At the Intersection of Nervous System and Soul. Observation and Its Limits in Late 19th-Century Psychological Aesthetics

Rüdiger Campe, Jocelyn Holland, Elisabeth Strowick and Tobias Wilke


The article discusses a problem of observation that arises in the wake of a psychological “turn” in late 19th-century German aesthetics. This problem results from a confluence of two factors: a) the new theoretical claim that any form of aesthetic experience is to be explained as the effect of physiological and psychological processes that need to be studied empirically; and b) the methodological crux that the “crossing point” of nervous system and soul—the link between the two levels of neuronal activity and conscious mental states—remains a blind spot that can be accessed neither by means of objective measurement nor through subjective introspection. Pursuing the ways in which scholars like Friedrich Theodor Vischer and Theodor Lipps address this observational gap, the article analyzes how “psychological aesthetics” comes to turn on increasingly self-reflexive strategies of linguistic figuration—strategies that serve to model psycho-physiological causality as a mechanism of metaphorical translation. (TW)

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