Aesthetics, Nature, and Culture
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 Tuan (Geography/University of Wisconsin at Madison) attempts to elevate the idea of the aesthetic to what he considers its proper place in the social context, in particular to its place as the impetus behind the formation and sustaining of cultural systems. In the aesthetic (which Tuan defines as ``senses come to life''), the author believes he's found the driving force behind-- and the goal of--life, bringing it joy and giving it form. The aesthetic, he says, can be found reflected on every level of our existence. Tuan starts by poking around in the philosophical mode, examining the aesthetic expressions of our senses--fragrances, music, visual stimuli, the panoply of sounds--in some detail. He then muses over four diverse cultural/aesthetic milieus: those of Australian aborigines, medieval Europeans, Chinese, and modern Americans. Tuan's ruminations--on songlines and eremites, cathedrals and old hometowns, symbolic spaces and the state--are entertaining, and the breadth of his research is dazzling. But his meditations are left hanging: The linkages he hopes to construct- -between culture, nature, and the aesthetic; between the couplets of good/beautiful and moral/aesthetic--never fuse, regardless of how many curiosities are trotted out. Indeed, his legion of facts and anecdotes can come suffocatingly fast and furious. More problematical still are the times when soporifics lay thick on the ground (``metaphor reaches backward into synesthetic tendency and forward into symbol''). Tuan is a connoisseur of the arcane tidbit, but synthesis is not his forte.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1993
ISBN: 1-55963-209-7
Page count: 285pp
Publisher: Island Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1993