October 9, 2011 § Leave a comment
Jeffery Strayer: Haecceity 12.0.0 (circular language detail)
“But this pure being is the pure abstraction, and hence it is the absolutely
negative, which when taken immediately, is nothing.” —G.W.F. Hegel
Over the years the artist/philosopher Jeffery Strayer has been working on an ongoing series of artworks titled “Haecceities.” In addition to considering the philosophical and aesthetical propositions he employs, we’ll be attending to a basic tripartite rhetorical schema, utilizing a specific work in the series titled: “Haecceity 12.0.0”
If we were to ask ourselves, without any prior knowledge of this rhetorical artwork, who will be the audience for Strayer’s work?—we’ll have to admit that it’ll be limited to a philosophical and artistic crowd. Within that group, it’ll then be narrowed down to those who are familiar with conceptual, theoretical and/or language based art. Presuming that this art has a limited audience will position it into a rarified area of specialization and intellectual connoisseurship. Speaking of all of who it’ll appeal to will implicate (and thereby exclude) those who choose to not appreciate its intellectual rigor and subtlety. We’ll be keen to mention that one need not engage art that doesn’t appeal to one’s own taste, to do so would just be a labor that’s without the requisite aesthetic fulfillment one might have in considering another choice of conceptual art, a painting, a sculpture etc. Because one doesn’t prefer a particular work of art only reflects personal taste and does not necessarily speak to the work’s intrinsic value, that’s qualified by experts and those who will acknowledge, judge and value its aesthetic and philosophical worth.
“[←] CONCEIVING OF THAT OF WHICH ONE CANNOT FORM A CONCEPTION [→]” This is our base statement of Strayer’s that we’re calling his persuasive rhetoric. This “essential specification” (we’ll look at this term later) is using language and aesthetics as a means of conveyance concerning his concepts on the “limits of abstraction.” As we’ve indicated in a previous essay, Aristotle writes that the art of rhetoric is not akin to a scientific way of understanding and that we must not make the mistake to think that rhetoric is be examined scientifically, or that it’ll concern itself with absolute facts and figures—this is not a positivist science.
All of this forwarding is unsaid within the circular language. “[←] CONCEIVING OF THAT OF WHICH ONE CANNOT FORM A CONCEPTION [→]” The actual stated appeal is for the subject (audience) to conceive of that with cannot be a conception. This is about thought that’s prior to conceiving. This is about pre-apophantic thought, thought that’s pre-predicated, prior to logic, concepts, language, judgments and the like. The circular rhetoric is persuading the viewer to consider a thought apprehension which is prior to conceiving of a thought, before a conception of it can be named or put forth into an idea, and before the thought can be predicated into a statement about the thought. It is presented in the first person i.e. ‘[I’m] conceiving of…” Because it’s in the first person, the subject is implicated to think of this un-conceivable thought along with Strayer as a way to aesthetically complete, and to conceive the limitations of an understanding having to do with his aesthetic entreaty. The fact that the circular appeal is repeated four times (twice in black text and twice in grey text) adds a rhythmic and filmic quality to the language. The repetitions suggest that each side is intended for each eye, right and left, and perhaps, the left and right hemispheres of the brain (rational and intuitive respectively). The liminal specifications are in focus (black text) and out of focus (grey text) only to be conceptualized at this threshold of pre-thinking.
Jeffery Strayer: Haecceity 12.0.0 / 20 1/4″ x 22 7/16″.
Transparent print, screws, contact print, and paper mounted to Gatorfoam.
Maple wood frame.
When we continue to examine the artwork, asking about its rhetorical appeals, we’ll have to get to the one that doesn’t apply out of the way. This artwork is not emotional, so it has no pathos. If we were to strain to find its pathos, it might be found in the pleasure induced by the intellectual pursuit of Strayer’s ideas and concepts. With this said, this lack might be its inherent flaw. However, this is a flaw only if we insist that all rhetoric contain all of the three appeals, and on this score we’ll have to say that all rhetoric need not fulfill all three appeals to be effective. For instance, there are plenty of examples of salient rhetoric that’s anonymous, therefore without an ethos (a discernable character by which to judge the persuasiveness of a given argument).
Looking for Strayer’s ethos we’re able to find plenty of obvious examples in his work. Jeffrey Strayer is an artist and philosopher and is the author of two books: Subjects and Objects: Art, Essentialism, and Abstraction and Haecceities: Essentialism and the Limits of Abstraction. Strayer is also a lecturer in philosophy at Indiana University—Purdue University Fort Wayne. Due to these credentials his arguments are to be taken seriously enough to be regarded as a specialist in the areas of art making and philosophy. It should be said that an ethos is evident in the objects themselves, since the objects are of excellent quality, and have been executed with high production standards, this adds to the aforementioned credibility as it offers a distinct professionalism to his art.
Logos is the appeal that this work exhibits in great detail. Logos can concern logic as much as it can be about rational thinking. We’re safe to say the artwork appeals to both in full measure. As for the logical, we’ll suggest that the artwork uses simple deductive logic. We can plainly deduce that the artwork is being presented in such a way as to rationally conceive of a thought that’s to be un-conceivable, thus persuading the subject to face an abstract limitation of thought. This is brought to us (the subject) under the title “Haecceity” a philosophical term meaning thisness, or better yet, the specificity of a given object that differs from any other given object, no matter how similar the two might appear. Nothing is exactly the same, everything is essentially different, is the idea behind the word. On Strayer’s website he has a couple of videos were he speaks of his intentions with the series. His predominate logical thesis has to do with an aesthetic that seeks the limits of abstraction, to this goal he names his style: essentialist abstraction. What catches our attention will have to be an idea that he names the series and each work in the series haecceities. The language he uses in each haecceity is said to be a specification, specifically naming a means to ideate a limit of abstraction. When we examine this conceptual method we find a curious logos. A haecceity is a specific object that can also be a specific idea, essentialism names things that are universal qualities of an object that are essential to make that object what it is, abstraction is also about the non-specific qualities of a particular idea or thing. When we bring all of this together in Strayer’s specification: “[←] CONCEIVING OF THAT OF WHICH ONE CANNOT FORM A CONCEPTION [→]” we are left with a non-specific object of thought that’s ultra-specific in its physical presence, coupled with universal ideations that are essential for thinking about the object, and all this is without attributable meaning, since pre-conception is thoughtless. Therefore, the lack of meaning is our logical goal, and as we’ve been taught by Hegel in his work on logic, thought before conception is nothing that’s intrinsically combined with being, together becoming thought, becoming determinate thought, and henceforth illustrating a process of our consciousness becoming capable of conceiving of a concept. Strayer does a fine job taking us from specificity to nothing at all in one artwork that’s presented in the form of rhetorically delineated language, while pushing the limits of aesthetic consideration into our over habituated minds.
Works Cited / Bibliography:
Aristotle. The Art of Rhetoric. Trans. J.H. Freese. Cambridge: Harvard U. P., 1967. 1357b 12-13. Print.
Hegel, G.W.F. The Encyclopedia Logic. Part 1. Trans. T.F. Geraets, W.A. Suchting, H.S.
Harris. Indianapolis: Hackett. 1991. pp. 135 – 145. Print.
Strayer, Jeffrey. Haecceities: Essentialism and the Limits of Abstraction. Unpublished.
____________. Jeffrey Strayer: Art and Philosophy. Jeffery Strayer, 2008. Web. 5 -12
Oct. 2011. http://www.jeffreystrayer.com/index.html
____________. Subjects and Objects: Art, Essentialism, and Abstraction. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Print.
September 18, 2011 § 9 Comments
Deleuze and Nietzsche on Death Mountain
The following dream report is a fictional account of the 20th century philosopher Gilles Deleuze. The dream is narrated by Deleuze and is concerning the 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It is well known that Deleuze wrote extensively about other philosophers: Spinoza, Hume, Bergson, Leibniz, and of course Nietzsche. Deleuze was famously contra Hegel, so his exploration of other thinkers noticeably positioned his thought far away from the absolutions of Hegel. This moving away from Hegel for Deleuze, is detectible with Nietzsche’s death of god. The death of god began to alleviate the philosophical need to ‘bring it all together.’ Philosophy was taking this radical turn with Nietzsche, to then be steadfastly affirmed with Deleuze. Importantly, Nietzsche’s ideas on force and forces (the will to power) are fundamental to his notion of affirmation. Affirmation is a life force, whereas ressentiment (reactionary force) is life-denying. This is what the dream transformations are all about. The reason a dream report is used here as a backdrop, is to reference the creative side of philosophy that both thinkers continually ascribed to. This creative force is to be countered by the notion that philosophy need only to be preoccupied with defining truth, bringing things together, or unifying a systematic way of thought. All of that was Hegel’s job, as it was Plato’s work too. When we actually read Deleuze and find the words: affirmation, difference, and multiplicity, these (with many others) all stem from his close re-reading of Nietzsche. Nietzsche offered a way out of the old ways and Deleuze takes this seriously enough to be heavily influenced by his self appointed teacher/s. With this said, bear in mind that Deleuze’s way of implementing ideas still follows a great tradition in philosophy, which is to return those who have come before us. Yet, this is a radical return to find the new in the ideas of the old. It is a way of passing through knowledge to find less of an identity and more of what is unfamiliar, thus creating another frontier for anyone to look for an alternate way of seeing things—over and over, never to be the same again. —Aurelio Madrid
These days working in Vincennes exhaust me like a sedative taken when one cannot sleep, and precious sleep itself becomes work to find fresh again. The last few weeks have seen me becoming listless enough to begrudge what I can’t have. All this has been reminding me of what’ll never be the same and is always lost. To be sure, we share in what’s gone. The best of these dark days have been sleep worthy. I’ve been dreaming again, entering that valued space where a waking fantasy cannot recreate what the dreaming mind will manifest on its own.
I’ll write of a specific dream that causes me considerable worry, but not enough to become frightened off by the powerful images that are to be remembered as I make note of them here.
Shivering, I found myself near Heidegger’s hut on Todtnauberg (Death-Mountain), located in the Black Forest somewhere in obscure southern Germany. This tiny place is the famous retreat of Heidegger’s, where he’d eventually put together Being and Time. He found his peace here, away from them, the crowds he hated so much. In this setting I was expecting to find the old woodcutter busy at his typewriter, instead I found a dirty white-haired Nietzsche wrapped in a sleeping-bag as if he were homeless. I could safely say he was homeless here on Death Mountain, as summer was wearing off and a withering fire was put in motion to affect a little warmth for the now run down place. I instantly knew this was an older Nietzsche, a man who was here after death. Here we were together in my dream, Mr. Deleuze and Mr Nietzsche looking through each other for the first time.
While my mind’s eye pieced the scene together, he pulled out an insistent translucent arm and pointed near to where I stood, “See, this is the tarantula’s hole! Do you want to see the tarantula itself? Here hangs its web: touch it so that it trembles.” I immediately knew to what he was referring to, and I was a little put off by the idea that he could be referencing himself as the tarantula. I had to quickly dismiss this because I detected that characteristic ironic sneer. The tarantulas in his Zarathustra were there to represent the poisonous people who sit around and wait self-righteously to attack those who are living freely, as he saw it. The life-affirmers live instead of contemptuously waiting to react and bite like the spider. He wasn’t here waiting for anyone, let alone me.
Although I shuddered at his macabre reference, I had to agree with him, to barely mutter under my breath, “Everywhere we see victory of NO over Yes, of reaction over action.” His blurry crossed eyes glared towards me, he then stared out to the single window, and then Nietzsche became fixed on an odd photo of an overburdened camel on its fore-knees. The camel carries the heavy load of past morality, those tired values that are not yet gone and weigh the poor animal down, just like we are weighed down. No one had to tell me what this symbolized once I recognized it in the picture, tossed there on that greasy floor.
Surely, I had been toying with all these ideas of his lately, which could explain why he was performing as he was, without so much as an obligatory hello. It is unfortunate that philosophy should have ever become a condemnation of life. Thought over life is not worth living.
“Of all these heaviest things the carrying spirit takes upon itself, like a loaded camel that hurries into the desert…” His outsized yellow-white mustache looked to be a burden as he said this. The legendary facial hair was a part of the mask he couldn’t do without. We want put these burdens upon ourselves as the ancients did when they privileged lofty thought over the fallible body. His mask was faded, yet couldn’t ever be an equivalent to these age old restrictions.
“We are always asked to submit ourselves, to burden ourselves, to recognize only the reactive forms of life…,” I half said this aloud and to myself. I couldn’t tell if he knew I was still there. He was still listlessly looking out the window. I walked over to look out too. To my amazement, I could see a bright golden lion wandering around a clearing in the forest some hundred feet away, his fur was more radiant than blond. The animal’s presence over there assured me that I was in the company of my god-less hero, the master of allegory, a man of health and of suffering, this was a man of foreword looking visions.
His cracking voice then lightened and became youthful as he talked about the lion, “Once it loved ‘thou shalt’ as its most sacred, now it must find delusion and despotism even it what is most sacred to it in order to wrest freedom from its love by preying.” This was the golden lion of my homeless visionary, the critic and destroyer of stagnancy that was tirelessly represented by the old ways. Nietzsche had to proclaim the death of god as a way to solidify his place in the transvaluation of Christian nihilism, as he was also the harshest critic of the requisite nihilism that resulted with god’s absence. Man could be empty without a god, getting rid of the divine solved only a fraction of man’s problems. We had to look for answers from within ourselves, and we had to crawl out of those arcane devotions to those ascetic religious and secular illusions with the new-found courage of a lion.
I had to leave the hut to get a closer look at the precious lion. I’d never see it again, this was my last chance to say goodbye to that myth of his. Walking out into the clear air only revived my fear that this beautiful scene would be ending soon. Everything is to return only as difference, a repetition of movement becoming a force of will. Becoming is a force of life immanent in our lives moving forward, changing us always. This will never be the same, and it’ll never be the self-same drama of our dreams again. I walked out and found no lion, and I easily cried, thinking that these tears would somehow replace that which once was. Acceptance of our pain only brings about a minor comfort. Life requires creative and experimental force to keep us from devaluing it any more than we should.
I held my head down to return to the hut, as night was encroaching. I opened the door and didn’t find my Nietzsche. I had to rub the tears from my face to believe what I saw there inside the warming room. There on the bed, where the old man once was convalescing, a calm baby sat upright reading a book. He noticed me right off, and with his delicate infant hand turned a page and waved to me to come nearer to read from Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra. “The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a wheel rolling out of itself, a first movement, a sacred yes-saying.”
I awoke with these last words and all I could say, as strange as it sounded on my lips, was ‘YES to life! YES to life!’ Only a child that once was the now dead Nietzsche in my dream could help me see this as I never have before. This was all I needed to move on, to think ahead and to live my life as never before.
 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, eds. Adrian Del Caro and Robert B. Pippen, Cambridge: Cambridge U. Press, p. 76.
 Deleuze, Gilles, Nietzsche / Pure Immanence – Essays on a Life, intro. John Rajchman, trans. Anne Boyman, New York: Zone Books, p. 75.
 Nietzsche, Friedrich, op. cit.: p. 16.
 Deleuze, Gilles, op. cit.: p. 71.
 Nietzsche, Friedrich, op. cit.: p. 17.
 Ibid.: p. 17.
February 11, 2010 § 4 Comments
Richard Tuttle “Section IV, Extension A.”, 2007
mixed media 7 1/4″ x 3″ x 4″
(…continuation from Reinaert de V.’s comments on the previous post)
Dear Reinaert de V.,
Thank you for the additional reply. I love that you brought these thinkers to me with more of your nice conversation/dialogue.
The frustration I have, is that Luigi Pareyson is not translated enough to find much written in English, of (or on) his philosophy. I did locate Umberto Eco’s The Open Work, that includes a nice chapter on (his former teacher) Pareyson.
So, between you & Eco, I’ve had to piece together this little understanding of the philosopher’s work.
I can see that Pareyson was an existentialist who dealt with themes of liberty, ontology & aesthetics from a hermeneutical (perhaps even a phenomenological) perspective. The hermeneutical nature of his theory of “form” helps to bring even more of a refinement to the/your overall discussion of art & art appreciation (while not excluding larger questions on the nature of objects, ideas, creation, expression, work &c.). His particular way of interpreting the way we see, consider & understand “form” as more of a universal expression (of not only the arts, but) of all human endeavor—is breathtaking. If we start to see “form” as a kind of window into the human spirit, then we can take the liberty to face (engage & challenge) our intrinsic suffering–hence: my suffering is palliated by active aesthetic appreciation/questioning.
What if we really could look at objects of art as less recalcitrant objects that refuse interpretation? Pareyson seems to suggest, the art-object (& it’s “form”) fully contains the physical manifestation of that artist’s life &/or spirit. Then if we see what is at work (in this frame of mind), then we can start to transfer this from an aesthetic study, to our everyday life, that is, how does: FORM + SPIRIT = LIFE? How does this “form” in-form our life? It seems that when one engages this kind of question we could possibly have a fuller (& Pareysonian) interaction with the world around us, particularly the man-made world. It’s with this notion that we can have a great appreciation for work in all its forms.
The form I create now is the truest expression of me at this moment.
When thinking & trying to understand Pareyson’s ideas I can’t help but think of Richard Tuttle’s wonderful art. Let me know if you agree with what I mean. Tuttle’s work always appears to be asking: “what is this–what am I?” Because his art objects “look” to be of such little effort, one instantly wants to have it validated, to give or impose a meaning onto the strange object. We’ve never seen such an odd little object. We automatically question its form (its right to exist). It might be within this bewilderment that (as we’ve discussed) we see shades of Lyotard’s sublime, but also we start to see Pareyson’s “forms” (formativity?) too. Tuttle had to make any number of decisions, changes, revisions, selections & whatever else, to produce any of his quirky little objects, hence a segment of his life is embedded within each object, and in fact we’ll call it a Richard Tuttle! That art object is a Richard Tuttle. What does that say about his life & the culture that produced him? Tuttle’s artwork represents existential-liberty, a liberty as a consequence of existence to make such an odd expression, a freedom to have such a tiny gesture, a stubborn, whispering object & in this simple form. The artwork is intrinsically linked with Tuttle’s life & ours, as bizarre as that may sound, since we are not separate from “form,” in all its infinite manifestations (& interpretations).
All of this is sidestepping (or at least not mentioning) what I see as the presence phenomenology in Pareyson’s thought. We already know that he has a background in the discipline & as you deftly draw-out a Pareysian similarity to Kant & his ideas on the noumena (or the thing-in-itself – ding an sich). This concept of Kant’s is tied up with phenomena (things as we perceive them). What is striking to me, is how much this feels like an incipient thread of phenomenology, where the way things appear & the things in & of themselves are of critical (indeed central) importance when doing phenomenological research. Remember Husserl’s famous dictum: “Go to the things themselves.”
What I’d like to know is how Kant’s ideas on phenomena/noumena are looked at now, in the light of phenomenology now? Also within these ideas, we see Pareyson urging us to experience the form in the fullest way possible (beyond science or beyond physics). The world (& its creative forms) around us is not separate from our way of perceiving it (according to phenomenology). The objective & the subjective modes of experience are made to join. The way we intend an object, the way it is given to us is not a simple object vs. mind problem, rather the way we perceive & understand the objects around us has everything to do with understanding perception, memory, experience, understanding &c. This all appears to be linked to Pareyson’s view of “form.” Form seen in this way is the fertile ground on which we can examine our own minds at work. Form as work in the world put under the lens of a hermeneutical-phenomenology (a way of interpreting how the world presents itself to our consciousness). How explicitly Pareyson really embraced this assumed phenomenological reading is unclear to me now.
“Interpretation is a form of knowing in which receptivity & activity are inseparable & where the known is a form & the knower a person.” –Luigi Pareyson
Your comments are always welcome!
January 25, 2010 § 8 Comments
(click on image to enlarge)
This additional dialogue was brought to be after I wrote the post Thantic Modernism. This was a short critique on the work of the Austrian artist Florian Pumhösl & his explorations of modern art. I also brought in some quotes of the philosopher Jean Baudrillard because of the philosopher’s ideas on “the end of history.” Baudrillard proposed an idea that society is doomed to continuously repeat & rehash the end, over & over, as with our pre-millennial paranoia, the (so-called) coming apocalypse, the (ostensible) death of painting, the (forecasting of a future) death of the novel, the end of modernism & so on. This idea of Baudrillard’s might be seen as the end of Enlightenment ideals, the end of a rational progress, the end of a rational ideal that sees history as linear. He also famously spoke of the “simulacra” (which is a consequence of the illusory end of history), as a phenomenon that replaced our notions of the real with the media-saturated image of what is “real.” The real (as Baudrillard saw it) is no longer real, rather it’s a simulacra of reality, or it’s hyper-real (more real than real). I wanted to connect Pumhösl’s art to this because it seemed that his project is primarily concerned with looking-back, repetition, re-visioning & revising modernism (“modernologies” as he has it).
My friend Reinaert de V. dropped by to comment & brought in Jean-François Lyotard, of whom I was aware of, but unable to speak of, since I hadn’t read much of his work. Now thanks to Reinaert de V.’s wonderful comments, I’m brought close to Lyotard’s thoughts & ideas. Reinaert de V. also posted this commentary on his blog.
As I later learned, Lyotard was well known for attempting to do-away with “meta-narratives” or the “grand-narratives.” Basically these are “rationalistic” leftovers, such as the idea that reason rules everything, or that we’re all moving toward progress, ad infinitum (which is slightly reflected in Baudrillard’s ideas). What we’re left with, is post modernism— & at the end of the meta-narrative.
Reinaert de V. also introduced me to Lyotard’s notion of the sublime. Lyotard borrows Kant’s sublime & updates it to mean something much more than Kant intended, thereby connecting a Kantian idea to his post-modern theory. The sublime in Lyotard’s hand helps us to see the un-representable, the unknown, that which cannot be expressed with words. When modern art approaches this sublime, Lyotard calls it the post-modern.
Of course, Reinaert de V. does a much better job elaborating on Lyotard’s idea/s & that’s why I’ve decided to post this additional exchange, sharing with you this important concept of the sublime (& much more), which I believe might help to understand better the difficult terrain of modern & contemporary art—now, then & into the future.
Where would I be, if not for the following comments by Reinaert de V.? Here are our Thantic Modernism comments:
Reinaert de V.: Nice work, I love the sentence: “[...] we learn to understand that a contemporary art of the NOW, is simply a thing of the past–gone to be revitalized later.”
It’s an interesting article, because F. Lyotard actually sees the Postmodern as a moment that comes before the Modern, and makes it possible. Lyotard describes this sublime moment in Postmodernism as disrupting the tranquility of representational art, by ‘not saying anything’, but just ‘being there’. He saw the Avant Garde movement as representing that moment…
According to Lyotard, Modernism basically capitalized on the inherent plenipotentiary of the sublime, by crafting a new Grand Narrative ‘on top of it’. But the way I see it, the Modern and the Postmodern need each other, and feed of each other. This follows from what J. Baudrillard writes: “When everything can be seen, nothing can be seen anymore. What is there beyond the end?”
Even though Modernism ‘transgressed’ the postmodern moment, by smoothing over what can’t be (understood). This transgression actually harnesses the energy of that moment – or else it dissipates. Clearly Baudrillard’s statement gives demonstration of this dissipation. The momentum is gone and we awaken in the desert of the so-called real: “When everything can be seen, nothing can be seen anymore.”
But it also shows Grand Narratives always tend to creep back in, under-cover, because his statement indicates we now supposedly understand and ’see everything’. This can only mean we’re caught in a new (commodified) web of meaning and Truth. It shows we’re a long way away from that sublime moment which beckoned us to make a leap…
Aurelio: Can you explain the detail on Lyotard’s notion of post-modern as “before” the modern? I understand what you’ve outlined in terms of his anti-meta-narrative as self-contradictory &c.
Reinaert de V.: Lyotard’s thinking isn’t only postmodern but also has many neo-Kantian elements within it. For example, in his aesthetic theory, Lyotard has revived Kant’s theory of the beautiful and the sublime, and made it his own. That’s what I meant in the comment above, when I mentioned the ‘sublime’ of the ‘postmodern moment’. I’ll explain in some detail below.
According to Kant’s theory of aesthetics, a judgment of taste depends on the ‘free play of our cognitive faculties’. All rational beings are capable of cognition, which requires the connectibility of two faculties: Imagination (to gather together the manifold of sense-intuition) and Understanding (to unify these representations by means of concepts). Particular acts of cognition involve the connection of particular representations to particular concepts. But these acts presuppose an indeterminate general relationship – an underlying harmony of the two faculties. Put (too) simply: Beauty produces a spontaneous harmony, without being tied to anything particular. The sublime in contrast means disharmony between the two faculties, because it is aroused by objects that seem “as it were to do violence to the imagination”. They are characterized by a boundlessness that exceeds any form. The judgment of absolute greatness is non-conceptual and non-cognitive. Nothing observed by the senses permits this description, only something within: The Ideas of Reason (Vernunft), which reach beyond all possible experience…
So for Lyotard the sublime refers to the emancipation of art from both the classical role of imitation (mimesis) and the canon of the beautiful. The art object no longer bends itself to models and no longer testifies to a truth that can be conceptualized. Thus the role of (true) art should be to critique the social, and the idea of unity and communicability (of unproblematic accessibility). Speaking like a Marxist here, he thinks it should expose the inherent disharmony within social life, between the individual and society, and give witness to the unrepresentability of the Idea of ‘reality’ – so as to release the manifold of ideas. If instead, art tries to give consolation by way of establishing a sense of harmony and transparency in its use of form, it runs the danger of becoming mere propaganda. When this happens it becomes a tool in the service of something else, as has happened with ‘Social Realist’ art in Communist Russia.
Lyotard saw the Avant-Garde movement, at the beginning of the 20th century, as championing the sublime. Its exponents were no longer interested in faithfully representing (and so reproducing) ‘reality,’ instead, it was much more like an ongoing search, and an experimentation of the non-figurative kind. Even though some (like Proust and Chirico) kept a nostalgic longing for a lost unity in their work, others (like Cézanne, Delaunay, Duchamp, Mondrian, and Joyce) went all the way in their celebration of this ‘disconnection’ and farewell to form.
Now, Lyotard claims, that the Postmodern when it comes to art, is that sublime moment within modernity which reveals the limits of representation, but which denies itself the consolation found in the beauty of form. Put differently: It is a search for the limits of our imagination through representation, and exposing this lack in all its terrifying glory! But this radical and original artistic impulse (the full potential of art) gets silenced by modernity through the reestablishment of the rules of form: The dictates of Beauty, if you will. Curbing, or checking this freedom of art and imagination, which by its very unrestrained nature must necessarily precede modernity and makes it possible. These ‘super-imposed’ strictures simultaneously sooth our anxiety in the face of such ‘radical freedom’ – which is a recurrent theme in Existentialist philosophy as well.
Aurelio: …nice of you to follow-up with your additional insight.
“…says Lyotard, a work can become modern only if it is first postmodern, for postmodernism is not modernism at its end but in its nascent state, that is, at the moment it attempts to present the un-presentable, ‘and this state is constant’. The postmodern, then, is a repetition of the modern as the ‘new,’ and this means the ever-new demand for another repetition.”
I’ve found the above quote from the postmodernism entry at Stanford’s online philosophy encyclopedia. It also answers my question (in addition to your fine explication) on how Lyotard saw the relationship between the modern & the postmodern. Apparently the two are differentiated by the sublime (de-void of the omnipresent meta-narrative). The sublime as addressing the un-presentable (&c.), (I’ll call it an enigma, or even a kind of Buddhist Myo , generally meaning: essential mystery). T/his idea of the sublime is very useful with regard to works of cutting-edge art nowadays, with all its “difficulty,” its resistance & its unforgiving opacity.
The trouble I was having, had to do with thinking of the idea of the Postmodern as preceding the Modern. The issue might be resolved when we let go of this as chronological & place it in a Lyotard’s terms. Conversely, it is worth noting that Lyotard does use Burke & Kant’s 18th century sublime to address the Postmodern & this might lean toward a chronological perspective after all. The Enlightenment (sublime) was more Postmodern than the Modern (re: Lyotard)?
Reinaert de V.: Yes, your quote perfectly captures the essence of Lyotard’s thought in this regard. You’re also right in your comment about the chronology. Lyotard speaking as a Hegelian-Marxist has a teleological view of history, but with all such views there must be an underlying ahistorical principle. A dynamic principle that finds its development within history. It is no surprise we come across that hidden principle in his aesthetic theory, where the chronological view of history is suddenly transformed into an ahistorical one. Since art, being closely related to religion, simply takes the place of the former – which has been left officially dead and buried since Nietzsche. About your remark about the Enlightenment, you might also be right. Not in the sense of a ‘chronology’, but about it being the proper postmodern moment in Lyotard’s sense of the term, or start of the modern movement.
With all the foregoing in mind, I’d like to end by briefly returning to the project of the artist as described above. For I don’t think Lyotard would describe this art as properly postmodernist as he understood the term. Take for example the sentence: “This new art is a memorial to an idealized time gone by, now perhaps, with an unrecognized hum of nostalgia.” This clearly shows the nostalgia Lyotard accuses some modern artist of harboring when it comes to their hesitant use of the sublime. A nostalgia for an unproblematic, but unreachable – because forever lost – sense of Unity (Transcendental Totality). While the true (post)modern artist, according to Lyotard, celebrates the fracture of ‘reality’, so as to release form from its formal constraints.
Of course Lyotard doesn’t approve of Baudrillard’s commodified world, where everything is obscene and superficial, a mere play of form in the service of commerce. Where signs stop referring and become self-referential objectified commodities themselves (read: simulacra). He does want to keep (true) art focused on this inherently broken nature of modernity: the Anxiety of the Un-presentable. The fracture at the heart of modernity that keeps the engine going (forever renewing itself). But he does want them to stop longing and start accepting!
Pumhösl’s art, in this respect – apart from the question of the inherent value of his work as objective visual artifacts – is clearly a step backwards, because his whole project is about a sense of loss, namely: the nostalgia Lyotard is speaking about… You could argue Pumhösl thematizes time itself or the problematic of memory & history etc, but he does it in a way that betrays the bankruptcy of the so-called ‘postmodern’ art of today. To put it differently: postmodern art seems to me to be all out of Ideas: it can only look back, in an “endless proliferation, or “necro-spective” of the past”. And this is what I meant with dissipation: by not properly harnessing the energy of the sublime, as modernity did, art ultimately fell victim to big money (as Baudrillard clearly shows). For in the end art was left defenseless, not able to retreat any further, because all the big Ideas had been systematically shot down. The last of which was Lyotard’s very own: the Existentialist Heroic Confrontation with a Constant Crisis (Camus’ “Myth of Sisyphus”), which simply wears you down…
“Instead of first existing, works of art now go straight into the museum. Instead of being born & dying, they are born as virtual fossils.” Indeed, this is not something we should be celebrating, but a sad statement of fact. We simply have no idea anymore what to put on display.
Aurelio: What another incredible reply you’ve written!
Once you present the idea that Lyotard might be coming to this with an ahistorical perspective, you contextualize for me, the notion that postmodern thought reflects an enlightenment sublime—re: a neo-Kantian Lyotard.
When I set out to write this post, I wanted to write about art now, 2009. Pumhösl’s name arrived in a recent review in Artforum & I thought I’d write about his interesting project. I started to look at how his art was a gesture of looking back &c. I then thought to connect the art with the philosophy of Baudrillard & perhaps Lyotard. Baudrillard seemed a good fit, since he spoke of the “end of history” & its illusions of “the end.” I couldn’t on the other hand, tie in Lyotard because it seemed out of balance & because I don’t have enough Lyotard’s ideas within reach (I’m brought closer, now thanks to you). So, Baudrillard was workable. Needless to say, writing about art of today caused a looking back, which could not be avoided or overlooked. I was looking at time & how it reverberated through this art.
That Pumhösl is (a) post-modernist is anyone’s guess. If you go into the Modernoloigies link that I’ve provided at the end of the post (which was an exhibit by the same name in Barcelona). Pumhösl has a podcast on his work in the exhibition. Oddly enough, I don’t think he mentions of the term post-modern—he only calls his art post-conceptual. The introductory notes for the exhibit write that artists in the show are now looking to how “Modernism attempted to illustrate the experiences and ramifications of modernity in artistic forms – and in undertaking this project it was almost post-modern.” I feel the show almost had a certain shyness around the term (post modern). Perhaps it is simply out of fashion. I tried to use the term reluctantly, knowing that again, Pumhösl never uses the term post-modern. From there, we’re left outside of the term.
Now, the way that you have found to bring Lyotard in, is just right, you felt his influence lingering in the ideas.
As for the nostalgia, we shouldn’t say that Pumhösl uses this as a motif–this was my interpretation of his work. His work is about remembering & with that, I feel nostalgia is not too far away. This is why I thought his art wasn’t cynical enough to bypass a slight feeling of nostalgia. However, your term (Transcendental Totality) seems to get very close to the vision of modernism as Utopian & this brings us closer to an issue Pumhösl might/would agree with. Basically looking at how the project of Modernism was over-idealistic &c. all presented in his typically dead-pan way.
Also, the last parts of your reply get to a problem with contemporary art (since the use of the word post-modern is in question) & its exhaustion of ideas. This is the core of what I’m trying to point to in the post. There are so many examples of this exhaustion in the art-world (I’ll spare you a list), I mean a sort of spiritual exhaustion that’s very close to the feelings & anxiety Baudrillard describes. Believe it or not, I’m not sure one should be too disappointed with art that is like this. If we say that art is a reflection of ourselves & that art is spiritually bereft, it is safe to say society is somewhat spiritually bereft. This observation is not new & we know this, but do we admit it to ourselves, when we look at art? Do we, allow art to be spiritually bereft, especially if it can nudge us to consider our lives & our own problems. This is part of its value. It is an expression of our condition—as mournful as it is.
…& to question all this again, I’ve found this quote:
“There shall be no mourning” (il n’y aura pas de deuil) –Jean-François Lyotard
Reinaert de V.: I am in absolute agreement with your comment above, and I find your defense of Pumhösl more than fair.
I’ve to be honest: it was your post that first gave me an impression of his work, so shame on me for criticizing it in arm-chair-fashion But on a more serious note, this is an illustration of what you might call the general problem of ‘Art versus Art Philosophy’. They both exist and operate in a dialectical fashion. Art Philosophy always tries to analyze and orientate itself according to particular works of art and artist, that it sees as representing a certain way of experiencing or thinking about the world. Even though the particular artists in question might sincerely disagree with the labels they might get, claiming they didn’t have any such intention, or that their work shouldn’t be read that way but in a certain other way etc. Those are fair points to make, and they’re free to argue so, but for the art philosopher those objections are basically beside the point. The artwork simply exist out there as an artifact, free to be interpreted any which way that seems to fit. Of course there should be argumentation and explication, but an artwork does exist in a context and in that sense it is a certain expression or comment on that context. Of course artists in their turn, make use and comment on those theories and philosophies (that influence art and society) in their artworks, hence the dialectic.
To tie it all back to Mr. Pumhösl and your excellent piece on his work. He might very well not be – or consider himself not to be – a postmodernist, I leave that up to him. But I was responding on the postmodern context he’s placed in, and how could he not be? We still live to an important extent in the ‘postmodern condition’ and he’s responding to his times, like you rightly point out.
I see my role as art philosopher to struggle with the theory surrounding art, and of course the struggle of theorizing about art itself. I don’t do this (only) for fun, but because art calls out for interpretation. They are ‘artifacts’, or man-made creations that, because of that fact, express something about “man” who made it and the society it was made in. After all, in the creation of an object, all sorts of ‘decisions’ have been made and those imply intelligibility. Art in this sense is simply a more fundamental mode of communication to me – one that reaches beyond language. This doesn’t mean my reading is the final reading, but that I should make my reading as persuasive as possible by taking as much into account as possible and bring it all to some kind of synthesis – that is: including reasonable views that differ from mine.
Well, I’m glad we agree on the spiritual exhaustion bit, but many out there would still disagree, or remain too attached to the ideas that make this exhaustion a fact. What I mean, is that postmodern theory as it has developed, is the main culprit for the critical state art finds itself in. I’m not altogether against postmodern theory, but when you look at what it has to say about art it won’t make you a happy camper. In fact, postmodernists content the very term ‘art’ not to mention their outright hostility towards the museum as an institution… To me postmodern art is a highly conceptualized form of ‘art’ where academics or theory seems to come first, and art a distant and pale second. I won’t go into all of that here, cuz it will take way too long to substantiate, but I’ll be writing on that somewhere else soon. In the sense that this ’spiritual exhaustion is an expression of our condition’ we should of course put every effort in changing that (postmodern) condition, and that means analyzing what it means and how it can be changed, if at all…
Aurelio: I agree with your point on the dialectical nature of the (Pumhösl’s) art objects as artifacts to philosophize over. I also agree that this is an aspect of a possible dialectical relationship we decide to have with the artifact/s, aside from the issue of whether Pumhösl positions himself (& his practice) as a post-modernist. After all, it is surprising that he seems to have this hesitancy with the term. As I’ve alluded to already, the term post modern (in contemporary art practice, criticism & writing) has fallen out of currency. It is not clear to me why this is. Perhaps it is simply no longer fashionable. The term nowadays has a kind of negative connotation that implies a sort of academic posturing &/or affected pretense. Please, please don’t get me wrong, we ignore the term at our own peril, since as you have so concisely illustrated, the term is very useful, especially when it brought closer to its main philosophical advocates, Baudrillard & Lyotard.
As for philosophy & art writing, I’ve come across an issue of the art magazine “frieze,” where Jörg Heiser writes on some of the problems of this combination (art & theory). In it he addresses & questions how art & philosophy are in conflict. He also looks at how philosophers like Baudrillard & Lyotard have been aligned with the moody & often hard to pin-down art world.
I’d like to also thank you for presenting Lyotard’s ideas on the sublime in aesthetics. Any diligent reader should learn something from your excellent explications of the philosophy. That the sublime in art can bring us closer to understanding fracture, confusion, un-reason, impossibility & the un-representable, is key to having a better understanding of art today.
I am looking forward to reading anymore of your aesthetics & philosophy. From what I can see you are in Amsterdam which has plenty of cutting-edge art to think about & experience.
Please continue…the future is bright!
Reinaert de V.: First off, I don’t mind if you have a negative (or positive) opinion about postmodernism, since everybody is entitled to his or her own opinion. My own feelings on postmodern philosophy are very ambiguous… So feel free to write whatever you like. In fact the more honest the better! In the ‘arena of ideas’ the most valid will (hopefully) win out in the end, and of course that ‘ideological battle’ will ultimately be won with the soundest arguments. Anyways, the points I wanted to clear up had to do with the ‘chronology’ or ‘ahistorical perspective’ of Lyotard’s ideas on the sublime and a ‘nascent postmodern moment’.
I was perhaps a bit to hasty in my analysis on that point, by ‘explaining it away’ as a hidden Hegelian-Marxist principle working in the background of his philosophy. I think, his idea of post-modernity as a moment that is closely linked to the modern, is in fact one I would subscribe to and find very illuminating (even though I don’t agree with every thing he says). The Enlightenment was in a sense the ‘postmodern moment’, I think (even though Lyotard himself clearly restricts this notion to art only, not society). Not only was it the birth of modernity, but as such it was a highly creative and liberating moment in western history. Of course Burke and Kant’s “sublime” were in important aspects very different from Lyotard’s use of the term, but Kant did furnish the conceptual basis for it (more so than Burke). Secondly, Lyotard as I read him clearly illustrates the close symbiotic link between modernity and post-modernity as being two sides of the same coin. Like I tried to show in the beginning, I think his mistake is in discarding the modern as being a mere fossil of a dynamic postmodern principle. My idea is perhaps closer to Kant’s original idea, because I think the one needs the other. You can’t have pure ‘postmodernity’ (in Lyotard’s sense) or just fossilized ‘modernity,’ instead they should be working in tandem!
A useful (Kantian inspired) aesthetic theory by Luigi Pareyson’s will demonstrate what I mean by this. He makes a distinction between forma formata and forma formante, or ‘formed form’ and ‘forming form’. According to Pareyson when judging a work of art you can’t make use of any ‘given’ criteria. Instead the work of art should be able to be judged according to it’s own form, it’s forma formata so to speak, or to put it differently: the rule that’s incapsulated in its objective form, that ‘informs’ its form. But also, we shouldn’t exclude criteria external to the work of art, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to explain why (or how) the artist decided to alter or change aspects of the work during the creative process. This is a dialectical process similar to the problem of ‘art vs art philosophy’, I mentioned above. Society influences (both directly and indirectly) the creative process of the artist and thus the created artwork, but once the work of art is created and ‘out there’ it exists in opposition to society and because of that fact – and its social origin – it is able to ’speak’ to society indirectly (also because it’s a ‘useless’ object). This is the forma formante, and also an important idea in Adorno’s aesthetic theory. In both cases, the work of art falls under a rule that it established by its very creation, even there where it becomes something it ‘didn’t want to be’.
Coming back to the relationship between modernity and postmodernity: I think their relationship should be viewed along similar lines. First, with the establishment with modernity the influence of religion and tradition falls away, so to the ‘givenness’ of things. Humanity no longer has a direct line to the ‘things in themselves’ but is from then on fundamentally cut off (from the cosmos). Reason was now confronted with a blind uncaring, and ultimately absurd – because inhuman – outside world (beginning of psychology). This process of secularization or de-sacralization – which led to an endless (analytical) fragmentation of everything – has been slow and painful, but the decisive blow fell with the Enlightenment. Well, the “split” Lyotard mentions and posits in ’sublime of the postmodern moment’, is basically a process of alienation. Even though artworks ‘liberated’ themselves in one sense (mainly from the ‘referrent’) and becoming everything they wanted to be, they also ran the risk – by that very fact – of becoming nothing (meaningful) at all. Since in essence art’s ‘unconscious’ rebellion was against meaning; that is against making sense of the whole, by being dominated by the ‘referrent’ (or referring to something outside of itself = meaning), thus freeing the ‘object’ of art.
So modern art is a very complicated and unique phenomenon to say the least, but not a very healthy one… Lyotard is of course right in signaling that this tension or split, is a huge source of creative energy and has the potential to endlessly inspire and motivate artists (in the sense of the famous Rorschach test). At the same time though, if ‘modernity’ disappears from the scene completely this energy dissipates, or perhaps you should say, the energy isn’t used. Because we need a creative project, so we can have a creative process, so as to create something. Such as the project of modernity…
Humanity is ‘doomed’ to make sense of the whole/world, even if it can’t. The artist has a need, corresponding to that of humanity, and that is finding meaning in everything around him and the means to do that, is subjecting the ‘object’ in art to his will. Of course this isn’t even a choice we have to make, because we can’t not do it. Which brings me back to what’s wrong with postmodernism as it exist now: Baudrillard shows the logic of our age and shows the lie – or denial – that is postmodernities Cloaked Grand Narrative.
Like you said, art reflects our current situation, and civilizations come and go, when cultures grow jaded and become retrospective… (read this excellent article!!!) Yet the fact we’re now experiencing a lack of inspiration doesn’t mean we are dead, it just means we’re on a dead track and should get back on track – to use a nice modern metaphor.
(Between these two comments we had an e-mail exchange where I asked about Lyotard’s term the differend & how it relates to the sublime.)
Reinaert de V.: I must say my friend Aurelio, that I really enjoyed our philosophical conversation! Even though I’m very critical of postmodernism (perhaps even biased to some degree), I do think every tradition and every art-form deserves recognition and is entitled to the best defense. Something you did with flair and an open mind in your piece on Pumhösl’s art. I’ll also try and answer your email-question on Lyotard’s “Differend” and how I think it’s related to his notion of the “Sublime”.
The loose threads I mentioned, have to do with Luigi Pareyson’s (Kantian inspired) aesthetics, which instead of clarifying my point, confounded it (since I left it untied to my main argument). His ideas of the “forma formata” (formed form) and “forma formante” (forming form) fit in perfectly with Kant’s (obviously) and Lyotard’s philosophy. If you see the ’sublime of the postmodern moment’ as an “event” that essentially disrupts the space-time-continuum (forgive my spacy choice of words , it thereby shows the inherently broken nature of our experience of reality. When you define “reality” as that what can be shown to be true (through scientific method), than it can never be in harmony with the Ideas, because these ‘Ideas’ always have to do with the totality of things. In this case the ‘world’ we inhabit, but it can also refer to other essentially unrepresentable things. We can only suggest such Ideas, for example: standing at the foot of the pyramids of Giza, gives you the impression (and sensation!!!) of grandeur, ‘the infinitely big’, and a feeling of being over-powered. These are characteristics of the sublime. It is related to the feeling of fear, in that the sensation is over-powering, absorbing, too much to register, and/or because it’s literally a force that assails you (think of horror and disaster movies). Yet at the same time it gives a certain form of pleasure, because you are able to experience all these sensations safely. But more importantly: because it shows that these Ideas are bigger than everything that effectively surrounds us, bigger than everything we can make or think of, even ‘bigger’ than that our cognitive capacity is able to process (at that moment) and yet we can still “sense” them, despite or because of that! This is how Kant’s famous dictum must be understood:
“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily reflection is occupied with them: the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me. Neither of them need I seek and merely suspect as if shrouded in obscurity or rapture beyond my own horizon; I see them before me and connect them immediately with my existence.” – Critique of Practical Reason (1788)
It always makes me think of Monty Python’s excellent “Live Organ Transplants” sketch in “The Meaning of Life”, where you get more-or-less with tongue-in-cheek the same logic (albeit a bit cynically). Where the gruesome, mindless murder of the husband is (perhaps) too much for the wife to take in, and the ‘doctors’ use Kant’s notion of the enormity of ‘the starry heaven above’ to legitimize, trivialize, and even distract from the absurdity of the moral-disaster taking place in the living room.
Anyway, the point is (as I explained above) that with the advent of modernity (Enlightenment) this ‘rupture’ took centre stage. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t noticed it before that time, but it didn’t use to be such a problem traditionally. Remi Brague throws some unexpected light on this problem, in his fantastic and meticulously researched book “The Law of God”. He traces it back to the evolution – and ultimate fracture with the arrival of physics – of the concept of law within the Classical & Christian traditions. Confrontation with this ‘rupture’ (“beckoning us to make a leap”) used to be experienced as a mystical rapture, which led to a reaffirmation of God. But as existentialism shows this is only one of the possibilities, namely a solution theorized by S. Kierkegaard. A. Camus on the other hand saw this confrontation as one that shouldn’t be overcome, by reaching a synthesis on a higher level (Aufhebung). According to him: the modern mind should acknowledge the ultimate meaningless chaos that is life, thus it shouldn’t jump to conclusions to alleviate its fear of the unknown, and it shouldn’t overstep the boundaries of science. With science one should always remember that to do science one can’t explain ‘everything’ but one has to break a problem down to manageable elements and focus on solving those one at a time. So science in its endless specializations is fractured as well, and it admits that it can’t give us the meaning or purpose of life. Some people even consider these notions (to be dangerously) nostalgic, and others, of a more positivist nature, would say a notion of God is meaningless to begin with, since it cannot be proven nor disproven. Well, with the first blow, the cracks slowly spread, wider and wider…
If we agree on this fundamental “break” (cut off from tradition) or “fracture”, we can see how it animates modernity’s program of the progress of reason, by slicing up everything in manageable pieces. Postmodernism on the other hand can be understood as an endless, ahistorical “now”, namely the repetition of this moment of fracture through history: a moment of existential crisis on a personal or cultural level, and of endless creativity. A crisis which can be (re)solved in many different ways… Modernity and its program being one of those solutions. Modernity kept close to its source of origin (the moment of rupture), by endlessly repeating it, trying to pin it down or perhaps to get over it, and yet at the same time alienated by it, because of its rationalist attitude.
This turned into quite a little story I see, lol. Let’s bring in Luigi Pareyson’s aesthetics now and close off with Lyotard’s “Differend”. If what I said above is more or less correct, it follows that modernity and postmoderity are closely linked and have a certain structure. Now, the sublime is the postmodern “moment”, and reveals itself as such, but in order to recognize it for what it is (a rupture) you’ve to have a clear and steady gaze, and not make the ‘leap over the abyss’ too soon. The idea of the “formed form” is essentially ‘the postmodern’ from the perspective of the critic, applied to art: “when judging a work of art you can’t make use of any ‘given’ criteria. Instead the work of art should be able to be judged according to it’s own form”. In other words: don’t jump to conclusions but let the object of art speak for itself. But more importantly: there’s a structure that’s revealed, namely one that follows from its own form, and that revealed structure corresponds to modernity… This “forming form” is the effective force that moves us in a certain direction – without us consciously knowing it – and follows from the original form of the postmodern moment. Which modernity’s progress by constantly repeating it, has slowly but surely led us to recognize or acknowledge, namely: that the moment of fracture is the postmodern within modernity – animating it throughout… Thus the question should be: what comes next? Is it possible with this insight to renew modernity, or jump-start some other “program”, or does it only work when it’s working in the background, structured unconsciously? Are we now able to ‘jump’ wherever we like, as if in one big creative experiment, limited only by our imagination? These are the interesting and important questions I believe, because postmodernism itself is essentially a never-ending “now”, beckoning us to make that leap, and start something…
Finally, to come back to Lyotard’s “Differend” and what it means… Basically it’s a fundamental difference of opinion or a controversy. According to Lyotard such a dispute cannot be resolved through consensus as the parties speak radically heterogeneous languages (a sublime characteristic). To translate or paraphrase the terms of such a dispute would therefore prejudge the issue for one party (creating a false harmony). The only way out of this conundrum is by making use of Kant’s notion of the “Reflexive Judgment” which is similar to the idea of the “formed form” (since the second is inspired by the first). This means taking the time and effort to judge competing language-genres (like science, rhetoric, erotics etc) according to their own form. It is the capacity to detect the commonalities on basis of what is given, but in a critical fashion: by not neglecting the irreducible differences. Lyotard believes like Kant that it is essential for people to develop this (moral) capacity or sensibility, by remaining open for the eventualities and slight – but important – nuances of language. He suggests that this “Bildung” (through literature and the Humanitas) of a cultured person is necessary, but under serious pressure from the modern capitalist economy. Since economy is about winning time (efficiency) and thus not taking the time to develop (culture). The capitalist mentality of making money is at odds with the other genres and slowly taking them over, creating a “differend”. With enough time the other language-genres are judged on its terms by its rules, something they can never win. “Money” is the sign of the time-won and turns into the measure of everything, meaning that only everything which has the potential to make money has value and counts as something. So, like with Baudrillard and Marx, Lyotard focuses on the leveling and indifferent character of money.
…and that is that!
Aurelio: Wow, more incredible ideas, you’re in a rapid-fire philosophical pace now!
…& as we keep saying, this’ll be my last comment.
Starting with Lyotard as neo-Kantain, (again & after/during our discussion), I’ve come upon a couple of salient points in reference to the sublime & Kant. In “The Sublime & the Avant-Garde,” Lyotard writes:
“Even before romantic art had freed itself from classical & Baroque figuration, the door had thus been opened to inquiries pointing towards abstract & minimal art. Avant-gardism is thus present in germ in the Kantian aesthetic of the sublime.”
Before Kant we had Burke, Longinus & others of whom Lyotard draws on for the sublime. When I wanted to look at art of the NOW, I had to look at the unavoidable past (a kind of obvious paradox of the new). I like that you do not want to disregard Kant’s influence. This is perfect, because we can still find value in the genius of Kant for his sublime, as differentiated from beauty, the sublime as the sensation of awesome grandeur & so on. Lyotard also says that Kant compared the sublime to the biblical commandment: “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image…,” to this Lyotard writes: “optical pleasure when reduced to mere nothingness, promotes an infinite contemplation of infinity.” Amazing, now we’re at the Bible, geez, who would’ve guessed? But we’re also at an understanding that’s very today, now, of the moment, questions of representation of the profound, & representing faith (as contrasted or understood with reason).
You also have me thinking of Pareyson & I’m wondering if there is any phenomenological thread in his work? From the little I’ve found, he’s hermeneutical & with what you’ve written here, I’m slightly hesitant to compare him to Clement Greenberg (the well-know art critic who championed formalism). His writing basically tried to strip the art object down to its basics—the clarity of form, any thing outside of that was moot. He wrote on postmodernism too, but I’m not sure he was all that much in favor of the term, in fact I think he was disdainful. He wanted to appreciate the medium, the shapes, and the forms of art, but he became too rigid & bossy in his later years & was dethroned as the ultimate expert, the last word was no longer his. His famous term was “post-painterly abstraction.” Following Greenberg was minimalism which moved into form with wild abandon & in fact we see minimalism’s spirit in Pumhösl’s forms.
As for Pareyson’s notion that the work of art should be judged only by it form, this idea is intriguing, I’ll have to look out for his work. From what you’ve described I want to read more…
Some of my abstract work was very formal, with respect to materials as the “subject.” It was a way of looking at the object (hanging on a wall) with attention to the structure of the physical object, but I was also aware of the “meaning,” as subordinate. The art object is first an object, and then it’s art (when finished by the viewers/audience gaze). So writing about all this, makes me want to create with a newly informed enthusiasm. I suppose I’m doing that right now as I write—this is the (post-modern) creative act, we are right here–taking a ride though the sublime, approaching the un-representable!
(click on image to enlarge)
I’m very interested in your comments where the sublime/post modern art object threatens to become meaningless—which is where a lot of people still would argue, that this IS the state of art today. But, it is valuable for us to see & observe the mysteries of life—or that mystery is essential & fundamental. It is in this arena that art can summon energy–& it does. It’s a kind of courage one has to face, when faced with the unknown, the unexplainable, and the outer edges of logic (reason). Contemporary art is always on this borderline, this rupture, the absurd, ironic, cynical, offensive, & yes, just outwardly insane.
I agree with you that these are stressful times & that the art object is not always an answer, rather it’s usually a question. How am I regarded, how far can I push an idea, or how far can I push the imagination & how far can I push a convention (a norm)? Everyday culture doesn’t know how to regard this troublesome art, because it’s challenging them to think & react in new ways that are uncomfortable & highly specialized. Philosophy can help with this since some of its job is to look at perception, judgments of taste, aesthetics &c. &c.
“From the sublime, springs a lot of reflection” –Longinus
…we’ll speak again
Later, I asked Reinaert de V. about his studies now & he sent this:
“The thesis I’m writing is on Pragmatism and Critical Theory, and using their major proponents (John Dewey & Theodor W. Adorno respectively) with the purpose of arriving at a new synthesis.
Well, I won’t go into the technical details and the immense work that it turned into… I’m not sure if you need to put all that into my bio. You can leave it at me majoring in philosophy, specialized in the subject of aesthetics. You can of course mention these two important currents in modern thought as being of special interest to me. But my love for philosophy reaches across the centuries and isn’t clearly demarcated. I love the 16th and 17th century in philosophy with it’s clear prose and socialcontract theorists, but Postmodern philosophy can also be very exciting in its sometimes obscure and convoluted way (it goes without saying that the Greeks are of great inspiration as well.
Why Aesthetics? I can be very honest with you, and you might be very surprised ;-) I always had a love of cultures, customs, religions and books. Early on I used to read big books in English, these were mostly fantasy novels (starting with JRR Tolkien), and though of course I also read serious literature. But my love for fantasy used to run deep! Except the books would always end and then it would be back to reality… Now, the thing I love about philosophy is that you can use your imagination to create new ways of seeing and thinking about the world, but in order to do that forces you to struggle with the (real) world. So, even though I love escapism in all its forms (and don’t think it’s unhealthy), I’m also very pragmatic in my thinking, probably due to my upbringing and Dutch culture. Nothing is so exciting as trying to follow someone’s wild fancies (like Lacan’s) and see them slowly crystallize into something new and meaningful, or gawk at a crystal clear deliberation of great thinkers like B. Spinoza or T. Aquinas.
Thus I chose aesthetics, because I think it’s one of the more practical branches of philosophy. Not only because the battle in philosophy at the moment is basically a cultural battle (Postmodernism, Crisis of Western Identity), but also because philosophy (and imagination) has the most freedom to operate in a domain like art. The role of philosophy as a way to orientate oneself (and speculate and meditate) will never go away as long as we remain human, and even though it isn’t a ‘science’ humanity can never do without it because of that. In the end we’re all naïve philosophers, like we’re all naïve psychologists, since we all have access to the same ‘material’, namely: our human nature. Which means the domain of art will always be free of science and thus always be a last bastion for philosophy.”