Intellectual Interests

Michel Chaouli

I am interested in the ways philosophical questions gain a new form in aesthetic experience. Are there modes of thinking and of feeling that become available to us when we encounter, for example, poetic worlds? Are there, in turn, modes that are inhibited or foreclosed entirely? The texts I am drawn to come mostly from the German literary and philosophical archive, and mainly from the eighteenth century onwards. 

In Thinking with Kant's Critique of Judgment (Harvard UP, 2017), I try to bring to the surface the resources for thought that Kant's great meditation on aesthetics and teleology holds for those interested in aesthetic experience. This involves, first, understanding the shape of Kant's key ideas with as much precision as I can muster. Second, and to me more important, is the question of what Kant allows us to think. This entails going where Kant himself often declines to go. The book is available in December 2016 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.

Another book (on hold for the moment) is entitled Touch and Taste: Embodied Cognition and the Emergence of Aesthetics. It examines how various currents of European thought, from antiquity through the twentieth-century (with an emphasis on eighteenth-century aesthetic theories), imagine the senses and how these conceptions of the senses relate to ways cognition is thought to work. A description of the project can be found here. Part of a chapter examining the idea of skin through a discussion of the Laocoon debate was published separately (PDF).

An issue I keep coming back to revolves around the protocols and procedures of literary criticism itself. How do we establish, accept, or reject evidence for a particular reading? How do we settle on an interpretation of a text when we know that there are other options available (and there always are)? These questions turn out to be linked to the conceptual issues around aesthetic experience, not merely thematically (in turning on the same "material") but structurally. I have tried to make sense of the process of sense making in a long article on Kleist's "Marquise von O ...." (PDF). This question is also at the heart of a lecture series, the Master Classes in the Humanities, that my colleague Dror Wahrman and I convened at Indiana University.

Another area I am interested in relates to media history and media theory, especially the digital media. I am particularly interested in how fiction—and our understanding of fiction—might change under pressure from the computer and the internet. Thus one article pursues the question of why computer-based literature (often called hyperfiction) fails to interest readers, myself included (PDF). There I examine the concept of interactivity and the asymmetry that seems to be required in artistic communication. Another article, thus far published only in German, imagines an e-book reader I would love to have: a device that would play literature the way a stereo plays music (PDF).

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