In 1912, Edward Bullough published Psychical Distance' As a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle, a seminal article that permanently introduced Psychical Distance as a fundamental term for 20th Century aesthetic theory. A certain suspicion, however, has attended the term. Writers like George Dickie and Lester Longman have accused Bullough's idea of incoherence, deadly ambiguity, and arrogant over-extension. In this essay, I will try to demonstrate the falsehood of these accusations when Psychical Distance' is understand via the interpretive framework of modal analysis. Then, continuing with the modal perspective, I will show the real danger that attends the application of Psychical Distance by examining how one author uses it to postulate a religiously neutral human sphere.
The various criticisms of Psychical Distance levelled by George Dickie, Lester Longman, and Kingsley Price fall into three basic categories. First, Bullough is accused of claiming both a negative and a positive function for psychical distance but only describing its negative function; second, he is accused of false analysis, especially in regard to his use of the word practical; third, he is accused of linguistic ambiguity to the point of nonsense.
[...] While Bullough's concept of Psychical Distance makes sense to the careful reader, it must always be understood and applied within a non- reductionistic context or its deepest insights will become its deepest downfalls. Dickie, George. "Bullough and the Concept of Psychical Distance." Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 22, no (1961): 233-238. Bullough, Edward. "'Psychical Distance' as a Factor in Art and as an Aesthetic Principle." In Aesthetics: Classic Readings from the Western Tradition, Dabney Townsend, 301-321. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publisher Ibid Ibid Ibid To put it in Seerveldian terms for the benefit of any readers who subscribe to that aesthetic: for Bullough, the positive aspect of Psychical Distance involves opening oneself up fully to the allusivity an object, by treating the allusions derived from the interaction of one's psyche with the object as part of the phenomenon under consideration. [...]
[...] He asks, “what if we looked at the other as we look at a work of Using the terms distance and disinterest interchangeably, he suggests that “viewed positively, what is conveyed by the concept of disinterest is a feeling that aesthetic experience is something akin to an oasis in the world of difinite imperatives, interested action or utilitarian concerns.” Later, he continues, designating interactions between religions as aesthetic modes of apprehension associated with imagination, the free play of ideas, we have perhaps granted a greater capacity for unfetter and of boundary' interactions.” But lest we think he simply means appreciating the aesthetic aspects of religions, Cheetham notes the following: We might speak of the aesthetic attributes of a particular religion: the beauty of its narratives, the symbolism representative of its meaning, the form of its objects of ritual or devotions. [...]
[...] This form of analysis is a tool developed within the philosophies of Dirk Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd, by which the unity and diversity of the cosmos are related in a way that purports to avoid the realist-idealist dichotomy by understanding all phenomena in terms of functors and functions, or modes of being. Any individual thing functions in all the of being all the time; these modes relate to each other in a hierarchical fashion, presupposing or anticipating each other. Without importing any of the traditional lists of modalities entire, I wish to employ some ideas from modal analysis as a way of understanding Bullough's phrase psychical distance. [...]
[...] The modal structure of reality itself presents the possibility for something like Psychical Distance, rendering it a valid analysis of an inherent possible relation rather than merely a bad metaphor as Price would have us believe. In summary, Price rejects, among other things, the term Psychical Distance, because he believes that is fails to work either as a metaphor or as a possible relation within the real world as he understands it; but given a modal structure to reality, as Bullough's language seems to at least imply, the term makes sense. [...]
[...] “Abstract,” he writes, “from the experience of the sea fog, for the moment, its danger and practical unpleasantness.” This is the “inhibitory” aspect of Psychical Distance, in which one allows an object to “stand outside the context of [ . ] personal needs and ends.” Then, for the majority of the paragraph in which the fog example occurs, Bullough goes on to describe the positive aspect of Psychical Distance. Here is what he writes: [ . ] direct the attention to the features “objectively” constituting the phenomenon—the veil surrounding you with opaqueness as of transparent milk, blurring the outline of things and distorting their shapes into weird grotesqueness; observe the carrying-power of the air, producing the impression as if you could touch some far-off siren by merely putting out your hand and letting it lose itself behind the white wall; note the curious creamy smoothness of the wayer, hypocritically denying as it were any suggestion of danger; and, above all, the strange solitude and remoteness from the world, as it can be found only on the highest mountain-tops: and the experience may acquire, in its uncanny mingling of repose and terror, a flavor of such concentrated poignancy and delight as to contrast sharply with the blind and distempered anxiety of its other aspects. In this description, Bullough allows the phenomenon of the fog to rummage through his psychic treasure chest, gathering allusions like milk, nearness, cream, wall, and transposing physical context with the comparison to mountain-tops. [...]
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