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Foucault mentions that art and music are not discursive. How is it so? Foucault had interrogated the 'author' for instance, and largely historicises everything. How could art be autonomous for Foucalt, then?

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    – J D
    Oct 12, 2020 at 16:38
  • I think he means "discursive" in the Kantian sense, as opposed to intuitive. As in organized by putting pieces together according to a set of rules, like grammar. "Institutions, political events, economic practices and processes" are also "non-discursive practices" according to Foucault.
    – Conifold
    Oct 12, 2020 at 21:48
  • "The meaning and purpose of dancing is the dance" - A. Watts
    – CriglCragl
    Mar 12, 2021 at 23:35

3 Answers 3

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Foucault is drawing on a tradition most clearly articulated (in my estimation) by American philosopher Susanne Langer's theory of symbolic meaning (Philosophy in a New Key-1942) and philosophy of art (Feeling and Form-1953). Art, unlike science and logic dealing with discursive symbolism, is a "school of life" that "the symbolism furnished by our purely sensory appreciation of forms is a non-discursive symbolism peculiarly well suited to the expression of ideas that defy linguistic "projec- tion."" (PNK,Mentor Book, Sixth Printing, 1964, 75). Aesthetic symbols are "presentational" and rooted in the power of "exhibition." In Feeling and Form she writes, "the emotion in the work is the thought in the work. Just as the content of discourse is the discursive concept, so the content of a work of art is the non-discursive concept of feeling; and it is directly expressed by the form, the appearance before us"(FF, 82). And later in her remarks against "Freud's studies of non-discursive symbolism, and Jung's consequent speculations about "archetypes," [that] were all made in the interest of tracing dream symbols to their sources," she asserts:

Non-discursive form in art has a different office, namely to articulate knowledge that cannot be rendered discursively because it concerns experiences that are not formally amenable to the discursive projection. Such experiences are the rhythms of life, organic, emotional and mental (the rhythm of attention is an interesting link among them all), which are not simply periodic, but endlessly complex, and sensitive to every sort of influence. All together they compose the dynamic pattern of feeling. It is this pattern that only non-discursive symbolic forms can present, and that is the point and purpose of artistic construction. (FF, 240-241)

Non-discursive art forms symbolize the "loose" relations of our feelings and emotions in encountering presentational symbols.

From sculpture, music, dance, poetry, or architecture we are moved by an experience of the "interesting," that speaks a "non-literal language," exemplifying the "laws of the imagination." Discursive symbols are concerned with literal meaning and that is not the purpose or experience we have of art. The "emotional import" of the "exhibitable" and "presentable" can work wonders on us--catharsis, for example, in Aristotle's sense is overly discursive since its focus culminates with "moral" interests. We should not moralize the aesthetic, any more than we may aestheticize morality.

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I've always had a problem with this idea. I tend to side more with CDA (critical discourse analysis) which views practices and actions as reciprocal and inseparable from language.

Obviously I don't need language to breathe, to feel hunger, to feel tired, but for art? Just depends on what theory you agree with I guess. What Kant viewed as the "architectonic" tendency of the mind might be part and parcel or comparable to Chomsky's universal grammar theory, but how would anyone prove this, much less go about determining the criteria for an etiological relationship between language and human biology?

I'm sure there are theories upon theories, and they all more than likely possess their own etiological criteria, as with Susanne Langer's theory.

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    – J D
    Dec 2, 2021 at 21:54
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My background is in science and the arts. For me, discursive and nondiscursive are a complementary pair. Having an experience is nondiscursive, talking about it is discursive. They complement each other. The Alan Watts quote is spot on. Philosophy is discursive, but the thing that philosophy discusses is nondiscursive. Artist John Baldessari said 'Writing helped me understand what I was thinking about'. If thinking provides meaning than we can think with our bodies, through sensation, and our minds, through words. As an artist he thought nondiscursively with his body. His discursive thinking with words complemented this. But at the end of the day describing doing is not the same as doing.

Monet quote

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