Pleasure and its modifications: Stephan Witasek and the aesthetics of the Grazer Schule

Axiomathes 7 (1-2):203-232 (1996)
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The most obvious varieties of mental phenomena directed to non- existent objects occur in our experiences of works of art. The task of applying the Meinongian ontology of the non-existent to the working out of a theory of aesthetic phenomena was however carried out not by Meinong by his disciple Stephan Witasek in his Grundzüge der allgemeinen Ästhetik of 1904. Witasek shows in detail how our feelings undergo certain sorts of structural modifications when they are directed towards what does not exist. He draws a distinction between genuine mental phenomena and what he calls `phantasy-material', asserting that `the job of the aesthetic object, whether it is a work of art or a product of nature, is to excite and support the actualisation of phantasy-material in the experiencing subject'. We might think of such phantasy-material as a matter of Ersatz-emotions or emotional `slop'. We could then see Witasek's aesthetics as an elaborate taxonomy of the various different sorts of Ersatz-emotions which the subject allows to be stimulated within himself in his intercourse with works of art, and see works of art themselves as machines for the production of ever more subtle varieties of such phantasy-material in the perceiving subject.
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