Art as Dialogue: Prasenjit Biswas

Essays In Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience

By Goutam Biswas, New Delhi IGNCA and D.K. Printworld (P) Ltd., 1995, pp. 155, Rs. 200/-

Reviewed by

Prasenjit Biswas

The fundamental quest of this book is, how does the being of man relate itself with the being of an art-object? The answer given in this book is that it is, the being of man that relates itself to an artistic or aesthetic creation and this relationship is no other than a symbiosis of the being of man with relation’s own being. An aesthetic creation is a mode of being for man, the being of which is a ‘quasi-subject’ (p.3) and through this mode, man’s being enters into a relation with the being of the ‘quasi-subject’ and this relationship is its own being, being of the relation is relation’s-own being and thereby, it is another mode of the being of man. Phenomenologists and Philosophical Anthropologists have considered this mode as being intentionality manifested in art, which Goutam following Martin Buber calls, ‘dialogic mode of intentionality’ (p. 31).

The central operative notion of this book is Martin Buber’s concept of “dialogue” as manifested in the relationship between aesthetic object and man as its beholder and creator. This is an exegesis of the aesthetic experiences of man following Buber’s concept of dialogue. As Goutam explicates, “According to Buber Art is one of the forms of I-thou relationship” (p. 65) and therefore, ‘a dialogic discourse on art is possible.’ Two things are important here: ‘dialogue’ as the mode of communication taking place between art and man, and nature of this communication. Buber’s I-thou relationship integrates the two into one experiential whole. In the first place, the ‘dialogue’ brings man close to art, is his subjectivity and such a subjective feeling or understanding about art is not possible unless there is a pre-existing relation between man and art, which is man’s relation with the world entering into a particular relation of man with a particular transfiguration of the world in an art object, nevertheless, this particular relationship falls within man’s integral relation with the world. But a space is created as a gap between man and world. When man transfigures the world in an aesthetic object, it results in this ‘gap’ of a ‘dialogue’, because the very act of transfiguration is a particular way of creating the world and its appreciation is a mode of re-entering into a relationship with the world. Transfiguration brings out an expression of man’s being in his subjectivity, while setting it in another mode of relationship with the world. This entire phenomenon gets a two-fold relationship woven into one experiential whole, in which an act of creation is subjective as the first fold, while its appreciation, interpretation and understanding is nothing but a ‘dialogue’, which is the second-fold. The two get merged together and emerge as a new relationship-the I-thou relationship. Listening to a piece of music, reading a poem, etc. are man’s act to get at the ‘in-itself’ of an aesthetic object, but man gets at it by experiencing it in its own mode of existence, which is a “for-itself”. It is self-illuminating and therefore, it is no longer an ‘It’, but something more than ‘It, a quasi-consciousness. Man’s experience of this state comes through his intimate nearness to it, man goes near to it through ‘dialogue’. Finally when he gets it in his subjectivity, man’s ego is not getting it, but is getting transformed into the subject of the “in-itself” of the aesthetic object in question. This transformation of man’s ego into the subject of what art-object ‘in-itself’ contains is its becoming ‘thou’. This becoming is the nature of man’s communication with the art-object. It is a transformation of not only the I-It into I-thou, but a mutual affection of I and thou both. The becoming of an art-object into ‘thou’ is the final act of becoming the whole in experience, but in the process of becoming man’s consciousness of the art-object leads to consciousness in that consciousness of the art object, which is ‘realm of the between’, which is a ‘no-thing’ is the space of ‘dialogue’, in which the aesthetic experience springs up to take shape into the consciousness of the experience of man. Both ‘man’ and art object are subjects here and so the “realm of the between” is the meeting of the two subjects and hence, it is a dialogue. The whole being of man includes both these dimensions of consciousness and man’s consciousness is only aware of these two dimensions. In I-thou relationship, the world is renewed as a ‘thou’ by the human being in his special act of creation.

This entire phenomenological explication of the mode and nature of man’s relation to an aesthetic object is explicated by Goutam in various chapters of his book. The book traverses through a wide range of aesthetic theories as points of reference. In the chapter entitled, Martin Buber’s concept of Art as Diaa over the various partial theories in art-criticism, such as theories of I.A. Richard, Croce, Collingwood and Susan Langer, etc. (P. 61). Even Gadamer’s hermeneutics is a partial interpretive exercise on man’s part, a mere resonance of the voice that reaches us from art and this in Gadamer is only a particular experience. But for Buber this experience is concretised in the art form, as the being of artist and the being of art are integrated into the art, the being of which “speaks” to human beings and human beings “listening” to it is also creative and hence, this process of creation again integrates the being of art with the being of human and again the being of human with the being of the world and this chain is unbroken because this is what Goutam calls as “Being in the presence of”, without which no interpretation is possible (P. 65). Goutam’s exegesis of Michael Polanyi’s Aesthetic in (Ch. 4) also is shown to be a further modification of Buber’s concepts. Polanyi’s concept of ‘meaning’ as a process of bringing out our experience from ‘tacit to-explicit’ level by tacit operation of our consciousness, which is movement from meeting to meaning, from ‘indication’ to ‘semantic’, from ‘self-centres’ to ‘self-giving’ ones, is always ‘dialogical’, as a communication takes place in a direction from ‘meeting’ to ‘meaning’, which Goutam, in the context of Polanyi’s epistemology explains to be a track of ‘meeting-meaning-meeting’, which is, of a dialogic constitution.

The most interesting part of the book for the Indian readers would be Goutam’s lucid elaboration of Tagore’s and Radhakrishnan’s concepts of aesthetic experience, which are distinctively Indian contribution to aesthetics. For both Tagore and Radhakrishnan, the nature of aesthetic experience is ‘cultimated’. For Tagore, being a poet, ‘beauty’, ‘truth’, freedom’ etc. are achieved through aesthetic experience, which is ‘a release from inner and outer compulsions’, the compulsion of a phenomenal outer world and the inner world of ‘reason’, which can be gotten rid of by the operation of “self-conscious principle of ‘transcendental unity within man’ ” (P. 99) and this is what creates an art or the view point of an artist. But this art is always ‘open’ to the sharing of other men and hence is generative of ‘truth’ at various acts of interaction with art. But finally, when one comes to know it, he should know it in his own personal realisation that brings the ‘transcendental unity within man’ and reaching at that is a deeper truth that integrates man with the universe. In slight contrast, for Radhakrishnan, the mode of aesthetic experience is the ‘intuitive’ mode of knowing the ‘thatness’ of a creation or an object that determines the ‘whatness’ of it. Radhakrishnan stresses upon the complimentarity of various intellectual and intuitive faculties operating in the case of reaching at the ‘ideal’ immanent in an artistic form is interpreted by Goutam in the perspective of ‘dialogue’. ‘Intuition’, as the author explains operates ‘dialogically’ just as ‘a song subsists in singing as much as listening’ and a ‘dialogue’ of the twin modes proceeds from ‘thatness’ to ‘whatness’, to ultimately get evidenced in the ‘logos’ of the piece of art. Moreover, the author relates Radhakrishnan’s view of man in harmony with the rest of the nature which operates in man’s communion with the art- object and such a communion constitutes the being of man, which subsists in what it communicates from/to. The novelty of the author lies in his lucid and consistent interpretation of Tagore and Radhakrishanan fitting them with the main concern of the book, an explication of dialogic mode of aesthetic experience. Further, such an interpretation brings out hitherto unspoken potential of Indian aesthetic thinking to be ‘ dialogic’ in nature, which was so far conceived to be ‘ subjective’ and ‘ personalistic’.

The book is a mix between Goutam’s sincere effort to simplify difficult phenomenological aspects of aesthetic experience in comparision and contrast with some of our most known ideas of aesthetic experience. It disturbs the reader initially only to discover that it brings about a fusion of horizon between what has been generally conceived with a dialogical perspective. Perhaps, the tension of an Indian reader shall get relieved in author’s assimilative endeavour of reinterpreting Tagore and Radhakrishnan from a dialogical perspective.

The book is printed in an error-free way and its get up is sober and attractive. The foreword by Kapila Vatsyayan provides the reader a key to open the book in her lines, “The guiding principles of the explorations of this universe of dialogue and the in-between is the dialogue between the artistic experience and expression in language; and, dialogue preceeding and surpassing language.” Perhaps this line also summarises the book. It is an illuminating piece of foreword that helps the reader in exploring contours of the book. Credit goes to IGNCA for providing the readers such a lucid book on one of the difficult themes of aesthetic experience.

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