2023-02Thematic Section
Distracted Aesthetics: Towards a Hermeneutics of Engagement with Distractive Works of Art


Western aesthetics has privileged contemplation as a necessary condition for authentic aesthetic experience. In contrast, I argue that the adequacy of aesthetic comportment must be measured by the self-presentation of the object in question, shaped by the place from which such presentations issue. Thus, the specific character of many forms of art, particularly in urban contexts, solicits a kind of “distracted” engagement rather than contemplative attention. Distraction is a positive mode of aesthetic engagement.
I begin with a critical account of the formalist theories of Kant and Bell as examples of this privileging of contemplative hermeneutics. I then consider Walter Benjamin’s theory of mimesis as a basis for a more fruitful account of aesthetic form, of which certain “distractive” artworks serve as examples. Distraction is an appropriate response to certain presentations, in the face of which absorption would be a kind of aesthetic failure.


hermeneutics, Walter Benjamin, distraction, aesthetics, street art

How to cite:

Harmon, Justin L. “Distracted Aesthetics: Towards a Hermeneutics of Engagement with Distractive Works of Art.” Eidos. A Journal for Philosophy of Culture 7, no. 2 (2023):  36-51. https://doi.org/10.14394/eidos.jpc.2023.0014.


Justin L. Harmon
Notre Dame of Maryland University Baltimore, Maryland
4701 North Charles Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21210, USA


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