Unreal Nature

October 16, 2017

Shared Solitude

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… it is a willingness to let the works they make or collect run against their temperament, an aptitude to let their betrayals of taste rule over their taste, a readiness to surrender to those feelings that promise solitude rather than community.

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

… you cannot avoid constructing a conception of the historicity of art. In this, you are both close to and very different from the historian of art, for whom historicity was given with the concept of style: linearity of evolution, cycles of civilization, discontinuity of periodization, all contingent. Historicity is also given to you, but as jurisprudence: if styles are maintained, it is because the judgments of the past weigh on those of the present, and if they are broken, it is because a judgment contrary to custom has been passed. You inherit all that.

… Aesthetic experience does not get transmitted, it is not intersubjective. Only the name is transmitted, and it in no way guarantees the identity of the experience. It remains that, in art, there is no judgment by default and no baptism in absentia, and that the deictics of experience (this, here, now) bear witness to a feeling for which the occasion is unique, unreproducible, and nontransferable. The name is transmitted and repeated, but the baptism is renewed each time the named thing comes up for trial before a new occurrence of the feeling.

Now, it is the idea of art that summons the thing to appear. Indeed, it “measures” how plausible it is that this thing, here, be called into court to see its claim to be art checked against the testimonies of all things already called art, and be compared to them by dint of feeling. Your idea of art has been to a large extent transmitted to you along with the name, partially as unchecked rumor, that is, a prejudice, partially as unchallenged social value, that is, as ideology, and partially as re-judged jurisprudence, and this is what matters.

… Your feelings and your feelings alone can tell you whether the sense of rupture conveyed by a given work stems from resentment, impotence, and disavowed hatred of art, or whether it proceeds from a deep and understanding love for the fragility of the tradition’s weakest links. Consulting your feelings is a way of probing the plausibility that similar feelings presided over the making of the work you are judging — although with no guarantees whatsoever, which is, of course, true for all art, since the communication of feelings is indirect, being mediated by an object.

[line break added] But it is particularly true of the avant-garde, because to weaken a link in the chain of tradition means to attach less importance to the successful communication of feelings than to the lack of guarantee for this communication’s possible success. Thus, what those artists and art lovers who share your tradition have in common with you is not a given set of feelings, a temperament, or a taste; it is a willingness to let the works they make or collect run against their temperament, an aptitude to let their betrayals of taste rule over their taste, a readiness to surrender to those feelings that promise solitude rather than community.

[line break added] More than anything else, the stuff of the tradition you belong to is the paradoxical sharing of the sense of being alone. What this shared solitude stands for is both the right to judge by yourself and the duty to judge as if you were not alone; and the ability, the “talent” that this calls for is a capacity to read your feelings as if they were objects projected outside of yourself, forces traversing you, social facts.

[line break added] The more a work forbids you to call it art in peaceful agreement with yourself, the more it invites you to increase the plausibility that it be compared with the works that other times, other people, nations, races, social classes, and the other gender might call art. And the more it upsets your idea of art and arouses in you the feeling that the unexpected has arrived, the more you will sense that it has precisely expected you to broaden your expectations.

… And yet, as an ideal, art in general ought to be the collective possession of humankind; the radically impersonal collection it represents ought to be ours, universally.

… What is this tradition if not the genealogy through which the name “art” was transmitted and shifted from the works of the past onto those of the avant-garde, when it passed from an era where it meant beauty, perhaps, or perfection in sensitivity, or excellence in skill, to an era where it was at once believed, wished, and feared that it meant the most absolute indeterminacy of sense and its polymorphous opening onto nonsense?

[line break added] It is the avant-garde as tradition betrayed and betrayal transmitted; it is consensus as impossible; it is art as non-art and non-art as art. And thus, there is no better name for it than art, art in general. This paradoxical jurisprudence leads you to recognize, and to judge, that the avant-garde is not only a tradition, but the continuation of tradition tout court.

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

-Julie

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