a perspective on the recent history of Chinese photography.

Rong Rong (2009). Interviewed by Edwards, Dan. the nurturing of chinese photography. RealTime, issue #92 (Aug-Sept). [Online]. Available from [Accessed 6 June 2010]. Reproduced with permission.