On Gadamer's The Relevance of the Beautiful

Benoit Baald

My affiliation with an interdisciplinary "think tank", (Int'l Synergy Institute), begun in my formative years, has greatly influenced my work and thought in terms of developing a philosophical methodology that borrows models from, and crosses the borders of other disciplines. One particular notion that I keep returning to is a model of boundary ambiguity, metapatterning, and chaos known as the fractal. I believe that a fractal based analysis of some aspects of the aesthetic experience can yield insight into the nature of hermeneutic identity and how H.I. provides a link between the experiential appreciaton of both classical and modern art.

Probably the most obvious analogy between a fractal and a work of art concerns representational metapatterning, or scaling. Natural boundaries, such as coastlines, are often compared visually to fractals because they exhibit infinitely complex detail which is self-similar regardless of proximity. I.e. the pattern observed on a coastline from a mile above it is similar to the pattern from three feet away, which is similar to a microscopic view, down to the quantum level, perhaps. If one wanted to model the coastline with a definite line, the line would be infinitely long, intertwined, and complex. The actual pattern seen would depend on the degree of focus as determined by the person viewing. Paintings can be interpreted similarly, on a perceptual (as arbitrarilly distinct from cognitve, for illustration) level. One views the painting from far away as indistinct blotches of paint. Moving closer, one sees shapes take form, with finer detail still possible. Focussing on the edges of the shapes, one notices the indefiniteness of the apparent lines as they grow fuzzy where colors have subtly blended. One zooms in microscopically to see that the blended line can look like a complexly inertwined distinct line until focussing closer still, etc. A piece of music over time is even more illustrative. Consider the work as a whole to be one large oscillation(perhaps the H.I.). The individual movements are more frequent oscillations. Individual phrases have smaller periods still, while also having more detail available which is similar to the whole, i.e. individual notes, which are composed of even smaller cycles, or vibrations, and which have microscopic harmonic and noise components if one zooms closer still. On this physical level, I think the gap between modern and classical art can be filled, since all "art" I've experienced exhibits similar metapatterning, but thus far we've been confusing the map for the territory.

The most interesting similarities between fractals and the aesthetic experience, to me, aren't the physical similarities, but the cognitive (for lack of a better word). I.e. since any noted physical similarities actually occur in the realm of consciousness, let's consider a fractal map of the consciouss aesthetic experience and see if we can discover the hermeneutic identity.

Transforming the "physical" similarities above into a cognitive mapping might yield something like this: The painting is first viewed as a landscape, then one notices a tree, next one focusses on the leaves and finds shadowplay or veins, then the brushstrokes, the texture of the paint and canvas; In a symphony, one first notices it's Beethoven's Fifth, let's say, then the first movement, the allegretto, then the first melodic line, representing victory, perhaps, thenthe individual beats -how the notes harmonize, then the timbre of each note -the significance of a certain instruments use, finally the acoustic envelope of the performing hall. There is no longer a direct physical mapping of the fractal, but consciousness is focussing on the finer patterns, pulling back out, etc., on a continuum, which I think validates a fractal map.

The relation between focussing -zooming -within the aesthetic event, and detail determination in a fractal may provide the most salient insight into the H.I. function. The color dimension in a fractal is a function of how many repititions of the differrence equation are necessary to determine whether a point is stable or chaotic. This level of specification correlates directly to whatever color a certain point will have, but since fractals are infinitely complex, the visible points won't really be distinct, but would be more akin to vortices of concentration, or attractors. "Vortex of concentration" is telling of how our fractal map correlates to consciousness, because the specification level relates to the consciouss feedback required to make cognitive distinctions, which similarly, in my view, are not really distinct, but infinitely intertwined with the whole of consciousness.

Now, when fractals are considered as boundary models, it's because they model the boundary between stable and chaotic behavior in a dynamic system. The chaotic attractors in a fractal, traditionally black regions, are those points where the difference equation can be repeated indefinitely without stabilizing. Infinite or near infinite feedback is required to distinguish the point; what is the significance of this in terms of the H.I.? Perhaps we could call it a region of rationally (mathematically) determined autoteleological involvement, or play. (Other interpretations like consciouss noise -Sartrean possibility fodder -are possible, but not relevant.) What's important is that because the fractal is a complex union of stability and chaos, and the chaotic attractors maintain a unity in that they don't have discreet levels of specification, these attractors provide an underpinning to the self-identity of the fractal. Similarly, the aspect of play, a sort of detached involvement in the aesthetic experience that lets one become absorbed in the whole work as an end in itself while still maintaining awareness of its detail, may be the underpinning of the hermeneutic identity of a work.