Madalina Diaconu


Madalina Diaconu studied philosophy in Bucharest (PhD 1996) and Vienna (PhD 1998). Since her Habilitation in philosophy at the University of Vienna she has been teaching as a Dozentin as the Institute of Philosophy of the same university. Her current fields of interest refer to aesthetics, contemporary art, environmental perception, Sensory Design, and the philosophy of space and architecture. She authored books on Kierkegaard (196), the principle of identity in the ontology of art (2000), Martin Heidegger (2000), as well as a phenomenological aesthetics of touch, smell and taste (Tasten, Riechen, Schmecken. Eine Ästhetik der anästhesierten Sinne, 2005). Her latest publication focuses on urban sensescapes and multisensory perception: Sinnesraum Stadt. Eine multisensorische Anthropologie (2012).


Exposition: The taste of tree? (01/01/2012) by Deborah Harty
Madalina Diaconu 11/11/2012 at 11:21

The subject of the exposition is of both intellectual and artistic interest, since it addresses the issues of the communication between the senses, of the genuine “synaesthetic” character of our sensory experience, and of the relationship between experience and reflection. Also the main phenomenologist the experiment relies upon has proved to be a valuable source of inspiration for several art practitioners and theorists. In addition to this, the authors succeeded to develop a new approach to drawing on the basis of the phenomenological theory, which goes beyond the usual focus on issues of representation and corporality.

The selected subject has on the whole a high potential, given that the communication of the senses has lately been subject to research in several disciplines (anthropology of the senses, neurosciences etc.). However, the use of “phenomenology” might be considered problematic by practitioners of phenomenological philosophy. Both artists specify that in their artistic research phenomenology is restricted to the first-person-approach to sensory experience; this meaning is weaker than in philosophy, where it designates a specific body of knowledge and a particular method which has various field of application (including, for example, the imagination, in contrast to the authors of the submission). Nevertheless, the authors make efforts to adopt a critical, reflective stance towards their own experience and do not avoid raising difficult questions or even confessing the failure of their experiment.

The strengths of the exposition consist of the topic, the developed method and the critical reflection on these. Also the solution to exchange drawings in the second stage, in order to counteract the tendency of the drawing to impose its own rules of making and ignore the subject’s real experience, is innovative, confirms the authors’ effort to maintain a high level of reflection on their practices.

As a general remark, it seems problematic that drawing has never been described in the paper as a visualisation and the conducted experiment as an attempt of translating (also) non-visual data into visual clues. This omission leads to the – according to me, false – distinction between two categories of sensory experiences in the discussed case: sight, hearing, and tactility, on one side (which can be reproduced by drawing), and olfaction and taste, on the other side (which may be apprehended during the first stage of discussion, but cannot be reproduced as such). The interpretation of the presence of olfaction and taste during the described experiment lacks sufficient clarity and occasionally leaves the impression of contradictory statements. As a matter of fact, also the auditory experience is only evoked or suggested by means of visual clues; the olfactory experience of the tree is less obvious, in spite of the authors’ statements; as for the “taste of the tree”, the experiment had to fail, given the selection of an inappropriate object of observation, the authors (and most of us) having no such previous experience and thus no memories of a taste of the oak. Nevertheless, it may be presumed that the experiment would have led to different results in a orchard in autumn.