Why pause and study this particular painting among so many others ranged on a gallery wall? Wonder, which Descartes called the first of the passions, is at play; it couples surprise with a wish to know more, the pleasurable promise that what is novel or rare may become familiar. This is a book about the aesthetics of wonder, about wonder as it figures in our relation to the visual world and to rare or new experiences.
In three instructive instances--a pair of paintings by Cy Twombly, the famous problem of doubling the area of a square, and the history of attempts to explain rainbows--Philip Fisher examines the experience of wonder as it draws together pleasure, thinking, and the aesthetic features of thought. Through these examples he places wonder in relation to the ordinary and the everyday as well as to its opposite, fear. The remarkable story of how rainbows came to be explained, fraught with errors, half-knowledge, and incomplete understanding, suggests that certain knowledge cannot be what we expect when wonder engages us. Instead, Fisher argues, a detailed familiarity, similar to knowing our way around a building or a painting, is the ultimate meeting point for aesthetic and scientific encounters with novelty, rare experiences, and the genuinely new.
Philip Fisher is the Felice Crowl Reid Professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University.
The Aesthetics of Rare Experiences Wonder and the Sublime Philosophy Begins in Wonder Visual Experience: Wonder and the Ordinary The Instant of Wonder and the Instant of Thought The Rainbow and Cartesian Wonder The Aesthetics of the Rainbow Noah's Rainbow and Religious Intelligibility From Wonder to Thought Descartes and the Scientific Passion of Wonder Descartes's Definition of Wonder Pascal's Alternative: Imagination, Terror, Abyss Wonder Fades with Age Wonder and the Steps of Thought The Template of Wonder: To Be Human Is to Learn One and Only One Step Plato's Meno and Learning by Wonder Socratic Silence Explanation and Demystification Explanation and the Aesthetics of the Rainbow Fear of Explanation and Explanation by Fear The Dull Catalogue of Common Things: Genus, or Explanation by Kind Singularity and the Everyday Rainbow and Raindrop: Explanation by Substitution Aristotle's Geometry of the Experience of Rainbows: Explanation by Structure From Wonder to Explanation Transition to Aesthetic Wonder Seeing What Cannot Be Seen The Visual, the Visible, and the Intelligible Ruling Out Memory Intelligibility, Wonder, and Recognition Rainbow, Explanation, Error Recognition: Can Only Memory Guide Intelligibility? The Newness Effect in Modern Art Thinking through the Work of Art Cy Twombly's "Blackboard Painting" Blackboards and Temporary Writing Master Metaphors and Bright Ideas The Work of Art as a Field of Details The Return of Recognition and Memory Notes Acknowledgments Index