Publication

  • Kinaesthetic Knowing: Aesthetics, Epistemology, Modern Design
    Zeynep Çelik Alexander
    Author
    University of Chicago Press, 2017
  • GRANTEE
    Zeynep Çelik Alexander
    GRANT YEAR
    2016

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 associate professor at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto. Her work focuses on the history of modern architecture since the Enlightenment. After being trained as an architect at Istanbul Technical University and Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, she received her PhD from the History, Theory, and Criticism Program at MIT. She has two forthcoming books: the monograph Kinaesthetic Knowing: A History of Modern Design Education and the coedited volume Design Instruments. Alexander's writings have appeared in several edited volumes as well as in journals, including Log, Harvard Design Magazine, Grey Room, the Journal of Design History, and Centropa. She is a member of the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative and an editor for the MIT Press journal Grey Room.