The Aevum

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Here’s what I’ve been up to recently: Below is an abstract of this semester’s Independent Study Project that I am working on with Dr. Sharon Sieber. I’ve submitted the abstract to the Pacific Association for the Continental Tradition conference to be held in Seattle in late September of 2015. I came across the idea of the aevum while researching my previous project on Annunciation paintings last autumn.

“The Aevum: A Medieval Conception of Time to Feed the Soul in Modern Aesthetics”
My study investigates the aesthetic experience in two modernist works of art, Richard Wagner’s Parsifal and Richard Serra’s Torqued Ellipses. I contend that they bring the viewer into the aevum, or aeviternity, the medieval conception of a “middle-time” existing between temporality and eternity. Both Wagner’s and Serra’s work has sacred themes: Wagner retells the chivalric Holy Grail myth, with a particular emphasis on the “love-meal” or Eucharist with its sustaining power, and Serra gains inspiration from church architecture. My argument focuses on the similarity of the secularized aesthetic theories of Immanuel Kant and Theodor Adorno with medieval theories of the aevum, that is, what we might call an aesthetic temporal reality that draws one out of normal, quotidian time. Despite divergences, modern aesthetic theories posit a kind of middle-state of awareness. Kant proposes a contemplative aesthetic experience as a mode of thought separate from the work of art itself. In Adorno, the aesthetic experience and the work of art that elicits the experience have a closer connection. Both Kant and Adorno address temporality in aesthetic experience, although Adorno does so more directly. Additionally, Micheline Sauvage’s systematic approach posits hierarchical temporal modes to express the relationship between the viewer and the work of art. Her idea that the work of art is both in and with time provides compelling support for the argument that modern aesthetic theories demand a space-time which bears a remarkable resemblance to the medieval exposition of the aevum.
In spite of the overarching demand that ideas conform to Church dogma and tradition, there was still surprising diversity in medieval conceptions of time. While medieval thought regarding time may seem skewed and narrow from our vantage-point, our own contemporary conceptions of time are inseparable from the milieu of modernity: science and industrialization, both of which demand strict accuracy in the measurement of time. Therefore, contemporary thinkers have trouble understanding the subtleties of medieval conceptions of time, ultimately strove to explain hierarchical temporal realities for different kinds of sentience, including the human soul, considered to be everlasting. Medieval thought placed the soul in a special temporality, the aevum, which allows the soul to communicate in both mundane and spiritual time. The loss of the idea of soul in contemporary thought, as described by psychologist James Hillman, portends the loss of part of an individual’s potential psychic development and well-being. Regaining the idea that aesthetics is an inseparable, reciprocal relation of individual experience to the work of art, my investigation concludes that aesthetics exists in the aevum—an intersection of subject and object—in a middle-time between the profane and the divine, a crossroads of seemingly incompatible experiences and modes of existence.

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