Aesthetic Transactions

Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life

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Aesthetic Transactions: Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life
Aesthetic Transactions: Art et philosophie à l'état vif

Held between May 24th through June 6th, 2012

Held in conjunction with the conference L’art à l’état vif: 20 ans après / Pragmatist Aesthetics: 20 Years Later

Exhibition Curator: Richard Shusterman

Acknowledgements 

Images

Clip from the Exhibition's Opening and Performance

Aesthetic Transactions:
Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life

THIS ExHIBITION ORIGINATED with a Sorbonne project to 
organize a conference marking the twentieth anniversary of the 
publication of my book Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, 
Rethinking Art (Blackwell, 1992) which was simultaneously 
published in France as L’art à l’état vif: la pensée pragmatiste et 
l’esthétique populaire (Minuit, 1992). The project’s organizers 
— Richard Conte and Barbara Formis — had the genial idea to 
complement the conference with an art show at the Sorbonne’s 
Michel Journiac Gallery and thus highlight the pragmatic 
dimension of my work by exhibiting the connections of theory 
and practice. They further proposed that I curate the show, 
which they initially titled “Le vif état de l’art.” Although a 
curatorial virgin with no confidence in being equal to the task, 
I felt compelled to accept their offer, not only out of gratitude 
and curiosity, but also through a philosophical commitment to 
experiential openness in facing new challenges and engaging 
transdisciplinary projects; for the pragmatism I practice 
advocates experimentation as a key dimension of its philosophy 
of transactional experience. 

The notion of transactional experience is double-barreled. 
First, it underlines that experience is not something confined 
to the interiority of human consciousness but necessarily 
involves or incorporates the subject’s environment, both 
through active engagement and more passive absorption of 
environing conditions and energies. Transactional experience 
also connotes the idea of experiments in transcending 
disciplinary boundaries, transgressing entrenched dichotomies, 
and transforming established concepts or topics, together with 
the idea that these transactions can succeed in advancing both
theory and practice through the experiences and lessons that 
such experiments induce. Pragmatist Aesthetics represents my 
first foray into this transactional mode of theory, challenging 
the familiar aesthetic dualisms of art versus life, high art versus 
popular culture, the aesthetic versus the practical and political.  
Its chapter on the aesthetic import of rap music attracted the 
most media attention, especially in Europe, partly because that 
genre (and its philosophical treatment) seemed emblematic 
of the book’s activist vision of transactional theory and 
experience. Through the book’s transnational reception I found 
my own intellectual identity transformed from a mainstream 
Anglo-American philosopher into a provocative Grenzgänger
or passeur culturel. These terms, with their evocation of risky 
border-crossing and smuggling, are very hard to translate into 
English, and I first learned them (and so much else) through the 
book’s complex history of fourteen translations, in a variety of 
different-sized editions.

Translation is inevitably transactional and transfigurative. 
Titles are often especially resistant to good literal translations, 
so just as the original English title Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living 
Beauty, Rethinking Art was transformed into a very different 
title in French (and then again in German and some other 
languages), I have taken the liberty of transforming the original 
French title for this show into an English one that highlights the 
theme of transactional aesthetics while retaining (in the show’s 
subtitle) the notions of pragmatism, art, and life that figure in 
the book’s title in both French and English (and the many other 
languages in which it has been published). 

Aesthetic Transactions is an exhibition structured on two 
of the key themes of Pragmatist Aesthetics: First, aesthetic 
experience is not a passive, purposeless affair of disembodied 
contemplation but rather involves the active somatic 
engagement of purposive perceptual discrimination. Artworks 
are not only created through somatic action; their reception 
also involves the soma’s sensorimotor acts of perception and 
response, including its affective reactions. This core theme 
helps explain how the project of somaesthetics emerged as 
a logical consequence of my work in Pragmatist Aesthetics
(and is already present there in embryonic form). The second 
key theme that shapes this exhibition is that the philosopher’s 
most useful role in aesthetics should not be that of a distanced, 
dispassionate spectator, a disinterested judge, or passively 
pleased consumer, but instead that of an actively engaged 
participant concerned with improving aesthetic experience by 
heightening perception and enriching creativity and meaning.  
With respect to art, this means engaging in the complex 
processes of art’s creative flourishing through the critical 
reception, theoretical elaboration, and curatorial presentation 
of art. But such engagement can sometimes extend still further 
to collaborating in the actual creation of artworks, even to the 
point of physical involvement in their making, indeed even so 
far as putting the philosopher’s own body into the artwork. 
The works here exhibited by Luca Del Baldo (in painting) and 
Yann Toma (in photography and video) illustrate this ultimate 
pragmatist bridging of somaesthetic theory and artistic 
practice, where my own philosophical soma (with its expressive 
energies and cultural shaping) becomes the substance for 
artistic rendering.

Though my soma is otherwise absent from the works in this 
show, all of them are from artists with whom I have collaborated 
in some way through their interest in my theories of pragmatist 
aesthetics and somaesthetics, and through my fascination 
with the compelling ways their work expressed and deepened 
insights that I struggled to formulate in conceptual terms. The 
fact that this collaboration arose through the medium of theory 
illustrates a fruitful aspect of experiential pragmatism that is 
worth thematizing in this exhibition. The idea is that pragmatist 
transactional theory involves an orientation toward openness 
and a sensitivity to practice that in turn enrich and refashion 
theory. In this instance, my pragmatist aesthetic theories 
brought me into contact with visual artists attracted by those 
theories but whose collaborative engagement extended and Tatiana Trouvé
reshaped my theorizing in meaningful ways, including its range 
of topics. Such encounters in fact redirected my theory towards 
contemporary art.

Pragmatist Aesthetics hardly discusses contemporary 
art or the visual arts more generally. Its principal foci for 
aesthetic analysis were the arts of literature (especially poetry) 
and music (in the popular forms of rap and rock). Moreover, 
because its emancipatory arguments for a melioristic critical 
legitimation of popular art involved a pluralist critique of the 
exclusionary privilege accorded to the high art tradition of 
high-priced objects that Dewey disapprovingly dubbed “the 
museum conception of art,” the book’s pragmatist thrust 
might have seemed uncongenial to today’s extension of the 
high art tradition through artists who show in contemporary 
art museums and galleries. Yet the book’s core message of  
embodied transactional experience clearly spoke to certain 
artists whose ensuing dialogues with me directed my theorizing 
increasingly toward the visual arts. Some of the best of 
these artists generously provided the works displayed in this 
exhibition, and I take this opportunity to thank them again for 
their artistic quality, theoretical insights, and magnanimous 
friendship.

This is obviously a very personal show, and my long 
professional engagement with philosophy’s scientific quest for 
absolute objectivity and universality makes me well aware of 
its corresponding suspicion towards the personal approach 
or focus. But there are obvious exceptions: from Augustine’s 
Confessions to Montaigne’s Essays and then to Nietzsche (who 
held all philosophy was disguised autobiography), and even 
through to the introspective psychological probing of William 
James and the private notebooks of Wittgenstein. Just as 
“know thyself” formed the defining quest that first launched 
philosophy through Socrates’ interpretation of this Delphic 
maxim, so Descartes (a champion of objective certainty) started 
with the contents of his own subjective consciousness. What 
value could a philosophy of experience have without any 
personal perspective? Moreover, could our encounters with 
art be so inspiringly meaningful without the vivid affect and 
distinctive poetry of personal subjectivity? Art surely feels no 
need to apologize for being personal in its quest for truth or 
beauty, so why should philosophy, especially if it is construed 
pragmatically (as Socrates first defined it) as an art of living 
involving critical, meliorative care of the self rather than mere 
truth for truth’s sake? 
      
II

MY DIALOGICAL ENGAGEMENT with the seven artists in this 
show has enriched my life experience as well as my thought, so 
it seems right to frame my discussion of their work by noting 
the contexts of our collaboration. Carsten Höller was the first 
of them to contact me, in 1996, prompted by his interest in 
Pragmatist Aesthetics’ themes of full bodied, participatory 
aesthetic experience and the blurring of the established 
oppositions between life and art, the aesthetic and the ethical, 
knowledge and amusement. He asked me to write the text for 
the provocative House for Pigs and People he was in the midst 
of creating with Rosemarie Trockel for documenta x (1997).
A profoundly thoughtful artist concerned with highlighting the 
diversities, complexities, and multiple powers of aesthetic 
experience, Höller (with his doctorate in agricultural science) 
is also a master of transactional, cross-disciplinary creation, 
blending art and science in ways that engage the public’s 
embodied participation and that entertain (often with playful 
fun) as they edify, while highlighting that so-called visual 
art is always more than visual, involving a variety of somatic 
senses. Indeed, his amusingly instructive contribution to this 
show is meant to be experienced with one’s eyes closed.  
An intrinsically interactive work focused on our sense of 
proprioception (which neuroscience identifies as one of the 
distinctively somaesthetic senses), Höller’s Pinocchio Effect is 
based on experimental research on a proprioceptive perceptual
illusion defined (in 1988) as “the Pinocchio Illusion” by James 
Lackner, whose further studies in proprioception are deployed 
in the somaesthetic arguments of my book Body Consciousness
(Cambridge, 2008). The Pinocchio Effect involves the 
participant’s applying a vibrator to the biceps tendon of her arm 
while holding her nose with the hand of that arm. The vibrator 
stimulates muscle spindles in the biceps that would normally 
be stimulated by the muscle’s stretching, creating a kinesthetic 
illusion that the arm is moving away from the face. But since 
the fingers of that hand continue to give tactile sensations 
of contact with the nose, the subject feels her nose moving 
away from the face too and thus surprisingly growing longer. 
In creating a novel aesthetic experience that is dominantly 
proprioceptive, Höller’s piece also suggests that art’s illusionist 
powers also extend well beyond the visual.

I was introduced to Tatiana Trouvé at her show in the 
Miami-Basel art fair in early December 2007, the year she 
won the Marcel Duchamp Prize for young artists and a week 
after Le Monde ran a full-page commentary on the French 
translation of Body Consciousness. Immediately impressed 
by the exceptional beauty and unusual intelligence of her 
diverse oeuvre, I was happy to accept her invitation to explore 
this work from my pragmatist somaesthetic perspective by 
conducting a conversation with her, appearing along with 
essays by Robert Storr and Catherine Millet, for her book 
Tatiana Trouvé, published by Walther König in 2008. Our 
conversation, conducted in French, was entitled “Corps sans 
Figure” (“Body without a Face”), because I was particularly 
fascinated by the different ways that the soma is extremely 
central to Trouvé’s art and yet representations of it are entirely 
absent from her work. Though occasionally suggested through 
representational traces (such as a pair of shoes that peek 
out behind a panel that doesn’t quite reach the floor in Time 
Snares) or through indirect implication by strange contraptions 
that could suggest bodily use, the soma is perhaps most 
powerfully present in the transactional experience of her Polder20
installations whose reduced architectural spaces and furniture 
heighten one’s somatic awareness by making one feel one’s 
body is out of scale. I also find the soma strikingly evoked in 
her untitled “trees” of metal, leather, and epoxy paint, two 
of which are exhibited in this show. Their expressive standing 
forms suggest the body’s limbs, posture, and gesture, while 
their compositional layers of metal, leather, and paint evoke the 
body’s structure of bones covered by flesh and skin. Moreover, 
their beckoning beauty and congenial stature arouse a somatic 
sympathy that makes one feel one’s own body all the more. 
This feeling is heightened and complicated by one’s sense of 
the intense bodily effort that goes into the making of these 
pieces, including the extensive but meticulously detailed leather 
wrappings and lacings that simultaneously cover and reveal the 
metal skeleton.  

Long before first meeting ORLAN at the 2008 Miami-Basel 
fair, I knew her as a body artist of amazingly bold originality 
and world-historical status; so I was happy to discover her 
interest in somaesthetics and to welcome her to some events 
in this field. ORLAN’s signature notion of Carnal Art converges 
with pragmatist somaesthetics in emphasizing the soma’s role 
as both the site of aesthetic experiences of pleasure and as a 
medium for creative self-fashioning.  Her cosmetic surgeries 
are undertaken not to achieve a particular surgical result but to 
appreciate the transactional experiential process of remaking 
the self as a performative expression of individual freedom. 
The two photographic works exhibited in this show are taken 
from ORLAN’s 5th Surgery Performance, Operation-Opera, 
from Paris, July 6, 1991. They were earlier shown as part of a 
comprehensive solo exhibition of her Surgery-Performance 
Photos (the first ever held in the United States) that was 
organized by my Center for Body, Mind, and Culture at Florida 
Atlantic University in December 2010, in conjunction with the 
Center’s international conference on “Bodies of Art” in which 
ORLAN was a featured speaker.ORLAN Requests Silence from 
the Medical Team shows the artist in her harlequin hat and 
reading literature, clearly demonstrating her commitment to an 
aesthetics of performative process and pleasure that is at once 
serious and playful, as she formulates this point in her Carnal 
Art manifesto. “Carnal Art is not interested in the plastic surgery
result, but in the process of surgery,” repudiating “the 
Christian denial of body-pleasure” and its “tradition of suffering 
and martyrdom.” Though ORLAN’s manifesto claims “the artist 
works on representation,” this should not, I think, be construed 
as limiting such work to visual images. There is a profoundly 
experiential dimension to ORLAN’s art of living and creation of 
character that goes far deeper than the representational surface 
or the skin. 

Pan Gongkai is a shining exemplar of a contemporary 
Confucian polymath. Not only brilliantly successful in the 
genres of painting, installation, video, and architecture, he is 
also a proven master in the practical fields of art education 
and administration; and since 2002 he has served as president 
of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and guided its 
remarkable development. Pan is equally accomplished as an 
erudite theorist, and we have spent many hours in Beijing in 
philosophical dialogues about art, some of which have been 
published in Chinese art journals. One key focus in these 
discussions concerns the relationships between art and life, 
including the pragmatist idea of the ethical art of living that 
I first developed in Pragmatist Aesthetics from the Western 
tradition but that (as I increasingly realized) can find particularly 
rich resources in the classical Confucian notion of an ethics of 
harmony in which ethical education rests on the twin aesthetic 
pillars of art and ritual. 

Another key pragmatist theme I share with Pan Gongkai 
is cultural pluralism.  For him as for me, this pluralism in the 
contemporary globalized lifeworld does not mean that artists 
or philosophers must provide completely hybrid work that 
totally blends the different cultural traditions of East and 
West with their different vocabularies, themes, and images. 
Such a universal hybridized fusion could yield a confusing
hodgepodge that risks ruining the distinctive beauty of these 
diverse traditions. True pluralism also allows working in one’s 
own traditional vocabulary (painterly or conceptual) while being 
aware of its differences from other traditions. Pan’s abiding 
artistic passion in developing his beloved signature genre of 
lotus ink painting demonstrates the power of such commitment, 
as his works here show. One of them is a video of his 2011 
Venice Biennale installation Snow Melting in Lotus, which 
dramatically demonstrates his ideal of cultural pluralism with 
respect for difference. Onto the two immense panels of black, 
ink-painted lotus (rendered in his contemporary-traditional 
style), Pan projects, in the form of snow, the white letters of the 
English translation of his text on modern Western art and art 
theory. If this work suggests that Western art and art theory 
are continuously projected into Chinese aesthetic culture (thus 
bringing new brightness), it also implies that such projected 
imports melt into the enduringly beautiful but continuously 
evolving Chinese forms of lotus, nourishing them with moisture 
but not burying, distorting, or displacing them. West and 
East coexist in active harmony and moving beauty, without an 
isolating separation, but also without coercive fusion.

Thecla Schiphorst, an interactive media artist and researcher 
in the burgeoning multidisciplinary field of Human-Computer 
Interaction (HCI), likewise brings dynamic harmonies of vibrant 
beauty to an opposition as perhaps pervasive and problematic 
as the East/West divide, that of body and technology. While 
sometimes treated as a machine and recognized as our 
primordial instrument (hence most intimate technology), the 
human soma is typically contrasted to machines because 
of its living nature, its organic materials and composition, 
and its purposive subjectivity.  My somaesthetic project that 
emerged from Pragmatist Aesthetics seeks to remedy this 
troubling opposition (and related dualisms generated by 
the traditional body/mind dichotomy) by recognizing and 
integrating the soma’s twofold nature as both the material 
tool for performance and self-fashioning and as the perceptive
subjectivity using these instrumental materialities. Schiphorst 
explicitly uses somaesthetics as the theoretical framework 
for her interactive media art, and I first came across her work 
through her research article “soft(n): Toward a Somaesthetics 
of Touch” that describes a project of soft, interactive sculptural 
forms that react to qualities of human touch and movement 
by emitting different sounds (humming, sighing, singing) and 
patterns of light and shaking movements. In Tendrils (exhibited 
here and created in collaboration with her former student 
Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo), Schiphorst develops her transactional 
somaesthetic inquiry toward the somatically central art of 
fashion. Tendrils is a responsive, kinetic wearable artwork, an 
interactive garment that responds to being touched, both when 
touched locally by direct contact on the garment’s surfaces 
and when touched collectively through remotely transmitted 
signals from an Iphone Touch App that are delivered through 
a networked link to wearable armbands that are a part of the 
Tendrils network. The theme of high-tech softness is highlighted 
here through the fabric’s soft, conductive silk organza and the 
garment’s gentle flowing and responsive form, as if it were a 
second living skin, tender and sensitive in its own reactions of 
shivering and quivering, yet also incorporated into the wearer’s 
somatic experience.

Tendrils stroke-sensors are hand-sewn, and its crucial 
use of stitching on this second skin connects it clearly to the 
works of the other female artists exhibited here: skin stitching 
is essential to ORLAN’s surgery, and it is also suggested in 
the leather lacings of Trouvé’s somatic trees, whose hard but 
pliantly shaped metal skeletons contrast powerfully with the 
soft connective tissue of Tendrils. If stitching more generally 
evokes the domestic, feminine-gendered arts of sewing, 
knitting, and quilting, then these works also invite different 
kinds of feminist readings or strategies: from ORLAN’s 
outspoken affirmation of Carnal Art as militantly feminist, to 
Schiphorst’s explicit “embracing of ‘radically soft things’” as 
“a counterpoint to, or a critique of, the hard,” and then to 
Trouvé’s bewitchingly nuanced brew of softly bending shapes 
in immaculately laced leather skins that highlight rather than 
conceal the beauty of their hard skeletal core.  In first selecting 
these works, I never thought of juxtaposing them in terms 
of a feminist interpretation, but women’s issues pervade the 
field of somaesthetics, because our culture has so long and 
so profoundly identified women with their bodies. Since 
its meliorist agenda involves a critique of oppressive body 
norms while not abandoning the quest for somatic beauty 
and pleasure, somaesthetics has often been adopted as a 
framework for feminist theorizing outside the realm of art.

Men also have bodies that are subject to the judgmental 
gaze of disapproval, derision, or desire; bodies that are often 
painfully experienced as the locus of anxiety, discomfort, 
impotence, and illness; bodies that age and fail, that suffer 
and die; bodies that we male philosophers have traditionally 
sought to ignore or escape by identifying the true self with 
the mind, while identifying true life with the life of thought (as 
if such life could have any real content or energy without the 
sentient soma). Male bodies have also been the subjects of 
beautiful artistic renderings, and they are obviously essential 
to the artistic performance of male artists and the aesthetic 
experience of male viewers. Transactional pragmatist aesthetics 
thus demands a somaesthetics for all genders, as all art is 
created and perceived through the body. 

As Pragmatist Aesthetics unexpectedly earned me the 
controversial status of a rap philosopher and hip-hop fanzine 
columnist (aka Rich Frosted), so the somaesthetic research 
I undertook to write Body Consciousness transformed me 
not simply into a body philosopher but more surprisingly 
into a professional somatic educator and therapist (in the 
Feldenkrais Method). I realized that good pragmatist theory 
is best nourished by real practical know-how, which is best 
acquired through professional training and practice. But my 
theory-generated somaesthetic transformations of identity 
have evidently gone still further, stretching my philosophical 
self-image into forms even stranger than that of body therapist. 
Yann Toma and Luca Del Baldo invited me to participate in their 
creative process by being a collaborative model and performer. 
And how could a pragmatist theorist who insisted in putting the 
body back into philosophy and aesthetics refuse that invitation, 
especially when I argued that philosophy should be practiced 
as an embodied, transformative way of life? If I talked the talk, 
shouldn’t I also walk the walk? Besides, what better way to 
answer the question, recurrently posed by artists attending 
my lectures and workshops, “what is the connection between 
somaesthetics and contemporary art?” than by making that 
connection myself, by putting my own somaesthetic intelligence 
at the service of contemporary creation and by inserting my 
own body into the work of art.

My story with Yann Toma is older and longer, but Iet 
me here begin with Luca Del Baldo who contacted me in 
December 2010 to participate in his project of painting small 
oil portraits of influential theorists of culture, portraits based 
on photographed head shots that the theorist supplied and 
then complemented by a short text of response to the portrait. 
As Del Baldo provided me with a continuing flow of draftstages 
of my portrait, replete with commentary and questions 
about my reactions to this process, we developed a sense 
of aesthetic collaboration and camaraderie. So when the 
Sorbonne proposed that I curate a show connected to my work, 
I mentioned the project to Luca who proposed that we think 
of doing a special new work for it. Rather than another head, 
wouldn’t it be better, he argued, for a body philosopher to 
present more of the body; and he explained that “more” meant 
not only including the torso but also revealing it, tel quel, in 
frontal nakedness. 

We collaborated in choosing the portrait’s pose (from a 
host of photos I sent him, taken specially for this occasion) and 
later in selecting its colored mood and title. If the title Through 
the Arcade evokes something of the bizarre, disorienting 
fantasy of Through the Looking Glass — but displaced from 
rustic nineteenth-century Britain to the contemporary maze 
of posthuman arcade video games, then it also suggests the 
curious, errant, anxious flâneur of Walter Benjamin’s famous 
Arcades Project, who can savor even the discomfort involved 
in a continuous (perhaps compulsive) transactional crossing 
of boundaries that are spatial, social, and mental. The posture 
and facial expression in the work are likewise mysteriously 
vague, perhaps because they were spontaneous improvisations. 
Unaccustomed to posing naked, I simply raised my hands as a 
confessional shrug of helpless uncertainty. 

Meanings, however, abound. If the hands’ prominence 
identifies them as crucial instruments for both the philosopher’s 
writing and the artist’s painting, their gestural configuration 
of fingers has hieratic connotations: but whether it’s the 
traditional Jewish priestly blessing or Star Trek’s futuristic 
Vulcan salute is unclear. Despite the figure’s bare, direct frontal 
disclosure with the arms and hands raised and even the palms 
openly exposed so nothing is concealed, the meaning of this 
pose remains a mystery of absent narrative context. Am I a 
commanding prophet (perhaps from the mythic naturalist realm 
of Arcadia) or a lover raising his hands in wondering worship 
of his beauty waiting in bed, or instead a cautious victim held 
up by a bedroom gunman, or a wistful adulterer surprised by 
an angry wife or husband?  Sometimes I see myself merely as 
a naked philosopher with embarrassingly nothing in his hands 
to give the public, nothing except those hovering circles of 
light promising enlightenment and wholeness that may be 
as empty or fragile as soap bubbles. Still there remain the 
pragmatist values of experimentation and meliorist striving, the 
aesthetic experience of collaborative creation, and even the 
cognitive gains from exploring new practices that provoke new 
sensations, spur new energies and attitudes, and thus probe 
one’s current limits and perhaps transcend them to transform 
the self.

My work with Yann Toma epitomizes this experiential method 
of transactional aesthetic inquiry. Experience was indeed the 
theme of our first encounter in 2006, a short video interview 
for his project with the Collège International de Philosophie, 
where each selected philosopher had to give an impromptu 
lecture on a key concept central to that philosopher’s work, my 
choice being experience. Toma’s key themes are energy and 
light, which he treats in two complementary ways. First, in the 
spirit of conceptual art, he acquired the ownership of a defunct 
Paris electric company, Ouest-Lumière, and gave it new life 
as a virtual company for real artistic interventions, such as the 
project Dynamo Fukushima at the Parisian Grand Palais (2011), 
with eighteen thousand cyclists pedaling on stationary bikes 
with dynamos to create energy symbolically sent to Japan. 
The second way is through his practice of Radiant Flux, a form 
of space writing in which Toma tries to capture and visually 
represent the invisible aura of the person posing for him, an 
aura he perceives as a continuously changing, contextually 
sensitive energetic force emanating from the person’s body.  
After posing his photographic subject in a totally dark setting 
(normally indoors), positioning his camera on a tripod, and 
adjusting its setting for long exposure, Toma — dressed in 
black to make himself less visible and holding a hand lamp — 
releases the camera shutter and approaches the subject’s soma 
to trace its aura with the lamp’s light and then returns to close 
the shutter to complete the shot. The resulting photograph 
shows the subject framed by energetic lines of light. 

Knowing my work in somaesthetics and my experimental 
temperament, Toma invited me for a weekend of shooting at 
the beautiful medieval Royaumont Abbey in mid-June, 2010. 
Disinclined to leave the glorious sunshine for the blackened 
shooting room, I was even more reluctant to put on the shiny 
gold lycra body stocking that Toma insisted would make 
my aura more perceptible and energetic. Though he usually 
does not demand this of most subjects, he thought I was slim 
and bold enough to inhabit that glittering second skin, and 
I was surprised he was right. But after a long day and night 
of docile static posing in the dark, my deep somaesthetic 
drives for sunshine and movement made me suddenly bolt 
from the blackened room into the Abbey’s sunny, flower-fragrant 
courtyard and gardens. Grabbing his movie camera, 
Toma chased after me, filming my capering ramble through 
the Abbey grounds and ruins, which then prompted me to 
improvise scenarios of dance and gesture that fit my playful 
mood and picturesque environment, even approaching a group 
of tourists before returning to the Abbey’s private quarters 
to dine with its owners (our weekend hosts), who, stunned by 
my attire, dubbed me “L’homme en Or” (“The Man in Gold”). 
This new persona signaled a real change in our transactional 
aesthetic experience that Toma happily welcomed. By shifting 
the photographic setting, determining the poses, and even 
transforming the genre from still photography to video of me in 
movement, I had become a real partner in artistic creation. We 
decided to continue this collaborative enterprise by nocturnal 
outdoor filming in Paris and then in other scenic spots, such 
as the city, ramparts, and coast of Cartagena (Colombia) and 
the beaches of South Florida, generating a distinct genre of 
Somaflux in photographic stills and films, some of which are 
presented here. 

The artistic meanings of the Somaflux series, as I elsewhere 
explain, go far beyond the represented images in print or 
on screen. They involve a complex art of collaborative 
performative process, a developing dance of intuitive 
communication (of energies, feelings, and intentions) and 
cooperative improvisation that ultimately issues in photographic 
prints or video but is itself extremely rich in shared aesthetic 
experience for those involved in that creative performative 
process. My artistic experience as L’homme en Or raises an 
important question emerging from pragmatist aesthetics’ 
advocacy of philosophy as an art of living: what is the relation 
between the art of living and the art of the artworld? The 
issue is too complex  for a general answer here, but I can offer 
this personal example. Commitment to my philosophical art 
of living through the pragmatist perspective of transactional 
experience was what generated my artistic transformation into 
L’homme en Or, just as it generated the artworld works in which 
he appears. Conversely, that artistic transformation helped 
transform myself as a philosopher, both by providing me new 
insights into the performative process and aesthetic experience 
of artistic creation that I subsequently formulated in theoretical 
publications, and by extending my sense of personal identity 
as a transactional philosopher of the art of living to include 
this golden, free-spirited, aesthetic avatar who by extending 
my experience into new roles and contexts also expands my 
self and my self-knowledge. In other words, L’homme en Or is 
not a mere masquerade for making art images that conceal or 
disguise my real identity; he is rather an embodied projection 
of that genuine but complex and mutable identity (continuously 
in the making), an incorporated extension that helps shape, 
enrich, and transform it further.  If my work as L’homme en Or
had not freed me from some deep inhibitions, I would have 
never entertained the idea of posing nude for a painting like 
Del Baldo’s nor had the courage to exhibit it in public.

The act of publicly displaying myself in these ways 
risks the charge of exhibitionism, but it also continues the 
pragmatist project of transactional aesthetics into curatorial 
work and public artworld spaces, while integrating it with the 
philosophical project of self-knowledge by revealing oneself 
to others. Exposing myself in this way to an unknown public 
will surely test me in ways beyond those I faced in posing for 
two artist friends. (I try not to imagine what awaits me here.) 
Yet how can we have self-knowledge without self-exposure? 
We need the other’s viewpoint on ourselves to see our blind 
spots and know ourselves more wholly. Thus Socrates explains 
to Alcibiades that the self needs a loving other to properly 
see itself, just as one can see one’s own face reflected in one’s 
lover’s eyes. If art can provide such reflective transactions by 
which a philosopher can come to see and transform himself 
through self-exposure, if such artistic self-exposure can attract 
the attention of others whose reactions can further enrich 
philosophical self-knowledge, then why not embrace such 
experimentation? Why not risk, in practice, a fuller union of 
those ancient, often hostile, lovers: art and philosophy? Must a 
philosopher, to sustain his integrity, continue to abuse his loves 
by treating them only with critical attention, whether of probing 
interpretive analysis or imperious verdicts of value? I hope the 
experience of Aesthetic Transactions will reveal an alternative 
and a complement.

Richard Shusterman
Aesthetic Transactions:
Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life

THIS ExHIBITION ORIGINATED with a Sorbonne project to 
organize a conference marking the twentieth anniversary of the 
publication of my book Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, 
Rethinking Art (Blackwell, 1992) which was simultaneously 
published in France as L’art à l’état vif: la pensée pragmatiste et 
l’esthétique populaire (Minuit, 1992). The project’s organizers 
— Richard Conte and Barbara Formis — had the genial idea to 
complement the conference with an art show at the Sorbonne’s 
Michel Journiac Gallery and thus highlight the pragmatic 
dimension of my work by exhibiting the connections of theory 
and practice. They further proposed that I curate the show, 
which they initially titled “Le vif état de l’art.” Although a 
curatorial virgin with no confidence in being equal to the task, 
I felt compelled to accept their offer, not only out of gratitude 
and curiosity, but also through a philosophical commitment to 
experiential openness in facing new challenges and engaging 
transdisciplinary projects; for the pragmatism I practice 
advocates experimentation as a key dimension of its philosophy 
of transactional experience. 

The notion of transactional experience is double-barreled. 
First, it underlines that experience is not something confined 
to the interiority of human consciousness but necessarily 
involves or incorporates the subject’s environment, both 
through active engagement and more passive absorption of 
environing conditions and energies. Transactional experience 
also connotes the idea of experiments in transcending 
disciplinary boundaries, transgressing entrenched dichotomies, 
and transforming established concepts or topics, together with 
the idea that these transactions can succeed in advancing both
theory and practice through the experiences and lessons that 
such experiments induce. Pragmatist Aesthetics represents my 
first foray into this transactional mode of theory, challenging 
the familiar aesthetic dualisms of art versus life, high art versus 
popular culture, the aesthetic versus the practical and political.  
Its chapter on the aesthetic import of rap music attracted the 
most media attention, especially in Europe, partly because that 
genre (and its philosophical treatment) seemed emblematic 
of the book’s activist vision of transactional theory and 
experience. Through the book’s transnational reception I found 
my own intellectual identity transformed from a mainstream 
Anglo-American philosopher into a provocative Grenzgänger
or passeur culturel. These terms, with their evocation of risky 
border-crossing and smuggling, are very hard to translate into 
English, and I first learned them (and so much else) through the 
book’s complex history of fourteen translations, in a variety of 
different-sized editions.

Translation is inevitably transactional and transfigurative. 
Titles are often especially resistant to good literal translations, 
so just as the original English title Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living 
Beauty, Rethinking Art was transformed into a very different 
title in French (and then again in German and some other 
languages), I have taken the liberty of transforming the original 
French title for this show into an English one that highlights the 
theme of transactional aesthetics while retaining (in the show’s 
subtitle) the notions of pragmatism, art, and life that figure in 
the book’s title in both French and English (and the many other 
languages in which it has been published). 

Aesthetic Transactions is an exhibition structured on two 
of the key themes of Pragmatist Aesthetics: First, aesthetic 
experience is not a passive, purposeless affair of disembodied 
contemplation but rather involves the active somatic 
engagement of purposive perceptual discrimination. Artworks 
are not only created through somatic action; their reception 
also involves the soma’s sensorimotor acts of perception and 
response, including its affective reactions. This core theme 
helps explain how the project of somaesthetics emerged as 
a logical consequence of my work in Pragmatist Aesthetics
(and is already present there in embryonic form). The second 
key theme that shapes this exhibition is that the philosopher’s 
most useful role in aesthetics should not be that of a distanced, 
dispassionate spectator, a disinterested judge, or passively 
pleased consumer, but instead that of an actively engaged 
participant concerned with improving aesthetic experience by 
heightening perception and enriching creativity and meaning.  
With respect to art, this means engaging in the complex 
processes of art’s creative flourishing through the critical 
reception, theoretical elaboration, and curatorial presentation 
of art. But such engagement can sometimes extend still further 
to collaborating in the actual creation of artworks, even to the 
point of physical involvement in their making, indeed even so 
far as putting the philosopher’s own body into the artwork. 
The works here exhibited by Luca Del Baldo (in painting) and 
Yann Toma (in photography and video) illustrate this ultimate 
pragmatist bridging of somaesthetic theory and artistic 
practice, where my own philosophical soma (with its expressive 
energies and cultural shaping) becomes the substance for 
artistic rendering.

Though my soma is otherwise absent from the works in this 
show, all of them are from artists with whom I have collaborated 
in some way through their interest in my theories of pragmatist 
aesthetics and somaesthetics, and through my fascination 
with the compelling ways their work expressed and deepened 
insights that I struggled to formulate in conceptual terms. The 
fact that this collaboration arose through the medium of theory 
illustrates a fruitful aspect of experiential pragmatism that is 
worth thematizing in this exhibition. The idea is that pragmatist 
transactional theory involves an orientation toward openness 
and a sensitivity to practice that in turn enrich and refashion 
theory. In this instance, my pragmatist aesthetic theories 
brought me into contact with visual artists attracted by those 
theories but whose collaborative engagement extended and Tatiana Trouvé
reshaped my theorizing in meaningful ways, including its range 
of topics. Such encounters in fact redirected my theory towards 
contemporary art.

Pragmatist Aesthetics hardly discusses contemporary 
art or the visual arts more generally. Its principal foci for 
aesthetic analysis were the arts of literature (especially poetry) 
and music (in the popular forms of rap and rock). Moreover, 
because its emancipatory arguments for a melioristic critical 
legitimation of popular art involved a pluralist critique of the 
exclusionary privilege accorded to the high art tradition of 
high-priced objects that Dewey disapprovingly dubbed “the 
museum conception of art,” the book’s pragmatist thrust 
might have seemed uncongenial to today’s extension of the 
high art tradition through artists who show in contemporary 
art museums and galleries. Yet the book’s core message of  
embodied transactional experience clearly spoke to certain 
artists whose ensuing dialogues with me directed my theorizing 
increasingly toward the visual arts. Some of the best of 
these artists generously provided the works displayed in this 
exhibition, and I take this opportunity to thank them again for 
their artistic quality, theoretical insights, and magnanimous 
friendship.

This is obviously a very personal show, and my long 
professional engagement with philosophy’s scientific quest for 
absolute objectivity and universality makes me well aware of 
its corresponding suspicion towards the personal approach 
or focus. But there are obvious exceptions: from Augustine’s 
Confessions to Montaigne’s Essays and then to Nietzsche (who 
held all philosophy was disguised autobiography), and even 
through to the introspective psychological probing of William 
James and the private notebooks of Wittgenstein. Just as 
“know thyself” formed the defining quest that first launched 
philosophy through Socrates’ interpretation of this Delphic 
maxim, so Descartes (a champion of objective certainty) started 
with the contents of his own subjective consciousness. What 
value could a philosophy of experience have without any 
personal perspective? Moreover, could our encounters with 
art be so inspiringly meaningful without the vivid affect and 
distinctive poetry of personal subjectivity? Art surely feels no 
need to apologize for being personal in its quest for truth or 
beauty, so why should philosophy, especially if it is construed 
pragmatically (as Socrates first defined it) as an art of living 
involving critical, meliorative care of the self rather than mere 
truth for truth’s sake? 
      
II

MY DIALOGICAL ENGAGEMENT with the seven artists in this 
show has enriched my life experience as well as my thought, so 
it seems right to frame my discussion of their work by noting 
the contexts of our collaboration. Carsten Höller was the first 
of them to contact me, in 1996, prompted by his interest in 
Pragmatist Aesthetics’ themes of full bodied, participatory 
aesthetic experience and the blurring of the established 
oppositions between life and art, the aesthetic and the ethical, 
knowledge and amusement. He asked me to write the text for 
the provocative House for Pigs and People he was in the midst 
of creating with Rosemarie Trockel for documenta x (1997).
A profoundly thoughtful artist concerned with highlighting the 
diversities, complexities, and multiple powers of aesthetic 
experience, Höller (with his doctorate in agricultural science) 
is also a master of transactional, cross-disciplinary creation, 
blending art and science in ways that engage the public’s 
embodied participation and that entertain (often with playful 
fun) as they edify, while highlighting that so-called visual 
art is always more than visual, involving a variety of somatic 
senses. Indeed, his amusingly instructive contribution to this 
show is meant to be experienced with one’s eyes closed.  
An intrinsically interactive work focused on our sense of 
proprioception (which neuroscience identifies as one of the 
distinctively somaesthetic senses), Höller’s Pinocchio Effect is 
based on experimental research on a proprioceptive perceptual
illusion defined (in 1988) as “the Pinocchio Illusion” by James 
Lackner, whose further studies in proprioception are deployed 
in the somaesthetic arguments of my book Body Consciousness
(Cambridge, 2008). The Pinocchio Effect involves the 
participant’s applying a vibrator to the biceps tendon of her arm 
while holding her nose with the hand of that arm. The vibrator 
stimulates muscle spindles in the biceps that would normally 
be stimulated by the muscle’s stretching, creating a kinesthetic 
illusion that the arm is moving away from the face. But since 
the fingers of that hand continue to give tactile sensations 
of contact with the nose, the subject feels her nose moving 
away from the face too and thus surprisingly growing longer. 
In creating a novel aesthetic experience that is dominantly 
proprioceptive, Höller’s piece also suggests that art’s illusionist 
powers also extend well beyond the visual.

I was introduced to Tatiana Trouvé at her show in the 
Miami-Basel art fair in early December 2007, the year she 
won the Marcel Duchamp Prize for young artists and a week 
after Le Monde ran a full-page commentary on the French 
translation of Body Consciousness. Immediately impressed 
by the exceptional beauty and unusual intelligence of her 
diverse oeuvre, I was happy to accept her invitation to explore 
this work from my pragmatist somaesthetic perspective by 
conducting a conversation with her, appearing along with 
essays by Robert Storr and Catherine Millet, for her book 
Tatiana Trouvé, published by Walther König in 2008. Our 
conversation, conducted in French, was entitled “Corps sans 
Figure” (“Body without a Face”), because I was particularly 
fascinated by the different ways that the soma is extremely 
central to Trouvé’s art and yet representations of it are entirely 
absent from her work. Though occasionally suggested through 
representational traces (such as a pair of shoes that peek 
out behind a panel that doesn’t quite reach the floor in Time 
Snares) or through indirect implication by strange contraptions 
that could suggest bodily use, the soma is perhaps most 
powerfully present in the transactional experience of her Polder20
installations whose reduced architectural spaces and furniture 
heighten one’s somatic awareness by making one feel one’s 
body is out of scale. I also find the soma strikingly evoked in 
her untitled “trees” of metal, leather, and epoxy paint, two 
of which are exhibited in this show. Their expressive standing 
forms suggest the body’s limbs, posture, and gesture, while 
their compositional layers of metal, leather, and paint evoke the 
body’s structure of bones covered by flesh and skin. Moreover, 
their beckoning beauty and congenial stature arouse a somatic 
sympathy that makes one feel one’s own body all the more. 
This feeling is heightened and complicated by one’s sense of 
the intense bodily effort that goes into the making of these 
pieces, including the extensive but meticulously detailed leather 
wrappings and lacings that simultaneously cover and reveal the 
metal skeleton.  

Long before first meeting ORLAN at the 2008 Miami-Basel 
fair, I knew her as a body artist of amazingly bold originality 
and world-historical status; so I was happy to discover her 
interest in somaesthetics and to welcome her to some events 
in this field. ORLAN’s signature notion of Carnal Art converges 
with pragmatist somaesthetics in emphasizing the soma’s role 
as both the site of aesthetic experiences of pleasure and as a 
medium for creative self-fashioning.  Her cosmetic surgeries 
are undertaken not to achieve a particular surgical result but to 
appreciate the transactional experiential process of remaking 
the self as a performative expression of individual freedom. 
The two photographic works exhibited in this show are taken 
from ORLAN’s 5th Surgery Performance, Operation-Opera, 
from Paris, July 6, 1991. They were earlier shown as part of a 
comprehensive solo exhibition of her Surgery-Performance 
Photos (the first ever held in the United States) that was 
organized by my Center for Body, Mind, and Culture at Florida 
Atlantic University in December 2010, in conjunction with the 
Center’s international conference on “Bodies of Art” in which 
ORLAN was a featured speaker.ORLAN Requests Silence from 
the Medical Team shows the artist in her harlequin hat and 
reading literature, clearly demonstrating her commitment to an 
aesthetics of performative process and pleasure that is at once 
serious and playful, as she formulates this point in her Carnal 
Art manifesto. “Carnal Art is not interested in the plastic surgery
result, but in the process of surgery,” repudiating “the 
Christian denial of body-pleasure” and its “tradition of suffering 
and martyrdom.” Though ORLAN’s manifesto claims “the artist 
works on representation,” this should not, I think, be construed 
as limiting such work to visual images. There is a profoundly 
experiential dimension to ORLAN’s art of living and creation of 
character that goes far deeper than the representational surface 
or the skin. 

Pan Gongkai is a shining exemplar of a contemporary 
Confucian polymath. Not only brilliantly successful in the 
genres of painting, installation, video, and architecture, he is 
also a proven master in the practical fields of art education 
and administration; and since 2002 he has served as president 
of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and guided its 
remarkable development. Pan is equally accomplished as an 
erudite theorist, and we have spent many hours in Beijing in 
philosophical dialogues about art, some of which have been 
published in Chinese art journals. One key focus in these 
discussions concerns the relationships between art and life, 
including the pragmatist idea of the ethical art of living that 
I first developed in Pragmatist Aesthetics from the Western 
tradition but that (as I increasingly realized) can find particularly 
rich resources in the classical Confucian notion of an ethics of 
harmony in which ethical education rests on the twin aesthetic 
pillars of art and ritual. 

Another key pragmatist theme I share with Pan Gongkai 
is cultural pluralism.  For him as for me, this pluralism in the 
contemporary globalized lifeworld does not mean that artists 
or philosophers must provide completely hybrid work that 
totally blends the different cultural traditions of East and 
West with their different vocabularies, themes, and images. 
Such a universal hybridized fusion could yield a confusing
hodgepodge that risks ruining the distinctive beauty of these 
diverse traditions. True pluralism also allows working in one’s 
own traditional vocabulary (painterly or conceptual) while being 
aware of its differences from other traditions. Pan’s abiding 
artistic passion in developing his beloved signature genre of 
lotus ink painting demonstrates the power of such commitment, 
as his works here show. One of them is a video of his 2011 
Venice Biennale installation Snow Melting in Lotus, which 
dramatically demonstrates his ideal of cultural pluralism with 
respect for difference. Onto the two immense panels of black, 
ink-painted lotus (rendered in his contemporary-traditional 
style), Pan projects, in the form of snow, the white letters of the 
English translation of his text on modern Western art and art 
theory. If this work suggests that Western art and art theory 
are continuously projected into Chinese aesthetic culture (thus 
bringing new brightness), it also implies that such projected 
imports melt into the enduringly beautiful but continuously 
evolving Chinese forms of lotus, nourishing them with moisture 
but not burying, distorting, or displacing them. West and 
East coexist in active harmony and moving beauty, without an 
isolating separation, but also without coercive fusion.

Thecla Schiphorst, an interactive media artist and researcher 
in the burgeoning multidisciplinary field of Human-Computer 
Interaction (HCI), likewise brings dynamic harmonies of vibrant 
beauty to an opposition as perhaps pervasive and problematic 
as the East/West divide, that of body and technology. While 
sometimes treated as a machine and recognized as our 
primordial instrument (hence most intimate technology), the 
human soma is typically contrasted to machines because 
of its living nature, its organic materials and composition, 
and its purposive subjectivity.  My somaesthetic project that 
emerged from Pragmatist Aesthetics seeks to remedy this 
troubling opposition (and related dualisms generated by 
the traditional body/mind dichotomy) by recognizing and 
integrating the soma’s twofold nature as both the material 
tool for performance and self-fashioning and as the perceptive
subjectivity using these instrumental materialities. Schiphorst 
explicitly uses somaesthetics as the theoretical framework 
for her interactive media art, and I first came across her work 
through her research article “soft(n): Toward a Somaesthetics 
of Touch” that describes a project of soft, interactive sculptural 
forms that react to qualities of human touch and movement 
by emitting different sounds (humming, sighing, singing) and 
patterns of light and shaking movements. In Tendrils (exhibited 
here and created in collaboration with her former student 
Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo), Schiphorst develops her transactional 
somaesthetic inquiry toward the somatically central art of 
fashion. Tendrils is a responsive, kinetic wearable artwork, an 
interactive garment that responds to being touched, both when 
touched locally by direct contact on the garment’s surfaces 
and when touched collectively through remotely transmitted 
signals from an Iphone Touch App that are delivered through 
a networked link to wearable armbands that are a part of the 
Tendrils network. The theme of high-tech softness is highlighted 
here through the fabric’s soft, conductive silk organza and the 
garment’s gentle flowing and responsive form, as if it were a 
second living skin, tender and sensitive in its own reactions of 
shivering and quivering, yet also incorporated into the wearer’s 
somatic experience.

Tendrils stroke-sensors are hand-sewn, and its crucial 
use of stitching on this second skin connects it clearly to the 
works of the other female artists exhibited here: skin stitching 
is essential to ORLAN’s surgery, and it is also suggested in 
the leather lacings of Trouvé’s somatic trees, whose hard but 
pliantly shaped metal skeletons contrast powerfully with the 
soft connective tissue of Tendrils. If stitching more generally 
evokes the domestic, feminine-gendered arts of sewing, 
knitting, and quilting, then these works also invite different 
kinds of feminist readings or strategies: from ORLAN’s 
outspoken affirmation of Carnal Art as militantly feminist, to 
Schiphorst’s explicit “embracing of ‘radically soft things’” as 
“a counterpoint to, or a critique of, the hard,” and then to 
Trouvé’s bewitchingly nuanced brew of softly bending shapes 
in immaculately laced leather skins that highlight rather than 
conceal the beauty of their hard skeletal core.  In first selecting 
these works, I never thought of juxtaposing them in terms 
of a feminist interpretation, but women’s issues pervade the 
field of somaesthetics, because our culture has so long and 
so profoundly identified women with their bodies. Since 
its meliorist agenda involves a critique of oppressive body 
norms while not abandoning the quest for somatic beauty 
and pleasure, somaesthetics has often been adopted as a 
framework for feminist theorizing outside the realm of art.

Men also have bodies that are subject to the judgmental 
gaze of disapproval, derision, or desire; bodies that are often 
painfully experienced as the locus of anxiety, discomfort, 
impotence, and illness; bodies that age and fail, that suffer 
and die; bodies that we male philosophers have traditionally 
sought to ignore or escape by identifying the true self with 
the mind, while identifying true life with the life of thought (as 
if such life could have any real content or energy without the 
sentient soma). Male bodies have also been the subjects of 
beautiful artistic renderings, and they are obviously essential 
to the artistic performance of male artists and the aesthetic 
experience of male viewers. Transactional pragmatist aesthetics 
thus demands a somaesthetics for all genders, as all art is 
created and perceived through the body. 

As Pragmatist Aesthetics unexpectedly earned me the 
controversial status of a rap philosopher and hip-hop fanzine 
columnist (aka Rich Frosted), so the somaesthetic research 
I undertook to write Body Consciousness transformed me 
not simply into a body philosopher but more surprisingly 
into a professional somatic educator and therapist (in the 
Feldenkrais Method). I realized that good pragmatist theory 
is best nourished by real practical know-how, which is best 
acquired through professional training and practice. But my 
theory-generated somaesthetic transformations of identity 
have evidently gone still further, stretching my philosophical 
self-image into forms even stranger than that of body therapist. 
Yann Toma and Luca Del Baldo invited me to participate in their 
creative process by being a collaborative model and performer. 
And how could a pragmatist theorist who insisted in putting the 
body back into philosophy and aesthetics refuse that invitation, 
especially when I argued that philosophy should be practiced 
as an embodied, transformative way of life? If I talked the talk, 
shouldn’t I also walk the walk? Besides, what better way to 
answer the question, recurrently posed by artists attending 
my lectures and workshops, “what is the connection between 
somaesthetics and contemporary art?” than by making that 
connection myself, by putting my own somaesthetic intelligence 
at the service of contemporary creation and by inserting my 
own body into the work of art.

My story with Yann Toma is older and longer, but Iet 
me here begin with Luca Del Baldo who contacted me in 
December 2010 to participate in his project of painting small 
oil portraits of influential theorists of culture, portraits based 
on photographed head shots that the theorist supplied and 
then complemented by a short text of response to the portrait. 
As Del Baldo provided me with a continuing flow of draftstages 
of my portrait, replete with commentary and questions 
about my reactions to this process, we developed a sense 
of aesthetic collaboration and camaraderie. So when the 
Sorbonne proposed that I curate a show connected to my work, 
I mentioned the project to Luca who proposed that we think 
of doing a special new work for it. Rather than another head, 
wouldn’t it be better, he argued, for a body philosopher to 
present more of the body; and he explained that “more” meant 
not only including the torso but also revealing it, tel quel, in 
frontal nakedness. 

We collaborated in choosing the portrait’s pose (from a 
host of photos I sent him, taken specially for this occasion) and 
later in selecting its colored mood and title. If the title Through 
the Arcade evokes something of the bizarre, disorienting 
fantasy of Through the Looking Glass — but displaced from 
rustic nineteenth-century Britain to the contemporary maze 
of posthuman arcade video games, then it also suggests the 
curious, errant, anxious flâneur of Walter Benjamin’s famous 
Arcades Project, who can savor even the discomfort involved 
in a continuous (perhaps compulsive) transactional crossing 
of boundaries that are spatial, social, and mental. The posture 
and facial expression in the work are likewise mysteriously 
vague, perhaps because they were spontaneous improvisations. 
Unaccustomed to posing naked, I simply raised my hands as a 
confessional shrug of helpless uncertainty. 

Meanings, however, abound. If the hands’ prominence 
identifies them as crucial instruments for both the philosopher’s 
writing and the artist’s painting, their gestural configuration 
of fingers has hieratic connotations: but whether it’s the 
traditional Jewish priestly blessing or Star Trek’s futuristic 
Vulcan salute is unclear. Despite the figure’s bare, direct frontal 
disclosure with the arms and hands raised and even the palms 
openly exposed so nothing is concealed, the meaning of this 
pose remains a mystery of absent narrative context. Am I a 
commanding prophet (perhaps from the mythic naturalist realm 
of Arcadia) or a lover raising his hands in wondering worship 
of his beauty waiting in bed, or instead a cautious victim held 
up by a bedroom gunman, or a wistful adulterer surprised by 
an angry wife or husband?  Sometimes I see myself merely as 
a naked philosopher with embarrassingly nothing in his hands 
to give the public, nothing except those hovering circles of 
light promising enlightenment and wholeness that may be 
as empty or fragile as soap bubbles. Still there remain the 
pragmatist values of experimentation and meliorist striving, the 
aesthetic experience of collaborative creation, and even the 
cognitive gains from exploring new practices that provoke new 
sensations, spur new energies and attitudes, and thus probe 
one’s current limits and perhaps transcend them to transform 
the self.

My work with Yann Toma epitomizes this experiential method 
of transactional aesthetic inquiry. Experience was indeed the 
theme of our first encounter in 2006, a short video interview 
for his project with the Collège International de Philosophie, 
where each selected philosopher had to give an impromptu 
lecture on a key concept central to that philosopher’s work, my 
choice being experience. Toma’s key themes are energy and 
light, which he treats in two complementary ways. First, in the 
spirit of conceptual art, he acquired the ownership of a defunct 
Paris electric company, Ouest-Lumière, and gave it new life 
as a virtual company for real artistic interventions, such as the 
project Dynamo Fukushima at the Parisian Grand Palais (2011), 
with eighteen thousand cyclists pedaling on stationary bikes 
with dynamos to create energy symbolically sent to Japan. 
The second way is through his practice of Radiant Flux, a form 
of space writing in which Toma tries to capture and visually 
represent the invisible aura of the person posing for him, an 
aura he perceives as a continuously changing, contextually 
sensitive energetic force emanating from the person’s body.  
After posing his photographic subject in a totally dark setting 
(normally indoors), positioning his camera on a tripod, and 
adjusting its setting for long exposure, Toma — dressed in 
black to make himself less visible and holding a hand lamp — 
releases the camera shutter and approaches the subject’s soma 
to trace its aura with the lamp’s light and then returns to close 
the shutter to complete the shot. The resulting photograph 
shows the subject framed by energetic lines of light. 

Knowing my work in somaesthetics and my experimental 
temperament, Toma invited me for a weekend of shooting at 
the beautiful medieval Royaumont Abbey in mid-June, 2010. 
Disinclined to leave the glorious sunshine for the blackened 
shooting room, I was even more reluctant to put on the shiny 
gold lycra body stocking that Toma insisted would make 
my aura more perceptible and energetic. Though he usually 
does not demand this of most subjects, he thought I was slim 
and bold enough to inhabit that glittering second skin, and 
I was surprised he was right. But after a long day and night 
of docile static posing in the dark, my deep somaesthetic 
drives for sunshine and movement made me suddenly bolt 
from the blackened room into the Abbey’s sunny, flower-fragrant 
courtyard and gardens. Grabbing his movie camera, 
Toma chased after me, filming my capering ramble through 
the Abbey grounds and ruins, which then prompted me to 
improvise scenarios of dance and gesture that fit my playful 
mood and picturesque environment, even approaching a group 
of tourists before returning to the Abbey’s private quarters 
to dine with its owners (our weekend hosts), who, stunned by 
my attire, dubbed me “L’homme en Or” (“The Man in Gold”). 
This new persona signaled a real change in our transactional 
aesthetic experience that Toma happily welcomed. By shifting 
the photographic setting, determining the poses, and even 
transforming the genre from still photography to video of me in 
movement, I had become a real partner in artistic creation. We 
decided to continue this collaborative enterprise by nocturnal 
outdoor filming in Paris and then in other scenic spots, such 
as the city, ramparts, and coast of Cartagena (Colombia) and 
the beaches of South Florida, generating a distinct genre of 
Somaflux in photographic stills and films, some of which are 
presented here. 

The artistic meanings of the Somaflux series, as I elsewhere 
explain, go far beyond the represented images in print or 
on screen. They involve a complex art of collaborative 
performative process, a developing dance of intuitive 
communication (of energies, feelings, and intentions) and 
cooperative improvisation that ultimately issues in photographic 
prints or video but is itself extremely rich in shared aesthetic 
experience for those involved in that creative performative 
process. My artistic experience as L’homme en Or raises an 
important question emerging from pragmatist aesthetics’ 
advocacy of philosophy as an art of living: what is the relation 
between the art of living and the art of the artworld? The 
issue is too complex  for a general answer here, but I can offer 
this personal example. Commitment to my philosophical art 
of living through the pragmatist perspective of transactional 
experience was what generated my artistic transformation into 
L’homme en Or, just as it generated the artworld works in which 
he appears. Conversely, that artistic transformation helped 
transform myself as a philosopher, both by providing me new 
insights into the performative process and aesthetic experience 
of artistic creation that I subsequently formulated in theoretical 
publications, and by extending my sense of personal identity 
as a transactional philosopher of the art of living to include 
this golden, free-spirited, aesthetic avatar who by extending 
my experience into new roles and contexts also expands my 
self and my self-knowledge. In other words, L’homme en Or is 
not a mere masquerade for making art images that conceal or 
disguise my real identity; he is rather an embodied projection 
of that genuine but complex and mutable identity (continuously 
in the making), an incorporated extension that helps shape, 
enrich, and transform it further.  If my work as L’homme en Or
had not freed me from some deep inhibitions, I would have 
never entertained the idea of posing nude for a painting like 
Del Baldo’s nor had the courage to exhibit it in public.

The act of publicly displaying myself in these ways 
risks the charge of exhibitionism, but it also continues the 
pragmatist project of transactional aesthetics into curatorial 
work and public artworld spaces, while integrating it with the 
philosophical project of self-knowledge by revealing oneself 
to others. Exposing myself in this way to an unknown public 
will surely test me in ways beyond those I faced in posing for 
two artist friends. (I try not to imagine what awaits me here.) 
Yet how can we have self-knowledge without self-exposure? 
We need the other’s viewpoint on ourselves to see our blind 
spots and know ourselves more wholly. Thus Socrates explains 
to Alcibiades that the self needs a loving other to properly 
see itself, just as one can see one’s own face reflected in one’s 
lover’s eyes. If art can provide such reflective transactions by 
which a philosopher can come to see and transform himself 
through self-exposure, if such artistic self-exposure can attract 
the attention of others whose reactions can further enrich 
philosophical self-knowledge, then why not embrace such 
experimentation? Why not risk, in practice, a fuller union of 
those ancient, often hostile, lovers: art and philosophy? Must a 
philosopher, to sustain his integrity, continue to abuse his loves 
by treating them only with critical attention, whether of probing 
interpretive analysis or imperious verdicts of value? I hope the 
experience of Aesthetic Transactions will reveal an alternative 
and a complement.

Richard Shusterman
Aesthetic Transactions:
Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life

THIS ExHIBITION ORIGINATED with a Sorbonne project to 
organize a conference marking the twentieth anniversary of the 
publication of my book Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, 
Rethinking Art (Blackwell, 1992) which was simultaneously 
published in France as L’art à l’état vif: la pensée pragmatiste et 
l’esthétique populaire (Minuit, 1992). The project’s organizers 
— Richard Conte and Barbara Formis — had the genial idea to 
complement the conference with an art show at the Sorbonne’s 
Michel Journiac Gallery and thus highlight the pragmatic 
dimension of my work by exhibiting the connections of theory 
and practice. They further proposed that I curate the show, 
which they initially titled “Le vif état de l’art.” Although a 
curatorial virgin with no confidence in being equal to the task, 
I felt compelled to accept their offer, not only out of gratitude 
and curiosity, but also through a philosophical commitment to 
experiential openness in facing new challenges and engaging 
transdisciplinary projects; for the pragmatism I practice 
advocates experimentation as a key dimension of its philosophy 
of transactional experience. 

The notion of transactional experience is double-barreled. 
First, it underlines that experience is not something confined 
to the interiority of human consciousness but necessarily 
involves or incorporates the subject’s environment, both 
through active engagement and more passive absorption of 
environing conditions and energies. Transactional experience 
also connotes the idea of experiments in transcending 
disciplinary boundaries, transgressing entrenched dichotomies, 
and transforming established concepts or topics, together with 
the idea that these transactions can succeed in advancing both
theory and practice through the experiences and lessons that 
such experiments induce. Pragmatist Aesthetics represents my 
first foray into this transactional mode of theory, challenging 
the familiar aesthetic dualisms of art versus life, high art versus 
popular culture, the aesthetic versus the practical and political.  
Its chapter on the aesthetic import of rap music attracted the 
most media attention, especially in Europe, partly because that 
genre (and its philosophical treatment) seemed emblematic 
of the book’s activist vision of transactional theory and 
experience. Through the book’s transnational reception I found 
my own intellectual identity transformed from a mainstream 
Anglo-American philosopher into a provocative Grenzgänger
or passeur culturel. These terms, with their evocation of risky 
border-crossing and smuggling, are very hard to translate into 
English, and I first learned them (and so much else) through the 
book’s complex history of fourteen translations, in a variety of 
different-sized editions.

Translation is inevitably transactional and transfigurative. 
Titles are often especially resistant to good literal translations, 
so just as the original English title Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living 
Beauty, Rethinking Art was transformed into a very different 
title in French (and then again in German and some other 
languages), I have taken the liberty of transforming the original 
French title for this show into an English one that highlights the 
theme of transactional aesthetics while retaining (in the show’s 
subtitle) the notions of pragmatism, art, and life that figure in 
the book’s title in both French and English (and the many other 
languages in which it has been published). 

Aesthetic Transactions is an exhibition structured on two 
of the key themes of Pragmatist Aesthetics: First, aesthetic 
experience is not a passive, purposeless affair of disembodied 
contemplation but rather involves the active somatic 
engagement of purposive perceptual discrimination. Artworks 
are not only created through somatic action; their reception 
also involves the soma’s sensorimotor acts of perception and 
response, including its affective reactions. This core theme 
helps explain how the project of somaesthetics emerged as 
a logical consequence of my work in Pragmatist Aesthetics
(and is already present there in embryonic form). The second 
key theme that shapes this exhibition is that the philosopher’s 
most useful role in aesthetics should not be that of a distanced, 
dispassionate spectator, a disinterested judge, or passively 
pleased consumer, but instead that of an actively engaged 
participant concerned with improving aesthetic experience by 
heightening perception and enriching creativity and meaning.  
With respect to art, this means engaging in the complex 
processes of art’s creative flourishing through the critical 
reception, theoretical elaboration, and curatorial presentation 
of art. But such engagement can sometimes extend still further 
to collaborating in the actual creation of artworks, even to the 
point of physical involvement in their making, indeed even so 
far as putting the philosopher’s own body into the artwork. 
The works here exhibited by Luca Del Baldo (in painting) and 
Yann Toma (in photography and video) illustrate this ultimate 
pragmatist bridging of somaesthetic theory and artistic 
practice, where my own philosophical soma (with its expressive 
energies and cultural shaping) becomes the substance for 
artistic rendering.

Though my soma is otherwise absent from the works in this 
show, all of them are from artists with whom I have collaborated 
in some way through their interest in my theories of pragmatist 
aesthetics and somaesthetics, and through my fascination 
with the compelling ways their work expressed and deepened 
insights that I struggled to formulate in conceptual terms. The 
fact that this collaboration arose through the medium of theory 
illustrates a fruitful aspect of experiential pragmatism that is 
worth thematizing in this exhibition. The idea is that pragmatist 
transactional theory involves an orientation toward openness 
and a sensitivity to practice that in turn enrich and refashion 
theory. In this instance, my pragmatist aesthetic theories 
brought me into contact with visual artists attracted by those 
theories but whose collaborative engagement extended and Tatiana Trouvé
reshaped my theorizing in meaningful ways, including its range 
of topics. Such encounters in fact redirected my theory towards 
contemporary art.

Pragmatist Aesthetics hardly discusses contemporary 
art or the visual arts more generally. Its principal foci for 
aesthetic analysis were the arts of literature (especially poetry) 
and music (in the popular forms of rap and rock). Moreover, 
because its emancipatory arguments for a melioristic critical 
legitimation of popular art involved a pluralist critique of the 
exclusionary privilege accorded to the high art tradition of 
high-priced objects that Dewey disapprovingly dubbed “the 
museum conception of art,” the book’s pragmatist thrust 
might have seemed uncongenial to today’s extension of the 
high art tradition through artists who show in contemporary 
art museums and galleries. Yet the book’s core message of  
embodied transactional experience clearly spoke to certain 
artists whose ensuing dialogues with me directed my theorizing 
increasingly toward the visual arts. Some of the best of 
these artists generously provided the works displayed in this 
exhibition, and I take this opportunity to thank them again for 
their artistic quality, theoretical insights, and magnanimous 
friendship.

This is obviously a very personal show, and my long 
professional engagement with philosophy’s scientific quest for 
absolute objectivity and universality makes me well aware of 
its corresponding suspicion towards the personal approach 
or focus. But there are obvious exceptions: from Augustine’s 
Confessions to Montaigne’s Essays and then to Nietzsche (who 
held all philosophy was disguised autobiography), and even 
through to the introspective psychological probing of William 
James and the private notebooks of Wittgenstein. Just as 
“know thyself” formed the defining quest that first launched 
philosophy through Socrates’ interpretation of this Delphic 
maxim, so Descartes (a champion of objective certainty) started 
with the contents of his own subjective consciousness. What 
value could a philosophy of experience have without any 
personal perspective? Moreover, could our encounters with 
art be so inspiringly meaningful without the vivid affect and 
distinctive poetry of personal subjectivity? Art surely feels no 
need to apologize for being personal in its quest for truth or 
beauty, so why should philosophy, especially if it is construed 
pragmatically (as Socrates first defined it) as an art of living 
involving critical, meliorative care of the self rather than mere 
truth for truth’s sake? 
      
II

MY DIALOGICAL ENGAGEMENT with the seven artists in this 
show has enriched my life experience as well as my thought, so 
it seems right to frame my discussion of their work by noting 
the contexts of our collaboration. Carsten Höller was the first 
of them to contact me, in 1996, prompted by his interest in 
Pragmatist Aesthetics’ themes of full bodied, participatory 
aesthetic experience and the blurring of the established 
oppositions between life and art, the aesthetic and the ethical, 
knowledge and amusement. He asked me to write the text for 
the provocative House for Pigs and People he was in the midst 
of creating with Rosemarie Trockel for documenta x (1997).
A profoundly thoughtful artist concerned with highlighting the 
diversities, complexities, and multiple powers of aesthetic 
experience, Höller (with his doctorate in agricultural science) 
is also a master of transactional, cross-disciplinary creation, 
blending art and science in ways that engage the public’s 
embodied participation and that entertain (often with playful 
fun) as they edify, while highlighting that so-called visual 
art is always more than visual, involving a variety of somatic 
senses. Indeed, his amusingly instructive contribution to this 
show is meant to be experienced with one’s eyes closed.  
An intrinsically interactive work focused on our sense of 
proprioception (which neuroscience identifies as one of the 
distinctively somaesthetic senses), Höller’s Pinocchio Effect is 
based on experimental research on a proprioceptive perceptual
illusion defined (in 1988) as “the Pinocchio Illusion” by James 
Lackner, whose further studies in proprioception are deployed 
in the somaesthetic arguments of my book Body Consciousness
(Cambridge, 2008). The Pinocchio Effect involves the 
participant’s applying a vibrator to the biceps tendon of her arm 
while holding her nose with the hand of that arm. The vibrator 
stimulates muscle spindles in the biceps that would normally 
be stimulated by the muscle’s stretching, creating a kinesthetic 
illusion that the arm is moving away from the face. But since 
the fingers of that hand continue to give tactile sensations 
of contact with the nose, the subject feels her nose moving 
away from the face too and thus surprisingly growing longer. 
In creating a novel aesthetic experience that is dominantly 
proprioceptive, Höller’s piece also suggests that art’s illusionist 
powers also extend well beyond the visual.

I was introduced to Tatiana Trouvé at her show in the 
Miami-Basel art fair in early December 2007, the year she 
won the Marcel Duchamp Prize for young artists and a week 
after Le Monde ran a full-page commentary on the French 
translation of Body Consciousness. Immediately impressed 
by the exceptional beauty and unusual intelligence of her 
diverse oeuvre, I was happy to accept her invitation to explore 
this work from my pragmatist somaesthetic perspective by 
conducting a conversation with her, appearing along with 
essays by Robert Storr and Catherine Millet, for her book 
Tatiana Trouvé, published by Walther König in 2008. Our 
conversation, conducted in French, was entitled “Corps sans 
Figure” (“Body without a Face”), because I was particularly 
fascinated by the different ways that the soma is extremely 
central to Trouvé’s art and yet representations of it are entirely 
absent from her work. Though occasionally suggested through 
representational traces (such as a pair of shoes that peek 
out behind a panel that doesn’t quite reach the floor in Time 
Snares) or through indirect implication by strange contraptions 
that could suggest bodily use, the soma is perhaps most 
powerfully present in the transactional experience of her Polder20
installations whose reduced architectural spaces and furniture 
heighten one’s somatic awareness by making one feel one’s 
body is out of scale. I also find the soma strikingly evoked in 
her untitled “trees” of metal, leather, and epoxy paint, two 
of which are exhibited in this show. Their expressive standing 
forms suggest the body’s limbs, posture, and gesture, while 
their compositional layers of metal, leather, and paint evoke the 
body’s structure of bones covered by flesh and skin. Moreover, 
their beckoning beauty and congenial stature arouse a somatic 
sympathy that makes one feel one’s own body all the more. 
This feeling is heightened and complicated by one’s sense of 
the intense bodily effort that goes into the making of these 
pieces, including the extensive but meticulously detailed leather 
wrappings and lacings that simultaneously cover and reveal the 
metal skeleton.  

Long before first meeting ORLAN at the 2008 Miami-Basel 
fair, I knew her as a body artist of amazingly bold originality 
and world-historical status; so I was happy to discover her 
interest in somaesthetics and to welcome her to some events 
in this field. ORLAN’s signature notion of Carnal Art converges 
with pragmatist somaesthetics in emphasizing the soma’s role 
as both the site of aesthetic experiences of pleasure and as a 
medium for creative self-fashioning.  Her cosmetic surgeries 
are undertaken not to achieve a particular surgical result but to 
appreciate the transactional experiential process of remaking 
the self as a performative expression of individual freedom. 
The two photographic works exhibited in this show are taken 
from ORLAN’s 5th Surgery Performance, Operation-Opera, 
from Paris, July 6, 1991. They were earlier shown as part of a 
comprehensive solo exhibition of her Surgery-Performance 
Photos (the first ever held in the United States) that was 
organized by my Center for Body, Mind, and Culture at Florida 
Atlantic University in December 2010, in conjunction with the 
Center’s international conference on “Bodies of Art” in which 
ORLAN was a featured speaker.ORLAN Requests Silence from 
the Medical Team shows the artist in her harlequin hat and 
reading literature, clearly demonstrating her commitment to an 
aesthetics of performative process and pleasure that is at once 
serious and playful, as she formulates this point in her Carnal 
Art manifesto. “Carnal Art is not interested in the plastic surgery
result, but in the process of surgery,” repudiating “the 
Christian denial of body-pleasure” and its “tradition of suffering 
and martyrdom.” Though ORLAN’s manifesto claims “the artist 
works on representation,” this should not, I think, be construed 
as limiting such work to visual images. There is a profoundly 
experiential dimension to ORLAN’s art of living and creation of 
character that goes far deeper than the representational surface 
or the skin. 

Pan Gongkai is a shining exemplar of a contemporary 
Confucian polymath. Not only brilliantly successful in the 
genres of painting, installation, video, and architecture, he is 
also a proven master in the practical fields of art education 
and administration; and since 2002 he has served as president 
of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and guided its 
remarkable development. Pan is equally accomplished as an 
erudite theorist, and we have spent many hours in Beijing in 
philosophical dialogues about art, some of which have been 
published in Chinese art journals. One key focus in these 
discussions concerns the relationships between art and life, 
including the pragmatist idea of the ethical art of living that 
I first developed in Pragmatist Aesthetics from the Western 
tradition but that (as I increasingly realized) can find particularly 
rich resources in the classical Confucian notion of an ethics of 
harmony in which ethical education rests on the twin aesthetic 
pillars of art and ritual. 

Another key pragmatist theme I share with Pan Gongkai 
is cultural pluralism.  For him as for me, this pluralism in the 
contemporary globalized lifeworld does not mean that artists 
or philosophers must provide completely hybrid work that 
totally blends the different cultural traditions of East and 
West with their different vocabularies, themes, and images. 
Such a universal hybridized fusion could yield a confusing
hodgepodge that risks ruining the distinctive beauty of these 
diverse traditions. True pluralism also allows working in one’s 
own traditional vocabulary (painterly or conceptual) while being 
aware of its differences from other traditions. Pan’s abiding 
artistic passion in developing his beloved signature genre of 
lotus ink painting demonstrates the power of such commitment, 
as his works here show. One of them is a video of his 2011 
Venice Biennale installation Snow Melting in Lotus, which 
dramatically demonstrates his ideal of cultural pluralism with 
respect for difference. Onto the two immense panels of black, 
ink-painted lotus (rendered in his contemporary-traditional 
style), Pan projects, in the form of snow, the white letters of the 
English translation of his text on modern Western art and art 
theory. If this work suggests that Western art and art theory 
are continuously projected into Chinese aesthetic culture (thus 
bringing new brightness), it also implies that such projected 
imports melt into the enduringly beautiful but continuously 
evolving Chinese forms of lotus, nourishing them with moisture 
but not burying, distorting, or displacing them. West and 
East coexist in active harmony and moving beauty, without an 
isolating separation, but also without coercive fusion.

Thecla Schiphorst, an interactive media artist and researcher 
in the burgeoning multidisciplinary field of Human-Computer 
Interaction (HCI), likewise brings dynamic harmonies of vibrant 
beauty to an opposition as perhaps pervasive and problematic 
as the East/West divide, that of body and technology. While 
sometimes treated as a machine and recognized as our 
primordial instrument (hence most intimate technology), the 
human soma is typically contrasted to machines because 
of its living nature, its organic materials and composition, 
and its purposive subjectivity.  My somaesthetic project that 
emerged from Pragmatist Aesthetics seeks to remedy this 
troubling opposition (and related dualisms generated by 
the traditional body/mind dichotomy) by recognizing and 
integrating the soma’s twofold nature as both the material 
tool for performance and self-fashioning and as the perceptive
subjectivity using these instrumental materialities. Schiphorst 
explicitly uses somaesthetics as the theoretical framework 
for her interactive media art, and I first came across her work 
through her research article “soft(n): Toward a Somaesthetics 
of Touch” that describes a project of soft, interactive sculptural 
forms that react to qualities of human touch and movement 
by emitting different sounds (humming, sighing, singing) and 
patterns of light and shaking movements. In Tendrils (exhibited 
here and created in collaboration with her former student 
Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo), Schiphorst develops her transactional 
somaesthetic inquiry toward the somatically central art of 
fashion. Tendrils is a responsive, kinetic wearable artwork, an 
interactive garment that responds to being touched, both when 
touched locally by direct contact on the garment’s surfaces 
and when touched collectively through remotely transmitted 
signals from an Iphone Touch App that are delivered through 
a networked link to wearable armbands that are a part of the 
Tendrils network. The theme of high-tech softness is highlighted 
here through the fabric’s soft, conductive silk organza and the 
garment’s gentle flowing and responsive form, as if it were a 
second living skin, tender and sensitive in its own reactions of 
shivering and quivering, yet also incorporated into the wearer’s 
somatic experience.

Tendrils stroke-sensors are hand-sewn, and its crucial 
use of stitching on this second skin connects it clearly to the 
works of the other female artists exhibited here: skin stitching 
is essential to ORLAN’s surgery, and it is also suggested in 
the leather lacings of Trouvé’s somatic trees, whose hard but 
pliantly shaped metal skeletons contrast powerfully with the 
soft connective tissue of Tendrils. If stitching more generally 
evokes the domestic, feminine-gendered arts of sewing, 
knitting, and quilting, then these works also invite different 
kinds of feminist readings or strategies: from ORLAN’s 
outspoken affirmation of Carnal Art as militantly feminist, to 
Schiphorst’s explicit “embracing of ‘radically soft things’” as 
“a counterpoint to, or a critique of, the hard,” and then to 
Trouvé’s bewitchingly nuanced brew of softly bending shapes 
in immaculately laced leather skins that highlight rather than 
conceal the beauty of their hard skeletal core.  In first selecting 
these works, I never thought of juxtaposing them in terms 
of a feminist interpretation, but women’s issues pervade the 
field of somaesthetics, because our culture has so long and 
so profoundly identified women with their bodies. Since 
its meliorist agenda involves a critique of oppressive body 
norms while not abandoning the quest for somatic beauty 
and pleasure, somaesthetics has often been adopted as a 
framework for feminist theorizing outside the realm of art.

Men also have bodies that are subject to the judgmental 
gaze of disapproval, derision, or desire; bodies that are often 
painfully experienced as the locus of anxiety, discomfort, 
impotence, and illness; bodies that age and fail, that suffer 
and die; bodies that we male philosophers have traditionally 
sought to ignore or escape by identifying the true self with 
the mind, while identifying true life with the life of thought (as 
if such life could have any real content or energy without the 
sentient soma). Male bodies have also been the subjects of 
beautiful artistic renderings, and they are obviously essential 
to the artistic performance of male artists and the aesthetic 
experience of male viewers. Transactional pragmatist aesthetics 
thus demands a somaesthetics for all genders, as all art is 
created and perceived through the body. 

As Pragmatist Aesthetics unexpectedly earned me the 
controversial status of a rap philosopher and hip-hop fanzine 
columnist (aka Rich Frosted), so the somaesthetic research 
I undertook to write Body Consciousness transformed me 
not simply into a body philosopher but more surprisingly 
into a professional somatic educator and therapist (in the 
Feldenkrais Method). I realized that good pragmatist theory 
is best nourished by real practical know-how, which is best 
acquired through professional training and practice. But my 
theory-generated somaesthetic transformations of identity 
have evidently gone still further, stretching my philosophical 
self-image into forms even stranger than that of body therapist. 
Yann Toma and Luca Del Baldo invited me to participate in their 
creative process by being a collaborative model and performer. 
And how could a pragmatist theorist who insisted in putting the 
body back into philosophy and aesthetics refuse that invitation, 
especially when I argued that philosophy should be practiced 
as an embodied, transformative way of life? If I talked the talk, 
shouldn’t I also walk the walk? Besides, what better way to 
answer the question, recurrently posed by artists attending 
my lectures and workshops, “what is the connection between 
somaesthetics and contemporary art?” than by making that 
connection myself, by putting my own somaesthetic intelligence 
at the service of contemporary creation and by inserting my 
own body into the work of art.

My story with Yann Toma is older and longer, but Iet 
me here begin with Luca Del Baldo who contacted me in 
December 2010 to participate in his project of painting small 
oil portraits of influential theorists of culture, portraits based 
on photographed head shots that the theorist supplied and 
then complemented by a short text of response to the portrait. 
As Del Baldo provided me with a continuing flow of draftstages 
of my portrait, replete with commentary and questions 
about my reactions to this process, we developed a sense 
of aesthetic collaboration and camaraderie. So when the 
Sorbonne proposed that I curate a show connected to my work, 
I mentioned the project to Luca who proposed that we think 
of doing a special new work for it. Rather than another head, 
wouldn’t it be better, he argued, for a body philosopher to 
present more of the body; and he explained that “more” meant 
not only including the torso but also revealing it, tel quel, in 
frontal nakedness. 

We collaborated in choosing the portrait’s pose (from a 
host of photos I sent him, taken specially for this occasion) and 
later in selecting its colored mood and title. If the title Through 
the Arcade evokes something of the bizarre, disorienting 
fantasy of Through the Looking Glass — but displaced from 
rustic nineteenth-century Britain to the contemporary maze 
of posthuman arcade video games, then it also suggests the 
curious, errant, anxious flâneur of Walter Benjamin’s famous 
Arcades Project, who can savor even the discomfort involved 
in a continuous (perhaps compulsive) transactional crossing 
of boundaries that are spatial, social, and mental. The posture 
and facial expression in the work are likewise mysteriously 
vague, perhaps because they were spontaneous improvisations. 
Unaccustomed to posing naked, I simply raised my hands as a 
confessional shrug of helpless uncertainty. 

Meanings, however, abound. If the hands’ prominence 
identifies them as crucial instruments for both the philosopher’s 
writing and the artist’s painting, their gestural configuration 
of fingers has hieratic connotations: but whether it’s the 
traditional Jewish priestly blessing or Star Trek’s futuristic 
Vulcan salute is unclear. Despite the figure’s bare, direct frontal 
disclosure with the arms and hands raised and even the palms 
openly exposed so nothing is concealed, the meaning of this 
pose remains a mystery of absent narrative context. Am I a 
commanding prophet (perhaps from the mythic naturalist realm 
of Arcadia) or a lover raising his hands in wondering worship 
of his beauty waiting in bed, or instead a cautious victim held 
up by a bedroom gunman, or a wistful adulterer surprised by 
an angry wife or husband?  Sometimes I see myself merely as 
a naked philosopher with embarrassingly nothing in his hands 
to give the public, nothing except those hovering circles of 
light promising enlightenment and wholeness that may be 
as empty or fragile as soap bubbles. Still there remain the 
pragmatist values of experimentation and meliorist striving, the 
aesthetic experience of collaborative creation, and even the 
cognitive gains from exploring new practices that provoke new 
sensations, spur new energies and attitudes, and thus probe 
one’s current limits and perhaps transcend them to transform 
the self.

My work with Yann Toma epitomizes this experiential method 
of transactional aesthetic inquiry. Experience was indeed the 
theme of our first encounter in 2006, a short video interview 
for his project with the Collège International de Philosophie, 
where each selected philosopher had to give an impromptu 
lecture on a key concept central to that philosopher’s work, my 
choice being experience. Toma’s key themes are energy and 
light, which he treats in two complementary ways. First, in the 
spirit of conceptual art, he acquired the ownership of a defunct 
Paris electric company, Ouest-Lumière, and gave it new life 
as a virtual company for real artistic interventions, such as the 
project Dynamo Fukushima at the Parisian Grand Palais (2011), 
with eighteen thousand cyclists pedaling on stationary bikes 
with dynamos to create energy symbolically sent to Japan. 
The second way is through his practice of Radiant Flux, a form 
of space writing in which Toma tries to capture and visually 
represent the invisible aura of the person posing for him, an 
aura he perceives as a continuously changing, contextually 
sensitive energetic force emanating from the person’s body.  
After posing his photographic subject in a totally dark setting 
(normally indoors), positioning his camera on a tripod, and 
adjusting its setting for long exposure, Toma — dressed in 
black to make himself less visible and holding a hand lamp — 
releases the camera shutter and approaches the subject’s soma 
to trace its aura with the lamp’s light and then returns to close 
the shutter to complete the shot. The resulting photograph 
shows the subject framed by energetic lines of light. 

Knowing my work in somaesthetics and my experimental 
temperament, Toma invited me for a weekend of shooting at 
the beautiful medieval Royaumont Abbey in mid-June, 2010. 
Disinclined to leave the glorious sunshine for the blackened 
shooting room, I was even more reluctant to put on the shiny 
gold lycra body stocking that Toma insisted would make 
my aura more perceptible and energetic. Though he usually 
does not demand this of most subjects, he thought I was slim 
and bold enough to inhabit that glittering second skin, and 
I was surprised he was right. But after a long day and night 
of docile static posing in the dark, my deep somaesthetic 
drives for sunshine and movement made me suddenly bolt 
from the blackened room into the Abbey’s sunny, flower-fragrant 
courtyard and gardens. Grabbing his movie camera, 
Toma chased after me, filming my capering ramble through 
the Abbey grounds and ruins, which then prompted me to 
improvise scenarios of dance and gesture that fit my playful 
mood and picturesque environment, even approaching a group 
of tourists before returning to the Abbey’s private quarters 
to dine with its owners (our weekend hosts), who, stunned by 
my attire, dubbed me “L’homme en Or” (“The Man in Gold”). 
This new persona signaled a real change in our transactional 
aesthetic experience that Toma happily welcomed. By shifting 
the photographic setting, determining the poses, and even 
transforming the genre from still photography to video of me in 
movement, I had become a real partner in artistic creation. We 
decided to continue this collaborative enterprise by nocturnal 
outdoor filming in Paris and then in other scenic spots, such 
as the city, ramparts, and coast of Cartagena (Colombia) and 
the beaches of South Florida, generating a distinct genre of 
Somaflux in photographic stills and films, some of which are 
presented here. 

The artistic meanings of the Somaflux series, as I elsewhere 
explain, go far beyond the represented images in print or 
on screen. They involve a complex art of collaborative 
performative process, a developing dance of intuitive 
communication (of energies, feelings, and intentions) and 
cooperative improvisation that ultimately issues in photographic 
prints or video but is itself extremely rich in shared aesthetic 
experience for those involved in that creative performative 
process. My artistic experience as L’homme en Or raises an 
important question emerging from pragmatist aesthetics’ 
advocacy of philosophy as an art of living: what is the relation 
between the art of living and the art of the artworld? The 
issue is too complex  for a general answer here, but I can offer 
this personal example. Commitment to my philosophical art 
of living through the pragmatist perspective of transactional 
experience was what generated my artistic transformation into 
L’homme en Or, just as it generated the artworld works in which 
he appears. Conversely, that artistic transformation helped 
transform myself as a philosopher, both by providing me new 
insights into the performative process and aesthetic experience 
of artistic creation that I subsequently formulated in theoretical 
publications, and by extending my sense of personal identity 
as a transactional philosopher of the art of living to include 
this golden, free-spirited, aesthetic avatar who by extending 
my experience into new roles and contexts also expands my 
self and my self-knowledge. In other words, L’homme en Or is 
not a mere masquerade for making art images that conceal or 
disguise my real identity; he is rather an embodied projection 
of that genuine but complex and mutable identity (continuously 
in the making), an incorporated extension that helps shape, 
enrich, and transform it further.  If my work as L’homme en Or
had not freed me from some deep inhibitions, I would have 
never entertained the idea of posing nude for a painting like 
Del Baldo’s nor had the courage to exhibit it in public.

The act of publicly displaying myself in these ways 
risks the charge of exhibitionism, but it also continues the 
pragmatist project of transactional aesthetics into curatorial 
work and public artworld spaces, while integrating it with the 
philosophical project of self-knowledge by revealing oneself 
to others. Exposing myself in this way to an unknown public 
will surely test me in ways beyond those I faced in posing for 
two artist friends. (I try not to imagine what awaits me here.) 
Yet how can we have self-knowledge without self-exposure? 
We need the other’s viewpoint on ourselves to see our blind 
spots and know ourselves more wholly. Thus Socrates explains 
to Alcibiades that the self needs a loving other to properly 
see itself, just as one can see one’s own face reflected in one’s 
lover’s eyes. If art can provide such reflective transactions by 
which a philosopher can come to see and transform himself 
through self-exposure, if such artistic self-exposure can attract 
the attention of others whose reactions can further enrich 
philosophical self-knowledge, then why not embrace such 
experimentation? Why not risk, in practice, a fuller union of 
those ancient, often hostile, lovers: art and philosophy? Must a 
philosopher, to sustain his integrity, continue to abuse his loves 
by treating them only with critical attention, whether of probing 
interpretive analysis or imperious verdicts of value? I hope the 
experience of Aesthetic Transactions will reveal an alternative 
and a complement.

Richard Shusterman
Aesthetic Transactions:
Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life

THIS ExHIBITION ORIGINATED with a Sorbonne project to 
organize a conference marking the twentieth anniversary of the 
publication of my book Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, 
Rethinking Art (Blackwell, 1992) which was simultaneously 
published in France as L’art à l’état vif: la pensée pragmatiste et 
l’esthétique populaire (Minuit, 1992). The project’s organizers 
— Richard Conte and Barbara Formis — had the genial idea to 
complement the conference with an art show at the Sorbonne’s 
Michel Journiac Gallery and thus highlight the pragmatic 
dimension of my work by exhibiting the connections of theory 
and practice. They further proposed that I curate the show, 
which they initially titled “Le vif état de l’art.” Although a 
curatorial virgin with no confidence in being equal to the task, 
I felt compelled to accept their offer, not only out of gratitude 
and curiosity, but also through a philosophical commitment to 
experiential openness in facing new challenges and engaging 
transdisciplinary projects; for the pragmatism I practice 
advocates experimentation as a key dimension of its philosophy 
of transactional experience. 

The notion of transactional experience is double-barreled. 
First, it underlines that experience is not something confined 
to the interiority of human consciousness but necessarily 
involves or incorporates the subject’s environment, both 
through active engagement and more passive absorption of 
environing conditions and energies. Transactional experience 
also connotes the idea of experiments in transcending 
disciplinary boundaries, transgressing entrenched dichotomies, 
and transforming established concepts or topics, together with 
the idea that these transactions can succeed in advancing both
theory and practice through the experiences and lessons that 
such experiments induce. Pragmatist Aesthetics represents my 
first foray into this transactional mode of theory, challenging 
the familiar aesthetic dualisms of art versus life, high art versus 
popular culture, the aesthetic versus the practical and political.  
Its chapter on the aesthetic import of rap music attracted the 
most media attention, especially in Europe, partly because that 
genre (and its philosophical treatment) seemed emblematic 
of the book’s activist vision of transactional theory and 
experience. Through the book’s transnational reception I found 
my own intellectual identity transformed from a mainstream 
Anglo-American philosopher into a provocative Grenzgänger
or passeur culturel. These terms, with their evocation of risky 
border-crossing and smuggling, are very hard to translate into 
English, and I first learned them (and so much else) through the 
book’s complex history of fourteen translations, in a variety of 
different-sized editions.

Translation is inevitably transactional and transfigurative. 
Titles are often especially resistant to good literal translations, 
so just as the original English title Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living 
Beauty, Rethinking Art was transformed into a very different 
title in French (and then again in German and some other 
languages), I have taken the liberty of transforming the original 
French title for this show into an English one that highlights the 
theme of transactional aesthetics while retaining (in the show’s 
subtitle) the notions of pragmatism, art, and life that figure in 
the book’s title in both French and English (and the many other 
languages in which it has been published). 

Aesthetic Transactions is an exhibition structured on two 
of the key themes of Pragmatist Aesthetics: First, aesthetic 
experience is not a passive, purposeless affair of disembodied 
contemplation but rather involves the active somatic 
engagement of purposive perceptual discrimination. Artworks 
are not only created through somatic action; their reception 
also involves the soma’s sensorimotor acts of perception and 
response, including its affective reactions. This core theme 
helps explain how the project of somaesthetics emerged as 
a logical consequence of my work in Pragmatist Aesthetics
(and is already present there in embryonic form). The second 
key theme that shapes this exhibition is that the philosopher’s 
most useful role in aesthetics should not be that of a distanced, 
dispassionate spectator, a disinterested judge, or passively 
pleased consumer, but instead that of an actively engaged 
participant concerned with improving aesthetic experience by 
heightening perception and enriching creativity and meaning.  
With respect to art, this means engaging in the complex 
processes of art’s creative flourishing through the critical 
reception, theoretical elaboration, and curatorial presentation 
of art. But such engagement can sometimes extend still further 
to collaborating in the actual creation of artworks, even to the 
point of physical involvement in their making, indeed even so 
far as putting the philosopher’s own body into the artwork. 
The works here exhibited by Luca Del Baldo (in painting) and 
Yann Toma (in photography and video) illustrate this ultimate 
pragmatist bridging of somaesthetic theory and artistic 
practice, where my own philosophical soma (with its expressive 
energies and cultural shaping) becomes the substance for 
artistic rendering.

Though my soma is otherwise absent from the works in this 
show, all of them are from artists with whom I have collaborated 
in some way through their interest in my theories of pragmatist 
aesthetics and somaesthetics, and through my fascination 
with the compelling ways their work expressed and deepened 
insights that I struggled to formulate in conceptual terms. The 
fact that this collaboration arose through the medium of theory 
illustrates a fruitful aspect of experiential pragmatism that is 
worth thematizing in this exhibition. The idea is that pragmatist 
transactional theory involves an orientation toward openness 
and a sensitivity to practice that in turn enrich and refashion 
theory. In this instance, my pragmatist aesthetic theories 
brought me into contact with visual artists attracted by those 
theories but whose collaborative engagement extended and Tatiana Trouvé
reshaped my theorizing in meaningful ways, including its range 
of topics. Such encounters in fact redirected my theory towards 
contemporary art.

Pragmatist Aesthetics hardly discusses contemporary 
art or the visual arts more generally. Its principal foci for 
aesthetic analysis were the arts of literature (especially poetry) 
and music (in the popular forms of rap and rock). Moreover, 
because its emancipatory arguments for a melioristic critical 
legitimation of popular art involved a pluralist critique of the 
exclusionary privilege accorded to the high art tradition of 
high-priced objects that Dewey disapprovingly dubbed “the 
museum conception of art,” the book’s pragmatist thrust 
might have seemed uncongenial to today’s extension of the 
high art tradition through artists who show in contemporary 
art museums and galleries. Yet the book’s core message of  
embodied transactional experience clearly spoke to certain 
artists whose ensuing dialogues with me directed my theorizing 
increasingly toward the visual arts. Some of the best of 
these artists generously provided the works displayed in this 
exhibition, and I take this opportunity to thank them again for 
their artistic quality, theoretical insights, and magnanimous 
friendship.

This is obviously a very personal show, and my long 
professional engagement with philosophy’s scientific quest for 
absolute objectivity and universality makes me well aware of 
its corresponding suspicion towards the personal approach 
or focus. But there are obvious exceptions: from Augustine’s 
Confessions to Montaigne’s Essays and then to Nietzsche (who 
held all philosophy was disguised autobiography), and even 
through to the introspective psychological probing of William 
James and the private notebooks of Wittgenstein. Just as 
“know thyself” formed the defining quest that first launched 
philosophy through Socrates’ interpretation of this Delphic 
maxim, so Descartes (a champion of objective certainty) started 
with the contents of his own subjective consciousness. What 
value could a philosophy of experience have without any 
personal perspective? Moreover, could our encounters with 
art be so inspiringly meaningful without the vivid affect and 
distinctive poetry of personal subjectivity? Art surely feels no 
need to apologize for being personal in its quest for truth or 
beauty, so why should philosophy, especially if it is construed 
pragmatically (as Socrates first defined it) as an art of living 
involving critical, meliorative care of the self rather than mere 
truth for truth’s sake? 
      
II

MY DIALOGICAL ENGAGEMENT with the seven artists in this 
show has enriched my life experience as well as my thought, so 
it seems right to frame my discussion of their work by noting 
the contexts of our collaboration. Carsten Höller was the first 
of them to contact me, in 1996, prompted by his interest in 
Pragmatist Aesthetics’ themes of full bodied, participatory 
aesthetic experience and the blurring of the established 
oppositions between life and art, the aesthetic and the ethical, 
knowledge and amusement. He asked me to write the text for 
the provocative House for Pigs and People he was in the midst 
of creating with Rosemarie Trockel for documenta x (1997).
A profoundly thoughtful artist concerned with highlighting the 
diversities, complexities, and multiple powers of aesthetic 
experience, Höller (with his doctorate in agricultural science) 
is also a master of transactional, cross-disciplinary creation, 
blending art and science in ways that engage the public’s 
embodied participation and that entertain (often with playful 
fun) as they edify, while highlighting that so-called visual 
art is always more than visual, involving a variety of somatic 
senses. Indeed, his amusingly instructive contribution to this 
show is meant to be experienced with one’s eyes closed.  
An intrinsically interactive work focused on our sense of 
proprioception (which neuroscience identifies as one of the 
distinctively somaesthetic senses), Höller’s Pinocchio Effect is 
based on experimental research on a proprioceptive perceptual
illusion defined (in 1988) as “the Pinocchio Illusion” by James 
Lackner, whose further studies in proprioception are deployed 
in the somaesthetic arguments of my book Body Consciousness
(Cambridge, 2008). The Pinocchio Effect involves the 
participant’s applying a vibrator to the biceps tendon of her arm 
while holding her nose with the hand of that arm. The vibrator 
stimulates muscle spindles in the biceps that would normally 
be stimulated by the muscle’s stretching, creating a kinesthetic 
illusion that the arm is moving away from the face. But since 
the fingers of that hand continue to give tactile sensations 
of contact with the nose, the subject feels her nose moving 
away from the face too and thus surprisingly growing longer. 
In creating a novel aesthetic experience that is dominantly 
proprioceptive, Höller’s piece also suggests that art’s illusionist 
powers also extend well beyond the visual.

I was introduced to Tatiana Trouvé at her show in the 
Miami-Basel art fair in early December 2007, the year she 
won the Marcel Duchamp Prize for young artists and a week 
after Le Monde ran a full-page commentary on the French 
translation of Body Consciousness. Immediately impressed 
by the exceptional beauty and unusual intelligence of her 
diverse oeuvre, I was happy to accept her invitation to explore 
this work from my pragmatist somaesthetic perspective by 
conducting a conversation with her, appearing along with 
essays by Robert Storr and Catherine Millet, for her book 
Tatiana Trouvé, published by Walther König in 2008. Our 
conversation, conducted in French, was entitled “Corps sans 
Figure” (“Body without a Face”), because I was particularly 
fascinated by the different ways that the soma is extremely 
central to Trouvé’s art and yet representations of it are entirely 
absent from her work. Though occasionally suggested through 
representational traces (such as a pair of shoes that peek 
out behind a panel that doesn’t quite reach the floor in Time 
Snares) or through indirect implication by strange contraptions 
that could suggest bodily use, the soma is perhaps most 
powerfully present in the transactional experience of her Polder20
installations whose reduced architectural spaces and furniture 
heighten one’s somatic awareness by making one feel one’s 
body is out of scale. I also find the soma strikingly evoked in 
her untitled “trees” of metal, leather, and epoxy paint, two 
of which are exhibited in this show. Their expressive standing 
forms suggest the body’s limbs, posture, and gesture, while 
their compositional layers of metal, leather, and paint evoke the 
body’s structure of bones covered by flesh and skin. Moreover, 
their beckoning beauty and congenial stature arouse a somatic 
sympathy that makes one feel one’s own body all the more. 
This feeling is heightened and complicated by one’s sense of 
the intense bodily effort that goes into the making of these 
pieces, including the extensive but meticulously detailed leather 
wrappings and lacings that simultaneously cover and reveal the 
metal skeleton.  

Long before first meeting ORLAN at the 2008 Miami-Basel 
fair, I knew her as a body artist of amazingly bold originality 
and world-historical status; so I was happy to discover her 
interest in somaesthetics and to welcome her to some events 
in this field. ORLAN’s signature notion of Carnal Art converges 
with pragmatist somaesthetics in emphasizing the soma’s role 
as both the site of aesthetic experiences of pleasure and as a 
medium for creative self-fashioning.  Her cosmetic surgeries 
are undertaken not to achieve a particular surgical result but to 
appreciate the transactional experiential process of remaking 
the self as a performative expression of individual freedom. 
The two photographic works exhibited in this show are taken 
from ORLAN’s 5th Surgery Performance, Operation-Opera, 
from Paris, July 6, 1991. They were earlier shown as part of a 
comprehensive solo exhibition of her Surgery-Performance 
Photos (the first ever held in the United States) that was 
organized by my Center for Body, Mind, and Culture at Florida 
Atlantic University in December 2010, in conjunction with the 
Center’s international conference on “Bodies of Art” in which 
ORLAN was a featured speaker.ORLAN Requests Silence from 
the Medical Team shows the artist in her harlequin hat and 
reading literature, clearly demonstrating her commitment to an 
aesthetics of performative process and pleasure that is at once 
serious and playful, as she formulates this point in her Carnal 
Art manifesto. “Carnal Art is not interested in the plastic surgery
result, but in the process of surgery,” repudiating “the 
Christian denial of body-pleasure” and its “tradition of suffering 
and martyrdom.” Though ORLAN’s manifesto claims “the artist 
works on representation,” this should not, I think, be construed 
as limiting such work to visual images. There is a profoundly 
experiential dimension to ORLAN’s art of living and creation of 
character that goes far deeper than the representational surface 
or the skin. 

Pan Gongkai is a shining exemplar of a contemporary 
Confucian polymath. Not only brilliantly successful in the 
genres of painting, installation, video, and architecture, he is 
also a proven master in the practical fields of art education 
and administration; and since 2002 he has served as president 
of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and guided its 
remarkable development. Pan is equally accomplished as an 
erudite theorist, and we have spent many hours in Beijing in 
philosophical dialogues about art, some of which have been 
published in Chinese art journals. One key focus in these 
discussions concerns the relationships between art and life, 
including the pragmatist idea of the ethical art of living that 
I first developed in Pragmatist Aesthetics from the Western 
tradition but that (as I increasingly realized) can find particularly 
rich resources in the classical Confucian notion of an ethics of 
harmony in which ethical education rests on the twin aesthetic 
pillars of art and ritual. 

Another key pragmatist theme I share with Pan Gongkai 
is cultural pluralism.  For him as for me, this pluralism in the 
contemporary globalized lifeworld does not mean that artists 
or philosophers must provide completely hybrid work that 
totally blends the different cultural traditions of East and 
West with their different vocabularies, themes, and images. 
Such a universal hybridized fusion could yield a confusing
hodgepodge that risks ruining the distinctive beauty of these 
diverse traditions. True pluralism also allows working in one’s 
own traditional vocabulary (painterly or conceptual) while being 
aware of its differences from other traditions. Pan’s abiding 
artistic passion in developing his beloved signature genre of 
lotus ink painting demonstrates the power of such commitment, 
as his works here show. One of them is a video of his 2011 
Venice Biennale installation Snow Melting in Lotus, which 
dramatically demonstrates his ideal of cultural pluralism with 
respect for difference. Onto the two immense panels of black, 
ink-painted lotus (rendered in his contemporary-traditional 
style), Pan projects, in the form of snow, the white letters of the 
English translation of his text on modern Western art and art 
theory. If this work suggests that Western art and art theory 
are continuously projected into Chinese aesthetic culture (thus 
bringing new brightness), it also implies that such projected 
imports melt into the enduringly beautiful but continuously 
evolving Chinese forms of lotus, nourishing them with moisture 
but not burying, distorting, or displacing them. West and 
East coexist in active harmony and moving beauty, without an 
isolating separation, but also without coercive fusion.

Thecla Schiphorst, an interactive media artist and researcher 
in the burgeoning multidisciplinary field of Human-Computer 
Interaction (HCI), likewise brings dynamic harmonies of vibrant 
beauty to an opposition as perhaps pervasive and problematic 
as the East/West divide, that of body and technology. While 
sometimes treated as a machine and recognized as our 
primordial instrument (hence most intimate technology), the 
human soma is typically contrasted to machines because 
of its living nature, its organic materials and composition, 
and its purposive subjectivity.  My somaesthetic project that 
emerged from Pragmatist Aesthetics seeks to remedy this 
troubling opposition (and related dualisms generated by 
the traditional body/mind dichotomy) by recognizing and 
integrating the soma’s twofold nature as both the material 
tool for performance and self-fashioning and as the perceptive
subjectivity using these instrumental materialities. Schiphorst 
explicitly uses somaesthetics as the theoretical framework 
for her interactive media art, and I first came across her work 
through her research article “soft(n): Toward a Somaesthetics 
of Touch” that describes a project of soft, interactive sculptural 
forms that react to qualities of human touch and movement 
by emitting different sounds (humming, sighing, singing) and 
patterns of light and shaking movements. In Tendrils (exhibited 
here and created in collaboration with her former student 
Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo), Schiphorst develops her transactional 
somaesthetic inquiry toward the somatically central art of 
fashion. Tendrils is a responsive, kinetic wearable artwork, an 
interactive garment that responds to being touched, both when 
touched locally by direct contact on the garment’s surfaces 
and when touched collectively through remotely transmitted 
signals from an Iphone Touch App that are delivered through 
a networked link to wearable armbands that are a part of the 
Tendrils network. The theme of high-tech softness is highlighted 
here through the fabric’s soft, conductive silk organza and the 
garment’s gentle flowing and responsive form, as if it were a 
second living skin, tender and sensitive in its own reactions of 
shivering and quivering, yet also incorporated into the wearer’s 
somatic experience.

Tendrils stroke-sensors are hand-sewn, and its crucial 
use of stitching on this second skin connects it clearly to the 
works of the other female artists exhibited here: skin stitching 
is essential to ORLAN’s surgery, and it is also suggested in 
the leather lacings of Trouvé’s somatic trees, whose hard but 
pliantly shaped metal skeletons contrast powerfully with the 
soft connective tissue of Tendrils. If stitching more generally 
evokes the domestic, feminine-gendered arts of sewing, 
knitting, and quilting, then these works also invite different 
kinds of feminist readings or strategies: from ORLAN’s 
outspoken affirmation of Carnal Art as militantly feminist, to 
Schiphorst’s explicit “embracing of ‘radically soft things’” as 
“a counterpoint to, or a critique of, the hard,” and then to 
Trouvé’s bewitchingly nuanced brew of softly bending shapes 
in immaculately laced leather skins that highlight rather than 
conceal the beauty of their hard skeletal core.  In first selecting 
these works, I never thought of juxtaposing them in terms 
of a feminist interpretation, but women’s issues pervade the 
field of somaesthetics, because our culture has so long and 
so profoundly identified women with their bodies. Since 
its meliorist agenda involves a critique of oppressive body 
norms while not abandoning the quest for somatic beauty 
and pleasure, somaesthetics has often been adopted as a 
framework for feminist theorizing outside the realm of art.

Men also have bodies that are subject to the judgmental 
gaze of disapproval, derision, or desire; bodies that are often 
painfully experienced as the locus of anxiety, discomfort, 
impotence, and illness; bodies that age and fail, that suffer 
and die; bodies that we male philosophers have traditionally 
sought to ignore or escape by identifying the true self with 
the mind, while identifying true life with the life of thought (as 
if such life could have any real content or energy without the 
sentient soma). Male bodies have also been the subjects of 
beautiful artistic renderings, and they are obviously essential 
to the artistic performance of male artists and the aesthetic 
experience of male viewers. Transactional pragmatist aesthetics 
thus demands a somaesthetics for all genders, as all art is 
created and perceived through the body. 

As Pragmatist Aesthetics unexpectedly earned me the 
controversial status of a rap philosopher and hip-hop fanzine 
columnist (aka Rich Frosted), so the somaesthetic research 
I undertook to write Body Consciousness transformed me 
not simply into a body philosopher but more surprisingly 
into a professional somatic educator and therapist (in the 
Feldenkrais Method). I realized that good pragmatist theory 
is best nourished by real practical know-how, which is best 
acquired through professional training and practice. But my 
theory-generated somaesthetic transformations of identity 
have evidently gone still further, stretching my philosophical 
self-image into forms even stranger than that of body therapist. 
Yann Toma and Luca Del Baldo invited me to participate in their 
creative process by being a collaborative model and performer. 
And how could a pragmatist theorist who insisted in putting the 
body back into philosophy and aesthetics refuse that invitation, 
especially when I argued that philosophy should be practiced 
as an embodied, transformative way of life? If I talked the talk, 
shouldn’t I also walk the walk? Besides, what better way to 
answer the question, recurrently posed by artists attending 
my lectures and workshops, “what is the connection between 
somaesthetics and contemporary art?” than by making that 
connection myself, by putting my own somaesthetic intelligence 
at the service of contemporary creation and by inserting my 
own body into the work of art.

My story with Yann Toma is older and longer, but Iet 
me here begin with Luca Del Baldo who contacted me in 
December 2010 to participate in his project of painting small 
oil portraits of influential theorists of culture, portraits based 
on photographed head shots that the theorist supplied and 
then complemented by a short text of response to the portrait. 
As Del Baldo provided me with a continuing flow of draftstages 
of my portrait, replete with commentary and questions 
about my reactions to this process, we developed a sense 
of aesthetic collaboration and camaraderie. So when the 
Sorbonne proposed that I curate a show connected to my work, 
I mentioned the project to Luca who proposed that we think 
of doing a special new work for it. Rather than another head, 
wouldn’t it be better, he argued, for a body philosopher to 
present more of the body; and he explained that “more” meant 
not only including the torso but also revealing it, tel quel, in 
frontal nakedness. 

We collaborated in choosing the portrait’s pose (from a 
host of photos I sent him, taken specially for this occasion) and 
later in selecting its colored mood and title. If the title Through 
the Arcade evokes something of the bizarre, disorienting 
fantasy of Through the Looking Glass — but displaced from 
rustic nineteenth-century Britain to the contemporary maze 
of posthuman arcade video games, then it also suggests the 
curious, errant, anxious flâneur of Walter Benjamin’s famous 
Arcades Project, who can savor even the discomfort involved 
in a continuous (perhaps compulsive) transactional crossing 
of boundaries that are spatial, social, and mental. The posture 
and facial expression in the work are likewise mysteriously 
vague, perhaps because they were spontaneous improvisations. 
Unaccustomed to posing naked, I simply raised my hands as a 
confessional shrug of helpless uncertainty. 

Meanings, however, abound. If the hands’ prominence 
identifies them as crucial instruments for both the philosopher’s 
writing and the artist’s painting, their gestural configuration 
of fingers has hieratic connotations: but whether it’s the 
traditional Jewish priestly blessing or Star Trek’s futuristic 
Vulcan salute is unclear. Despite the figure’s bare, direct frontal 
disclosure with the arms and hands raised and even the palms 
openly exposed so nothing is concealed, the meaning of this 
pose remains a mystery of absent narrative context. Am I a 
commanding prophet (perhaps from the mythic naturalist realm 
of Arcadia) or a lover raising his hands in wondering worship 
of his beauty waiting in bed, or instead a cautious victim held 
up by a bedroom gunman, or a wistful adulterer surprised by 
an angry wife or husband?  Sometimes I see myself merely as 
a naked philosopher with embarrassingly nothing in his hands 
to give the public, nothing except those hovering circles of 
light promising enlightenment and wholeness that may be 
as empty or fragile as soap bubbles. Still there remain the 
pragmatist values of experimentation and meliorist striving, the 
aesthetic experience of collaborative creation, and even the 
cognitive gains from exploring new practices that provoke new 
sensations, spur new energies and attitudes, and thus probe 
one’s current limits and perhaps transcend them to transform 
the self.

My work with Yann Toma epitomizes this experiential method 
of transactional aesthetic inquiry. Experience was indeed the 
theme of our first encounter in 2006, a short video interview 
for his project with the Collège International de Philosophie, 
where each selected philosopher had to give an impromptu 
lecture on a key concept central to that philosopher’s work, my 
choice being experience. Toma’s key themes are energy and 
light, which he treats in two complementary ways. First, in the 
spirit of conceptual art, he acquired the ownership of a defunct 
Paris electric company, Ouest-Lumière, and gave it new life 
as a virtual company for real artistic interventions, such as the 
project Dynamo Fukushima at the Parisian Grand Palais (2011), 
with eighteen thousand cyclists pedaling on stationary bikes 
with dynamos to create energy symbolically sent to Japan. 
The second way is through his practice of Radiant Flux, a form 
of space writing in which Toma tries to capture and visually 
represent the invisible aura of the person posing for him, an 
aura he perceives as a continuously changing, contextually 
sensitive energetic force emanating from the person’s body.  
After posing his photographic subject in a totally dark setting 
(normally indoors), positioning his camera on a tripod, and 
adjusting its setting for long exposure, Toma — dressed in 
black to make himself less visible and holding a hand lamp — 
releases the camera shutter and approaches the subject’s soma 
to trace its aura with the lamp’s light and then returns to close 
the shutter to complete the shot. The resulting photograph 
shows the subject framed by energetic lines of light. 

Knowing my work in somaesthetics and my experimental 
temperament, Toma invited me for a weekend of shooting at 
the beautiful medieval Royaumont Abbey in mid-June, 2010. 
Disinclined to leave the glorious sunshine for the blackened 
shooting room, I was even more reluctant to put on the shiny 
gold lycra body stocking that Toma insisted would make 
my aura more perceptible and energetic. Though he usually 
does not demand this of most subjects, he thought I was slim 
and bold enough to inhabit that glittering second skin, and 
I was surprised he was right. But after a long day and night 
of docile static posing in the dark, my deep somaesthetic 
drives for sunshine and movement made me suddenly bolt 
from the blackened room into the Abbey’s sunny, flower-fragrant 
courtyard and gardens. Grabbing his movie camera, 
Toma chased after me, filming my capering ramble through 
the Abbey grounds and ruins, which then prompted me to 
improvise scenarios of dance and gesture that fit my playful 
mood and picturesque environment, even approaching a group 
of tourists before returning to the Abbey’s private quarters 
to dine with its owners (our weekend hosts), who, stunned by 
my attire, dubbed me “L’homme en Or” (“The Man in Gold”). 
This new persona signaled a real change in our transactional 
aesthetic experience that Toma happily welcomed. By shifting 
the photographic setting, determining the poses, and even 
transforming the genre from still photography to video of me in 
movement, I had become a real partner in artistic creation. We 
decided to continue this collaborative enterprise by nocturnal 
outdoor filming in Paris and then in other scenic spots, such 
as the city, ramparts, and coast of Cartagena (Colombia) and 
the beaches of South Florida, generating a distinct genre of 
Somaflux in photographic stills and films, some of which are 
presented here. 

The artistic meanings of the Somaflux series, as I elsewhere 
explain, go far beyond the represented images in print or 
on screen. They involve a complex art of collaborative 
performative process, a developing dance of intuitive 
communication (of energies, feelings, and intentions) and 
cooperative improvisation that ultimately issues in photographic 
prints or video but is itself extremely rich in shared aesthetic 
experience for those involved in that creative performative 
process. My artistic experience as L’homme en Or raises an 
important question emerging from pragmatist aesthetics’ 
advocacy of philosophy as an art of living: what is the relation 
between the art of living and the art of the artworld? The 
issue is too complex  for a general answer here, but I can offer 
this personal example. Commitment to my philosophical art 
of living through the pragmatist perspective of transactional 
experience was what generated my artistic transformation into 
L’homme en Or, just as it generated the artworld works in which 
he appears. Conversely, that artistic transformation helped 
transform myself as a philosopher, both by providing me new 
insights into the performative process and aesthetic experience 
of artistic creation that I subsequently formulated in theoretical 
publications, and by extending my sense of personal identity 
as a transactional philosopher of the art of living to include 
this golden, free-spirited, aesthetic avatar who by extending 
my experience into new roles and contexts also expands my 
self and my self-knowledge. In other words, L’homme en Or is 
not a mere masquerade for making art images that conceal or 
disguise my real identity; he is rather an embodied projection 
of that genuine but complex and mutable identity (continuously 
in the making), an incorporated extension that helps shape, 
enrich, and transform it further.  If my work as L’homme en Or
had not freed me from some deep inhibitions, I would have 
never entertained the idea of posing nude for a painting like 
Del Baldo’s nor had the courage to exhibit it in public.

The act of publicly displaying myself in these ways 
risks the charge of exhibitionism, but it also continues the 
pragmatist project of transactional aesthetics into curatorial 
work and public artworld spaces, while integrating it with the 
philosophical project of self-knowledge by revealing oneself 
to others. Exposing myself in this way to an unknown public 
will surely test me in ways beyond those I faced in posing for 
two artist friends. (I try not to imagine what awaits me here.) 
Yet how can we have self-knowledge without self-exposure? 
We need the other’s viewpoint on ourselves to see our blind 
spots and know ourselves more wholly. Thus Socrates explains 
to Alcibiades that the self needs a loving other to properly 
see itself, just as one can see one’s own face reflected in one’s 
lover’s eyes. If art can provide such reflective transactions by 
which a philosopher can come to see and transform himself 
through self-exposure, if such artistic self-exposure can attract 
the attention of others whose reactions can further enrich 
philosophical self-knowledge, then why not embrace such 
experimentation? Why not risk, in practice, a fuller union of 
those ancient, often hostile, lovers: art and philosophy? Must a 
philosopher, to sustain his integrity, continue to abuse his loves 
by treating them only with critical attention, whether of probing 
interpretive analysis or imperious verdicts of value? I hope the 
experience of Aesthetic Transactions will reveal an alternative 
and a complement.

Richard Shusterman

Catalog essay:                                                                                        Aesthetic Transactions: Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life
Pragmatist Philosophy through Art and Life

 (Pour la traduction française par Aurélien Allard)THIS EXHIBITION ORIGINATED with a Sorbonne project to 
organize a conference marking the twentieth anniversary of the 
publication of my book Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty, 
Rethinking Art (Blackwell, 1992) which was simultaneously 
published in France as L’art à l’état vif: la pensée pragmatiste et 
l’esthétique populaire (Minuit, 1992). The project’s organizers 
— Richard Conte and Barbara Formis — had the genial idea to 
complement the conference with an art show at the Sorbonne’s 
Michel Journiac Gallery and thus highlight the pragmatic 
dimension of my work by exhibiting the connections of theory 
and practice. They further proposed that I curate the show, 
which they initially titled “Le vif état de l’art.” Although a 
curatorial virgin with no confidence in being equal to the task, 
I felt compelled to accept their offer, not only out of gratitude 
and curiosity, but also through a philosophical commitment to 
experiential openness in facing new challenges and engaging 
transdisciplinary projects; for the pragmatism I practice 
advocates experimentation as a key dimension of its philosophy 
of transactional experience. 

The notion of transactional experience is double-barreled. 
First, it underlines that experience is not something confined 
to the interiority of human consciousness but necessarily 
involves or incorporates the subject’s environment, both 
through active engagement and more passive absorption of 
environing conditions and energies. Transactional experience 
also connotes the idea of experiments in transcending 
disciplinary boundaries, transgressing entrenched dichotomies, 
and transforming established concepts or topics, together with 
the idea that these transactions can succeed in advancing both
theory and practice through the experiences and lessons that 
such experiments induce. Pragmatist Aesthetics represents my 
first foray into this transactional mode of theory, challenging 
the familiar aesthetic dualisms of art versus life, high art versus 
popular culture, the aesthetic versus the practical and political.  
Its chapter on the aesthetic import of rap music attracted the 
most media attention, especially in Europe, partly because that 
genre (and its philosophical treatment) seemed emblematic 
of the book’s activist vision of transactional theory and 
experience. Through the book’s transnational reception I found 
my own intellectual identity transformed from a mainstream 
Anglo-American philosopher into a provocative Grenzgänger
or passeur culturel. These terms, with their evocation of risky 
border-crossing and smuggling, are very hard to translate into 
English, and I first learned them (and so much else) through the 
book’s complex history of fourteen translations, in a variety of 
different-sized editions.

Translation is inevitably transactional and transfigurative. 
Titles are often especially resistant to good literal translations, 
so just as the original English title Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living 
Beauty, Rethinking Art was transformed into a very different 
title in French (and then again in German and some other 
languages), I have taken the liberty of transforming the original 
French title for this show into an English one that highlights the 
theme of transactional aesthetics while retaining (in the show’s 
subtitle) the notions of pragmatism, art, and life that figure in 
the book’s title in both French and English (and the many other 
languages in which it has been published). 

Aesthetic Transactions is an exhibition structured on two 
of the key themes of Pragmatist Aesthetics: First, aesthetic 
experience is not a passive, purposeless affair of disembodied 
contemplation but rather involves the active somatic 
engagement of purposive perceptual discrimination. Artworks 
are not only created through somatic action; their reception 
also involves the soma’s sensorimotor acts of perception and 
response, including its affective reactions. This core theme 
helps explain how the project of somaesthetics emerged as 
a logical consequence of my work in Pragmatist Aesthetics
(and is already present there in embryonic form). The second 
key theme that shapes this exhibition is that the philosopher’s 
most useful role in aesthetics should not be that of a distanced, 
dispassionate spectator, a disinterested judge, or passively 
pleased consumer, but instead that of an actively engaged 
participant concerned with improving aesthetic experience by 
heightening perception and enriching creativity and meaning.  
With respect to art, this means engaging in the complex 
processes of art’s creative flourishing through the critical 
reception, theoretical elaboration, and curatorial presentation 
of art. But such engagement can sometimes extend still further 
to collaborating in the actual creation of artworks, even to the 
point of physical involvement in their making, indeed even so 
far as putting the philosopher’s own body into the artwork. 
The works here exhibited by Luca Del Baldo (in painting) and 
Yann Toma (in photography and video) illustrate this ultimate 
pragmatist bridging of somaesthetic theory and artistic 
practice, where my own philosophical soma (with its expressive 
energies and cultural shaping) becomes the substance for 
artistic rendering.

Though my soma is otherwise absent from the works in this 
show, all of them are from artists with whom I have collaborated 
in some way through their interest in my theories of pragmatist 
aesthetics and somaesthetics, and through my fascination 
with the compelling ways their work expressed and deepened 
insights that I struggled to formulate in conceptual terms. The 
fact that this collaboration arose through the medium of theory 
illustrates a fruitful aspect of experiential pragmatism that is 
worth thematizing in this exhibition. The idea is that pragmatist 
transactional theory involves an orientation toward openness 
and a sensitivity to practice that in turn enrich and refashion 
theory. In this instance, my pragmatist aesthetic theories 
brought me into contact with visual artists attracted by those 
theories but whose collaborative engagement extended and Tatiana Trouvé
reshaped my theorizing in meaningful ways, including its range 
of topics. Such encounters in fact redirected my theory towards 
contemporary art.

Pragmatist Aesthetics hardly discusses contemporary 
art or the visual arts more generally. Its principal foci for 
aesthetic analysis were the arts of literature (especially poetry) 
and music (in the popular forms of rap and rock). Moreover, 
because its emancipatory arguments for a melioristic critical 
legitimation of popular art involved a pluralist critique of the 
exclusionary privilege accorded to the high art tradition of 
high-priced objects that Dewey disapprovingly dubbed “the 
museum conception of art,” the book’s pragmatist thrust 
might have seemed uncongenial to today’s extension of the 
high art tradition through artists who show in contemporary 
art museums and galleries. Yet the book’s core message of  
embodied transactional experience clearly spoke to certain 
artists whose ensuing dialogues with me directed my theorizing 
increasingly toward the visual arts. Some of the best of 
these artists generously provided the works displayed in this 
exhibition, and I take this opportunity to thank them again for 
their artistic quality, theoretical insights, and magnanimous 
friendship.

This is obviously a very personal show, and my long 
professional engagement with philosophy’s scientific quest for 
absolute objectivity and universality makes me well aware of 
its corresponding suspicion towards the personal approach 
or focus. But there are obvious exceptions: from Augustine’s 
Confessions to Montaigne’s Essays and then to Nietzsche (who 
held all philosophy was disguised autobiography), and even 
through to the introspective psychological probing of William 
James and the private notebooks of Wittgenstein. Just as 
“know thyself” formed the defining quest that first launched 
philosophy through Socrates’ interpretation of this Delphic 
maxim, so Descartes (a champion of objective certainty) started 
with the contents of his own subjective consciousness. What 
value could a philosophy of experience have without any 
personal perspective? Moreover, could our encounters with 
art be so inspiringly meaningful without the vivid affect and 
distinctive poetry of personal subjectivity? Art surely feels no 
need to apologize for being personal in its quest for truth or 
beauty, so why should philosophy, especially if it is construed 
pragmatically (as Socrates first defined it) as an art of living 
involving critical, meliorative care of the self rather than mere 
truth for truth’s sake? 
      
II

MY DIALOGICAL ENGAGEMENT with the seven artists in this 
show has enriched my life experience as well as my thought, so 
it seems right to frame my discussion of their work by noting 
the contexts of our collaboration. Carsten Höller was the first 
of them to contact me, in 1996, prompted by his interest in 
Pragmatist Aesthetics’ themes of full bodied, participatory 
aesthetic experience and the blurring of the established 
oppositions between life and art, the aesthetic and the ethical, 
knowledge and amusement. He asked me to write the text for 
the provocative House for Pigs and People he was in the midst 
of creating with Rosemarie Trockel for documenta x (1997).
A profoundly thoughtful artist concerned with highlighting the 
diversities, complexities, and multiple powers of aesthetic 
experience, Höller (with his doctorate in agricultural science) 
is also a master of transactional, cross-disciplinary creation, 
blending art and science in ways that engage the public’s 
embodied participation and that entertain (often with playful 
fun) as they edify, while highlighting that so-called visual 
art is always more than visual, involving a variety of somatic 
senses. Indeed, his amusingly instructive contribution to this 
show is meant to be experienced with one’s eyes closed.  
An intrinsically interactive work focused on our sense of 
proprioception (which neuroscience identifies as one of the 
distinctively somaesthetic senses), Höller’s Pinocchio Effect is 
based on experimental research on a proprioceptive perceptual
illusion defined (in 1988) as “the Pinocchio Illusion” by James 
Lackner, whose further studies in proprioception are deployed 
in the somaesthetic arguments of my book Body Consciousness
(Cambridge, 2008). The Pinocchio Effect involves the 
participant’s applying a vibrator to the biceps tendon of her arm 
while holding her nose with the hand of that arm. The vibrator 
stimulates muscle spindles in the biceps that would normally 
be stimulated by the muscle’s stretching, creating a kinesthetic 
illusion that the arm is moving away from the face. But since 
the fingers of that hand continue to give tactile sensations 
of contact with the nose, the subject feels her nose moving 
away from the face too and thus surprisingly growing longer. 
In creating a novel aesthetic experience that is dominantly 
proprioceptive, Höller’s piece also suggests that art’s illusionist 
powers also extend well beyond the visual.

I was introduced to Tatiana Trouvé at her show in the 
Miami-Basel art fair in early December 2007, the year she 
won the Marcel Duchamp Prize for young artists and a week 
after Le Monde ran a full-page commentary on the French 
translation of Body Consciousness. Immediately impressed 
by the exceptional beauty and unusual intelligence of her 
diverse oeuvre, I was happy to accept her invitation to explore 
this work from my pragmatist somaesthetic perspective by 
conducting a conversation with her, appearing along with 
essays by Robert Storr and Catherine Millet, for her book 
Tatiana Trouvé, published by Walther König in 2008. Our 
conversation, conducted in French, was entitled “Corps sans 
Figure” (“Body without a Face”), because I was particularly 
fascinated by the different ways that the soma is extremely 
central to Trouvé’s art and yet representations of it are entirely 
absent from her work. Though occasionally suggested through 
representational traces (such as a pair of shoes that peek 
out behind a panel that doesn’t quite reach the floor in Time 
Snares) or through indirect implication by strange contraptions 
that could suggest bodily use, the soma is perhaps most 
powerfully present in the transactional experience of her Polder20
installations whose reduced architectural spaces and furniture 
heighten one’s somatic awareness by making one feel one’s 
body is out of scale. I also find the soma strikingly evoked in 
her untitled “trees” of metal, leather, and epoxy paint, two 
of which are exhibited in this show. Their expressive standing 
forms suggest the body’s limbs, posture, and gesture, while 
their compositional layers of metal, leather, and paint evoke the 
body’s structure of bones covered by flesh and skin. Moreover, 
their beckoning beauty and congenial stature arouse a somatic 
sympathy that makes one feel one’s own body all the more. 
This feeling is heightened and complicated by one’s sense of 
the intense bodily effort that goes into the making of these 
pieces, including the extensive but meticulously detailed leather 
wrappings and lacings that simultaneously cover and reveal the 
metal skeleton.  

Long before first meeting ORLAN at the 2008 Miami-Basel 
fair, I knew her as a body artist of amazingly bold originality 
and world-historical status; so I was happy to discover her 
interest in somaesthetics and to welcome her to some events 
in this field. ORLAN’s signature notion of Carnal Art converges 
with pragmatist somaesthetics in emphasizing the soma’s role 
as both the site of aesthetic experiences of pleasure and as a 
medium for creative self-fashioning.  Her cosmetic surgeries 
are undertaken not to achieve a particular surgical result but to 
appreciate the transactional experiential process of remaking 
the self as a performative expression of individual freedom. 
The two photographic works exhibited in this show are taken 
from ORLAN’s 5th Surgery Performance, Operation-Opera, 
from Paris, July 6, 1991. They were earlier shown as part of a 
comprehensive solo exhibition of her Surgery-Performance 
Photos (the first ever held in the United States) that was 
organized by my Center for Body, Mind, and Culture at Florida 
Atlantic University in December 2010, in conjunction with the 
Center’s international conference on “Bodies of Art” in which 
ORLAN was a featured speaker.ORLAN Requests Silence from 
the Medical Team shows the artist in her harlequin hat and 
reading literature, clearly demonstrating her commitment to an 
aesthetics of performative process and pleasure that is at once 
serious and playful, as she formulates this point in her Carnal 
Art manifesto. “Carnal Art is not interested in the plastic surgery
result, but in the process of surgery,” repudiating “the 
Christian denial of body-pleasure” and its “tradition of suffering 
and martyrdom.” Though ORLAN’s manifesto claims “the artist 
works on representation,” this should not, I think, be construed 
as limiting such work to visual images. There is a profoundly 
experiential dimension to ORLAN’s art of living and creation of 
character that goes far deeper than the representational surface 
or the skin. 

Pan Gongkai is a shining exemplar of a contemporary 
Confucian polymath. Not only brilliantly successful in the 
genres of painting, installation, video, and architecture, he is 
also a proven master in the practical fields of art education 
and administration; and since 2002 he has served as president 
of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and guided its 
remarkable development. Pan is equally accomplished as an 
erudite theorist, and we have spent many hours in Beijing in 
philosophical dialogues about art, some of which have been 
published in Chinese art journals. One key focus in these 
discussions concerns the relationships between art and life, 
including the pragmatist idea of the ethical art of living that 
I first developed in Pragmatist Aesthetics from the Western 
tradition but that (as I increasingly realized) can find particularly 
rich resources in the classical Confucian notion of an ethics of 
harmony in which ethical education rests on the twin aesthetic 
pillars of art and ritual. 

Another key pragmatist theme I share with Pan Gongkai 
is cultural pluralism.  For him as for me, this pluralism in the 
contemporary globalized lifeworld does not mean that artists 
or philosophers must provide completely hybrid work that 
totally blends the different cultural traditions of East and 
West with their different vocabularies, themes, and images. 
Such a universal hybridized fusion could yield a confusing
hodgepodge that risks ruining the distinctive beauty of these 
diverse traditions. True pluralism also allows working in one’s 
own traditional vocabulary (painterly or conceptual) while being 
aware of its differences from other traditions. Pan’s abiding 
artistic passion in developing his beloved signature genre of 
lotus ink painting demonstrates the power of such commitment, 
as his works here show. One of them is a video of his 2011 
Venice Biennale installation Snow Melting in Lotus, which 
dramatically demonstrates his ideal of cultural pluralism with 
respect for difference. Onto the two immense panels of black, 
ink-painted lotus (rendered in his contemporary-traditional 
style), Pan projects, in the form of snow, the white letters of the 
English translation of his text on modern Western art and art 
theory. If this work suggests that Western art and art theory 
are continuously projected into Chinese aesthetic culture (thus 
bringing new brightness), it also implies that such projected 
imports melt into the enduringly beautiful but continuously 
evolving Chinese forms of lotus, nourishing them with moisture 
but not burying, distorting, or displacing them. West and 
East coexist in active harmony and moving beauty, without an 
isolating separation, but also without coercive fusion.

Thecla Schiphorst, an interactive media artist and researcher 
in the burgeoning multidisciplinary field of Human-Computer 
Interaction (HCI), likewise brings dynamic harmonies of vibrant 
beauty to an opposition as perhaps pervasive and problematic 
as the East/West divide, that of body and technology. While 
sometimes treated as a machine and recognized as our 
primordial instrument (hence most intimate technology), the 
human soma is typically contrasted to machines because 
of its living nature, its organic materials and composition, 
and its purposive subjectivity.  My somaesthetic project that 
emerged from Pragmatist Aesthetics seeks to remedy this 
troubling opposition (and related dualisms generated by 
the traditional body/mind dichotomy) by recognizing and 
integrating the soma’s twofold nature as both the material 
tool for performance and self-fashioning and as the perceptive
subjectivity using these instrumental materialities. Schiphorst 
explicitly uses somaesthetics as the theoretical framework 
for her interactive media art, and I first came across her work 
through her research article “soft(n): Toward a Somaesthetics 
of Touch” that describes a project of soft, interactive sculptural 
forms that react to qualities of human touch and movement 
by emitting different sounds (humming, sighing, singing) and 
patterns of light and shaking movements. In Tendrils (exhibited 
here and created in collaboration with her former student 
Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo), Schiphorst develops her transactional 
somaesthetic inquiry toward the somatically central art of 
fashion. Tendrils is a responsive, kinetic wearable artwork, an 
interactive garment that responds to being touched, both when 
touched locally by direct contact on the garment’s surfaces 
and when touched collectively through remotely transmitted 
signals from an Iphone Touch App that are delivered through 
a networked link to wearable armbands that are a part of the 
Tendrils network. The theme of high-tech softness is highlighted 
here through the fabric’s soft, conductive silk organza and the 
garment’s gentle flowing and responsive form, as if it were a 
second living skin, tender and sensitive in its own reactions of 
shivering and quivering, yet also incorporated into the wearer’s 
somatic experience.

Tendrils stroke-sensors are hand-sewn, and its crucial 
use of stitching on this second skin connects it clearly to the 
works of the other female artists exhibited here: skin stitching 
is essential to ORLAN’s surgery, and it is also suggested in 
the leather lacings of Trouvé’s somatic trees, whose hard but 
pliantly shaped metal skeletons contrast powerfully with the 
soft connective tissue of Tendrils. If stitching more generally 
evokes the domestic, feminine-gendered arts of sewing, 
knitting, and quilting, then these works also invite different 
kinds of feminist readings or strategies: from ORLAN’s 
outspoken affirmation of Carnal Art as militantly feminist, to 
Schiphorst’s explicit “embracing of ‘radically soft things’” as 
“a counterpoint to, or a critique of, the hard,” and then to 
Trouvé’s bewitchingly nuanced brew of softly bending shapes 
in immaculately laced leather skins that highlight rather than 
conceal the beauty of their hard skeletal core.  In first selecting 
these works, I never thought of juxtaposing them in terms 
of a feminist interpretation, but women’s issues pervade the 
field of somaesthetics, because our culture has so long and 
so profoundly identified women with their bodies. Since 
its meliorist agenda involves a critique of oppressive body 
norms while not abandoning the quest for somatic beauty 
and pleasure, somaesthetics has often been adopted as a 
framework for feminist theorizing outside the realm of art.

Men also have bodies that are subject to the judgmental 
gaze of disapproval, derision, or desire; bodies that are often 
painfully experienced as the locus of anxiety, discomfort, 
impotence, and illness; bodies that age and fail, that suffer 
and die; bodies that we male philosophers have traditionally 
sought to ignore or escape by identifying the true self with 
the mind, while identifying true life with the life of thought (as 
if such life could have any real content or energy without the 
sentient soma). Male bodies have also been the subjects of 
beautiful artistic renderings, and they are obviously essential 
to the artistic performance of male artists and the aesthetic 
experience of male viewers. Transactional pragmatist aesthetics 
thus demands a somaesthetics for all genders, as all art is 
created and perceived through the body. 

As Pragmatist Aesthetics unexpectedly earned me the 
controversial status of a rap philosopher and hip-hop fanzine 
columnist (aka Rich Frosted), so the somaesthetic research 
I undertook to write Body Consciousness transformed me 
not simply into a body philosopher but more surprisingly 
into a professional somatic educator and therapist (in the 
Feldenkrais Method). I realized that good pragmatist theory 
is best nourished by real practical know-how, which is best 
acquired through professional training and practice. But my 
theory-generated somaesthetic transformations of identity 
have evidently gone still further, stretching my philosophical 
self-image into forms even stranger than that of body therapist. 
Yann Toma and Luca Del Baldo invited me to participate in their 
creative process by being a collaborative model and performer. 
And how could a pragmatist theorist who insisted in putting the 
body back into philosophy and aesthetics refuse that invitation, 
especially when I argued that philosophy should be practiced 
as an embodied, transformative way of life? If I talked the talk, 
shouldn’t I also walk the walk? Besides, what better way to 
answer the question, recurrently posed by artists attending 
my lectures and workshops, “what is the connection between 
somaesthetics and contemporary art?” than by making that 
connection myself, by putting my own somaesthetic intelligence 
at the service of contemporary creation and by inserting my 
own body into the work of art.

My story with Yann Toma is older and longer, but Iet 
me here begin with Luca Del Baldo who contacted me in 
December 2010 to participate in his project of painting small 
oil portraits of influential theorists of culture, portraits based 
on photographed head shots that the theorist supplied and 
then complemented by a short text of response to the portrait. 
As Del Baldo provided me with a continuing flow of draftstages 
of my portrait, replete with commentary and questions 
about my reactions to this process, we developed a sense 
of aesthetic collaboration and camaraderie. So when the 
Sorbonne proposed that I curate a show connected to my work, 
I mentioned the project to Luca who proposed that we think 
of doing a special new work for it. Rather than another head, 
wouldn’t it be better, he argued, for a body philosopher to 
present more of the body; and he explained that “more” meant 
not only including the torso but also revealing it, tel quel, in 
frontal nakedness. 

We collaborated in choosing the portrait’s pose (from a 
host of photos I sent him, taken specially for this occasion) and 
later in selecting its colored mood and title. If the title Through 
the Arcade evokes something of the bizarre, disorienting 
fantasy of Through the Looking Glass — but displaced from 
rustic nineteenth-century Britain to the contemporary maze 
of posthuman arcade video games, then it also suggests the 
curious, errant, anxious flâneur of Walter Benjamin’s famous 
Arcades Project, who can savor even the discomfort involved 
in a continuous (perhaps compulsive) transactional crossing 
of boundaries that are spatial, social, and mental. The posture 
and facial expression in the work are likewise mysteriously 
vague, perhaps because they were spontaneous improvisations. 
Unaccustomed to posing naked, I simply raised my hands as a 
confessional shrug of helpless uncertainty. 

Meanings, however, abound. If the hands’ prominence 
identifies them as crucial instruments for both the philosopher’s 
writing and the artist’s painting, their gestural configuration 
of fingers has hieratic connotations: but whether it’s the 
traditional Jewish priestly blessing or Star Trek’s futuristic 
Vulcan salute is unclear. Despite the figure’s bare, direct frontal 
disclosure with the arms and hands raised and even the palms 
openly exposed so nothing is concealed, the meaning of this 
pose remains a mystery of absent narrative context. Am I a 
commanding prophet (perhaps from the mythic naturalist realm 
of Arcadia) or a lover raising his hands in wondering worship 
of his beauty waiting in bed, or instead a cautious victim held 
up by a bedroom gunman, or a wistful adulterer surprised by 
an angry wife or husband?  Sometimes I see myself merely as 
a naked philosopher with embarrassingly nothing in his hands 
to give the public, nothing except those hovering circles of 
light promising enlightenment and wholeness that may be 
as empty or fragile as soap bubbles. Still there remain the 
pragmatist values of experimentation and meliorist striving, the 
aesthetic experience of collaborative creation, and even the 
cognitive gains from exploring new practices that provoke new 
sensations, spur new energies and attitudes, and thus probe 
one’s current limits and perhaps transcend them to transform 
the self.

My work with Yann Toma epitomizes this experiential method 
of transactional aesthetic inquiry. Experience was indeed the 
theme of our first encounter in 2006, a short video interview 
for his project with the Collège International de Philosophie, 
where each selected philosopher had to give an impromptu 
lecture on a key concept central to that philosopher’s work, my 
choice being experience. Toma’s key themes are energy and 
light, which he treats in two complementary ways. First, in the 
spirit of conceptual art, he acquired the ownership of a defunct 
Paris electric company, Ouest-Lumière, and gave it new life 
as a virtual company for real artistic interventions, such as the 
project Dynamo Fukushima at the Parisian Grand Palais (2011), 
with eighteen thousand cyclists pedaling on stationary bikes 
with dynamos to create energy symbolically sent to Japan. 
The second way is through his practice of Radiant Flux, a form 
of space writing in which Toma tries to capture and visually 
represent the invisible aura of the person posing for him, an 
aura he perceives as a continuously changing, contextually 
sensitive energetic force emanating from the person’s body.  
After posing his photographic subject in a totally dark setting 
(normally indoors), positioning his camera on a tripod, and 
adjusting its setting for long exposure, Toma — dressed in 
black to make himself less visible and holding a hand lamp — 
releases the camera shutter and approaches the subject’s soma 
to trace its aura with the lamp’s light and then returns to close 
the shutter to complete the shot. The resulting photograph 
shows the subject framed by energetic lines of light. 

Knowing my work in somaesthetics and my experimental 
temperament, Toma invited me for a weekend of shooting at 
the beautiful medieval Royaumont Abbey in mid-June, 2010. 
Disinclined to leave the glorious sunshine for the blackened 
shooting room, I was even more reluctant to put on the shiny 
gold lycra body stocking that Toma insisted would make 
my aura more perceptible and energetic. Though he usually 
does not demand this of most subjects, he thought I was slim 
and bold enough to inhabit that glittering second skin, and 
I was surprised he was right. But after a long day and night 
of docile static posing in the dark, my deep somaesthetic 
drives for sunshine and movement made me suddenly bolt 
from the blackened room into the Abbey’s sunny, flower-fragrant 
courtyard and gardens. Grabbing his movie camera, 
Toma chased after me, filming my capering ramble through 
the Abbey grounds and ruins, which then prompted me to 
improvise scenarios of dance and gesture that fit my playful 
mood and picturesque environment, even approaching a group 
of tourists before returning to the Abbey’s private quarters 
to dine with its owners (our weekend hosts), who, stunned by 
my attire, dubbed me “L’homme en Or” (“The Man in Gold”). 
This new persona signaled a real change in our transactional 
aesthetic experience that Toma happily welcomed. By shifting 
the photographic setting, determining the poses, and even 
transforming the genre from still photography to video of me in 
movement, I had become a real partner in artistic creation. We 
decided to continue this collaborative enterprise by nocturnal 
outdoor filming in Paris and then in other scenic spots, such 
as the city, ramparts, and coast of Cartagena (Colombia) and 
the beaches of South Florida, generating a distinct genre of 
Somaflux in photographic stills and films, some of which are 
presented here. 

The artistic meanings of the Somaflux series, as I elsewhere 
explain, go far beyond the represented images in print or 
on screen. They involve a complex art of collaborative 
performative process, a developing dance of intuitive 
communication (of energies, feelings, and intentions) and 
cooperative improvisation that ultimately issues in photographic 
prints or video but is itself extremely rich in shared aesthetic 
experience for those involved in that creative performative 
process. My artistic experience as L’homme en Or raises an 
important question emerging from pragmatist aesthetics’ 
advocacy of philosophy as an art of living: what is the relation 
between the art of living and the art of the artworld? The 
issue is too complex  for a general answer here, but I can offer 
this personal example. Commitment to my philosophical art 
of living through the pragmatist perspective of transactional 
experience was what generated my artistic transformation into 
L’homme en Or, just as it generated the artworld works in which 
he appears. Conversely, that artistic transformation helped 
transform myself as a philosopher, both by providing me new 
insights into the performative process and aesthetic experience 
of artistic creation that I subsequently formulated in theoretical 
publications, and by extending my sense of personal identity 
as a transactional philosopher of the art of living to include 
this golden, free-spirited, aesthetic avatar who by extending 
my experience into new roles and contexts also expands my 
self and my self-knowledge. In other words, L’homme en Or is 
not a mere masquerade for making art images that conceal or 
disguise my real identity; he is rather an embodied projection 
of that genuine but complex and mutable identity (continuously 
in the making), an incorporated extension that helps shape, 
enrich, and transform it further.  If my work as L’homme en Or
had not freed me from some deep inhibitions, I would have 
never entertained the idea of posing nude for a painting like 
Del Baldo’s nor had the courage to exhibit it in public.

The act of publicly displaying myself in these ways 
risks the charge of exhibitionism, but it also continues the 
pragmatist project of transactional aesthetics into curatorial 
work and public artworld spaces, while integrating it with the 
philosophical project of self-knowledge by revealing oneself 
to others. Exposing myself in this way to an unknown public 
will surely test me in ways beyond those I faced in posing for 
two artist friends. (I try not to imagine what awaits me here.) 
Yet how can we have self-knowledge without self-exposure? 
We need the other’s viewpoint on ourselves to see our blind 
spots and know ourselves more wholly. Thus Socrates explains 
to Alcibiades that the self needs a loving other to properly 
see itself, just as one can see one’s own face reflected in one’s 
lover’s eyes. If art can provide such reflective transactions by 
which a philosopher can come to see and transform himself 
through self-exposure, if such artistic self-exposure can attract 
the attention of others whose reactions can further enrich 
philosophical self-knowledge, then why not embrace such 
experimentation? Why not risk, in practice, a fuller union of 
those ancient, often hostile, lovers: art and philosophy? Must a 
philosopher, to sustain his integrity, continue to abuse his loves 
by treating them only with critical attention, whether of probing 
interpretive analysis or imperious verdicts of value? I hope the 
experience of Aesthetic Transactions will reveal an alternative 
and a complement.

Richard Shusterman

(La traduction française par Aurélien Allard) 

THIS EXHIBITION ORIGINATED with a Sorbonne project to  organize a conference marking the twentieth anniversary of the  publication of my book Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living Beauty,  Rethinking Art (Blackwell, 1992) which was simultaneously  published in France as L’art à l’état vif: la pensée pragmatiste et  l’esthétique populaire (Minuit, 1992). The project’s organizers  — Richard Conte and Barbara Formis — had the genial idea to  complement the conference with an art show at the Sorbonne’s  Michel Journiac Gallery and thus highlight the pragmatic  dimension of my work by exhibiting the connections of theory  and practice. They further proposed that I curate the show,  which they initially titled “Le vif état de l’art.” Although a  curatorial virgin with no confidence in being equal to the task,  I felt compelled to accept their offer, not only out of gratitude  and curiosity, but also through a philosophical commitment to  experiential openness in facing new challenges and engaging  transdisciplinary projects; for the pragmatism I practice advocates experimentation as a key dimension of its philosophy  of transactional experience.   

The notion of transactional experience is double-barreled.  First, it underlines that experience is not something confined to the interiority of human consciousness but necessarily  involves or incorporates the subject’s environment, both  through active engagement and more passive absorption of  environing conditions and energies. Transactional experience  also connotes the idea of experiments in transcending  disciplinary boundaries, transgressing entrenched dichotomies,  and transforming established concepts or topics, together with  the idea that these transactions can succeed in advancing both theory and practice through the experiences and lessons that  such experiments induce. Pragmatist Aesthetics represents my  first foray into this transactional mode of theory, challenging  the familiar aesthetic dualisms of art versus life, high art versus  popular culture, the aesthetic versus the practical and political.   Its chapter on the aesthetic import of rap music attracted the  most media attention, especially in Europe, partly because that  genre (and its philosophical treatment) seemed emblematic  of the book’s activist vision of transactional theory and  experience. Through the book’s transnational reception I found  my own intellectual identity transformed from a mainstream  Anglo-American philosopher into a provocative Grenzgänger or passeur culturel. These terms, with their evocation of risky  border-crossing and smuggling, are very hard to translate into  English, and I first learned them (and so much else) through the  book’s complex history of fourteen translations, in a variety of  different-sized editions.  

Translation is inevitably transactional and transfigurative.  Titles are often especially resistant to good literal translations,  so just as the original English title Pragmatist Aesthetics: Living  Beauty, Rethinking Art was transformed into a very different  title in French (and then again in German and some other  languages), I have taken the liberty of transforming the original  French title for this show into an English one that highlights the  theme of transactional aesthetics while retaining (in the show’s  subtitle) the notions of pragmatism, art, and life that figure in  the book’s title in both French and English (and the many other  languages in which it has been published).   

Aesthetic Transactions is an exhibition structured on two  of the key themes of Pragmatist Aesthetics: First, aesthetic  experience is not a passive, purposeless affair of disembodied  contemplation but rather involves the active somatic  engagement of purposive perceptual discrimination. Artworks  are not only created through somatic action; their reception  also involves the soma’s sensorimotor acts of perception and  response, including its affective reactions. This core theme  helps explain how the project of somaesthetics emerged as  a logical consequence of my work in Pragmatist Aesthetics (and is already present there in embryonic form). The second  key theme that shapes this exhibition is that the philosopher’s  most useful role in aesthetics should not be that of a distanced,  dispassionate spectator, a disinterested judge, or passively  pleased consumer, but instead that of an actively engaged  participant concerned with improving aesthetic experience by  heightening perception and enriching creativity and meaning.   With respect to art, this means engaging in the complex  processes of art’s creative flourishing through the critical  reception, theoretical elaboration, and curatorial presentation  of art. But such engagement can sometimes extend still further  to collaborating in the actual creation of artworks, even to the  point of physical involvement in their making, indeed even so  far as putting the philosopher’s own body into the artwork.  The works here exhibited by Luca Del Baldo (in painting) and  Yann Toma (in photography and video) illustrate this ultimate  pragmatist bridging of somaesthetic theory and artistic  practice, where my own philosophical soma (with its expressive  energies and cultural shaping) becomes the substance for  artistic rendering.  

Though my soma is otherwise absent from the works in this  show, all of them are from artists with whom I have collaborated  in some way through their interest in my theories of pragmatist  aesthetics and somaesthetics, and through my fascination  with the compelling ways their work expressed and deepened  insights that I struggled to formulate in conceptual terms. The  fact that this collaboration arose through the medium of theory  illustrates a fruitful aspect of experiential pragmatism that is  worth thematizing in this exhibition. The idea is that pragmatist  transactional theory involves an orientation toward openness  and a sensitivity to practice that in turn enrich and refashion  theory. In this instance, my pragmatist aesthetic theories  brought me into contact with visual artists attracted by those  theories but whose collaborative engagement extended and Tatiana Trouvé reshaped my theorizing in meaningful ways, including its range  of topics. Such encounters in fact redirected my theory towards  contemporary art.  

Pragmatist Aesthetics hardly discusses contemporary  art or the visual arts more generally. Its principal foci for  aesthetic analysis were the arts of literature (especially poetry)  and music (in the popular forms of rap and rock). Moreover,  because its emancipatory arguments for a melioristic critical  legitimation of popular art involved a pluralist critique of the  exclusionary privilege accorded to the high art tradition of  high-priced objects that Dewey disapprovingly dubbed “the  museum conception of art,” the book’s pragmatist thrust  might have seemed uncongenial to today’s extension of the  high art tradition through artists who show in contemporary  art museums and galleries. Yet the book’s core message of   embodied transactional experience clearly spoke to certain  artists whose ensuing dialogues with me directed my theorizing  increasingly toward the visual arts. Some of the best of  these artists generously provided the works displayed in this  exhibition, and I take this opportunity to thank them again for  their artistic quality, theoretical insights, and magnanimous  friendship.  

This is obviously a very personal show, and my long  professional engagement with philosophy’s scientific quest for  absolute objectivity and universality makes me well aware of  its corresponding suspicion towards the personal approach  or focus. But there are obvious exceptions: from Augustine’s  Confessions to Montaigne’s Essays and then to Nietzsche (who  held all philosophy was disguised autobiography), and even  through to the introspective psychological probing of William  James and the private notebooks of Wittgenstein. Just as  “know thyself” formed the defining quest that first launched  philosophy through Socrates’ interpretation of this Delphic  maxim, so Descartes (a champion of objective certainty) started  with the contents of his own subjective consciousness. What  value could a philosophy of experience have without any  personal perspective? Moreover, could our encounters with  art be so inspiringly meaningful without the vivid affect and  distinctive poetry of personal subjectivity? Art surely feels no  need to apologize for being personal in its quest for truth or  beauty, so why should philosophy, especially if it is construed  pragmatically (as Socrates first defined it) as an art of living  involving critical, meliorative care of the self rather than mere  truth for truth’s sake?         

II  

MY DIALOGICAL ENGAGEMENT with the seven artists in this  show has enriched my life experience as well as my thought, so  it seems right to frame my discussion of their work by noting  the contexts of our collaboration. Carsten Höller was the first  of them to contact me, in 1996, prompted by his interest in  Pragmatist Aesthetics’ themes of full bodied, participatory  aesthetic experience and the blurring of the established  oppositions between life and art, the aesthetic and the ethical,  knowledge and amusement. He asked me to write the text for  the provocative House for Pigs and People he was in the midst  of creating with Rosemarie Trockel for documenta x (1997). A profoundly thoughtful artist concerned with highlighting the  diversities, complexities, and multiple powers of aesthetic  experience, Höller (with his doctorate in agricultural science)  is also a master of transactional, cross-disciplinary creation,  blending art and science in ways that engage the public’s  embodied participation and that entertain (often with playful  fun) as they edify, while highlighting that so-called visual  art is always more than visual, involving a variety of somatic  senses. Indeed, his amusingly instructive contribution to this  show is meant to be experienced with one’s eyes closed.   An intrinsically interactive work focused on our sense of  proprioception (which neuroscience identifies as one of the  distinctively somaesthetic senses), Höller’s Pinocchio Effect is  based on experimental research on a proprioceptive perceptual illusion defined (in 1988) as “the Pinocchio Illusion” by James  Lackner, whose further studies in proprioception are deployed  in the somaesthetic arguments of my book Body Consciousness (Cambridge, 2008). The Pinocchio Effect involves the  participant’s applying a vibrator to the biceps tendon of her arm  while holding her nose with the hand of that arm. The vibrator  stimulates muscle spindles in the biceps that would normally  be stimulated by the muscle’s stretching, creating a kinesthetic  illusion that the arm is moving away from the face. But since  the fingers of that hand continue to give tactile sensations  of contact with the nose, the subject feels her nose moving  away from the face too and thus surprisingly growing longer.  In creating a novel aesthetic experience that is dominantly  proprioceptive, Höller’s piece also suggests that art’s illusionist  powers also extend well beyond the visual.  

I was introduced to Tatiana Trouvé at her show in the  Miami-Basel art fair in early December 2007, the year she  won the Marcel Duchamp Prize for young artists and a week  after Le Monde ran a full-page commentary on the French  translation of Body Consciousness. Immediately impressed  by the exceptional beauty and unusual intelligence of her  diverse oeuvre, I was happy to accept her invitation to explore  this work from my pragmatist somaesthetic perspective by  conducting a conversation with her, appearing along with  essays by Robert Storr and Catherine Millet, for her book  Tatiana Trouvé, published by Walther König in 2008. Our  conversation, conducted in French, was entitled “Corps sans  Figure” (“Body without a Face”), because I was particularly  fascinated by the different ways that the soma is extremely  central to Trouvé’s art and yet representations of it are entirely  absent from her work. Though occasionally suggested through  representational traces (such as a pair of shoes that peek  out behind a panel that doesn’t quite reach the floor in Time  Snares) or through indirect implication by strange contraptions  that could suggest bodily use, the soma is perhaps most  powerfully present in the transactional experience of her Polder installations whose reduced architectural spaces and furniture  heighten one’s somatic awareness by making one feel one’s  body is out of scale. I also find the soma strikingly evoked in  her untitled “trees” of metal, leather, and epoxy paint, two  of which are exhibited in this show. Their expressive standing  forms suggest the body’s limbs, posture, and gesture, while  their compositional layers of metal, leather, and paint evoke the  body’s structure of bones covered by flesh and skin. Moreover,  their beckoning beauty and congenial stature arouse a somatic  sympathy that makes one feel one’s own body all the more.  This feeling is heightened and complicated by one’s sense of  the intense bodily effort that goes into the making of these  pieces, including the extensive but meticulously detailed leather  wrappings and lacings that simultaneously cover and reveal the  metal skeleton.    

Long before first meeting ORLAN at the 2008 Miami-Basel  fair, I knew her as a body artist of amazingly bold originality  and world-historical status; so I was happy to discover her  interest in somaesthetics and to welcome her to some events  in this field. ORLAN’s signature notion of Carnal Art converges  with pragmatist somaesthetics in emphasizing the soma’s role  as both the site of aesthetic experiences of pleasure and as a  medium for creative self-fashioning.  Her cosmetic surgeries  are undertaken not to achieve a particular surgical result but to  appreciate the transactional experiential process of remaking  the self as a performative expression of individual freedom.  The two photographic works exhibited in this show are taken  from ORLAN’s 5th Surgery Performance, Operation-Opera,  from Paris, July 6, 1991. They were earlier shown as part of a  comprehensive solo exhibition of her Surgery-Performance  Photos (the first ever held in the United States) that was  organized by my Center for Body, Mind, and Culture at Florida  Atlantic University in December 2010, in conjunction with the  Center’s international conference on “Bodies of Art” in which  ORLAN was a featured speaker. ORLAN Requests Silence from  the Medical Team shows the artist in her harlequin hat and  reading literature, clearly demonstrating her commitment to an  aesthetics of performative process and pleasure that is at once  serious and playful, as she formulates this point in her Carnal  Art manifesto. “Carnal Art is not interested in the plastic surgery result, but in the process of surgery,” repudiating “the  Christian denial of body-pleasure” and its “tradition of suffering  and martyrdom.” Though ORLAN’s manifesto claims “the artist  works on representation,” this should not, I think, be construed  as limiting such work to visual images. There is a profoundly  experiential dimension to ORLAN’s art of living and creation of  character that goes far deeper than the representational surface  or the skin.   

Pan Gongkai
is a shining exemplar of a contemporary  Confucian polymath. Not only brilliantly successful in the  genres of painting, installation, video, and architecture, he is  also a proven master in the practical fields of art education  and administration; and since 2002 he has served as president  of China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts and guided its  remarkable development. Pan is equally accomplished as an  erudite theorist, and we have spent many hours in Beijing in  philosophical dialogues about art, some of which have been  published in Chinese art journals. One key focus in these  discussions concerns the relationships between art and life,  including the pragmatist idea of the ethical art of living that  I first developed in Pragmatist Aesthetics from the Western  tradition but that (as I increasingly realized) can find particularly  rich resources in the classical Confucian notion of an ethics of  harmony in which ethical education rests on the twin aesthetic  pillars of art and ritual.   

Another key pragmatist theme I share with Pan Gongkai  is cultural pluralism.  For him as for me, this pluralism in the  contemporary globalized lifeworld does not mean that artists  or philosophers must provide completely hybrid work that  totally blends the different cultural traditions of East and  West with their different vocabularies, themes, and images.  Such a universal hybridized fusion could yield a confusing hodgepodge that risks ruining the distinctive beauty of these  diverse traditions. True pluralism also allows working in one’s  own traditional vocabulary (painterly or conceptual) while being  aware of its differences from other traditions. Pan’s abiding  artistic passion in developing his beloved signature genre of  lotus ink painting demonstrates the power of such commitment,  as his works here show. One of them is a video of his 2011  Venice Biennale installation Snow Melting in Lotus, which  dramatically demonstrates his ideal of cultural pluralism with  respect for difference. Onto the two immense panels of black,  ink-painted lotus (rendered in his contemporary-traditional  style), Pan projects, in the form of snow, the white letters of the  English translation of his text on modern Western art and art  theory. If this work suggests that Western art and art theory  are continuously projected into Chinese aesthetic culture (thus  bringing new brightness), it also implies that such projected  imports melt into the enduringly beautiful but continuously  evolving Chinese forms of lotus, nourishing them with moisture  but not burying, distorting, or displacing them. West and  East coexist in active harmony and moving beauty, without an  isolating separation, but also without coercive fusion.  

Thecla Schiphorst
, an interactive media artist and researcher  in the burgeoning multidisciplinary field of Human-Computer  Interaction (HCI), likewise brings dynamic harmonies of vibrant  beauty to an opposition as perhaps pervasive and problematic  as the East/West divide, that of body and technology. While  sometimes treated as a machine and recognized as our  primordial instrument (hence most intimate technology), the  human soma is typically contrasted to machines because  of its living nature, its organic materials and composition,  and its purposive subjectivity.  My somaesthetic project that  emerged from Pragmatist Aesthetics seeks to remedy this  troubling opposition (and related dualisms generated by  the traditional body/mind dichotomy) by recognizing and  integrating the soma’s twofold nature as both the material  tool for performance and self-fashioning and as the perceptive subjectivity using these instrumental materialities. Schiphorst  explicitly uses somaesthetics as the theoretical framework  for her interactive media art, and I first came across her work  through her research article “soft(n): Toward a Somaesthetics  of Touch” that describes a project of soft, interactive sculptural  forms that react to qualities of human touch and movement  by emitting different sounds (humming, sighing, singing) and  patterns of light and shaking movements. In Tendrils (exhibited  here and created in collaboration with her former student  Jinsil Hwaryoung Seo), Schiphorst develops her transactional  somaesthetic inquiry toward the somatically central art of  fashion. Tendrils is a responsive, kinetic wearable artwork, an  interactive garment that responds to being touched, both when  touched locally by direct contact on the garment’s surfaces  and when touched collectively through remotely transmitted  signals from an Iphone Touch App that are delivered through  a networked link to wearable armbands that are a part of the  Tendrils network. The theme of high-tech softness is highlighted  here through the fabric’s soft, conductive silk organza and the  garment’s gentle flowing and responsive form, as if it were a  second living skin, tender and sensitive in its own reactions of  shivering and quivering, yet also incorporated into the wearer’s  somatic experience.  

Tendrils stroke-sensors are hand-sewn, and its crucial  use of stitching on this second skin connects it clearly to the  works of the other female artists exhibited here: skin stitching  is essential to ORLAN’s surgery, and it is also suggested in  the leather lacings of Trouvé’s somatic trees, whose hard but  pliantly shaped metal skeletons contrast powerfully with the  soft connective tissue of Tendrils. If stitching more generally  evokes the domestic, feminine-gendered arts of sewing,  knitting, and quilting, then these works also invite different  kinds of feminist readings or strategies: from ORLAN’s  outspoken affirmation of Carnal Art as militantly feminist, to  Schiphorst’s explicit “embracing of ‘radically soft things’” as  “a counterpoint to, or a critique of, the hard,” and then to  Trouvé’s bewitchingly nuanced brew of softly bending shapes  in immaculately laced leather skins that highlight rather than  conceal the beauty of their hard skeletal core.  In first selecting  these works, I never thought of juxtaposing them in terms  of a feminist interpretation, but women’s issues pervade the  field of somaesthetics, because our culture has so long and  so profoundly identified women with their bodies. Since  its meliorist agenda involves a critique of oppressive body  norms while not abandoning the quest for somatic beauty  and pleasure, somaesthetics has often been adopted as a  framework for feminist theorizing outside the realm of art.  

Men also have bodies that are subject to the judgmental  gaze of disapproval, derision, or desire; bodies that are often  painfully experienced as the locus of anxiety, discomfort,  impotence, and illness; bodies that age and fail, that suffer  and die; bodies that we male philosophers have traditionally  sought to ignore or escape by identifying the true self with  the mind, while identifying true life with the life of thought (as  if such life could have any real content or energy without the  sentient soma). Male bodies have also been the subjects of  beautiful artistic renderings, and they are obviously essential  to the artistic performance of male artists and the aesthetic  experience of male viewers. Transactional pragmatist aesthetics  thus demands a somaesthetics for all genders, as all art is  created and perceived through the body.   

As Pragmatist Aesthetics unexpectedly earned me the  controversial status of a rap philosopher and hip-hop fanzine  columnist (aka Rich Frosted), so the somaesthetic research  I undertook to write Body Consciousness transformed me  not simply into a body philosopher but more surprisingly  into a professional somatic educator and therapist (in the  Feldenkrais Method). I realized that good pragmatist theory  is best nourished by real practical know-how, which is best  acquired through professional training and practice. But my  theory-generated somaesthetic transformations of identity  have evidently gone still further, stretching my philosophical  self-image into forms even stranger than that of body therapist.  Yann Toma and Luca Del Baldo invited me to participate in their  creative process by being a collaborative model and performer.  And how could a pragmatist theorist who insisted in putting the  body back into philosophy and aesthetics refuse that invitation,  especially when I argued that philosophy should be practiced  as an embodied, transformative way of life? If I talked the talk,  shouldn’t I also walk the walk? Besides, what better way to  answer the question, recurrently posed by artists attending  my lectures and workshops, “what is the connection between  somaesthetics and contemporary art?” than by making that  connection myself, by putting my own somaesthetic intelligence  at the service of contemporary creation and by inserting my  own body into the work of art.  

My story with Yann Toma is older and longer, but let  me here begin with Luca Del Baldo who contacted me in  December 2010 to participate in his project of painting small  oil portraits of influential theorists of culture, portraits based  on photographed head shots that the theorist supplied and  then complemented by a short text of response to the portrait.  As Del Baldo provided me with a continuing flow of draft stages of my portrait, replete with commentary and questions  about my reactions to this process, we developed a sense  of aesthetic collaboration and camaraderie. So when the  Sorbonne proposed that I curate a show connected to my work,  I mentioned the project to Luca who proposed that we think  of doing a special new work for it. Rather than another head,  wouldn’t it be better, he argued, for a body philosopher to  present more of the body; and he explained that “more” meant  not only including the torso but also revealing it, tel quel, in  frontal nakedness. 


We collaborated in choosing the portrait’s pose (from a  host of photos I sent him, taken specially for this occasion) and  later in selecting its colored mood and title. If the title Through  the Arcade evokes something of the bizarre, disorienting  fantasy of Through the Looking Glass — but displaced from  rustic nineteenth-century Britain to the contemporary maze  of posthuman arcade video games, then it also suggests the  curious, errant, anxious flâneur of Walter Benjamin’s famous  Arcades Project, who can savor even the discomfort involved  in a continuous (perhaps compulsive) transactional crossing  of boundaries that are spatial, social, and mental. The posture  and facial expression in the work are likewise mysteriously  vague, perhaps because they were spontaneous improvisations.  Unaccustomed to posing naked, I simply raised my hands as a  confessional shrug of helpless uncertainty.   

Meanings, however, abound. If the hands’ prominence  identifies them as crucial instruments for both the philosopher’s  writing and the artist’s painting, their gestural configuration  of fingers has hieratic connotations: but whether it’s the  traditional Jewish priestly blessing or Star Trek’s futuristic  Vulcan salute is unclear. Despite the figure’s bare, direct frontal  disclosure with the arms and hands raised and even the palms  openly exposed so nothing is concealed, the meaning of this  pose remains a mystery of absent narrative context. Am I a  commanding prophet (perhaps from the mythic naturalist realm  of Arcadia) or a lover raising his hands in wondering worship  of his beauty waiting in bed, or instead a cautious victim held  up by a bedroom gunman, or a wistful adulterer surprised by  an angry wife or husband?  Sometimes I see myself merely as  a naked philosopher with embarrassingly nothing in his hands  to give the public, nothing except those hovering circles of  light promising enlightenment and wholeness that may be  as empty or fragile as soap bubbles. Still there remain the  pragmatist values of experimentation and meliorist striving, the  aesthetic experience of collaborative creation, and even the  cognitive gains from exploring new practices that provoke new  sensations, spur new energies and attitudes, and thus probe  one’s current limits and perhaps transcend them to transform  the self.  

My work with Yann Toma epitomizes this experiential method  of transactional aesthetic inquiry. Experience was indeed the  theme of our first encounter in 2006, a short video interview  for his project with the Collège International de Philosophie,  where each selected philosopher had to give an impromptu  lecture on a key concept central to that philosopher’s work, my  choice being experience. Toma’s key themes are energy and  light, which he treats in two complementary ways. First, in the  spirit of conceptual art, he acquired the ownership of a defunct  Paris electric company, Ouest-Lumière, and gave it new life  as a virtual company for real artistic interventions, such as the  project Dynamo Fukushima at the Parisian Grand Palais (2011),  with eighteen thousand cyclists pedaling on stationary bikes  with dynamos to create energy symbolically sent to Japan.  The second way is through his practice of Radiant Flux, a form  of space writing in which Toma tries to capture and visually  represent the invisible aura of the person posing for him, an  aura he perceives as a continuously changing, contextually  sensitive energetic force emanating from the person’s body.   After posing his photographic subject in a totally dark setting  (normally indoors), positioning his camera on a tripod, and  adjusting its setting for long exposure, Toma — dressed in  black to make himself less visible and holding a hand lamp —  releases the camera shutter and approaches the subject’s soma  to trace its aura with the lamp’s light and then returns to close  the shutter to complete the shot. The resulting photograph  shows the subject framed by energetic lines of light.   

Knowing my work in somaesthetics and my experimental  temperament, Toma invited me for a weekend of shooting at  the beautiful medieval Royaumont Abbey in mid-June, 2010.  Disinclined to leave the glorious sunshine for the blackened  shooting room, I was even more reluctant to put on the shiny  gold lycra body stocking that Toma insisted would make  my aura more perceptible and energetic. Though he usually  does not demand this of most subjects, he thought I was slim  and bold enough to inhabit that glittering second skin, and  I was surprised he was right. But after a long day and night  of docile static posing in the dark, my deep somaesthetic  drives for sunshine and movement made me suddenly bolt  from the blackened room into the Abbey’s sunny, flower-fragrant  courtyard and gardens. Grabbing his movie camera,  Toma chased after me, filming my capering ramble through  the Abbey grounds and ruins, which then prompted me to  improvise scenarios of dance and gesture that fit my playful  mood and picturesque environment, even approaching a group  of tourists before returning to the Abbey’s private quarters  to dine with its owners (our weekend hosts), who, stunned by  my attire, dubbed me “L’homme en Or” (“The Man in Gold”).  This new persona signaled a real change in our transactional  aesthetic experience that Toma happily welcomed. By shifting  the photographic setting, determining the poses, and even  transforming the genre from still photography to video of me in  movement, I had become a real partner in artistic creation. We  decided to continue this collaborative enterprise by nocturnal  outdoor filming in Paris and then in other scenic spots, such  as the city, ramparts, and coast of Cartagena (Colombia) and  the beaches of South Florida, generating a distinct genre of  Somaflux in photographic stills and films, some of which are  presented here.   

The artistic meanings of the Somaflux series, as I elsewhere  explain, go far beyond the represented images in print or  on screen. They involve a complex art of collaborative  performative process, a developing dance of intuitive  communication (of energies, feelings, and intentions) and  cooperative improvisation that ultimately issues in photographic  prints or video but is itself extremely rich in shared aesthetic  experience for those involved in that creative performative  process. My artistic experience as L’homme en Or raises an  important question emerging from pragmatist aesthetics’  advocacy of philosophy as an art of living: what is the relation  between the art of living and the art of the artworld? The  issue is too complex  for a general answer here, but I can offer  this personal example. Commitment to my philosophical art  of living through the pragmatist perspective of transactional  experience was what generated my artistic transformation into  L’homme en Or, just as it generated the artworld works in which  he appears. Conversely, that artistic transformation helped  transform myself as a philosopher, both by providing me new  insights into the performative process and aesthetic experience  of artistic creation that I subsequently formulated in theoretical  publications, and by extending my sense of personal identity  as a transactional philosopher of the art of living to include  this golden, free-spirited, aesthetic avatar who by extending  my experience into new roles and contexts also expands my  self and my self-knowledge. In other words, L’homme en Or is  not a mere masquerade for making art images that conceal or  disguise my real identity; he is rather an embodied projection  of that genuine but complex and mutable identity (continuously  in the making), an incorporated extension that helps shape,  enrich, and transform it further.  If my work as L’homme en Or had not freed me from some deep inhibitions, I would have  never entertained the idea of posing nude for a painting like  Del Baldo’s nor had the courage to exhibit it in public.  

The act of publicly displaying myself in these ways  risks the charge of exhibitionism, but it also continues the  pragmatist project of transactional aesthetics into curatorial  work and public artworld spaces, while integrating it with the  philosophical project of self-knowledge by revealing oneself  to others. Exposing myself in this way to an unknown public  will surely test me in ways beyond those I faced in posing for  two artist friends. (I try not to imagine what awaits me here.)  Yet how can we have self-knowledge without self-exposure?  We need the other’s viewpoint on ourselves to see our blind  spots and know ourselves more wholly. Thus Socrates explains  to Alcibiades that the self needs a loving other to properly  see itself, just as one can see one’s own face reflected in one’s  lover’s eyes. If art can provide such reflective transactions by  which a philosopher can come to see and transform himself  through self-exposure, if such artistic self-exposure can attract  the attention of others whose reactions can further enrich  philosophical self-knowledge, then why not embrace such  experimentation? Why not risk, in practice, a fuller union of  those ancient, often hostile, lovers: art and philosophy? Must a  philosopher, to sustain his integrity, continue to abuse his loves  by treating them only with critical attention, whether of probing  interpretive analysis or imperious verdicts of value? I hope the  experience of Aesthetic Transactions will reveal an alternative  and a complement.

 Richard Shusterman