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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

GUIDE TO AESTHETICS BY BENEDETTO CROCE

BOOK REVIEW
Guide To Aesthetics
by Benedetto Croce
Translated, with an Introduction by
Patrick Romanell

  Benedetto Croce is an interesting cat- a guy who had a real 20th century Renaissance live, where he both wrote and acted in fields as diverse as philosophy, aesthetics, history and politics.  He lived between 1866 and 1952 and operated in and around Naples.  Luckily, Croce was on the right side of World War II- anti-fascist (even though he was on the WRONG side in World War I- opposing Italy joining the "good" guys in that fight.)

  I'm warming up to Italian themes and Italian thinkers after seeing the response the Italian market has given to some of my Artist friends.  Why, just today I was looking at the listing for the Italian produced Dirty Beaches 7",  TARLABASI at the Rough Trade UK Shop website. (DIRTY BEACHES TARLABASI)

  Croce was already on my reading list before that single came out- and it just so happened I found a copy of the slim Guide To Aesthetics at a library sale at the beginning of last month.   I believe this translation, by Patrick Romanell, is the standard version, but I don't know that.

 Croce's Guide To Aesthetics made it onto my reading list.  I should mention that the corresponding Italian title is "BREVIARIO DI ESTETICA"- according to the introduction in my copy the name was changed to avoid the exclusively Religious meaning that "Breviary" possesses in the English language.   The Italian edition was published in 1912. An important note about the publication history of Guide To Aesthetics is that it was written at the behest of Rice University- in Texas- he was supposed to deliver them in person but couldn't, because he was an Italian Senator and World War I, and things of that nature.

 Since it was consciously written for a bunch of Texas students, it is brief, and to the point.  Guide To Aesthetics possesses "this is the way it is" perspective on the broader boundaries of Aesthetics as a discipline while putting Aesthetics in relation to other disciplines, especially Philosophy and History.

  Croce traces out a century worth of argument (since 1912) in Guide To Aesthetics, beginning with his take on the difference between Romantic and Classic Art:

  [The answer to many questions about aesthetics] emerges as a result of examining the greatest contrast of tendencies that has ever obtained in the field of art...the contrast between romanticism and classicism.  Romanticism requests of art, above all, a spontaneous and unrestrained outpouring of the passioins- love and hate, anguish and joy, despair and elation.  It readily contents itself with, and takes pleasure in, ethereal and indeterminate images, an uneven style and one making allusions to vague suggestions, indefinited phrases, striking and hazy outlines.
  In contrast, classicism adores the tranquil mind, the learned style, figures drawn according to their type and definite in their contours, and is fond of deliberation, balance and clarity.  Classicism has a decided tendency toward representation, while its counterpoint has it toward emotion.  -.p. 23 Lesson One: WHAT IS ART?"

  Within 10 pages he's holding up a lamp to another huge 20th-21st century aesthetic issue- the silent but deadly role the discipline of Rhetoric plays in regard to modern criticism.

   Croce's third lesson lays out his personal theory of how the essential principle of Artistic appreciation is "Intuition."  Croce is best known for being a sponsor of the interpretive, expressionistic style of criticism that is common to readers of 20th century popular critical giants like Greil Marcus or a Lester Bangs.

  Guide To Aesthetics is a bridge between the 18th-19th century discussion of these subjects and the "Modern" approach of critical relativism that is embodied at the heart of every critic who cares about such issues.  BONUS:  THE WHOLE BOOK IS ONLY 80 PAGES.

  This book is a must read for Artist and Writers- buy it on your portable reading device- WORTH IT.

   

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