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Aesthetic Experience, Emotion and Transcendence


From time to time we come across fantastic experiences that leave us in awe, excitement and wonder, irresistibly enchanting our minds. On another front, we also have horrific experiences that plunge us into confusion, anxiety and dread, persistently haunting us with obsessive delusions. These moments can occur at any stage of life, in the real world or in fictional space: in front of a landscape, in front of a painting, in one scene from a film, on a page of a book, in a piece of music, in a person's face, in a mathematical formula, in a chemical reaction, in a philosophical theory, in an event in history, or, just simply, in the sunshine in the sky, in the murmuring sound of birds and trees. The dazzling sensations we receive from certain events, whether fantastic or horrific, real or fictional, are aesthetic. They give us a sense of marvellous and awe, although they are not necessarily related to the idea of beauty: aesthetic experience is an intuitive response to the world in which we live that takes shape in the form emotion.


My research and writing practice revolves around this mysterious sensation of aesthetic experience and its potential power to be exercised over the human psyche, and thus over society. This power, which overwhelms us and suspends us in a flickering moment of alienation from the world that we know, activates our imagination – the ability to imagine something that goes beyond our capacity to think and perceive. When we pause in front of a beautiful landscape, at a mysterious bacterial ecosystem, at a great masterpiece, at a horrific scene of war, we cast a thoughtful and curious glance at the phenomena taking place in a realm unknown to our own reality, which our individual minds would never be able to perceive or think for themselves.


Human beings are capable of thinking beyond the limits of the self, beyond the constraints of who we are and where we belong, and eventually reaching out to other people, creatures, entities and all the unknown events in the world. Aesthetic experience is the moment when we expand the limits of our capacity, when we experience our world as the multiple layers of the relationships between different entities and phenomena. It exposes us to the complexity of the world in which we live in transience and initiates an empathic engagement with others beyond the idea of the self. It is an intuitive, emotional, yet intellectual and critical methodology for understanding other people, cultures, communities and creatures that are not one's own.

How can we recognise the world beyond our cultural, perceptual and cognitive limitations? How can we imagine and give credibility to the world that transcends intelligibility without reducing its complexity to representational jargon?

To speculate on these questions, I think, write and translate ideas, art and beyond.


Text © 2015 Michiko Oki
Illustration © 2015 Pablo Padilla Jargstorf

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