Thursday, 15 September 2011

System seminar continues

As the group discussed at our last meeting before the summer, the “System” seminar (subtitle: The body and its systems: phenomenology, technology and modernity) will take the Latour/ Harman debate as its sole theme.

So, we’ll be reading The Prince and the Wolf

 The dates are now set, and will not change. The 1st session will be on Wed. Oct. 12th (2011) at 5.15pm in the Gradcam Building, near to NCAD, Dublin. And will follow every three weeks after this.

Also, I want to channel all activity for the seminar through this blog. The previous discussions are available to view here on the old ACW site  NB - please don't post anything more here.

Please pass this on to anyone who you think will find it interesting and useful.


Merleau-Ponty outlines what is at stake in the phenomenological reduction in the opening pages of The Phenomenology of Perception

“The best formulation of the reduction is probably that given by Eugen Fink, Husserl’s assistant, when he spoke of ‘wonder’ in the face of the world. Reflection does not withdraw from the world towards the unity of consciousness as the world’s basis; it steps back to watch the forms of transcendence fly up like sparks from a fire; it slackens the intentional threads which attach us to the world and thus brings them to our notice; it alone is consciousness of the world because it reveals that world as strange and paradoxical.”

However, whilst he argues that the phenomenological reduction is never fully achievable and that “the most important lesson which the reduction teaches us is the impossibility of a complete reduction,”
he also claims that this is no reason to not incorporate it into the phenomenological method and that: “the incompleteness of the reduction …is not an obstacle to the reduction, it is the reduction itself.”

In short Merleau-Ponty argues that although a complete indifference toward the natural attitude is not possible, he seems to prefigure the claims of Speculative Realism that the attempt to do so is necessary.

At this point, perhaps its helpful to compare Dan Zahavi’s claims that philosophy in the guise of phenomenology should suspend naivety (which is what the epoché does) and Graham Harman’s claim for Speculative Realism at the very beginning of The Quadruple Object that philosophy should attempt to recapture naivety.

“Instead of beginning with radical doubt, we start from naivete. What philosophy shares with the lives of scientists, bankers, and animals is that all are concerned with objects… Once we begin from naivete rather than doubt, objects immediately take centre stage… But whereas the naïve standpoint of [The Quadruple Object] makes no initial claim as to which of these objects is real or unreal, the labor of the intellect is usually taken to be critical rather than naieve. Instead of accepting this inflated menagerie of entities, critical thinking debunks objects and denies their autonomy.”

I think that there are 2 ways in which to read these differing accounts of naivety.

First that aesthetic activities continue the work of phenomenology by implementing the epoché which is, as I am arguing here, comparable to aesthetic experience. Hence, my claim that the epoché is a form of aesthetic reflection and a means by which naivety is recaptured. My point here is that naivety is very difficult if not impossible to achieve. And can only be done so when the natural attitude is suspended.

Second that whilst continuing phenomenology Speculative Realism moves beyond what was ever possible via the phenomenological method. It does so by shifting its attention away from the correlation of mind and world to the realms that lie beyond this correlation and about which we can only speculate on, tell fictions about and creatively imagine.

So, Speculative Realism aspires to grasp the weirdness of the worlds of objects as they exist outside of the network of human meanings, and beyond their presence to human consciousness. This means to approach the world from a position of naiveté in which our own interested correlations within a system of objects is suspended.

Further, as already mentioned, this sounds very similar to the move of the epoché in Husserl who claims (in the Krisis) that through it a new way of experiencing, of thinking of theorizing is opened to the philosopher.

However the bracketing of the natural attitude required for the epoche is difficult if not impossible to achieve. And this leads to my main claim here that aesthetic experience is a route to such bracketing; hence my claim that objects and spaces of art have the potential to be philosophically meaningful.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

What can be expected from art?

It sometimes seems that too much is expected of art. Especially now. The accepted truths that it will provide salvation or perhaps even revolution in troubled times are often repeated.

And it also seems that not enough is expected of art. Especially now. High expectations are shunned in favour of accepted truths: that art’s purpose is as Matisse said, to be an armchair for tired businessmen; that art is merely a high-end commodity and an interior design solution; or perhaps that art is a career opportunity for the makers, curators, writers and their entourages who are supported by its various revenues, support structures and reputational economies.

Both these expectations are underwritten by two different understanding of what art works are and what art practice can do. Having taught for several years in an art school, I find that the majority of students’ expectations for their practice, at least when they begin their studies, rests on two presuppositions which are in simultaneous yet contradictory tension with one another.

On the one hand it’s often claimed that the meaning of works of art lies in their expression of MY feelings, MY culture, and MY politics. In other words it’s thought that works of art give particular expression to an individual subject and their aesthetic, social and political aspirations. This is supported by an expressive theory of art. This means that individual desires for salvation or revolution could be expressed and given form in emancipatory or revolutionary works of art.

On the other hand it’s often claimed that the meaning of works of art is nothing to do with what the individual artist. YOU make of it whatever YOU want, whenever YOU want. Meaning lies instead in the myriad contexts in which art becomes embedded. This is supported by a contextual theory of art in which works of art are in a continual relationship with their contexts and their meanings are open and fluid.

Both of these negate the absolute strangeness and radical muteness of art.

I want to suggest something different. That we can expect a lot from art but not so much that we are disappointed when the world doesn’t change around it.