Flights of Philosophical Fancy:

Everyday Aesthetics and the Play of Ideas

A Blog by David Macauley

Associate Professor of Philosophy and Environmental Studies, Penn State, Brandywine

Philosophy longs for depth or transcendence. Art swoons for the sensuous surface. Traditionally, the former fixes its romantic gaze vertically, toward the majestic heavens or a magnetic abyss; the latter casts an enchanted glance more horizontally, into roiling waves of sound or luscious fields of color. Philosophy searches for profundity; art courts the elusive muse of beauty. Wisdom wants tellurian foundations or the invisible abstractions of Aeolian heights. The senses ply the plane of the epidermal: their torrid affairs or teasing dalliances are with texture, rhythm, timbre, contour, aroma, flavor, and light. When contemplative thought and artistic object collide at the crossroads like two odd species of being gone wandering—the withdrawn introvert meeting the worldly extrovert—they give rise to the happy accident of aesthetics. Birds of a feather are birthed.  Playful ideas grow winged, flock, and take flight.

This blog aims to migrate creatively through everyday airspace, to track or generate tentative and temporary lines of engagement and escape. In short, I plan to look both reflectively and photographically on ordinary but often under-appreciated aesthetic phenomena and to explore experimentally topics ranging from enthusiasm, secrets, faces, and the erotic to solitude, waiting, fairy tales, and silence. A longer-term goal is to cobble together a book—or at least to collect a pile of interwoven paper leaves—that might be eponymously christened and launched as a work, or network, also known by the same name.

Before arriving there, I will try my blogging best to discover serpentine threads through such fanciful idiosyncrasies, to locate supportive vines that wind around and fleetingly anchor emerging ideas or photographs that I share. With time and fortune, pointillist images and observations may conjoin or coalesce, signaling broader patterns or recurring themes that come into focus. One of these unifying notions is likely to be play, a serious, recreational, and nonsensical subject situated at the center of many artist pursuits and spiraling subversively about the periphery of philosophy’s orbit.

In so doing, I will surrender to and celebrate impulses, eccentricities, indulgences, episodic passions, momentary distractions, sudden fascinations, seduction, and even photographic fetishes. Like the flow and flight of the unconscious, I hope to follow the inclusive logic of “both/and” rather than the exclusionary disjunction of a more rational “either/or”. The avian world of inspiration and fledgling ideas, it seems, is expansive, open, and inviting to many gravity-defying inhabitants. And hope, after all, is the thing sporting feathers, as Emily Dickinson reminds us.

Here, it is worth acknowledging that what commonly strikes our fancy or piques our attention—whether it be thing-like in appearance or thought-full in form—often lures us along and reels us in on a barbed hook from the feral exterior or unknown outside, as opposed to seizing us solely from the domesticated interior of a pensive human mind. The bewildering universe goes fishing with beauty as its bait, and we are frequently waiting, and usually quite willing, to be caught.

Feel free to offer suggestions or feedback.  Hurl a curse or a kiss or a brick or, should it tickle your fancy, just tap out a thought.    Thanks for reading … and participating.

Note:  All words and original photographs are copyright of David Macauley, unless other indicated or attributed.

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