This chapter shows how the contemporary (re)turn to objects initially serves as a useful corrective to social or political theories that fail to properly engage with the object world. It presents a timely reconstruction of early critical theory's own engagements with the object world via aesthetics and mimesis. The mediating role played by aesthetics is of vital importance for understanding early critical theory's engagement with objects and affects. The chapter also shows how the thought of Siegfried Kracauer and Theodor Adorno contributes to the timely task. Kracauer's work retains a relatively marginal position within studies of critical theory. The chapter then suggests that 'object-oriented ontology' (OOO)/'speculative realism' (SR) goes much beyond a post-critical fantasy, which gleefully jettisons all relationality and criticality for the sake of concocting a 'new', non-human philosophy.
This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in the subsequent chapters of this book. The book focuses on some of the main accounts of the human subject and on the conceptions of art and language which emerge within the Kantian and post-Kantian history of aesthetics. It discusses the work of two of the founding figures of aesthetics: Alexander Baumgarten and J.G. Hamann. Baumgarten's Aesthetica and Hamann's Aesthetica in nuce, begin to suggest what is at stake in the emergence of aesthetics as an independent branch of philosophy. The book describes the story of modernity told by the proponents of the 'postmodern condition', like Jean-François Lyotard, has its roots in the work of Heidegger. It also describes the power of Heidegger's ideas is evident in the way they have influenced many contemporary theories of modernity.
The importance attributed to aesthetic questions in recent philosophy becomes easier to grasp if one considers the reasons for the emergence of modern aesthetic theory. Immanuel Kant's main work on aesthetics, the 'third Critique', the Critique of Judgement (CJ), forms part of his response to unresolved questions which emerge from his Critique of Pure Reason (CPR) and Critique of Practical Reason. Dieter Henrich regards the crux of Kant's epistemology as the justification of 'forms of cognition from the form and nature of self-consciousness'. Kant's attempts to come to terms with the 'supersensuous substrate' of the subject's relationship to the object threaten to invalidate the boundary between law-bound nature and the autonomy of rational beings which was essential to the CPR. Kant himself actually follows aspects of the Enlightenment tradition of understanding music and objects, by seeing music as a 'language of emotions'.