Jerome Bruner argues that the cognitive revolution, with its current fixation on mind as “information processor,” has led psychology away from the deeper objective of understanding mind as a creator of meanings. Only by breaking out of the limitations imposed by a computational model of mind can we grasp the special interaction through which mind both constitutes and is constituted by culture.
Art has the power to affect our thinking, changing not only the way we view and interact with the world but also how we create it. In Art in Mind, Ernst van Alphen probes this idea of art as a commanding force with the capacity to shape our intellect and intervene in our lives. Rather than interpreting art as merely a reflection of our social experience or a product of history, van Alphen here argues that art is a historical agent, or a cultural creator, that propels thought and experience forward.
Examining a broad range of works, van Alphen—a renowned art historian and cultural theorist—demonstrates how art serves a socially constructive function by actually experimenting with the parameters of thought. Employing work from artists as diverse as Picasso, Watteau, Francis Bacon, Marlene Dumas, and Matthew Barney, he shows how art confronts its viewers with the "pain points" of cultural experience-genocide, sexuality, diaspora, and transcultural identity-and thereby transforms the ways in which human existence is conceived. Van Alphen analyzes how art visually "thinks" about these difficult cultural issues, tapping into an understudied interpretation of art as the realm where ideas and values are actively created, given form, and mobilized. In this way, van Alphen's book is a work of art in itself as it educates us in a new mode of thought that will forge equally new approaches and responses to the world.
This volume offers an unusual variety of topics presented during the sixth annual Oberlin Colloquium in Philosophy. The subjects covered include: refuting J. L. Austin's attempt to destroy philosophers' assumptions on the nature and purpose of a “statement;” false premises found in “St. Anselm's Four Ontological Arguments;” pain in connection with brain-state and functional-state theories; aesthetics in light of questions of fraudulence in modern art and music, and an analytical deconstruction of mystical experience.
The memory of the American Civil War took many forms over the decades after the conflict ended: personal, social, religious, and political. It was also remembered and commemorated by poets and fiction writers who understood that the war had bequeathed both historical and symbolic meanings to American culture. Although the defeated Confederacy became best known for producing a literature of nostalgia and an ideological defensiveness intended to protect the South’s own version of history, authors loyal to the Union also confronted the question of what the memory of the war signified, and how to shape the literary response to that individual and collective experience. In Ashes of the Mind, Martin Griffin examines the work of five Northerners—three poets and two fiction writers—who over a period of four decades tried to understand and articulate the landscape of memory in postwar America, and in particular in that part of the nation that could, with most justification, claim the victory of its beliefs and values. The book begins with an examination of the rhetorical grandeur of James Russell Lowell’s Harvard Commemoration Ode, ranges across Herman Melville’s ironic war poetry, Henry James’s novel of North-South reconciliation, The Bostonians, and Ambrose Bierce’s short stories, and ends with the bitter meditation on race and nation presented by Paul Laurence Dunbar’s elegy “Robert Gould Shaw.” Together these texts reveal how a group of representative Northern writers were haunted in different ways by the memory of the conflict and its fraught legacy. Griffin traces a concern with individual and community loss, ambivalence toward victory, and a changing politics of commemoration in the writings of Lowell, Melville, James, Bierce, and Dunbar. What links these very different authors is a Northern memory of the war that became more complex and more compromised as the century went on, often replacing a sense of justification and achievement with a perception of irony and failed promise.