Bailey, Rowan (2010) Herder’s Sculptural Thinking – A Philosophy for the People? In: Guest Lecture, April 2010, University of Leeds. (Unpublished)

Johann Gottfried Herder’s seminal text Plastik (1788) provides many examples of the link between sculptural thinking and the materiality of sculpture. Sculptural thinking derives from the tropic register of touch in philosophy and is an important sensorial registration of our material being-in-the-world, a register shaped from the ground of dialogical exchanges with what is ‘other’ to the touching ‘self’. Herder’s engagement with the materiality of sculpture enables him to put forward the idea that philosophical discourse must shape and form its own ‘solid’ concepts. These concepts stem from the traits of solidity, hardness, softness, smoothness, form, shape, and volume specific to sculpture. Contained within these registers of the sculptural, are aesthetic encounters with specific materials of sculpture. Whereas sight-based encounters supplement the three-dimensionality of sculpture with surface impressions, touch encounters (as dialogical exchanges), help philosophy to think ‘solidly’. Thinking sculpturally is borne out of attempts to concretise concepts in philosophy. In effect, Herder makes the materiality of sculpture persist as a weighted art form for the purposes of promoting an ideal about what philosophy should be. With a reading of Herder’s ideas on the slowness of thinking with works of sculpture, this paper will discuss the ways in which imaginative touch encounters present a limitless or ongoing reading for philosophy.

In this respect, the interrelation between sculpture and thinking continues to shape the language of aesthetic philosophy and the development of its terminology. How might we begin to register the ways in which the conceptual language of productive activity thinks its way through sculpture? Moreover, when Herder treats philosophy as if it were sculptural, does he provide new ways to read and write with the tools of sculpture? Indeed, do sculptural thinking encounters exemplify Herder’s overarching philosophy for the people?

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