Unreal Nature

July 13, 2017

Distribution of the Sensible

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… The moral and the ethical are often practically at odds.

This is from the essay ‘Toward an Aesthetics of Ethics’ (2015) found in Walead Beshty: 33Texts: 93,614 Words: 581,035 Characters: Selected Writings (2003-20015) edited by Lionel Bovier (2015):

… As art production bleeds into the dynamic world of the social, reflecting its participation within open-ended circulatory systems, the meaning and significance of the work of art is increasingly difficult to discuss within the object-based discourses of art history and criticism, which favor discrete easily delineated and predominantly static objects of investigation.

[line break added] Change over time is particularly difficult for such discourses to describe, often resulting in an indeterminate and vague terminology that dead-ends in buzzwords such as “interactive,” “contingent,” or “open-ended,” without producing much clarity about the nature of the variables at work in each instance.

[line break added] In light of such shortcomings, the question arises as to what criteria ought to be applied to works that make active use of their dependence on systems of distribution and social traffic. One strategy has been the application of activist, public health or social work criteria to ascertain the efficacy of the art object.

… The trouble is that social efficacy is in no way the same as artistic efficacy. … Yet often social efficacy becomes the primary justification for a certain form of participatory political art, often applied regardless of its actual ability to be viable within the public sphere, thus failing both as art and as social work.

… rather than an ethics of aesthetics, which despite being a worthy endeavor, has been undertaken numerous times before, and further, invariably resolves itself in a discourse external to that of art, the question examined here is, what might it mean to speak of an “aesthetics of ethics”? That is, what is an aesthetics (again, from the Greek root pertaining to the perceptible, the appearance of things) of social relations, and how do ethical relations create aesthetic form?

… it may be useful to distinguish the term ethics from the term it is commonly associated with: morals. Even in some scholarly contexts, the term ethics is conflated with morals, the latter of which I would provisionally define as a fixed set of rules or laws that prescribe how one ought to live one’s life regardless of circumstance. Ethics, in the philosophical sense developed by Aristotle, contains no fixed parameters.

… For example, while a moral claim would argue that to kill another human being is wrong in all circumstances, ethics provides no absolute rule, but rather establishes a basis for analysis that arises from the circumstance itself. This is not to say that ethics equates with relativism, but simply that there are no prima facie criteria other than the maximization of the common good, and that the common good is increased by acting in a virtuous manner (thus, a killing that saves lives would not necessarily be ethical, for the true ethicist would also maintain a belief in the individual’s right in the face of the many, and furthermore, would not assert one or the other position without an evaluation of the specific circumstance in question).

[line break added] In the context of a situation, the ethical conditions of a particular event or site are a means to describe the sort of interaction that is created by that event or site. While moral criteria are always external to the circumstances to which they are applied, the ethical is immanent to the site of its deployment. A turn to ethics is a turn to the affirmative question of art, not art as negation, allegory or critique, but the description of an art that operates directly upon the world it is situated in; it is a definition of art that is not at all premised on representation.

… The moral and the ethical are often practically at odds. An individual who asserts a morally acceptable, i.e. normatively correct or just, position can deploy unethical means to achieve it. Within aesthetics, consider the use of propaganda: the message of propaganda may be morally “correct,” seeking to promote positive action, but may also be unethical, in that it subordinates a viewer, addressing her or him in a coercive or threatening manner, or by appealing to fears or prejudice.

… This is a more radical proposition than it might seem initially; when one asks what the aesthetics of ethics are, one redefines the condition of aesthetics, for if aesthetics chiefly deals with the conditions of perception, negotiating what is perceivable, knowable, or sensate (in Rancièr’s terminology: the “distribution of the sensible”), a definition of artistic practice that accepts its social foundations as a raw material for its production radically expands the notion of what can be made perceivable and seeable.

My most recent previous post from Beshty’s book is here.

-Julie

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