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Richard Begam (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
This paper reads Murphy as a critique of Immanuel Kant, especially the latter’s doctrine of “aesthetic disinterestedness.” Although the term “aesthetics,” coined by the German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten, literally means “sensuous apprehension,” the Enlightenment sought to separate the appreciation of artistic beauty from the realm of bodily sensation. Hence, in The Critique of Judgment, Kant repeatedly asserts that appetitive drives, especially those directed toward food and sex, are inconsistent with aesthetic contemplation, because they are “interested” rather than “universal.” Begam argues that Murphy sets up, through a series of buried subtexts, an extended conversation on aesthetics among an unlikely trio of philosophers: Kant, the Marquis de Sade and Arthur Schopenhauer. It will be Begam’s larger contention that in Murphy the problem of how to achieve aesthesis or “sensuous apprehension” is solved not by transcending the desiring body, but by translating it into a series of highly formalized patterns and permutations. What results is a radically new conception of art, one that is related in important ways to French surrealism.
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