News

July 10, 2009

Eric Henney ’11 Explores the History of Aesthetics

English major writes about his assistance with a forthcoming book by Alessandro Giovannelli, assistant professor of philosophy

English major Eric Henney ’11 (Clarksboro, N.J.) is performing EXCEL research assisting Alessandro Giovannelli, assistant professor of philosophy, on a book project titled Aesthetics: The Key Thinkers.

At the end of the spring semester, after a crash course in using the Philosopher’s Index and a brief synopsis of my responsibilities, I began my EXCEL research with Professor Giovannelli. Though it may not be glamorous enough to splatter my name in headlines worldwide, I have been enjoying myself thoroughly.

Professor Giovannelli has taken it upon himself to edit, compile, and contribute writings to a book on the history of aesthetics entitled Aesthetics: The Key Thinkers. The book will introduce the widely diverse theories of 18 important philosophers beginning with Plato and culminating with contemporary scholars such as Arthur Danto and Kendall Walton. Though Professor Giovannelli will be writing the introduction, conclusion, and a chapter on Nelson Goodman, all the other chapters are being written by an international group of scholars from the U.S., England, Scotland, Canada, and New Zealand. Among them are prominent aestheticians such as Malcolm Budd, writing a chapter on Richard Wollheim, and Noel Carroll, writing a chapter on Monroe Beardsley.

It is projected that the book will be published in 2010 or 2011 and will serve classrooms in English-speaking countries worldwide. It is, however, not an exhaustive volume. Rather, Aesthetics: The Key Figures will ideally serve as an overview for both upper-level undergraduate and graduate aesthetics students, as a book that will introduce them to important themes and ideas in the field. It is able to stand alone, but can also serve as a primer for classroom learning.

My job in the creation of this book begins when Professor Giovannelli is sent a chapter, which occurs sporadically throughout the summer and the upcoming school year. We both take copies and read over them carefully a few times, compiling notes on the content and making adjustments in style or grammar as necessary. Once we’ve done that, we meet up and discuss any changes we’d like to make to the chapters; we rip into the substance of every section to make sure that the writing is both accessible and elucidating. We also look for chapter organization, uniformity in style, as well as any themes or ideas that could be cross-referenced among chapters. After that, we correct the small grammatical and stylistic errors and send back suggestions to the writers. This requires a good amount of time dedicated to careful reading and occasional outside research on a chapter’s content if there is, say, a portion of the chapter that seems vague or in need of supplementation.

Although the load will pick up as the new school year begins, work can be sparse at times, as I’ve learned that philosophers can sometimes play fast and loose with deadlines, and occasionally inserting missing commas or semicolons may become tedious.

Nevertheless, with this research I feel a sense that I am doing something concrete—the work that both Professor Giovannelli and I do will be solidified in a physical object that will directly influence aesthetic students in classrooms on three continents. I’m not exactly sure what I’m going to do once I leave Lafayette; currently I’m toying around with the idea of going to graduate school for film studies, but that could change as quickly as it came to me. Regardless, I think that the work I’m doing through the EXCEL program will not only teach me a great deal about the history of aesthetics, but will also help me get a firm grasp of what it is like to work on extended research projects, and sharpen my editing and textual analysis skills.

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