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Int’l scholars discuss ecoaesthetics

Author  :  ZHANG QINGLI     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2021-09-19

At a webinar on August 28 and 29, international experts shed light on research paradigms of ecoaesthetics, which studies the aesthetic relationship between man and nature, society, and art from the ecological perspective.

The webinar, organized by Shandong University, was themed “Development of Ecoaesthetics in the Post-Pandemic Era.”

Since its birth in the 1980s, Chinese ecoaesthetics has become one of the most promising branches of aesthetics in the country. Zeng Fanren, one of the founders of contemporary Chinese ecoaesthetics, and a professor from the Center for Literary Theory and Aesthetics of Shandong University, said that ecoaesthetics is a new type of aesthetics in the era of ecological civilization. China’s ecological progress has propelled and supported ecological civilization theory and Chinese ecoaesthetics.

“The ecological wisdom contained in China’s classical philosophy is a unique advantage for the country to develop ecoaesthetics, and it provides abundant theoretical resources for the current construction of the Chinese discourse system of ecoaesthetics,” noted Hu Youfeng, also a professor from the Center for Literary Theory and Aesthetics of Shandong University. To construct ecoaesthetics, it is also necessary to continuously enhance international exchanges, and enhance the communication and mutual interpretation between Chinese and Western ecoaesthetics.

Cheng Xiangzhan, deputy dean of the School of Literature at Shandong University, said that Chinese ecoaesthetics clearly proposes that human existence is a kind of “ecological existence,” and “ecoaesthetics” is regarded as a key word.

At present, the field of ecoaesthetics sees three pillars: Chinese ecoaesthetics, European phenomenological aesthetics, and British and American analytical aesthetics.

Most Western scholars advocate “environmental aesthetics” more. Arnold Berleant, an emeritus professor from Long Island University in the United States, explained that the dualistic approach to inquiry in Western cultural traditions creates the inclination to study the environment objectively. However, the fact is that the environment is not the object of our exclusion, and human beings themselves constitute an active part of the environment.

The study of Chinese ecoaesthetics has received more attention from Western scholars in recent years. In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the entry “Environmental Aesthetics,” first published in 2007 and substantively revised in 2019, quoted several Chinese scholars’ research. This shows that contemporary Chinese ecoaesthetics research has emerged in the international academic community.

We should be wary of falling into Western “ecocentrism” after rejecting “anthropocentrism.” Chen Maolin, a professor at the School of International Studies at Hangzhou Normal University, argued that with the deepening ecological crisis, the shortcomings of ecocriticism in the West have been increasingly exposed. Its ideological foundation, ecocentrism, cuts off the relationship between man and nature and neglects the social nature of man. The cultural critique of anthropocentrism cuts off the relationship between nature and society and weakens the realistic concerns of ecological issues. In addition, the scope of the text is narrow and formal research is weak, undermining the explanatory power of the theory.

Scholars at the webinar believe that the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed the humanistic crisis in the linear center of Western culture, and highlighted the urgency and importance of thinking about humanism from the environmental dimension. Environmental humanism represents the transformation of humanism in the post-pandemic era. On the road to sustainable development, environmental humanism systematically integrates science and art, morality and personality, tradition and modernity, aesthetics and ethics, desire satisfaction and equality and justice, short-term benefits and long-term well-being, emotion and rationality, potential and responsibilities.

“Ecoaesthetics maintains a keen reflection on the development of the times,” said Xu Bihui, a research fellow from the Institute of Philosophy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The pandemic has changed people’s ways of living, communication, thinking, and emotions. An ecological civilization is especially needed in this era, and it is important to think about the direction of human civilization from the perspective of ecoaesthetics.

Editor: Yu Hui

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