Reassessing the Rise of Aesthetics. Aesthetic Heteronomy from Shaftesbury to Schelling
The 18th century is traditionally regarded as the Grand Siècle of modern aesthetic autonomy. A longstanding diachronic narrative holds that such autonomy originated in British early 18th-century theories on disinterestedness and was fulfilled by the German Romantics. The project aims to reassess the validity of such a narrative, by charting the intellectual topography of the aesthetic heteronomy that distinguished the British and German 18th-century discourse on ideal disinterestedness and works of art. The project focuses on how critics and philosophers inscribed aesthetic experiences of works of art in discourses on political society and natural science. Recent developments in digital humanities have radically transformed the conditions for historical research through the digitalization of historical data, by the emergence of research databases such as Eighteenth-Century Collection Online and Deutsches Textarchiv. The project, collaborating with the Cambridge Concept Lab (CCL), will study the inner historical conceptual construction and network connections of the development of such ideal experience and concept of disinterestedness. In addition to the computer-based investigations, close readings of especially influential texts will substantiate and qualify the findings made in the digitalized material. The project is divided into three intersected subprojects: (1) the ambition of Shaftesbury at the dawn of the 18th century to incorporate ethico-theological ideas on disinterestedness and works of art as organic wholes, in an ongoing debate about the structure of modern political society; (2) the notion of the work in German aesthetics and the wish to pursue, but also alter, the Shaftesburyan legacy, by introducing the scientific conception of organic nature; and (3) the romantic and idealist effort to develop the analogy between work of art and organism into a new model of ideal society by criticizing a mechanistic conception of nature in natural science.