Skip to content

Search For The Real And Other Essays

The Journal of Aesthetic Education

Description: The Journal of Aesthetic Education is a highly respected interdisciplinary journal that focuses on clarifying the issues of aesthetic education understood in its most extensive meaning. The journal thus welcomes articles on philosophical aesthetics and education, to problem areas in education critical to arts and humanities at all institutional levels; to an understanding of the aesthetic import of the new communications media and environmental aesthetics; and to an understanding of the aesthetic character of humanistic disciplines. The journal is a valuable resource not only to educators, but also to philosophers, art critics and art historians.

Coverage: 1966-2018 (Vol. 1, No. 1 - Vol. 52, No. 1)

Moving Wall: 3 years (What is the moving wall?)

The "moving wall" represents the time period between the last issue available in JSTOR and the most recently published issue of a journal. Moving walls are generally represented in years. In rare instances, a publisher has elected to have a "zero" moving wall, so their current issues are available in JSTOR shortly after publication.
Note: In calculating the moving wall, the current year is not counted.
For example, if the current year is 2008 and a journal has a 5 year moving wall, articles from the year 2002 are available.

Terms Related to the Moving Wall
Fixed walls: Journals with no new volumes being added to the archive.
Absorbed: Journals that are combined with another title.
Complete: Journals that are no longer published or that have been combined with another title.

ISSN: 00218510

EISSN: 15437809

Subjects: Education, Social Sciences

Collections: Arts & Sciences IV Collection, JSTOR Essential Collection

And Other Essays
By Francis Spufford
336 pp. Yale University Press. $25.

Francis Spufford is a highly cultivated English writer who possesses vast stores of curiosity. A senior lecturer at Goldsmiths College, University of London, he has written nonfiction books on such diverse topics as polar exploration (“I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination”), reading and character formation (“The Child That Books Built”), rocket science and computer technology (“Backroom Boys: The Secret Return of the British Boffin”), the Soviet Union in the mid-20th century (“Red Plenty”), the arguments for religious faith (“Unapologetic”), and a novel that takes place in 18th-century New York (“Golden Hill”). The present book, his first essay collection, is divided into sections, each of which focuses on a different interest. Though some pieces included here may have preceded the books they helped generate, many have been written after publication, in the spirit of authors frequently called upon to explain (or promote) their literary efforts. As such, they sometimes commence with a defensive note, Spufford being highly aware that his interests may not be shared by everyone. He is at pains to uncover the ineffable mystery under each area of investigation; and in doing so, he establishes many connecting themes tying the otherwise disparate sections together, giving the collection a cohesive character.

His unifying perspective in “True Stories” is the virtue of imagination, and the search for alternate worlds or possibilities raised by counterfactual questions. Thus, in his opening section, eight essays on cold, he examines the records of various polar expeditions and celebrates Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s travel masterpiece, “The Worst Journey in the World.” He also deconstructs the imperialist and racist assumptions underneath many of the testimonies: “Considering Europeans’ difficulty in confronting Inuit cultures, someone someday should write a modest northern counterpart to Said’s ‘Orientalism,’ and perhaps call it ‘Borealism.’” Having scraped away many of these projections, he is left to wonder about the continuing fascination, for him and he assumes for others, of Antarctica. He toys with Douglas Coupland’s idea that the subconscious is “very much like Antarctica,” or that there is an association, especially for writers, “between white snow and white paper.” Beyond its function as a generator of metaphors, he muses, “what does it mean for us that we have, in our world, an uninhabited continent? What does it allow us to feel? First of all, I would argue, a sense of possibility, bare and abstract.” Ultimately, he decides “Antarctica isn’t part of the order of things constituted by human needs and uses and usefulness, but it is part of cosmic order (strike up the string section again), and therefore it and humanity, which is also part of cosmic order, belong together in some ultimate sense; they harmonize.” A lot of verbal footwork goes into arriving at this conclusion: not sure what it means, but it clearly suits the author’s worldview.

In one long section, “Sacred,” which comprises 12 essays on religion, he jousts with the atheists Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne, analyzes the ways that novelists tackle faith in a secular age, reconsiders C. S. Lewis’s books of apologetics, examines the commonalities of Islam and Christianity, and discusses how to talk to children about God. A practicing Christian whose wife is a parish priest, Spufford revisits the reasons for writing his book “Unapologetic,” in which he found himself mounting “a defense of imagination as such … against a stupid positivism.” In “Dear Atheists,” he pretends to try to find common ground by arguing that “on both sides, we hold to positions for which by definition there cannot be any evidence.” In any case, believers “don’t spend that much time fixated on the question of God’s existence either. Religion isn’t a philosophical argument. … It is a structure of feeling, a house built of emotions.” Losing patience with Dawkins — whose book “The God Delusion,” he maintains, has “the power to make those who read it stupider,” and who “knows a great deal about evolutionary biology and [expletive] about religion” — he warns believers against falling into the atheists’ trap of disputing the age of dinosaur bones.

“Apologetics, after all, is a literature of the imagination,” he writes, implying that those who cannot go along with the religious script are lacking feeling and vision. Since the full truth, he asserts, is unobtainable, “knowing has limits,” and “radical uncertainty holds,” we may as well fill in the gaps with belief. This brings us very close to Pascal’s wager. Many of the points Spufford makes against Dawkins are valid, but if he is right in saying atheist polemicists caricature religious faith, so does his condescending truculence toward atheists distort their argument.

In the section “Red,” he is on the hunt for another invisible or lost world: this time, the period from around 1957 to the mid-60s, when “something really did go right or go well, then, for the Soviet Union, which we’re in danger now of tidying away.” Perfectly willing to admit that “the Soviet Union was a horrible society” that killed millions of innocents, he yet yearns as a leftist to extract something valid from the socialist dream, and to avoid the skewed reading of history backward: “If we tell ourselves only a case-closed story of communism as an inevitable disaster, we miss other parts of the past’s reality, and foreclose on the other stories it can tell us.”

Continue reading the main story