chapter  7
8 Pages

The Importance of Chinese Philosophy for Western Aesthetics

ByHerbert Mainusch

Professor Teng Shouyao and Professor Wang Keping, whom I have known now for eight and seven years respectively, have in the many talks we have had during those years made me realize that we can only talk about art in this world when we consider Chinese art, too. The same applies for aesthetics. Chinese philosophy is an indispensable

component of our intellectual world. The nurses of intellectual thought in our world were Plato and Laozi, Aristotle and Zhuangzi, Kant and Confucius, and, of course, many others. Philosophical works in our time, which quite naturally refer to the philosophers of European antiquity, but at the same time ignore the Dao De Jing of Laozi, thoughtlessly ignore a source which is of extraordinary importance to European culture. As art-critics we have to contribute towards bringing these two great

cultures closer to each other. This cannot happen by simply adding to the confusing wealth of Western concepts of art those which we receive from this country. We are not allowed to say that we have a number of various theories in the West, so some more – imported from China – would not do any harm. Neither must the fruitful encounter of two cultures lead to giving up one’s individuality because this would mean the end of partnership. We do not want any cultural dominancy. On the contrary, in the encounter with a foreign culture latently existing categories are revived. Chinese categories remind us of what we have forgotten – and vice versa. Formerly peripheral categories become the focus of interest, while other categories might become insignificant. They may gain a new significance for their starting-point; a new life begins. Let me give you an example: I always told my Chinese students, after having introduced them to the theses of Oscar Wilde: these are all concepts which Oscar Wilde had developed under the influence of his intensive study of the writings of Zhuangzi. In many cases, the Chinese students had drawn this conclusion themselves. And then they go back to Zhuangzi and read his texts with new eyes. I expect that, as a result of the growing influence of Chinese thought on

Western aesthetics, the currently fashionable single file of methods – readerresponse-criticism, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, new

historicism – will finally become insignificant. All these much-discussed isms have long lost sight of their objects – the visual arts and literature. Instead, the awareness of the existential significance of art for man should again become the focus of interest. I would like to illustrate my thesis with three examples, which I present

under the following headings: abstraction, tracklessness, and criticism of language. I should add, however, that because of the short time available I shall concentrate on the first theme and can only give you a very short account of the second and third.