Theory course Aesthetics and the Senses


Tuesdays, 6:30-9:30pm

Goethe-Institut New York

30 Irving Place
New York, NY 10003

The event of art, Jacques Rancière writes, plays out in “form, a burst of colour, an acceleration of rhythm, a pause between words, a movement, or a glimmering surface.” Art, in other words, transforms the “sensible fabric” of life “at the cost of constantly merging its own reasons with those belonging to other spheres of experience.”

This course will put Rancière’s assertion to the test, examining the ways in which theories of the aesthetic have shaped and been shaped by the historical sensorium, resisted and embraced different models of the senses and their associated faculties. Does aesthetic experience forge a space apart from history and matter or, as Rancière argues, is it intimately entwined with temporal conditions and perceptual mechanisms? This course, an introduction to philosophical aesthetics, centers on the lines of inquiry that effloresce from this question and its corollaries.

The eighteenth century reinvented aesthetics—the study of beauty, taste, and the nature of art—from the classical notion of aisthesis (sense or perception), in search of a science of feeling to correspond to enlightenment theories of reason. Concentrating on three traditions of aesthetic theory, the German, the French, and the Anglo-American, this course considers deeply-rooted critical suspicions about the uses of the aesthetic. It also takes up some or all of the following questions: Does aesthetic experience exist? If so, how do bodily pleasure and pain inform it? How do aesthetic categories matter, if at all? What does it mean to conceive of a politics or an ethics of aesthetics?

Objects of study and experiment are likely to include Kant, Hegel, Adorno, Benjamin, Wittgenstein, Levinas, Rancière, Ngai, and Sedgwick. No prior study of aesthetic discourse is required.

Instructor: Rebecca Ariel Porte

Rebecca Ariel Porte holds a PhD in English Language and Literature from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her research, which centers on nineteenth- and twentieth-century movements in British and American poetry, concentrates on crossings between early analytic philosophy and modern theories of poetics and aesthetics.

Please note that this course is now full. Please contact the Brooklyn Institute at if you wish to be put on the waiting list.