Traditional aesthetics has tried to locate the reasons for aesthetic value in the transcendental subject while neglecting the importance of culture, even though it is obvious that artistic styles vary from culture to culture in both a geographical and historical sense. However, after recognizing importance of a cultural approach, one is faced with the problem of how to do so without dissolving aesthetics into art history or visual culture, the risk faced in both continental and analytic philosophical aesthetics. Scientific theories of aesthetics inspired by evolutionary psychology and cognitive science show promise, but they seek explanations without considering the importance of the cultural variations, offering reductive and superficial interpretations. Science has to consider the role of culture, and the only way to do so is through Neo-Darwinist theories of culture, like the memetic theory. In A New Cultural Theory of Aesthetics: Genes, Memes, Symbols, and Simulacra, Roberto Terrosi combines cultural research in the continental sphere with Neo-Darwinist theories to arrive at a new approach to aesthetics that is as sensitive to the problems posed by critical theory as it is to those posed by scientific research.
Roberto Terrosi is full time lecturer in Italian language and Italian studies at Ritsumeikan University.
Chapter 1: Archaeology and Genealogy of Aesthetics
Chapter 2: Philosophical Premises of Cultural Theory
Chapter 3: The Evolution of Culture
Chapter 4: Memes and Simulacra
Chapter 5: Bigaku: The Crisis of Modern Aesthetics and the Return of Beauty
Chapter 6: Value, Power, Art, Economics
In this book, Terrosi proposes an innovative and penetrating approach to the discipline of aesthetics going beyond the traditional paradigm of the “two cultures.” On the one hand, he offers a cultural theory of aesthetics, starting from continental thought and Foucault's historical critique of knowledge, and moving against the forms of a scientific reductionism that propose an oversimplified view of aesthetics. Beauty does not exist because of a gene or a neural circuit, but because of values culturally and historically formed. On the other hand, in a neo-Darwinist perspective he is convinced that the evolutionary dynamics of memes lie at the basis of the historical development of cultural values of aesthetics, and he believes that genetic dispositions and neural circuits, while not determining the aesthetic values, constitute physiological presuppositions on which culture operates by constructing the various forms of aesthetic values and the various canons of beauty starting from historically and locally determined needs.
The author seems to have lived, in his young days, the feverish atmosphere of the intellectual Rome: instead of an established authority, there was a conflict of diverse fresh voices. This dynamism taught him what culture was. He projects this notion to the whole history of human beings (what an erudition he demonstrates here!), to position aesthetics (art and beauty) in its scope. He adopts the basic schema of Neo-Darwinism. What distinguishes the Neo from historical Darwinism? While the “gene” incites to relate beauty with mating, the Neo tries to trace the development (or evolution) of culture with the concept of “meme” (Dawkins). The author opposes the beautiful and the pleasurable (commodities). Beauty is conceived here in terms of intellect. Terrosi's critical spirit stands out.