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Review of Katya Mandoki, Prosaica: Introducción a la Estética de lo Cotidiano (México: Grijalbo, 1994).Thomas Heyd. British Society of Aesthetics Newsletter
This is an ambitious work, a full-scale manifesto for an aesthetics of the everyday.1 As such, it aims to cover a lot of ground, ranging from a critique of the narrowness of aesthetics, as commonly understood, to the development of the instrumentarium of (something like) a science of prosaics. Katya Mandoki's thesis is that it is arbitrary to limit aesthetics to what seem to be its traditional topics, the study of art objects or the study of beauty. In contraposition, by starting out with Baumgarten's definition of aesthetics as the "science of sensible knowledge", and by appealing to the root meaning of aesthesis (perception or sensibility), she comes to define aesthetics as the study of "the faculty of sensibility of the subject" (65; 83).2 She proposes to conceive of aesthetics as having two branches, "poetics or the study of the artistic sensibility, and prosaics or the study of the quotidian sensibility" (83).
Mandoki points out that, as presently conceived, aesthetics fails to come to terms with a plethora of phenomena such as (most of) the imagery projected via television and video or the sensible character of space and time configurations in the home, school, workplace, politics, medicine or history. Her claim is that, due to the narrowness of aesthetics as understood traditionally, the study of many events and objects which affect the human sensibility on a daily basis, is neglected. She concludes that the end result is that aesthetics, insofar as it concerns itself only with art and/or the beautiful, is incomplete and even elitist. It also fails to realise a potentially important role in the social sphere since it neglects to diagnose the aesthetic dimension of social ills in contemporary society expressed in, for example, gang violence and gun use in U.S. American schools.
Besides this practical justification, Mandoki develops a number of points intended to contribute to the theoretical justification for the development of prosaics. She argues, for example, that the narrow focus of traditional aesthetics on the beautiful is misplaced because beauty is not a quality in things but something contributed by the subject:
the beautiful is not a quality of objects but an effect of the relation that the subject establishes with the object from a particular context of valuation and interpretation. It is sensibility which discovers its objects and which sees in them that which it has placed in them. (30)
She seems to be arguing that, if aesthetics is focussed on art because art supposedly seeks to create beautiful objects, but beauty only is a biocultural construct, then one of the justifications for restricting aesthetics to art falls away. That is, if the supposed object of aesthetics does not have its aesthetically relevant qualities intrinsically,3 then those qualities cannot serve as guides to what the field is about. She proposes that, hence, some other guide, such as the subjects' sensibility, needs to be appealed to when attempting to define aesthetics.
Mandoki, furthermore, addresses the topics of the separation between art and life, the aesthetic attitude, and aesthetic disinterestedness among what she calls "The myths of aesthetics." She argues that art is always already implicated in life insofar as "art is a pecuniary, linguistic, libidinal practice that affirms the identity of its author, [and that has] ethical, cathartic and political [dimensions] at the individual level in the process of social individuation and in the shaping of national and ethnic identities." (41) She claims that Jerome Stolnitz's update on Kant's notion of disinterestedness is wrongheaded by arguing that "There always is some interest in the attention of an aesthetic subject toward her or his object; [namely] to obtain pleasure, to satisfy curiosity, to come to know, to
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