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Discussion on Kernel of Aesthetic Aspect

Dooyeweerd held that the kernel meaning of the aesthetic aspect is harmony, and he placed it after the economic aspect and before the juridical. But a considerable body of opinion in the Dooyeweerdian community, led by Seerveld, disagrees with this, suggesting that the kernel meaning should be nuance or suggestiveness, and placing it between the formative and lingual aspects or, sometimes, even before the analytic aspect. Seerveld criticises Dooyeweerd for taking too classical a notion of aesthetics.

Seerveld uses the term 'allusivity' for the kernel meaning of nuance, and Stafleu has recently written an article supporting him. Gregory Baus has contribute a couple of pages that explain Seerveld's position well, one discussing the nature of art and one outlining Seerveld's interesting notion of Hineinlebenshaltung.

This page contains the editor's own questions about the Seerveldian position and points that support the Dooyeweerdian position that he thinks need to be addressed. In time, the page is intended to become a more balanced discussion, discussing both sides, but for now, it largely supports one side. It consists of a number of notes or points, with some, not not total, coherence between them.

Nuance, Contrast and Surprise

Seerveld seems to treat Nuance as an echo of - in the words of C.S. Lewis quoted in the page on the aesthetic aspect - "the same in the other". But Webster's Dictionary (1975) defines nuance as "a shade of difference : minute variation : delicate gradation : subtle distinction ... a subtle or implicit quality, aspect or device ... sensibility to, awareness or, or ability to express delicate shadings" and gives as examples By means of Nuance we are able to find some subtle and delicate variation in something that is meaningful as more than just a variation. Sometimes nuance is in the same aspect, as most of those examples show, but often the nuancing is across different aspects, and often mediated via symbols, such as ; this probably makes use of the inter-aspect analogies. The nuancing is something that we do, but good nuancing is founded in something outside ourselves, in the things nuanced or in the laws of aspects in which we function with those things.

Roper makes the following observation: "As I've indicated above musical nuances do not exist apart from their harmony (or disharmony)." So we should not be too swift in separating nuance from harmony.

The Inescapably Cultural Elemenent in Nuance

Seerveld (and Stafleu, 2003) places the nuance-centred aspect before the analytic aspect, on the grounds that to make distinctions we must first sense similarities. But I would argue that this is a very limited view of nuance, even if we take Seerveld's notion of nuance as similarity rather than dissimilarity. Full nuance has an inescapable cultural element. I have just been (17 February 2004) writing a paper, and was searching for 'just the right word', when I remembered the instructions that state "To ensure suitability for an international audience, please pay attention to the following: Write in a straightforward style. ..." The word I sought was 'just right' because it was nuanced; but I realised that that nuance would be missed by most readers outside my social culture.

Therefore, nuance, cannot be pre-social.

Surprise and Contrast

Further, nuance (in Seerveld's sense) is not enough. Art in which everything echoes everything else becomes intense and oppressive. The best art, the best aesthetics, contains a kind of anti-nuance too. It contains elements that are different and do not contain any echo of the whole or the primary elements, yet their very difference accentuates, completes, enriches the coherence and harmony of the whole. As I heard from a Chinese colleague, "for full harmony, there must also be some disharmony."

One might think of complementary colours. Or various counter melodies in music. Today I was in the English parkland, Dunham Massey, an old stately house set in pleasant parkland. From the front of the house one had a view of trees in which deer roam, all arranged in some harmonious way. But, punctuating the treescape were rays affording views through to the distance. These were very different from the main effect of tree and parkland, yet their effect was to increase rather than decrease the harmony and aesthetic of the place.

So, for full aesthetics there must also be a sense of difference. But not any difference will suffice; it must be judicious, it must be a minority, it must be meaningful in some way, aesthetically meaningful. At present, I cannot in what way it is meaningful - maybe all one can say is that the kind of difference is dictated by the aesthetic aspect itself.

Such difference often occur as contrasts or surprises. Wordsworth's poem 'Daffodils' exhibits this:

"I wandered lonely as a cloud
... ==== to be found and quoted, though most readers will already know it!."

On the Aspectual Positioning

Dooyeweerd placed aesthetic (harmony) after economic aspect. We can see why this might be: good art requires economic execution and so this type of functioning depends crucially on economic. Thus this aspect depends on the economic aspect, and thus must be after it in the aspectual sequence.

Suggestiveness or allusivity. Seerveld links this with 'living into' or what seems to be akin to finding meaning in something that it of itself might not have. Interpretation. This would seem a necessary part of lingual functioning, as we create symbols to carry meaning. Therefore either allusivity is part of the lingual aspect, or it precedes it. Seerveld places it before the lingual.

Art and High Art

There is in Seerveld and others who engage in this debate a tendency to think of art in terms of what we experience as 'art' in Western climes. For example, Baus' discussion of bronze statue of Holocaust. Art as something produced by specialists called artists, or at least those with some training. It is as though the ordinary human being cannot function in the aesthetic aspect in any really meaningful manner, and that we must define aesthetic functioning by what we currently experience of Western art.

While functioning in any aspect is richer and more powerful when carried out by those with specialist training in the aspect, I demur from the idea that we define the aspect of aesthetics be reference to those specialists. I believe that we need an understanding of aesthetics that goes beyond this to embrace the ordinary experience.

This includes craft, non-Western art, and the ordinary aesthetics of life such as laying the table neatly or doing the ironing.

On the Need for The Aesthetic Aspect

Seerveld suggested that the aesthetic aspect should be replaced by an earlier aspect whose kernel is 'nuance'. In which case, what do we do with harmony? As argued in the main aspect page, we need an aspect whose kernel meaning includes harmony. If Seerveld is right, then we should split the aspect in two, one for allusivity and one for harmony.

But Roper's comment on that suggestion of splitting into two aspects, of harmony and nuance, is that:

"I agree with it [that nuance cannot encompass the whole of harmony]. My problem with your wanting to split the aesthetic in two is that there is no distinctive clarity in respect to the identification of the modal kernel of harmony. ... As I've indicated above musical nuances do not exist apart from their harmony (or disharmony)."

If Roper is right, then nuance cannot be separated from harmony.

See also The Aesthetic Aspect, and Gregory Baus on 'What Defines Art', and Gregory Baus on Seerveld

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden.

This page is part of a collection of pages containing ideas that are referred to within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Number of visitors to these pages: Counter. Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: 7 April 2004 from text taken out of aesthetic aspect. Last updated: 7 January 2013 unet, links to aesthetic,, baus.seerveld.hin.