aesthetics of rhetorical thisness

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.

Aurelio Madrid

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.

____________. Subjects and Objects: Art, Essentialism, and Abstraction. Leiden: Brill, 2007. Print.


want more than less

October 3, 2011 § 3 Comments


Aristotle wrote extensively on the art of persuasion. He easily makes the distinction that rhetoric is not the same as science. Rhetoric is not a scientific demonstration, and rhetoric typically does not try to persuade facts, since facts are understood without any persuasion needed. Aristotle definitively writes: “The function of Rhetoric, then, is to deal with things about which we deliberate, but for which we have no systematic rules […] we only deliberate about things which seem to admit of issuing in two ways […].” [1] He also named three appeals employed to persuade an audience to a particular point of view: pathos: emotion, ethos: character, and logos: logic.

Let’s briefly look to an example of low-brow rhetoric in use today, a bumper sticker. The message is: WANT LESS. The rhetoric is logically [2] implied as: one should curb spending, quell your hunger for material goods, get rid of your over consumption, etc. The assumed rational message targets a consumer, as it also suggests an ascetic ideal, implying that it’s better to be less desirous than to be overindulgent.

Want is a part of our lives. To ‘want less’ is to tacitly suggest that all wants are to be harnessed. Therefore, to be better people, we essentially need less wanting in our lives. A mixed message arises when we logically inquire about the quality vs. quantity of our wants. All wants are not worth reducing. For instance, should we want less out of our lives? Should we want less well being? These questions are answered with an emphatic NO! This quickly leads us the other side of the argument with worthwhile questions about our over/consumption. We can then look at how intrusive these basic wants of ours affect the lives of others we cannot see or know—e.g. how our purchasing power indirectly affects (potentially) exploited third-world laborers.

Logically speaking, want is not something we can get rid of, nor should it be lessened—in and of itself. What’s at stake here is for us to try to better understand our wants and desires, more than less. Only then can we begin to educate ourselves to continually prefer a broad range of wiser choices that progress rather than regress our basic fundamental urge to want more. Our new bumper sticker should then read: WANT MORE, a logical step from having less wisdom to wanting more wisdom.

Aurelio Madrid

want more

[1] Aristotle. The Art of Rhetoric (ΤΕΧΝΗ ΡΗΤΟΡΙΚΗ),trans. J.H. Freese, Cambridge: Harvard U. P., 1967, 1357b 12-13.

[2] The basic logic used for our rhetorical example is identified as an enthymeme. An enthymeme is closely related to a formal syllogism, with a part of its premises missing. The missing premise is to be assumed by the audience. Aristotle names an enthymeme as being closely related to the syllogism rhetorically rather than in a strict scientific logic—re: a ‘rhetorical syllogism’ persuades more with commonly held beliefs, rather than with scientific proofs.

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