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Savouring the Impossible: Online Research Seminar from The Aesthetics Research Centre

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The Aesthetics Research Centre is pleased to announce its first online research seminar, taking place on Thursday 28 May. Please note that the time for the session below has been changed to 5-7pm UK time, with apologies for any inconvenience caused. As before, please register for the seminar with Angela Whiffen at a.j.whiffen@kent.ac.uk. Zoom details for the session will be sent out to registrants by Thursday lunchtime.

Savouring the Impossible

Jason Leddington (Philosophy, Bucknell; Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow at The Centre for Philosophical Psychology, University of Antwerp)

It is a puzzling feature of human beings that we are attracted to artworks that provoke negative emotional responses. Why are we drawn to what should, intuitively, repulse us? Tragedy and horror are paradigm cases, but similar questions are raised by works that provoke, say, disgust or moral outrage. This talk introduces and explores a new version of this old puzzle. My question is: why are we attracted to magic tricks? Magic is one our most consistently popular forms of mass entertainment. Consider the recent successes of performers such as Derren Brown, Dynamo, and David Blaine, as well as the ubiquity of magicians on talent shows such as America’s Got Talent (thrice won by magicians). But while philosophers speak fondly of the pleasures of knowing, successful magic performances present apparent impossibilities that provoke potent experiences of ignorance. So, why do people seek them out? I argue that recent work in the philosophy and psychology of so-called “knowledge emotions” can help us to resolve this puzzle. At the same time, in a surprising parallel, I show that it can also illuminate the appeal of a distinctive form of puzzlement especially dear to philosophers. Finally, I conclude by proposing an extension of this account to explain our attraction to another “art of the impossible”: the impossible figures created by artists such as Reutersvärd and Escher.
The talk will take place on Zoom. The meeting id and password will be made available to those who register for the talk; please drop a note to Angela Whiffen at a.j.whiffen@kent.ac.uk to register. Zoom details for the meeting will be sent out on the morning of the talk.

All welcome!