• Kinaesthetic Knowing: Aesthetics, Epistemology, Modern Design
    Zeynep Çelik Alexander
    University of Chicago Press, 2017
    Zeynep Çelik Alexander

Configurations of color triangle with cut-out used by Wassily Kandinsky to teach at the Bauhaus, 1925–33. Courtesy of the Kandinsky Papers Collection, the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (850910).

This book presents the history of "kinaesthetic knowing," as it was theorized in Germany in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries. The central figures in this history—the art historian Heinrich Wölfflin, the architect August Endell, and the pedagogues Hermann Obrist, Wilhelm von Debschitz, Wassily Kandinsky, and László Moholy-Nagy—operated with the assumption that there existed a non-discursive, non-conceptual way of knowing that could nonetheless compete in its rigor with propositional knowledge dependent on language, concepts, or logic. The book argues that it was upon the foundation of this other way of knowing—assumed to be realized through the body rather than through the mind—that many concepts and techniques central to twentieth-century aesthetic modernism were established. The faith in the epistemological value of kinaesthesia was short-lived but proved crucial: above all, this alternative epistemological principle found traction in a new kind of training that we now call "modern design education."

Zeynep Çelik Alexander is an architectural historian whose work focuses on the history of architectural modernism since the Enlightenment. She is the author of Kinaesthetic Knowing: Aesthetics, Epistemology, Modern Design (University of Chicago Press, 2017) and has published in journals including New German Critique, Harvard Design Magazine, Log, e-flux, Grey Room, Journal of Design History, and Centropa. A second research project, codirected with John J. May and funded by SSHRC and exploring the histories of technologies that have come to dominate contemporary design disciplines, is forthcoming as an edited volume. Her current research project explores architectures of bureaucracy from the Kew Herbarium to the Larkin Administration Building. Alexander is a member of Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative and an editor of the journal Grey Room.