Monday, August 23, 2010


When I talk about aesthetic experience, I mean the ways in which we experience the world through our senses; and in particular meaningful or pleasurable experiences of the senses. In time I want to write an idiosyncratic aesthetics of motorcycling.

One dimension of motorcycle aesthetics centers on the machines themselves. A beautiful bike standing still; a bike that feels fantastic to ride. I am once again enjoying the pleasures of my SR500 - my vintage 500cc single-cylinder motor cycle. Cruising through the twisty rainforests at 50kph, I let the engine revolutions drop and pull me along at 3000rpm. And sometimes less. Thump! Thump! Thump! I can hear every explosion of fuel, every firing of the sparkplug. Smoothly, I can feel it in my stomach and through my whole body. At idle the front wheel almost bounces in time with the pulsating engine. And then I stand back in the rainforest, amidst blocks of snow and ice, and view the beautiful thing.

Yes, a motorcycle is a work of art. But look also at the other aesthetic object in these pictures: nature. My wife's forays into painting show talent beyond her realisation, and I enjoy looking at the results to which I have proudly given prominence on my lounge-room wall. It helps me to better understand what interests me in this post if I contrast that sort of aesthetic experience - the gallery sort - to the sort available to me through motorcycling. Fee's art is discrete, stable, self-contained; it is only to be enjoyed by one sense: sight. But in the everyday environments of my beloved riding, my experience is one of total sensory immersion in what I appreciate. The object of my appreciation is open, unlimited, flowing, uncontained.... All my senses are engaged, and often in unexpected ways. And my own frame of reference is itself dynamic, unexpected, changing.

But what sort of object - natural?, or man made? - is Maroondah Reservoir? Whatever it is, as I walked toward the place looking out over the great expanse of water, with a great sky above me, I felt vertigo; that sense of the uncanniness of things which turns people into philosophers. Gravity felt surprising. I sometimes get the same feeling when, at work, I speak to people on the telephone who are thousands of kilometers away and yet who are speaking intimately to me (as a counsellor). My mind will rush for a moment, as though seeing in succession all the space and all the objects in between us.

It is strange how you can find a sense of yourself, in that same moment that you feel overwhelmed by the greatness and impersonality of the natural world. But then, we can never perceive a completely inhuman experience; our shadow is cast over everything. Every perception is imprinted with our self.

Having beheld the sublime, there was nothing to do but ride home into the sun.

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