Unreal Nature

August 28, 2017

The Symbol of an Impossible Consensus

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… there is agreement about the fact that disagreement is necessary in order for the name “art” to be invoked and provoked …

Continuing through Kant after Duchamp by Thierry de Duve (1996):

… the sentence “art is everything that is called art” is no longer a logical proposition the minute you add to it the mark of a “subject-of-utterance” that is presumed but necessary: “… called art by us.” Since we are fighting over the meaning of art, the word “art” cannot avoid taking on plural and contradictory meanings. Moreover, since the very fight over the meaning of the word “art” is its most salient meaning when art is equated with the avant-garde, its features can no loner be reduced to logical predicates.

[line break added] So, the question that the logician asked him- or herself undergoes a considerable rephrasing. He or she wondered what all the things humans call art might have in common, and you wonder what we might have in common that predisposes us to agree to call art the same things, whether because the agreement is in effect, or whether, in order for such a desire to grip us, in order for such a dream even to be thinkable, it might be in effect some day.

[line break added] The germ of an answer soon arises: we all have an aptitude for language, for communication — in short, for signs in general. Moreover, this common faculty is also our common fatality. We dwell in language as we do in society or history; it preexists us and constitutes us down to our very unconscious. What works of art have in common is what we have invested in them, driven by our common necessity to produce signs that in turn produce us.

… Consensus, which for your part you call successful communication, is no longer the enigma it was for the sociologist. It is simply the exception, a special case that exists when the message is exceptionally primitive, or the coding exceptionally strict, or the channel exceptionally pure. The rule is polysemy, equivocation, noise, dissemination.

[line break added] The rule is art, poetic language, the text without author, because each of its readers is counted among its producers. Art, all that by this common — and convenient — name we call art, is this infinite “rustle of language” (Roland Barthes) accompanied, assumed to the point of its madness, analyzed for its explosive pulverization, then catalyzed in the name of the impossible consensus it signifies and substitutes for.

… Where consensus about an avant-garde work exists, there is agreement about the fact that disagreement is necessary in order for the name “art” to be invoked and provoked; and where consensus does not exist, it exists negatively, since disagreement is necessary in order to signify that consensus is desired and desirable only when it is impossible. Thus, you have to interpret the identity of contraries that makes of art and non-art an indivisible couple.

… The consensus around the avant-garde is always a minority one; otherwise it is not about the avant-garde. It is always forced, since it is a result of force. It is always both alienated and alienating. And it is always anticipated when it is desired and premature when it happens. That is to say, when the other name of art is avant-garde, this sign is always caught in the grip of a double necessity — to be the symbol of an impossible consensus and to be the symptom of an inevitable dissension.

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

-Julie

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