… This contact is beyond the work, at its limit, in a sense beyond art: but without art, it would not take place.
Continuing through — and concluding — the essay ‘The Sublime Offering’ in A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):
… Sublime imagination touches the limit, and this touch lets it feel “its own powerlessness.” If presentation takes place above all in the realm of the sensible — to present is to render sensible — sublime imagination is always involved in presentation insofar as this imagination is sensible. But here sensibility no longer comprises the perception of a figure but rather the arrival at the limit. More precisely, sensibility is here to be situated in the imagination’s sentiment of itself when it touches its limit. The imagination feels itself passing to the limit.
… The sublime is that through which the beautiful touches us and not that through which it pleases us. [ … ] The sublime is in the contact of the work, not in its form. This contact is beyond the work, at its limit, in a sense beyond art: but without art, it would not take place. The sublime is — that art should be [soit] exposed and offered.
… Kant speaks of “the simplicity which does not yet know how to dissimulate”; he calls it “naïveté,” and the laughter or rather the smile in the face of this naïveté (which one must not confuse, he insists, with the rustic simplicity of the one who doesn’t know how to live) possesses something of the sublime. However, “to represent naïveté in a poetic character is certainly a possible and beautiful art, but a rare one.”
Would he characterize this extremely rare art as being henceforth a telos of art? There is in the offering something of the “naïve” in Kant’s sense. There is sometimes, in today’s art, something of the offering understood in this way. Let us say: something of a childhood (doubtless nothing new about this but a more strongly marked accent). The childlike art no longer inhabits the heights or the depths as did the sublime but simply touches the limit, without any disarticulating excess, without “sublime” exaltation, but also without puerility or silliness. It is a powerful but delicate vibration, difficult, continuous, acute, offered upon the surfaces of canvasses, screens, music, dance, and writing. Mondrian spoke, apropos of jazz and “neo-plasticism,” of “the joy and the seriousness which are simultaneously lacking in the bloodless culture of form.” In what art offers today to its future, there is a certain kind of serenity (Mondrian’s word). It is neither reconciliation nor immobility nor peaceful beauty, but it is not sublime (self-)laceration either, assuming the sublime is supposed to involve (self-)laceration. The offering renounces (self-)laceration, excessive tension, and sublime spasms and syncopations. But it does not renounce infinite tension and distance, striving and respect, and the always renewed suspension that gives art its rhythm like a sacred inauguration and interruption. It simply lets them be offered to us.
My most recent previous post from Nancy’s ‘Sublime’ essay is here.