Jacques Rancière taught a class entitled: POLITICS OF AESTHETICS wherein we discuss the relationship between what is allowed to be seen and the dominant political regime.
NOTE: As with all my notes from the European Graduate School, there will likely be mistakes because I did not record the lectures, I made notes as they spoke, so I am perhaps interpreting what they are saying as I am writing.
How the aesthetic revolution is transformed and ultimately canceled-out. It's not so much what Brecht, Baudrillard, or Lyotard said as much as how they construct the relationship between art and politics. The issue of post-modernism is one of re-framing Modernity. Not a new concept, but a re-framing of art and politics. The way in which they will say farewell to Modernity has led to a reconfiguration of Modernity.
"The Ecstasy of Communication" Baudrillard; published in Hal Foster's Anti-Aesthetics.
Attempts to punctuate a turning point of art, is also a turning point in the sensory experience. These texts are dealing with experience; they also recapitulate what Modernity means, a reinterpretation of the aesthetics of Modernism. The way in which they set the stage for this task is interesting.
- Diagnosis of loss or something that is about to be lost: the loss of separation, no longer borders.
- Tow ideas of the sensory: heterogeneity and homogeneity.
- For Baudrillard it's the loss of subject and object, we have lost alienation. This should be a good thing, in Marxist terms, but the issue is trickier.
Now is the reign of hyper-reality. What has been lost with the digital is, on one hand, the spectacle of the world, and the sacred secret of the inner world. Everything is communicable and there is no separation of the inner and the outer. The specificity of artistic experimentation is lost due to digital reproduction.
If the progress of scientific apparatus is responsible for the end of Modernity, it is also responsible for the inception of Modernity. The birth of photography doesn't mean the task of image-making has been perfected but that painting is impacted and Classical pictures depended upon a certain monarchical perspective on the world.
Photography isn't only the possibility of exact reproduction, but also means the end of Kantian aesthetics of the beautiful. §16 is based on adherent beauty vs. free beauty; this was determined by freedom from concepts and perfection of the reproduction in technique.
Lyotard's "Representation, Presentation, Unpresentable"
Photography thus occupied the filed opened by the classical aesthetics of images, the aesthetics of the beautiful. Like classical painting, it appeals to a taste: a sort of common sense ought in principle to come to an agreement on the disinterested pleasure given by an image faced with which the sensibility to forms and colors on the one hand, and the faculty of rational organization (the understanding) on the other, find themselves in free harmony. And yet the nature of this accord is profoundly modified in photography as it is in the whole field of aesthetic objects in the world of capitalist techno-science. Kant insisted on the fact that the accord must remain free - i.e. that it is not ruled a priori by laws. The massive introduction of industrial and post-industrial techno-sciences, of which photography is only one aspect, obviously implies the meticulous programming, through optical, chemical, and photo-electronic means, of the fabrication of beautiful images. (121-2)Photography means an appreciation of beautiful in the______(?)
We have a separation, a production of adherent beautiful images with perfection of scientific process, but what is open to art is a new form of experimentation, the question of its own essence. This means painting no longer deals with representation, thus the avant-garde are committed to the old practice of art: to make are in which its own materials and its own self-criticism are to provide an inscription of the invisible. The idea of a divorce - art committed to its own self-investigation, a commitment to art itself:
Avant-garde painting escapes ex hypothesi from the aesthetics of the beautiful, its works do not call for the 'common sense' of a shared pleasure. These works appear to the public of taste to be 'monsters', 'formless' objects, purely 'negative' entities....(125)The historical task of the avant-garde, to answer to the public is lost. Art is forgetting its task of self-investigation due to the treason of artists being infected by consumerist culture:
Mixing on the same surface neo-, or hyper-realist motifs and abstract, lyrical or conceptual motifs means that everything is equivalent because everything is good for consumption. This is an attempt to establish and have approved a new 'taste'. This taste is no taste. What is called on by eclecticism are the habits of magazine readers, the needs of the consumer of standard industrial images - this is the spirit of the supermarket shopper. To the extent that this is postmodernism, via critics, museum and gallery directors and collectors, puts strong pressure on the artists, it consists in aligning research in painting with a de facto state of 'culture' and in deresponsibilizing the artists with respect to the question of the unpresentable. (127)Transavant-gardism returned to the image and mixing several traditions.
This is the temptation to which Badiou referred the other night; of novelty, this possibility of incorporating the opposite. The external pressures, to mix; we have this also in Baudrillard's The Conspiracy of Art. The mixing together of everything, where its all equivalent, artists are surpassing the boundary of art and consumption of everything. Thus everything is of the aesthetic of banality. The task of deconstruction of the object, to reshape the object according to the law of desire.... there is art so long as the struggle of deconstruction to give shape to the secret of subjectivity but this is lost when there is no longer a separation of interior and exterior.
There is this assertion of nullity, self-cancellation of art, in the face of consumerism; here is this diagnosis of loss, also the treason of artists in succumbing.
My second point: let's look at the presuppositions. For Lyotard, the avant-garde is supposed to reveal secrets, this is the assertion of what Mondrian meant.
Here we are far from the living-room and close to science fiction. But once more it must be seen that all these changes - the decisive mutations of objects and of the environment in the modern era - have come from an irreversible tendency towards three things: an ever greater formal and operational abstraction of elements and functions and their homogenization in a single virtual process of functionalization; the displacement of bodily movements and efforts into electric or electronic commands, and the miniaturization, in time and space, of processes whose real scene (though it is no longer a scene) is that of infinitesimal memory and the screen with which they are equipped. There is a problem here, however, to the extent that this electronic "encephalization" and miniaturization of circuits and energy, this transistorization of the environment, relegates to total uselessness, desuetude and almost obscenity all that used to fill the scene of our lives. It is well known how the simple presence of the television changes the rest of the habitat into a kind of archaic envelope, vestige of human relations whose very survival remains perplexing. As soon as this scene is no longer haunted by its actors and their fantasies, as soon as behavior is crystallized on certain screens and operational terminals, what's left appears only as a large useless body, deserted and condemned. The real itself appears as a large useless body. Baudrillard "The Ecstasy of Communication", 128-9.If we think of Baudrillard's description in "Ecstasy..." the end of Modernity, all this absorption by mechanical, what is described (like Vertov) is an excess of communication. All bodies being transformed into movement, this idea of the end of Modernity was a certain idea already contained in Modernity. Like Vertov said in the 1920s, we have to redeem the virtues of humanity in the perfected view of the machine. Eisenstein was calling for direct communication from brain to brain and the dismissal of the Romantic notion of the Image. What appears a catastrophe for Baudrillard was the goal of the avant-garde of the early 20th century.
The avant-gardes in painting fulfill romanticism, i.e. modernity, which, in its strongand recurrent sense, is the failure of stable regulation between the sensible and the intelligible. But at the same time they are a way out of romantic nostalgia because they do not try to find the unrepresentable at a great distance, as a lost origin or end, to be represented in the subject of the picture, but in what is closest, in the very matter of artistic work. Baudelaire is still romantic, but Joyce is not very, and Gertrude Stein even less. Füssli or Caspar David Friedrich are romantic, as is Delacroix, Cézanne less so, Delaunay or Mondrian hardly at all. The last-named obey the experimenting vocation (in what they do, if not always in what they write), but especially the evocation of the unrepresentable. Lyotard, "Representation, Presentation, Unpresentable" (126-7)The use of Mondrian here is odd because his work was the reconception of public and private life, a redesign of the world, less the canvas. Delaunay presented an idea of the world and art - its framing of space - these are less about the indescribable and more about getting art and what is sensible together in new ways. If Modernism meant something historically, it is the attempt at anticipating new ways of life. The Soviet revolution was to construct a new way of life. What's ultimately important is to go beyond politics into a new sensory world. Baudrillard has this nostalgia for the monstrous sublime, this was the opposite of I _____(?)
Creating a kind of capsule in which we are enveloped, this dream that Baudrillard and Sloterdijk is described by the avant-garde of the 1920s. The break announced by Lyotard and Baudrillard is the creation of a nonhistorical avant-garde like in Adorno and Greenberg's times. The way in which the reinterpretation of artistic dissensus, aesthetic experience is desensory, the sensible is organized in the process of desire. The Kantian experience is not one of knowledge but of desire. How to conceptualize this and how to make political sense in this, we think of Schiller's double negation: the power of the sensible and the power of form also an experience of equality where form no longer commands sensation or sensation commands understanding, this is naturalization.
The aesthetic experience, we are dealing with humanity overcoming the hierarchies of what is sensible.
I emphasize the ambiguity in Schiller, the experience is suspended and there is the elaboration of aesthetic education and experiencing. What is at stake in Lyotard is already at work in Adorno. The Philosophy of New Music (1947) states there are two kinds of artists: Stravinsky (bad) wants conciliation of music and other forms of art and its inclusion of jazz, etc. Schönberg (good) paradoxically, he makes a very entertaining system but this means he creates music that is a criticism of capitalism because it is still more terrorized than capitalist mechanisms, still more mechanical, more inhuman - but this inhumanity is the stain or mark of the repressed. It's a matter of reinscribing the opposition between capitalism and ordinary experience. The political task is to preserve the negative difference in the sensory itself. There is the possibility of emancipation to the extent that we cannot hear certain chords or see certain things.
Baudrillard. If we go back to Kant and Schiller. Kant sees the experience of beauty is the experience of a sensible experience at odds with the rest of sensory experience. Lyotard rejects this, he goes beyond the Frankfurt School and says beauty is agreeance of form and knowledge. The only real experience is the experience of the sublime. The sublime is impossibility, there is no direct correlation between experience and the mind's ability to schematize the experiences of pain and distance. The violence of the sensible and the violence of the suprasensible. Kant sees imagination unable to perform its task, there is no ability to construct a form. When imagination is put beyond its limits of ability, the experience of the sublime. The passage to moral freedom, from which ethics is possible, to the power of understanding, but also beyond nature.[NOTE: MY NOTES ARE A LITTLE SKETCHY HERE AND I AM INTERPRETING THESE ARROWS IN MY NOTEBOOK AS MAKING THE ABOVE STATEMENT, BUT I'M CONCERNED IT'S INCORRECT]
The Modern artist deals with violence of the sensible and resistance to matter, but the witness to the experience of the impossible - no correspondence between ideas and material forms, an experience of radical alterity. The point is to inscribe what makes the mind dispose of its own power. The experience of the sublime leads to radical alienation; for Lyotard it is opposite and leads to radical autonomy.
I'd like to add a few words, reinterpreting the aesthetic experience. Kant's sublime, like Lyotard, is the moment of freedom, it has become alienation. If there is a political task of art it is to inscribe, to witness the power of alterity, with consequesnces: the object of art is to present the unpresentable, it connects with a trend; the true avant-garde inscribes the impossible. Gérard Wajcman's Object of the Century (L'objet du siècle) states the object of the century was annihilation but the task is also thought to be otherness because we must witness this annihilation.
The experience of the beautiful is a break from ordinary experience; because this capacity to experience is possible it is also possible to form communities in sharing and communicating this shared capacity to experience. In Lyotard there is the idea of desensuality; but this is also in Kant, the direct experience of freedom for Lyotard is an alienation, an indirect freedom for Kant as he sees the experience occurring in the sublime. A suspension of constraint and the impossibility of constraint - these are the two ways in which freedom can be experienced. A radical separation occurs in the experience of the beautiful for Lyotard and it is a moment of desenus in this separation and it makes me feel like Moses. The subject is constructed not as free but as the one that is dependent on forces that he cannot control. Nonetheless, this is art as a vehicle for dissensus, there is no political redistribution, on the contrary there is the need for transformation.
The problem is, perhaps, to revive communication, but not in an instrumental way, it's still a Schillerian problem. I can't say more because if there were a solution then someone would have found it.
Lyotard goes more into the sublime, Rancière sees it more as free beauty? Yes, my position is to stress the decentralized nature of beauty. Beauty is not harmony but dissensu; it means opposing one world against another, that we create a new world. Kant and Schiller resonate with this because they call for this different world, an impossible world that we experience. Radical heteronymy. Lyotard says if the sublime [SEE EARLIER NOTE] is the core of the aesthetic experience, then in what ways can we make these worlds possible?
In Derrida, like Lyotard, there is this impossibility, a necessity to have life based on heteronymy and politics based on alterity, the one that cannot be interpreted or replaced. We have to confront our absolute dependency on the law of the Other; it is a moment of self-obliteration where there is equivalence. The way in which we construct dissensus, whether immanently or transcendentally.
We can already think of the sublime as an experience of beauty (Schiller), a double-bind, attracted and repulsed. Two possibilities: form identification so that we construct an experience of free play.
When the sublime is set-up as an impossibility then there is a problem because if we say it is impossible then it is not experiential. But this is the problem with thinkers - there is the logic of the system and then there is what was written.
What can we do when escape from fantasy is impossible?
1) identify every movement of fantasy in the aesthetic or political project; Vertovian communism is a form of fantasy but it doesn't construct an image of everyone happy, just that everyone is connected in equivalence, unlike Stalin who wanted everybody happy.
2) Or we create a world where fantasy can be ignored, sharing a world where such identifications are unimportant, the focus is new possibilities that can be shared.
Late Modernism has reconceptualized dissensus, it has to be incorporated into the work itself. The dissensus is between the object of desire and the idea of consumption (Lyotard, Baudrillard). The object of consumption tells you, "This is what you want," but this is a trap. The artist must remind us that the purpose of art must be beyond consumption, art must reframe such that the sensorium is in violent juxtaposition to culture. These are not my interpretations.
The witness is the free witness when he cannot speak any more, cannot even speak about it.
[END OF CLASS]