Summary of the Research Programme

In recent years, questions of the aesthetic have become surprisingly prominent. Public, and at times heated debates on questions of art and aesthetics catch our attention. In academic research, an ‘aesthetic turn’ has been proclaimed. It seems a paradox, however, that this turn has mainly taken place in fields outside the humanities: in the life sciences, for instance, the extension of aesthetic into social practices has been discussed, as well as the political instrumentalisation of the arts, and the interface of aesthetics and epistemology. The neurosciences and biology have attempted to empirically prove the general human disposition for the arts. These approaches obviously react to a new need for and interest in the aesthetic. But often they draw on premises that go back to named and unnamed concepts of aesthetic autonomy from the 18th and early 19th centuries, which entails the risk of losing sight again of the functions of art in a social as well as an anthropological perspective.

Against this background it seems all the more urgent to discover alternative aesthetic concepts that are not predicated on positions of aesthetic autonomy. Such a Different Aesthetics can prominently be found, as our project claims, in the pre-modern period, i.e. before the age of philosophical aesthetics. It is to be shown that such an ‘aesthetics before aesthetics’ may give decisive impulses for aesthetic inquiries in our time, too. This is where our CRC project starts. It takes up (1) the debate on the social and anthropological ineluctability of the aesthetic, as it was raised by the social, life, and neuro-sciences, but correlates it (2) with a fundamental discussion on the understanding of aesthetic processes that is to be derived systematically from (3) the dynamic interaction between the inner logic of artistic processes and techniques (autological dimension) and social practice (heterological dimension). To be able to analyse this interaction, the CRC project develops the model of a praxeological aesthetics that is centred on the concept of ‘figures of aesthetic reflection.’ In this way, we create a heuristic tool that allows us to describe in new ways the dynamic entanglement between the two dimensions.

It is our first aim to arrive, by means of our interdisciplinary research programme, at a revised evaluation of the contribution made by pre-modern aesthetic acts and artefacts within the field of aesthetic research. By doing so, we moreover aim at putting current debates on the relevance of the aesthetic on a new basis by offering a deep historical perspective and methodology. This will also help us better understand and fruitfully develop current questions of art and society.