Epilogue: The Line between Aesthetics
Perrault's analysis of architectonic beauty based on fantaisie and conven-
tion introduces reason, human history, and accident into the field
aesthetic theory. Following Descartes, Perrault opposes and subordinates
natural forms to those which are arbitrarily composed, identifYing the
latter with the peculiar matter of drawing and writing. In order to under-
score the fundamentally different conceptions of aesthetics, philosophy,
and their intersection that arise from a modern, Cartesian conception of
the line, it would be helpful, in concluding, to situate that conception in
the context of modern and explicitly "post" -modern philosophies whose
descriptions of exclusively aesthetic and rationalist thinking are disputed
by Descartes' Discours.
In L'oeil et l'esprit Merleau-Ponty criticizes a Descartes who fails to join
spirit, soul, or intellect, a Descartes who refuses to position
thought within a body that grasps things in space corporeally, according
to the perspective of the (bodily) eye: "Descartes was right in setting space
free. His mistake was to erect it into a positive being, outside all points of
view, beyond all latency and all depth, having no true thickness."
Descartes sans profondeur,2 or aesthetic point of view, saw no difference
between engraving and painting, and, predictably, took "line drawings"
(Ie dessin) as "typical" of "pictures," ignoring "that other deeper opening
"Descartes avait raison de delivrer l'espace. Son tort etait de l'eriger en un etre tout
positif, au-dela de tour point de vue, de route latence, de route profondeur, sans au-
cune epaisseur vraie." Merleau-Ponty,
L'oeil et l'esprit
(Paris: Gallimard, 1964), p. 48;
"Eye and Mind," trans. Carleton Dallery, in Merleau-Ponty,
The Primacy of Perception,
ed. and intro. James M. Edie (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1964),
p. 174; English trans. hereafter cited as "Eye and Mind."
Cf. "Eye and Mind," pp. 177, 179;
L'oeil et l'esprit,
pp. 55-56, 64.