Aesthetics and the Sensible

Authored by: John Lutterbie

The Routledge Companion to Theatre, Performance, and Cognitive Science

Print publication date:  September  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138048898
eBook ISBN: 9781315169927
Adobe ISBN:


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Time, in Gertrude Stein’s essay ‘On Composition,’ has two registers (Stein 1993, 502). The first is the time of the composition, or the context in which the work was created from the perspective of the artist or experienced from that of the beholder. The second, the time in the composition, has an equally double valence: the time required for the artist to create the work of art, and the time taken by the spectator to behold it. Stein’s two temporalities do not exist in isolation but are inextricably intertwined. For the purposes of this essay, however, I focus on the spectator who views the work, one who comes with a set of expectations and who engages a composition (whether literature, visual art or performance) for a period of time, the time in the composition. This is a first-person, phenomenological encounter that can last a second or continue to engage us for years after the event. It is in this temporality, however long it takes, that aesthetics comes into play. By aesthetic I don’t mean the pleasure of encountering something beautiful, although that can be part of the experience. Rather, I mean an encounter with the unexpected, Shklovsky’s ostranenie or a rendering of the familiar unfamiliar:

The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar,’ to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object: the object is not important.

(Lodge 1988, 20)

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