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The Tragic, the Sublime, and Melancholy

12th International Congress of Aesthetics – Brazil

Belo Horizonte, Faculty of Philosophy and Human Sciences [FAFICH] of UFMG, October 13-16, 2015


Organizing Committee
:: Professor Cíntia Vieira da Silva [UFOP]
:: Professor Débora Pazzeto Ferreira [CEFET/MG]
:: Professor Giorgia Cecchinato [UFMG]
:: Professor Rachel Costa [Escola Guignard/UEMG]
:: Professor Rodrigo Duarte [UFMG]
:: Professor Verlaine Freitas [UFMG – coordinator]
:: Professor Virginia Figueiredo [UFMG]

 

Host institution
:: Graduate Program of Philosophy, Federal University of Minas Gerais [UFMG]

 

Collaborating institutions
:: Graduate Program of Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art, Federal University of Ouro Preto [UFOP]
:: Brazilian Association of Aesthetics [ABRE]

 

Proposal description

The 12th International Congress of Aesthetics- Brazil will bring into discussion three significant concepts in the panorama of philosophical reflection about art (and nature): the tragedy, the sublime, and melancholy. All three indicate contradictory movements of overtaking and surpassing the negative link between subject and object, giving origin to a great new fortune of criticism in the tradition of philosophical writings about aesthetic phenomena, from the Greek period to present day.

It was Schelling that asked how Greek reason could bear the contradictions of Greek tragedy. It was inevitable that the philosopher’s curiosity investigate the strange pleasure that humans have with fear and passion, which are undeniably painful passions. The first systematic formula of this contradictory pleasure appeared in Aristotle’s Poetics, described as catharsis. Before this, Plato had condemned the tragedy to irresistible attraction that it produced in people. In the late18th and early 19th century, especially in Germany, the ‘modern’ interpretation of tragedy was intensified, particularly in the works of philosophers such as that of Schiller, Hegel, Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche. Even today, the importance of this concept cannot be denied in our contemporary concept, as seen in Adorno, Benjamin, and Heidegger.

The controversies generated by the philosophical appropriation of a theatre ‘genre’ were not few. For some authors, as is the case of Jacques Taminiaux, it consists of a sort of ‘deviation’ in direction of the ontological, ignoring the dimension of action (praxis) that was in play in the Aristotelian concept of tragedy. For his part, Peter Szondi put forth a very original thesis: the tragedy provided the origin and the matrix of dialectic thinking. Finally, Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe, in his interpretation of the theater of Hölderlin (whose contribution to the thinking of tragedy is, to a certain extent, unsurpassable), concluded that the sublime, this art or the theory of modern art, is perhaps nothing more than a re-creation of the tragedy.

Quite similar to that contradictory pleasure was one of the definitions that Schiller offered us of the sublime, as “serenity in the face of pain”, a feeling justified by him due to intensity of painful emotions. Therefore, it is the vivacity and intensity of representations that unleash suffering upon us, which is the very motive that gives us pleasure.

Just as with the tragedy, we can also say that the Sublime has a double origin: the first was in the third century of the Christian era, when the rhetorician Longinus wrote a treaty “On the sublime” (Peri Hupsous). In that period, it was directed towards the artist and the work, not at the general concept of beauty, for this reason Poetics and Rhetorics were written, and not Aesthetics. Longinus was exclusively concerned on training the orators of the most efficient manner to impact their ‘audience’. The second origin of the sublime was in the late 17th and early 18th century, in Classical France, when in 1674 the writer and art critic, Nicolas Boileau, known for his conservatism, alleged Boileau-Despréaux, published, along with his The Art of Poetry, a surprising translation of the treatise of Longinus. This, very likely, provoked the reappearance of the sublime in reflections of art, making it return to be, as Jean-Luc Nancy would say, ‘in fashion’.

The sublime left France as a product of Classical rationalism and arrived in Dublin already totally transformed by a sensualist and empiricist aesthetics. In 1757, the Irishmen Edmund Burke published his famous Philosophical Enquiry into the origin of our ideas of the sublime and beautiful. As could have been predicted, all of these adventures resulted in a strengthening of the question of the sublime, which, returning to the continent (European and ‘metaphysical’, but was ready to produce its ‘Critique’), only caused it to grow and solidify. For this reason, in 1790, when Kant published his Critique of the Power of Judgment, which with the reflections appears as systematized and divided into two contrasting analytical accounts: of Beauty and of the Sublime. If beauty is associated with ‘disinterested pleasure’, the sublime is characterized by a contradictory sentiment, marked equally by pleasure and displeasure. If beauty indicates a soothing feeling of harmony between man and nature, the sublime shows an enemy nature, an adversary to men that physically frights him. If beauty is a sentiment of the aesthetic pleasure, sensitive in the proper sense, the sublime is a sentiment, which, by its connection to morality, demands more of an Anti-aesthetics (as suggested by Deleuze) rather than an Aesthetics.

If just as tragedy and the sublime both express contradictory movements of the spirit, they have in common the fact of confronting us with an object or a nature that challenges us in our coherent positivity. We are called to a tense, living and conflicting dialogue with a reality alien to the habitual form of thinking and daily rituals. At the moment that the movement was radically internalized, impelled by a substantial and radical loss of an object, the sublime and the tragedy appear to converge in melancholy. With Greek origins, a combination of melas (black) and cholis (bliss), ‘melancholy’ does not designate only a long state of pathological depression, but a subjective state of our creative processes as well. It is referenced to in plastic arts, such as paintings by Albrecht Dürer and Goya, in literature, such as the works of Machado de Assis, and recently in film, an example being Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia”.

Sarah Kofmann explains in her book The Melancholy of Art that all beauty and artistic production is inexorably connected to a melancholic principle, defined by the absence of an object. In fact, if we follow the famous idea of Sigmund Freud that in melancholy the shadow of the object falls on the subject, in contemporary art the subject renounces ‘melancholically’ the mimetic/representative object as the principle that grants artistry or at least minimal condition of possibility to the artistic work. At the same time the inapprehensible loss of the object could push the subject into the background of paralyzing swirl, simultaneously, it can instigate an aesthetic elaboration that surpasses the subjective and obscure closing towards the elaboration of a new object, that is, the artwork, which transpose all the contradictory movement of the soul onto the stage of its imagetic/imaginary objectivity.

Considering the trajectory of these concepts, which even today are maintained in contemporary debates about aesthetic, the International Congress – The Tragic, the sublime, and melancholy, intends to approach some of their most pertinent aspects, being each one separately or in the context of their multiple interconnections. In this sense, the conference has amounted to a series of organized events, since 1993, through the Research Group of Aesthetic and Philosophy of Art, in the Graduate Program of Philosophy at UFMG (lately undertaken with the Master’s Program of Aesthetic and Philosophy of Art of UFOP and with the Association of Aesthetic of Brazil – ABRE): “Death of art, today” (1993), “Beauty, sublime, and Kant” (1995), “The lights of art” (1997), “Catharsis” (1999), “Mimesis and expression” (2001), “Aesthetic theory” (2003), “The aesthetic dimension” (2005), “Aesthetics of dislocation” (2007), “Dislocations in art” (2009); “Image, imagination, fantasy: Twenty years without Vilém Flusser” (2011) and “Taste, interpretation and critique” (2013). As the past three events of this series, the forthcoming will also be realized in conjunction with the Graduate Program of Aesthetic and Philosophy of Art of UFOP.

The conference will be composed of presentations by invited researchers in the mornings of all days. The afternoons will be reserved for the presentations and panel discussions which will be followed by debates not only focused on the main topic (being the tragedy, the sublime, and melancholy) in the strict sense, but also about the following related sub-topics:

:: The Greek tragedy
:: Theories of tragedy
:: Catharsis
:: The tragic and the sublime in Schiller
:: The sublime and contemporary art
:: The tragedy and modern and contemporary dramas
:: Melancoly in the arts
:: The uncanny in literature
:: Literature of the absurd
:: The sublime and sublimation
:: The culture industry
:: Art and psychoanalysis
:: Art and politics

 

Registration

:: Registration : please send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
:: Registration fee: U$80 for professors and U$40 for students
:: World limit of presentations: 2,500 words
:: Registration calendar:
– basic [without presentation]: September 1st- October 13th;
– presenters: send abstract submission: April 15th to June 15th;
– announcement of selected presentations: June 30th;

 

Keynote Speakers

:: Virginia de Araujo Figueiredo [UFMG]
:: Suzanne Kogler [Universität für Musik und darstellende Kunst Graz]
:: Christian Bauer [Hochschule Würzburg-Schweinfurt]
:: Peter Pelbart [PUC-SP]
:: Jeanne Marie Gagnebin [UNICAMP/PUC-SP]
:: Roberto Machado [UFRJ]

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