Friday, November 15, 2019

Gyorgy Lukacs "The Ideology of Modernism" and everyday aesthetics

This work, first published in 1962, is often anthologized in books about continental aesthetics.  I will be working from the version in Continental Aesthetics:  Romanticism to Postmodernism:  An Anthology.  ed. Richard Kearney and David Rasmussen.  This piece could just be seen as a rant against the modernist novel, particularly Joyce, Beckett, Musil, Faulkner, and Kafka.  It might seem simply a matter of taste:  Lukács preferring "realist writers" such as Mann to these others.  But of course there are deeper issues of competing ideologies here.  And then there are issues of competing Marxist ideologies too! Lukács' Marxism is very different from that of Marcuse and Adorno.  As I do not label myself a Marxist I see no need to determine who among the Marxist aestheticians are truly Marxist.  What really interests me about Lukács is relevance to my leitmotif of everyday aesthetics. 

The issue of everyday aesthetics for Marxists is pretty straightforward.  In capitalist conditions everyday life is alienated.  This alienation is based, of course, on exploitation both in the workplace and via manipulation of needs through advertising and marketing.  Everyday life, especially for the working class, is aesthetically deprived.  In an ideal, communist, society everyone would produce in a non-alienated way according to "laws of beauty" as Marx put it in the 1844 Manuscripts.  

For Lukács the issue of the everyday comes up in two contexts, first in reference to life in a capitalist society and second in relation to Freud's notion of the psychopathology of everyday life.  Although he is mainly interested in criticizing a certain type of novel he is also interested in the main problems of Marxism, i.e. in how to explain the world in materialist terms and how to promote socialist revolution, and he situates his critique within that other interest.  

So the modernist text is based, he argues, on an ideology that stresses a static notion of human nature over a dynamic one.  It does not allow for a portrayal of human development in conditions of a dialectic between the subjective self and objective conditions.  In particular, Modernism (the name I will use here for the ideology of modernist literature) argues, implicitly, that humans have an unchanging human nature, and this human nature is that which is described as thrownness or being "thrown-into-being" by Heidegger.  It is the experience of being ontologically alone:  our essential and existential solitariness.  Of course the view is not only that one is alone in relation to others but also that one is abandoned by God (since there is no God).   (I would note that although I often enjoy modernist literature and find Heidegger intriguing, I join Lukács in rejecting this view of human nature.)

This view is also combined with a view of the nature of possibility.  For the Modernist, possibility is only abstract:  it is never concrete.  But the realist novelist (and also Lukács) wishes to stress the need for both abstract possibility and concrete possibility.  Concrete possibility is based on the historical conditions of our being.  Abstract possibility seems infinite, concrete possibility much more limited.  So, for the Realist (we will use this term here as referring to the theory that competes with the Modernist:  interestingly, the Realist does not have to be a Marxist), man and human culture are both historically situated.  The realist novel then stresses not subjective time alone (unlike the Modernist) but a dialectic of subjective and objective time.  Similarly the Realist stresses a dialectic of the subjective and the objective in general.  We should avoid the mistake, a form of vulgar Marxism, that would reduce the subjective to the objective.  Retaining subjectivity allows for the possibility of human choice:  Lukács is no determinist.  

One of the problems Lukács finds with Modernism is that it offers as a solution to alienation a retreat into psychopathology.  Psychopathology is no solution to the problems posed by capitalist society.  For a Modernist like Musil, if you do not "run with the pack," i.e. join in the capitalist rat race, your only alternative is becoming a neurotic.  Modernism, Lukács thinks, naturally leads to naturalism, i.e. a literary style that stresses sordid details of everyday life.  As Alfred Kerr put it, "what is poetic in everyday life?  Neurotic aberration, escape from life's dreary routing." And, as Lukács observes, this implies "the poetic necessity of the pathological [deriving] from the prosaic quality of life under capitalism."  Lukács sees a continuity between this older naturalism and contemporary modernism: "Kerr's description suggests that in naturalism the interest in psychopathology sprang from an esthetic need, it was an attempt to escape from the dreariness of life under capitalism."  (227)  Lukács sees this as evolving from "merely decorative function, bringing color into the greyness of reality" into a "moral protest of capitalism."  (227)  

The second point of contact with the everyday comes up a couple paragraphs later.  There, Lukács turns to Freud, whose psychoanalysis he sees as an obvious expression of this obsession with the pathological.  He sees Modernism and psychoanalysis as essentially the same.  And Freud's starting point was 'everyday life.'  Freud explains slips of the tongue, daydreams (and dreams as well) in terms of psychopathology.  Lukács thinks rather that one should see mental abnormality as a "deviation from a norm."  

So, on his view, "this is not strictly a scientific or literary-critical problem.  It is an ideological problem, deriving from the ontological dogma of the solitariness of man." (228)  Lukács contrasts Modernism to Realism which is based on Aristotle's idea of man as a political animal, and which produces a new typology of humans "for each new phase in the evolution of society."  The value of Realism is that it sees contradictions both within society and within the individual in terms of dialectic.  In the realist literature of Shakespeare, Balzac, and Stendhal "the average man is simply a dimmer reflection of the contradictions always existing in man and society."  (228)  And this is made impossible if you believe man is thrown into Being. 

In talking about traditional realists Lukács is not necessarily talking about the kind of novel he would like to see today or the kind of ideology he most favors. (Isn't it odd that someone who considers himself part of the wave of the future is going to hold up much older writers as his ideal?  Wouldn't those writers, from a Marxist perspective, reflect Bourgeois ideology of their own time?)  Indeed he sees these writers as producing an "abstract polarity of the eccentric and the socially average" and he believes that this "leads in modernism to a fascination with morbid eccentricity" which becomes "the necessary complement of the average." Further, this polarity "is held to exhaust human potentiality," which of course he would reject.  What is puzzling is how a realism he favors can lead into the modernism he does not.  

Another issue is one of competing approaches to sensuous details.  Although, in discussing naturalism, Lukács tends to focus on the ugly details of daily life under capitalism (especially for the worker), the naturalist can also be concerned about the aesthetics of everyday life in a positive way.   Tom Huhn quotes from Zola's Nana in connection with this issue:  "The company went upstairs to take coffee in the little drawing room, where a couple of lamps shed a soft glow over the pink hangings and the lacquer and old gold of the knick-knacks.  At that hour of the evening the light played discreetly over coffers, bronzes and china..." and so forth.  Huhn, Tom (2000), "A Modern Critique of Modernism: Lukács, Greenberg, and Ideology." Constellations, 7: 178-196.  

Huhn suggests that for Lukács what is absent is cohesion, whicyh  is compensated by a "surfeit of stimulation...a smorgasbord of sensation"   (Huhn's essay is excellent on Lukács's Hegelianism:  I cannot do justice to that here.)  Huhn interprets Lukács as seeing naturalism in terms of mere sensation as opposed to rich experience.  But it seems to me that there is something redemptive in a positive everyday aesthetic as found in this naturalist description.

At the end of his essay Lukács says of Kafka (as paradigmatic modernist) that "He has emptied everyday life of meaning by using the allegorical method; he has allowed detail to be annihilated by his transcendental nothingness" and this "prevents him from investing observed detail with typical significance."  In short, Kafka cannot "achieve that fusion of the particular and the general which is the essence of realistic art" since his aim is to raise the individual detail to the level of abstraction.  (234)

What are the implications of this for an aesthetics of everyday life.  Consider Modernism and Realism as competing approaches to that aesthetics (and not just towards the aesthetic valuation of novels that portray life).  Much of what Lukács says is true and yet one cannot follow him in outright condemning Modernist approaches to the everyday.  Modernism does seem to shed light on experience by focusing even more on the details of the everyday (only thinking in terms of the "typical" can blind us to the sensuousness of the particular).  If, as Huhn suggests, Lukács would reject the passage from Zola, it is because he would reject an approach to everyday life that is sometimes light, sometimes legitimately concerned with sensuous surfaces.  

Ultimately Lukács distinction between abstract and concrete possibility hides something more fundamental. Lukács is, finally, a moralist and a moralist requires that the concrete possibility be understood in a moralist way, and thus label any other approach to concrete possibility as "abstract."  There is a sense in Lukács that a novel cannot be good unless it in some way promotes a socialist revolution, and this seems severely limiting to the novel.  Similarly, he would no doubt require that we approach everyday life in a moralistic way as well.  I cannot join him there.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

The god and its relation to Heidegger's theory of art

I have posted before on The Origin of the Work of Art here and here.  So this can be taken as an addendum.  I am mainly interested in this quote:  "We believe we are at home in the immediate circle of beings.  That which is, is familiar, reliable, ordinary.  Nevertheless, the clearing is pervaded by a constant concealment in the double form of refusal and dissembling.  At bottom, the ordinary is not ordinary; it is extra-ordinary, uncanny." (197 in Richard Kearney and David Rasmussen  Continental Aesthetics:  An Antology, 2001)  So it seems, for what it is worth, that Heidegger is on my side in the debate between the what I have called those who stress the ordinariness of the ordinary and those who do not.  But I do not want to appeal to authority here.  I just find Heidegger useful.

A key issue is the role of "the god."  Here is my admittedly crude take on this.  For the world/earth dynamic to work a god must be projected.  The god provides a center for the holy precinct.  But the god does not have to be an ancient Greek god.  The god is whatever makes Being shine.  I hypothesize that the god in the Van Gogh shoes example is the peasant woman, although a case could be made for the shoes as belonging to a peasant woman.   "The god" on this account is very much like what Kant calls an "aesthetic idea."  The shoes in Van Gogh's painting are an aesthetic idea.  The god also plays a similar role to Nietzsche's description of Dionysus on stage in ancient Greek tragedy. 

Something like this can happen in everyday life.  In everyday life sometimes a thing makes the surrounding world uncanny.  If that happens, the thing is "the god." 

This happens in thinking too. A concept that symbolizes everything and seems to focus one's ideas:  that can be the god for a thinker. 

Of course this analysis is not inconsistent with atheism.  "God" can be replaced by some other term and does not imply literal belief.  If you are somewhat successful in finding "the god" you make the world shine again in the same way that the surroundings of the temple when it is set up takes on Being.  When Heidegger says we have not been listening to Being.

Note how also Heidegger and Danto are opposed.  Danto's Artworld is cut off from the world.  The main disadvantage of that is that there is no earth/world dynamic.  There is no wonder that beauty is lost since beauty arises along with Truth and Being in the earth/world dynamic.  I side with Heidegger on this one.


Thursday, November 7, 2019

Marcuse's The Aesthetic Dimension, and everyday aesthetics

The key passage in Marcuse’s The Aesthetic Dimension (originally 1977 in German, 1978 in English…Marcuse’s first work in aesthetics, a response to Adorno and Benjamin) for everyday aesthetics is:  “In  this sense art is ‘art for art’s sake’ inasmuch as the aesthetic form reveals tabooed and repressed dimensions of reality:  aspects of liberation.  The poetry of Mallarmé is an extreme example; his poems conjure up modes of perception, imagination, gestures – a feast of sensuousness which shatters everyday experience and anticipates a different reality principle.”  (239)   Mallarmé of course represents Modernism and he is precisely the person attacked by Lukacs.  The passage for me is key in that art for art’s sake becomes something a bit different from what we might see in Clive Bell.  It is a liberation, a new reality principle, and also a feast of sensuousness.  So the shattering of the everyday is directed to a new liberated sensuous everyday.  I am not so much interested here in fine art as in what the art does to life:  it reveals something repressed and points to a new reality principle.  This is the bohemian revolt, the hippie revolt which was formed in the early seventies.  (1977 is really 1969-74 here.)   So, “a pleasure in decay, in destruction, in the beauty of evil; a celebration of the asocial, of the anomic” is itself the “secret revolution of the bourgeois against his own class.”  This is Kerouac's On the Road, Ginsberg, Burroughs.   Marcuse also describes this as “ingression of the primary erotic-destructive forces which explode the normal universe of communication and behavior.”  (240)  This “rebellion against the social order” reveals Eros and Thanatos as “beyond all social control” and “invokes needs and gratifications which are essentially destructive….even death and the devil are enlisted as allies in the refusal to abide by the law and order of repression.”  And Marcuse believes this is “one of the historical forms of critical aesthetic transcendence.”  If we grant some of the Marxist fundamentals, i.e. that our capitalist system is one of exploitation and repression as well as alienation and false consciousness, then it is absurd to construct a theory of everyday aesthetics where the dominant model of the everyday is simply accepted.  Avant-garde art shows the way, i.e. material (not spiritual) transcendence.  What is the everyday?  It is the experience of what is conditioned by the social.  So if art transcends the specific social content and form it does so by breaking the ordinary everyday.  The ordinary everyday tells us (i.e. those in my culture) that driving a car is inevitable:  but at the same time we need to be broken out of this to survive the onslaught of global warming.  Art can help by revealing libidinous energies that are repressed by a culture of conformity.  “Art is committed to that perception of the world which alienates individuals from their functional existence and performance in society – it is committed to an emancipation of sensibility, imagination, and reason in all spheres of subjectivity and objectivity.”  (237)  So art is committed to transformation of the everyday.   

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Walter Benjamin The Everyday in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Walter Benjamin's famous "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction" is mainly about art.  But it can also relate to everyday aesthetics.  After all, if perception changes with historical conditions so too will perception of the everyday.  There seem to be the following changes on his account.  First, the authenticity of the landscape changes.  The aura of landscape may be reduced as film takes over our representation of landscape.  Second, magazine illustrations and advertisements, common objects in everyday experience, change not only our perception of artworks but also our lived phenomenological space.  In the age of mechanical reproduction these things take more prominence.   They also influence the way we perceive the things they represent.  In the subsequent age of digital reproduction the images we see on our screens play an important new role in our everyday experience.  Third, the very reduction of cult, ritual and aura in the age of mechanical reproduction means that this also plays less a role in everyday experience.  Fourth, Benjamin's account of the architectural, taken as a matter not of contemplation but of distraction, changes (or describes a change in) our perception of architectural space on an everyday basis.

However these are almost random matters:  perhaps the most significant is just the reduction of aura generally speaking (and not just the aura of art).  Of course aura is mainly associated with cult experience or experience in an artworld context.  But let's say that aura occurs in everyday life outside of cult experience.  Benjamin himself discusses what he calls natural aura, i.e. "the unique phenomenon of a distance" which happens for example when you follow a mountain range with your eyes.  So, if there is less contemplation, less aura, and less distance, then this is true not simply in the art gallery or museum but in everyday life.  Benjamin speaks of the urge of the masses to get hold of things at close range, including picture magazines and newsreels.  (He seems to revel in this, finding it a good thing.) If there is now a "sense of the universal equality of things" and aura is destroyed everywhere then even the natural aura is destroyed.  Uniqueness and permanence are abandoned for the transitory.  Tradition is "liquidated."  Ritual is going to be replaced by politics, although there is a deep ambiguity here since later in the essay it is clear that fascism as much as socialism is the politics that replaces ritual....and fascism really just introduces another sort of ritual...and isn't there a fascism of socialism as well?  The emancipation of the everyday from aura, cult and ritual into politics seems dubious in this regard.  

There are other points in the essay that glance off of the everyday but which are worth considering.  In section VII the dispute of painting vs. photography is discussed as also the question of whether film is art.  Benjamin stresses that various theorists who have tried to make film out to be art have done so in a forced way, for example in holding it to be a kind of hieroglyph or a kind of prayer.  Most interesting for our purposes, at the end of the section Werfel is mentioned as saying that (in Benjamin's words) "it was the sterile copying of the external world with its streets, interiors, stations, restaurants, motorcars, and beaches which until now had obstructed the elevation of the film to the realm of art."  Werfel then says that the true meaning of film is to express "all that is fairylike, marvelous, supernatural."  Benjamin mocks this.  But perhaps what film does in such a meaningful way (take Badlands as an example) is to film the everyday in such a way as to make it marvelous and supernatural-like.  This is what Benjamin misses, that mechanical reproduction can actually assist in the aestheticization of the everyday.  Heidegger speaks of us with disapproval as no longer listening to Being and not allowing the reliability of equipment to shine through in truth, something that great art helps us to remedy.  Perhaps a way out of our current alienation (an alienation that is markedly of the 21st century sort) is to open ourselves up to the aura in the everyday.  

One place where the everyday is explicitly mentioned in in section XIII where Benjamin takes an interested in Freud, especially in his Psychopathology of Everyday Life, a book which he sees as isolating and making analyzable "things which had heretofore floated along unnoticed in the broad stream of perception."  Benjamin observes that this kind of analysis leads to a "deepening of apperception."  Through Freud we see the everyday differently.  And film does something similar on Benjamin's account:  "behavior items shown in a movie can be analyzed much more precisely and from more points of view..." Further, "[b]y close-ups of the things around us, by focusing on hidden details of familiar objects, by exploring commonplace milieus under the ingenious guidance of the camera, the film... extends our comprehension of the necessities which rule our lives..."  And then, "[o]ur taverns and our metropolitan streets, our offices and furnished rooms, our railroad stations and our factories appeared to have us locked up hopelessly" until film burst this prison-world open. With the close-up, space expands; with slow motion, movement is extended and new forms are revealed with photographic enlargement.  Thus, "an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored by man."  And then we get a different view even of walking or of reaching for a lighter:  "[t]he act of reaching for a lighter or a spoon is familiar routine, yet we hardly know what really goes on between hand and metal..."   Film reveals this.  In short, "the camera introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses" and we see the world differently. 

We also learn in section X that film can break down the distinction between art and life:  "Some of the players whom we meet in Russian films are not actors in our sense but people who portray themselves - and primarily in their work process."  I want to return however to a strange thing in Section VI.  First we see that there is some cult value in photography, it is in the photograph of the human face:  there is an aura which emanates from early photographs, and these have "an incomparable beauty."  Benjamin insist that exhibition value is superior to such ritual value, although this seems strange since exhibition value is value of a commodity, exhibitions being capitalist market places mainly.  There is no surprise that aura is lost in such a market-place, but is this an improvement over the aura of the photograph.  Benjamin speaks of the "incomparable significance of Atget."  But I think he gets Atget wrong.  He likens Atget's photographs of deserted city streets to crime scene photographs.  But there are no dead bodies in these photographs.  This is not Weegee.  "With Atget, photographs become standard evidence for historical occurrences, and acquire a hidden political significance."  They demand not "free-floating contemplation" but stir the viewer in a new way.  I frankly do not see the crime scene or the politics.  Atget gives us something for contemplation, the deserted city streets.  Now, so many years later, they are also nostalgic...a Paris that no longer exists.  They have an aura.  They do challenge the viewer in a unique way but not a way so different from the way we look at early photographs of human faces, which Benjamin takes to have cult value.   More importantly, they train us for experiencing the everyday.  

The last section is about architecture, but in a way that brings in the everyday.  Benjamin wants to make the complaint that the masses demand distraction (whereas art demands concentration) into something more positive.  Whereas the man who concentrates is absorbed by a work of art the "distracted mass absorbs the work of art" and this happens in architecture whose reception "is consummated by a collectivity in a state of distraction."  This seems, at least on the face of it obviously false.  If you are distracted you are not paying attention, and yet to enjoy the fine aspects of a work of architecture even if you are a member of "the masses" you still need to pay attention.  No one will appreciate a work of Frank Lloyd Wright if they are all the time distracted by their Facebook activity.  But Benjamin goes on to say that "[b]uildings are appropriated in a twofold manner:  by use and by perception - or rather, by touch and sight.  Such appropriation cannot be understood in terms of the attentive concentration of a tourist before a famous building."  There may be some truth in this;  the tourist experience is only one way to appreciate architecture.  "On the tactile side there is no counterpart to contemplation on the optical side.  Tactile appropriation is accomplished not so much by attention as by habit" and in architecture habit also determines optical reception, i.e. "less through rapt attention than by noticing the object in incidental fashion."  To bring back in distraction:  the distracted person can also form habits.  His conclusion is that this also happens in film where the "public is an examiner, but an absent minded one." 

I find nothing helpful in this idea:  perhaps the English word "distraction" is a hindrance here.  However it is certainly the case that our experience is architecture is just one of rapt attention but also in the incidental and habitual may only be in the back of our consciousness that this building we walk by is well proportioned.  There are in between states as well:  today I noticed an architectural element on my campus, a winding pathway, I had never noticed before, and this was delightful even though neither a matter for rapt attention or for incidental and habitual awareness.  Indeed, I think that this sort of awareness is more important architecturally in terms of everyday life than the other two.  


Thursday, October 17, 2019

Roland Barthes' Death of the Author

In a way the original question about a sentence from Balzac's Sarrasine is the most interesting part of "The Death of the Author."  Barthes asks who is speaking the sentence: the hero, Balzac as expressing his philosophy of Woman, Balzac as expressing literary ideas on femininity, universal wisdom, or Romantic psychology.  It is not surprising that he next says that we will never know.  But then he tells us that "writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin."  There is no real support for this throughout the essay.  Certainly the Sarrasine example by itself is not sufficient.  Mainly he tells us that some modernist writers (Mallarme, Valery, Proust, Brecht, all notable authors) are suspicious of the author, that the author is somehow associated with capitalism, that linguistic theory somehow compels us to accept the thesis (although there is nothing about the idea of performatives that excludes authors who do the performing), and so forth.  

Barthes replaces the author with the scriptor, and then says "the modern scriptor is born simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing" and further "there is no other time than that of the enunciation and every text is eternally written here and now."  This is just mythology.  The scriptor has no empirical or phenomenological presence.  We cannot find him.  To be fair, though, one can take the text as standing on its own without any causal roots or history.  This is a methodology that can be useful.  But note that the scriptor is not even needed metaphysically.  If all there is is the text eternally already written then why posit a scriptor WHO DOES NOTHING? But if Barthes is just trying to convince us that writers should never complain that their hands "are too slow for [their] thought" and that they shouldn't bother to polish their productions, this just doesn't seem like good advice.

One can agree that the text does not have "a single 'theological' meaning" without accepting the rest of what Barthes says.  Why should anyone accept that the text is "a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash."  Surely originality is common.  It is only great originality that is rare.  Sure, there are passages in any text that refer back to earlier times or have been used before in other contexts.  The idea of many writings blending and clashing in one writing is a pretty idea, but how can it be spelled out?  Similarly, to say that, "the text is a tissue of quotations" is just to make a clever metaphor.  Some texts probably are tissues of quotations.  Most are not.  To say that they all are is hard to translate into something that makes sense.  One might say that when Barthes says these quotations are "drawn from the innumerable centres of culture" this explains it.  To be sure, we can trace many influences.

Is that all that is being said here?  Not at all, since Barthes actually cuts off the text from its history.  If the writer's "only power is to mix writings, to counter the ones with the others, in such a way as never to rest on any one of them" then how do we distinguish a writer who really does this (i.e. a typical plagiarist) and one who does not, who really does, for example, rest on one idea, i.e. defends a thesis.  Barthes rejects the idea that the writer expresses himself, for "the inner 'thing' he thinks to 'translate' is itself only a ready-formed dictionary, in words only explainable through other words, and so on indefinitely..."  I agree that it is naive to speak of expression in terms of translating something inner.  It seems unfounded however just to assume that whatever is expressed is just some internal dictionary.  

Barthes replaces the author with the scriptor.  This being "no longer bears within him passions, humours, feelings, impressions, but rather this immense dictionary from which he draws a writing that can know no halt..."  Why should we believe that?  Why throw out my entire internal life and replace it with a dictionary that, by its nature, only consists of words?  What is that motive for this erasure?  We often think of Barthes as a kind of humanist, but he seems more intent on making us into language machines without souls.  

Again, why should we believe that "life never does more than imitate the book, and the book itself is only a tissue of signs, an imitation that is lost, infinitely deferred"?  How can we be serious that events of life are just imitations of an internal dictionary?  I can understand, again, that Barthes thinks it a myth to believe that we can arrive at a final answer to the question "what is the meaning of X" and yet we do find answers to that question, ones that work well, have elegance, fit the data, and so forth.  

Barthes' motive may be clearer when he says, "To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish a final signified, to close the writing."  But what if it isn't?  To say that a text has an author (no need for the sly capital A) is to impose a limit on the text (it does not have another author, for example) but it is not necessarily to impose a final signification since there are many possible interpretations for whatever an author might say.  This leads me to believe that Barthes is just laboring under a false dichotomy, or committing the black or white fallacy.  

He goes on to attack criticism.  Of course, if there were a final meaning or explanation for every text then criticism would be a science, and that cannot be so.  And of course if criticism were just a matter of "discovering the Author ....beneath the work" then it would be overly limited.  Gadamer also opposes this idea, although his replacement, the fusion of horizons, makes much more sense than Barthes.  I agree that it is naive to believe that when the Author has been found the text has been explained.  But explanation is a complicated thing and, at the very least, one cannot leave out the author when explaining a text.  Nor can one leave out "society, history, psyche" or the historical search for liberty and justice, as Barthes does when he incorporates these into his idea of Author.  The best one can say for Barthes is that he suggests one methodology.  For example, when he says, "everything is to be disentangled, nothing deciphered" this is a rule one could follow with some possible success.

One is tempted to see the entire essay as just a symbol for the rebelliousness of the 60s, for example when he says "by refusing to assign a 'secret,' an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases - reason, science, law."  Well, first, refusing God is all fine and good, but it is not at all clear what refusing reason, science and law would even mean.  It is also fine to refuse to "fix meaning" but what exactly would it mean to fix meaning?  I go the library and see a long shelf of books on Nietzsche.  Would fixing meaning be a matter of refusing to publish any more books on Nietzsche?  Or would it be to simply accept one book on Nietzsche, one that contains all of the fixed interpretations of all of Nietzsche's writings.  Who would do that?  How would it happen?  In short, fixing meaning is not really a problem since it doesn't really happen, or only does happen in limited contexts (as when the professor insists that the meaning is this and you have to remember that for the exam).  

At the beginning of this comment I said that the first part of the essay was the most interesting.  But then the conclusion insists that no one says the sentence.  Instead the reader is held up as opposed to the writer.  It is not at all clear how that gives us anything of value since the internal life of the reader would be erased along with the internal life of the writer.  

The value of this essay must come mainly from its point of inspiration.  Before it was read, people felt oppressed by the idea that the text must be explained by going to the Author's meaning.  Now however literary writers can be inspired by the idea that "a text is made of multiple writings, drawn from many cultures and entering into mutual relations of dialogue, parody, contestation" and that all of this is focused on the reader, and not the author.  I am not sure why a dialogue between the reader and the author is no longer the point at issue.  But I can see it as freeing that the reader is allowed some more flexibility in reading especially in finding significance in the work that relates to his/her life.  But it gets silly when he says "quotations that make up a writing are inscribed without any of them being lost; a text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination."  And then he admits that this is nowhere, that my talk above about relating to one's life is meaningless, since the reader is deconstructed too:  "this destination cannot any longer be personal:  the reader is without history, biography, psychology; he is simply that someone who holds together in a single field all the traces by which the written text is constituted."  Wait!  Why do we even need a reader to do that.  The field that holds all of that together is called, guess what, "the text."  "The birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author":  but of course the reader born is a nobody.       

Hegel on Architecture and Sculpture

I had previously discussed Hegel's three stages of art in this blog here.

Hegel discusses sculpture both when discussing the classical from of art and when, in a section on the arts, he specifically addresses it.  The classical form eliminates the two defects we find in the symbolic form of art, first that the idea is presented in the symbolic work indeterminately or abstractly, and therefore, second, the relation of meaning and shape is defective and merely abstract in such art.  But classical art is "the free and adequate embodiment of the Idea," the Idea being elsewhere called the Absolute.  So its shape is particularly appropriate to the Idea.  Also the Idea here comes into "free and complete harmony."  I take it that since the Absolute or the Idea evolve in history through the action of humans, this means that the Idea itself achieves harmony in the classical form of art.  The classical art-form therefore completes the Ideal of art, which is the harmonious relation of concrete sensuous form and concrete spiritual content.  Hegel notes that it is not enough to have the content correspond with form (“external configuration”) since this would mean that "every portrayal of nature, every cast of features, every neighborhood, flower, scene" would be classical because of its form/content congruity.  But the content is different in classical art since it is the concrete Idea which is concretely spiritual. 

So, he asks, what in nature "belongs to the spiritual in and for itself"?   In this case the subjective Concept, the spirit of art, has found the shape appropriate to it.  This shape is the human form.  The Idea as spiritual assumes this shape when it proceeds to "temporal manifestation."  I take this to mean that the Absolute naturally arises at this point in the course of historical dialectic.  Now Hegel is well aware that artists who represent gods have often been accused of personification and anthropomorphism, and that it is often thought that such processes degrade the spiritual.  But art has, as its goal, bringing the spiritual to the sensuous, and so must engage in anthropomorphism: "Spirit appears sensuously in a satisfying way only in its body." The idea of “transmigration of the souls” is an abstract idea, which is to say that it is stuck back at the inadequate stage of the symbolic.  Hegel goes so far as to chide physiology for not seeing life as necessarily proceeding to human form as the only possible sensuous appearance for spirit.  [Is Hegel being crafty here?  After all, he sees the romantic as higher than the classical:  and so HE would not see the charge of anthropomorphism as inapt.]

Now the human body is not merely sensuous but is "the existence and the natural shape of the spirit" and hence it must be free from deficiency of the sensuous and “contingent finitude.”  But, for the correspondence of meaning and shape to be perfect, the shape purified.  And the spirituality involved cannot tower beyond the sensuous and bodily.  It must be expressible completely in human form.  Indeed, this is a defect which leads to dissolving of the classical art-form itself.

The romantic form of art cancels this unification of Idea and reality.  It reverts to the opposition of two sides found in the symbolic.  The classical form has achieved the pinnacle for “illustration by art,” and so its defect is the defect of art itself, since art takes spirit in a sensuously concrete form, the classical finding a complete unification of the two. 

And yet spirit's true nature is "infinite subjectivity of the Idea" which is absolutely inward.  So romantic art has a content that goes beyond classical art, and this idea coincides with God (in the Christian sense) as spirit.  So, for classical art, the concrete content is implicitly the immediate and sensuous unity of the divine and the human.  The Greek god is the "object of naive intuition and sensuous imagination" and so his shape is the bodily shape of man, and his power is "individual and particular." The individual viewer's inner being is implicitly at one with this being.  And yet he does not have this oneness "as inward subjective knowledge."  So knowledge of the implicit unity is the higher state.  This going from implicit to self-conscious knowledge is what distinguishes man from animal.  Similarly the nutritionist raises the process of digestion to a self-conscious science.  When man knows he is an animal he ceases to be one.

But this movement from the implicit unity of divine and human nature to immediate and known unity is no longer a matter of the spiritual in the body of man but of "inwardness of self-consciousness." Christianity brings God not as individual particular spirit but as "absolute in spirit and truth."  It "retreats from the sensuousness of imagination into spiritual inwardness."  It makes the inwardness the medium and the existence of truth's content.  Romantic art, then, is the self-transcendence of art within art.
Hegel then says that art, at this stage, must work, not for sensuous intuition, but for “the inwardness which coalesces with its object simply as if with itself.”  It strives for freedom in itself, finding reconciliation only in inner spirit:  “The inner world constitutes the content of the romantic sphere and must therefore be represented as this inwardness” which is to say “depth of feeling.”  Inwardness triumphs over the external and manifests its victory in and on the external.  The sensuous becomes worthless.  Still it needs an external medium for expression.  The sensuous external shape is now seen as transient, as well as the finite spirit and will of the individual.  All that is contingent and is “abandoned to adventures devised by an imagination whose caprice can mirror what is present to it” as it can also jumble shapes and distort them grotesquely.  The external medium now finds its essence in the heart, and it preserves this “in every chance, in every accident that takes independent shape, in all misfortune and grief, and indeed even in crime.”  As I take it, this means that romantic art may be wildly avant-garde, as we later find in John Cage, Jackson Pollock, and  other late 20th century and early 21st century artists.  This of course is a replay of the separation of Idea and shape in symbolic art, but here the Idea “now has to appear perfected in itself as spirit and heart” and it can only seek union within itself.  This, finally, is “transcendence of the Ideal as the true Idea of beauty.”
When we turn to the specific discussion of sculpture we find it as part of an overall scene set up by the previous discussion of architecture.  Architecture exists characteristically at the symbolic level.  It involves "manipulating external inorganic nature" to express spirit.  The material of architecture is "matter itself in its immediate externality as a mechanical heavy mass" and its forms are the forms of nature in terms of symmetry, which he sees as a matter of abstract Understanding.  But architecture cannot realize the Ideal of beauty since concrete spirituality is not expressed.  That is, the material of architecture is not penetrated by the Idea.  Or to put it another way, architecture cannot express the Absolute.  Although Hegel is right about the importance of mechanical heavy mass in architecture, nothing else he says about it here can be true, and one wonders whether he ever seriously contemplated one of the great Gothic cathedrals that were readily available to him.  It is only by ignoring the masterpieces of architecture that Hegel can say that its fundamental type is the "symbolic form." 

However, he lightens up his relatively negative approach when he says "architecture is the first to open the way for the adequate actuality of the god, and in his service it slaves away with objective nature in order to work it free from the jungle of finitude and the monstrosity of chance."  Note that "adequate actuality of the god" refers to "the god" as within experience and as evolving within human consciousness: one might say it is the concept of god rather than God himself.  We are not talking about any real independently existing god. 

So the purpose of architecture is primarily spiritual and primarily a matter of creating a physical church, i.e. a place for worship.  Architecture "levels a place for the god" and builds a temple for "the inner composure of the spirit and its direction on its absolute objects."  In particular it provides a protected place of assembly for the congregation.  So architecture reveals "the wish to assemble."
But when architecture does "fashion in its forms and material an adequate artistic existence for" spiritual content it has moved beyond the symbolic form of art to the classical form, which is the higher stage.  It has transformed itself to sculpture.  Architecture is limited in that that the spiritual is only inner and is not synthesized or cognate with its external form.  Sculpture overcomes this limitation.

But when we come to sculpture we find that it needs architecture.  Architecture has prepared the place, the ground, for the activity of sculpture.  The paradigmatic sculpture is the cult sculpture within the Greek temple.  (And one could add that the statue of Jesus crucified plays a similar role in the Christian church.)  Hegel begins the discussion of sculpture noting that architecture purifies the external inorganic world, sets it in order symmetrically, and makes it into something like spirit.  Moreover it creates God's house, and that of His community. 

At this point we get a bit a mythology.  We have already seen that architecture has prepared a protective setting for the community of worshipers.  Now the god enters his temple "as the lightening flash of individuality striking and permeating the inert mass" breaking the symmetry of the symbolic form of spirit.  Sculpture's task is to spiritually shape something corporeal. 

So sculpture takes the classical art-form as its type.  In sculpture expression of the sensuous is the same as expression of spirit.   It only can represent spiritual content in bodily form.  And when this happens the spirit stands before us "in blissful tranquility," the form brought to life by the content.  So, instead of focusing on mechanical quality, mass possessing weight, and the form of the inorganic world (as in architecture), sculpture focuses on the ideal of the human figure.  Hegel picks up the idea of blissful tranquility again when he mentions the spiritual coming into appearance in "eternal peace and essential self-sufficiency."  This peace and self-sufficiency is shared both by the external shape and the spiritual content, which is shaped according to its "abstract spatiality."  He also stresses that the spirit is presented as compact and unified, not splintered.  Abstract spatiality means that variety of appearance is not emphasized, but rather unity and totality. 

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Lyotard on Postmodernism some comments

  1. This summary and comments is based on the selection on Lyotard in Continental Aesthetics:  Romanticism to Postmodernism, Blackwell.   In his three points about "postmodern" Lyotard begins with architecture.  The first architectural theorist mentioned is Portoghesi, who takes postmodernism to be against the hegemony of Euclid, i.e. of strict classical mathematics.  Lyotard does not takes this analysis as seriously, however, as Gregotti's notion that in postmodernism there is a disappearance of the bond between architecture and progressive politics, and this goes along with disappearance of the idea of progress in rationality and freedom.  In architecture, there is no longer something universal (in terms of human freedom) to greet the eye.  Instead we have a series of quotations "from earlier styles or periods."  (One feature Lyotard thinks figures into the postmodern is "disregard for the environment." (363) The new modernism of eco-sensitive architecture, which I will represent here by the work of Leddy, Maytum, Stacey of San Francisco (Bill Leddy is my brother) would therefore not be postmodern.)  Here, the "post" simply means "after" in which each period can be identified and the "post" period is a new direction.  This "idea of a linear chronology" is itself modern, relying on the idea of something completely new.  Even the idea of modernity itself is tied to this idea of something absolutely new.  So Lyotard is suggesting that the notion of "postmodern" associated with distinct periods, some of which are completely new; and the idea of bricolage, which is combining these distinct styles from distinct periods, is naive, and not sufficiently postmodern.  He suspects the rupture with the past posited by such architects and other cultural figures is really repressing while at the same time repeating it.  The postmodern should surpass it.  So the new "postmodern" architecture with all of its quotations of earlier styles, even when done ironically, is a retreat from the ideals of modernism.   So he is really not happy with architectural postmodernism and this leads him to the second meaning of the term mentioned by Gregotti.  Modernism on this view was the notion that developments in arts etc. would benefit mankind as a whole, setting aside the debate over who needed development the most, i.e. between liberals, conservatives, "leftists" (the scare quotes indicating the true left was something else.)  The goal was emancipation of humanity.   So back to the idea of postmodernism as decline in the notion of this goal.  But a new movement arises (at least he hints at this), neither liberal nor Marxist (thus independent of their crimes against humanity, symbolized by Auschwitz) which shows how impoverished the idea of emancipation of humanity was, and this leads to a Zeitgeist of grief.  The grief is expressed in reactionary attitudes, but again a new more positive perspective is possible.  The grief or malaise is only deepened by the technoscientific development which no longer has the name of progress but is independent of us and our needs.  This development is destabilizing for humanity:  and we are reduced to "chasing after the process of accumulation of new objects."  Our destiny or destination seems increasingly complex, making our needs for security, identity and happiness seemingly irrelevant.  What we get instead is a "constraint to mediatize, quantify, synthesize, and modify the size of each and every object."  But while one side of humanity faces this challenge of complexity the other faces the challenge of survival, thus failing the modernist principle that the whole of humanity should benefit. 
  2.  The third point is that the question of postmodernism is one of expression of thought "in art, literature, philosophy, politics."  The dominant view is the great movement of the avant-garde is over, modernity outdated.  Lyotard thinks this fails to understand what the avant-garde was trying to do.  They were not just a radical military move implied in their name: "the true process of avant-gardism was in reality a kind of work, a long, obstinate, and highly responsible work concerned with investigating the assumptions implicit in modernity."  That is, it is serious work.  Lyotard is mainly thinking here of visual art, painting and sculpture.  The big figures he has in mind, first listed, are Duchamp and Newman.  He thinks what they did was something like psychoanalytic therapy.  He adds to this list Cezanne, Picasso, Delaunay, Kandinsky, Klee, Mondrian, Malevich, and Duchamp a second time.  Through them modernity performs a "working through on its own meaning" much like psychoanalysis.  And if this work is not done, the work being a responsibility, then the West's neurosis, the source of all its misfortunes for the last two hundred years, will be unchecked.  Thus the "post" does not mean going back or repetition but analysis and recollection.  
  3.   Answering the Question:  What is Postmodernism .
  4.    The first paragraph, under "A Demand" is a list of various ways in which there is "slackening" during our period.  That is, referring back to the last section, a failure to meet the responsibility of the avant-garde.   The call is to "put an end to experimentation."  So one art historian calls for a return to realism and subjectivity, one critic favors the Italian painting movement called Transavantgardism, and yet this is very different from the is mainly for making money, and then there are the postmodern architects who reject Bauhaus modernism, once again rejecting experimentation.  And then there is a philosopher who calls for a return to Judaeo-Christian piety, and those who find Deleuze and Guattari, the French philosophers, too confusing, and those who think that the avant-gardes of 1960-70 spread terror in language and that we need a new way of speaking, that of historians.  One gets the sense that Lyotard is feeling that the experimentation and questioning of the radicals of 1968 is fading away, and he feels nostalgic for that.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Plato's Ladder of Love in the Symposium

Comments on the Ladder of Love passage, Diotima speaking, in Plato's Symposium. 

I will be using the Jowett translation in these comments.  This, of course, is limiting, since there are more recent translations and since a better commentary would rely on the Greek.  Another factor in these comments is that I am responding here to student questions and have been influenced in some instances by these questions themselves.  So I thank my students for their contributions.

"But I will do my utmost to inform you, and do you follow if you  can. For he who would proceed aright in this matter should begin in youth to visit beautiful forms; and first, if he be guided by his instructor aright, to love one such form only-out of that he should create fair thoughts;

The translation here is a bit odd since "visit beautiful forms" really means visit and be attracted to beautiful young men.  Who is "the instructor"?  Presumably it is someone like Diotima to Plato:  the person who teaches him or her the art of love.  But why is guiding a person right a matter of focusing on one form (one physical look of a beloved person) rather than on something else?  This is a difficult question.  My feeling is that Plato thought that the erotic force is a strong motivator that lies behind many or even most of our efforts in life.  It may be surprising to think of Plato as holding to a kind of materialistic position here, one that Freud, for example, would not reject.   But I think that in general we over-idealize Plato.  For example, in Book X of the Republic few notice that God the creator of the first bed is eventually replaced by the expert in the use of the object the essence of which we are seeking.  

Note also that the pursuit of this one person helps the lover "create fair thoughts."  I think this means that the lover engages with the beloved in conversations much like Socratic dialogue and that many of the thoughts generated in this are beautiful.  One wonders whether Socrates can be serious about that since most of the thoughts in a dialogue, i.e. most of the definitions, are refuted by Socrates...and this, surely, would not be an indication of their being beautiful.  It is likely that the "fair thoughts" are thoughts about beauty rather than, strictly, beautiful themselves.

Some students wonder whether attraction to someone's body is the same as being in love with them.  Surely not.  But if one is in love then the object of love is beautiful.  Plato does not work this out but there must be a lower level attraction and physical beauty that does not involve love.  Love, for Plato, comes with deep conversation with the beloved.   

"and soon he will of himself perceive that the beauty of one form is akin to the beauty of another; and then if beauty of form in general is his pursuit, how foolish would he be not to recognize that the beauty in every form is and the same!"

There is a nice video about Derrida in which he discusses the nature of love.  His discussion can be seen as an attack on Plato's theory of love and beauty, especially against this point that when we love correctly we see every form as the same.  As Derrida suggests, it is the unique individual we love.  Plato also seems here to jump quickly from all beauty being akin to all beauty being the same.  The first is much more plausible than the second.  But, for Plato, for two things to be akin they must be the same insofar as they partake in that Form.

 And when he perceives this he will abate his violent love of the one, which he will despise and deem a small thing, and will become a lover of all beautiful forms; 

One of my students asks "Is Diotima's theory of beauty strictly linear?  Do people always need to literally be attracted to [one person's] physical form in order to achieve the next level?"  The student also asked whether one can regress, i.e. be attracted to a mind and then later on only to the physical form.  I think it is in fact linear and that Diotima/Plato is intentional about the sequence.  Yes, of course, regression is possible.  Plato discusses regression from the ideal society in the Republic.  

"Violent love of the one" may seem strange, and yet the Greeks thought of romantic sexual love as violent or at least "mad."  This is what we today refer to as "falling in love" or being obsessed by love.  Acts of jealous violence show how love of the extreme romantic sort can turn sour. 

in the next stage he will consider that the beauty of the mind is more honourable than the beauty of the outward form.

 Of course we contemporary anti-dualists have a problem with this.  It presupposes that the mind is radically separate from outward form.  And yet what we call "mind" in the beloved is ultimately to be found in our experience of the beloved, in her gestures, her spoken thoughts, her kind acts, and so forth. 

Many of my students have suggested that you can be attracted to the mind first and then the body.  I think so, and not only that, but I think that Diotima, Socrates and Plato would have allowed for this.  Plato has Socrates seemingly fall in love with Theaetetus in the dialogue of that name even though he is considered physically unattractive.

It might be best, when pursuing the ladder of love (assuming that the pursuit is legitimate) to oscillate between the beloved in physical aspect and the beloved in mental aspect:  abstracting the physical or the mental from the whole person may itself be a hindrance to advances in love.

 So that if a virtuous soul have but a little comeliness, he will be content to love and tend him, and will search out and bring to the birth thoughts which may improve the young,

You can fall in love with someone who is not physically beautiful.  The subject of this sentence (as always, at least in this translation) is unclear.  But note again that the path to Beauty is by way of the kind of conversation that brings to birth thoughts (here, the metaphor of generation comes in again) and that these thoughts are specifically those that will improve the young (especially, in this case, the younger beloved.)

 until he is compelled to contemplate and see the beauty of institutions and laws, and to understand that the beauty of them all is of one family, and that personal beauty is a trifle;

It seems strange to many of my students that the next stage of the ladder of love is love of institutions and laws.  One could say that the movement is from one to many to one's country in general.  Love of country is a common enough idea.  Then one can quickly realize that it is the institutions and laws that makes one's country well-ordered, although they are not perhaps what makes it lovable.  Still, for Plato, these would be the same.  Today we are often skeptical of laws and institutions, for example as merely uploading class dominance.  Still the idea of a well-ordered society is something to consider.

 and after laws and institutions he will go on to the sciences, 

The love of knowledge (or of wisdom) seems the natural next step, especially for Plato.  Of course, I, a professor, can identify with this easily.  Others might focus on their love of a profession or craft.

that he may see their beauty, being not like a servant in love with the beauty of one youth or man or institution, himself a slave mean and narrow-minded, but drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom;

For Plato, a free man, someone not a "servant," is going to be someone other than Ion in the Ion who only loves Homer.  The free man will not be narrow-minded in his appreciation.  He/she will contemplate the "vast sea of beauty" and also, in doing so, will create "fair and noble thoughts" by way of his "love of wisdom" i.e. his philosophy.   So the two are closely connected:  contemplation of beauty and love of philosophy. 

until on that shore he grows and waxes strong,

The image is carried through.  The lover is on the shore viewing the vast sea, and also the lover "grows and waxes strong."  

and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere. 

The idea of a vision being revealed is central to the entire quest.  So it seems strange to us today to see this in terms of a "single science."  How can a single science be the result of a vision.  Not only is there a vast sea of beauty but there is a science which studies it?  This of course would be what we today call Aesthetics.  Aesthetics studies the vast sea of beauty. 
To this I will proceed; please to give me your very best attention:

"He who has been instructed thus far in the things of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful in due order and succession, when he comes toward the end will suddenly perceive a nature of wondrous beauty (and this, Socrates, is the final cause of all our former toils)-a nature which in the first place is everlasting, not growing and decaying, or waxing and waning; secondly, not fair in one point of view and foul in another, or at one time or in one relation or at one place fair, at another time or in another relation or at another place foul, as if fair to some and-foul to others, or in the likeness of a face or hands or any other part of the bodily frame, or in any form of speech or knowledge, or existing in any other being, as for example, in an animal, or in heaven or in earth, or in any other place; but beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things.

This nature of wondrous beauty which is perceived suddenly is like the Parmenidean One:  everlasting, not growing or decaying.  A student asked me whether Plato had any influences in this theory, and the answer is (beyond of course Socrates and Diotima) Parmenides.  Also the beauty of this thing, Beauty itself, is not relative to person, point of view, place or time.   This is an attack on all theories that beauty is subjective. 

Also it is is not to be found in the things we think to find beauty, i.e. in imitations of face, hands, body, or in forms of speech or knowledge.  Indeed it is not to be found in any particular being.  This is because it is, again, "absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting." And yet it is "imparted" to the beauties of all other things.  The latter beauties always grow and always perish.

 He who from these ascending under the influence of true love, begins to perceive that beauty, is not far from the end. 

Diotima speaks of "true love" and one wonders whether this refers to the eternal Form of Love.  But then how can Love be a Form if it is not divine, but just is a lover of the divine.  What would the final definition of love be?  It seems that Diotima does not even care.  What she does, instead, is to provide a process for achieving apprehension of Beauty.  True Love may just be what comes at the end of the ladder of love.

Is it being implied here that perceiving absolute Beauty is not really the end?  

Some of my students have asked how one knows that one has reached the end of the ladder of love.  This is a good question.   There might, after all, be a false ending of the quest.  So, "you just know" might not be an adequate answer.
And the true order of going, or being led by another, to the things of love, is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that other beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all fair forms, 

Diotima here repeats the steps.  But she also varies this.  For example beginning with the beauties of the earth is beginning in a much broader place than beginning with the particular look of a beloved person.   Many students are concerned that one must start with sexual love, with lust.  This is not necessarily the case, as can be seen in this comment about "beauties of earth."  Another factor in this is that Diotima is now speaking of two species of love, not several.  So there is an implicit dualism here.  The lower beauties are things to begin with.  The upper beauty is Beauty itself.   The "beauties of earth" seems to refer to the process of going from one to two to all fair forms, i.e. all beautiful appearances on the earth.

and from fair forms to fair practices, and from fair practices to fair notions,

Again, there is big distinction between this and the earlier version of the ladder (if we are to accept Jowett's translation...which is always my proviso).  Beautiful practices and notions are not exactly the same as beautiful institutions and science:  here too the category is more general, and therefore, in a way, more acceptable.

 until from fair notions he arrives at the notion of absolute beauty, and at last knows what the essence of beauty is.
 I wonder whether arriving at the notion of absolute beauty is the same as knowing the essence of beauty.  Probably is.

 This, my dear Socrates," said the stranger of Mantineia, "is that life above all others which man should live, in the contemplation of beauty absolute; 

Most people will balk at this.  After all, there are many other choices in life.  Who really devotes him or herself to contemplation of absolute beauty?  In what sense can this really be the way man should live?   Perhaps Socrates was doing this when he was transfixed in the doorway before coming to the Symposium.  But even he did not devote his entire life to such contemplation.  So it seems to be an unreasonable demand.  Is it a symbol for the entire pursuit of beauty?  I could see saying that the goal of life is to pursue beauty both through making aspects of the world more beautiful and through seeing the beauty in things, all of which cannot happen unless one grasps the essence of beauty.

a beauty which if you once beheld, you would see not to be after the measure of gold, and garments, and fair boys and youths, whose presence now entrances you; 

Protagoras had said that man is the measure of all things.  Here the question rather is how one measures beauty, or rather determines that something is beautiful and to what extent.  This list, of gold, garments and beautiful youths is a list of things commonly said to be beautiful, things that also entrance, and yet these things are beautiful in a superficial way.  

and you and many a one would be content to live seeing them only and conversing with them without meat or drink, if that were possible-you only want to look at them and to be with them. 

This of course is a description of a lover, who is "mad" in a certain way.  It is interesting that the lover is willing to sacrifice some material goods, meat and drink, for this thing which is less direct and more contemplative, i.e. looking at the beautiful beloved, and being with them, which also requires that one is involved in conversation with the beloved.

But what if man had eyes to see the true beauty-the divine beauty, I mean, pure and dear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colours and vanities of human life

As previously mentioned, it might seem wiser then to avoid these colors and vanities and seek the divine beauty directly. Why is there even a ladder of love?  Why start with what is already polluted?

-thither looking, and holding converse with the true beauty simple and divine?

 True beauty replaces the beloved boy as something to hold converse with and something to look at.   But converse and communion imply something mutual.  What can we offer Beauty itself?

 Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be enabled to bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities (for he has hold not of an image but of a reality), 

Bringing forth realities based on having taken hold of a reality:  this would mean creating beautiful things in this world. 

and bringing forth and nourishing true virtue to become the friend of God and be immortal, if mortal man may. Would that be an ignoble life?" 

 What are the beautiful things brought forth.  They constitute true virtue.  This "true virtue" is not necessarily moral virtue or just moral virtue:  it is excellent generally.  

Contrary to most religions, here the only immortality available to man is this one in which the seeker becomes "friend of God"  leading the noble life, a life in which true virtue is constantly created out of apprehension, contemplation and creation of beautiful things.  An afterlife is not at issue here. Virtue in the context of love and beauty might be a matter of actualizing one's excellence through seeking out and finding the essences of things.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Derrida Economimesis: An outline and comments [not completed]

On one level Derrida's "Economimesis" is just a close reading of Kant's Analytic of the Beautiful in the Critique of Judgment (with some side moves to the Introduction).  It is sometimes difficult when reading this text to determine when Kant leaves off and Derrida begins.  There are many lengthy quotes by Kant and some of the explications of Kant are fairly straightforward.  Sometimes one gets the feeling that Derrida approves of what Kant is saying, but he may not outright say this.  Economimesis is a deconstructive critique of Kant's great work.  The strategy Derrida uses is to note various oppositions in Kant's thought and then show how those oppositions are questioned, sometimes dissolved, and so forth.  The reading is extremely difficult, but not without value. It appears in the textbook I am using this semester Continental Aesthetics:  Romanticism to Postmodernism, and I will cite from that.  I cannot pretend to be a Derrida specialist:  this is just my best effort to understand what is going on here.  I will number the paragraphs.

  1. It is usually helpful in reading Derrida to focus on the key Derridean (i.e. in this case non-Kantian) terms being used.  For example in the first paragraph Derrida mentions politics and political economy, and of course this relates to the made-up term used as title to the essay.  Derrida observes that politics acts upon this discourse, although it does not play a prominent role in Kant's actual discussion.  A typical move for the deconstructionist is to show the underlying political context.  This is something that deconstructionism shares with Marxism.  Derrida suggests that the motifs here go back to Plato and Aristotle in one chain of discourse, and to other philosophical chains as well (for example, Marxism), although, now talking in a metaphilosophical may, the same concept will have a different meaning in different sequences, its identity based on the way it functions in the particular discourse.  He talks in the end of "elaboration, that is dislocation, by the structure of the parergon" which means simply that it is subject to deconstruction.
  2. Production as Mimesis.  We pretend to find a point of departure in examples or locations which are neither empirical nor metaempirical.
  3. These locations are motivated by the concept of economimesis, a term created to combine mimesis and economics, and although they seem unrelated to each other, there is a systematic link.  (The opposition between these two is deconstructed.  This may be the primary deconstruction of the essay.)  Further, with respect to economy, there is no opposition between economy of circulation (regular economy) and general economy (the use of the term "economy" that is much broader and metaphorical...relations of exchange on a broad cultural level.)  
  4. The locations in the text are two statements about economics in the first restrictive sense, i.e. about salary.  Although such statements are rare in the text they are not insignificant.  The theory of mimesis is bracketed by these statements.
  5. One is in section 43 of the Critique of Judgment where free art is defined in opposition to mercenary art.  The other is in 51 where the free arts are independent of salary.  
  6. The first statement is related to the definition of art, which comes late in the book.  Kant had just said that natural beauty is superior to art from a moral point of view since nature speaks to us symbolically through its beautiful forms.  But this also leads us to think of nature as though it were art production.  
  7. Kant seems to define art as not nature "thus subscribing to the inherited, ossified, simplified, opposition between techne and physis" and the related one between the play of freedom and mechanical necessity.  Derrida will work on deconstructing these distinctions as well.  His negativity about the opposition can be seen in the quoted adjectives.   He first observes that "analogy annuls this opposition" since, for Kant. Nature dictates what is free in production of art through Genius.  Genius receives its rules from nature.  Previous philosophers, especially Plato, have attacked imitation in art, but this is undermined, as it turns out that nature, in giving rules to the genius, "folds itself, returns to itself, reflects itself through art."  So, although direct imitation of nature is perhaps still condemned, there is this indirect imitation through nature's power over genius.  [I am not sure I agree with Derrida's analysis here since Kant seems to be saying rather that it is the nature of the genius that gives the rule to art, not some external nature, not nature in the wild, for example.]  So both the oppositions of physis (nature) and mimesis (imitative art) and physis and tecne (craft) are overcome.  Note that Derrida is saying that Kant is doing this deconstruction.  As in other writings there is a sense that everything Derrida is bringing out is already, strangely, there in Kant.
  8.  Derrida speaks of "apparently irreducible oppositions" which are finally dissolved.  He also asks what political economy is advantaged by this dissolution.  I am not sure what this means:  perhaps a better political system, a freer less capitalist one would be advantaged
  9. To dissolve them these oppositions must be produced and multiplied.  This is Derrida's methodology:  he shows more and more oppositions and then dissolves them.
  10. An example of this multiplication is within art in general where the opposition forms a hierarchy in which one side is always classified as more valuable, for example one art as more properly art than another. (Collingwood could be said to make such a distinction, i.e. between amusement art and art properly speaking.)  Derrida will seek to dissolve this too.
  11. Kant says that we should only call "art" the production of freedom by means of freedom, using free will and reason.  Thus the product of bees is not art.  This humanist theme treats animality in general under certain examples, in this case the bee, which is opposed to the human.  The human is always seen as associated with reason, freedom, etc.  The other is not.  The concept of art is constructed to raise man from "below."  So Aristotle argues that only man is capable of mimesis.   What this is leading to is a deconstruction (which is usually just a questioning) of the standard duality between man and animal.  Derrida also finds a "ruse" in this:  that what is unique to man is said to be grounded in absolute naturalism and "indifferentialism" which is to say that differentiation is effaced by opposition. The ruse is the effacement. Derrida wants to go the other way, replacing opposition with difference.
  12. So bees have no art, or have it only by analogy.
  13. Art is also distinguished from science.  This is another of the multiplying oppositions which needs deconstruction.  In art it is not enough to have knowledge to do it.  For science, to know is to know how.  But high-wire dancing is different:  it is not enough to know about it.  Art is like that, on this view.
  14. For Kant, art cannot then be reduced to craft.  The craftsman exchanges the value of his work for a salary.  But art is liberal, free:  it is not part of economics, not exchangeable.  Derrida somewhat confusingly says that liberal art and mercenary art are not then opposite terms.  I think he means they are not exactly opposite since liberal art is considered to be more art, to have more value, and precisely because it does not have economic value.  Derrida will deconstruct this too.  Mercenary art is, for Kant, only art analogically.  And it is like the productivity of bees, lacking such things as freedom and play of imagination.  So the opposition here is play and work -- also to be deconstructed.
  15. So, for Kant, free art is more human than salaried work as with the work of bees.  The free man is not homo oeconomicus.
  16. 2. The free man may use the work of man insofar as he is not free.  This is, of course, the basis for capitalist exploitation.
  17. 3.  But Kant also must distinguish reproductive and productive imagination, the later being free and playful.  
  18. Poetry is the summit of fine art, taking productive imagination to its extreme.  But mimesis comes in here too since it "deploys the brute power of its invention only by listening to nature."  So nature replaces God in the enlightenment ideology:  we have now "onto-theological humanism."  Genius takes this productivity to its highest point:  it both gives rules and also (in a seemingly contradictory fashion) has rules dictated to it by nature.  Thus the distinction between liberal and mercenary art breaks with mimesis as imitation only to identify itself with nature itself freely unfolding.  The idea of genius as creating its own rules through nature is the key to Derrida's deconstruction.
  19. The free play also offers enjoyment which should be distinguished from pleasure.  The definition that Kant uses to distinguish Fine Arts "does not proceed by symmetrical opposition" since Fine Arts do not all belong to the liberal arts some of which are Sciences.
  20. What then characterizes the Fine Arts?
  21. An art that produces the beautiful need not be beautiful itself.  But it is connected since "the relation to the product cannot, structurally, be cut off from the relation to a productive subjectivity..."  This is implied by the signature of the artist on his or her work.  So the beautiful is not only the object but also the work that goes into making it.  The signature is in the "parergonal thickness of the frame":  neither wholly out or in the work.  The beautiful is also in the passage between the process and the product: it "depends on some paregonal effect."  Thus Fine-Arts are "always of the frame and the signature."  Derrida thinks Kant would not endorse this but it is consistent with his system.
  22.   To say an art is fine one implies "a repetition, a possibility of beginning again."
  23. The repetition is of a pleasure.  Science cannot be beautiful just as art cannot have scientific value, and, for Kant, the beauty of a scientific statement would just be a witticism.
  24.   Science must do without wit, art, beauty and pleasure.  But Derrida will seek to deconstruct this set of distinctions too.
  25. He does this (i.e. shows how Kant himself deconstructs it) by turning to the Introduction where pleasure is in the distant origin of knowledge.  
  26. This"immemorial time" is not a time of consciousness.  Here pleasure was not separated from knowledge.  We are led back to "the buried or repressed origin of science, that is to the science of science, to the point where all the distinctions, oppositions, limits remarked by the Kantian critique lose their pertinence."  Deconstruction is a matter of going back to this time.  Derrida notes sweeping consequences here.  [Is Derrida advocating something like Rousseau's return to the state of nature?]
  27. So, for Kant, the Fine Arts give pleasure and not enjoyment, science gives neither, and the fine arts (small letters) give pleasure without enjoyment.  [This distinction between Fine Arts and fine arts is not familiar to me in reading Kant.]
  28. Mechanical art neither seeks nor gives pleasure:  it is opposed to aesthetic art which ends in pleasure.
  29. Aesthetic art, too, splits into hierarchic species:  there is aesthetic art that has no relation to the beautiful, e.g. the agreeable arts, which have enjoyment as their aim, whereas the Fine Arts seek pleasure without enjoyment.  The arts of enjoyment include conversation, party games, etc.
  30. Pure pleasure without empirical enjoyment belongs to judgment and reflection.  Derrida seeks to deconstruct this distinction too [as I have in my work in everyday aesthetics].
  31.  This pleasure is according to the order of a society, a reflective intersubjectivity.
  32. So what is the relation with economimesis?  This taking pleasure belongs to the essence of man capable of pure non-exchangeable productivity...not in terms of use value or exchange values (to use the terms of Marx.)
  33. "nevertheless this pure productivity of the inexchangeable liberates a sort of immaculate commerce"  i.e. universal communicability between free subjects.  This is the pure economy of the free man.
  34. Mimesis comes in since a certain "as if" re-establishes it at the point where it appears detached.  Fine Arts must have the appearance of nature, must resemble effects of natural action:  the purposiveness of its form must seem to be as free as if it were the product of pure nature.
  35. What is the scope of the "as if"? (436)
  36.   The less pure productivity depends on nature the more it resembles nature: mimesis here is not the representation of one thing by another:  not the relation of two products but of two productions, two freedoms.  The artist then imitates acts of nature.  So the mimesis displays the identification of the human with the divine, a commerce between divine and human artist.  The commerce is mimesis "in the strict sense, a play, a mask, an identification with the other on stage" not a copy.  So true mimesis is between two producers.  Imitation, by contrast, is servile.
  37. This secures the hierarchical opposition between free and mercenary art  "Economimesis puts everything in its place, starting with the instinctual work of animals without language and ending with God, passing by way of the mechanical arts, mercenary art, liberal arts, aesthetic arts, and the Fine-Arts."  That is, it establishes the hierarchy.
  38.  So the structure of mimesis effaces the opposition between nature and art.  [I find this confusing since in the preceding paragraph it established a hierarchy.  Is hierarchy different from opposition?]  We rediscover the root of pleasure in knowledge.  Derrida then diverges to a discussion of Aristotle on mimesis.  For Aristotle mimesis is essential to man.  But Kant thinks imitation is aping:  the ape cannot mime.  So Aristotle is back at the joining of knowledge and pleasure.  He sees man as different from other animals in being good at imitation, and taking pleasure in it.
  39. Why are Aristotle and Kant different here? They are not so different.  Kant does not exclude the unity of pleasure and knowledge:  he merely re-assigns it to the unconscious at some immemorial time.  Also, here, nature is an art and natural beauty a product of that.  Kant says nature was beautiful when it was seen as art and that art cannot be beautiful unless we are conscious of it as art but see it as nature.  
  40.   Art is beautiful to the degree it is like productive nature.  Kant again has led us back to a time before his critique and before all of the disassociations and oppositions. 
  41.    "The beautiful brings productive nature back to itself, it qualifies a spectacle that artist-nature has given itself.  God has given himself to be seen in a spectacle,  just as if he had masked - had shown - himself."   This paragraph is difficult.  It may be indicating a theology.  Derrida speaks of "an immense liberality which however can only give itself in itself to be consumed."  I wonder whether this is something he favors, i.e. as a virtue.
  42.   But how can man's freedom be said to resemble that of God? It resembles by not imitating.
  43.  The mimesis can only proceed by exemplars.
  44. Thy genius naturalizes economimesis.  It is produced and given by nature. It is a gift of nature.  "Nature produces freedom for itself and gives it to itself" and in giving non-conceptual rules of art, i.e. exemplars, the genius reflects nature.
  45.   The originality of the genius and its exemplarity must incite a certain imitation (back to Aristotle)  but one that avoids plagiarism.  We have free imitation of a freedom of genius which freely imitates divine freedom.  [Note that this is a rejection of Plato in that the string of imitations does not reduce freedom]  Kant distinguishes between imitation and copy, the two terms only being different by one letter.
  46. Then when nature has "detached genius" everything is naturalized, interpreted as nature, "the content of empirical culturalism, the political economy of art"...[it is not clear what is happening here]
  47. The second remark on salary distinguishes between the orator and the poet.
  48.  The poet is at the summit analogous to God.He gives more than he promises.  He breaks the circular economy (traditional economics.)  A transeconomy is a general economy of the subject says Nick Mansfield.
  49. Economesis "unfolds itself there to infinity" as in Hegel:  "An infinite circle plays [with] itself and uses human play to reappropriate the gift for itself."  This may refer to Hegel's Absolute.  The poet receives from nature/God the power to give more than he promises.   This "surplus value" makes its return to the infinite source.  [I wonder whether Derrida believes in God.  This sounds a bit too mystical for my taste.] And this passes through the voice.  [The next part is very poetic and the only thing one can do is quote.]  As a result the opposition between restricted and general economy is effaced.  He speaks of "passage of the infinity between gift and debt."  What is debt?
  50.  Giving more than he promises is something conceptual.  The genius is not paid but God supports him with speech and in return for gratitude.  God gives him surplus.
  51. This is poetic since God is a poet.  [Why doesn't Derrida deconstruct this hierarchy God/poet too?]
  52. This structure has its analogue in the city:  the poet must eat, must sustain the labor force.  He receives subsidies from the sun-king, Frederick the Great.  Kant's use of Frederick's poem is no accident.  There is an economics behind this, and a hierarchy.
  53.  The poem of Frederick describes the overabundance of a solar source.  The various helio-poetics of Plato, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche and Bataille form an analogical chain.  
  54. Derrida quotes from the poem and Kant's footnote about Isis as Mother Nature:  here the concept of virtue diffuses many sublime and restful feelings which not definite concept can match.
  55. Exemplorality.  Perhaps we are approaching the embouchure..
  56.  opening onto economimesis.
  57.   pure productivity is "a sort of gift for itself of God who makes a present of himself to himself"
  58. The analogy between God and Poet finds its origin in the logos, reason, word, the embouchure.
  59. Now it must be deconstructed.
  60. Nature furnishes rules to genius as orders.  The discursive metaphors in the text (nature says) are analogies of analogy: nature is properly logos towards which one must always return.  "Analogy is always language."
  61. Genius agrees to be nature's secretary, inspired.  It has no concept or knowledge.  
  62.  Nature also the the product of the divine genius.  Productive imagination creates a second nature.  Genius, first nature, and God.  "Such hierarchical analogy forms a society of the logos, a sociology of genius, a logoarchy."  
  63. What does it mean for analogy to be a rule.  Derrida gets very poetic/witty here:  "It means what it means and that it says that it means wheat it wants and that it wants what it wants, for example,"
  64. To continue:  "It is by example that it means that it means and that it says that it means that it wants and that it wants what it wants by example."  
  65. Analogy between the rule of art and the moral rule:  that analogy is the rule.    But the articulated play of this analogy is itself "subject to a law of supplemenarity"
  66.   The purpose-lessness leads us back to ourselves:  we seek purpose within:  we slurp, giving ourselves orders which no longer come from outside.
  67.   This is a movement of idealizing interiorisation:  for Kant we seek it in our ultimate purpose.
  68.  Not finding our purpose in our aesthetic experience we fold ourselves back towards the purpose of our Da-Sein (Heidegger: Being in the World):  we are there to respond to a vocation of autonomy/morality.  There there of our Dasein first determined by this purpose.
  69.  Here analogies multiply concerning the language of nature. We take a moral interest in the beautiful of nature:  for nature harbors a principle of harmony between its productions and our disinterested pleasure:  a harmony between purposiveness of nature and our delight.
  70. How does one announce the adherence between adherence and non-adherence?  Derrida is speaking here of the adherence of interest and disinterest.
  71. By means of signs.  This is the "primary place of signification in the third Critique."  Nature announces to us by signs and traces there must be a harmonious agreement between its purposiveness and our disinterested delight.  
  72. Meditation on this pleasure provokes a moral interest in the beautiful.  Derrida:  strange this interest taken in disinterestedness, moral revenue from production without interest, moral surplus value of the without, related to the trace and sign of nature.  We may be assured our stocks are on the moral rise.
  73. The account may seem too studied regarding the interpretation of the cipher of beautiful natural forms.
  74.  The without of pure detachment is a language nature speaks to us:  but this, in common with Heraclitus, causes the parergon to strain.
  75.   The in-significant non-language of forms, silence, is a language between nature and man
  76. The charms\, colors and sounds for example, also seem to converse:  the white color of lilies dispose us to ideas of innocence.
  77.  The trace and wink of nature do not have to be objectively regulated by conceptual science.  It is our interest in nature's communicating that matters:  we believe in the sincerity of the ciphered language.  And what speaks through the mouth of the poet also must be veridical.  If a poet speaks of a nightingale's song but it is really a trickster, that is ignoble.  Oral examples are important here:  Kant says it is ignoble to confine ourselves to eating and drinking.  Exemplorality is exemplary orality.  There is an allergy i the mouth between pure taste and actual tasting. But would not disgust, turning against actual taste, be the origin of pure taste?