American Existentialism in the ’50s and ’60s

For all that Harold Rosenberg and Leo Steinberg both depend heavily on the ideas of Soren Kierkegaard, as was entirely typical of their times, is it nevertheless crucial to recognize that Rosenberg uses Kiekegaard to justify an aesthetics/ethics of ACTION, whereas Steinberg uses the same philosopher to justify an aesthetics/ethics of RECEPTION. Slashing, in a word, is replaced by hearing. Again, Rosenberg champions an autonomous Self that lashes out in rage, while Steinberg champions an aesthetics of reception through visual encountering (Maurice Merleau-Ponty) and engaged listening (Hans-Georg Gadamer) and intimate touching (Luce Irigaray).


Whereas the former privileges the slashing hand (which can be traced back to Descartes’ blind man stabbing out in order to know and control the world as dead object), these alternate approaches to reality privilege other parts of the body, in particular the communing ear. Who else conceives of human experience in Steinberg’s terms? French-Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas.

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