With a title like that this should be in German and long. Instead it will be in English and short. George Hunka and AC Douglas have gone off the rails with this whole transcendence business. George, normally dyspeptic, soars into the empyrean:
As Kant will happily tell you, there’s no escaping the boundaries of human sensual experience, but as Schopenhauer will whisper in your ear, you can always seek to transcend it through renunciation of the world and through the highest expressions of sensuality itself. Art and religion provide the means for that renunciation. Artists, then, should encourage a path out of the materialist Hegelian world with the techniques at their disposal, whether those techniques are musical, linguistic or visual, just as the priests of all religions have their sacraments and their rituals as a means to transcendence.
This sort of art is utterly useless to the world, for it denies the world itself as a transient petrie dish of suffering and aimless, constantly unsatisfied desires for pleasure. The world itself can’t accept this denunciation of its own importance; therefore it invents Hegel.
Dude! Easy on the transient petrie dish of suffering there! If the alternative is, as it seems to be, being bored or tortured for eternity, then I’ll take my petrie dish of suffering, thanks. With fries. I concede that if the world had invented Hegel it would have some explaining to do, but I think we can let the world off on that score.
The aesthetic emotion is profoundly rooted in human experience. You watch the protagonist and think, that’s me (naturalism), or that’s what I wish I were (romanticism), or that’s what might become of me if things went really, really wrong (tragedy). You read the poem and think, I’ve felt that way, or I would, in those circumstances. You look at the painting and think, I’ve seen that, or I’d like to. (I’ve skipped music, which beats me.) There’s nothing terribly hifalutin about any of this.
Art seems different, somehow, and elaborately wrong-headed theories of aesthetics, like Benedetto Croce’s, have been constructed on this premise. But the word for sitting transfixed in the opera house, or the movie theater, or between the headphones, is not transcendence. It is absorption, or to put it still more mundanely, paying attention. I trust all my readers have become absorbed in a task. Becoming absorbed in a work of art is no different.
There are serious questions to answer in aesthetics. I suggest we try to answer them, and leave Never-Never Land to Tinkerbell, and Schopenhauer.