I just had a think, and I think it was a good think. At the very least it was a thinky think. And since this blog is a thinking place, I think I will use it to think my thinky think.
Ok, so I'm rereading Cooper and James (2005) to prepare for class today, and I notice something I just blipped over before: in their discussion of the experience of nature in Buddhist sutras, they actually outline a very specific model of aesthetic appreciation. They don't just say "oh yes, there are plenty of descriptions in the sutras of people attaining enlightenment in natural settings." They note two facts: first, the sutras describe nature as a place where you can easily see "the impermanence and dukkha [suffering] that infuse the world"; second, the sutras describe nature as conductive to the virtues of tranquility, equanimity and self-restraint. This leads them to conclude that the experience of nature in the sutras is much like aesthetic experience in Kant and Schopenhauer, a detached and disinterested appreciation. They don't say this exactly, but it looks in particular like the Kantian experience of the sublime, because it involves a detached appreciation of stuff that is huge and terrible.
Ok, so there’s also this conversation in analytic aesthetics on the proper model for the aesthetic appreciation of nature which Cooper and James do not seem to be hip to. The two main disagreements in this conversation are about whether the aesthetic experience of nature should be detached (looking from the mountain top) or immersive (jumping in the mud puddle) and whether it should be cognitive (organized by scientific theories of nature) or noncognitive (merging with the ambience.) The Buddhist model C&J propose is clearly detached and noncognitive, which is an interesting combination. It also provides a nice antidote to people who assume that when you enjoy parks, you have to enjoy happy hoppy bunnies, and not nature red in tooth and claw.
Ok, so my think is actually quite small compared to the big thinking C&J have done. Really all my think does is link C&J to the analytic aesthetic conversation. But, you know, in my business, that right there is a journal article. What I should do is defend the C&J’s detached and noncognitive model to the analytic crowd using a few Buddhist premises. Basically, I can argue that all other forms of experiencing nature are suffering.
Ok, so the only reason why this wouldn’t go through is if someone has already introduced C&J and the analytic aesthetic crowd to each other. J of C&J has a new book out on the Zen experience of nature, so he may already be talking to the analysts, particularly Yuriko Saito. Ok, so I should investigate my thinky think.
Ok, so here's the bibliography:
Cooper, David Edward, and Simon P. James. 2005. Buddhism, virtue and environment, Aldershot, England; Burlington, VT.: Ashgate.