Kinaesthetic KnowingAesthetics, Epistemology, Modern Design

Kinaesthetic KnowingAesthetics, Epistemology, Modern Design

Zeynep Çelik Alexander

Print publication date: 2018

ISBN: 9780226485201

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


This book traces the history of “kinaesthetic knowing,” a form of knowledge associated with the movements of the body, in Imperial Germany. The figures that play central roles in the book invented new pedagogical techniques with the conviction that there existed a non-discursive, non-conceptual way of knowing that could nonetheless compete in its rigour with reasoning realized through language, concepts, or logic. In doing so, they drew on the findings of the new discipline of experimental psychology. The book is structured around four techniques: a practice of comparative looking in which the eye was assumed to draw its own conclusions independently of the mind; a method of beholding that prioritized automatic and affective response rather than intellectual contemplation; a manner of drawing that abandoned the principles of imitation and composition and gave free rein to the movements of the body; and, finally, the practice of designing, a constellation of artistic techniques whose goal was to manipulate form, line, colour, and space rather than follow academic rules regarding orders, proportions, and composition. Some went so far as to argue that this alternative epistemological principle could become the basis of the human sciences at large. The faith in the epistemological value of kinaesthesia was short-lived but proved crucial: it was upon the foundation of this other way of knowing that many concepts and practices central to twentieth-century modernism were established. Primary amongst them was the formalist thrust of modern design education.