Wonder, The Rainbow, and The Aesthetics of Rare Experiences – May 2015

About This Project

Selected by Will Houstoun


“Any magician performing for an audience is trying to make them feel something, but what is that feeling? Is it surprise, astonishment or maybe even wonder? Are they the same thing? In Wonder, the Rainbow and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences, Philip Fisher explores the difference between wonder and other related emotions as well as the way it is encountered in relation to rare or new experiences. Descartes described wonder as the first of the passions. Fisher’s book offers a chance to understand why, and perhaps to learn how we can make our own work wonderful.”
– Will Houstoun


About the Book
Why pause and study this particular painting among so many others arranged on a gallery wall? Wonder, which Descartes called the first of the passions, is at play; it couples surprise with a wish to know more, the pleasurable promise that what is novel or rare may become familiar. This text is about the aesthetics of wonder, about wonder as it figures in relation to the visual world and rare or new experiences. It argues that detailed familiarity is the ultimate meeting point for aesthetic and scientific encounters with novelty, rare experiences and the new. Philip Fisher’s Wonder, The Rainbow, and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences is an argument for pleasure. Wonder and the sublime are both experiences tied to the visual taken in a deeply intellectual way. Fisher argues that it is the possibility of knowledge that drives human thought and the pleasure of thinking itself.


About the Author
Philip Fisher is Felice Crowl Reid Professor of English and American Literature at Harvard University. Professor Fisher’s research interests include cultural theory, modernism, American art and its cultural institutions, the philosophy and literature of the passions, narrative theory, and game theory and the novel. He is the author of Making and Effacing Art: Modern American Art in a Culture of Museums; The Vehement Passions; and Making Up Society, among other works. His work Still the New World: American Literature in a Culture of Creative Destruction is a bold reinterpretation of American culture, describing generational life as a series of renewed acts of immigration into a new world, making a persuasive argument against the reduction of literature to identity questions of race, gender, and ethnicity.