Session 15

Saturday, June 5

10:30–12:00 (Helsinki, EEST, UTC +3), Congress Room 1

Chair: Thomas Symeonidis

Noora-Helena Korpelainen (University of Helsinki, Finland):

Cultivating Aesthetic Sensibility in the Age of Environmental Crises

Abstract to be uploaded.

Matti Tainio (Finland):

Living with Darkness

This paper considers the aesthetic qualities of darkness in context environmental crises.

As a physical phenomenon, darkness is always similar, an absence of light, but the perception of it varies according to the context. The imminent change of the environment changes affects our thinking about the energy and consumption, thus giving the darkness a new context.

When one thinks about darkness and its aesthetics, the elevated beauty of the starry night sky is typical, even paradigmatic the idea of it. However, this kind of darkness is unusual, even rare. Most darkness we encounter are less satisfying and take place in different context producing different darkness. Often the starry sky is covered with clouds and this situation produces a very different experience of darkness, which is more black and less elevated than the starry sky. Moreover, the darkness of the night is frequently eliminated by artificial illumination that turns the darkness into shadows and hides the stars behind the orange glow of city lights. Again, very different darkness can be found indoors where one can encounter the private dark inside of our bedrooms and in the other end of the scope the shared blackness at a theater. All these darknesses as well as a battle against them get a new dimension when they are thought in the context of living in the middle of environmental crises.

The energy consumption of artificial illumination is only part of its role in the environmental change. The ubiquitous illumination narrows the habitats of various life-forms that require darkness to prosper. In order to stop narrowing the biodiversity, human population has to learn to cope with darkness and the aesthetic appreciation of other darknesses than the sublime starry sky assists in accommodating to the new low-light conditions.

The paper considers the aesthetic potential of darkness as an element in adapting human lifestyles to the climate change. This means re-evaluating those aspects of dark that are now experienced as intimidating and depressing and weighing their potential to a beneficial outcome –for both humans and other species.

Mădălina Diaconu (Universität Wien, Austria):

Para-Aesthetic Practices and Climate Change

The aesthetics of the past few decades has generously supported “post-“-theories, such as postmodernity and post-humanism, but ages of crisis make even more imperative theories of the “para-”. The concept of ‘paresthetic’ is at present still confined to the medical field, where it refers to abnormal sensations and is related to paresthesia. However, a critical social aesthetics that would pay attention to the “symptoms” of climate change ought not to ignore para-aesthetic practices. As such I designate the grey zone of practices that involve aesthetic enjoyment, but inadmissibly collide with moral values, for example by perverting suffering and death into a spectacle (in l’art pour l’art of the European fin du siècle), by aestheticizing poverty (slum tourism) and aesthetically enjoy environmental catastrophes or even aggravating these (catastrophe tourism). My presentation focuses on the environmental para-aesthetic practices. First, I argue that while the modern aesthetics advocates the autonomy of values, the sustainable aesthetics of our times should rehabilitate the convergence of values, however from a post-anthropocentric perspective and without falling back into moral-religious censorship. A topical meteorological aesthetics considers the basic environmental literacy as indispensable and highlights the relevance of cognitive factors that connect the immediate perceptual experience of the weather with scientific theories of climate change (which, being abstract, are not aesthetic). Finally, it has to adjust the traditional aesthetics of the sublime (Burke, Kant, N. Hartmann, Lyotard), which was tailored for the individual and ignored modern technology, to collective practices in the age of environmental crisis. An argument-based critique of para-aesthetic practices faces several challenges: Not only are the boundaries between the aesthetic and the para-aesthetic practices fluent, but also in the para-aesthetic experience general psychological factors (such as the Augustinian concupiscentia oculorum) are interweaved with cultural factors (the success of breaking news, the addiction to social media, etc.). Most important, how can we counteract unsustainable (para-)aesthetic practices without giving up the achievements of modern democracy and technology? A possible answer would be to extend the aesthetic education and corroborate it with scientific education.