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Beauty is a form of freedom with connotations of kindness

Author  :  DUAN DANJIE and ZHAO ZHEN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2019-01-07

A beautiful scene of the West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province Photo: FILE

Theories of practical aesthetics have been involved in a decade-long debate with theories of post-practical aesthetics since the 1990s. This was the third aesthetics debate after previous debates that took place in the 1950s and 1980s. This debate has not only promoted the development of aesthetics in China, but also highlights the fact that Chinese aesthetics has been broadcast on the international arena and embraced a prosperous period of development. Recently, the National Academic Symposium on History and Frontier Issues of Contemporary Aesthetics, Literature and Art, which also marked the release of the new book Practical Aesthetics and Post-Practical Aesthetics, was held in Xiamen. Participants at the symposium reflected on the historical significance of the contestation between practical aesthetics and post-practical aesthetics. 

The contestation between practical aesthetics and post-practical aesthetics in the 1990s evolved into one between practical aesthetics and the neo-practical aesthetics. Zhu Liyuan, a professor of Chinese literature from Fudan University, suggested that this academic contestation showed its significance in breaking the limitations of and correcting the shortcomings and deficiency of mainstream practical aesthetics and advancing the discipline of contemporary Chinese aesthetics. Practical aesthetics must reform and innovate so as to revitalize itself, he said.

Yang Chunshi, a professor from the College of Humanities at Xiamen University, said that the third contestation is a symbol of China’s embracing the world, and the largest contribution of this contestation is to enrich the diversity of aesthetics. The contestation between practical aesthetics and post-practical aesthetics promoted the development of aesthetics in contemporary China. Practical aesthetics, post-practical aesthetics and neo-practical aesthetics all renewed themselves during this contestation. This contestation focused on the issues of aesthetical ontology. Not only did post-practical aesthetics establish its ontology of existence or life, the practical aesthetics of Li Zehou (1930- ) also shifted its emphasis from “instrumental ontology” to “mental ontology.” Li Zehou established aesthetics based on the ontology of emotion while Zhu Liyuan, one of the representative thinkers of neo-practical aesthetics also established an ontology of practice, he said. 

Pan Zhichang, a professor of communication from Nanjing University, said that the contestation between practical aesthetics and post-practical aesthetics can be summarized as a process of shifting from general ontology to fundamental ontology as well as “de-practicalizing.” The goal of de-practicalizing is the final recognition of the independence and ontological status of aesthetical activities, he said. Aesthetics thought was gradually replaced by non-aesthetic thought, and entered the age of post-aesthetics. The core issue of the age of post-aesthetics will still focus on the independence and ontological status of aesthetical activities.

Xu Bihui, a research fellow from the Institute of Philosophy from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that the ideas of practical aesthetics about the nature of beauty can be illustrated from different aspects. Philosophically, beauty is the “humanization of nature.” Aesthetically speaking, beauty is a “form of freedom.” But the idea that “beauty is a form of freedom” defines beauty just from its perceptual form without considering its content. Ethical dimensions should be introduced into the realm of beauty. Therefore, Xu suggested that beauty is a form of freedom with connotations of kindness. 

In addition, although beauty is a form of freedom, aesthetical activities are always specific while its subject is individual. From this perspective, beauty is a state and situation related to humanity capacities and human feelings including personal emotions, desires, cognitions, experiences and understandings. A specific form of an object causes resonance or a sense of joy in the minds of a subject. In this sense, beauty is a state and situation where free association and imagination is rendered possible when the harmony between the subject and the object is realized, he said.

Zhang Fa, a professor of aesthetics from Zhejiang Normal University, pointed out the significance of the contestation between practical aesthetics and post-practical aesthetics from the perspective of the development of global aesthetics and China’s aesthetics. He analyzed the evolution of the academic trend of ideas behind the contestations in modern Chinese history as well as its internal logic. He said that the discussion of practical aesthetics brought a diversified situation to Chinese aesthetics. Scholars of aesthetic studies in China should pay attention to the trends of contemporary Western aesthetics. 

 

 

(edited by CHEN ALONG)

Editor: Yu Hui

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