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ARTS WAY OUT

TRANSGRESSIONS: CULTURAL STUDIES AND EDUCATION


Series Editor:
Shirley R. Steinberg, University of Calgary, Canada
Founding Editor:
Joe L. Kincheloe (1950-2008) The Paulo and Nita Freire International
Project for Critical Pedagogy
Editorial Board
Jon Austin, University of Southern Queensland, Australia
Norman Denzin, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, USA
Rhonda Hammer, University of California Los Angeles, USA
Nikos Metallinos, Concordia University, Canada
Christine Quail, McMaster University, Canada
Ki Wan Sung, Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea
This book series is dedicated to the radical love and actions of Paulo Freire, Jesus Pato Gomez, and Joe L.
Kincheloe.
Cultural studies provides an analytical toolbox for both making sense of educational practice and extending the
insights of educational professionals into their labors. In this context Transgressions: Cultural Studies and
Education provides a collection of books in the domain that specify this assertion. Crafted for an audience of
teachers, teacher educators, scholars and students of cultural studies and others interested in cultural studies
and pedagogy, the series documents both the possibilities of and the controversies surrounding the intersection
of cultural studies and education. The editors and the authors of this series do not assume that the interaction of
cultural studies and education devalues other types of knowledge and analytical forms. Rather the intersection
of these knowledge disciplines offers a rejuvenating, optimistic, and positive perspective on education and
educational institutions. Some might describe its contribution as democratic, emancipatory, and
transformative. The editors and authors maintain that cultural studies helps free educators from sterile,
monolithic analyses that have for too long undermined efforts to think of educational practices by providing
other words, new languages, and fresh metaphors. Operating in an interdisciplinary cosmos, Transgressions:
Cultural Studies and Education is dedicated to exploring the ways cultural studies enhances the study and
practice of education. With this in mind the series focuses in a non-exclusive way on popular culture as well as
other dimensions of cultural studies including social theory, social justice and positionality, cultural
dimensions of technological innovation, new media and media literacy, new forms of oppression emerging in
an electronic hyperreality, and postcolonial global concerns. With these concerns in mind cultural studies
scholars often argue that the realm of popular culture is the most powerful educational force in contemporary
culture. Indeed, in the twenty-first century this pedagogical dynamic is sweeping through the entire world.
Educators, they believe, must understand these emerging realities in order to gain an important voice in the
pedagogical conversation.
Without an understanding of cultural pedagogys (education that takes place outside of formal schooling)
role in the shaping of individual identityyouth identity in particularthe role educators play in the lives of
their students will continue to fade. Why do so many of our students feel that life is incomprehensible and
devoid of meaning? What does it mean, teachers wonder, when young people are unable to describe their
moods, their affective affiliation to the society around them. Meanings provided young people by mainstream
institutions often do little to help them deal with their affective complexity, their difficulty negotiating the rift
between meaning and affect. School knowledge and educational expectations seem as anachronistic as a ditto
machine, not that learning ways of rational thought and making sense of the world are unimportant.
But school knowledge and educational expectations often have little to offer students about making sense
of the way they feel, the way their affective lives are shaped. In no way do we argue that analysis of the
production of youth in an electronic mediated world demands some touchy-feely educational superficiality.
What is needed in this context is a rigorous analysis of the interrelationship between pedagogy, popular
culture, meaning making, and youth subjectivity. In an era marked by youth depression, violence, and suicide
such insights become extremely important, even life saving. Pessimism about the future is the common sense
of many contemporary youth with its concomitant feeling that no one can make a difference.
If affective production can be shaped to reflect these perspectives, then it can be reshaped to lay the
groundwork for optimism, passionate commitment, and transformative educational and political activity. In
these ways cultural studies adds a dimension to the work of education unfilled by any other sub-discipline.
This is what Transgressions: Cultural Studies and Education seeks to produceliterature on these issues that
makes a difference. It seeks to publish studies that help those who work with young people, those individuals
involved in the disciplines that study children and youth, and young people themselves improve their lives in
these bizarre times.

ARTS
S WAY OU
UT

Exit Ped
dagogy and th
he Cultural Condition
C

JOHN BALDACC
CHINO

A C.I.P. record for this book is available from the Library of Congress.

ISBN: 978-94-6091-792-9 (paperback)


ISBN: 978-94-6091-793-6 (hardback)
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for exclusive use by the purchaser of the work.


He put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree
(Luke 1: 52)

For my parents
Joseph and Maria-Concetta Lourdes

CONTENTS

Contents ................................................................................................................. vii


Acknowledgments................................................................................................... xi
Chapter 1. Arts Way ............................................................................................... 1
Out? ................................................................................................................ 1
As We Remain With The Days Remains ....................................................... 3
The Rejection of Ignorance ................................................................................. 4
Infancy, Recurrence and Impasse ........................................................................ 6
Infant modernity ............................................................................................. 7
Empathic recurrence ....................................................................................... 8
Impasse as revolution ................................................................................... 11
PART I. INFANT MODERNITY............................................................................ 2
Chapter 2. Childhoods Grammar .......................................................................... 17
Young as it is ............................................................................................ 18
The Metaphysics of Childhood ......................................................................... 20
Childhood as a Formative Grammar ................................................................. 23
Ped(ago)gy ........................................................................................................ 26
Toy-like worlds, memory and the enigma ......................................................... 29
Carr: Play and the delight of semblance ..................................................... 29
De Chirico: Childhood, openness and interpretation .................................... 32
Chapter 3. Modernitys Children ........................................................................... 37
Categorical Suggestions .................................................................................... 38
Gained Being ..................................................................................................... 41
Time Disclaimed ............................................................................................... 43
Play Replayed.................................................................................................... 46
Jacques Rancire: Redistributed play ........................................................... 46
Giorgio Agamben: Toys beyond play ........................................................... 49
PART II. EMPATHIC RECURRENCE ................................................................ 55
Chapter 4. Strong Empathy .................................................................................... 57
Singularity, Subjectivity and Hybridity ............................................................. 59
Arts Speciality and Militant Antipathy ............................................................ 62
Liberty ..................................................................................................... 64
and aporetic empathy ............................................................................... 65
Convergence, Canonicity and Reality ............................................................... 66
Choice beyond designation ........................................................................... 67
the faculty which is supposed to relate us to what is real ..................... 71
Back to Truth, Beauty and Goodness? .............................................................. 73
Edith Stein: The problem of empathy and arts givenness ........................... 76
vii

John of the Cross: The dark night and the suspension of knowledge ........... 78
Chapter 5. Weak Reality ........................................................................................ 81
Question and Illusion ........................................................................................ 83
What is cricket, and prickly pears for an answer .......................................... 84
The open use of uselessness ......................................................................... 86
Doing, Judgement and Critique ......................................................................... 88
The artist-maker fallacy ................................................................................ 88
Critical arts quandary .................................................................................. 90
Claiming Reality ............................................................................................ 92
Event and Alterity ............................................................................................. 94
Martin Creed: the seriousness of banality..................................................... 95
Alberto Burri: the answer denied .................................................................. 98
Chapter 6. Weak art? ............................................................................................ 101
Truth and Transience ....................................................................................... 101
Epoch, difference and the dialectic ........................................................... 102
Inhabited truth and the existence of the possible book ............................... 105
Repositioning Illusion ..................................................................................... 108
Wearing the Masks of Word and Image .......................................................... 111
Tpiess apparitions .................................................................................... 111
Why isnt no body nobody?........................................................................ 114
The Cycle Breaks ....................................................................................... 117
Chapter 7. Outwith Beauty................................................................................... 121
He must have reached it! ............................................................................. 122
Art and Beauty ................................................................................................ 124
Redemption and Arts Protest ...................................................................... 130
Michelangelos non-beauty ..................................................................... 132
Caravaggios modernity .......................................................................... 133
Musky Words and Syllables in Flight ............................................................. 134
Perfection Deferred ......................................................................................... 137
Chapter 8. Within Happiness ............................................................................... 141
Between the Ironic and the Irenic.................................................................... 142
Fragment As Plasticity .................................................................................... 145
Amor Fati ........................................................................................................ 147
Pasolini, Tot and Ninetto: Oedipuss joy .................................................. 150
Benigni, Breugel and Currin: the cruel, the banal and the obscene ............ 152
PART III. IMPASSE AS REVOLUTION ........................................................... 157
Chapter 9. Cultures Learning .............................................................................. 159
Struggle and the Quandary of Cultural Studies ............................................... 161
A shysters trick ...................................................................................... 161
Tlos and production .................................................................................. 163
Culture beyond Bildung.............................................................................. 165
Laicit and Third Way Discourse .................................................................... 166
The Problem of Emancipation ......................................................................... 168
viii

Lyotard: struggle as diffrend ..................................................................... 169


Laclau: ungrounded emancipation .............................................................. 170
Khra and the Pedagogy of Culture ................................................................ 172
Chapter 10. Exit Pedagogy................................................................................... 175
Art, Impasse and Revolution ........................................................................... 176
Arts political anomaly .................................................................................... 178
The critique of mourning................................................................................. 182
The comedic as dialectic ................................................................................. 186
Mao after Mao ............................................................................................ 187
Satirical politics....................................................................................... 188
The drama of misrecognition .................................................................. 189
Weak Pedagogy ............................................................................................... 190
References ............................................................................................................ 193
Keywords ............................................................................................................. 199

ix

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I want to thank those who listened to me when I needed them; those who were
there for me even when they had to be elsewhere. I thank them for their friendship,
comradeship, respect and love.
I am particularly grateful to Laura my wife and Claudia our daughter. I also
thank my parents, Joseph and Lourdes to whom I dedicate this book.
As I thank my students who have been loyal friends and who constantly
contributed to my work through their constant questioning and patient listening, I
also thank those colleagues who continuously encourage me to do what I do. We
all know that, more than anything else, loyalty is the most precious gift that one
can receive while navigating the haunted labyrinths of academia.
Special thanks go to Mike Ting, a fellow artist whose work Monument to Marx /
we should have spoken more (2009) is a source of inspiration. Mikes permission
to reproduce an image of this work on the cover is gratefully acknowledged.
I am indebted to Brian Grassom who has kindly read this book in manuscript
form and who also proofread it thoroughly and meticulously. Being very familiar
with my work and I with his, Brian was no ordinary proof-reader. His feedback
contributed profound insights that afforded me with a careful perspective of where
this work stands artistically, philosophically and in terms of its discussion of
education.
At Sense Publishers I want to thank Michel Lokhorst and the editors. More
specifically I want to thank Shirley Steinberg as I salute her dedication to her
convictions, while always recalling the fortitude that we all get from the memory
of her dear husband and colleague the late Joe Kincheloe with whom she founded
this series. Joes immense inspiration has left a mark in us all who believe in a just
and democratic world of women and men committed to a humanity of equals.
The following chapters began their life as papers read in conferences and
published in journals. However in this volume, these papers have been greatly
extended and rewritten to work together in one volume. Here I would like to
acknowledge their original titles while thanking the respective journal editors who
allowed me to reproduce these essays (though now expanded and changed).
In the order that they appear in this book the following are the original titles and
contexts within which these papers originally appeared:
Chapter 2: Paper read as The Metaphysics of Childhood. Children in the art of
Carr and DeChirico. The second in The John Darling Lectures 2002-3. Faculty
of Education, University of Aberdeen, Scotland. 6 November, 2002.
Chapter 3: Paper read as Modernitys Children: Rousseaus Lenfant au
polichinelle (1903) and Carrs Ricordi dInfanzia (1916). The 9th Annual
International Aberdeen Word and Image Conference, University of Aberdeen. 11
May 2002.

xi

Chapter 4: Published as Baldacchino, J. (2004) The convergent I: empathy as


an aesthetic category. In Imaginatio Creatrix. A. T. Tymieniecka (ed.) Analecta
Husserliana. Vol. LXXXIII. Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Chapter 5: Published as Baldacchino, J. (2005). Between illusions: Arts
argument for Weak Reality. In Human Creation Between Reality and Illusion. A.
T. Tymieniecka (ed.) Analecta Husserliana. Vol. LXXXVII. Netherlands:
Springer.
Chapter 6: Presented as Arts transient illusion: word, image and space in the
work of Antoni Tpies. The Scottish Word and Image Group International
Conference, University of Dundee, Scotland 12-13 May 2006.
Chapter 7: Published as Baldacchino, J. (2008). Art after beauty: values before
standards. In Beautys Appeal. Measure and Excess. A. T. Tymieniecka (ed.)
Analecta Husserliana. Vol. XCVII. Netherlands: Springer.
Chapter 8: Published as Baldacchino, J. (2008). Between The Ironic And The
Irenic: Is happiness suspended in contemporary art? In Virtues and passions in
Literature. A. T. Tymieniecka (ed.) Analecta Husserliana. Vol. XCVI.
Netherlands: Springer.
Chapter 9: Published as Baldacchino, J. (2007). The pedagogy of culture.
Cultural Theory within the politics of a third space. In interactive Discourse
Online Journal of Higher Education. Vol 1. No. 1, December.
Chapter 10: Paper read as Arts Political Anomaly: Impasse As Revolution.
33rd Annual Conference of Social Theory Politics and Art, New York University,
New York City. 11-13 October 2007.
John Baldacchino
New York, New York
&
Falmouth, Cornwall
2011

xii

CHAPTER 1

ARTS WAY

If fascism is the triumph of civil society, the triumph of enraged particular


interests, then the subject of representation does not need to be superseded:
the danger of its experience needs to be exposed. And the same danger will
be the means of exposition.
Otherwise we remain at a beginning of the day.
Gillian Rose, Mourning Becomes the Law (1997, p. 58)

Arts way resists definition. Yet we never seem to get tired or even bored of posing
the same question: Is it art? The problem with this question is not that one cannot
answer questions about art. The issue lies with the tautological import of the
questions subject: art. Anyone who is engaged in art or lays claim to it would
know that to ask whether something is or is not art is at best misleading. There are
three reasons for this. First, to ask whether something is art is to assume already
what art should be. Second, to do so would mean that art is being posed as a
question when the question is not about art but whether x or y is art. Third, one
cannot question something twice over.
To claim its truth-value an answer requires a question. But as we have seen Is
it art? is not a question, given that the subject of this non-question would have to
be itself and would be something like art is art, which is nonsense.
OUT?

The above would make no sense unless we recognise that arts autonomy is arts
antinomy. As an antinomy art claims to be both form and non-form. For art to be
form it needs to also play the part of non-form. Thus for art to be art it must also be
non-art or anti-art. If art were done only for its sake or for the sake of history,
artworks would lose the autonomy by which we claim a right for art to exist as
form. But if art is entered in strict contexts such as history, meaning, use or even
form per se, then art as non-form is excluded by what we consider as being not art.
To transfer a question about an object x or y onto a question on art would hide arts
antinomic way of being.
Arts antinomic way of being is at the heart of its aporetic nature. An aporia is
an impassable passage. As it opens an entrance it perplexes whoever enters it by
refusing them an exit. Somehow in an aporetic context, an entrance is the only
possible exit. To exit an aporia one must enter it looking backwards while taking
an uncharted route. In this book I argue that the claim to this perplexing route for
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CHAPTER 1

art is its most direct approach: its entrance is also a mode of exiting, a way out. By
doing art we give ourselves a degree of autonomy. In doing art women and men
could not only speculate, experiment and create possibilities beyond the limits
posed by historical contingency, but would in turn recognize the same limits as
being truthful without having to quibble whether works of art have to be true, good
or beautiful.
As arts audience we must keep the aporia of arts autonomy in mind while we
discuss both the art that we do and the works of art that we make. This has nothing
to do with useless reverence towards art objects or artistic processes. Neither is it
an excuse to elevate artists to the state of quasi eunuchs whose virtual castration
hides other forms of promiscuity. On the contrary, this line of argument pertains to
the understanding of art within a context that historically plays up with its
autonomy, giving it an apparent freedom where in effect art finds itself
instrumentalized. So the claim to autonomy is neither a fanciful idea of art for arts
sake, nor an attempt to idealize the act of art, and less so to force some social or
political content on works of art. Jacques Rancire (2009) explains this succinctly
when he speaks of contemporary art and the political nature of art. What the term
art designates in its singularity, he says is the framing of a space of
presentation by which the things of art are identified as such. And what links the
practice of art to the question of the common is the constitution, at once material
and symbolic, of a specific space-time, of a suspension with respect to the ordinary
forms of sensory experience. (p. 23)
Without claiming that this would be Rancires position, I would add that the
image and object that art would frame and articulate in its autonomous space
emerges from a desire and need to claim a ground on which human beings could
question certainty without the risk of fallacy, self-righteousness or dogma. Yet as
such, this ground must be assumed as a temporary, or at best a suspended one,
because much of what art articulates comes by dint of its groundlessness.
(Baldacchino 2005) We can never define art as being good or evil, true or false.
Art is an activity by which we absolve ourselves from the duties of language and
the power structure that it represents, and instead take on the needs of our
ambitions and projections beyond the limits of what we have.
In this book, readers are invited to speak of and discuss arts way out. Out of
what? one might ask.
In doing art, women and men participate in what they so often refuse to accept
by dint of inclusive reason. Yet our way into reason also comes from an ability to
move outside the limits that reason sets. To think beyond the limits does not mean
to deny the limits. A way out is not a way of refusing responsibility for what is
inside. On the contrary, arts way out is a full acknowledgement of what defines
and represents the world within its given boundaries of possibility. To exit simply
means to reach and take presentation outside the limits that set such boundaries.
This rejects any simplistic binary that flips between an outside and an inside. Arts
way out is a radical form of representation and not a denial of representation. As
such, it never remains.

ARTS WAY

AS WE REMAIN WITH THE DAYS REMAINS

What Gillian Rose recognizes as the predicament by which we remain at a


beginning of the day, (1997, p. 58) has to do with the beginning of the day
which is, by logical sequence, located at the tail end of the uncertainty of the
remains of the day. She describes the condition of this uncertainty through the
eyes of the butler Stevens, in Ishiguros novel (then made film) Remains of the
Day. Stevens witnesses his masters fascist sympathies and collaboration with a
sense of loyalty split between his duties to the household and its tradition, and his
own humanity and principles. This split left him in an impasse; like a voyeur who,
as Rose puts it, is brought flat against equally the representation of Fascism, the
honourable tradition which could not recognize the evils of Nazism, and the
corporate order of the great house, and the fascism of representation, a political
culture which we identify as our own, and hence an emotional economy which we
cannot project or disown. (1997, pp. 5354)
Whereas the representation of Fascism leaves the identity of the voyeur intact,
at a remove from the grievous events which she observes, Rose describes the
fascism of representation as moving beyond the limit of voyeurism. It provokes
the grief of encountering the violence normally legitimised by the individual moral
will, with which we defend our own particular interests, and see only the egoism of
the otherthese may be interests of disinterested service, race, gender, religion,
class. (1997, p. 54)
What seems most pertinent to our argument here is whether the political culture
within which we seem to oscillate between these two forms of representation is
adequate, particularly when we witness overt or hidden forms of transgression. I
would argue that our ability to establish this adequacy comes up against the real
import of those patterns of power by which representation seems to confuse the
cyclic tautologies of power with what is often presented as a democratic, and even
liberating, dialectic. Without this distinction, and without such an understanding,
what often gives the semblance of moving towards wider democratic participation
is more likely to turn onto itself under the pretence that it is making inroads
towards social inclusion and political (though never economic) equity. Going by
the complex contingencies of history, we realize that inclusion becomes a
tautology, with the political consequence of a reinforcement of the established
credo based on personal interest, competition and socio-economic exclusion.
The representation of Fascism and the fascism of representation Rose argues,
presupposes the definition of the modern, liberal state as the monopoly of the
means of legitimate violence; it is thus able to explore the changing configurations
of violence and legality on which fascism in all its modes relies. (1997, p. 59) I
would add that this is where the notion of a civil society based on individual
interest that presumes the conflict of such interests as its condition for freedom,
remains wide open to inequality and political transgression; and where more often
than not this transgression is legitimized under the pretext of a social order that
presumes to include and emancipate everyone under the banner of social
equity, liberty and meritocracy. To this double-edged aggression we become
3

CHAPTER 1

increasingly numb. We tend to forget that when we are presented with a politics of
inclusion what is on offer is a middle that presumes to bring together negative
and positive liberty, and where we are told that equality could still be attained even
within an economic system that is radically inequitable and discriminatory. Rose
rightly argues that it is possible to anticipate that states which combine social
libertarianism with political authoritarianism, whether they have traditional class
parties or not, could become susceptible to fascist movements. (p. 60)
What I take from Roses analysis is that as we remain with the days remains,
we also remain desperately fanciful of a history that was supposed to have
ended. We assume that this dead history has been sealed and its contingencies
forgotten once and for all. We seem to believe that what caused all evil is now
gone and that we enjoy a democracy that works simply by the fact that it is under
siege by those outside its walls. As keepers of the gates of our democracy we have
closed ourselves in. This also means that we remain closed to any possibility of
making the same concept of democracy work for everyone even when the rhetoric
is that we want to spread democracy. We keep sustaining and reinforcing a war
mentality that is not dissimilar from those post-revolutionary conditions where
terror ensueswhether under the guillotine in the squares; in the massacre of the
natives in the New World; or in the Gulags. In the name of the universality by
which they claim their freedom, men and women always seem willing to stay put
and become voyeurs stuck in between representations.
What is more poignant is that in getting there, many claim to be politically
activewhether in joining the vociferous Tea Party Patriots of latter-day
conservatism in middle America, or militate within the Peace Movement in the
streets of London, Paris, Berlin or New York. But even if some opt to refrain from
political activism, Rose tells us that we are always staking ourselves in the
representation of Fascism and fascism of representation throughout the range of
quotidian practices and cultural ritualswhen we go to the cinema, for instance.
(1997, p. 61)
While indeed, there is always a backdrop to everything, I would argue that
every thing invariably finds its way into the mayhem that we create in order to
justify our staying put inside. And this seems to be more intense once we make a
decision to stay inside and claim wronglythough with convictionthat beyond
the walls of the polis there is only ignorance and barbarism.
THE REJECTION OF IGNORANCE

As children weve been taught that ignorance is the source of all evil and as we
were urged to continuously look at those others who are worse than us and
consider ourselves fortunate, we were fed with one morality lesson after another
from the godly and the atheist alikethat we should endeavour to merit our place
in a society whose doors must remain open to all, except of course, those who
appear to oppose us or do not make it; in other words, those outside the walls of
our polis.

ARTS WAY

Somehow we have come to believe that these open doors are reserved to our
fortunate stead. Those who do not make it are either unfortunate not to have a
meritocracy that allowed them to aspire to become President, Entrepreneur, Bank
tsar or Prime Minister, or they are not lucky to legally live in a prosperous society
where, as we are told, capital is the guarantee of meritocracy. And even when
meritocracy is not prominent in the narratives of prosperity, there are always
liberal and progressive models to make up for the inequity that may well be caused
by the same prosperous system that leaves so many behind. While decrying
mammon or the free-flowing myth of negative liberty, progressivism gives us
another option for self-realization by its egalitarian promise. Such promise would
guarantee the unfortunate with a way into the flow, where though the progressive
notion of merit would never imply that those who do not make it have not worked
hard enoughas some libertarians would be prompt to suggestwe are still
reassured that social justice will prevail.
In both these routes towards inclusionthat of merit and that of rightwe are
urged to engage and appropriate the world with our own images, our own
representations. At face value this seems to be an option even when in effect we
are also told that the grand narratives of possibility by which we have sustained our
traditional, liberal and progressive hopes, are effectively gone. As we realize that
what we must contend with are the grounds of popular and visual culture, on which
we seem to be allowed to express ourselves so freely that as yet there seems to be
no proper law that impedes us from simply flashing out whatever we want to say,
do or show (even when what we actually are in control of is next to none) we
appear to be happy enough with the noises that we have adequately made across all
levels. As we get angrier and angrier at the status quoor at too much
socialism, as the neo-cons would tell uswe somehow assume that at the end of
the day, we have our representational politics to play with and by hook or by
crook, we shall prevail.
The miracle of democracy in that it has finally asserted freedom and equality
on the liberal grounds that stretch from the Right to the Left almost seamlessly, is
safe ... unless we dare ask for more! But then again, the latter-day Oliver Twists of
liberal and social democracy seem to agree that once we get rid of extremists and
once we stop the fundamentalists, the excesses of fascism and communism are no
more.
One wonders where is the problem. Is it found in the insufficiency of a political
representation of truth? Or is the problem more organic, where the refusal to
represent reality has to do with the assumption that somehow we must not
represent it because, we are told, representation is just a form of hegemony, or a
meta-narrative past its sell-by date? But in doing so, dont we abdicate from the
wider order of representation? Dont we reject the possibility of the aesthetic? And
by rejecting the aesthetic dont we absolve ourselves from the prohibition of the
image by engaging in the excess of what has become the other Mecca of
representationthat of the immediacy by which everything is fed through a
closely included (read well-monitored) popular culture?

CHAPTER 1

INFANCY, RECURRENCE AND IMPASSE

A polity that is all too quick to claim inclusion as a shibboleth of social justice and
equality often backfires and turns out to be very misleading. To argue that
inclusion is the mechanism by which we begin to have equality, is to forget that
social politics, which include schooling, health and other forms of social provision,
are invariably established on a State that is never open to concrete redistribution of
means, knowledge, and ultimately wealth or power. An inclusion that would
effectively bring redistribution must never reinforce the radical inequalities by
which our sensibility, ownership and understanding of the world are being formed.
While we mean one thing when we insistand rightly sothat everyone is
entitled to an equal right to being, knowledge and power, the actual forms of
inclusion on the agenda mostly reinforce those ways of imposing how one selects
who must be included. In other words, to claim inclusiveness is not necessarily
conducive to a redistribution of knowledge or sensibilitylet alone wealth.
Neither does it give any more power to those who are supposedly included. More
often than not, inclusion soon becomes another instrument of discrimination.
The privileging of the popular arts and culture as would-be progressive and
inclusive entries into the School and the Culture industry is indicative of the
same dilemmas that we confront with that of political representation. Often the
assumption of inclusion perverts the radical essence of aesthetic education, a
radicalism which begins with Schiller who unequivocally tells us that the artist is
indeed the child of his age; but woe to him if he is at the same time its ward or,
worse still its minion! (1967, Letter IX, 4, p. 56).
This book presents a discussion of art, education and culture that is proposed
from the very lens of the politics of aesthetics. A main concern in this discussion is
not some re-vindication, repetition, or critique of pedagogy per sebe it
traditional, liberal, progressive or critical. Rather, this is a discussion that returns
to art and reads it from what us moderns tend to assume as the origin of the many
debates in which we remain engrossed. Somehow we often grapple with the same
questions that drove Walter Benjamin into exile, fleeing a polity that plundered any
residue of hope, freedom and justice that may have survived the horrors of World
War I but which soon vanished when humankind was plunged into further carnage.
In revisiting some of these questions while seeking to make some sense of what
we are engaged with now, also returns us to art as a formative space. It is in this
space that we realize that we are political not because we do politics through art or
culture or education, but by drawing and securing distinctions by which we can
ultimately recognise the impasse and turn it into a revolt against the predicament
that traps us between the representation of Fascism and the fascism of
representation.
To clarify the various aspects and wider questions discussed in this book, I
divide it in three parts: Infant Modernity, Empathic Recurrence and Impasse as
Revolution.

ARTS WAY

Infant modernity
When we speak of childhood, we also speak childhood. We speak about children,
but we also speak as children. We do so by retaining a memory of childhood as a
common ground, a kind of grammar that allows us to understand what it is to be a
child. The chapter which follows and opens the first part of this book is titled
Chilhoods Grammar. As this might suggest, the discussion deals with the child.
But unlike books on education that begin with a psychological and sociological
take on childhood, here childhood is discussed from a very different perspective.
Rather than developmental issues, this discussion is prompted by two paintings:
Carlo Carrs Antigrazioso (Bambina) (The Ungracious [Girl], 1916) and Giorgio
De Chiricos Il cervello del bambino (The childs brain, 1914). As it engages with
these works, this chapter is mainly concerned with the notion that childhood
provides us with a common ground of understanding, over which we then construct
our understanding of the world. This form of understanding relates to issues of
formation where learning is distanced from a way of assuming knowledge and
beingas some sort of bridge between an epistemological structure that awaits an
ontological realizationbut where learning is more akin to play and semblance.
As semblance, learning is mimetically assumed by means of culturea culture
that reflects and conditions how we form and inform the world. Yet learning as a
formative assumption based on semblance remains passive unless it is realized
through the recognition of the powerand limitsof interpretation. This is where
play comes in. To test and tease out further questions, a reading of Schillers
notion of semblance and play is proposed vis--vis Carrs work, whereas a
discussion of interpretation finds context in De Chirico. The discussion of a
metaphysics of childhood is partly related to Carrs and De Chiricos
Metaphysical Art and to how, as a common grammar, a discourse on
childhood is akin to the definition that Bergson (1992) gives to metaphysics as a
means to possess a reality absolutely. More importantly the issue of origin and
genesis comes in against a reading of Benjamins early works, including his essay
The Metaphysics of Youth and his work on German Tragic Drama. In this respect,
the question of childhood supplements, as a metaphor, the infancy with which we
came to assume the narratives of Modernityof which we could argue that we
remain the critical offspring, and by which we could even call ourselves
Modernitys children.
Modernitys Children is the title of the third chapter, where two images of
childhood, one by Rousseau Le Douanier, Lenfant au polichinelle (Child with a
Marionette, 1903) and another painting by Carlo Carr, Ricordi dInfanzia
(Memories of Childhood, 1916), begin to suggest what an infant Modernity could
imply. These works operate on two levels. The first is their immediate
representation of a child that is depicted, albeit stylized, in what amounts to a naf
genre. The second level opens up the definition of infancy at a time when
Modernism was considered to be in its childhood in terms of aesthetics, discourse
and the polity. In the dual meaning of a nave art and a modernity in its infancy, the
guise of innocence is another entryoften characterized by hegemonic
7

CHAPTER 1

deceptioninto the problematic of the modern and its ensuing cultural condition.
In the context of the ferrous historicity by which Modernity left its mark on art
not to mention the cultural polity that sustained artwe find in these images a
response where the nave purports an incisive narrative that knows no innocence at
all but which becomes a categorical description of existence.
This presents an invitation to play with narratives, where from an art historical
position one desires to briefly look at particular instances of Modernism and its
depiction of childhood; while from a political-philosophical stance, one must look
beyond the invitation to educate the child, and engage with what art has entered
only to quickly exitwhen it gets entangled with the cultural maturity of the
discourse of the nave. But here a quandary emerges in terms of how the
categorical image in Le Douanier and the enigmatic figuration in Carr could both
and at the same time claim the same childhood in terms of Modernism. To address
this issue, I refer to Rancires discussion of Schillers notion of play vis--vis the
politics of the aesthetic in his Malaise dans lesthtique (Aesthetic and its
Discontents [2009]) and Giorgio Agambens discussion of toys in his essay on play
and toys, Il Paese dei Balocchi (which refers to Pinocchios trip to Funland) in
his book Infanzia e Storia (Childhood and History [2001]).
Empathic recurrence
If childhood takes on the issue of an origin, which is dialectically construed as it is
continuously brushed against the dialectical grain of historical contingency, the
direction of art and the self in a formative-aesthetic context must somewhere and
somehow start touching on the idea of empathy. In chapter 4, Strong Empathy, a
discussion of empathy as an aesthetic category begins to alter how we define the
actuality of our own modern stancewhere the modern is the modo, the immediate
act, by which we see, touch and do the world within the political and aesthetic
sphere. This happens not only as an act (through art) that educes and alters the
apparent infancy of the nave form, but more by way of assuming hybrid meanings
by which art continues to find excuses to pause. It is in such a pause from the
immediately infant that the nave becomes empathic by way of its antipathy with
the first person notion of the artistic act.
Beyond the cultural condition of a first person notion of artwhere the I is
assumed as the embryonic world that grows into a case for everythingnew
hybrid forms of doing by which we are invited to exit the visual certainty of the
polity, continue to alter the grounds of aesthetic definition, and with it, the
pedagogical possibilities that emerge from this exit. In this state of affairs,
temporal duration and spatial presencing are no longer curtailed by a tension
between social responsibility on one hand and individual freedom on the other.
Rather, a ground of convergence seems to expand into a certain form of empathy
that becomes itself an aesthetic category as identified (and uttered) by the self as a
convergent I. By taking this position, art shifts the emphasis of convergence
from that of the artistic medium to an intentionality that is purported by
convergence per se. Here we are not simply assuming a relational geometry of
8

ARTS WAY

intentionality within arts propensity to a hybridity of learning and making (as Art
Educators often claim). Rather, this convergence is supplemented by art as a
possibility that operates from the immediate empathic assumptions by which
women and men could begin to assume a constellation of subsequent actionsbe
they aesthetic, cultural, political or pedagogical. In the narrative of empathy, the
hybridity of the intended forms of art becomes synonymous with the work as an
inherent form where, one would add, the self evolves beyond the circumstantial
(and commonplace) economies of artistic-pedagogical practices. It is also in this
way that art seeks to move out of the circumscribed assumptions of empathy, by
actually assuming parallels with phenomena where the structure of empathy lends
itself to the problematic of contemporary arts practice as an argument for a reality
that also refuses to be all embracing and strong, but which in turn assumes a
weak position.
As the title of chapter 5 suggests, the notion of a Weak Reality has nothing to do
with the disregard of the truth or reality, but rather, it takes on the very idea of
reality from a position that retreats into the background without ever losing sight of
what matters. This directly relates to the work of Gianni Vattimo (1988), on weak
thought (pensiero debole). Our ability to engage in illusion through the
implements of art is a way for us to reinforce the case for reality in terms of its
centrality within the study of both art and philosophy. Yet here the argument for
reality is not taken from the position of strength where everything is subsumed
under the culture of comprehensive construction, but where instead reality takes on
a weak stance. The need to move from reality as an historically or socially
constructed strength to reality as a ground that, by dint of its willed retreat becomes
a horizon that is open to all, is becoming more urgent. Such urgency comes from
the need to rebut the assumption that any argument for reality is an illusion
because of the relativity by which truth is dismissed in certain artistic,
philosophical, political and pedagogical quarters.
By assuming arts ability to exchange reality with illusion, I am reiterating the
case for reality as Truthtruth in the sense of what we assume, hermeneutically,
by the limits of what we could possibly describe, depict, and therefore interpret. In
this respect the truth is that we are limited by our interpretation, and it is within
such an assumption that reality is assumed as weak. To do this I would suggest that
we reconsider the idea of equivalence between representation and presentation in
art forms. I will be arguing that this form of equivalence has been historically
useful in specific works of art in order to diffuse a number of ideological illusions
by which art has been alienated from truth. In this respect this chapter turns its
attention to two forms of illusion: instrumental (qua ideological-political) illusion,
and critical (qua artistic-pedagogical) illusion.
What is illusive becomes a form of sustaining the space within which we claim
autonomy through art. Chapter 6, Weak Art? takes the discussion of a weakening
of thought and reality further into that of art. It first revisits the idea of illusion in
contemporary art, as it oscillates between the notion of a language and that of a
space. Here I inquire whether the usage of the term language with respect to
contemporary art has become a fixed ground by which art loses its ability to
9

CHAPTER 1

purport groundlessness, and whether a notion of weakened art would regain that
ability. This is also done via a discussion of the idea of space as it emerges from
the notion of the khraa discussion that keeps resurfacing around prominent
discussions (like Julia Kristeva and Jacques Derridas) of Platos Timeus. Mindful
of the established philosophical discussions around logos, mythos and khra I
frame the relationship between word, image and space by discussing a number of
works by Antoni Tpies. I argue that in Tpiess work binary assumptions such as
those of word and image, language and space, or logos and mythos tend to leave us
with a transient groundwhich ultimately necessitates an overcoming of the very
idea of ground. This overcoming happens in a bastard space identified with that
of the khra. It is also in this transience that I seek to identify illusion. One would
assume that in the way transience becomes illusionary, the illusion that emerges is
not the kind of illusion by which, in common parlance, one assumes tropes or
tricks of the eye. Rather, the illusion that emerges from this process is closely
bound to arts criticality, and more specifically it is intrinsic to the (often
disturbing) questions that are prompted by contemporary art.
A political pedagogy of art that exits the realm of strong constructed reality
cannot avoid the issue of beauty. The seventh chapter seeks to discuss this Outwith
Beauty where the relationship between art and beauty often falls between two
stools. This relationship is either overtaken by the notion of aesthetics, where art
must follow in the assumed paths of the beautiful; or it forsakes the idea of beauty
in order to free itself from the perceived reification of art as an aesthetized thing.
To mend this apparent paradox many have come up with the notion that a set of
conventions could define art and beauty (separately or as one) through the
identification of specific norms and standards by which the relationship between
art and beauty will be redressed, institutionalised and made rational so that both art
and beauty are seen for what they are supposed to be. Yet the history of art and
beauty shows that these attempts have confirmedrather than mendeda
broken middle (as Rose would call it) between art and beauty by actually
revealing a further aporiathat of the relationship between value and standard.
This chapter argues that the relationship between art and beauty is embedded in the
peculiar conditions that make it. These conditions are often expressed in the form
of a parallel symmetry between value and standard as represented by the economy
of constructed reality. In order to exit such conditions, the specificity of art and
beauty as distinct categories must be resumed through the method of epoch where
beauty and art are spared from the morass of either value or standard. In such
context this chapter draws specific arguments from both phenomenology and
philosophical hermeneutics where beauty and art are revealed as transient grounds
of the subject on the one hand, and as processes of interpretation on the other.
However, while a method of epoch might afford a temporary suspension from
the constructed necessities which standardise the relationship between beauty and
art, the aporetic nature of art dictates that this method continuously slips into a
myriad tangential modes where what is ultimately asserted is the contingency by
which reality retains its weak position. But for what sake? In the eighth chapter
Within Happiness the discussion turns to the notion of happiness, adopting the lens
10

ARTS WAY

of contemporary arts language of historical contingency. The discussion is


contextualised by the relationship between contemporary art and the idea of human
happiness. This reflects an interest in seeking a definition of happiness between
two forms (or rather, two mediators) of human happiness: (a) an ironic engagement
with the world: which serves as a way of understanding the world from a
humorous view point that is equally critical as well as formative and
transformative; and (b) the irenic ideals of human consciousness: representing
the realisation of our teleological projects that would transcend the accidental
nature of the human condition. Far from a classical divide between contingency
and universality, the relationship between the ironic and the irenic in contemporary
art attests to an understanding of the dynamics of human happiness in the forms of
hope, empathy, love, friendship, community, philanthropy, etc.
While these human qualities are indeed a must in our desire to fulfil and make
sense of our lives, contemporary art also warns us off any hope to achieve
happiness through identitarian and (or) universalized routes; especially when
throughout history, we know that such qualities have been deformed and
manipulated by oligarchs and hegemonies of all sorts and persuasion. Another
question that emerges from this discussion has to do with the variegated
philosophical distinctions that have emerged around the notion of happinessfrom
that of eudaimonia to agathon; from happiness derived from eros to that derived
from the ethical imperative that is signalled by the communitarian ideal of agape.
This is assessed via art and it is through art (and perhaps within the context of a
discourse on art) that this chapter takes on the question as to whether happiness is
indeed a suspended question, and whether this could only be sustained as a form of
constant recurrencemaybe a constant exit.
Impasse as revolution
The last part of this book moves within the realms of what is here identified as the
cultural condition. This condition is neither described through schooling nor
through the often-expected discussions of how the arts provide the event of
egalitarian inclusiveness. Instead, this book closes with two chapters that deal with
a discussion of formative politics; more specifically that of the discussion of
cultural theory as read from the debate on a third way in the politics of equality;
and last but not surely least on the notion of revolution read from the lenses of art,
comedy and the critique of the critique of representation.
In chapter 9, Cultures Learning, it is argued that ultimately arts exit and
resistance to the conditions of cultural necessity, has to be addressed from the
horizons on which culture is read as a pedagogical form that is distanced from the
all inclusive notion of a cultural-pedagogical machine (often referred to as
Bildung). Here, culture is seen from its pedagogical and theoretical reification
where learning must be reconstructed from within a critical programme that rejects
the teleological construction of culture itself. If culture is ever going to be
sustained as a formative horizon, this formation needs to yield to a space where
the notions of logic (read: method, process, instruction, etc) and programme (read:
11

CHAPTER 1

knowledge, teaching, learning, etc.) are steered away from the quandaries that
plagued the philosophical and pedagogical assumptions of Cultural Studies. Key is
the concept of struggle in pedagogy where the whole notion of formation must be
questioned on the basis of other, third spaces that do not simply pertain to Third
Way socio-liberal discourses. Such spaces have their root in earlier debates within
the European Left, particularly those spaces that would claim a Gramscian context,
as further elaborated by the experience of the Italian labour movement, as lead by
political leaders like Enrico Berlinguer, who already in the 1970s was speaking of
a terza via, a third way by proposing forms of rapprochement with the centre while
offering a democratic alternative (alternativa democratica) that would be
ideologically secular. Similar forms of reasoning came from philosophical quarters
such as Cornelius Castoriadis and Jean Franois Lyotards critical, though
different, positions on Marxism which originate from a platform that they once
held in common through political groups like Socialisme ou Barbarie.
Just as this seems to lend itself to a proposition that pertains to critical
pedagogy, this chapter proposes something radically different, which seems to fall
out of kilter with the expectancies of a politics of emancipation. Here it is argued
that an exit from identitarian cultural-pedagogical formation (as Bildung) must
assume a radical route that may have to reject the constructivist assumptions that
have always underlined liberal-progressive and critical pedagogies. In this respect,
the assumption of a third space is neither a form of straight-laced emancipation,
nor a positive dialectic that would presume some spontaneous-historical moment
of revolution, where somehow the unexpected will change the cultural conditions
that sustain prevalent hegemonies. Instead, it may well be a case where the very
idea of impasseas suggested by arts excuse to pausebecomes a form of
Revolution.
So how would impasse become revolution? This discussion frames the
concluding chapter, titled Exit Pedagogy. To appear to justify impasse as a
revolutionary form, one must qualify what this means. The parameters where such
a statement could be held would be that of contemporary art. Contemporary arts
political nature is often confused with an expensive appropriation of popular
cultures tendency to shock and scandalize. However we know that any
attempt to politicise art by turning it into a form of direct action results in fetishist
consumption. Here it is argued that any assumption of the political in art must be
sought in the condition of impasse, where art emerges in its total (read:
paralysed) form. It is in this impasse that through art we reject the myth of benign
emancipationas often assumed by liberal, progressive and critical pedagogists
and propose that as a political act, art is located in what we have not yet found.
Not unlike the perennial crisis of the Left, arts impasse is that horizon over
which we come to understand the notion of condition be it human, modern or
postmodern as the paradoxical logic by which we could, once more, politicise
the world (rather than simply change it).
Thus the concept of an exit pedagogy begins to suggest how one could argue
that arts predicamentwhere its sole revolutionary choice is that of impasse
would translate into a pedagogical and political stalemate. The question here lies
12

ARTS WAY

squarely with how pedagogy could assume a programmatic strategy of exit. An exit
pedagogy would have to take a political stance that seeks to move out of the limits
of interpretative truths by recognizing the limit as the universal singularity by
which truth is seen as the event of multiplicity on which to operate politically as
well as pedagogically. Such a pedagogical position begins to shift the affirmative
and inclusive illusions by which the horizons of human learning and cultural
formation have been stultified within the constructed confines of a strong reality
where forms of populism have stifled the radical essence of aesthetics and
subsequently aesthetics education. In taking the critique of inclusion and entry as a
first step, this books discussion of art, politics and learning aims to delineate what
an exit pedagogy would look like: where culture is neither seen as a benign form of
inclusion nor as a hegemonic veil by which we are all subscribed to the system via
popularized forms of artistic and cultural immediacy.
An exit pedagogyas prefigured in what could be called arts way out through
the implements of negative recognition qua impassewould not only avoid the all
too facile symmetrical dualism between conservative and progressive, liberal and
critical pedagogies, but also seek the continuous referral of such symmetries by
simply setting them aside and look for a way out of the confined edifices of
education and culture per se. Also this pedagogy would need to suggest new
spaces of learning such as that which lies between schooling and deschooling. Like
Gramscis notion of the folklore of philosophy and Lyotards redefinition of
paganism, an exit pedagogy seeks its way out by reasserting representation in the
comedic, the jocular, and more effectively in what I would argue to be the arts
power of pausing, as that most effective way by which aesthetics comes to effect in
its autonomist and radical essence.

13

PART I. INFANT MODERNITY

The artist is indeed the child of his age; but woe to him if he is at the same time its
ward or, worse still its minion!
FRIEDRICH SCHILLER

CHAPTER 2

CHILDHOODS GRAMMAR

The course of history forces materialism on metaphysics, traditionally the


direct antithesis of materialism () Children sense some of this in the
fascination that issues from the flayers zone, from carcasses, from the
repulsively sweet odor of putrefaction, and from the opprobrious terms used
for that zone. () An unconscious knowledge whispers to the child what is
repressed by civilized education; this is what matters, says the whispering
voice. And the wretched physical existence strikes a spark in the supreme
interest that is scarcely less repressed; it kindles a What is that? and
Where is it going?
Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics (1990, pp. 3656)

In 1916 Carlo Carr (1881-1966) painted Antigrazioso (Bambina) (literally: AntiGracious [Girl]). His art had then reached a stage that would leave behind the idea
of a futurist utopia. By 1916, just two years into World War I, Carrs dream of a
new world sustained by a freedom borne of a technological absolute was shattered
by the terror of the trenches. The war that he and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti,
Umberto Boccioni, Giacomo Balla and other futurists hailed as the worlds only
hygiene (Marinetti et al., 1914), echoing Pierre Joseph Proudhon (1969, pp.
202ff), turned into one of the worst nightmares in modern history.
In 1916 Boccioni died, aged 34, falling off a horse. It was a death that lent itself
to a degree of cruel irony. As young anarcho-syndicalists, Boccioni and Carr
adhered to the heroic ideals that were supposed to wipe the world clean from an
imperialist past while stopping the advancing plutocracy of a brutal bourgeoisie in
its tracks. They thought the war would finally get rid of the dead wood
accumulated by an ailing and corrupt aristocracy that held Europe back. They
hoped that war would clear the way for the advancement of new technology that
would lay the foundations for a new society, sustained by a young political vision.
Instead, the First World War accelerated the course for previously unimagined
plutocracies. The young and creatively virile society that was supposed to
emerge from the detritus of war was no less brutal than the old aristocracy which
now turned to unlikely alliesthe social democrats and liberalsto keep together
a series of weak governments that would soon succumb to Fascism. Unlike
Boccioni and Carr, Marinetti was enamoured by the dark side of the young and
virile bourgeoisie. He would try to salvage futurism by forming his own Partito
Politico Futurista (Futurist Political Party) in 1918. But far from realizing the
avant-garde which Boccioni and Carr dreamt of in their vision of a newly freed
17

CHAPTER 2

technological polity, the Futurist Party confirmed how Marinettis politics was
nothing but another brand of aesthetized fascism. This would seal the end of
futurism as its platitudes for the new were quickly absorbed into Mussolinis
grotesque Caesarism.
As to Carrs and Boccionis teacher Giacomo Balla, who would live to the age
of 87, and who like his students grew within the social realist and symbolist
traditions of Pellizza da Volpedo, Giovanni Segantini and Gaetano Previati, he
would seek refuge in more abstraction, as if he were seeking a lost childhood. In
synchrony with the demise of futurism, Ballas dynamic work found itself eclipsed
by the delusions that followed from Fascism. Like that other great futurist
Fortunato Depero, Balla took refuge in form, while his vision for a heroic future
was gradually internalized into a kind of neo-symbolism.
YOUNG AS IT IS

Beyond what never became a specifically identified post-futurist art, the signs of
what would become of the Italian historical avant-garde are best represented in the
phase that Boccionis art was already entering just before his untimely death when
he painted his Ritratto del Maestro Ferruccio Busoni (Portrait of Maestro
Ferruccio Busoni, 1916), and what Carr began in the same year with his
Antigrazioso (Bambina).
In Boccionis last works there is a return to a figuration that could be retraced
through a sense of painted materiality, which to a degree is initially made manifest
as an apparent send-back to the social realist chromatism of his youth. In the
Ferruccio Busoni portrait, we find a sense of materiality expressed by the sheer
mark of paint. In returning to the genre of portraiture Boccioni appears to revisit
his pre-futurist sense of figuration. The portraits rendition expresses the masterly
hand of a painter who sustains the tradition, even when as a futurist he loudly
declares that art museums should be burnt and tradition consigned to cemeteries.
The sense of painted materiality is a hallmark of all of Boccionis paintings
throughout his entire career before, during and after the heyday of his futurist
activism. However in his Busoni portrait one does not find the same approach to
time as found in his futurist works. In Boccionis futurist work, materiality
entwines in dynamic simultaneity where art aims to gain what Bergson (1992)
characterizes as a duration that is materially sympathetic by capturing universality
in one act of intuition. Yet in the Busoni portrait, simultaneity is internalized. It
becomes immanent. By such immanence, Boccioni captures duration more as a
recuperation of time than as a reach towards the future.
In his Abbozzo di una Nuova Estetica Della Musica (A sketch for a New Aesthetic
of Music, written in 1907) Ferruccio Busoni takes the view that there is nothing
properly modernonly things which have come into being earlier or later; longer in
bloom, or sooner withered. The Modern and the Old have always been. (1962, p.
76) A composer of new music and a copious editor and re-interpreter of the standard
classical repertoire, Busoni was attracted to the futurist vision. The attraction was
mutual and Busonis work fascinated the futurists. Yet as one listens to Busonis
18

CHILDHOODS GRAMMAR

music the sense of the modern recalls the old, while under his editorship, the old
takes a modern turn. In effect Busoni liberates the arts from the dualistic idea of the
old and the new, and instead he presents the arts in their perennial actuality within a
sense of history that is not tied to such categories. This is not alien to the futurist
sense of the painterly and sculptural, where notwithstanding their rhetoric against the
past, futurists worked from the strengths of the solid realism and symbolism learnt
from Previati and Segantini, not to mention the symbolist-impressionist works of the
sculptor Medardo Rosso. So it is from withinand because ofthis received
tradition that futurists could reject the past.
In a way Apollinaire was right to be suspicious of the Italian futurists. His first
impression was that they looked like clumsy students of a Derain or a Picasso
(1972, p. 200). But this description is clearly distorted, mostly because Apollinaire
fails to see how in futurisms modern idiom there remained a deeply rooted sense
of traditionnotwithstanding all their bombast against larte passatista (passist
art). There are some who would claim that Apollinaires free verse prose-poem
titled LAntitradition futuriste. Manifeste=Synthse (Futurist Antitradition.
Manifesto=Synthesis, 1913) published in Marinettis paper Lacerba, was not short
of being ironic in that Apollinaires scepticism over the Italian avant-garde was
never really allayed.
It is not farfetched to realize how the dialectic of the modernist avant-garde of
the early 20th century could never operate unless it was rooted in what it claimed to
dispense with. Busoni, like others before and after him knew this well. If, like
Busoni, one casts her eyes on the short-lived distinction between the Modern and
the old, one would, in the same manner, discern in the modern the same sense of
childhood that the composer recognizes in western music. Music as an art argues
Busoni, our so-called occidental music, is hardly four hundred years old; its state
is one of development, perhaps the very first stage of a development beyond
present conception, and wewe talk of classics and hallowed traditions! And
we have talked of them for a long time. (1962, p. 77)
In Busonis approach to the arts one must not read tradition by its longevity, but
by its recurrence, by the multiplicity with which it re-emerges, ever new. In a
footnote, Busoni offers a curious definition of tradition. It is a plaster mask taken
from life, which in the course of many years, and after passing through the hands
of innumerable artisans, leaves its resemblance to the original largely a matter of
imagination. (1962, p. 77n) While the mask of tradition could be seen as one,
those who re-define it are many. From this one takes it that the arts could not be
uniformly defined within one long tradition, and that the idea of an unbroken line
that sustains its longevity as one coherent tradition is a myth.
Tradition becomes a matter of the imagination because just as music and art
cannot be deemed as uninterrupted traditionseven when the arts would claim
their traditions as spanning back to over four centuriesunivocal definitions and
uninterrupted identities amount to nothing. In what one might anxiously identify as
the occidental arts, virtually no one would be able to identify a unitary, and less
so unique, sense of art. If one were to speak of a tradition, one would have to

19

CHAPTER 2

engage with a perpetual sense of childhoodor inversely, a sense of perpetual


childhood (which is never the same).
Young as it is, this child, we already recognize that it possesses one radiant
attribute which signalizes it beyond all its elder sisters. And the lawgivers
will not see this marvelous attribute, lest their laws should be thrown to the
winds. This childit floats on air! It touches not the earth with its feet. It
knows no law of gravitation. It is wellnigh incorporeal. Its material is
transparent. It is sonorous air. It is almost Nature herself. It isfree. (Busoni,
ibid. p. 77).
Yet Busoni laments that freedom is never understood by the worldand here
one presumes he is speaking of an occidental outlook. This is a world that does
everything to disavow the mission of this child; they hang weights upon it. He
declares that music must remain free because that is its destiny. Unlike the painter
or sculptor, who can represent only one side or one moment, or the poet who
tardily communicates a temperament and its manifestations by words, music
realizes a temperament without describing it and in its swiftness it moves
through consecutive moments. (Ibid. pp. 7778)
This is the futurists ambition: to achieve for the arts a simultaneity by which
time is grasped in its essence as dure, and where the whole is grasped not
gradually and therefore in a relative way, but as Bergson suggests in its simple and
therefore absolute way: at one go in intuition. (1992, p. 59) This is also the kind of
childhood that Modernism sought to restore in terms of forgetting about the past
and seeing the future. Not unlike Busoni, Boccioni and Carr wanted to take the
weights off the arts and see them float on air. And yet what they restored was
neither the lightness of childhood nor their dreamt utopia of a future, but what
Walter Benjamin calls in his essay The Metaphysics of Youth (written in 1913/14),
the emptiness of the present:
We wish to pay heed to the sources of the unnameable despair that flows in
every soul. The souls listen expectantly to the melody of their youtha
youth that guaranteed them a thousandfold. But the more they immerse
themselves in the uncertain decades and broach that part of their youth which
is more laden with the future, the more orphaned they are in the emptiness of
the present. (Benjamin 1996, p. 10, my emphasis)
THE METAPHYSICS OF CHILDHOOD

Unlike Boccioni, whose painted materiality finds its solace in chromatism, Carr
returns to an earlier history by reclaiming a period in art that he considers as a kind
of aesthetic youth. This is expressed in a palette that reconfigures what the painter
deemed as the first principles of paintlight and shade. It begins to reconcile the
modern with another way of asserting the real, while cautiously refusing
Modernitys progressive scientism. In moving on, in looking beyond futurism,
Carr looks back. He seeks a palette that recaptures the earthly sensation of the
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CHILDHOODS GRAMMAR

rendition of paint in the work of early Renaissance artists, particularly Paolo


Uccello, Fra Angelico and Giotto. In Carrs work this sensation inaugurates a
formal choice that rejects the simultaneity of futurist chromatism, and instead
returns to an archaism that looks nave, if only in the way Carr aims at
capturing a sense of primitivism that to his mind equates with first principles, not
only of art but also of existence and reality in general.
Elsewhere I have argued that in 1916 Carr was once more at the threshold of
history. Just as when, as a futurist, he endeavoured to capture the universal in the
intuitive moment of arts individuation, so in his post-futurist period Carr seeks
to restore a hierarchy of significance in terms of form as a dialectic between nature
and reality. (Baldacchino 1996, p. 76) While for Carr the futurist, art was in a
perpetual sense of becoming, Carr the metaphysical artist returns art to being. As
being, art seeks meaning in what it is. Being does not emerge from the now, but
from what Carr regards as the worlds essence. In Antigrazioso Carr seeks to
reveal this ontological meaning in art. Somehow he traces back the notion of
plastic dynamism to the Aristotelian original meaning of dynamism as dynamis (as
power in potentiality). Form is actualized when it reaches the state of enrgeia (as
power in actuality). In this way being actualized fulfils the potentiality of form. In
the humanist tradition we are told how the artwork already resides in potentiality,
not only in the mind of the artist, but more so in the material from which it
emerges. Thus as a block of marble, a sculpture awaits its fulfilment until it is
actualised as an artwork by the sculptor. In an Aristotelian approach art is an actual
representation of realitys potentiality. In its continuous search to fulfil our sense of
being in the world art comes to represent reality by fulfilling it.
Read against this Aristotelian process between dynamis and enrgeia Carrs
metaphysical art gives the impression of a recovered lost origin, aimed at taking
art back to a sense of essence. Its aim is the reconstruction of a beginning
presumed to be full of potential. Metaphysical art returns the futurists vision of a
plastic dynamism to a sense of dynamism that stands for the origin as a potential
essence. Yet to invoke an essence does not come without risks of invoking first
principleswhich Carr seems to do in his approach to primitivism. But while
he claims back the primitive in art, Carr is also too aware of arts historicity.
His sense of essence remains grounded within the limits of history.
In the aftermath of the Modernist avant-garde one must qualify essence from the
lens of historical contingency. Any context that purports itself to be historical
confirms the idea of history as that which remains contingent on what we say and
do. This relates to the limits within which we assume, narrate or even declare truth.
Such limits cannot afford to become formulaic. Here the metaphysical and the
pragmatic come to signify each other in curious ways. What is defined as
metaphysical must be read from how we choose to understand the world as a
repository of thingsas pragmataof which we constantly try to make sense.
By saying that the world is a repository of things, one means that the world is all
we have and all that we know. In other words, the world is every thing. This
everything would include external forms that we attribute to the presumed
immanence by which we seek to imbue the world. This also means that everything
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becomes the limit that asserts the truth of our historically contingent humanity and
its situatedness. And yet it is because of this situatedness and the limits by which it
claims truth that humanity takes an aesthetic leap into what it considers to be art.
Read within the parameters of everything, an ontological return is a return to
where we think we are in the world. This impresses on art the idea of a
metaphysical retracing that in turn constructs the idea of an origin. Any idea of
origin may just be a wayeven an excuseby which the artist seeks to resolve a
series of formal problems that would put him or her in a better position to address
(the idea of) existence that is presented by art as a phenomenological puzzle. Yet
more than a puzzle this reveals a dilemma. A return to childhood forwards a vision
by which children would, as Adorno says, take pleasure in the fascination that
issues from the flayers zone, from carcasses, from the repulsively sweet odor of
putrefaction. (1990, pp. 3656) This is where metaphysics is revealed for what it
is: as other than an idealisation of everything, but as an expression of the limits that
are revealed by the same sense of essence with which we seek to make sense of the
world. As a stage in ones life that is deemed to be nearer to existences first
principles (if birth is to be considered as a continuous return to the first principles
of an individual) childhood reveals the truth of the human and with it, that of arts
ability to capture the limits of any search for an essence of being.
To the question In what time does man live? Benjamin answers that going by
what philosophy tells us he does not live in any time at all. (1996, p. 10) But
while the emptiness of timethat of the presentsurrounds men and women, this
is not the case with immortality. Writing in the same year that World War I began,
Benjamin already senses the end of what Boccioni and Carr hail as a future full of
time. The sense of the present that emptied any sense of time from the living left
Benjamin with no choice but to take succour in the recollection of ones childhood:
In despair, he thus recalls his childhood. In those days there was time without
flight and an I without death. He gazes down and down into the current
whence he had emerged and slowly, finally, he is redeemed by losing his
comprehension. Amid such obliviousness, not knowing what he thinks and
yet thinking himself redeemed, he begins the diary. It is the unfathomable
document of a life never lived, the book of a life in whose time everything
that we experienced inadequately is transformed into experience perfected.
(1996, p. 11)
So to claim back an originas Carr seems to do in his metaphysical artone
cannot restore or reconstruct a genesis. What Carr claims in 1916 is the same
sense of origin which a decade later Benjamin describes as that which emerges
from the process of becoming and disappearance. (1985, p. 45) Origin emerges
from historicity and not factuality. As a stream of becoming, the currents of the
origin swallow the material involved in the process of genesis. In this respect the
historicity of the origin is inherently dialectical, where history is not recounted by
going through its facts but by understanding its development. If one were to tally
this concept of origin with Benjamins earlier identification of the here and now of
a history bereft of time, then any return to ones childhood presumes a dialectical
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reconstruction of a life that may have never been lived but which recoups its sense
of living. To live, one cannot simply experience facts. Beyond facts, one must
reclaim and transform experience itself. As an author who begins a diary,
Benjamin wants to see experience perfected. Maybe it is in this inability to claim
experience as a childbecause in childhood there is no such thing as experience
(Benjamin 1996, pp. 35)that youth becomes metaphysical.
The sense of the metaphysical in Carrs immediate post-futurist work of 1916,
particularly his Antigrazioso (Bambina), cannot simply correspond with a pictorial
meaning. Antigrazioso carries a deeper philosophical narrative in terms of how
Carrs lost futurist utopia is transformed by a sense of dejection that makes time
look impossible. This impossibility of time, this emptying of all that was once
supposed to redeem the present from the past into a future, leaves no choice but to
return to an origin that would somehow perfect an experience that was once
proscribed.
Here Carrs art slowly moves towards Metaphysical Art. At this point the
shell-shocked futurist crosses paths with another artist, also a casualty of the same
once-redemptive war: Giorgio de Chirico. De Chiricos metaphysical art brings
up the relationship between memory and lifethat is, the memory of life and life as
a series of memories. As attested by the empty spaces and tall architectural
structures that characterise works like La Nostalgia dellInfinito (The Nostalgia of
the Infinite, 1912), De Chiricos works raise questions that orbit around nostalgia,
the meaning of space and place in the making of the psyche, the hidden segments
of childhood and a sense of origin whose dialectic moves beyond facts of
behaviour. In these works the artist internalizes a sense of historicity by giving
image to the unconscious. Although the image of children does not appear to be
central to De Chiricos work (because he does not paint images of children),
childhood is ever presentsometimes in disguise, so to speak. This is particularly
the case in his painting Il cervello del bambino (The childs brain, 1914).
As fate threw them in each others way, De Chirico and Carr had no choice but
to reassess what art should be doing from then on. Putting aside the mutual
accusations and counter-accusations over who did what with respect to the very
concept of Metaphysical Art, the way their works coincide begins to tell us
something more radical and extremely profound about childhood as a grammar. In
this grammar form does not stop with art, even when it is art that allows women
and men to metaphysically reclaim their own inexperienced youth.
CHILDHOOD AS A FORMATIVE GRAMMAR

De Chirico and Carrs work offer another take on childhood, by which we could
begin to approach art pedagogically, and therefore investigate what one might call
arts philosophy of learning. Yet even if one were to begin with arts inherent
pedagogy, this is not where it would stop. The very assumption of a grammar of
childhood must raise a wider critical discussion about the image of the child and
childhood, as well as that of learning with a view to the problematic of experience
and its (im)possibility. This is because if as Agamben (2001) contends, the
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expropriation of experience was implicit in the fundamental project of modern


science (p. 11), then the impossibility of experience now would imply other than
an attempt to restore it. Rather it would involve a restoration of a sense of
childhood where the lack of experience affords us with the sight of the real face
behind what Benjamin (1996, p. 3) calls the mask of the adult that is experience
itself.
But how is childhood ever restored? How is experience, in its ambiguous
history and science, ever presumed in terms of possibility? In this respect one must
begin from two ends: that of art and that of learning. These two ends must operate
on a ground that remains disputableas well as disputedby how it could never
aspire to be resolved in any form or message. In other words, the presumed ground
on which art and learning operate must remain philosophical, just as the aporia by
which these two ends are disputed pertains to the paradoxical nature by which art
and learning sustain human creation. Both casesthat of a philosophical ground
and the aporia of art and learninghold the same reason by which neither could be
read in vacuo, especially when brought together critically and where the aim is to
retain the agn that sustains such a critique.
The artistic context takes a foundational aspect in that it enables us to find and
give further meaning to three key words: the child, the image, and what is here
being identified as a metaphysics of childhood. Although philosophical in its tenor
and inasmuch as it appears to approach Benjamins reflections on the metaphysics
of youth, the term metaphysics must be played by a desire to claim an origin
(understood as per above), which reminds us that we all share childhood. By this I
do not mean that we all agree what childhood is or should be. Neither does it
follow that childhood is key to everythingwhether existential, artistic or
pedagogical.
In this case childhood is related to metaphysicsthat is, with an origin that
emerges from the process of becoming and disappearance (Benjamin 1985, p. 45).
In this respect a metaphysics of childhood would stand for other than knowing what
childhood is all about. Childhood is not a first principle, and therefore it holds no
key to subsequent teleological projects. As we speak of it, we speak of childhood
as adults. As we experience it, we experience childhood from an impossibility that
reminds us that we can only discern what it might be by observing others who are
still children. This means that we speak of childhood from two immediate levels: a
personal reflection of ones own childhood, which is invariably full of memories
but also replete with inaccuracies, projections and experiential anathemata (as
experiences that we transcend, deeming them as beyond our temporal limits); and a
presumed universal level, which stems from the simple fact that we were all
children and that there will always be a childhood as long as there are humans left
on Earth.
To take on the personal level of childhood first would only require a few
seconds of reflection: Everyone was a child; the five, six, seven, eight year old who
lived at a specific address, and went to a particular school in a specific country.
Like many, though not every child, one lived with ones parents. Sometimes,
though not always, one shares childhood with one or many siblings. Siblings share
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CHILDHOODS GRAMMAR

their childhood with their immediate family as well as a larger, wider, family of
younger and older cousins. One shares childhood with other (unrelated) children:
friends and schoolmates, children living in the same neighbourhood, etc. As an
adult and parent one experiences another individual level of childhood. As a
parent, one shares childhood with ones childs personal experience, which she
shares with other children, girls and boys, who are her relatives, friends, etc.
Yet this means as much to me as it might mean nothing to anyone else. My
childhood is one amongst billions. This may say several things about my
individuality, but it also means that as an adult I belong to a universal childhood
that we can only assume as being universal because we all have been children
nothing more, nothing less. Somehow this universality turns into its other: it
becomes contingent to sheer number. As such, the universality of childhood comes
from a rational accommodation of quantity. By the convenience of reason we all
recognise ourselves as a universal species that perceives within the experience and
notion of childhood a common grammar of humanity. By dint of this humanity
or lack of itindividuals are or have once been children, and would always share
and continuously construct myriad definitions of childhood. In their plurality these
definitions are disparate, but they also provide a common point of reference. The
latter looks more like a point of departure to which we always return by the habit
of making sense of what the adults experience could never really explain. We all
know what childhood is, even when we have very different experiences of it. But
this experience is by definition never one that could be either resolved or relied
upon, given that childhood also indicates a stage of continuous movement and, by
implication, a continuous return to the same desire to know the world.
When we speak of childhood, we also speak childhood. We speak about
children, but we also speak as children. We do so by holding onto the idea that a
memory of childhood is one of those few common grounds that we might be able
to claim. Even if this ground is invariably constructed and could be disputed on
every possible other groundbe it cultural, historical, sexual, racial, etc.the
notion of a memory of childhood constructs a kind of grammar that helps us
articulate what it is to be a child. Yet the physicality of these constructs always
reminds us that they are manufactured origins; they are exclusive as soon as they
include new elements in what we conveniently find more accommodating. In this
way childhood becomes metaphysicalit precedes the physical actuality by
which we project it. Bearing this paradox in mind, the metaphysics of childhood
cannot be limited to children. It must also refer to a state of mind that stays with us
beyond childhood itself.
One could argue that the metaphysics of childhood is a grammar of memory. It
constitutes the structure within which we tend to construct myriad identities for
ourselves. Beyond its developmental structures, whose properties constitute the
most tangible constructs of this grammar, childhood is metaphysical by the sheer
fact that it remainsjust as in Busonis analogy, the plaster mask of tradition
remains, even when it appears to change in each and every re-emergence. Because
it remains, childhood retains a language of Being that overcomes any limit by way
of age, development or circumstance. Inversely, age, development and
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circumstance become other than personal, and would become everyones concern.
In this way, the developmental properties of childhood are externalized and seen
for the constructs that they are. As it remains, childhood also becomes a form of
representation that allows us to move between other forms of reprrsentation.
The constructed character of human development must be kept in mind as
discussions of childhood move into matters of reason, the imagination and
moralityin other words, when we engage with the dilemmas of truth, beauty and
goodness in matters of learning. As a mediator (or signifier) of a human
community, childhood provides us with an infrastructure for the construction of a
moral imagination by which we judge and define a continuously changing set of
values. The moral imagination is central to issues of formativity. I say formativity
and not formation because I want to distinguish between a passive formation of
knowledge (by accumulation and experience) and an ability and activity of reformingas a process from becoming to knowing. Formativity is ontological first,
epistemological later. (In other words, it pertains to being so as to become
knowable.) As a process, learning as formativity indicates that first the learner is,
after which the learner knows. This distinction helps me, later on in this chapter, to
latch onto the notion of image as a doing, and therefore an image as a form of
knowledge that comes from within a relationship that provides a point of origin
from within the selfas being.
Formativity falls within the boundaries of a sense of being by which we
continuously inhabit and construct ethical spaces that provide an edifice of
knowledge, and within which we construct those values that enable us to move on
and develop strategies for life in the form of learning. By inhabiting (and
constructing) our spaces we learn to be. By being, we learn to know. The catalyst
of formativity provides an ever-changing terrain on which we assemble both space
and knowledge.
PED(AGO)GY

The ancient Greek word for this terrain of assembly is agn. Etymologically, agn
is retained in the word pedagogy. In ancient Greek agn (and its derivatives
agnos and agon) denotes many meanings. It means an assembly in the sense of
both a meeting-place, as well as a place of combat. It also implies a moving agent
towards a legal dispute (as a lawsuit), which suggests other forms of intention such
as exertion and struggle. In other words, the edifice for formativity within the
meaning of the word pedagogy is not entirely benign or straightforward.
Formativity implies a negotiation of values and actions where the experience of
individual knowledge and the construction of social morality cannot be assumed as
natural or as a set of procedures that one could take for granted. Pedagogy in this
wider context implies a formative process that is contested and fought for. This

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context is therefore sustained by a continuous construction (and reconstruction) of


a plurality of narrativesbe they legal, epistemological, ethical or aesthetical.1
Understood in terms of the Latinised pedagoga, we often make of pedagogy a
method of teaching the child. However we should keep in mind the notion of agn
as foundational to the other Greek term paidagogoa term which, unfortunately,
in English lost its original meaning to the rather brutish notion of the pedagogue,
when in effect it should belong to the notion of a leader and facilitator. As
understood in its Greek meaning, pedagogues facilitate a journey that takes place
on the grounds of the same agn over which, as members of a community, we
share being through processes of learning and doing. If we keep in mind the notion
of childhood as a metaphysical grammar by which we share being, we could then
argue that education implies an act of sharing our understanding of being in the
world on the universal grounds of childhood, reconstructed as a common origin.
This humanist notion of education has somehow been lost in the intricate polity
of language. Even after the Enlightenment, education wavered between a
rationalistic view of the world and that of a more culturally and poetically
embedded vision. Perhaps these two poles are emblematised in the rational and
scientistic certainties by which Rene Descartes sets out his Regulae ad directionem
ingenii (Rules for the Direction of the Mind, written in 1628) on one hand, and in
Giambattista Vicos response in Scienza Nuova (The New Science, written in
1725) where he proposed a poetic development of humanity founded on
knowledge, learning and culture.
As we still struggle between learning by standards and method, and learning
through creativity and the imagination, our concepts of learning seem to have
forgotten another ancient concept of learning; this time related to the notion and
definition of memory and, as Socrates tells us in Platos Phaedo, to that of
immortality. For obvious reasons the Socratic notion that learning is indicative of a
recollection of an omniscience which the soul allegedly enjoyed before it was
burdened by the mortal body, may not sound attractive (or indeed effective) in our
modern attempts to put up with the challenges of curricular politics. Yet I would
like to think that beyond its poetry Platos notion of learning remains an effective
safeguard of what we are all aboutas individuals that have an invariably diverse,
yet somehow common interest in the process of learning. After all is said and done,
the whole notion of childhood does not pertain to education simply because we
presume to educate the younger generation. Rather, we have a direct interest in
education because we all share a grammar of childhood through which we sustain a
modicum of hope in a world that always presents us, in its factual state, with the
loss and fragmentation that questioned the bond between the true, the beautiful and
the good.
Referring back to the citation from Adornos Negative Dialectics which opens
this chapter, one finds how en passant, Adorno suggests that what the
unconscious knowledge whispers to the child is repressed by civilized

1
For a comprehensive discussion of the relationship between agn and learning, see also my
Education Beyond Education (Baldacchino 2009a).

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education. Yet the wretchedness of physical existence strikes a spark in the


supreme interest that is scarcely less repressed; it kindles a What is that? and
Where is it going? (1990, pp. 3656). As to how these questions come to be
answered is a matter that strikes at the heart of formativity and the contingency by
which learning is politicised through education. If the moral constructs by which
we also reconstruct our sense of childhood still sustains the repression sponsored
by civilized education then the assumed bond between reason, the imagination
and morality is bound to be questioned, and with it the very idea of the good.
Somehow childhood remains just about a tangible point of reference over which
we could all claim a right to memory, even when the good is in itself defied by
the very myth that sustained it in the first place and the political mechanisms that
continue to instrumentalize its assumptions.
Child psychologists often tell us that childhood is a signifier of adulthood. If
there is still place for the word essence in our contemporary vocabulary, we
might be correct to claim that childhood just about approximates a representation
of what essence may be. But as argued above, any sense of essence remains
contingent upon the historical character of our constructions of the idea of origin
and childhood. This is where the first entry (that of learning) stops, and where the
second one (that of art) begins to peel away our constructed positing of childhood.
Through art, childhood cannot be simply equated with a prospective return to
genesis. We must take serious note of Benjamins warning over conflating genesis
with origin. While a concept of genesis remains adept to a mechaniseddare I say,
positivisttemptation to fabricate unwarranted forms of causality; in reasserting
origin dialectically we would not only claim the historical dialectic that comes
with the idea of an origin, but we might begin to understand why Adorno defines
metaphysics as the product of a breach between essencesthe gods secularized as
ideasand the phenomenal world.
() a breach which is inevitable as soon as the gods become concepts and
being becomes a relation to existing things; at the same time, however, these
two moments cannot be naively related together or formulated concurrently. I
believe this way of stating the matter may better define the locus of
metaphysics in the history of philosophy, and thus define the essence of
metaphysics as well (for I believe the essential is always historical). (Adorno
2001, p. 19, my emphasis)
With the essential firmly understood as always historical one recalls once
more Benjamin (1996, p. 46), when he states that the task of the investigator begins
just as we realize that every primitive fact cannot be considered as a
constitutive determinant, and therefore as constitutive of any claim to origin.
Assuming that the present argumentas it starts from the two points, of learning
and artbegins with a task to investigate, another warning of Benjamins must be
heeded. He states that the investigator cannot regard such a fact as certain until its
innermost structure appears to be so essential as to reveal it as an origin. In
Benjamins line of argument this serves as cue to investigating what the origin
implies and what essence it portends:
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The authenticthe hallmark of origin in phenomenais the object of


discovery, a discovery which is connected in a unique way with the process
of recognition. And the act of discovery can reveal it in the most singular and
eccentric of phenomena, in both the weakest and the clumsiest experiments
and in the overripe fruits of a period of decadence. When the idea absorbs a
sequence of historical formulations, it does not do so in order to construct a
unity out of them, let alone to abstract something common to them all.
(Benjamin 1996, p. 46, my emphasis)
One must bear in mind that here Benjamin is making an historical overture
about the present (i.e. his present) while introducing his study of German tragic
drama. Reading, as it were, Benjamin after Adorno, we would find that as a
philosophical narrative that seeks to articulate the broken space between essence
and phenomena, metaphysics takes us back to the same grounds on which Carr
and De Chirico found themselves. This ground was not alien to Benjamins
present. It is also on this ground as a period of decadence that art is confronted
with the overripe fruits of a history in need of a restart. Only in this respect would
metaphysics begin to make some sense; precisely when it articulates the moment
when our historical sense of the worlds essence is evidently in breach of the world
that appears to those who are not only bereft of their once-held experiential
certainty, but also nostalgic for a childhood where experience is spared from
materializing.
TOY-LIKE WORLDS, MEMORY AND THE ENIGMA

Lets focus on Carrs Antigrazioso (Bambina) and De Chiricos Il Cervello del


Bambino. I would suggest that we engage with these as they are without trying to
anticipate anything further than what they appear to be to us. As works of art,
Antigrazioso and Il Cervello construct a narrative that may or may not belong to
the daily encounters by which both artists suggest an image of the world.
Somehow in entering the realm of daily use, these works choose to exit familiar
assumptions. The latter would include both the assumptions we make about life in
general and those we attribute to art in particular. This is where the antinomic
character of art comes in full play.
Carr: Play and the delight of semblance
Antigrazioso was a term used by the Italian avant-garde to denote the negation of
grazioso (the gracious, or the beautiful). Hence antigrazioso as the anti-gracious
implies the ugly as an aesthetic term that aims to rebut the traditional and
romantic notion of aesthetics as a philosophy concerned with beauty as the
gracious and the good. Also Antigrazioso (Bambina) should not be read as the
anti-gracious girl but as two separate titles: Antigrazioso and Girl.
The child in the painting looks quite ugly. However it embodies childhood even
when one is tempted to consider this painting as a depiction of a small adult. We
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know that this is not an image of a small adult. We know this not only because the
other name for the painting is Bambina (Girl), but because the toy-like world that
the figure inhabits suggests a playful world; a world still to be discovered and
uncovered by the usage of apparent toys that would suggest other than child play.
While the suggestion of play in this work retains a form of childhood, the
representation of a child confuses the rest and somehow frustrates us from
assuming that this is a primitive image of a child at play. In many ways, this
confusion is what makes Antigrazioso (Bambina) fascinating. Fascinating, perhaps
in the sense that it presents the viewer with an equally curious (though perhaps
bewildered) definition of childhood. It is bewildering and therefore attractive. It is
archaic, yet remains fresh by dint of the audacity by which Carr makes a
statement that contradicts and rejects his Futurist utopianism.
In this painting Carr becomes avant-nostalgic.2 The avant-guardism of
yesterday has now become an avant-nostalgia for a history that is no more split
between the past and the future. Carrs face is now fixed on a series of narratives
found in a notion akin to a past (not the past), and yet his new work points to what
might become of us, thus suggesting a concept of the future. History takes over
these categories and in the place of past, present or future, Carrs art enters the
realm of memory and homecoming, which are neither yearning for a lost past, nor
romantically reclaiming the world of Giotto or Uccello. Carrs claim is
fundamentally different from his romantic and symbolic forebears. Unlike
romantic nostalgia, avant-nostalgia claims history by continuously engaging with
the present as a recollected recurrence whose memory does not pine for the myth
of a lost genesis. Instead, avant-nostalgia dialectically re-originates history by
transcending the artificial chasm between tradition and progress. (see Baldacchino
2002 and 2010)
Carrs Bambina looks at the present with an eye on a future that is insecure and
obscure. The girl is looking awkward because the present is ill at ease and because
the notion of the child is neither benign nor innocent but a tragedy
anachronistically kept in store for adulthood. This reclaims a wider sense of
playfulness, both as a representation of childhood and in terms of the playfulness
that childhood stands for. This work of art claims play as the childs right. Hence
the toys lying around: the trumpet and the house. The toys are toys because they
are jocularvisually and symbolically. They imply a game that art is now playing
and claiming back as a right to life. This is what in his 26th Aesthetic Letter Schiller
calls an entry upon humanity.
And what are the outward and visible signs of the savages entry upon
humanity? If we inquire of history, however far back, we find that they are
the same in all races which have emerged from the slavery of animal

2
I develop this concept in Avant-Nostalgia: An Excuse to Pause (Baldacchino 2002) and in Makings
of the Sea: Journey, Doubt and Nostalgia (Baldacchino 2010) particularly with regards to Salvador
Dal and Federico Garca Lorca.

30

CHILDHOODS GRAMMAR

condition: delight in semblance, and a propensity to ornamentation and play


(Schiller 1967, Letter XXVI, 3, pp. 1923).
Speaking of the savages entry upon humanity Schillers words would appear
very awkward. At first glance he seems to be implying that the savage is the
pre-civilized person, indeed the pre-bourgeois, or even the non-Westerner. Yet
on a closer reading, Schillers comments gain correctness and truth, especially in
the light of how historically, aesthetic experience remains an effective weapon in
the struggle against racism and oppression. There is no doubt that the savagery of
the white slave-owners was effectively confronted and ultimately beaten by the
affirmation of the arts within the enslaved peoples. If we are to speak of savagery
then we must speak of the savagery of Empire that put thousands of women and
men in the slavery of animal condition. Reading the savages entry upon
humanity in the latter context, the savage is he whose brutality has enslaved
others. The liberation from this savage state would therefore apply to this kind of
savagery.
More to the point of Carrs work, we see how in Antigrazioso the delight in
semblance and the propensity to ornamentation and play rise from the debris of
the savagery of World War I. One could even claim that alas this did nothing to
stop the savagery of Fascism and Stalinism. The delight in ornamentation and play
once more survived the horrors of the ultimate savagery in Auschwitz, some
twenty-nine years after Antigrazioso, where composers continued to write music
even when, as Adorno suggests, it was dubious whether after Auschwitz we could
still write poetry. (Adorno 1984, pp. 361ff.) It still remains to be seen whether the
savagery of September the 11th 2001 and the wars that ensued could fit this line of
inquiry. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the Taleban hated ornament, music and
image to the extents of what they imposed during their regime in Afghanistan.
Which is not to say that the Talebans savagery could justify or absolve the other
savageries happening elsewhere.
The girl in Antigrazioso is by no means an innocent child. The childhood by
which Carr reclaims his delight in semblance is sustained by the right to play, and
not by an assumed innocence. Play is not conditioned on innocence. Rather the
play that this image suggests is awkward, because though the trumpet and the
house look like childrens toys, they come to signify other than the child per se.
Again I refer to Schiller when he says that the only kind of semblance I am here
concerned with is aesthetic semblance (which we distinguish from actuality and
truth) and not logical semblance (which we confuse with these): semblance,
therefore which we love just because it is semblance, and not because we take it to
be something better. Only the first is play, whereas the latter is mere deception.
(1967, Letter XXVI, 5, p. 193)
Schillers line of argument fits the notion of an awkward childhood in Carrs
work. Semblance and play are not utilities or instruments of change per se. They
change and critique the world by absolving themselves from the structures of
logical semblance. By possessing reality absolutely they take a metaphysical

31

CHAPTER 2

approach, which Henri Bergson defines as the science which claims to dispense
with symbols.
If there exists a means of possessing a reality absolutely, instead of knowing
it relatively, of placing oneself within it instead of adopting points of view
towards it, of having the intuition of it, instead of making the analysis of it, in
short, of grasping it over and above all expression, translation or symbolical
representation, metaphysics is that very means (Bergson 1992, p. 162).
Like Boccioni, Carr read and knew his Bergson well. The metaphysics by
which Bergson seems to approach the world, comes to a fuller and less literate
fruition in Carrs post-futurist works, as in his other work on childhood Ricordi
dInfanzia (Memories of Childhood, 1916), which will be discussed in the next
chapter. Like Schillers notion of aesthetic semblance Bergsons intuitive means of
possessing reality suggests a form of absolute play. Play becomes synonymous
with the moment of absolute intuition in what Bergson articulates as placing
oneself within reality without any use of symbol or translation.
Both Antigrazioso and Ricordi dInfanzia suggest a way in via a point of exit.
We as an audience could see ourselves view the world through the eyes of the girl,
though we know that we have long exited and left behind the perspectival
situatedness of childhood. Our memory of childhood is avant-nostalgic because it
reconstructs and simulates a recurrence of a childhood that is no more. The
memory that we recollect is consciously re-presented but it is no less valuable or
potent. Antigrazioso invites us to cast our eyes and take delight in the ornament of
a chequered floor, the play of a toy trumpet and what appears to be a dolls house.
Ricordi dInfanzia suggests an eerie world of toys that resemble the implements of
war. These toys are as awkward as the girls trumpet and dolls house in
Antigrazioso. There is always a feeling that our gazing at these works is turned on
us and it belongs to another gaze, by which we are being seen. As viewers that are
in turn being viewed, we exchange roles with the work and become its subject. We
go on stage and the image takes the role of an audience looking at us. We are
expected to take delight in semblance and play. Our roles alter just as the image of
a child alters the way we see the world. Somehow with childhood we become
actors. We are returned to childhood as if we ourselves become children once
more.
De Chirico: Childhood, openness and interpretation
De Chiricos Il cervello del bambino takes the discussion of childhood onto
another stretch of the horizon. Here I would like to refer to the discussion, earlier
in this chapter, where I make reference to a definition of knowledge by way of a
relationship between self and knowing, and between our being in the world and the
world as being every thing. By being in the world we know, we play and take
delight in semblance. All these acts are pretty much summed up in De Chiricos
work, where every thing would suggest a horizon of interpretations by which we
make sense of the world. In its various levels of interpretation this work also tells
32

CHILDHOODS GRAMMAR

the story of childhood. One can read childhood in De Chiricos work by tracing
three instances on its hermeneutic horizon. The first pertains to art as a doing that
precludes the closure of meaning by an immediate and certain world. The second
instance presents the grammars of childhood and art as methods of interpretation.
By relating both instances the painting provides us with a further instance: an
openness that De Chiricos metaphysical art offers in terms of an ability to
recognise and live with the enigmatic contexts of meaning.
In terms of De Chiricos work (and to some extents, Carrs), the horizon of art
extends across doing, interpretation and openness and continues to do so as long as
we engage with it as an audience. However, we may well ask whether these three
moments could really extend to the notion of childhood, especially when De
Chiricos work latches onto childhood not merely as a theme (as a title or a story),
but by way of his metaphysical reading of the psyche.
Il cervello del bambino has been interpreted as the embodiment of the journey
between, in this case, the boy and his growing into a man. Psychoanalytical
readings attribute various symbolic meanings to the objects that emerge within De
Chiricos paintings. The brain (cervello) of the child may or may not entirely
equate with the mind (mente) of the child. This could be trivial at one level, but
quite important at another, especially if (as De Chirico insisted) Metaphysical Art
must be distinguished from Surrealism. The artists reference to the brain seems to
imply a memory that is different from that of the minds subconscious. There is a
sense of physicality that seems to mediate the presence of the body and not just the
mind. In this respect memory becomes corporeal and not just mental. In De
Chiricos work the narrative of memory appears more obvious and accessible than
the narrative of the subconscious as depicted by Surrealists like Dal and Magritte.
In De Chiricos work, the subconscious is direct. His visual representation of a
memory that still tells stories that remain in control of the storyteller is more
effective as an iconic approach. Here, memory is equivalent to the construction of
ones own daily reality.
By this token, the openness that the Metaphysical work of art proposes to us
as those who do art either by making or by being at sight of it, as its audience
becomes more tangible and familiar. By dint of the familiar we are also led into art
as we live the everyday, almost as surrogate artists. In De Chiricos work, the sense
of the quotidian comes from his images even if the arrangement of familiar objects
is often odd and appears quite surreal. But here the surreal stops short of being
estranged from us, as we are always prompted with a notion of belonging
whenever we engage with his work. This is especially tangible in his depiction and
representation of physical space. De Chiricos space is a possible one. We could
well see ourselves inhabit his deserted squares, strolling by the many arcades that
are so reminiscent of a city found around the Mediterranean, where archways are
meant to protect one from the sun and where squares bring people together in cool
summer evenings. On the other hand, Dals landscape, which is equally
Mediterranean in origin, tends to reconfigure space in a way that we could only
inhabit in the mysteries of the unconsciouseven when the formations that appear

33

CHAPTER 2

in Dals work are directly taken from the physicality of landscapes such as Cape
Creus and Port Illigat in Catalonia. (Dal 1986, 1993)
To inhabit De Chiricos space is to inhabit ones own space. This becomes
clearer when we talk of childhood. The childhood of the man and what inhabits the
brain as memory is a space that has been inhabited by us as human beings, and
more importantly as individuals with a story to tell. Childhood is not a dream but a
memory. And because childhood is memorial it allows for segments of
interpretations by way of inhabiting it as a familiar space. Childhood and its
hidden depiction in De Chirico also pertains to the enigma of life. This opens the
enigma of truth in a formative way. By saying that truth is being opened to the
enigma, one does not mean a deferral of truth to noumenal eternity. Rather De
Chirico depicts truth as a plurality that remains familiar and which is well within
everyones grasp. The enigma is another form of reasoning and remains within the
ordinary even when its rearrangement appears surreal or extraordinary. Thus the
ethical imagination by which we conduct ourselves and live out the enigmas of
life, remains within common reach.
We reach out for the enigma and make it ours. We know that this is possible
when we look at De Chiricos work, and even when we are not sure whether our
interpretation is right. Interpretation is open and whether it is right or wrong, it
would in any case pertain to the rules we make for the appropriation of the enigma.
Thus the enigma is part of a formative terrain. Going back to the notion of agn as
that meeting place over which we acquire a facilitation of knowledge, one could
say that in De Chirico and Carrs spaces one finds a similar state of affairs. The
space that is depicted at both the iconographic as well as the metaphorical levels of
these paintings is given through the relationship between doing, interpreting and
the enigmatic rearrangement of the ordinary. In this respect we could speak of a
gift because the work provides the possibility of facilitation by sheer situation. This
means that by us being there the space of art provides us with the event of
knowledge. The gift is therefore two-fold: it operates as a facilitation of Being,
which in turn becomes formative. Arts space (its agn) is signified by a latent
childhood that in its familiar memory gives us the possibility and the means of
appropriating the unfamiliar.
But the gift must not be read as an object that is received passively. In both
works, art as a gift becomes an act. The delight in play and semblance are
enhanced by an act of giving. This giving emerges from childhood as the given of
reality. As a given of reality, childhood emulates the metaphysical moment that
dispenses with description and instead places knowledge akin to what Bergson
calls the placing [of] oneself within it instead of adopting points of view towards
it (1992, p. 162). To be placed requires an ability to be there. What is there is not
merely found. Nether is it simply, or naturally, learnt.
This is where we start to operate on enigmatic rules. De Chirico and Carrs
narratives do not allow us to rely on assumed theories of knowledge or learning.
They request and prompt interpretation through the aporetic grounds of the
enigma. Nothing is accepted or assumed as knowledge by being simply there.
Perhaps unlike philosophical notions of metaphysics, metaphysical art claims the
34

CHILDHOODS GRAMMAR

right to take on the enigma as the givenness of truth, and by its familiar
whereabouts we find our way into it by exiting what is normally expected of it. To
think otherwise would defy what Schiller favours as aesthetic semblance (rather
than logical semblance). With play as aesthetic semblance, we are urged to love
[it] just because it is semblance, and not because we take it to be something better.
(1967, Letter XXVI, 5, p. 193) This kind of licence is not gratuitous, but I would
argue that it is fundamental to the survival of play in both art and learning. If we
yield to logical semblance and assume that semblance is there to tell us something
and teach us something to which we have to subscribe at all costs, then we are back
into the spiral of instrumental reason where knowledge is only formative because it
yields a specific end.
We owe our thinking to the gifts of play and childhood. Without such gifts we
could never make a case for education, let alone art. But to do so, one must also
exit the assumption that what is given is there to be found or taken. This is why the
Modern cannot be assumed as the actuality that we find. Nor does it extend from a
familiar sense of newness or youth. Both De Chirico and Carr seem to suggest
that the modern emerges from what is strange by dint of childhoods familiarity.
To do art is to reposition the enigma at the centre of interpretation, just like a child
feigning to shoot a toy gun, dressing a doll or playing with a marionette. But here
we are also confronted by the question of our own position in history: whether (nor
not) we see ourselves as the Children of Modernity. If indeed we are the Children
of Modernity, we are faced with the task to define, or at least approximate, what
this could mean.

35

CHAPTER
C
3

MODERNI
M
ITYS CHIILDREN

The origin
o
of art, saaid Hegel, resid
des in the act oof the child whho skims stoness,
transfforming the su
urface of the water,
w
that of natural appeearances, into a
surfacce for the maanifestation of his lone willl. But this chiild, who skim
ms
stones, is also a chilld whose artisttic ability is boorn of the pure contingency oof
proxim
mate noises, of the mixed no
oises of artless nature and maaterial life. Thiis
child cannot be conceived in both aspects withouut contradiction. But whoeveer
sets out
o to suppresss the contradicction in thoughht thereby alsoo suppresses arrt
and th
he aesthetic sen
ntiment that on
ne believes is ppreserving.
Jacques Ranccire, Aesthetics and its Disconteents (2009, p. 122)

Henri Rousseau
R
Le Do
ouanier treats painting
p
as a ccategorical reppresentation whhere
nothing is left out. Hee makes it a point
p
to includee all possible detail in terms of
form and
d structure, space and colourr. This exactinng manner is exxemplified in his
painting Pour fter le
l bb. Lenffant au polichhinelle (Celebrrating the chiilds
birthday
y. Child with a marionette, 1903). Even tthe title is com
mprehensive, aas it
describees what the pain
nting depicts: the
t celebrationn of an infants birthday, withh the
child holding a marion
nette of Pulcineella, or Punch that looks likee an adultwhhich,
some wo
ould suggest, might
m
representt the childs ow
wn father.
In Leenfant au policchinelle Le Douaniers rendittion of the backkground, the cchild
and the marionette fo
ollow what on
ne could call a compositionnal egalitariannism
where nothing
n
really recedes just as nothing efffectively procceeds, and whhere
foregrou
und and backgrround hold equ
ual focus. Anyy omission of ddetail is precludded.
All appeears to be neccessary, down to every leaf, flower and shhoelace. Moree so,
nothing included is ev
ver mediated by
y what could ssuggest or signnify the subjecct of
the work
k other than wh
hat isin this case,
c
a child peer se. Like his depiction of shhips
and sea, jungles and foliage,
fo
tigers and
a lions, housses, windows aand trees, childdren
Douaniers subbject
and adullts, dancing cittizens and sleeeping gypsies; whatever Le D
may be, it remains cattegorical in all his paintings. In his depictiion of childrenn the
intent is to realize a ch
hild through artt, just as any otther subject muust be presenteed in
its entiree truthfulness. In Le Douaniiers art style remains continngent upon deetail,
especiallly when eviden
ntly his excessiive attention too detail makes style redundannt.
In fulll formal and chromatic syn
nchrony with tthe backgrounnd and marioneette,
Lenfantt au polichinellle presents thee child as a faait accompli. T
The complete ((and
strangely
y accomplished
d) fact of this painting
p
is a veery specific eveent. It represennts a
privilegeed happening without
w
which there would hhave been no cchild, let alonee the
marionette or the landscape that grou
unds them. Thhis work of art also privileges us
37

CHAPTER 3

with an immediacy that volunteers us as an audience to this celebration. Yet as


Rousseau Le Douaniers audience we make assumptions that are not clearly set in
his work. In approaching the work and its subject we feel helpless in terms of what
possible criteria we could use to make sense of what this child holding flowers in
her shirt with one hand and a marionette on strings with the other, is all about. Just
as we assume that what is set is categorical enough to clearly make a bold
statement, the categories we attempt to use would immediately elude us.
In a childs hand, a marionette might well signify the play of semblance; the same
semblance by which, after Schiller, we allow ourselves to think of learning as an
aesthetic moment where we play truth with goodness. Schillers mind is set on a
bond of union between the form-drive and the material drive. This has to be a playdrive, since only the union of reality with form, contingency with necessity, passivity
with freedom, makes the concept of human nature complete. (1967, Letter XV, 4,
p. 103) Beyond any aspiration of a complete human nature, which prima facie seems
to regale play with a comforting role, one wonders whether this marionette is a play
on another kind of semblance; a referent of another mimetic order that lines up
childhood with adulthood, where the marionette comes to represent the adult whom
the child would one day become. After all, Le Douanier depicts an infant in
celebratory mood. It is her birthday. As if manipulating her future, the child may well
be pulling the strings of an adulthood figured as a helpless marionette which figures
an adult Punch fully fitted with a prominent moustache and whose strings strangely
afford us with the only true representation of freedom.
Maybe, as we can afford this kind of playful speculation, in Le Douaniers work
we would readily find a metaphor for Modernitys children.
CATEGORICAL SUGGESTIONS

To assume ourselves as Modernitys children, we must always resort to impossible


metaphors. As Rousseau Le Douaniers retrospective and anachronistic audience
(after all, we are not Le Douaniers contemporaries) we are credited to the child
and the marionette. We hold onto the subject of his paintings because that is all we
are offered. Its all we have right now and there is no promise for more. The
interpretation that this painting affords us is neither open nor enigmatic as in De
Chiricos Il Cervello del Bambino. Neither is it heavily laden with the historical
contingencies by which Carrs immediate post-futurist work appears to sustain its
dialectical play with semblance and essence, with form and content. Any
prolonged interpretation that would take us away from Le Douaniers child and her
marionette would be a misinterpretation of his art, and with it, the art of
Modernism, which we still claim as ours, even after a hundred years since its
inception.
In both its rendition and story this painting presents us with an unequivocal
choice. To judge or pose an interpretation that stands away from this works
immediacy is to tell tales. In its proscription of further mediation, this works
choice is as categorical as Le Douaniers depiction: either the child with the
marionette, or nothing. This is the art of the categorical, and its logic is specific to
38

MODERNITYS CHILDREN

it as a form that could never really bequeath any hermeneutic power to its
audience. The audience needs LEnfant au Polichinelle and not the other way
round; which is why we have no choice but to become the self-proclaimed children
of Modernity.
However without its Modern audience the painting is still there, and unlike other
works where the subject seems to move with the audience, in Le Douaniers work
the child and the marionette become intrinsic to the painting. Like the marionette, the
audience lies within the childs remit, as are the flowers held in the childs shirt.
There is no distinction between the painting as a work, the image by which it
mediates the world, and the subject that tells the story. The depicted child becomes a
living child; but living insofar as it is privileged with arts reality; or better put, as
paintings truth. As Schiller says of a block of marble: though it is and remains
lifeless, can nevertheless, thanks to the architect or the sculptor, become living form;
and a human being, though he may live and have form, is far from being on that
account a living form. In order to be so, his form would have to be life, and his life
form. (1967, Letter XV, 3, p. 101) This is why our metaphors for Le Douaniers art
are always wrong. And we know this very well. They are wrong metaphors because
his art is a sharp example that goes to affirm that art is never a metaphor, just as any
metaphors by which one seeks to interpret art always fall flat on their false premises.
There is no metaphor to a living form except its self-referencewhich prohibits in
its paradox anything that could be used in its stead.
Having stated its categorical nature, Lenfant au polichinelle still appears
questionable. It strikes the viewer with its nave language. Where does it stand in
terms of its forebears and contemporaries? And why should it fare with any other
artwork? Yet the questions that it raises are not coterminous with the
questionability raised from that of its contextbe it art-historical or stylistic.
Somehow the questions it raises are reassuring, if it were viewed through the
chiasmus by which one could see how the questionability of Le Douaniers art
necessitates the questioning by which art cannot be questioned. This chiasmic
pattern is reassuring only if read sideways, as Adorno and Horkheimer suggest in
their essay on the culture industry in Dialectic of Enlightenment, when they argue
that only in this confrontation with tradition of which style is the record can art
express suffering.
That factor in a work of art which enables it to transcend reality certainly
cannot be detached from style; but it does not consist of the harmony actually
realised, of any doubtful unity of form and content, within and without, of
individual and society; it is to be found in those features in which
discrepancy appears: in the necessary failure of the passionate striving for
identity. (1989, 130-1 my emphasis)
As I state that Le Douaniers art necessitates the questioning by which art
cannot be questionable, and that in his work the subject becomes categorical as a
living form, notwithstanding its nave rendition, I am certainly not suggesting any
desire for an identitarian equivalence between form and content. If one were to
argue that Le Douaniers work represents a classic case of nave art where form
39

CHAPTER 3

and content cohere in the curiosity of its pictorial manner, one would be stating
that the classical assumption made on it is a way of redeeming itthe nave art
form and not the art itselffrom its peculiarity.
Indeed for art to be a living form it must realize its peculiarity by which it contains
the paradox of its specialityas that which in its particularity, claims to transcend
itself by way of negating its origin. Yet any statement of peculiarity would render
inadequate any stylistic promise by which we often seek quick answers to explain
artistic representation. Just as this quick generalization would result in the same
wrong metaphors by which we seek to understand the childs demeanour in Le
Douaniers, Carrs or De Chiricos works, it is all too easy to fall foul of the facile
pedagogy by which many a docent, teacher or critic seek to explain art to an
audience in a museum, classroom or in the pages read by the priggish connoisseur.
To resort to the promise of style and to teach (or explain) what art is all about or
whether x or y is art by claiming some democratic entitlement, is to fall foul of the
deceptive mechanisms by which culture and its falsely assumed pedagogical
inclusiveness has taught us how to line our ducks in a row.
What Dadaists and Expressionists called the untruth of style as such triumphs
today in the sung jargon of a crooner, in the carefully contrived elegance of a
film star, and even in the admirable expertise of a photograph of a peasants
squalid hut. Style represents a promise in every work of art. That which is
expressed is subsumed through style into the dominant forms of generality,
into the language of music, painting, or words, in the hope that it will be
reconciled thus with the idea of true generality. (Adorno & Horkheimer 1989,
pp. 1301)
In this respect no art work could be shocking even when it has become all too
customary to expect contemporary art to scandalise or refute explanation
particularly when one attempts to reveal arts truth from its stylistic promise by
continuing to insist on its pedagogical veracity. Once the promise fails to
materialise, works like Lenfant au polichinelle would appear for what they seek to
befrank. To fail to see how this work emerges as frank, and therefore
unequivocal without it seeking to explain or let us know what we are supposed to
know, is to fail to accept that in its frankness Le Douaniers work insists to
present what it considers (perhaps even wrongly) as an equally blunt subjectthat
of childhood.
Well trained in our didactic expectation for inclusive explanations, we cannot
help it. So we insist on asking: In this painting what is the girl doing, holding a
marionette and a bunch of flowers? Why a marionette and not a pet? Is Le
Douanier trying to hide something? Is this painting offering more than meets the
eye? Or is it just a plain, straightforward picture of a girl holding flowers and a
marionette celebrating her birthday; an image of child play; an excuse to use a
commission for the sake of beautifying reality? But then isnt the girl quite ugly?
There is hardly a picture of innocence in her face. It is a stern face, almost spiteful.
It is an ugly child that looks more like an adult than a little girl. Was this down to
Le Douaniers inability to paint children?
40

MODERNITYS CHILDREN

As we seek conclusive explanations that would render the image truthful in our
trained minds, Le Douaniers paintings appear to fulfil an intention to make
everything look childlike. In most (if not all) of his works, he seems to want
everything to be playful and childlikefrom his painting of a football game, Les
joueurs de football (The football players, 1908) to that of La Guerre (War, 1894).
Thus we continue to seek the promise of style, and incessantly pose questions
like: Is this the work of an out of place romantic? Is Le Douaniers narrative
consciously taken out of every possible context (especially when one considers
how it coincides with Post-Impressionism)? Or was he simply inept; a dilettante
trying to do more than he could actually achieve? Is his nave depiction of
childhood an overall characteristic of his art? What does the nave offer by way of
its meaning? An occidental argument for primitivism? Or an inverse reaction to
Empire? Does Le Douaniers nave manner articulate the myth of the noble savage
and its presumed childlike innocence? Was it voluntary, or just the sign of an
attempted escape from the problems of Modernity?
Questions that emerge from any attempt to line up Le Douaniers work in the
structured history of art would invariably confirm our inability to move out of the
parallel reading of Modernity with an attempted return to a genesis; a return which,
as argued in the previous chapter, regards historical contingency as a consequence
of what we deem as being an exception in art or everything else.
What is said of Le Douaniers depiction of children says a lot about our selfregard as Modernitys children.
Beyond the question of whether this childhood is as mythical as the identitarian
ambitions of the Modern, what we see in Le Douanier might suggest that his work
is indeed the offspring of a human sincerity whose genius took an apposite and
effective narrative that is all too quickly deemed to externally look childlike in our
own ineptness to surpass our internalized prejudices. Beyond being merely
dismissed as yet another claim for a lost infancy of human expression, couldnt
Picasso, Apollinaire, Delaunay and others like them who acknowledged Le
Douaniers genius, have been right in regarding his art as quintessentially
Modernist?
GAINED BEING

Strangely, Carrs less endearing and far more curious works Antigrazioso
(Bambina) and Ricordi dInfanzia (Memories of Childhood, 1916) seem to exude
more confidence than Le Douaniers more unequivocal depiction of children in
Lenfant au polichinellenot to mention other paintings like Lenfant au rocher
(Child on a rock, 1897) and Portrait denfant (Portrait of a Child, 1908). By
confidence I do not mean a directness of meaning or definition, but a kind of
openness by which one can play with the work. This openness seems to come
from the gaps, or space, opened by Carr between the image of the child and the
objects that surround her.
Unlike Le Douanier, Carr presents us with childhood by means of attribution.
The objects and toys in the background or surrounding the image offer clues and
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make suggestions about childhood. Carrs children look odd and apart from the
titles, one can surmise they are children by guessing what the objects might be.
The faces of the child in Antigrazoso and what is suggested as a child in Ricordi
are in no way endearing or sweet. Even if one were to find Le Douaniers childlike
features slightly bemusing in that his adults look more like children while his
intended children look like small adults, his reference to childhood is quite direct.
In this respect the first direct contrast between Carr and Le Douaniers children is
the place and role of mediation. Their use of toys in their works differs radically.
Carrs toys are sinister, they point to an adult world, and the more adult they look,
the more childish is their meaning. Instead, in Lenfant au polichinelle Le
Douanier presents a doll that remains firmly in the hands of the child.
While the playful spaces in Carrs work invite an easier entry into what the
story might be all about, there is also an opposite effect in that Carrs work begins
to look odd. Unlike Le Douaniers, the paintings that Carr did in 1916 represented
his break with history. The end of his futurist utopia did not signify a decision of
style, but an existential crisis. In contrast Le Douaniers work appears consistent
and does not seem to have any qualms with history in that its sense of modernity
retains close proximity with the subject of his workthe here and now. Even when
there are nine years between Le Douaniers paintings Lenfant au rocher and
Portrait denfant, both paintings share the same manner.
Unlike Le Douanier, Carr moves from the futurist glorification of a present that
was supposed to be tumultuously and incessantly transformed into victorious
science, to a state of mind where it is the ordinary things [of everyday life] that
would reveal what leads to a superior state of being. (Carr 1983, XLIV) This
leaves its mark on his 1916 paintings Antigrazioso (Bambina) and Ricordi
dInfanzia. Giulio Carlo Argan argues that Carrs formal conviction attests to an
equivalence between painterly evidence and physical reality. This is
symptomatic of a painterly beauty that seduces the spectator in his journey to the
physical genesis or pre-cultural essence of things, in a way that it re-proposes
them in a sort of quasi-religious tensional pathos. (Fossati 1982, p. 193) Carrs
Ricordi dInfanzia cannot be read without being referred back to Antigrazioso.
This is not only because these works were painted in the same year but because
they mark a fundamental change in Carrs art. In their childlike forms these works
re-propose the child and the childlike as a shift in the very subject of art, by which
the post-futurist Carr starts to readdress the world. This is where Carrs work
reaches a point where everything adds up but where the limit of this temporary
totality is evoked in its enigmatic embrace.
Confronted with another painting which Carr did in 1916, Carrozzella
(Carriage) which depicts a horse and carriage that look very much like toys, his
friend and former futurist colleague Ardegno Soffici comments in a letter (dated
February 1917): You have made a violent leap (at least thats my impression) into
the primordial. Soffici almost laments that in this work he is unable to recognize
anything from the Carr [who painted] so many beautiful works whose vibrant
modernity [made them] much more lively than many others. (Carr, Soffici 1983)
As a good friend, Soffici tries to come to terms with how the work of an artist like
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Carr, whose futurist work was entirely chromatic, dynamic and quite dazzling,
could evolve into a manner that looked so alien. The static and reliquarian air to
these paintings is indeed haunting, not only because they tend to scare the viewer
by their intensity, but because they flow directly from a state of mind that was
quite anguished.
For some time the discussion between Carr and Soffici keeps going, and
somehow the dilemma for Soffici remains profound. Yet Carr is quite clear about
his post-futurist narrative. Sofficis letter is partly a response to Carr, who in
September 1916 writes: I believe that modernity would emerge if [and when] it is
in my spiritfinally liberated from so many pseudo-messianic prejudices
(pregudizi pseudo-avveniristici). (Carr, Soffici 1983) So far from auguring well
for a future, the children in Carrs 1916 paintings seem to bring a spirit that had
no interest in a pseudo-messianic frenzy by which the avant-garde vented its anger
against the past. Carrs children revisit the past and like new relics they
inaugurate a period where the mannequin fills Carrs canvases like his LIdolo
Ermafrodito (Hermaphrodite Idol, 1917) and La Musa Metafisica (The
Metaphysical Muse, 1917). In these works there is no interest in the future, but an
intensity that unfolds in the present. What matters to Carr is now distanced from a
loaded futurist time ready to explode in a technological utopia. Instead of
chromatic and formal simultaneity he is now interested in a formal and linear
simplicity that overtakes any artistic anxiety he may have had before.
To read Carrs 1916 paintings in this context, would mean that one needs to
internalise modernity and distance it from that of an externalised ground of
positivist certainty. What takes its place is simplicity of form and line. In Carrs
work time becomes secondary to space. Carrs history becomes a
phenomenological problem and not an overarching paradigmatic phenomenon. On
the grounds of theory this recalls what Wittgenstein once said, where rather than a
phenomenology we begin to recognise a series of phenomenological problems
(1990, I 53, p. 9).
In Ricordi dInfanzia time emerges as a phenomenological problem taking the
form of, or even coming disguised as, childhood. Carrs memories of childhood
inhabit and appropriate time by transforming it into a spatial concept. Memory as
time becomes a space for equivalence. As Argan rightly suggests, in Carrs work
painterly evidence and physical reality operate on equal degrees of truth. This work
seems to substitute history by childhood; but here childhood is mediated by
something else; and it is not directly identifiable with a stated definition of
childhood as in Le Douaniers children.
TIME DISCLAIMED

In an essay titled The role of time and place in the work of the Douanier
Rousseau, Tristan Tzara (1969, 14) argues that Le Douaniers pictorial language
is clearly directed to the human heart, where the lessons of love that it gives us,
assume a universal character by reclaiming ancient traditions. Tzara argues that
there is no more need to appeal to the sense of curiosity elicited by Le Douaniers
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painting in order to appreciate the lyricism by which he passionately takes on


fundamental themes of existence such as love, freedom, beauty and tenderness.
If it is true that he gives importance to symbol, this never degenerates into
allegory. For wanting to express how much greatness exists in man,
Rousseau must be considered amongst the greatest. Without any hesitation,
and with a sense of security that is only in the gift of purity and the surge of
generosity, he threw himself into a universe of feelings whose meanings have
never stopped to move and bewitch us. After all, what does the apparent
anachronism of his vision matter when set against so much dry
intellectualism? The lessons of love that he gives us assume a universal
character, in thatin going back to ancient traditionsRousseaus pictorial
language clearly aims straight to the heart of man. (p. 14)
Tzara insists that Le Douanier strongly upholds such themes when confronted by
destructive forces such as war and natures cruelty. Yet does this suggest the same
with regards to his depiction of children? Could one draw a parallel between
Rousseau Le Douaniers idea of childhood and that of his namesake Jean Jacques
Rousseau? Does the artists depiction follow the same assumptions and notions of
a child whose formative growth is premised by an openness to learning which, one
might add, leaves her open to the closed politics of education? In other words, how
does the painters sense of time fair with the historical contingencies that warrant
childhoods end in the inauguration of the adults political role? Where would Le
Douanier and Carrs inexperienced children end with the inauguration of the
political beginning of the adults experience?
Tzaras attempt to free Le Douanier from the morass of growth within history
and time may well be an attempt to avoid the question of the ultimate destination
that this childlike art takes. One way of approaching this question is to say that
given these works were painted by adults and not children, their child-like
iconography borrows a meaning of childhood for purposes that directly relate to
arts sense of beingthat is, in their sense of being art. Additionally in
accentuating this sense of being and being art, in their different depiction of
children, Ricordi dinfanzia and Lenfant au polichinelle also pose a disclaimer on
the concept of time. Carr actively seeks this disclaimer. He emerges from an
intensity of doing art for historical reasons, where history is claimed
wholeheartedly. In the case of Le Douanier one might argue that such a disclaimer
on time is done intuitivelymore by dint of the sense of being which his form
takes in its self-assumed autonomy and by force of the categorical sense by which
he depicts his subjects and turns them into art forms that are more like events
rather than worksof art.
To bring this claim into the light of arts sense of being, one needs to put aside
the question of how such a disclaimer of time could be assumed beyond arts
historical evidenceif there is such a thing in the first place. Here I would recall
Walter Benjamins critique of a dogmatic notion of history regarded by socialdemocratsand one could also add, by Modernistsas irresistible, something
that automatically pursued a straight or spiral course. (1973a, p. 252)
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In the 13th of his Theses on the Philosophy of History Benjamin argues: the
concept of the historical progress of mankind cannot be sundered from the concept
of its progression through a homogeneous, empty time. (Ibid.) Further on, in
Thesis 16, he states: A historical materialist cannot do without the notion of a
present which is not a transition, but in which time stands still and has come to a
stop. Benjamin adds that unlike the historicist who gives history an eternal
image of the past, the historical materialist blast[s] open the continuum of
history. (1973a, 254)
Benjamins position retains full validity beyond its critique of historicist
dogmatism per se. This was already evident in his early works, like his essay The
Metaphysics of Youth, discussed earlier. If one were to take on the notion of a
homogeneous, empty time, then the locus of history could never be located
somewhereassumed as if it were some imminent activity to which we remain
passive; but as a space in which we intervene with the explicit intention of
challenging and blasting it. Blasting the continuum of time means appropriating
history and not, as some historicists would argue, let history appropriate us.
I would suggest that this is what Carr and Le Douanier have done in their
respective works. By Tzaras argument Le Douanier was far from being some
passive dilettante coping with the toils of technique. Neither would he assume
childhood as a tabula rasa that is passively expectant of historys formative
intervention. Rather, Le Douanier takes on the art-form as someone who would
appropriate history and distend it with the presence of a willed world.
Within the categorical nature of Le Douaniers art, as a series of works that
directly respond to the need to bring about life in material form, nothing can
mediate the detail in Lenfant au polichinelle, neither in terms of visual perspective
(which he denies) nor in terms of didactic explanation. What signifies the child is
the child herself. Rousseau does not even allow any externalised sweetness to the
child. Perhaps this is an accident, but truly it works as a kind of critical
appropriation of childhood (and its ensuing notions). The child, the marionette, the
flowers and the landscape are events that need no further judgement. In this way
any ground for meaning or intention are taken over by an ever-present child
holding a puppet on a string. Nothing goes before or after. Time is emptied out of
anything that would or could act as some kind of otherness that would defer us
from the autonomy of the work itself. This is where we identify and appreciate the
power of Le Douaniers art. While we struggle with the equivocal questions of art
per se, the truth of this work lies in the childs self-presentation, the marionette and
indeed the flowers. This statement of fact needs neither signifier, nor any
supplemental meaning. Le Douanier claims for the child a facticity that does not
need metaphorical handles to make us pity or love the girl holding Punch while
celebrating her birthday.
This unequivocal imaging is equally achieved in Carr. Yet unlike Carr,
Rousseau Le Douanier never strains himself through the grand narratives of
history. His struggle remains private and to that effect his engagement with art is
equally autonomous. The speciality of the simple line and form achieved by Carr
has to be tested by the historicism by which the avant-garde proclaimed a new
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world that was doomed from the start. Carrs post-futurist choice is to leave the
dogma of history behind. Almost symbolically, his art even changes its chromatic
order. Before he formulates a new grammar in what follows his Metaphysical
phase, Carr goes into a quasi anachromatic period, where the very marks on the
canvas and the thick paint that dries on the surface bequeath a sense of being that is
just short of hitting Stoic austerity.
As in Antigrazioso, in Ricordi dInfanzia we are confronted by a face that is all
eyes, all intrusive, and that overpowers any commonplace sense of beauty. A
subject such as childhood, which is hardly expected to signify ugliness, comes to
signify the grammar of the ungracious, the rules of ugliness. It is as if Carr
deliberately deconstructs (and here I use the word with caution) the sense of return
by which he engages with that of origin. In Carrs return, memories are not
necessarily beautiful. Any beauty that one could assume is quickly internalised and
rendered ironical. The child signifies this paradox and the return stands more for an
aporiaas avant-nostalgiathan for a fulfilment of lost memories. In these
paintings the memories of childhood come out of a staring blank face, as if the face
refuses any consolatory meaning over the very memories that come to us.
PLAY REPLAYED

Both Carr and Rousseau Le Douaniers children intervene and disrupt the
certainty of the modern. However, their appropriation of an emptied time is far
from a simple disruption of time or some post-modern rupture. If we say that, then
we would say that actually time is full, whole and progressingthus acceding to
the dogma of inevitable progress. However what we could say is that by
appropriating time and somehow making it spatial, Carr and Le Douanier won
again for us the right to look history in the face and claim it as ours. Likewise we
do with art what we do with history, where unlike the commonplace argument of
any art form having to conform to the promise of style, art retains its autonomy and
thrives in what, in his Critique of Judgement, Kant identified as disinterested taste
and as purposiveness without purpose. (1974, 1 and 10)
It follows that while childhood becomes the purposiveness of the return to an
origin without having to resort to the myth of genesis, in works like Lenfant au
polichinelle and Ricordi dInfanzia, any purpose for the definition or rendition of
the child becomes irrelevant. One could argue that in these two paintings, the
child becomes contingent to childhood. Like beauty the child is contingent upon
arts return to its autonomy.
Jacques Rancire: Redistributed play
There is always an expectation of redistribution in the sense of play that one can
elicit from what is here termed as Le Douaniers categorical depiction. Here I use
the notion of redistribution from Rancires notion of le partage du sensible,
which denotes the distribution of the sensibilities and visions by which one
represents the world. The way this distribution goes would define the specific
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political parameters by which the sensible is shared, and therefore held by those
who seem to have in contrast with those who do not have a say in terms of what
and how much is being shared. (Rancire 2006)
In his Aesthetics and its Discontents, Rancire brings this redistribution in the
context of Schillers notion of play, which he sees as a new form of distribution of
the sensible. (2009, p. 30). It is interesting how while describing art as the
framing of a space of presentation by which the things of art are identified as
such, (2009, p. 23) Rancire defines politics as the configuration of a specific
space, the framing of a particular sphere of experience, of objects posited as
common as pertaining to a common decision, of subjects recognized as capable of
designating these objects and putting forward arguments about them. (p. 24).
Here I want to re-read this alongside the previous chapters discussion, which
realigns pedagogy with the agn and how this space of dispute and leadership
embeds education and art in the ludic and dialectical context of argument.
Rancires definition of art and politics as spaces that find new forms of
distribution in Schillers concept of play, further reinforces the intrinsic connection
between the politics of aesthetics and the ludic value that subsists in works of art
which, like Carr and Le Douaniers, provide indirectness and directness
respectively, and where new forms of distribution emerge.
As we have seen, Carr and Le Douanier represent play differently. While the
latter gives us a picture of children playing, the former locates play within the
memory of its objects. This difference is key to our reading of the nexus where art
and education may often crossthough I would hasten to add that this nexus is
never a given and neither should it be considered as a unique model for aesthetics
education. As an event of political distribution the nexus between art and education
must be read from where it takes place rather than from what one expects it to do
or achieve. The space that facilitates this event is that of the politics that take effect
neither as an exercise in art appreciation nor as a mechanistic assumption of
democratic education, but as a narrative of distribution where the sensible comes to
define what Rancire calls the common of a community. (2009, p. 25) Yet there
is no single mechanism that guarantees redistribution. Neither are there any
specific forms of pedagogy or democracy that could be used as formulae by which
the excluded and dispossessed would secure equality.
The case of play in Schiller shows that the politics of aesthetics cannot emerge
from pre-determined mechanisms set for art, culture or education. Rancires
reading of Schillers discussion of Juno Ludovisi (c. 100 CE) in his Fifteenth
Aesthetic Letter draws a fundamental distinction between the modernist notion of
self-containment and another meaning to arts autonomy, which is a form of freeappearance. (Rancire 2009, 27) Schiller famously states that it is not Grace, nor
is it yet Dignity, which speaks to us from the superb countenance of a Juno
Ludovisi; it is neither the one nor the other because it is both at once. (1967,
Letter XV, 9, p. 109) It is curious how this sense of completeness still emanates
from a head, which is what remains of the original acrolith that represented the
entire bodily representation of the highest-ranking female deity in Greek and
Roman mythology. The self-containment is formal inasmuch as in this work of art,
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form is living in terms of how its presence breaks out of the narrative meaning of
the deity and retains for itself the sense of autonomy by which it is defined. This
may be further reinforced by what subsequently seem to be a series of doubts as to
whether this work really does represent Juno, against conventional traditions that
say so. Beyond whom this work represents, Schiller (who has no doubt this is an
image of a deity) presses his point further in stating that: The whole figure
reposes and dwells in itself, a creation completely self-contained, and as if existing
beyond space, neither yielding nor resisting; here is no force to contend with force,
no frailty where temporality might break in. (1967, Letter XV, 9, p. 109, my
emphases.)
As Rancire reads Schiller this work of art affords the spectator free play in terms
of its self-containment, which in turn afford her idleness and indifferency. The
specific attribute of divinity is not to want anything, to be liberated from the concern
to give oneself ends and to have to realize them. And the artistic specificity of the
statue inheres in its participation in that idleness, in this absence of volition.
Standing before the idle goddess, the spectator is, too, in a state that Schiller defines
as that of free play. (Rancire 2009, p. 27). While here I would not presume to
fully describe or report Rancires entire argumentwhich would be better served if
it is read at sourceit is important to note how Rancire brings together various
contexts. The first is that of the state of free play. Then we are invited to think
beyond how the work affords the spectator free-play. And ultimately our attention is
drawn to how Schillers notion of play becomes a new form of distribution, in
denoting any activity that has no end other than itself, and which does not intend
to gain any effective power over things or persons (p. 30).
Rancire further makes some powerful remarks specifically on aesthetics
education, stating that what aesthetic education and experience do not promise is
to support the cause of political emancipation with forms of art. (p. 33). What one
draws from such a bold statementwhich Rancire follows comprehensivelyis
the need to clarify how and by what the nexus between art and education comes to
be located and actualised. But as this will be discussed later in this book, here I
would go back to the two works in question, and re-examine how in these works
play is re-played, bearing in mind that this would inform subsequent discussions of
aesthetics education.
In re-playing play one assumes that the notion of playfulness is being reexamined by the same ludic abilities by which we afford ourselves to read and
understand the world. If a cultural ground conditions this state of affairs, this
ground must be recognized as the condition upon which the spaces of art, politics
and subsequently education are distributed within the polity. Bearing this in mind,
we have to approach works like Lenfant au polichinelle and Ricordi dInfanzia on
the basis of what they afford us as spectators; which is where the question of play
cannot be simply assumed a priori and by dint of these works depiction of
children whom we assume to be either in a state of play (in le Douanier) or located
within the memory of objects of play (in Carr). Whether play is an ontological
state or a form of knowledge reported through objects of memory, it still instils in
us a sense of appropriation. But this also raises several questions, such as: Are we
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allowed to play with Carr and Le Douaniers depiction of children freely? Are
these children inviting us to play? And if so, is this invitation coming from a direct
representation of childhood, or as a signifier of our own memories of childhood? Is
the play afforded to us by these works recurred? In other words, is play always
open to be re-played?
Any claim to play from this end would have to be legitimised not simply by the
spaces within which we make sense of these paintings, but more so within the
spaces that these paintings afford us. In the case of Le Douanier we have a
categorical depiction of a child. Not unlike Juno, this child remains idle. Though it
may not afford the divinity of a goddess, this little girl claims a similar magnitude
of disinterestedness by which she asserts beauty on no other grounds than hers
that is, on the grounds of it being a work of art that exudes the independence and
specificity of a living form. Le Douaniers attention to detail gives us a different
kind of magnitude than Junos ancient sculptor. Yet this magnitude is no less
potent and in this respect one could well borrow Schillers words and state that Le
Douaniers child with a marionette reposes and dwells in itself as a creation
completely self-contained. Likewise it neither yields nor resists. Again here is no
force to contend with force, no frailty where temporality might break in.
This is achieved in the same way Rancire suggests that Schiller opens up the
notion of play to a new form of distribution. But at this stage one might also ask
whether this answers Schillers questions on the relationship between beauty and
play, when he asks whether beauty could be degraded by being made to consist of
mere play and reduced to the level of those frivolous things which have always
borne this name. (1967 Letter XV, 6, p. 105)
Giorgio Agamben: Toys beyond play
Schiller allays such doubts with a rhetorical question. How can we speak of mere
play, he states when we know that it is precisely play and play alone, which of all
mans states and conditions is the one which makes him whole and unfolds both
sides of his nature at once? (1967 Letter XV, 7, p. 105) He also argues that what
appears to be a limitation, he would consider as a form of expansion. This is all well
and good given that play and beauty are here assumed as each others prerequisite.
Indeed with beauty he plays. I take this as meaning that beauty acts as the fiat, the
go-ahead, of human play. And even when Schiller would distinguish between actual
existence and the ideal of Beauty that is set up by Reason, he reassures us that an
ideal of the play-drive, too, is enjoined upon man. (Ibid. p. 107)
However Schillers answer requires an additional level, which somehow is lost in
terms of the self-containment by which he makes a case for Judo Ludovisi. If, as in
the case of the paintings that we are discussing, one focuses on the agency of art,
the expansion promised by Schiller would have to probe beyond the given
reassurances. Here we speak of a sense of play that is not only replayed on arts
autonomy, as in Le Douaniers work, but which is extended by further agency. In
Carrs work this agency takes the form of an extensive spatiality that relays the
meaning of childhood to us as spectators. Carrs 1916 paintings require that play
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is not just read as a self-generated form of intuition, but as a ludic meaning that is
signified by the objects that grow within the paintings space. In this respect, the
notion of childhood is also re-played from that of the child to that of the spectators
own memory of childhood. In this particular case this would be a requirement in
our reading of Schiller. Such a requirement, however, must not be read in the spirit
of the historicists critique of Schillers worktypically found in Lukcs, to give
one example. (Lukcs 1979; 1980) Without ever needing to resort to a Lukcsian
critique, we must take Schiller for his word and read the ludic meaning of beauty
not as a limitation of beauty but as its expansion. Expanding from a sense of
beauty in play, we are then able to read contemporary art from its overt referencing
and relationship with historical contingency.
Taking the case of Carrs Ricordi dInfanzia and Anti-Grazioso (Bambina) as
referents to this requirement, we are immediately confronted by the definition of
play vis--vis the works qua works of art. As already suggested in the previous
chapter, the case for play in Carr comes through the signifiers that take the form
of toys which seem to suggest not only a narrative that empties itself from time,
but where the whole issue of arts historical directness (so much pronounced in the
futurist Carr) is radically altered if not abandoned. These objects become major
referents of a memory that substitutes time and transfers the urgency of being in
time to that of time in being.
In his essay Il Paese dei Balocchi, which corresponds to Pinocchios visit to
Funland where the days go by in play and good times from morning till night
and where at night you go to bed, and the next morning you begin all over again.
(Collodi 1986, p. 349), Agamben (2001) argues that play tends to break the
connection between past and present and to resolve and crumble (sbriciolare) all
structures into events. If ritual is, indeed, a machine that transforms diachrony into
synchrony, on the contrary, play is a machine that transforms synchrony into
diachrony. (p. 77)
This essay is published in Agambens Infanzia e Storia: Distruzione
dellesperienza e origine della storia (Childhood and History. The destruction of
experience and the origin of history), where the object of study is not art but
themes to do with childhood read within a historical context that seems so
immediate that there is never time to develop experience, but simply a time to
survive. Today we know, says Agamben, that for the destruction of experience,
there is no need for a catastrophe, and that every days peaceful existence in a big
city is perfectly sufficient. (2001 p. 5) There seems to be nothing left to translate
into experience in everyday life.
Not necessarily following Agambens line of argument, one could add that if the
destruction of experience has any direct repercussion on mediation per se, we
would realize that it is not the citys hectic lifestyle as such that proscribes
experience, but more prominently the lack of space, or appropriate distance that
might allow mediation to take place. The lack of a space where experience could
grow reflects a lack of redistribution in matters of language, knowledge, power and
being wherein the ability and role of criticality is further made impossible. This
also corresponds with an inflation of the ludic value by which communication has
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become all too easily played by those who are led to believe that communication is
increasingly democratised by the wider spread of popular media.
Here we go back to the populist assumption of inclusion. This populist state of
mind is not dissimilar from that of the children in Pinocchios Paese dei Balocchi
(Funland) in whose streets there was such gaiety, such a din, such wild shouting
as to take your head off. (Collodi 1986, p. 367) The sense of freedom that comes
from this land of ludic laissez-faire, where the ethical order is nil and where
freedom is presented as an absolute negation of any sort of constraint, is also
marked by specific territorial parameters. As long as one stays within the confines
of the designated land of fun, this freedom remains. However in the wider design
of Collodis narrative, this space is marked by deceit in that neither Pinocchio nor
any of the boys know what is in store for them. The total lack of education in
Funland results in a retro-formative state of affairs. Stupidity turns the children into
donkeys that are then sold on the market as beasts of burden. This is what in
Collodis pedagogical context, absolute play would lead to, not simply in terms of
its disruption of the diachronic order of time, but also in terms of its disabling
intellectual and ethical growth. In Funland evolution is reversed, and the incessant
farce of laissez-faire and absolute freedom turns into tragedy:
In every square you could see canvas puppet theatres crowded with boys
from morning till night; and on all the walls of the houses you could read,
written in charcoal, such choice sayings as these: Hurray for phun and
gams! (instead of fun and games), We dont want no more skools
(instead of We dont want any more schools), Down with Uhrit Matik!
(instead of arithmetic), and other such gems. (Collodi 1986, pp. 3678)
Beyond the disruption of knowledge, as expressly put in Collodis central moral of
this episode in Pinocchios life, Agamben draws another disruptionwhich is
expressly linked to the concept of time. In Funland time is plucked out of its
normal school-calendar sequence. All schooldays are obliterated, only to leave
behind those days where there is no school and where no constraints seem to apply
to the lives of children. Weekend breaks are immediately followed by more
weekend breaks. One vacation follows another. Agamben reads this invasion of
life from the part of play as having the immediate consequence of a change and
an acceleration of time (2001, p. 70) He then reads such disruption in parallel
with Levi Strausss anthropological observations of time and ritual where ritual
fixes calendars. This moves Agamben to argue that while ritual fixes and
structures the calendar, play on the contrary, even if we do not know how and
why, changes and destroys it. (p. 71)
However, as we have seen above, Agamben evolves this comparison into a
correspondence between ritual as a machine that transforms diachrony into
synchrony, and play as a machine that transforms synchrony into diachrony.
(2001, p. 77) What brings Agamben to evolve this apparent dualism between play
and ritual is his discussion of the agent of playthe toy. He invites his readers to
look at the world of toys, which shows that children, these rag-and-bone peddlers
(robivecchi) of humanity, play with any old junk that they come across. In this
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CHAPTER 3

way, play preserves profane objects and behaviours that no longer exist. (2001,
p. 73) Bearing in mind his attention to ritual, Agamben opens this analogy
significantly by remarking that:
Everything that is old, independently from its sacred origin, is liable to
become a toy. More so: the same appropriation and transformation in play
(the same illusion [illusione], which one could say, would give back its
etymological meaning coming from in-ludere) could also achieve the same
effect () in that which falls within the sphere of use: a car, a gun, an
electric cooker will, thanks to miniaturisation, transform immediately into
toys. (2001, p. 73)
In this way, Agamben defines the toy as something singular which could only
be grasped within the temporal dimension of a once upon a time (una volta) and
of not anymore (ora non pi). (2001, p. 74). He adds the condition that this once
upon a time and not anymore must be read not only diachronically but also
synchronically. Later in the same essay he makes a remark that once toys are used
as reminders of what has been left behind, they should be put away and in
parenthesis he wonders whether the sphere of art is that closet in which we put
away these objects as some sort of unstable signifiers that would no longer belong
to either synchrony or diachrony, ritual or play. (p. 84)
This brings up a series of observations that hold significant pertinence to our
analysis of the agency of toys in Carrs 1916 paintings. The first and perhaps most
important approach to play which I would read in Carr through Agambens
reflection on what he calls the essence of toys is that the toy shifts the emphasis
from that of time (in play) to that of space (in terms of where the toy is put once it
has been played with). This move from time to space is very much at the centre of
Carras shift of arts playfulness from time (in futurism) to the new spaces of being
(in his post-futurist and then Metaphysical Art).
Returning to my analysis of Carrs metaphysical art in the previous chapter,
within the space of art I would read the metaphysics of childhood from the world
that brings together the things by which we make sense of it. In our concern for
being through forms of artistic representation that reflect on what precedes the
physical conclusiveness of the world of things, the metaphysical artist moves
beyond the idealisation of our sense of everything. This brings us to the second
point that we take from Agambens analysis of toys. Re-reading the metaphysics of
childhood through an analysis of toys as those objects which recall time and allow
us to reconstruct the world in a playful manner where time is not only read as a
synchronous line but in diachronic play, we are drawn back to consider the
metaphysics of childhood as arts ability to capture the limits of any search for an
essence of being, but this time within the added space that the toys signify.
Carrs depiction of toys and children come to signify our own childhood. In
this respect we reassess our sense of play in at least two ways. The first has to do
with what these toys suggest to us as signifiers of our own memories. The second
falls within the parameters of arts autonomy as a formative space. As a signifier
that transcends the distinction between diachronic and synchronous time, and in
52

MODERNITYS CHILDREN

how it comes to define both ritual and play, the toy predicates free-play. In
predicating the condition by which free-play is often assumed either as the ruin of
reasonas in the case of Pinocchios quandary in Funland; or in being beholden to
the distributive parameters of beautyas in the ideal completeness of Juno
Ludovisi; art becomes a depository of time itself. This radically redefines the role
of play in art (not to mention other spaces of political distribution such as culture
and education) through the objects of the ludic meaning that we give the world
our toys.
Reading Agambens parenthetic comment on art through our reading of the
metaphysics of childhood in Carrs Ricordi dInfanzia and Antigrazioso
(Bambina), there is great potential in terms of extending arts formative space onto
a horizon that holds great promise in terms of how this formation evolves in terms
of a recurrence that is inherently linked to matters dealing with empathy, reality,
transience, beauty and happiness. As empathy becomes an aesthetic category, as
will be discussed in what follows in the second part of this book, the nexus
between art and learning begins to look less teleological and more ontological.
This is also where the question of art as a political space converges with the
pedagogical space provided by the agn. Here we have to confront questions that
have to do with art and knowledge, arts spaces of ethical representation, as well as
those transient forms by which we seek happiness through ludic meaning and by
which we produce irony in our pursuit of a critical understanding of happiness and
the irenic. As we begin with the play of the politics of aesthetics and the toys
which take us closer to understand how, as Modernitys Children, we now have to
face up to our political responsibility in reclaiming everyones right to a
redistribution of wealth, knowledge, and power as well as the sensible. This is
where our discussion begins to augur well for those who are interested in taking
aesthetic education beyond the pedagogy of art.

53

PART II.
EMPATHIC RECURRENCE

There is one who plays with usbeloved Chance: he leads our hand occasionally,
and even the all-wisest Providence could not devise any finer music than that of
which our foolish hand is then capable.
FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE

CHAPTER 4

STRONG EMPATHY

[W]hen you are to write to your friend, grammar will tell you what to write;
but whether you are to write to your friend at all, or no, grammar will not tell
you. Thus music, with regard to tunes; but whether it be proper or improper,
at any particular time, to sing or play, music will not tell you.
What will tell, then?
That faculty which contemplates both itself and all other things.
And what is that?
The reasoning faculty; for that alone we find is able to place an estimate
on itselfwhat it is, what its powers, what is value, and likewise on all the
rest. For what else is it that says gold is beautiful, since the gold itself does
not speak? Evidently, that faculty which judges of the appearances of things.
What else passes judgement on music, grammar, the other faculties, proves
their uses, and shows their proper occasions?
Nothing but this.
Epictetus, The Discourses. Book I. Chapter 1. (1944, p. 3)

These preliminary questions in the opening chapter of Epictetuss Discourses


concerning the things which are and the things which are not in our own power
could be reassigned as a perennial reminder to anyone considering specific
questions raised by art. They somehow retain pertinence to the widerand indeed
olderclaim on what is seen to be true, good or beautiful. To an extent, the claim
itself is moved by what Thomas Nagel identifies as the need to distinguish
between general philosophical challenges to the objectivity of reason and ordinary
challenges to particular examples of reasoning that do not call reason into
question. (1997, p. 7)
The argument for art is not an argument for something outside reason. Neither
is it external to how we deem something as being true, good or beautiful. Both art
and the argument for art could never dispute the forms of reasoning by which we
make such choices, even when such choices may turn out to be wrong. Indeed, like
the beauty of gold in Epictetuss remark, the beauty that gives us a set of words
and a grammar to convey (and mediate) the distinctions of truth and any
consequent argument for goodness, remains within the scope of the judgement that
we choose to make on those objects that we present. And these arguments, whether
ordinary or not, reflect the way we reason things out.
There is a further dimension to how we reason out things. There is the manner
that bonds personal decisions with a moral imaginary and by which many would
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CHAPTER 4

discern something as having to be true, beautiful and good at the same time. These
questions belong to a decision that describes something as good because it must
also be considered as true and beautiful. Such decisions are not arrived at
without being reasoned out, even if other forms of reasoning would equally
dismiss them and counter-argumentsalso well thought ofwould dismiss further
counter-arguments so on and so forth.
We must also bear in mind that these questions are not uttered in vacuo. They
inhabit various spaces within the polity. By polity one means two states of affairs:
(a) an entity that declares and periodically redefines its boundaries; and (b) a
community that may or may not be coherent and which, notwithstanding its claims
to an identity, is never homogeneous and remains marked by stark heterogeneity.
So the questions that we pose on the true, the good and the beautiful with regards
to everythingbut more so with regards to artare also political questions
because our forms of reasoning are rooted within the polity. These questions are
normative and they claim to be normal once the true and the good converge within
a context that defines something as being beautiful. While I consider such claims
as entirely false, the measure of truth or fallacy is never sealed by the predicament
of a last word.
Bearing the notion of a question set within a political space in mind, Nagels
distinction between general philosophical challenges to the objectivity of reason
and ordinary challenges to particular examples of reasoning comes into play more
concretely. Distinctions of this kind have an effect on all of us as individuals
whose existence cannot be immune or neutral from society and its consequent
conditioning. Here the question of mediation moves from a discussion over
subjectivism and the arts to a matter of how we constantly strive to make sense of
lifes existence and how this is aligned to a sense of reality in terms of the singular
character that we invest in works of art while at the same time knowing that this
singularity is shared by other singularities.
It is important to reiterate that when we say that the arts mediate and that they
belong to the realm of the subject, the distinction between the object of mediation
and the agent that conveys what is being mediated still holds. Any case for a
subjective realm of reasoning within the arts cannot ignore truths rational agency.
Indeed it is because ofand not contrary tothis ever moving rational agency that
we assume the singularity of works of art, knowing that truth is not a fixed point,
though this does not mean that truth is a relative act. Likewise it is by dint of reason
that we could give a subjective value to works of art. Conversely no assumption of
corresponding facts could deny the subjective perception by which we approach,
define and process truth. I would concur with Nagel when he argues that:
We cannot criticize some of our claims of reason without employing reason
at some other point to formulate and support those criticisms. This may result
in shrinkage of the domain of rationally defensible judgements, but not in its
disappearance. The process of subjecting our putatively rational convictions
to external diagnosis and criticism inevitably leaves some form of the firstorder practice of reasoning in place to govern the process. The concept of
58

STRONG EMPATHY

subjectivity always demands an objective framework, within which the


subject is located and his special perspective or set of responses described.
We cannot leave the standpoint of justification completely, and it drives us to
seek objective grounds. (Nagel 1997, p. 7)
SINGULARITY, SUBJECTIVITY AND HYBRIDITY

It is important to clarify that in any discourse of (and on) art, the singularity of a
subjective argument must always be qualified by the context of art itself and not by
an externalized state of affairs that would conveniently act as a prop for
instrumental analysisi.e. for an analysis that does not concern art. This is more
so the case when an argument comes across (and against) the absence of a tangible
object, as often found in late modernist and contemporary works of art. I am not
thinking of the removal of objects that are customarily attributed to art, such as a
statue, a painting, a video or an object in an installation. Rather I am thinking of
works of art that may well be mediated by a customary art-object but where the
latter becomes contingent to a representation marked by a hybridity of practices
and situations that somehow determine or affect the work of art in question.
This kind of hybridity characterizes art as an event primarily assumed by the
heterogeneity of its parts. Hybridity rejects any presumption of a unity within one
or several identifiable objects that are normally expected to signal a set of
circumstances or objects that we assume to be a work of art. Thus a hybrid work of
art could be any form of art, although not every work of art is necessarily hybrid.
One could consider a painting such as Raphaels School of Athens (15101511), or
a performance like Abramovic and Ulays Imponderabilia (1971). Possibly one
might look at a work of land art like Robert Smithsons Spiral Jetty (1970) or a
statue like Donatellos David (142530). The concept of art as a hybrid event
could bring to mind Martin Creeds empty room Work No. 227, the lights going on
and off (2000), as it might well be found in Annibale Carraccis Galleria Farnese
(15971602).
However, as one speaks of the hybrid character of works of art, a discussion of
arts objectwhich must be distinguished from customary art-objectsmust be
qualified by a clear proviso, stating that as we become subjects to the objects we
make, we remain firmly within the agn of reason. Any talk or articulation of
hybridity, as well as the objects that converge within it, is decided within this
agnas that space where reason is argued. This is no different from saying that
we are and will always be the subjects of the infinite multiplicity of singular
descriptions by which we continuously conceptualize the world, and thereby our
thinking is bound to assume hybrid contexts we continuously negotiate, as we do
with works of art.
In recognizing the heterogeneous character of our concepts and negotiated
descriptions we also avoid the fallacy of dualism even when reason itself is often
explained in subjective and objective terms. This is what Iris Murdoch proposes in
her essay Thinking and Language, where she locates thinking beyond any fear of
idealism.
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CHAPTER 4

If we think of conceptualising rather as the activity of grasping, or reducing


to order, our situations with the help of a language which is fundamentally
metaphorical, this will operate against the world-language dualism which
haunts us because we are afraid of the idealists. Seen from this point of view,
thinking is not the using of symbols which designate absent objects,
symbolising and sensing being strictly divided from each other. Thinking is
not designating at all, but rather understanding, grasping, possessing. (1999,
pp. 4041)
When we talk aboutor indeed speak ofa work of art that mediates a number of
subjects, we are not invoking a free-floating self-assembled automaton that takes a
life of its own. Instead, we are talking about a way of possessing truthfulness by
means of what we do. This is especially true of art and the way we negotiate its
ever-changing meanings. The immediate assumption of a hybrid context for art
come from our multiple descriptions, as these are included in the act of doing we
call artwhich in and of itself is always a plural event. Yet we must also
remember that it is humans and not art-works that engage reason in constructing
these multiple events. To state that reason is there as long as there are humans may
be a tautology, but a useful one to remember. By the same token, any autonomy
attributed to the objective world (whether made or found) always returns to the
human sphere, for which we invariably retain individual and collective
responsibility.3
Keeping in mind these distinctions, and paying particular attention to
Murdochs qualification of thinking as an act of grasping and possessing, I want to
follow from the previous chapters discussion of the metaphysics of childhood and
how this raises the issue of arts ludic value within the political spaces of
aesthetics. The relationship between the autonomy of art and how play converges
across the properties of time could potentially redefine the world as a space of
objectsjust as we do with toys. As a referent of a world that keeps changing
meaning, play goes back to its objective space by facilitating a series of formative
and political events by which we represent the world through the objects of play.
The same applies to how, in playing with toys, we capture the world in a space that
denounces the limitations of a linear concept of time, where we seek possibilities
beyond the limits of a life that is continuously re-played and re-staged in different
spaces.
This takes us to the realms of empathy as it converges with hybridity as a
multiplicity of identifiable artistic practices that become significantly ludic and
therefore formative. While empathy may or may not be limited to affective

3
I thank Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka who, in response to my original reading of this paper to the
World Phenomenology Society at Harvard in 2003, remarked that art does not mediate anything
(here I am paraphrasing from memory). The implication (as I understand it) is that art-works remain
objects and it is human beings who have meanings to convey or mediate. Anything that the artwork
represents to any effect, originates from the human act. Somehow this is confirmed by Epictetuss
opening words.

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STRONG EMPATHY

elements by which we begin to comment on how we engage with art on a


phenomenological plane, we must also regard empathy aestheticallythat is, as an
affect pertaining to the form through which we speak of phenomena without
forgetting the rational agency by which we assume works of art in their singularity.
To suggest that empathy is an aesthetic category means that art must be
considered as an event rather than an object. It is this event-character of art that
accommodates identifiable phenomenological problemsthat is, problems in the
way we engage with what appears to be real. Within the problematic patterns of
arts appearance, an aesthetic framing of empathy would have to confront the
challenge of convergent practices where works of art acquire an increasingly
hybrid (and therefore multiple) character in both rendition and meaning. Hybridity
is a challenge to empathy not because it competes with it as an act of mutuality
between plural agents, but because the agency itself is not limited to one set of
rules. This does not mean that we succumb to postures of irrationality. Rather, we
recognize that in art, convergence happens on many levels because it represents a
multiplicity of events.
At this stage we can say that the convergence by which we engage with art is
initially concerned with form. However what complicates matters is that once the
singular character of a work of art qualifies a multiplicity of forms, convergence
emerges as a concept marked by paradox, which is in turn extended to the self as a
convergent I. This is where empathy comes into effect as an integral part of the
hybrid multiplicity that characterizes arts singularity. The convergent Ias a
cause and a consequence of a convergence of formsbecomes a form that is given
in empathy.
In empathy with whom? one might ask. To which one might have to reply by
borrowing Alain Badious term universal singularity. In other words, empathy is
not necessarily implied as a form of affection towards a person or the Other, but
with a series of singularities (as well as expressions of singularity) that convey a
special kind of universality. Keeping in with Badious definition, we must clarify
that singularity is begotten by the occurrence of an event (which is here identified
with arts hybrid state) and where universality denotes neither a monetary
homogeneity nor forms of identitarian protest. Thus a universal singularity
implies a political agn that refuses to be informed by factual measure or
instrumental practice.4 (Badiou 2003, p. 13)
Speaking of a political agn, in terms of art any discussion of empathy becomes
political because it is closely related to where it occurs vis--vis the convergence of
forms and the hybrid nature of arts event-character. We have already raised the
issue of the polity. A political agn may well derive from the polity, but it is not

4
I am taking some liberties with Badious concept of universal singularity, given that his definition of
artparticularly his discussion of art in Handbook of Inaesthetics (2005)may not conform to my
rendition of his concept of singularity. Given that the concept of hybridity also denotes a political
ground where the idea of singularity and universality come in play, I find this intersection of the two
with the notion of the eventand consequently the eventalas conducive to novel ways of looking
at singularity with the further intent of elucidating the concept of exiting as introduced in this book.

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CHAPTER 4

equivalent to it. This is because when we speak of a political agn vis--vis art we
are also speaking of specific practices happening in the studio, a museum, a public
space, or indeed a classroom, that would raise the usual questions about process
and medium, and whether these would simply imply an act of rendition (art as
making) or the intentionality that supposedly gives meaning to a work of art. So far
so good, until we also realize that the former (arts making) often paralyses any
discussion of art by the process-product dualism, while the latter (arts meaning)
remains wide open to ideological instrumentality.
Another question that dwells on arts hybrid practices goes something like this:
Do such practices imply the convergence of forms and self as an a priori
condition? A counter argument could be that convergence only takes place within
the representation that ensues a posteriori from the manner by which the work of
art becomes an event in terms of its hybrid practice. This is particularly the case
when, to the consternation of many, critics and artists (though curiously not many
art educators) dismiss any argument that looks for a specific meaning in art,
especially when meaning implies identifiable ideological positions. This raises
further questions. Do arts hybrid practices directly relate to arts empathic nature?
Should we assume that art has an empathic nature? Is hybridity a condition of a
sense of empathy in terms of arts convergence of forms and self? This is where
the notion of singularity comes into play, especially when another tricky question
leaves its mark on many a student in the art studio: that of solipsism and what I
would call the fallacy of a first-person concept of art making, where the idea of the
self and art are conflated into an elusive oneness, as a self-referential event that is
falsely assumed to be the onus of some special phenomenological origin, or some
unique ground of being that no one must question, let alone deconstruct.5
To begin to answer these questions without falling foul of the first-person
fallacy of art-making on one hand and instrumental hermeneutics on the other, it
must be stated that one cannot define hybridity and convergence in art as a
rejection of arts tendency to act as a counter-narrative. Likewise convergence
cannot be assumed as a counter argument to a presumed split between form and
content. The distinction between what art looks like and what it is supposed to say
must be rejected on the same grounds by which Murdoch encourages us to think in
a way that will operate against the world-language dualism.
ARTS SPECIALITY AND MILITANT ANTIPATHY

The notion of convergence, and more so the continuous redefinition of hybrid


practices in art, remains wide and elusive. Yet it is also true to say that human
beings have come to identify art as a special world. (Lukcs 1971) I would
hasten to add that such judgements are made because of arts convergent nature

5
This fallacy should not be confused with biographical methods of introspection or self-reflection,
which have recently taken centre stage in arts research. However even as I say this, one must be
careful not to assume that all forms of self-reflection are not prejudiced by the first-person fallacy.
For my critique of the self-referential fallacy of arts research see Baldacchino 2009b.

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STRONG EMPATHY

and its propensity to bring diverse practices together and not because art is
something limited to a first-person world. Georg Lukcss notion of a speciality
does not come from what is often misattributed to a narrow notion of realism.
Neither does Lukcs reject the particularistic potency of the aesthetic. On the
contrary Lukcss notion of speciality evolves from his little known argument for
particularity as an aesthetic category. This is where he is careful to distinguish
between forms of solipsistic subjectivity, and a subjectivity that emerges from the
powerful stance of particularitywhich I do not find as being that different from
Badious notion of singularity in his Saint Paul (2003). An appraisal of
particularity that is read through the parameters of a universal singularity facilitates
an understanding of arts world and how it comes across in a number of
activities that are considered subjective. I would also add that if we are to make a
case for empathy as an aesthetic category, the subjective realm must be revisited
rather than taken as read, or dismissed by means of a dualistic context that pits the
subject against the object.
Two points must be clarified. The first has to do with subjectivity; more
specifically with art as an event that pertains to a universal singularity and how this
gains value from what Lukcs sees as arts speciality in both his work on
particularity (1971) and later in his Aesthetics (1975). The second point follows
from the first, in that hybridity is not a universal condition of art, but a significant
development that is closely related to the recognition of historic contingency. In
this recognition one would be able to qualify arts speciality as a concept that
avoids the false imposition of (a) an aprioristic equivalence between the true the
good and the beautiful; and (b) a structuralized dualism between singularity and
universality.
Elsewhere I take the question of arts speciality further into the distinction
between two forms of subjectivity. The first is a subjectivity that is cognizant of
(and that could mediate between) the individual and the world. The second sense
of subjectivity is that of a perfunctory and immediate subjectivity that fragments
by externalizing the individual from the world and, by implication, perpetuating
world-language dualism. (Baldacchino 1996, pp. 79ff.) Although the context in
which I discuss this distinction is that of post-Marxist realism read in the light of
Lukcs and Adornos conflicting positions, this distinction must be kept in mind
when clearly the notion of the subject is distanced from the universalized
historicism by which art is often trapped in a world split between form and content,
object and subject, etc.
This brings the argument to the role of hybrid practices in art. In the same way a
work of art is qualified as hybrid, all the artificial distinctions that describe art as
being either externally self-evident or implicitly equivocal must be rejected. To
understand hybridity in art one must move beyond the artificial separation between
semantic self-evidence and formal equivocation. Where such distinctions are had,
hybridity becomes irrelevant. Hybridity also becomes irrelevant when artworks are
read through the fallacy of first-person art making. Bearing in mind that
subjectivity is not a fixed concept, in the latter case one finds that arts agenda is
made arcane under the false pretence of a reductionism disguised under a right to
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CHAPTER 4

solipsism and self-interest where art is camouflaged as self-referential


phenomenology.
It must be emphasized that to attribute empathy to art is to sustain an antipathy
with solipsism, and thereby support an outright rejection of a first-person notion of
art making. Empathy is by no means feeble. In art, empathy educes force. Indeed it
is militant. In making of art a gift in empathy, arts militant antipathy is
coextensive with the playful infancy by which the modernthe nave in Rousseau
Le Douanier and the metaphysics of childhood in Carrdirectly challenges the
romanticized solipsism of a first-person notion of art. This is where the distinction
between the political agn and the polity gains further relevance.
Empathys militant stance plays an important role in the transformation of the
political agn. It moves and transforms the agn from that of a ground that is
instrumentalized by the boundaries of the polity, to an active space of hybrid
events.
Liberty
Art is pronounced as an event by the multiplicity of rational descriptions and the
militant antipathy towards solipsistic art making. As an event it assumes new
hybrid forms of doing and inaugurates its exit from the visual certainty of totalised
polities. To further qualify it as a hybrid event, art continues to alter the grounds of
aesthetic definition, and with it, inaugurate the radical pedagogical possibilities
that emerge from its exit. However empathy does not become an aesthetic category
as a positive identification with an elusive self that appears to be convergent and
inclusive. A convergent I articulates the antipathy towards the first-person
delusion by which liberalism has mistaken freedom for a negation of anything that
comes in the way of a selfish and solipsistic lifestyle. An art form given in
empathy resists the dual dilemma between what Berlin (1988) identifies as a dual
character of freedom through a negative and positive liberty.6 Instead, on being
conceptualized as an act given in empathy, art equates convergence with
multiplicity and situates freedom in what Quentin Skinner (2002) identifies as
another concept of liberty, where a distinctive view of the relations between the
liberty of citizens and the constitution of the state comes in play.
The essence of the argument is that freedom is restricted by dependence. To
be free as a citizen, therefore, requires that the actions of the state should
reflect the will of all its citizens, for otherwise the excluded will remain
dependent on those whose wills move the state to act. The outcome is the
belief crucial alike to the English Revolution of the 17th century and to the
American and French Revolutions of a century later that it is possible to

6
Here I make reference to the notions of positive and negative liberty, as developed in Berlins
seminal essay Two Forms of Liberty (1998). For my discussion of negative liberty and the dilemmas
that it brings to education, especially when read against the works of John Dewey and Maxine
Greene, see Baldacchino 2009a, pp. 81ff.

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STRONG EMPATHY

enjoy our individual liberty if and only if we live as citizens of self-governing


republics. To live as subjects of a monarch is to live as slaves. (Skinner 2002)
It is imperative to underline that the condition for this third concept of liberty is
invested in a citizenship that is distinctly qualified by a self-governing republic,
that is by a republic where governance is not limited to the elected few. Given the
views that essentialize democracy in limited acts of election, self-governance here
deserves a radical reading. Apart from the fact that self-governance cannot be
served only by a formal democracy, the nature of the republic itself entertains a
political agn which cannot be foreclosed by a polis whose parameters are set firm
and whose necessary changes remain out of bounds to the citizen. Though Skinner
does not go into the nature of citizenship per se, and his argument is not concerned
with the thrust of this chapters argument on art and empathy, we could read this
third concept of liberty as a proviso that rests on citizenry as a plurality which in
turn qualifies the same universal singularity by which events like art, culture and
education could provide locations for those moments of citizenship by which
freedom is radically asserted with respect to the choices that remain plural; and
where, more importantly there are no attempts to mediate positive with negative
liberty.
In line with arts role in challenging the poliss fixed boundariesas couched in
the present discussion of the playful resources of the particular multiplicities that
express art as a hybrid eventI would include in such choices that of exiting the
republic. This is because for a republic (and with it the citizens freedom) to be
defined, the conceptualization of freedom cannot be restricted to a self-referential
inside. Otherwise, concepts such as democracy, inclusion and equality, would be
precluded by whom they are meant to excludethe non-citizens whom the
republic sees itself as superior to, and whom the republics citizens are urged to
reject as foreign, undocumented, illegal, barbarian etc.
However one must warn against any temptation to read this argument for exiting
the republic as a relational geometry of intentions and directed intentionalities
where art becomes some sort of a serene ground of learning and making which, as
art-educators often claim, would miraculously accommodate pluralism and multiculturalism. For a radicalized re-distribution of learning to happen, art must not
represent a symmetry of freedoms, but it must engage with paradox and embody
the same act by which we recognize the aporetic character of empathy and by
implication the character of freedom, citizenship, conviviality, equality,
democracy, etc.
and aporetic empathy
Empathy is therefore aporetic because it is never mono-directional, mutual or
symmetrical. Recalling what has been earlier termed as arts antinomic way of
being, I would argue that to speak of art given in empathy is to speak of arts
aporetic nature. As discussed in the first chapter of this book, an aporia is an
impassable passage that opens an entrance only to perplex, by refusing an exit to
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those who enter. So as a way of entry, the aporetic context of arts empathic nature
is that which seeks a way of exiting the labyrinth of certainty and totality. This
gives empathy a singularity whose playfulness signals the modus operandi of
empathy. Empathy moves around arts multiple events by way of exiting what is
supposed to be an inclusive entrance. The political rejection of an aprioristic serene
ground of concordance is realized by empathy when as an act of art it gives value
to the weak, and denounces the rejection of weakness. To borrow again from
Badious Saint Paul: It is through the invention of a language wherein folly,
scandal and weakness supplant knowing reason, order and power. (2003, p. 47)
Empathy is strong by way of recognizing the weak; the weak being the rejection
of unequivocal grounds in favour of the contingency by which men and women
assert their reality as essentially playful and plural. In this respect while empathy
appears as strong, it is as an embodiment of a weak reality that reasserts itself with
the utmost strength.
It is also by way of paradox and the recognition of the aporia of empathy that art
could converge with forms of learning that emerge from a politics of aesthetics
which redistribute the sensible. However for any redistribution of either learning or
the sensible to occur, art and education must move out of circumscribed definitions
of empathy which camouflage the selfish as a transactional form of altruism
(where good deeds are basically self-serving). This is where I would argue that
the notion of a border that contains what is redistributable must be questioned,
especially when there is neither fold nor rupture. For a politics of aesthetics to
effect redistribution it needs to facilitate (or initiate) a state of affairs where
convergence, weakness and the I take on different meanings from what is
conventionally given them; which is where arts special world takes a role akin to
that of leaving the republic for the sake of redefining the realities by which women
and men could re-claim their freedom as citizens of self-governing republics.
CONVERGENCE, CANONICITY AND REALITY

So how would a convergence of form with the I retain pertinence without falling
foul of the self-serving acts of transactional altruism and first-person fallacies?
From the above it would seem that such pertinence lies in how the notion of a
convergent I is conceptualized within the aporia of empathy. However, even
when qualified by the aporia of empathy, a convergent I remains open to new
questions whose pertinence lies elsewhere; more particularly in arts ability to exit
from the parameters that are simply assumed as being benignsuch as inclusion,
democracy, or indeed beauty, truth and goodness.
As we have seen, the false assumption of the self as a solipsistic first-person
ordering of art is not only a product of immediacy, but of a misinterpreted and
misplaced definition of a choice that we seek to invest in the arts by the construct
of transactional forms of democracy and education. In an economy of meaning that
always begins with the first-person notion of art making, to state and claim a
convergent I one must begin with questioning it.

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The first objection concerns the idea of a hybrid art-event as a convergent I,


which could proscribe us from considering arts contemporary practices of
hybridity outside the general practice of art itself. This objection has to do with the
reification of the art-event within the confines of a fixed market. If we are to
discuss a convergent I, it should be a way of arguing that would stop
convergence from becoming another form of necessity (expressed as a kind of
subjective universalism) that impedes hybridity by which art as a singular act
defies preconditions. Here contingency would not only stand for the value of
accident in art, but more importantly it should include that of location. In other
words, the location of art practice must be contingent to the multiplicity of
consequences whose ever-changing assemblage facilitates a political agn. But art
cannot be presumed by an aprioristic inclusiveness of a fixed polis. This is because
art cannot be defined from within the republic per se.
This leads to a second objection that this time touches on aesthetics and
canonicity. The question begins with meaning. To avoid fixed boundaries should
we greet the absence of the customary art-object in contemporary art as a
confirmation of the deferral which some would identify with a continuous slippage
that avoids determined meaning? It could be argued that this risks reducing art into
something else, something dependent on the explanation itself. But a counterargument could be: should we forget all about the moral constructs by which we
have long claimed the canonical value of art? In other words, should we treat the
good, the true and the beautiful with absolute suspicion, especially when art is
presented as an instrument of development (in education), of philanthropy (in
cultural policy), of morality (in religion) and of law (in politics)?
It is often implied that arts values are not subject to measure. This would raise a
wider historical and political question: Where do we stand when confronted by the
Canon as a narrative that allows us, in the first place, to declare the parameters
against which one would see art exiting the polity and defining the republic from
the outside?
Perhaps, rather than dwell on the artistic Canon as a necessary body of work
that justifies the contingency of arts own location in history, politics, philosophy,
morality, education or indeed in everyday life, we should instead concentrate on a
few choices that confront us when we speak of canonicity: Joseph Beuyss La
Rivoluzione Siamo Noi or Caravaggios Sette Opere di Misericordia; Pablo
Nerudas Canto General or John of the Crosss Cantico Espiritual; Shakespeares
Hamlet or Becketts Moloy the works of Eugenio Montale, Constantine Kavafis
or Sylvia Platt; Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison or Naguib Mahfouz ?
Choice beyond designation
Rather than a fixed body of work that has been somehow chosen for us I regard the
Canon as a necessity that guarantees individual choice. As an individual choice,
the idea of canonicity becomes multiple and often contingent, yet still necessary.
This is because the claim to canonicity in the arts goes beyond the issues that
interject between our definition of the artwork and what we want it to be for us. As
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a claim, it becomes a way of exiting the Canon itself. The freedom by which we
would select (and elect) begins to supersede canonicity as a fixed notion. This
freedom does not come from the idea of a body of work that we deem canonical,
but from the choice that allows us to dispute or accept the notion of canonicity in
the first place. Here I am with Harold Bloom when he argues how the student of
the Western Canon respects the power of the negations inherent in cognition,
enjoys the difficult pleasures of aesthetic apprehension, learns the hidden roads
that erudition teaches us to walk even as we reject easier pleasures, including the
incessant calls of those who assert a political virtue that would transcend all our
memories of individual aesthetic experience. (Bloom 1994, pp. 3536)
One would fail to understand this unless one adds that Bloom causes
controversy in couching his argument within the Western Canon. The controversy
moves across various parametersincluding aspects of political thinking that I
would support without necessarily disagreeing with Blooms thrust of argument.
Yet Blooms power of argument lies in countering those who, on the political
premise of inclusion, equality and democracy, come to denounce canonicity in the
same way supporters of popular and visual culture deem it necessary to
denounce the aesthetic as being elitista denunciation that I reject.
Bloom is not the only theorist prominently accused of elitism, the trajectories
that are unnecessarily taken against elitism are based on a misreading of the
relationship between social antagonism and art. This comes with quick and
unmediated assumptions of democratization and inclusion where the discourse of
art is artificially split between aesthetics and instrumentalism. (Interestingly, John
Dewey pragmatically tried to eliminate this dualism by reconciling instrumentality
with his notion of experience in art, and by consequence, aesthetics education.)
In commenting on the mortality and immortality of literary works, Blooms
response is less preoccupied with his leftist critics misreading of class struggle
and social antagonism, which he dismisses altogether. Being more interested in
defending aesthetic value than in pointing out that in effect his critics conflation of
art with the class struggle is entirely misplaced, Blooms argument also reveals
how in wrongly pitting social inclusion against what they denounce as aesthetic
elitism, leftist critics miss the point of the particularity of the struggle that sustains
the aesthetic.
Aesthetic value emanates from the struggle between texts: in the reader, in
language, in the classroom, in arguments within a society. Very few workingclass readers ever matter in determining the survival of texts and left-wing
critics cannot do the working classs reading for it. Aesthetic value rises out
of memory, and so (as Nietzsche saw) out of pain, the pain of surrendering
easier pleasures in favor of much more difficult ones. Workers have anxieties
enough and turn to religion as one mode of relief. Their sure sense that the
aesthetic is, for them, only another anxiety helps to teach us that successful
literary works are achieved anxieties, not unified props of morality, Western
or Eastern. (Bloom 1994, pp. 38)

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If an argument for a convergent I looks elitist by dint of its singularity and more
so due to its aesthetic value, it looks less favourable to some critics if one were to
argue that any claim for a convergent I demands a form of exit. To some leftwing critics this notion of exiting might look even more peculiar once it takes the
position of a politics of aesthetics from the premise of social antagonism. Unlike
Blooms, my argument does not dismiss the relationship between social
antagonism and the arts; although like Bloom I would argue that the survival of
texts or indeed canonicity cannot be computed within an equation of social class
and likewise the arts cannot be reduced to a political, pedagogical or moral
instrument.
Perhaps the anti-instrumentalist argument is best backed by that other theorist
accused of elitism by left-wing critics, Theodor Adorno, who quotes Schoenberg
saying, one paints a painting, not what it represents and then continues to
elaborate that:
Inherently, every artwork desires identity with itself, an identity that in
empirical reality is violently forced on all objects as identity with the subject
and thus travestied. Aesthetic identity seeks to aid the non-identical, which in
reality is repressed by realitys compulsion to identity. Only by virtue of
separation from empirical reality, which sanctions art to model the relation of
the whole and the part according to the works own need, does the artwork
achieve a heightened order of existence. (Adorno 1999, p. 4)
Our multiple forms of reasoning emerge from social antagonism inasmuch as
difference converges with sameness, concordance with struggle, inclusion with
exclusion, without assuming such examples as dyadic, mutualist or dualist
symmetries. To pit aesthetic value against social antagonism in an attempt to
reduce art into an instrument is to deny the non-identitarian dialectic that
characterizes the speciality of art as a world that we assume for ourselves in
transcending immediacy. This is the thrust of Marcuses position in his Aesthetic
Dimension (1977), which explains why he considers subjectivity as a counterforce
against aggressive and exploitative socialization (1977. p. 5) especially in periods
where the politics of totality prevails.
However as one defines canonicity as a choice and rejects the
instrumentalization of the arts, questions linger on. If art is an event of
convergence, how could it exit the parameters of totality? Isnt the Canon far larger
than mere individual choice? And doesnt canonicity imply parameters that would
ultimately be expressed in forms of totality?
To start with, we must reflect on (a) how our individual canonical selections
occur; (b) what constitutes a choice beyond the parameters of imposed or agreedupon choices that could well become closed forms of totality; and more
importantly (c) whether the choices that we make as events that we consider to be
art would confirm or dismiss convergence as a manifestation of arts relationship
with the self without falling foul of first-person assumptions and without turning
artistic choice into another instrument.

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To avoid such equivocation any talk of convergence in the arts must be read from
the perspective of hybridity. As a horizon (rather than ground) hybridity is a process
of selection. As a selective process, hybridity becomes form. Read horizontally,
artworks are not just a manifestation of making or meaning, but a series of events that
elect them as art. While it might be easier to cite performance art and installation as
good examples of hybrid selection and convergent forms in art, I would instead cite
once more two works that carry a degree of canonicity: Joseph Beuyss La
Rivoluzione Siamo Noi (We are the Revolution, 1972) and Caravaggios Sette Opere
di Misericordia (The seven deeds of Mercy, 16061607).
These works are more challenging because if we are to read them as examples
of hybridity and convergence, we must also seek in them what they offer as
choices and as forms given in empathy. More so, in both works one could sense
how art remains firmly within the domains of thinking, defined by Murdoch as
understanding, grasping, possessing. (1999, p. 41)
Just as Murdoch distances thinking from designating one could ascribe to
these works a sense of thinking as an event of convergence where one exercises the
choice of possessing. To posses these works is to take the artists role in inviting an
audience by regaling its aesthetic sensibility with arts hybridity. In these works the
hybrid event is not articulated by a diversity of mediaBeuyss is a silk-screened
photograph; Caravaggios is a painting. Rather than oneness forced on identifiable
objects, what give a hybrid character to these works are the multiple events that
make it and the heterogeneity of its parts. Hybridity in Beuys and Caravaggio
comes as an agn that locates the dislocated. Notice that the agn locates but never
curtails or bounds.
Beuys dislocates the revolution by taking it away from the masses and makes it
ones own. Hence the title: la rivoluzione siamo noiliterally, the revolution is
us (which is different from we are the revolution). The revolution becomes us
by an agency that does not simply reside in one place. We are the revolution by
each and every ones choice and more so by each and everybodys exercise of
choicewhich is the revolution. This includes the act of leaving choice behind and
exiting the revolutionary boundaries that gave it origin. The choice is by
implication convergent, but characterized by empathys radical character. There is
no room for first-person affairs, no room for solipsism.
Likewise, Caravaggios conveyance of difference is never stable. His work is
always hybrid in how the deeds of mercy are also exercised rights where the
foreigner, the poor, the infidel and the barbarian form part of the event, and where
there is no forced inclusion and where likewise no one is excluded. The seven
deeds of mercy may be given in empathy, but the empathy is not given easily or
without violence.
In Caravaggios work, the empathy implicit in the seven forms of mercy is a
violation of the totalitarian convergence assumed by the Ecclesiastical strength that
decrees the work of art. In turn Caravaggio gives the Catholic imposition a
protestant interpretation; a radical narrative that responds to religions hubris by
arts humus. Equally, Beuyss response to the instrumentalist hubris of the
revolutionary Party emerges from the humus by which those who make the
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STRONG EMPATHY

Revolution could claim it back and demand to leave the Party that appropriated
their choices. By rejecting the revolution that the apparatchiks proclaim to be
theirs, we would claim the revolution as our revolution, because we are the
revolution, and revolutions are a way of life and not fixed points in history by
which a State readily suppresses its people.
In both works, hybridity is a political space whose main protagonist is form. A
formalist would make equal radical worth of these works as much as any
hermeneutic appropriation would attempt to explain the story behind the picture.
Yet the story is always being deferred and renewed by the dynamic rejection of
both qualifiersthat is, of both a fixed form and a bound meaning. The hybrid
horizon on which art is brought into convergence is a grasped possession and must
never be assumed as a total designation.
the faculty which is supposed to relate us to what is real
I would therefore argue that the hybrid art form by which we reaffirm or deny
canonicity, lies originally in the problem posed by the question itselfthat is, in
the approach by which we lay claim on the distance that relates the singularly
contingent to what is often considered as universally necessary. This brings us
back to how hybridity is considered as a universal singularity, and where the
questions raised above come at a juncture. At this stage we begin to think in terms
of what gives validity to the idea of a hybrid practice in art where form is conveyed
as convergence and where the latter pertains to how the I empathically relates to
the we rather than a first-person acclaim to ego-centric altruism. In other words,
this explains how the self is no longer regarded as the sole and lonely point of
departure for art, but where self meets the all without being totalized by it and
without making a fallacy of it. As Murdoch states in another celebrated essay of
hers, On God and Good:
If, still led by the clue of art, we ask further questions about the faculty which
is supposed to relate us to what is real and thus bring us to what is good, the
idea of compassion or love will be naturally suggested. It is not simply that
suppression of self is required before accurate vision can be obtained. The
great artist sees his objects (and this is true whether they are sad, absurd,
repulsive or even evil) in a light of justice and mercy. The direction of
attention is, contrary to nature, outward, away from self which reduces all to
a false unity, towards the great surprising variety of the world, and the ability
so to direct attention is love. (1999, p. 354)
Hybridity must be located within the very question by which we demand (rather
than ask or doubt) that we also revisit the good, the true and the beautiful as a
series of multiplicities expressed by the moment of the I as a signifier of
convergence. However this I is not prompted by a self which reduces all to a
false unity, but to an outward attention which, Murdoch tells us, is contrary to
nature and that aims at the great surprising variety of the world, and the ability
so to direct attention is love.
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Murdochs point of departure is that of the good, the necessity of which she
describes as an aspect of the kind of necessity involved in any technique for
exhibiting fact. (1999, p. 353) This exhibiting of fact has to do with the position of
realism as an ability to perceive reality, that is premissed by goodness as a kind
of intellectual ability to perceive what is true. (ibid.) In this respect Murdoch is
not making the relationship between the true, the good and the beautiful as a triad
assumed a priori. Rather she perceives goodness as an abilityand not a
preconditionof getting to the truth. This articulates a degree of autonomy
between the true and the good in that one enables us to get to the other. However in
this ability to perceive the true and the good no one is ever obliged to see one as a
category of the other. This separation implies a clear freedom by which the agency
of truth and goodness are never conflated. Likewise reality and those who perceive
it are not assumed as being one, but as being free to perceive and be perceived as
one, as many, or as neither one nor many. I would also read this perception of
reality as premissed by a freedom that chooses not to do sothat is, to choose not
to choose. This means that the moral sphere that is involved in the relationship
between the true, the good, andby the artists implicationthat of beauty, is
based on free choice.
In thus treating realism, whether of artist or of agent, as a moral achievement,
there is of course a further assumption to be made in the fields of morals: that
true vision occasions right conduct. This could be uttered simply as an
enlightening tautology: but I think it can in fact be supported by appeals to
experience. The more the separateness and differentness of other people is
realised, and the fact seen that another man has needs and wishes as
demanding as ones own, the harder it becomes to treat a person as a thing.
That it is realism which makes great art great remains too as a kind of proof.
(Murdoch 1999, pp. 353354).
This should clarify the role of the I as a signifier of convergence. It is a
convergence premissed on choice and not necessity. It is a freedom that is also
qualified by the redistribution of power and will within republics whose boundaries
are opened to what lies beyond them. So convergence is contingent on the will of
those who choose it and within the circumstance that defines it. The hybrid
practice by which this convergence is revealed and from where the I is perceived
as a locus for empathy, must be based on the realisation of other people in their
separateness and differentness. In this respect, the enlightened tautology that
reiterated the occasioning of right conduct by true vision, also occasions hybrid
practices with free choices. In art these choices would occasion the convergence of
form and self. However, this is by no means a precondition of a vision of unity, but
an occasion based on necessary separateness and differentness.
Another enlightened tautology is revealed when the hybrid question of art is
discussed through the implements of the convergent answer, or better still, by the
answer of convergence. The answer of convergence is not preclusive of the
question, but rather inclusive of those tautologies that from their inverse positions,
come to lay ground to our intentionality as art. In describing intentionality as art
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one must distinguish it from the intent in the process of art. Intentionality is here
meant as a construct that implies the unfolding of whatever we doin this case, as
artinto the world.
In terms of the convergent I, this raises questions with regards to the location
of artthat is, the choices made by artist and audience, and the nature of the
horizon qua agn that realizes these conditions. So to the question: Where is the
I located in this state of affairs and to what extent does its convergence partake
of its truthful horizon? one answer could emerge from the need to qualify the
truthfulness of a convergent horizon. In a context where all is conditioned by
separateness and differentness the notion of a truthful horizon seems to grate
against the grain of contingency. However this remains necessary, unless we want
to consign contingency to the bizarre and the irrational.
BACK TO TRUTH, BEAUTY AND GOODNESS?

This is where I run for some shelter in the work of Edith Stein, partly because in
what her work offers one is not given to philosophy as a fixed ground of reasoning.
Instead, Stein makes gift of a context that moves across a horizon where the
concept of an empathic I is not sustained by a method of epoch as a deferral or
an act of essentialism, but by a methodical epoch as a widening of those possible
spaces positioned beyond mere subjectivity. A devoted student of Husserls, Stein
would have been acutely aware that, as her teacher argues:
Instead of a reduction merely to purely psychic subjectivity (), we get a
reduction to transcendental subjectivity by means of a methodical epoch
regarding the real world as such and even regarding all ideal objectivities as well
(). What remains in validity is exclusively the universum of transcendentally
pure subjectivity and, enclosed within it, all the actual and possible phenomena
of objectivities, all modes of appearance and modes of consciousness that pertain
to such objectivities, and so forth. (Husserl n.d., p. 18)
Steins work also moves from an initial choice of an absent divinity corresponding
to a fullness of self; to a theistic concept of fullness where it is equally logical and
rational for Being to be extended beyond the immediacy of (what was once to her)
an absent God. While keeping a distance from any theological imposition, I want
to read Steins early phenomenological thought into the poetic references that she
makes in her later work, particularly those moved by John of the Cross. As a young
Jewish atheist converted to Catholicism and then joining the Carmelite order taking
the name of Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Stein argues that the way of faith ()
is not the way of philosophic knowledge. It is rather the answer of another world to
a question which philosophy poses. But philosophy has also its own specific way:
It is the way of discursive reasoning, the way or ways in which the existence of
God is rationally demonstrated. (Stein 2002a, p. 69) Ultimately, Teresa Benedicta
of the Cross faces death in Auschwitz; a death enforced by the most horrendous
appropriation of life by the same arrogance with which universality was obscenely
claimed and deformed by Fascism.
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Steins work invites us to trace a lineage between the methodical epoch of


transcendental reduction by which she engages with the problem of empathy, to what
she would later regard as the love of the cross in her referencing of the poetics of
John of the Cross. From the context of art, empathy provides a reference by which
one could trace the question of hybridity within the contexts of that special world
where form is not an instrument of self-indulgent subjectivity, but a claim to the
subject in its social and ethical grounds of responsible freedom and intelligence. On
closer inspection this is not far removed from Steins elevation of the selfless
suffering represented by the narrative of the Cross, which represents the kenotic
strength in the ultimate sacrifice given for the sake of others (as she, and many other
believers and nonbelievers alike, have done throughout history). In her contemplative
life (as a woman and as a Carmelite religious) and in her martyrdom to humanity (as
a Jew and as a saint) Steins way becomes a way to what Murdoch calls an
attentiveness to God: God was (or is) a single perfect transcendent nonrepresentable and necessarily real object of attention. (1999, p. 344)
Just as in the poetics of John of the Cross, Steins narrative of contemplation is the
attention of which God is the ultimate object. This attention is characterized by a
dark night that is akin to death in that it is a journey that, at its depth, is
incomprehensible. Yet this dark night is assumed as the only way beyond the limits
of reason; the faculties of which this darkness would suspend. This is emblematic of
a suspension from the limits of scientific knowledge. It represents a practice by
which one transcends the truth that is only recognised from the edges of rational
limit. In John of the Crosss work this recognition of the limit remains absolute.
Indeed it represents the apparent end of any rational capacity, as it becomes an event
that turns attention to the transcendent and to what cannot be represented. The way of
the cross is not simply death or some willed punishment. That would be all too easy.
It would be an escape without recourse to reason. Even at this heightened stage of the
subject where comprehension seems consumed, reason cannot be left behind. What
Teresa Benedicta sees in the way of Carmel, which she shares with John of the
Cross, is a way of contemplating rationally through an attentiveness given to the
unknown: that which one cannot comprehend. This is the mark of the saint.
In placing the saint beyond the confines of an institutionalised community, or
even a church (understood as an institution that would transcend its original
definition of ekklesia as a phenomenon of women and men that converge through
sainthood), Badiou regards the saintliness of Paul as being erased by the
priesthood that endorsed the apostle. This came into effect by dint of the political
actuality of what becomes a catholic church:
A saintliness immersed in an actuality such as that of the Roman Empire, or
equally, that of contemporary capitalism, can protect itself only by creating,
with all requisite severity, a Church. But this Church turns saintliness into
priesthood. (Badiou 2003, p. 39)
In John of the Crosss poetics one finds a saintliness that refuses the requisite
severity that would eventually put him in jail. Jailed by his fellow Carmelites
more specifically, by those who refused his and Teresa of Avilas radical return to
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STRONG EMPATHY

the contemplative origin of the Carmelite orderJohn of the Cross preserves


saintliness in the radical poetics of his theology.
Understood as a resistance to the institutionalisation of belief, John of the
Crosss saintliness also inaugurates the suspension of any epistemological certainty
by which the adjoining theocracy sustained the same Church that he loved, and
which threatened to eliminate him as a heretic. Somehow it is this saintly
resistance that ultimately enters him and Teresa of Avila into the pantheon of
Catholic theologians, as they are canonized and later declared Doctors of the
Church. But does this elevation to official sainthood succumb Johns and Teresas
saintliness to priesthood? Just as the requisite severity of the original Church
emerges from the Roman Empire, doesnt the Spanish Church emerge as the
ground for the harshest of Western theocracies in history? Isnt this a ground that
reifies and ultimately overtakes mystic saintliness by a priestly polis that brutally
liquidates Protestants, Muslims and Jews through the mechanism of the
Inquisition? Or could we argue that this paradox can only be an attribute of a
catholic Aufhebung where ultimately, the saint would prevail over the priest
notwithstanding the brutal crimes traded between faiths, churches and political
systems?
One could say that what the Spanish mystic presents is an example of the
methodical epoch that must move beyond the brutality of religious and
ideological histories. In this epoch John of the Cross preserves saintliness in the
knowledge of the dialectical constructs that it holds in store:
Cuando ms alto se sube,
tanto menos se entenda,
qu es la tenebrosa nube
que a la noche esclareca:
por eso quien la saba
queda siempre no sabiendo,
toda ciencia trascendiendo.

The higher I soared,


the less I understood,
what dark cloud
the night lit up:
For whomever this is known
that always I dont know
all thats known will be transcended.

() Y es de tan alta excelencia


aqueste sumo saber,
que no hay facultat ni ciencia
que la puedan emprender;
quien se supiere vencer
con un no saber sabiendo,
ir siempre trascendiendo.

() And so high is such excellence


so soaring is its grasp,
that Ive neither power nor certainty
by which to take such task;
to such heights one would strive
to know by which I dont know,
all thats known is forever
(transcended.

(John of the Cross 1991, I: p. 71)

Reading this state of suspension from within the parameters of art we are no longer
confronted by the curtailment of temporal duration and spatial presencing as tensed
spaces between social responsibility and individual freedomas the usual debates
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on the social responsibility of art tend to state. Here the attention we give is not to
a limit per se, but in recognition of the limits by which we seek the method of
epoch. Like Stein, the artist would seekfor herself and othersa juncture that
needs expression before it is entered in a discussion of ethical or social spheres.
This juncture is threatened by the same transience and nothingness to which the
philosopher may have become an audience, just as the Carmelite mystic transcends
all epistemological certainty. And yet unlike the philosopher and the mystic, the
artist seeks other expressions in a certain form of empathy as an aesthetic category.
Edith Stein: The problem of empathy and arts givenness
In On the Problem of Empathy Edith Stein argues that empathy does not have the
character of outer perception though it does have something in common with outer
perception [where] in both cases the object itself is present here and now. (Stein
1989, p. 7) The here and now pertains to a primordiality which Stein attributes to
empathy in a way different from that of immediate perception. She suggests that
empathy grasps what is here and now as ideation:
there are things other than the outer world given to us primordially; for
instance, there is ideation which is the intuitive comprehension of essential
states. Insight into a geometric axiom is primordially given as well as
valuing. Finally and above all, our experiences as they are given in reflection
have the character of primordiality. (Stein 1989, p. 7)
While posing the question: What could be more primordial than experience
itself? (ibid.) Stein qualifies her usage of the word experience stating that the
expression actual experience must in this context be suppressed in order to
denote (at a later stage in her work) another phenomenon, which is an act in the
specific sense of experience in the form of cogito of being-turned-toward.
(ibid. p. 122n)
One could assume experience as immediate experience and therefore as a
primordial givenness which would subsume arts givenness under the moment of
an empathic here and now. In discussing whether empathy retains the
primordiality of our own experiences, Stein maintains, not all experiences are
primordially given nor [are they] primordial in their context. Memory, expectation
and fantasy do not have their object bodily present before them. They only
represent it, and this character of representation is an immanent, essential moment
of these acts, not a sign from their objects. (1989, p. 7 my emphasis) This
presents us with a further possible elaboration on how the artwork is an immanent
representation of the subject and not an externalised free-floating object. This kind
of representation finds origin in the hybridity of ideational singularity by which we
intend a series of phenomena that reflect our Being. If by this definition of
representation we come by arts assumed purposiveness and an ensuing identity (in
terms of its empathic horizon) we could then begin to approach an understanding
of the notion of forms givenness in empathy. We would also be in a position to
speculate whether convergencethe immediacy of which is primordially
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experienced in artpartakes of arts immanence as an essential moment of its act


and not as a sign from arts externalised objects. This raises the question as to
whether the experience of convergence is a primordially given ideation that widens
form (by means of a methodical epoch) into the divergent (non-identical and
hybrid) spaces of empathy as the spaces of otherness.
Operated as a methodical epoch, a form given in empathy would suspend the
artificial duality between subject and object, and would acknowledge arts inherent
convergence as arts givenness and purpose. Though speculative in intent, this
geometry of positioning remains within our experience. Indeed, as we learn from
Stein it is possible for every experience to be primordially given and it is
possible for the reflecting glance of the I in the experience to be there. (Stein
1989, p. 8) One should also remark that the I becomes bodily in terms of an
immanence that it gains as an essential moment of our artistic ability to understand
rationally and by way of possessing the world from within. But one cannot forget
the inherent antagonism that presents itself in the unconscious whereabouts of this
possession. Unlike the preconscious rationalisation of the received antagonistic
elements that are expected to converge via experience, the unconscious administers
experience by an incoherence that is radically immanent. Here paradox is not
simply a method apprehended a posteriori. Not unlike the empathy by which
antagonisms converge, paradox is a given.
By adding the caveat of non-identity one could chart the ground on which the
convergent I comes to ideate art as objectless speculation. Rather than an
externalised making of objects, art exercises form as men and womens most
autonomous agency. This agency goes further than ideation as it reaches to the
unconscious events of the undefined self. While always returned to human
activity, the act of art gains for human reason a terrain where the practicist notion
of process is substituted by the act of discourse.
Discourse does not represent the substitution of form by words and pseudotheories (as misattributed to various forms of Conceptual art). Arts discourse is
not a series of activities or processes that make a style easily understood in some
mechanistic study of contexts or critiques. The discursive nature of art is not a
commentary post-festum. Neither is it a critique of the world. Rather, arts
discourse is a multiplicity of singularities, the convergence of which would
facilitate the space of a political agn. In the space of the political agn art reveals
the paradoxical nature of the real.
The experience of a purposeful given is no longer sealed by artworks invested in
the capricious narratives of self-evidence or enigmatic equivocality. Instead, the
artwork mirrors that juncture by which convergence articulates human expression
by arts specificity. Arts points of convergence lie in its original function as a
form of reasoning, that grasps the world and provides the following scenarios: (a)
beauty as a relation between a freedom that is gained and a form that is given (in
empathy); (b) truth as the crossing-point between a decision reached and an
authority that is freely received; and (c) goodness as an universum of plural
identities and events that are partaken of by means of the hybrid nature of a
universal singularity, whose insight is paradox.
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John of the Cross: The dark night and the suspension of knowledge
Rather than engage in useless arguments over where one would locate the juncture
that articulates the paradox of the real, I would cite John of the Crosss defiance of
the certainty of knowledge. While his contemporaries sought to reinforce theology
by logo-centric precepts, as a poet and mystic he accentuates theology through the
parameters of mythos. (Armstrong 2009, p. 181) By asserting those human
faculties by which one could presume to know all, all knowledge is transcended.
(John of the Cross 1991, I: pp. 7072)
This form of speculative argument is neither expedient nor self-indulgent. Upon
approaching what to John of Cross constitutes the absolute goodness of a God that
is perceived as the fount of giving, the circumstantial limits of empirical
knowledge are suspended. However, this is not a suspension of reason. Rather it is
done in full reason. It is rational in the same way the spiritual imagination, as free
and intelligent, speculates on the possibility of love. The opening to this possibility
presents the reader with the modesty by which the individual approaches what it
knows to be a manifestation of absolute reason. Beyond the theological
curtailments this could trigger in the mind of our secular ways of thinking, one
could still comprehend the balance that the poet strikes between human
responsibility and the speculative exercise by which knowledge converges with
other than a contingent self. In this form of reasoning there is no place for
irresponsible abandonment to self-indulgent spiritualism. Nor is there an
acceptance of some sort of pseudo-mysticism that plays on accidental musing.
If one were to take John of the Cross out of a theological construct, his work
retains huge validity, even to a secular understanding of the real. In fact his work
comes to terms with the hermetic aporiae that characterize the real. It represents
something other than a poetic faith. His poetry is speculative because it rejects a
simplistic causal approach to the human predicament. In so many ways, this
anticipates Hegels rational methods of speculation, where the aporia of
particularity is closely read in constant relationship with the speculated absolutes
of universality. If one has to counteract the immediately objective world with
equally immediately known facts, then it will be no longer necessary for art to
speculate a world that contains elements of possibility beyond that immediacy. But
because the poetics of speculation is not immediately bound to a known world,
we as rational beings have the means to transcend that limitation.
The means by which one could move beyond the limits are provided by the
peculiarity of poetic form. This opens knowledge to a multiplicity of possibilities
beyond the immediate. Poetic forms of reason yield a number of phenomena,
characterised by a series of non-identical events whose hallmark is the search for
truth in its dark and aporetic multiplicity. In true non-identitarian fashion the
Spanish mystic characterises this process of rational speculation as a night, in
whose darkness one comes to understand the possibility of an end qua tlos that is
never resolved or consumed except by more darkness:
We may say that there are three reasons for which this journey made by the
soul to union with God is called night. The first has to do with the point from
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which the soul goes forth, for it has gradually to deprive itself of desire for all
the worldly things which it possessed, by denying them to itself; the which
denial and deprivation are, as it were night to the senses of man. The second
reason has to do with the mean, or the road along which the soul must travel
to this unionthat is, faith, which is likewise as dark as night to the
understanding. The third has to do with the point to which it travels
namely, God, Who, equally is dark night to the soul in this life. (John of the
Cross 1958, p. 106, my emphases)
While dark, the night remains within the realms of reason, which we could read
within the notion of the soul as manifest of a free and intelligent human reasoning
that chooses to take such a route in order to seek union with what it sees as the
ultimate tlos of human existence. One could appreciate how this denies
identitarian immediacy. The convergence of the senses and reason, reason and
faith, and faith and God, is deprived of causal knowledge. This is not a straightlaced teleology. There is nothing linear or causal in this pattern of convergence.
Reason is a dark night to the senses, just as faith is to reason, and just as the notion
and expected presence and grace of God remains dark to the soul: God, Who,
equally is dark night to the soul in this life. (ibid.) No one step is a reassurance
towards another. No completed phase directly moves into another. No unknown
begets a known. The unknown is all we know, and this is neither a certainty nor a
form of anticipation.
In her later, Carmelite stages of her scholarship and spiritual journey, Edit Stein
argues that:
The possibility to move within oneself is based on the soul being formed as
an I. The I is that in the soul by which she possesses herself and that which
moves within her as in its own space. The deepest point is at the same time
the place of her freedom: the place at which she can collect her entire being
and make decisions about it. (Stein 2002b, p. 146)
Read in the context of John of the Crosss three stages, the I opts for the dark
night. It seeks the recognition of the aporetic antagonism that characterizes the
real. Antagonism appears as a limit where knowledge is willingly suspended. The
dark night is freely accepted, and never forced. It speculates over truth by the
method of transcendence (the methodical epoch) through ones free will. In a
theological context one could even argue that the dark night is given to the I in
the same way grace is offered by God. However like grace, it must be willed and
accepted in freedom and not forced. Whether it is an act of grace received from
God or a decision taken by the individual, the act is equally free and to that effect
the I is its own agent. It fashions its own tlos. The space of individuality,
asserted by the I is equally free. If it were forced or imposed, it would not be
real. Poetic form emerges from this free choice. Only by dint of its freedom, could
it identify a context of convergence. A lack of convergence would mean an
inability to make a choice.

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To approach the notion of hybridity we have to inhabit convergence and


recognise it through the free spaces of the I. In assuming a methodical epoch,
the I transcends the externalised knowledge of a relativised world. Instead, it
seeks to achieve a freedom by which truth, goodness and beauty retain possibility.
This possibility depends on convergence, where it is possible to move within
oneself freely and face up to the chosen anxieties by which we speculate in the
dark night of reason. Likewise, giving form in empathy does not only require that
hybridity is assumed freely in its non-identity as a caveat to arts immanence. This
choice also presumes the freedom by which the self moves beyond the
circumstantial (and commonplace) economies of art as a convergent event. The
limit of arts economy presents itself in the wilful transcendence of that which
knoweth all. This is where hybridity becomes possible. And this is where the
problematic it presents remains perennial.

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WEAK REALITY

Alla domanda: Che cosa larte si potrebbe rispondere celiando (ma non
sarebbe una celia sciocca): che larte ci che tutti sanno che cosa sia. [To
the question: What is art? one could answer, tongue in cheek (although this
wouldnt be a silly joke): that art is what everyone knows it to be.]
Benedetto Croce, Breviario di Estetica (1994, p. 15)

Benedetto Croce qualifies this classic opening of his Breviario di estetica


(Handbook of Aesthetics) by adding that even if we were unable to determine what
is art, we cannot eliminate the question itself because every question portends a
demand that cannot be simply removed or ignored.
The scene of an irremovable demand posed by the question of art could include
everything, even though Croces approach to what is art was done through
negation where he prefers to ask what is not artthat is, art is neither philosophy,
nor history, nor natural science, nor a play of the imagination, nor immediate
sentiment, nor rhetoric (oratoria). (Croce 1994, 197ff.)
By drawing an open answer from the demanding nature of a question that
invites a reply given tongue in cheek, one could argue that the character of such
questioning is ludic, just as it is in constant change and would invariably portend a
degree of illusion in establishing what one means by arts reality. In other words,
the jocular character of the question is established on the same grounds of illusion
where to ask also means to play, to move and to seek. It is a bit like rummaging
around for any number of possible answers that everyone is invited to bring to the
table.
Such questions tend to move between identifiable nodes of definition. The
questions of specificity and hybridity discussed in the previous chapter are an
example of how volatile arts event turns out to be. I would suggest that two other
nodes that emerge from asking (and playing with) the question are illusion and
reality. This is not to say that the question What is art? relies on symmetrical
patterns. We have established that the case for specificity and hybridity has to do
with making sense of arts claim to its speciality; a claim that is marked by paradox
and aporia. This yields a complex horizon that is not simply operated on a mutual
relationship between facts on the one hand and implications on the other. Arts
event is not causal, but immanent. It is a rich dialectic that is neither identitarian
nor teleological.
The relationship between reality and illusion emerges from this rich dialectic,
even though here I am not proposing a quadrilateral structure with reality and
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illusion, and specificity and hybridity as its four angles. To structuralize any
number of nodes into fixed angles would submit art to a teleological condition that
reifies paradox and proscribes aporia. By insisting on the play between illusion and
reality as nodes of arts event, I would like to take further the idea of play
developed in my previous discussion of Carr, Le Douanier and De Chirico. I also
want to elaborate the recognition of arts event as a horizon of multiplicities where,
as already argued, empathy and convergence are articulated by what (after Badiou)
could be defined as a multiplicity articulated by universal singularity.
Crossing the grand terrains that these philosophical positions portend, (not to
mention my reading of theologians like Edith Stein and John of the Cross), could
be read with some suspicion by those who in their postured rigour, are not ready to
push the boundaries of the discourses that help us speak of art. Some might find it
awkward to cite the works of Rancire and Badiou in a shared context without
reminding everyone of that mutual critique staged between aesthetics and
inaesthetics in their respective positioning (Rancire 2009; Badiou 2005); a
polemic, which to my mind is so rich and expansive that it would need a separate
book to discuss. Likewise, to suggest that dialectics and multiplicity are played
within realms that share hermeneutics with phenomenology, or even conflating two
seemingly conflicting readings of Platonic realism as in citing, side by side,
approaches taken by Murdoch and Badiou, may well go beyond the limits that
preserve boundaries between what some purists might insist on being distinct
grammars.
However, as I find a way of linking these various strands to what I see as
ultimately an argument for art and political life within the conditions of education
and culture, I find reassurance in the work of Pier Aldo Rovatti, who in his
Tribute to Gianni Vattimo (2007), justifies his own crossing over to Husserl in
his articulation of pensiero debole (weak thought). Though Vattimo remained
sceptical of Rovattis approach to Husserl, where Rovatti argues that the thought
of Husserl had been mortally wounded by metaphysics and therefore belonged to
the great contingent of authoritarian and foundationalist philosophy (Rovatti
2007, p. 133), Rovatti neither attempts to break with, nor move over to Vattimos
position. Instead he holds on his different reading of Husserl, characterizing his
method as that of crossing, where:
At stake is the subject. It is a matter of crossing over a place without deleting
it, of rediscovering an orientation rather than speculating about somewhere
else. Furthermore, and at the same time, it is a matter of restoring
philosophys characteristic attitude and practice. (Rovatti 2007, p. 134)
I would consider as a necessityif not a dutyof every practitioner and theorist of
art to cross over incongruent places, whatever they may be: artistic or pedagogical,
philosophical or religious, cultural or political, economic or social. In and of itself,
such a crossing must never delete the incongruence that invites and legitimates the
crossing in the first place. This necessity has to do with finding for art what is
valuable in philosophys characteristic attitude and practice. The terrains we
cross in order to understand arts play between illusion and reality cannot be
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limited to the grammars of specific philosophical conventions, as this difference


gives art its specificity as a human activity.
This has been the case for as long as we could identify those unique forms of
human expression that from time to time we seek to confirm and identify as being
art. These forms of expression are identifiable as works of art (and not mere acts,
objects, or as outcomes of other acts) by a certain number of conventions. These
conventions are sometimes evidenced by the works autonomous form, but more
frequently one can only identify traces and symptoms of a deeper state of affairs
which psychoanalysis identifies with the Real. Questions dealing with art operate
on these illusive conventions. I say illusive because as the issue of reality itself is
raised, it can never be foundational; which goes to say that a notion of reality is
less so factual. As such, conventions emerge in their multiplicity as the continuous
change by which their quantity and relation would qualify them as forms of play.
Play cannot be reduced to a linguistic turn. It is markedly plural and as such it
gives character to arts multiple conventions. Just as arts phenomenathat is, the
external appearances of the human activity we call artmove through cycles of
redundancy, arts ludic conventions are continuously reinvented. The inherent
redundancy of arts phenomena permeates all related conventions with
obsolescence. In recognizing their temporality, arts conventions trigger the
necessity of arts crossing without having to affect, disturb or change the congruent
terrains by which art seeks new turns and encounters its willed deferrals. Yet while
conventions have to reach a stage of redundancy and the crossed terrains abound in
form, shape and meaning, the need to assume art by its own rules remains constant.
QUESTION AND ILLUSION

Although the question What is art? remains self-defeating, it reflects our need to
draw a distinction between art and the rest of the world of human phenomena, even
when this need could well be on the verge of talking nonsense; and where as soon
as we talk nonsense we seek to claim back a modicum of reality by reclaiming the
dialectical character that artists seek in the reality of art qua art. (Perhaps this is
why Croce deemed the question irremovable in the first place.)
As soon as we ask What is art? we assume a priori that there must be a special
kind of human activity that by its nature we recognize as art. Because the nature of
this activity appears illusive by dint of its peculiarity, the question cannot be
ignored or dismissed. The illusion compounds when we are constantly aware that
in actual terms we do not need to ask the question because we know that the
answer itself is not going to be sufficient, nor does it appear to be sufficiently real.
Although this seems to fall within the remits of a philosophy of language,
questions that demand a definition of art cannot be reduced to linguistic
assumptions. As illusion and reality become central to the ludic procedure of
asking the question What is art? an answer presupposed by a play of illusion and
reality cannot mean anything to language even when it is uttered by linguistic
means. This is because when we speak of a play between illusion and reality it
cannot make linguistic sense in art. To speak of a play between reality and illusion
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in language is to talk about telling lies and deceiving by argument. It would mean
an act of sophistry intended to derail an argument. In art, on the other hand, the
play between illusion and reality must be read from the ludic deferral that arts
conventions articulate in their momentary specificity. Marked by this illusive
character of arts claim to reality is an event that could only find realization in the
contingency (and necessary obsolescence) of arts own rules.
Without reiterating what has already been said for or against the so-called
linguistic turn in late Modernity, I would instead look to art itself. I cite a
contemporary and a post-war artist, Martin Creed (born 1968) and Alberto Burri
(19151995) whose work is often attributed to arte povera. In Creeds and Burris
works the articulation of illusion and reality is expressed respectively through
forms of questioning that always refuse to answer the question What is art? As I
discuss these two artists later in this chapter, at this stage I would only say that in
specifically refusing to iterate fixed definitions that would explain their art, these
artists confirm the illusory nature of arts conventions, thus confirming that arts
claim for reality remains essentially ludic. They do so because they refuse to turn
art into a form of entertainment or pathos, even when they take entertainment and
pathos to the extreme. In their radically different ways Creed and Burri confirm
how arts conventions elude any answer that tells us what reality should be. In
effect they make of art a gift whose event presents the audience with what is
without attempting to establish or declare what is reality. Played as a mutually
signifying act in art, illusion and reality cannot be played in like fashion on the
grounds of language, science or mathematics. There, such play would amount to
mere nonsense.
What is cricket, and prickly pears for an answer
Whenever we ask What is art? we are not exactly asking a question because in so
doing we would pose a peculiar kind of question; a sort of question that is already
answered by the fact that it is posed as a question. What is art? is illusive by dint
of the conventions that pose it. Firstly, this question does not request an actual
answer, because it always implies an indefinite answer that is open-ended and
hence a non-answer. Secondly, What is art? does not sit comfortably as a
question, because unlike the question What is a prickly pear? or What is
Cricket? What is art? is asked with good knowledge of art and an answer in
mind. Those who pose the question always assume that the person replying would
raise further questions by sporting a peculiar number of equally inconclusive
answers. So questions about art are illusive because what they effectively do is
invite a comparison of definitions and never pose a demand on anyone to define art
without prior knowledge of what art is.
What is a prickly pear? and What is Cricket? demand a conclusive answer.
They imply a corresponding statement of facts. The former requests a description
of the cactus pear as an edible fruit. The latter requires a description of the game,
and more specifically a clear set of rules that would differentiate Cricket from
other games like Baseball. For anyone who has never tasted (or even seen) a
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prickly pear, the answer to this question has to be quite definite and conclusive if
she is ever to be lured to taste this inedible-looking fruit which, once peeled, is
delightful to eat chilled on a hot summers day in dry climes such as the
Mediterranean or the Caribbean where this cactus fruit grows in abundance. Part of
the answer might be an action where one is offered a prickly pear to taste for the
first time.
Likewise, because I cannot understand the game of Cricket, when I ask What is
Cricket? I am looking for an explanation that will open me to the delights of the
game. There may be an action involved in that I am invited to play the game.
However unlike my tasting of a prickly pear, I might need more than just an
invitation to play, as I need to have a fair knowledge of the rules of the game to
start with. My question What is Cricket? carries with it a number of demands
based on the clear assumption that I do not know the rules and that upon
witnessing the game I confirm my absolute ignorance. My ignorance of rules and
conventions leaves me with a limiting impression of a game that seems to invite a
formation of men to chase a small red ball thrown by one person and then hit by
another person with a flat bat. The person holding the bat seems to have to run on a
rectangular pitch of turf at whose head are three sticks stuck vertically in the
ground with two sticks balanced horizontally on top of them. Evidently in my state
of ignorance I cannot relate Cricket to any other game. On the other hand, to the
consternation of Baseball aficionados, I could somehow relate to their game by
comparing it to a game of Rounders (which I played at school).
Evidently, in this case What is Cricket? is dictated by my absolute ignorance,
and unlike my invitation to discuss art, my demand to learn the rules of Cricket
looks for unequivocal answers and maybe a set of clear instructions. What is
Cricket? has to be addressed with precise instructions and a proper education in
the strategies and objectives of the game. On the other hand, What is art? is an
invitation to purview a panorama of possible answers that tend to fall back on
themselves because they cannot be answered with a description of conventions
the conventions of art being in constant change as clearly they are made
obsolescent by new conventions.
If I were to present Anselm Kiefers Etroits sont les Vaisseaux (Narrow are the
Vessels 2002)which is basically constructed out of massive concrete and steel
structures that look like the remains of a collapsed buildingand a marble statue
by Rodin, it would be very difficult to give a descriptive argument and a common
set of conventions which would argue that both objects are art. Evidently to ask
What is art? is to invite Croces tautology: larte ci che tutti sanno che cosa
sia; art is what everyone knows it to be. But with What is Cricket? Croces
answer would not work. And while allowing for a difference in taste and culinary
preferences, one could come to the conclusion that What is a prickly pear? is
easily answered with the statement It is an edible fruit.
When the question What is art? is seen for the tautology that it portends, one
wonders whether it is worth posing at all. Any answer to the question is no answer.
It just reiterates something that is already implied in the question. This is where art
is seen in its illusive nature and where we are puzzled by the need to align its
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illusion to the assertion of reality. Unlike any other activity that is bound to have
an effect on the ways we define human reality, art could only reveal the truth by
having to impress upon us the need to refrain from directly announcing the truth
and even by actively detracting from the worldan act that is useless in the case of
Cricket or prickly pears!7
This is also why (in what seems to be an entire contradiction) we are always
quick to agree that our recognition of art reflects a number of rules. The apparent
nonsense of stating that art asserts truth by detracting from its own reality is not
made any better by arguing that for art to reveal truth it needs to retain its illusive
nature. Yet for this state of affairs to remain within the realms of human reason, we
continuously identify a number of conventions by which we could ultimately
distinguish art from non-art. Even when we argue that the distinction (of art from
non-art) is relative, we can only say so because we have sufficient rules to be able
to argue the case for relativity.
The open use of uselessness
To assume a set of rules for declaring x as an act of art and y as non-art, is to say
that: (a) Questions about art yield short lived answers; and (b) Art is recognized by
its illusive character. Because (and in spite) of this, arts place in the construction
of human reality is legitimized for two very good reasons: (i) as we have just
argued, the illusion that has to come with arts question, which is to say that what
arts question attempts to answer comes with prior knowledge of its consequences;
and (ii) art is useless.
Because illusion in art subverts any identitarian notion of legitimacy (especially
when the question is not looking for a corresponding set of facts or descriptions in
reply), to argue for arts legitimacy begins with arts uselessness. Arts uselessness
appears to be contradicted by the persistence of men and women in doing art
throughout history. Yet the perception of arts uselessness does not deny a need or
indeed a habit. Women and men have confirmed that deeds that are useless are no
less necessary than those which appear useful. In the case of art this paradox is a
consequence of the illusive character of the questions requiring its definition. The
most effective way to deal with the claim of arts uselessness is to move on to
distinguish its uselessness from other forms of uselessness.
Beyond Wildes poetic reference, arts uselessness is not the same as the
uselessness of an object, as in a cucumber is useless as a bottle opener, or
bicycles are useless in four feet of snow. Art does not add much to anything by
itself. Unlike medicine, or food and clothing, or sources of energy, art is not
indispensable to humans. But at the same time art is entertained as necessary

7
Thankfully, to indulge in the definition and pleasures of a Cricket game or a chilled prickly pear,
one has to be very much in the world. More precisely one has to touch, eat and enjoy the physicality
of the worlds culinary and sportive games!

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because it is a human activity that takes on everything and so, unlike a cucumber, a
bottle opener or a bicycle, its use stands beyond the remits of utility.
In the myriad theoretical debates on art, arts use is explained by its non-use as
well as a multiplicity of uses that it comes by, as of and by itself. So art is useless
in the utilitarian sense because its use is plural, and more so, because it is distinctly
hybrid. In its hybridity art is a human act about everything. Because of this, we
present art by force of a diversity of objectives that in and of themselves cannot be
defined by their outcome. Arts end is already present at the point of its origin, its
tlos is an arkh and vice-versa, beginnings are marked as ends. This is noticeably
different from the circumstances one encounters in other realms of living where an
enda tlosis evident in a causal chain of events that give meaning a posteriori.
Arts tlos and arkh are not the bookends of a teleological occasion. In art one has
to understand and engage with circumstances that transcend origins and where an
end (qua tlos) folds onto itself, giving the semblance of open-endedness that does
not correspond to an established beginning on the other end.8
It is difficult to establish causality in art. The cause and circumstance of art are
consequences of the act of art itselfof art qua art. This does not mean that we do
art for the sake of art, because if that were so, art will have no meaning outside
itself (and we know this is not the case). Yet the history of art also confirms that
when artists were seen to be doing art for the sake of something or someone, the
work of art quickly transcends the something or someone that may have prompted
its inauguration.
In this respect art is a human act that takes charge of itself not by way of a
demand for something specific that is then made effective by causality (such as
food, medicine or energy as caused by the demand for nutrition, good health or
warmth). Instead, art arrives to its actuality by its own identification of a use that
goes beyond any utility per se. By means of their artistic activities, women and
men make possible a method of self-reference though this is curiously distanced
from that of self-referential solipsism. Beyond the temptation of a first-person
notion of art making, in arts method of self-reference women and men claim a
state of freedom by which they could suspend the many pervasive assumptions that
are made by polities of utility or ideology. This would include the selfish narratives
of the self-referential solipsist.
As already argued, in art this suspensionthis epochactualizes the move
from arts illusion as an expression of its specificity to arts claim for reality as an

8
This is how I would read Ecos argument in LOpera Aperta (1995). As he states in his essay Weak
Thought and the Limits of Interpretation (which is his contribution to Zabalas Weakening
Philosophy), Eco laments that his work has been misinterpreted and read literally. When twenty
years later I wrote The Limits of Interpretation, somebody wondered if I had not withdrawn my
praise for this opening, which serves as the point of departure for any work of art as a series of
possible interpretationsif not an infinite series, then at least an indefinite one. However, such an
objection did not take into account that my title, The Open Work, was an oxymoron. That which
opened itself was nevertheless a work and thus a form, something that was already there before one
began to interpret it. (Eco 2007, p. 38)

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act of human convergence. In this convergent form of human activity one expects
to find and attribute some meaning to immediate day-to-day living. Yet arts
illusion also confirms that any meaning is an act of particularity, because the claim
for reality is not an argument for a universal ground.
DOING, JUDGEMENT AND CRITIQUE

This leads to a number of distinctions that impact on how art is viewed in the ways
by which we are supposed to come to know and construct the world. I refer to what
is customarily assumed in art-speak as the act of art as making. When making is
singled as a primary act of art (an assumption that is here rejected), one must also
refer to the related argument of knowledge, particularly the purported lineage
between making and knowing, originally proposed by Giambattista Vico in his
Scienza Nuova (New Science, 1953). The question of what we make and what we
know pertains to the idea that art is a construction of reality as this intrinsically
relates to arts illusive ways of representation.
In his short, yet incisive book What Philosophy is, Arthur Danto highlights the
distinction between doing and knowing when he explains how in his later
philosophy Wittgenstein advances a thesis that culminates in a non-cognitivist
view of language almost as a whole:
This in turn goes with a certain conception of man as a user of language. It
sees man as an agent, practically implicated in a form of life with which he is
one, a view which contrasts sharply with another and dominating
philosophical view of man, standard since at least Descartes, which sees man
as a knower rather than a doer, concerned to describe a world he is set over
against, a lonely intellect not even certain that there is a society with which to
communicate or a world in which it might exist. (Danto 1971, 37)
Dantos explanation could help us trace a further distinction, which in the light
of the difference between knower and doer would further question the assumptions
of art as making from a philosophical perspective. The limiting notion of art as
making can be challenged when one draws a distinction between the artist as a
maker and the artist as a doer.
The artist-maker fallacy
Despite its well-meant tone, the notion of the artist as maker (or art as a making) is
very misleading, as it remains tied to a productivist aesthetic that is trapped in the
romanticised idea of process.9 The tale of the artist as maker is also subscribed to
the pedagogical assumptions of a poetics of the material by which artists are
supposed to learn how to develop a sensibility that far supersedes that of other

9
For my discussion and critique of the notion of process vis--vis the productivist aesthetic that is
still predominant in the modern art school setting see Baldacchino 2009c.

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mortal beings. In this paradigm the artwork is legitimised by a specifically


identified set of skills amounting to an identifiable craft that could amount to
anything made including figurative as well as conceptual art-works and
installations. This definition of art stays within the confines of the atelier where the
artists role remains that of a knower-maker. This fallacy is not restricted to the
manufacture of the artwork, but more crucially to related areas like aesthetics,
education, ethics and politics.
Though the concept of a knower-maker has often been positioned as counter
to Cartesian duality (mostly by misappropriating Vicos theory of knowledge), on
a closer look this notion ultimately reinforces the practicist assumption of a mind
that externally projects its deeds in the bodys forms of knowing. In other words it
is trapped within a closed epistemology that perceives the construction of reality as
a corresponding empirical world that would effectively relate to ones cognizant
engagement with making, and which pedagogically would yield developmental
dividends, while politically securing some form of emancipatory and democratic
state of harmony. Even in the most unmade forms of art, one often encounters
commentaries that mount an epistemology of art assumed on the same productivist
parameters. In these cases, the work or art is meant to operate didactically and it is
supposed to offer an environment where knowledge is facilitated by a
constructivist pedagogy that supposedly puts the learner-artist at the centre.
To argue that arts making is intrinsically responsible to a didactic construction
of reality is to say that art constructs reality in the same way someone constructs a
space with a specific remit to a function that would benefit its inhabitants. The
didactic argument misconstrues art as an act of learning. It is essentialist because it
reinforces a notion of reality that stands for a foundational essence of everything.
The didactic argument is strengthened by the assumed argument that without this
notion of reality there would be no meaning to the world. Where art is seen as a
facilitator of knowledge acquisitionor worse still, as a cognitive developmental
instrumentone finds that even when the claim is that of a progressive and
inclusive form of learning, the claimed pedagogical grounds of art remain
instrumental. This defies the point of learning per se. In effect this assumed
learner-centredness results in cloning the learner in the image of her teacher. This
is the same process that Rancire (1991) considers as a pedagogy of stultification,
where the schoolmaster claims to be the fount of knowledge and explanation.10
Even when learner-centredness appears to be the pedagogy of the studio in an art
school setting, in taking a productivist premise the artist-learner could never
assume art as a form of life because as a process of learning (through making) art
is primarily instrumental. (Some would even claim that this instrumentality is the
prerequisite for subsequent freedom. But as Paulo Freire (1996) rightly argues no
banking epistemology has ever facilitated autonomy.
In the assumption of the artist as maker, art is supposed to give us something
that is made. Even when this something is not an object, the instrumental

10
One of the best current discussions of Rancires critique of explanation is found in Bingham &
Biestas Jaques Rancire: Education, Truth and Emancipation (2010).

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assumption of process-as-making expects art to define reality. In the context of art


as a making, arts definition of reality is not only misleading but it additionally
misconstrues the idea of art as a construction of reality, which in the classical
realist sense has nothing to do with making. In their realism, neither Courbet, nor
Mann, nor Berg and less so Beckett could have essentialized the world. And yet
these artists are all realists in that the reality they construe purports no ground to
which everything returns but constitutes a crossing over incongruent terrains
marked by alterity and paradox.
Critical arts quandary
As the playground of the artist-doer, the incongruent terrains of paradox and
alterity belong to critical reasoning. This also means that the illusion characterizing
the mutable conventions of art portends the same criticality. Unlike instrumental
reason, critical reason is a form of life (a language game, in the Wittgensteinian
sense) by which individuals negotiate their particular needs with the universal
ambitions by which they seek meaning. For the artist as doer, art-works are not
objects but acts of critique that assert judgement. However as a form of critique, art
must not be read as equivalent to language. This distinction is often ignored with
dire consequences. When we go by Kants classic meaning of critique we are
heartened to read that: whoever has once tasted Critique will be ever after
disgusted with all dogmatic twaddle which he formerly put up with, because his
reason must have something, and could find nothing better for its support. (Kant
1990, p. 140)
However as the juncture between critique and art articulates what has become
known as critical art, one takes heed of what Rancire says when he discusses
the relationship between politics and aesthetics. As both art and politics chart their
own aesthetic terrains, and operate often together and often against each other, the
role of critical art becomes particularly important in that an argument for critical
art has always been one which, as Rancire succinctly puts it, sets out to build
awareness of the mechanisms of domination to turn the spectator into a conscious
agent of world transformation. (2009, p. 45)
Beyond the speculation of how critical art could build awareness without
becoming didactic, one must remember that criticality per se is meant to counter
instrumentality. If critical art were to be transformed into a political instrument, it
would compound arts aporetic stand and by consequence renounce a stricture that
splits art and criticality as entirely separate domains. At face value, this seems to
favour the instrumental power of criticality (as one finds in critical pedagogy and
progressive educationalism). However criticality could never justify the didactic
approach even if when claimed as a critical pedagogy. Arts criticality rejects
instrumental pedagogy. For art to be critical it must somehow talk itself out of
existence. This includes arts act of illegibility, where rather than explain, art
renounces any claim on reality, and with it, it exits the didactic expectations of
instrumental pedagogy.

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This takes us back to the same quandary in which art and politics find
themselves when they both claim a respective aesthetic realm. Rancires approach
to this quandary is to argue that critical art does not need to negotiate the
relationship between politics and art, but in having to negotiate the relationship
between two aesthetic logics that, insofar as they belong to the very logic of the
aesthetic regime, exist independently of it. As art negotiates with forms that are
outside its realm, it becomes possible to form combinations of elements capable
of speaking twice over: on the basis of their legibility and on the basis of their
illegibility. (Rancire 2009, p. 46)
Returning to Kant, we find that as a middle term between the understanding
and reason judgement contains in itself () a special principle of its own.
(1974, Introduction III, 13) From this we could read that by judgement we
mean the speciality by which we as rational beings have critiqued what is
attributable to art. Here the notion of mediation changes from that of facilitating
the legibility of the particular through the universal, to the possibility of what
Rancire attributes to arts speaking twice over. This qualifies what is meant by
mediation when judgement is attributed to its special principle as that which
emerges from the need to muster that something by which, in their artistic
endeavour, women and men could put to play arts claim to reality through the
versatility of critical illusion.
Judgement and critique go hand in hand. Judgement emerges from the ability of
human reason to recognize the distance between particulars and universals as one
terrain, where one takes the so-called long view by which we read circumstance
from within a context that is other than a limit of immediacy. This is where the
currency of illusion in art is evaluated as critical, and where as critique arts
illusive character as a way of doing counters those other forms of illusion that are
external to reason.
Critique is intrinsic to arts ability to discern between a critical illusion that
allows the playful grounds of reason and those forms of illusion that
instrumentalize human reason and constrain it to a prescribed view of reality. As
critique, the exercise of reason is counter to education as an accumulation of
knowledge and thereby rejects the idea that reason becomes instrumental to a
polity of facts by which one is automatically assumed as part of a systemic whole.
While critique partakes of the notion of universality, this participation is active and
thereby open-ended in terms of reason as also being a realm of the particularas
this is made manifest by the freedom and intelligence with which we do art.
Art is seen to provide that critical horizon of a multiplicity where by its
speciality women and men could share and combine possibilities and where art, in
its speciality, speaks twice over. This speciality takes on illusion as possibility and
recognises its role in the language games (qua forms of life) by which humans
engage in between the aesthetic binary of art and politics. Such an ability to speak
twice over, or to move along the binary that presents aesthetics as a multiple event
of art and non-art, is further revealed by arts method of epoch. In its suspension
of a strictly externalised and objectivised world, and indeed in rejecting a dualist
conceptualization of anything we doincluding the artificial divide of modern and
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postmodernarts speciality has to be manifested by a criticality that sustains the


playful negotiation between convergence and hybridity, illusion and reality.
This is not that distanced from what Rancire sees as the political question of
contemporary art, where going beyond the opposition of modern and postmodern,
it will be grasped through an analysis of the metamorphoses of the political
third, the politics founded on the play of exchanges and displacements between
the art world and that of non-art. (2009, p. 51)
CLAIMING REALITY

The question of critical illusion and whether this enables art to claim reality
raises further questions: What are the parameters of arts critical illusion and what
is actually meant by arts claim to reality? How could illusion take on the notion
of reality as arts claim to truth?
I would like to take the argument for reality and illusion in art by qualifying
reality as weak reality. By weakening the notion of reality, I want to conform to the
multiplicity by which arts criticality portends its claim on truth and its
interpretation. I borrow the term weak (debole) from Vattimo and Rovattis use
of the term weak thought il pensiero debole (Vattimo & Rovatti 1988). By
qualifying the relationship between what I have identified as critical illusion and
the possible notion of a weak reality, I return to Vattimos characterisation of
Heideggers ontology as weak ontology, assumed in the light of his discussion of
the occurrence of truth in art. In The End of Modernity Vattimo argues that:
The occurrence of truth in art is a problem upon which Heidegger never
ceases to reflect right up to his last works. () [H]is argument in the last
analysis means that (a) the truth which may occur does not possess the nature
of truth as thematic evidence, but rather that of the opening of the world,
which signifies at the same time a thematization and a positioning of the
work on the background, or an ungrounding; and (b) if truth is understood
in these terms, then art, as its setting-into-work, is definable in far less
grandiose or emphatic terms than those which are customarily taken to
belong to Heideggers aesthetic thought.
Referring to how Gadamer sees this in Heidegger, Vattimo clarifies that:
The full implications of this cannot be understood unless placed within a
more general interpretation of Heideggerian ontology as weak ontology.
The result of rethinking the meaning of Being is in fact, for Heidegger, the
taking leave of metaphysical Being and its strong traits, on the basis of which
the devaluation of the ornamental aspects of the work of art has always
definitely been legitimated, even if through more extensive chains of
mediating concepts. (Vattimo 1985 [1991, 8788])
The notion of weakness in Vattimo is tied to the koin of hermeneutics with
nihilism. If by the hermeneutic argument we are made aware that thought is
characterised by a system of interpretations, where truth emerges from a series of
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interpretations and where whatever it constructs operates on the basis of the notion
that all we have are interpretations, it follows that the rational systems by which
we operate cannot externalise truth from the interpretative edifice that is human
reason. (Vattimo 1995a) The way I see this operating within the koin proposed by
Vattimo is that weakness is intrinsic to the openness by which Nietzsche urges
us to take responsibility of our acts without projecting or reifying reason into an
all-pervasive and absolutethat is, strongthought which has given a
disproportionate power to morality and metaphysics and by which the same
systems would suppress those who thought them out in the first place.
There is also a further aspect to weakness which Vattimo takes from the fact
that hermeneutics has emerged from an interpretation of sacred texts. The
theological origin of hermeneutics allows us to take the issue of interpretation into
a dynamic that has to do with the idea of a revealed truth. Here the revelation of
truth is hidden behind narratives that await elucidation through a number of rules
and conventions. We approach both revelation and interpretation knowing that the
truth that is given to us comes from an act that weakens the idea of an Absolute
God whose word is perceived as being above the grasp of human knowledge.
Taken as a system of thought where truth is approached as an open and accessible
gift, the question of interpretation (as evolved within a philosophical system
removed from its theological origin) regales us with an opportunity to approach the
issue of truth as an open-ended gift of which we partake from the grounds of
ontological equality.
As previously indicated, Badiou traces this definition of weakness in the Pauline
tradition that radically challenges a referential structure thatas a counter-sign
the narrative of the Cross would disrupt:
What does it mean for the event whose sign is the cross to be emptied of its
power? Simply, that this event is of such a character as to render the
philosophical logos incapable of declaring it. The underlying thesis is that
one of the phenomena by which one recognizes an event is that the former is
like a point of the real that puts language into deadlock. This deadlock is
folly (mria) for Greek discourse, which is a discourse of reason, and it is a
scandal (skandalon) for Jewish discourse, which insists on a sign of divine
power and sees in Christ nothing but weakness, abjection, and contemptible
peripeteia. (Badiou 2003, p. 46)
In Beyond Interpretation, Vattimo takes the notion of kenosis from the Christian
narrative of Gods incarnation whereby the notion of a Deity is presented as an act
of lowering that is neither submissive nor feeble, but meek and weak.
() modern philosophical hermeneutics begins in Europe not only because
here one finds a religion of the book which focuses attention on the
phenomenon of interpretation; but because this religion is founded on the
idea of Gods incarnation, understood as kenosisas a lowering, which I will
here translate as a weakening. (Vattimo 1995a, p. 60)

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In this light I would suggest that weakness is read as: (a) the rejection of an allpervasive metaphysics, which will lead to a rightful claim to the openness that
proffers an interpretative edifice of reason whose vocation is nihilist in terms of the
responsibilities taken without the strength of a presumed order; and (b) the idea of
juncture between reality as an incarnation, prompted by a lowering that implies a
direct vinculum between origin and goal without having to tie this to a teleological
ground.
Taken as it were from this source, the idea of reality must also be weak in order
to make it possible for art to operate between the layers of illusion and critique. In
other words, because reality is not an essentialist base from which everything
emanates, but is an open horizon on which everything is possible, we can see how
in claiming a weak reality, art could exchange its roles between that of intervening
on the interpretative horizon of reality and that of assuming truth by way of its
subscription to thought as a form of lowering. For art to partake of illusion as
critique, it also needs to reveal reality in the same kenotic manner by which the
logos becomes fleshwhere reason is ultimately positioned within the human
body. Here, reality is read as the possibility of this weakness. In the weakening of
reality a robust opening provides a juncture between the real and the true that this
time would preclude the all-pervasive arrogance of a foundationalist concept of
reality. With reality assumed as weak and with illusion assumed as critical, it
would be easier to see how art is a doing that is not capricious in its open-ended
questions because it does not aspire to have any epistemological weight.
EVENT AND ALTERITY

Rovatti argues that if there is one utensil that we can take from Derridas drawer it
will have to be the near identification between event and alterity. An event is
never appropriated as being ones own, because it belongs to the other and viceversa.
I believe that the capacity to deconstruct ones own in our description of
the event, and thus the paradoxical capacity to stand in the event, accepting
the risk and uncertainty of it, is precisely the weakening we need in order to
prepare a new idea of responsibility and in order to access a horizon yet to
come. (2007, p. 145)
With alterity being implicit to what becomes an event in all its risks and
uncertainties, one can see how as an eventbe it of empathy, convergence, or as
an illusion that reaffirms a weak realityart flips its constituency by playfully
moving between the event (as art) to that of its other (as non-art). If we take on
board what Rancire suggests in terms of critical arts task to negotiate two
aesthetic logics, then we find the same state of affairs, where in claiming its own
event, art must also claim the alterity that makes it a risky event in the first place.
But as far as this goes, arts claim remains critically posedthat is, it can only
posit by what it negates; on the same terms by which the event itself is weakened
and thus opened to what is politically its other: the non-artistic event.
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As stated earlier in this chapter the play between illusion and reality would be
nonsensical outside arts specificity. Likewise, the negotiation between two
aesthetics (taken from the event of art to that of its other as non-art) would make
no sense if read symmetrically where what one is the other is not. This kind of
negative alterity is not only mechanistic, but defaults to a dyadic mutualism that
precludes criticality and transforms the dialectic into a systematic form of
compromise. Arts claim to reality is prefigured by the critical illusion that conveys
arts questionsquestions that snub replication. Such questions are often illegible,
especially when the forms that art adopts appear to be at face value normal,
therefore suggesting a non-artistic realm. Illegibility comes in the form of
disconnection between what appears to be a non-artistic event and what is declared
as being the opposite: a work of art. The refutation of answering arts questions
restates the asymmetry between artistic and non-artistic realms. In such cases
audiences do not take offence at the work per se (which they hardly consider as
art), but at the banality by which the event is presented as an artistic truth.
This is a common occurrence in works that have confounded audiences ever
since the artist decided to weaken arts reality. This is far from being reserved to
contemporary art. One must recall the 14th century artist who decides to break into
perspective and reclaim humanism back from theocracies; or the late Medieval
composer who breaks with the canonicity of Pythagorean modality and introduces
polytonality; just as one must remember how Duchamps found objects are
prefigured in Caravaggios use of found models; and how atonality intrudes in
rogue passages in Liszt or Brahms. Just as the diatonic tradition in western music
could never survive without continuous reference points in folk and non-western
modal music, the strength of the domestic buildincluding the humble hut
continuously informs the architecture of palatial structures and soaring cathedrals.
Arts kenotic reclamation of truth animates the argument for a claim to a sense
of reality that is lowered from that of a declared universal truth to the state of
found multiplicities animated by the recognition of particularity as an aesthetic
category. The kenotic appropriation of the found object across the ages is always
greeted by accusations of ridicule and banality. But in recognizing the strength of
banality the found object represents the most effective form of weakening by
which art throws responsibility back to us while disallowing the appropriation of
art.
Read from this perspective, Rovattis appraisal of Derridas deconstruction
gains new relevance to the relationship between the illusory character of arts event
and the alterity that stops us from appropriating arts truththe consequence of
which reveals the weakening of the concept of reality itself. This context gains
further relevance in the event of art, and especially in terms of how art lays claim
to the real without allowing us to own anything per se.
Martin Creed: the seriousness of banality
In arts disallowance of any kind of ownership, Martin Creeds work comes to
mind as a body of work that does not simply shock peopleas Tracey Emin and
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Damien Hirsts art dobut where the invitation to the work incites a frustrated
scepticism and with that, a much stronger loathing of the banality by which arts
truth is reclaimed.
With the element of shock long gone, and with numb cynicism characterizing
the cultural conditioning of the art industry, Creeds work is not that of a dissident.
On the contrary, it appears to conform on all counts by passing all the tests that are
expected of a young artist. Thus Creeds entry into the officialdom of the art world
was appropriate in that he had to win that much loathed and derided, criticized yet
coveted Turner Prize in 2001. What won him the prize was his work Work No.
227, the lights going on and off (2000).
The frenzied response to Creeds work equally conformed to the expectations of
the culture industry. In their ritual bun-fight critics and artists got their day, and in
true tradition, the arts correspondent of The Daily Telegraph fulfilled his duty to
his genteel conservative readers commenting that even by the standards of a prize
that has been contested by Chris Offilis elephant dung paintings, Tracey Emins
soiled bed and dirty knickers and Damien Hirsts sliced and pickled animals,
Creeds work is widely considered exceptionally odd and is likely to quicken
debate about the prizes future. The critics predictable conclusion was to call for
the prize to be ended once and for all: After seeing the work of the four artists
shortlisted this year, many critics said the prize, for British artists under 50, had
plumbed new depths, was run by a self-selecting cabal and should, after a 17-year
run, be put out of its misery. (Reynolds 2001) As expected, Reynoldss call was
of no consequence, as the Turner Prize has now reached beyond its second decade.
Yet the argument for banality must not be read from the ineffective calls of the
critic, or the mantra that extends from the art of criticism itself. The ineptitude of
the critics argument is confirmed by Reynoldss attempt to belittle the importance
of theoretical discussion, remarking that Creeds work was met with a mixture of
incredulity, attempts at deep philosophising and plain outrage. As if there would
be any other way of reacting to art! The poverty of this assumption lies in the
expectation that somehow a serious discussion of a work of art warrants deep
philosophizing, as if the philosophers approach to art were mandatory, and
represents a given within the cultural conditioning of the art industry. Reynoldss
expectation is intended to strike an ironic note, not only on art but also on the
philosophizing that, according to some, is there to help art gain respectability. In
other words, the expectation of deep philosophizing becomes a means of derision.
Yet to deride works like Creeds and to expect to turn them into a spectacle for
the sake of those who cannot accept (let alone understand) the banality of life
revealed in Creeds work, is to expect that art must serve as an instrument of
pleasure while it seeks to teach us morals. Somehow the critics commentary sits
comfortably on the outer rows of the culture industrys self-proclaimed circus,
entertained by the promise of ownership. With the added bonus of deep
philosophizing this service will be complete and saleable to Gallery aficionados
and rich collectors, in whose graces the critic remains even when he or she seeks to
ridicule the works that ultimately these people would buy and claim to own. This
is the same argument brought to canonicity where somehow it is expected that arts
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canonicity would serve as a platform for the universalisation of moral and


economic valuewhen historically the canonicity begotten by the arts invariably
begins from a position that rejects economic and moral value and with them any
universal acclaim by which many still expect art to serve them.
Nevertheless, those who spin the cultural conditioning of art are no less culpable
of presuming an equal degree of instrumentality in art. If Creeds work is effective
it is because it may well be derided and acclaimed in equal measure. It does not
matter what Creeds work does as such, because the thrust of Creeds art lies in
taking the banality of the world to its extremes. This also invalidates the stupid
argument that wrangles over the ridiculous prices that these works command
which, in effect, goes to confirm how in becoming art, an object also sustains its
other non-artistic reality where the few claim an ownership sustained by pecuniary
strength.
Thus one would not be wrong in saying that Creeds works Work No 610, Sick
Film (2006) and Work No 600 (2006) depicting a woman vomiting and defecating
respectively are not only awful works but their bad taste does nothing to the
audience and people are right to protest against their vulgarity; even though it is
equally true to say that for reality to be true to itself it must include all aspects of
our living, including vomiting and defecating. The point here is that there is no
point to be sought. To expect deep philosophizing over such works is to play to the
sardonic (though never ironic) condition of the art industry to which Creed and
other artists have all the right to play at will and in full vision of their audiences
and critics.
However an argument for banality is not to sustain or value Creed as an artist,
and less so to sermonize against the sums that these works attract from collectors
or national gallerieswhich rightly or wrongly people love and hate in equal
measure. We would be missing the point of banality if we stop with taking offence
or even ignoring a body of work that shifts the event of art right into the alterity by
which we are not allowed (and this includes artists and dealers, adulators and
critics) appropriation.
To the question whether presenting a DVD of a woman defecating or vomiting
is a work of art, the answer remains as illusive as its question. This is why Croce
was right to juxtapose the heaviness of the question with the tautological lightness
of his reply: art is what everyone would think it is. Taking this relation to the
context of a weakening of reality, one could argue that Creeds non-artistic events
become solid events of art when the reality that they claim is incessantly weakened
by how its alterity reveals the banality of the world. This applies to installations
like his monumentally sized work Work No. 567 SMALL THINGS (2006) as well
as drawings like Work No. 753, Holly (2007) and Work No. 657, Smiling woman
(2007) where a narrative of anti-drawing kicks in. This is not because, as some
would have said of any modernist artist (wrongly, of course!) the man or woman
cannot draw. Creed does not seem to be bothered with drawing at all, even though
he would argue that he enjoys doing it. When the argument remains ensconced in
weak thought what seems more urgent to establish is that whether an artist agrees
or disagrees with any assessment of his drawing, might bear no consequence or
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importance to him and less so to his art and audience. This is where the banal
comes into play and this is where the kenotic argument gains most relevance.
Alberto Burri: the answer denied
While the banality of the world raised in Creeds work may not prove to be either
comfortable and less so lasting in the imagination of those who seek in art a strong
referential structure of meaning and value, the historical distance that now rests
between the present and the works of Alberto Burri, might at first glance, prove to
be somewhat comforting. However this comfort is as illusive as the vulgarity
thrown at us by some of Creeds works.
Once Burris story is toldhow he renounced his medical practice after
witnessing the horror of war as a military doctor, and how as a prisoner of war in
the United States, he decides to take on paintingit becomes easier to
understand and accept his works, which prominently include the image of
violence through burnt material and plastic, decay through the image of rotten and
mouldy material, and the transience of life through cracked material. To take just
two works by Burri, Rosso Plastica (Red Plastic, 1964) and Sacco (Sack, 1953),
the representation of burnt plastic and painted and thorn sacks becomes
representative of the pathos that the human condition brings with war and
deprivation. These works also begin to push the idea of repetition, in that these
represent a large series of works that are basically done in uniform manner, almost
reproduced in like manner with variations that move with what the material brings
to the artist. These works gain canonicity by their underlying notion of destruction
and the use of cheap material such as plastic and the sacks, most of which came
from America carrying post-war aid to Europe.
Like another series using flaking paint (as in the Whites series) and the use of
burnt wood, the literal rendition of these works is quickly and too easily
appropriated into a didactic comfort by which some would claim a democratization
of art, readily transformed by teachers and textbook historians as examples of
modern practices where form is supposed to yield to experiment and where the
popularization of Modernism remains at hand. A great example of this kind of
didactic appropriation is the attraction by which Pollocks drip paintings still
motivate teachers to drag drones of school kids into museums in New York and
London.
Yet this is where the whole notion of event and alterity, which Rovatti discerns
in Derrida, and which here we are reading through the event-character of art, is
undermined. In the transformation of works into an act of the propreof ones
appropriation but by means of ones belongingwe are invited to make quick
assumptions where the alterity between the objectlessness that articulates the
alterity of art as non-art is presented as a literal outcome. Arts antinomic
characterwhich allows it to take banality away from the risible and the vulgar (as
we have seen in Creeds work) or Burris case, where the nullifying inherence of
material becomes a reluctant sign of pathos, taken this time away from the
replication of the horror that is human miseryis often slumped back on an
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identitarian reading of the work as a structure that contains meaning for the
predilection of the didactically needy. In this respect, pathos overlaps art and in a
quick reading of the signs that are foisted on the repetitious use of burning or
tearing, Burris art is simplified into a case-study of suffering. In other words,
Burri is read at the same level of immediacy that would suggest a literal reading of
a Cortzar or a Joyce.
Just as many would argue for constructivist parameters for education because,
as they would erroneously claim, constructivist pedagogy awards industry and
collaboration, to aesthetize arts critical illusion is nothing but a didactic
manipulation of art. This manipulation is not only un-critical, but it suffers from a
serious learning deficit. We know from Socrates that the aporia in whose imminent
moment the learner must face his error, and must hit the wall to realize the error of
his presumed merit, is the first step by which we must reject meritocratic deceit.
Yet when art is taken for a pedagogical event, its aporetic character is domesticated
and ultimately nullified. This is no different from the insistence on squeezing a
presumed meaning out of a work of art that flatly refutes to teach and inform.
Burri confesses that:
It would be easier for me to say what does not need to be painted, what does
not pertain to painting, what I exclude from my work sometimes with
deliberate violence, sometimes with satisfaction. ()
For years pictures have led me, and my work is just a way of stimulating
the drive.
I can only say this: painting for me is a freedom attained, constantly
consolidated, vigilantly guarded so as to draw from it the power to paint
more. (Burri 1955, p. 82)
Perhaps the worst form of appropriation culminates in the pathetic attempt to make
of art a humanized form where the prevailing inhumanity of history is what
motivates the artist to refute popular appropriation. It is where the claim against
arts resistance is couched by calls for democratization when in effect art is telling
us bluntly that democracy could only come to pass when it disallows appropriation
per se; where no one would own anything, and where the appellations of false
differencebe it that of Greek, Roman, or Barbarian; legal or illegal migration;
Christian, Muslim, Humanist or Jewish appellationsare ultimately nullified. In
other words democracy can only happen when the polis is completely disowned
and dismantled and the borders are no more.
The mark of weak reality in art requires that the event of art is recognized from
the weight of its unanswerable questions, and where just as Croce insists on
defining by refusing to say what is art, we must also refuse to appease the
arrogance that seeks comfort and pleasure, education and moral guidance in works
of art. Thereby, in its criticality, arts necessary illusion realizes its transience
which leads us to suggest that to argue for a weakening of arts claim to reality
necessitates that we articulate the idea of a weak art.

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WEAK ART?

Being is none other than the trans-mission of historico-destinal disclosures


which constitute the possibility of access to the world for humanity in each
epoch. The experience of being, as the experience of responding to and of
receiving, is always An-denken (re-thinking, meditative pondering, loving
recollection) and Verwindung (overcoming, getting over, recuperating).
Gianni Vattimo, Verwindung: Nihilism and the
Postmodern in Philosophy (1987, p. 14)

While art manifests a negotiation between hybridity and specificity in one instance,
and illusion and reality in another, the claims it makes on truth are spread across a
horizon marked by questions posed and motivated by an interpretative edifice that
resists externalisation. The resistance to externalisation prompts a distinction
between art as doing and makingthe latter being a remnant of a positivist attempt
to externalise and objectify truth into an instrumental and measured entity.
Likewise the notion of poienliterally meaning makingis often misconstrued as
an excuse to take a poetic turn on material manufacturing, resulting in a
romanticised approach to the process of making. This reduces the meaning of
poetics to a teleology that becomes foundational. On both counts, art is grounded
in a process bookended by a miraculous origin and a genial end.
This takes the discussion of arts ways of doing directly into the quandary of
criticality and how critical art operates within a politics of aesthetics that rejects
both forms of grounding.
TRUTH AND TRANSIENCE

In the previous chapter I suggest that arts doing articulates the method of epoch
where suspension does not mean a limiting of arts horizon, but a way out of the
strictures of externalised reification at one end and subjective sublimation at the
other. In its specificity, arts method of epoch rejects a conceptualization of art
that charts it on quadrilateral parameters constructed on inner and outer, subjective
and objective parallels. This includes the rejection of the artificial divide between
modern and postmodern, word and image, mind and body, etc. In recognizing
paradox and antagonism as bearings rather than conditions, arts criticality sustains
a playful negotiation between convergence and hybridity, illusion and reality, not
as another pairing of parallels but as nodes on a dialectical horizon. Being
dialectical, this horizon does not simply oscillate between conflicting relations.
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A dialectical bearing is far more complex than a series of antagonistic events. This
is perhaps more evident in the way art inhabits the dialectic as a space from where
it gains truth through a multiplicity of complex occurrences that may or may not be
articulated in the work of art per se. Arts method of epoch consciously suspends
any form of conditioning in order to facilitate and attend to those forms of life
which women and men could realise in equally haphazard and plural ways by
inhabiting the multiple extents of truth. This would not simply involve a
manufactured object, made as a work of art. To essentialize art into a reflective
momentor objectof a larger dialectic would miss the whole point of why we
do art in the first place.
Epoch, difference and the dialectic
In a collection of essays titled Poesia e Ontologia (Poetry and Ontology, 1967) a
young Vattimo argues how one could ontologically restate the problem of art; or
indeed, how aesthetics may enter into a discussion of ontological needs. He
seeks Heideggers notion of ontological difference between Being and beings
(essere e gli enti), which, Vattimo argues, shares the same significance with
Heideggers notion of epoch. (1967, p. 7) Vattimo argues that in Heidegger,
epoch:
Is that character of being in which Being [essere] is given and at the same
time hides itself in the appearance of beings [gli enti]. Being, in fact, is given
in that it is the light in which beings would appear. On the other hand,
because beings can appear and somehow subsist within the horizon that it
[Being] institutes, as such, Being removes itself. It makes beings appear and
it lets them appear: we could say that it gives them a place by giving
expression to all the ambiguous meanings to which it remains prone. Being
makes place for beings because it provides the horizon on which they gain
beingthat is, by which they are; and makes place for them in the sense that
it leaves it [the place] free; it withdraws, without drawing any attention to
itself. (1967, p. 8).
Read in the context of Vattimos later discussion of Nietzsche and Heideggers
notions of An-denken (re-thinking, meditative pondering, loving recollection) and
Verwindung (overcoming, getting over, recuperating) (1987, p. 14), to speak of
arts method of epoch is to articulate a suspension qualified as an intent towards
the overcoming of that which ties art to instrumental didactics, immediate
delectation or metaphysical totality. One can also see how in Poesia e Ontologia
Vattimos discussion of epoch vis--vis the question of art already contains within
it the germs of a notion of weakening. Here he focuses on a related concept in
Heidegger (to which we have already referred in the previous chapter) where truth
is positioned as arts occurrence. In an essay entitled Lopera darte come messa in
opera della verit e il concetto di fruizione estetica (literally translated as: The
work of art as being put to truths task and the concept of aesthetic fruition) he
tackles the notion of truth as a philosophy of occurrenceof the messa in opera,
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the act of being put to taskwhere arts occurrence in the world becomes an act of
truth. Vattimo later develops this notion of occurrence in his discussion of truth
and weak ontology. In an essay on new monumentality that he wrote almost 30
years after his first publication of Poesia e Ontologia, he states: Today Being
does not unveil itself as something that was already sopresent, that isonly,
forgotten. It occurs instead as an opening event, as the epoch-making clearing
within which only beings appear so-and-so qualified. (Vattimo 1995b, p. 42) He
adds:
Under these conditions, thinking (in the sense of attaining truth) no longer
means reaching the ground, and deductively tracing the whole system of
beings back to it; it means regressing to the opening events that constitute
Being through their mutual enchainment, in that they define the specific
opening within which beings appear and come to be. To be sure, I am
speaking of events in the plural, not of the event: to place beings in the one
specific opening in which they come to be (for example, the horizon of
modern metaphysics) would still amount to conceiving the opening as a
structural a priori, as the stable Being of the metaphysical tradition. (ibid)
In Poesia e Ontologia, Vattimo also discusses the tension between a primacy of
form (formalismo) and that of content (contenutismo) within the concept of
aesthetic fruition. He takes further the approach of art as truths occurrence,
arguing that aesthetic fruition is gained through arts permanence in history, in the
sense that history is opened to us through an exegetic plurality of works in which
a certain epoch of Being is established and opened. (1967, p. 124)
However Vattimo qualifies this exegetic quality without making of its
permanence a foundational trait. He explains that from what emerges from this
aesthetic fruition [as] conceived by this perspective, one would neither find
pure enjoyment of the work in its perfection nor something beyond, in pursuit of
a discovery of truth which the work of art is supposed to make manifest or
reveal. (p. 125) He insists that any opening and epochal permanence would also
mean that the work of art is treated as an announcement of a truth [trattare
lopera come lannuncio di una verit]. As long as we try to understand and
realize the world that this work of art creates, by working out a wording, which
might never be definite, but which would give this world an interpretation, our
encounter with the work of art always has the character of reaching towards
completion and a satisfactory aesthetic for its form. (p. 125) This is where any
ground is an enunciated base and thus one which always needs a foundation
[fondamento enunciato e percio a sua volta sempre ancora bisognoso di
fondazione]. (Ibid.)
As Vattimo restates, thirty years later, from the perspective of a Heideggerian
ontology of actuality both truth and Being grant themselves today not as ground
but as monument. Monument, moreover, here finds its definition as not simply an
external but a philosophically pregnant one. Monument is the event marking and
remembering the opening of Being within which a given historical existence takes
place. (1995b, p. 42)
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It goes without saying that when we speak of an epoch in art it pertains to a


weak ontologythough I would hasten to add that here I am in no way claiming it
to be Heideggerian or Husserlian for the simple reason that I think the concept of
epoch itself must be removed from hermeneutical and phenomenological
assumptions, particularly when the claim for weak thought is neither ideological
nor a trait of one philosophy or another. Any chance of restoring (which this time
would be grotesque and farcical) the grounds on which human reason has claimed
its own history must be avoided. As we speak of monuments, we also speak of
remembering and the memorial needs that our assumptions of groundlessness
emerge from. However the historical character of such monuments cannot be
dismissed, even when any historicist argument must remain non-identitarian.
Just as truth and occurrence emerge from a state of affairs that presumes no
fixed foundation, a claim to hope is asserted from within the possibilities that
emerge from what we do. Elsewhere I argue that hope in groundlessness is
reclaimed by how we ascertain the truth, and thereby cope with it from within the
thingsles choses or the pragmatathat inform our daily lives. (Baldacchino
2005, p. 4) As we speak of occurrence through art (and not theology, or
metaphysics, or even philosophy) to speak of arts epoch is to move away from
the presumed parameters of a method imposed on, or borrowed for art.11 Like
arts illusion, arts epoch moves and recognizes obsolescence in the mutability
that remains at the heart of arts doing qua questioning. Any assumption of epoch
in art must be as momentary as the conventions of arts questions, as these are
marked by critical illusion. To say that arts epoch pertains to negation would
mean that it recalls difference and the dialectic, as construed by Sartre (2010) and
Adorno (1990) respectively. As Vattimo puts it in an essay that inaugurates his
concept of weak thought in his and Rovattis book Il Pensiero Debole, This new
ontology constructs itself not only through the discourse of difference, but by also
calling back to mind [rammemorando] the dialectic. (Vattimo 1988, p. 20)
As a convention in perpetual mutability marked by obsolescence, illusion
distinguishes arts claim to truth and reality by its refusal to reply to the question
what is art? In this refusal the question of art exercises its criticality. Criticality is
further qualified by a weak ontology where the relationship between dialectics and
difference does not function in one direction; which is to say that the weakening of
an essentialist ground does not imply that the dialectic is substituted by difference,
but where the decline of difference in weak thought could only be thinkable if one
assumes the heritage of the dialectic (Vattimo, ibid.) and vice-versa.

11
Recent examples of the attempt to academically legitimise art through the use of social scientific
methods are found in several essays edited in Bresler (2007), Hickman (2008), Cahnmann-Taylor &
Siegesmund (2008) and Knowles & Cole (2008). Gray & Malins (2004) make an explicit argument
for arts research to adopt a social scientific model. There are only a few dissenting voicesmostly
found in Macleod & Holdridge (2006), Sullivan (2009) and in a few essays in the books cited,
particularly in Hickman. For my critique of the social scientific trend in arts research see
Baldacchino 2009b.

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This is all expressed under the assumption of an overcoming, in which as


Vattimo explains through his continuous use of the term Verwindung, there is a
sense of recuperation added to that of overcoming; meaning that the rethinking and
repossession of a concept, state of affairs, or a notion (such as difference and the
dialectic) is open to what Nietzsche thought of primarily in terms of
convalescence and the strong physical constitution; of an attitude whose essential
meaning is that of being related to the past of metaphysics and therefore to
modernity as the ultimate result of that past (Platonic-Christian morality) in a
manner that nevertheless constitutes neither the acceptance of its errors nor a
critical surpassing which would merely continue that past. (Vattimo 1987, p. 11)
I recall my earlier discussion of the idea of the convergent I and add that with
the proviso of an overcoming moved by a continuous remembering that is
recovered from its grounded past, to assume a weak ontology with respect to arts
questions is to assume art as a multiple event marked by a hybridity given in
empathy. Here men and women are empowered by their singular claims to reality
(articulated, amongst others, by arts convergent I) and by deed of their
recognition of the transient nature of the rules by which they pose their questions
whether these concern art, or anything else. But I would also emphasize that this
neither happens in a vacuum of a-legality nor without any historical understanding
of the political relatedness of the singular claims to reality that are invariably made
in relationship to other claims and to claims made by others. Thus rather than
assume reality as an absolute and strong entity that has offered myriad excuses to
those who wrench power over the freedom of others, art assumes reality through its
critical illusion. For critical illusion to gain fuller meaning, it must be qualified that
women and men grasp reality from within the openness offered to them by
reasons interpretative edifices; edifices which, like difference and the dialectic,
operate through each other by way of overcoming the fixity that previously
reduced them to mere methods.
While art claims reality, we regale ourselves with the possibility to recognise
truth in its openness and therefore within the spaces of occurrence that characterize
the quotidian. In the openness of such space, reality is signified by the weak
thought exercised as free and intelligent by women and men whose rights are put
into effect by what the many takes as a complex and multiple terrain of
responsibilities; and expressed by what weas that manycall art. Yet this
responsibility must not be seen as cue to another essentialist ground. Vattimo
(1987) clarifies that to say that Being cannot be grasped in presence as an object
means ultimately that Being has the destiny of dissolving, of disappearing, of
fading and weakening. (p. 13, my emphasis)
Inhabited truth and the existence of the possible book
In his essay on new monumentality, Vattimo clarifies the notion of space and its
inhabited truth, arguing that, the spatial metaphor frees the identification thinkingremembrance from any possible Hegelian misunderstanding. He distinguishes
between a notion of thinking that appropriates the truth of the process by
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comprehending it in its wholeness and in its connections, in a way that remains


ultimately foundational and what he sees as placing oneself, and things, into
truth conceived of as the horizon that sustains them, and us, through its very
irreducible and networklike multiplicity of references. What characterizes this
network-like multiplicity is an entry into a never-ending dialogue, whose peculiar
sense lies in its being carried on through attuned questions and answers. (1995b,
p. 43) I would add that here the dialectic remains inevitable, not inasmuch as it is a
conditioning of the network-like multiplicity, but as its implicit character.
Elsewhere, Vattimo approaches the spatial metaphor of truth from his
discussion of the truth of opening (verit dellapertura), which he distances from
an object whose possession of knowledge is confirmed by a sense of proof,
evidence, completeness, and assimilation that we would prove at some point
(1995c, p. 106). As opening, truth moves in the direction of critiquing those closed
assumptions of truth that operate on a conformity whose presumed coherence
would add up and are supposed to correspond to a set of facts that would then
allow reasoning to muster. The opening presumed by this resumption of truth
cannot remain undecided. Truth as opening facilitates the spatial metaphor where
truth must be inhabited. To inhabit truth, explains Vattimo, is certainly very
different from showing and simply explaining what seems to be already there.
(1995c, p. 103) Instead, to inhabit reveals that which belongs to interpretation
which involves both consensus as well as the possibility of critical articulation.
(1995c, p. 104) Vattimo likens truth as inhabiting to being in a library where truth
as conformityas a presumably coherent added-up categorystands for the
knowledge of truth as a definite possession of an object. On the other hand truth as
inhabiting is found in the competence of the librarian. The librarian does not know
the totality of all the books and all the knowledge they contain. Neither does he
claim to be the proprietor of the first principles that this knowledge is supposed to
rest on. However the librarian knows where to look, because he has knowledge of
the relatedness of the books. (1995c, p. 104)
While the spatial analogy is clearly qualified by the openness by which truth
becomes less foundational and more a matter of belonging without it being closed
and objectified, Vattimos analogy of the librarian brings to mind Jorge Luis
Borgess La Biblioteca de Babel in his Ficciones. Borges sums up the argument in
one sentence in a footnote: I repeat: it is enough for a book to be possible for it to
exist. (2001, p. 96, 3n) This confirms the infinity of the library, which as a
universe is construed by its chaotic multiplicity, and where it is sustained by an
eternal recurrence that is not unlike Nietzsches. Borges tells us that if an eternal
traveller would cross the library in any direction she will, at some point, reach an
end where the same books will repeat themselves in the same disorder. (p. 99)
This image supplements the idea of the return with that of possibility, which finds
resonance in the difference by which, not Sartre, but the medieval philosopher
John Duns Scotus assumes the world in its infinite possibilities endowed by a
universe of a multiple thisness. Borgess footnote does not end with the possible,
but with a qualification that reinforces the possible with its Other:

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Only the impossible is left out. For example, no book is also a ladder,
although undoubtedly there are books that would discuss and deny and show
this possibility and others that would structurally correspond to a ladder.
(Borges 2001, p. 96, 3n)
While I do not know whether Vattimo would concur with my analogy of the
possible and the multiple as that which enhances the world in its particularityand
thereby the thisness that sustains it as immanently dialecticalI consider his sense
of deferral and recollection qua anamnesis as central to his articulation of the
occurrence of truth in art. To re-cite his essay on monumentality and the
postmodern, he makes mention of the inevitability of the anamneticmeaning in
this case, the only choice that one has in terms of monument as memory. Late
modern monument, like Heideggers act of thinking, says Vattimo, cannot help
but be anamnestic. To be sure, that sounds like a tautology, since monument is by
definition an object that is aiming to become a trace for memory: a trace, that is,
which is aere perennius, longer enduring than bronze. (1995b, p. 45).
Once this is assumed, the question is not a matter of lamentation or complaint.
In Vattimos essay we find neither an enthusiastic assumption nor a protesting
qualm with the postmodern assumption of recollection. Nor is Vattimo simply
resigned to a state of affairs that would rely on what has been, rather than what will
become. His is a reaffirmation of what is inevitably a cycle of recollections. Which
is why he continues to say that the matter is, however, that in postmodern culture
nothing seems worth remembering and perpetuating except just what is being
remembered, and only insofar as it is being remembered. On atemporal grounds it
is impossible to decide what deserves to be perpetuated. (1995b, p. 45)
In Vattimo this positioning of anamnesis resides in the Heideggerian
whereabouts of the word An-denken, which apart from re-tracing what has been
once grounded through a groundless reality, also gives a richer meaning of
remembering that suggests a loving recollection. This must therefore be read
from the complement of weak thought. In this complement I would see the
inhabiting of truth as an occurrence that confirms not only reality but also art as
being weak. This argument for a weakening of reality (as well as art) is reinforced
by the anamnetic return taken (or retrieved, as in ritirato) by the work of art.12 In
its anamnetic returns art becomes monument via the specificity that regales it with
canonicity. As argued earlier, canonicity must be read as a choice and not an
imposition of a totality presumed as an a priori valuing of art works.
However, as the corollary of choice, weakening, recollection and inhabiting
comes to characterize arts truth via its occurrence, I would insist that anamnesis is
taken back to its Socratic origin and therefore within the agn of learning. Here
anamnesis qua learning depends on a further event, which reinforces the way of
error. This event is the moment of aporia where the learner is afforded with no

12
I refer to Lyotards essay Anamnesis of the visible, or Candour (1989a) where anamnesis is
discussed alongside the idea of withdrawal (ritirare, from where we get the idea of ritratto, as
picture or portrait) vis--vis the art of Valerio Adami.

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assurance and where instead of revealing a fragment of a totality, which according


to Plato we are supposed to recall as limited mortals, we come across the moment
of possibility where totality capitulates. Here we are best served by Rancires
panecastic stories (1991, pp. 135ff). As a reversal, the contingent particularity of
the each (hekastos) takes the place of the all (pan). Thus instead of a subsumption
of the each under the all, we recollect (and rearticulate) a sense of the all within the
contingent character of the each. Read through the notion of truth as occurrence,
one could see how the each and the occurring cross each other and take the role of
referents of possibility. I would hasten to add that this could not mean much
without assuming the dialectical character of the each and the occurring.
REPOSITIONING ILLUSION

In the light of arts claim to truth within a space in which it occurs (and which it
therefore inhabits) arts illusion must be read from two possible points that include
other forms of engagement in our daily lives. As arts questions claim reality in its
kenotic state, two forms distinguish the meaning of illusion: critical and
instrumental. Far from a conceptual play on the word illusion, the assumption of
illusion as that which characterizes the mutable conventions of arts questions,
presents a very palpable dilemma where often art gets confusedespecially in the
way we try to understand arts role in the construction of reality, and more so in
how it is exposed to the same tensions between criticality and instrumentality.
Taken etymologically, illusion presents a duplicitous act with the intent of
deliberately confusing what appears. The Oxford English Dictionary gives several
definitions, one of which being:
Sensuous perception of an external object, involving a false belief or
conception: strictly distinguished from hallucination, but in general use often
made to include it, and hence = the apparent perception of an external object
when no such object is present, or of attributes of an object which do not
exist. Also (with pl.) an instance of this. (OED n.d., illusion 4a)
Taken literally, to claim that arts question operates on the apparent perception of
an external object when no such object is present, or of attributes of an object
which do not exist would mean that art deals with continuous deception.
Evidently what is here meant by illusion is radically distanced from the literal
impressionespecially in the contexts that are tied to claims of truth and reality,
and an understanding of art as an event given in empathy. Which is why one
cannot use the word illusion without bearing in mind that the assumptions of the
word illudere pertain more to the deferral by which the question of art refuses to
give one answer (because that would mock the reality it claims), and less to a trick
that an illusionist would play on his audience to give them a semblance of magic.
In this context a further definition of illusion becomes more apposite; a definition
that comes from philosophy:

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the argument from illusion (Philos.): the argument that the objects of senseexperience, usually called ideas, appearances, or sense-data, cannot be
objects in a physical world independent of the perceiver, since they vary
according to his condition and environment. (OED n.d., illusion 4b)
This begins to indicate why illusion needs a further qualification, especially in how
art lays its claim to a reality that is clearly established here to be kenotic, and
therefore non-foundational. With the concept of the real ensconced in a weak
ontology and an approach to illusion qualified by a critique disgusted with all
dogmatic twaddle (Kant 1990, p. 140), the notion of critical illusion clearly
confirms a rejection of grounding while resisting any idealist shortcuts that would
proclaim everything as an appearance of the mind. To recall Murdochs approach
to thinking which she locates beyond idealism while rejecting any dualism between
the phenomena of the mind and material practices, one gets a clearer understanding
of what is here meant by critical illusion, especially as understood within the
purview of arts question.
A discussion of illusion is thus coextensive. Illusion is a plural event, and its
instances emerge from how we constantly move from the self, to the other, to the
polity and back. Yet in art this pattern is also disrupted by mutable conventions,
which on purpose become divisive and which on equal purpose remain fiercely
opposed to moral and aesthetic imaginations that teach (read: impose) a
preordained space where we have to live with each other within rules that we
cannot negotiate.
It is clear by now that unlike the discussion of art and illusion in Gombrichs
notable work on the psychology of pictorial representation (2000), this discussion
is not concerned with the optical and psychological interactions with the
assumptions made on arts form and history. Indeed Gombrichs work remains
canonical, but here I take a substantial distance from his use of the term illusion.
As I see it, arts multiple and plural nature emerges from the ability to sustain
completely illusive narratives which on purpose they never add up, and which by
arts own purpose they refuse to explain what they are there for. Through art we
could sustain a prolonged activity of criticality in the form of an outright refusal of
anything that appears or purports to be grounded. On the other hand we know that
humanitys artistic history is also characterised by art being an instrument of
alienation and oppressionand indeed by forms of artistic manifestations and
manifest forms of art that are purposely grounded by an instrumental and
teleological form of reasoning; and this is done through the same instruments of
illusion by which art refuses to be grounded. (Baldacchino 2005)
To argue for a play between critical illusion and a claim to reality also implies
that arts event is located somewhere. This suggests an agn that could be the
school, the museum, the polity, a place of worship, or any context where art
becomes an event of alterity. Yet to establish a space for arts play would suggest
any number of conventions that would set the games rule. Conceptually this
remains problematic. Arts quasi-symmetrical movement between engagement and
disengagement with what is often disputed to be real or unreal clearly belongs to
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the paradoxical nature by which critical illusion articulates arts specificity. The
form that moves in between the claims made of art ultimately manifests an
antinomic character. The playfulness of this character takes shape through the
alterity between art and non-art. This occurs as a simultaneous grounding and
ungrounding of the same agonistic parameters within which art finds itself
periodically located. Thus the place of worship, the school, the museum, or the
polity are often at loggerheads with the illusive character of arts questioning. This
disagreement becomes a severe point of dispute that cannot be ignored, especially
when these spaces often juxtapose arts specificity onto terrains that operate
differently. (A good example is the confusion between the aesthetics of art and the
aesthetics of politics or education or religion.)
Arts hermeneutic predicament is evidently an outcome of its refutation of
meaning and its rejection of closed spaces. Arts agn is in and of itself a referent
of continuous struggle, and therefore criticality. By way of its critical illusion, art
could well become another form of meaning: a meaning that is other than it
purports (or is purported) to have. Entangled, as it is, in its strands of
interpretation, arts hermeneutic nature requires a nihilistic approachwhich is
why in ones struggle with the concept of arts illusion it becomes necessary to
find a way of engaging with a concept of reality that refuses a ground, and which,
as we have argued above, needs to be inhabited as occurrence in whose dialectical
character it relates to the contingent as well as the universal.
Arts critical illusion must therefore be paired with a conceptualization of
realityand subsequently that of the Realwhich, instead of being instrumental,
critical, or pervasive, is weak by choice of its positioning in our ways of inhabiting
truth. The notion of weak reality is neither pervasive nor closed to itself. Similarly,
weak art precludes the arrogance and certitude by which a corollary of truths is
forcedin relativist or absolute manneron our moral and aesthetic imagination.
The interjection of a conceptualization of art as being weak would open our moral
and aesthetic imaginaries to the practices of critical illusion, and therefore to the
rejection of the truth of conformity that is neither open nor inhabitable.
Adding illusion to the sense of overcoming, as engaged by Vattimos creative
use of Verwindung, the horizon of weak thought is clearly opened to how we
engage with art. As we re-read difference and dialectic through an anamnetic
position where the moment of absolute doubtinstilled by the shock of aporiais
met by the same processes by which we learn through a sense of error, the
articulation of reality and art as events of weakening become inevitable.
This is also borne out, philosophically, from those premises by which
Kierkegaard has shown us how to be masters of our own illusions. Thanks to
Kierkegaards work we remember and rearticulate the kenotic reading of art and
reality through premises such as the adoption of irony as a form of doubt which
Socrates saw as the fount of learning (Kierkegaard 1974 and 1992); or indeed that
other Kierkegaardian practice of indirect communication (Poole 1993), by which
we are allowed to take different positions in order to preclude reality from being a
univocal and suffocating case. In wearing opposing masks of authorship
Kierkegaards work is a great example of illusion. The sense of bringing together
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distinct and opposing strengths through the use of masked authorship (written by
the same author) we are offered a horizon that rejects the imposition on the artist,
poet or philosopher to have one voice. Here even the dialectic is turned inside out
by the one voice behind its dissenting multiplicity.
In Kierkegaards work the strength of the individual voice might initially
suggest less of a kenotic stand. Yet the pairing and the antagonising of multiple
voices enunciated from behind different masks worn by one author, brings down
any edifice of certainty. As Socratic irony comes up against the walls of its own
planned aporia, philosophy finds itself in arts predicament: that of the necessity of
paradox and the recognition of the underlying contingency by which truth must be
inhabited in a mood of modesty and humility.
WEARING THE MASKS OF WORD AND IMAGE

Any response to arts critical illusion could only speak to (and from) the
problematic positioning of arts inhabited openness, as true space set alongside
(and at some point against) the illusions of word and image. This may present us
with a problem, especially because the illusion of words and that of images is not
the same thing as that by which one approaches arts questions. There are specific
differences between the conventions and grammars by which we construct words
and images. Arts conventions remain fluent and imbued with obsolescence,
whereas those of word and image often present the truth of convention where the
image and the word are expected to correspond to a set of signs and actions. But
while at a certain level of signification images correspond to signs and words
correspond to action, arts space might appear to be engaged with images and
words, but it corresponds to neither scopic signs nor speech actions. The ways by
which we read and perceive the illusions that come to us from within the semiotic
and semantic parameters of image and word are insufficient in coping with the
other, third space, inhabited by arts questions, where the refutation is moved by a
specificity that openly rejects meaning.
We must therefore qualify arts specificity as a third position, a third genre that
moves away from word and image. If art were to be allied to the representational
image as mythos (which literally means a speech, narration, story, tale and even
an occurrence) and the word as logos (whose meaning is as complex, implying a
span that moves from that of word to discourse, argument and meaning), we are
nowhere near arts illusion and even further away from any assumption of truth or
reality as claimed by the non-question What is art?
Tpiess apparitions
There must be something else that has to come into play, especially when, as in the
case of works of art like Antoni Tpiess Aparacions II (Apparitions, 1982), we are
confronted with other than a simple play of illusions or tropes involving images
and words, even when the latter are aligned with the complex extents of mythos
and logos.
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There are indeed words (or perhaps letters denoting speech acts) and there are
indeed images (or perhaps signs of a wider symbolic extent), but what we do with
them is far more complicated than simply saying look there are words and there
are images; there are also symbols which are images acting as words. Or worse
still, we say: there is a narrative that is special to art, but which ultimately we
could come to terms with if we read beyond the illusion that art uses in its usage of
word and image.
Evidently both arguments are tautological. They lead to the same unanswered
questions that we start with because in effect any extended discussion of word and
image remains clearly insufficient. So where could one find an answer? More than
an answer we could find a form of arguing, which would find us ways of getting at
or moving beyond the tautological traps that we wilfully fall into when we limit
our discussion of art to word and image.
In the first place I would argue that art wears image and word as masks. Like
the masks of Joannes Climacus and Anti-Climacus, Victor Eremita or Joannes de
silentio, which Sren Kierkegaard wears by way of responding to himself, art
wears the several names and appellations that word and image carry as a way of
taking on the possibilities of countering and crossing without wiping off the paths
that they would leave behind.
As Plato has argued in the Timaeus there is a third space, which Derrida (1993)
re-elaborates as a third genre, a third positioning between (or not exactly between
but somewhere with) logos and mythos. Indeed, with the assumption of a khra
as such a bastard space, we are confronted with the notion that a third space that
is articulated, is bound to vanish. If khra were defined, it would be no more. To
be clear, this space is never in the middle, because we cannot really find it a
location. To find a place for it is to begin to define it out of existence. We call it a
space because we cannot find a proper word to translate khrawhose
literal meaning is that of a room, as a physical space and place. So the
approximation of khra to a space is not that far off from how we would say that
choreography is a scratching that writes in a space, which we inhabit and within
which we would move in certain ways. But as in the space of the choreographer,
what we inscribewhat we graphis never marked, but is inhabited and
presenced. These marks have no being as such, though they claim a reality by
which we intervene (and critique) as we try to interpret being as a physical space
through the looseness of words and images.
Khra is therefore a space that we only assume by tracing and presencing. It is
more of a truth that occurs in the being of our reasoning, responding to what we
see, inhabit, feel and utter. But this is no more a fixed experience as that which
happens between the face and a mask could be seen as a third entity, or moment, or
indeed space. To speak of this occurrence as a truth that resides somewhere in
between the face and the masks it wears, is to leave a mark without ever physically
recognising it. We know that in the case of an author writing under several
pseudonyms, there is neither a mask nor a face, but an authorship distanced from
the author by means of a supplementary name. In the metaphor of this difference
between one identity and another, we could argue that there are all the images of a
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third person in play with the words that suggest it. But this would also mean that
the third is defined in terms of a word or an image, of which this third genre must
be neither. So a third person might be inferred from Kierkegaard and his other
personae. But this would basically imply that this is a speculation, because there
may be nothing mediating Kierkegaard, Climacus and Anti-climacus, except other
pseudonyms that would add up to the plurality of authorship and the ability to take
diverse positions.
For want of a better word we therefore call khra a space; a bastard space, a
space of madness that cannot be defined by either word or image, by neither sound
nor representation, meaning or fable, because once defined it is no more khra it
is simply no more. Once defined it becomes logos or mythos with all the crossed
meanings that they share. This would lose khra its political positioning. It would
lose its rational madness. It loses itself.
In this assumption of a khrathe third space; this third other; this third
something (Derrida 1993)we could infer that the problem is not simply whether
there is no such a thing or genre as khra; but more simply that the duality of
mythos and logos remains insufficient. A third genre is a third way, an ability to
understand and appreciate the limitation of a simple duality between word and
image. It anticipates and destroys any dualism of whatever kind. In this context we
could also appreciate how the dual phrasing of word and image does not simply
share or negotiate illusion, but perhaps it is the illusion itself that really makes,
perhaps signifies, word and image; and this, in the same way arts illusive
expediency is necessary for it to be art and not something else.
Tpiess art presents the mask of word and image to quasi perfection. It offers
no real metaphorical hook on which we could hang an expression, being or space
that accommodates what might lie between face and mask. And yet Tpiess art
refuses to inhabit the two other terms of word and image as its space even when it
makes their use explicit. As Tpies inscribes letters, words and puts them in images
that appear definitesuch as a square or a colour in a framethe work refuses to
yield to semiotic or semantic temptations. Yielding to such temptations is like
looking at an image representing something, like a man or a woman, while
stopping the viewer from saying here is a depiction of a man or a woman. It is
not even a trope like Magrittes inscription of Ceci nest pas une pipe (This is not a
pipe) in La trahison des images (The Treachery of Images, 192829).
Tpiess is not a case of rejecting the image or the word. It is a rejection of the
assumption of a word or an image as art even when they appear in art. The illusion
is real in that it declares itself as critical; it makes a case, as in court, claiming that
within the legalese of what we all agree to be art (which amounts to more questions
than answers), this cannot be an image or a word, because it must be something
else. It may appear; it does appear; it is an apparition. But it is not what it appears.
The claim to reality, put another way, is not the reality of the word or the image,
but what negates word and image in art so as to assert something else.
A conceptualization of arts weakening resides in the strength of arts rejection
of the idea of autonomy as a foundation onto itself. Weak art may be often
assumed to be an immediate explanation for Arte Povera. In a sense the concept
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might have a kinship to the poverty by which the form appears, but in the
assumption of poverty there could be a strength that becomes foundationalas we
find in the sanctification of povertys assumption that the new order will come
naturally from the proletariat. The poor will not go to heaven, or be redeemed, or
will become the masters of history, simply because they are poor. Virtue is not an
empirical consequence of low social status. Even the classic argument of class
consciousness is never an assumption of progressive thinking ipso facto, as if it
were guaranteed by the sheer fact of poverty. The base that fascist movements
found in the poor and the exploited is a good example that disproves the political
romanticisation of poverty.
The meek and the poor will inherit the earth only when everyone recognizes
how any form of foundational certainty is a lie that hides abject human conditions.
This deceit is found in a justification of the status quo on the basis that there can be
no alternative, as much as in blind progressive assumptions in whose certainty
hundreds of thousands have suffered under the joke of totalitarian socialism. In
other words, the meek and the poor could be as radical, liberal, progressive,
conservative or reactionary as the wealthy, let alone those stuck in the middle. The
argument for a poverty of spirit is an argument for a meekness and poverty of
approach (which cannot be detached from ones own approach to wealth, as well
as human rights, civil society, etc) that rejects ideological certainty by dint of its
recognition of the human tragedy that is hidden under the hegemonic aesthetics of
inequality and oppression. Likewise, kenotic art is not simply equivalent to poor
art, but a weakening and therefore a rejection of an all-pervasive assumption of art.
Here the rejection of word and image is not a premise of arts truth, but a critical
negation that bears in art its dialectical character borne out kenotically and without
the pretence that it has the last word. For art to exit, it must illude us in reading and
uttering words and deciphering and seeing images. In pre-modernity, word and
image were always secondary to arts mimesis. Mimesis does not equate to mere
imitation. To claim that art is mimesis is a reaffirmation of the kenotic because it
weakens the assumption that art equates the Real, which is different from arguing
that art lays claim to reality. Mimesis denotes a second presentation of the reality
behind the illusive apparition of the Real. In modernity, the mask becomes more
obvious. Tpies does this by making of word and image a presence that hides the
face of artthus making art meek, thus assuming for art a weak position which
comes nearer to its equivocal apparitions.
Why isnt no body nobody?
When dealing with how arts argument for reality emerges between, within, or
together with its illusive nature, the question invariably deals with how art could
emerge from such a composite and often asymmetrical set of affairs. In the
previous chapter, two issues emerge:
The first one goes something like this: While art manifests a negotiation
between hybridity and specificity at one instance and illusion and reality in
another, the plural claims that it makes on truth emerge from the assumption that
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arts questions are always uttered from within an interpretative edifice that we
could never externalise. The impossibility of externalisation is evident in the
distinction that has to be made between art as doing and the fallacy of (art as)
making; the latter being a remnant of a positivist attempt to externalise and
objectify (arts) truth into an instrumental and measured entity.
The second implication goes like this: Taken from the method of illusion by
which art exercises its criticality, art also assumes itself as yet another human act
by which women and men claim reality by deed of their responsibility. Thus rather
than assume reality as an absolute and strong entity that has offered myriad
excuses to those who wrench power over the freedom of others, art assumes reality
by dint of a critical illusion that sees reality from within the openness offered to us
by reasons interpretative edifices.
These two instances go together. To address externalisation we must take into
consideration the transience by which art becomes a form of critical illusion. The
impossibility of arts externalisation appears very simple and straightforward. One
could argue that art cannot be externalised from itself because it will not be art but
becomes other than art (a bit like the khra). This is even more essential if we were
to discuss art or indeed its illusion; or if we were to discuss art as an illusion or
illusion as art etc.
However this immediately runs into a number of tautologies.
When we say that art is nothing but art and therefore its function may be
considered as nonsensebecause it cannot be other than artistic and we have to
define it as art qua artthe same argument folds on itself: arts function (of it
being art) cannot exist without it being externalized into a process, and read as a
manufactured object that operates for itself. Strangely, an argument for art qua art
could somehow lead to art as making. This seems paradoxical. In fact it is. The
relationship between making and doing is not mutually exclusive, but to the
contrary it is a paradox. One cannot do without making, and vice-versa unless one
wants to reduce art to a manufacturing of works, then one cannot disregard the
autonomy implied in doing. Adding to this paradox another seemingly
contradictory strand, the paradoxical relationship between making and doing must
be sustained if arts externalization is to be avoided.
The only exit from this tautology is to return to the argument for the critical
illusion that characterizes the non-question What is art? Arts function appears
illusory by way of its illusive form. In fact, art does not function per se because we
are the agents of arts functionality. In effect, we function, not art. We function as
artists, as an audience, as participants in the illusion that is art.
The necessity to continuously regard the making-doing antinomy as a paradox
that keeps art from being externalized could be exemplified in how works of art
become objects of reification. Tpiess work U no s ning (One is not no one,
1999) is not a favourite poster by accident. The art of posteringin which artists
make postersis not alien to artists, particularly when they engage in the
politics of aesthetics. U no s ning is adapted to be a poster. Why? Because it
entertains an immediate image that by its in-your-face enigmatic positioning of
colour, written words and challenging images, it wears the mask openly and acts
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anti-artistically. To take the poetic meaning of the double negative, one cannot be,
or isnt no one, the immediate message is that no thing is never nothing. Tpies
does not shy away from immediacy and he appears to be giving a lot of kudos to
the words written in the work. The texts appear to declare the idea, as a poster
would do. The scribbled phrase U no s ning on this painting appears to deface
the idealized notion of an art forms refusal to explain. The art is explaining
because it is rejecting its own privilege of refusal.
But is the posters forfeiting of arts refusal genuinely assumed as a form of
directness per se? Are we confronted with a mask worn on ones face? Is this mask
hiding what the face wants to say?
The work confronts us with its apparent lack of confrontation. It is weakened as
an art form and instead it allows itself to become a commodity, a poster that
appears cheap in the eyes of those who use it to declare a meaning that the artist
chooses to lay bare. But is a primary distinction being missed here?
The first illusion that we encounter in U no s ning is the attributed function of
art qua art. Initially this appears to be rejected. But the work is in effect taking the
autonomy that we claim for it as art away from us. In the rejection we do not reject
ourselves who are the real artists, the actual doers. Tpies is the artist and the
designer of this work qua poster, but he is just one of the actors wearing masks.
The poster U no s ning appears congenial. Yet as a work of art, U no s ning
urges us to wear additional masks. With Tpies we begin to wear several masks.
We delectate in indirect communication. We become ironists and try to cope with a
world, which, as in Kierkegaards work, is moved by the moralists book on one
hand and the libertines erotic rebellion on the other.
Thus we play this game because of art itself. We communicate with masks. We
become ventriloquists with a cause. We are ethical beings who choose to wear
masks in order to achieve what is normally not achievable by either word or image.
This is possible because in its illusion and by means of its aesthetical and ethical
masks, art is neither the words nor the image that give it appearance. These are just
masks. Which is why nobody can be a no body, but no body is a nobody even
when she or he appears to be someone else.
U no s ning. No body is nobody. We are all somebody and arts nobody is
nobodys self but everybodys form. At the end of the day we do something else:
we appear to communicate by art when actually art is the communication and the
communicator and the recipient of the communication all put together. In its
illusion art appears to be other (as another and the Other), but it is still the same,
even when it adopts the masks of word and image.
As arts illusion also bears out a series of specific categories of being, such as
same and other, this and that, he or she, us and them, black and white, straight
or gay these specificities are rendered irrelevant by the ludic conventions by
which art haphazardly brings them together while it constantly rearranges them and
breaks out their duality. In this respect arts alterity also wears the mask of duality,
but in effect it is rendered as a multiplicity that has no definite direction, but which
is non-identitarian and thereby dialectical

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At this stage one could conclude that arts ludic conventionsthe play that
brings them togetheris what constitutes arts illusion; an illusion that, by its
inherent transience, allows us to engage in full criticality with the all that is
foundsporadically but not without rationalityin the each. It becomes obvious
that this play cannot be externalised. I would even go as far as stating that the roles
of artist and illusionist start to blur into each other, even when the artist has no
tricks up her sleeves
Is the artist a conjurer? Artists deal with illusion but are not illusionists as such.
Like arts function not being a function per se (because it is also an illusion while
retaining its own reserved right to be), arts illusion ultimately defies the
illusionist. It is in arts gift to conjure, but as an event marked by its autonomous
form, art reserves a speciality by which it contradicts its own conjuring and makes
it appear as real. The distinction is therefore clear: this is an illusion that becomes
real and not a conjuring that is staged. Art cannot be externalised to a stage like a
trick is reserved to fixed positions. Art plays its illusions without secrets in the
open, as it were. Everyone is open to learn arts illusion. Which is why art
education should not be confused (as it often is) with learning how to grow in art.
Rather it must be seen for what it isas an act of learning the illusion and more so
eluding ones learning; where learning must be unlearnt.
THE CYCLE BREAKS

Art appears [as an] image | Art seems [to be a] semblance


Art acts form [as a verb] | Art is form [as a noun]
But also: Art is not an illusion. This is because:
Art is not image | Art is not semblance
Art does not form | Art is not form
Art falls back; it returns (in a Nietzschean sense) to being art, and to retain its
right to illusion. At the risk of appearing too jocular, I would say that the critical
character of arts illusion is further qualified by a singular definition: arts illusion
is transient
This transience could be read (formally in the first place and never politically,
perhaps) in Tpiess works 500 Anys del Llibre Catala (500 years of free
Catalunya, 1974) and Libertat (Liberty, 1988): In these works we have two
instances where word and image come together to illude us with a political sense
that may well not be simply there. While such works are read as political
Catalunyas freedom (being illusive as well as real)we are entertained by
something other than the politics of a nation. We are entertained by the inscription
of form on a political surface that is far deeper than that of an epistemological or
historical sympathy with the Catalonian cause.
The sympathythe real political sympathyis obtained by the transience by
which one is illuded into thinking that simply by knowing the history of Catalunya
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one could gain an understanding of the cause. On the contrary these works seem to
convey that this understanding could only be understood if we remained open to
the fact that the form is inscribed and transgressed by other forms. Tpiess work
makes use of location as an illusive ploy to (re)position reality and history. He does
this by using words, but these are masks, hiding arts formal autonomy; and they
are not words to be simply read and positioned as forms of explanation. The
poster-like adaptability is a lure into a complex politics, a politics that is immersed
in the aesthetics of arts specificity, and not the other way round. There is no place
for an aesthetized politics in Tpies.
Thus the idea of Catalunya becomes more pervasive. Its freedom becomes
universal. Its inscription becomes personal. Its aesthetic is evidently political. It is
political in the sense that Catalunya as an agn of freedom becomes the khraas
a space of antagonism within the unquantifiable, the unsaid, and the unrepresented.
In this space of antagonism word and image are evidently insufficient. Their
relationship needs to be transgressed and violated by the transient nature of arts
illusion, so that word and image start to mean something other than simply speech
acts and signs.
I return to what I said earlier about the second implication of arts argument for
reality and illusion (see p. 114, above). This has to do with finding oneself at the
heart of arts method of illusion where we all claim reality by deed of our
responsibility.
First of all: Arts method is a misnomer. The method never becomes a
methodology and thereby the signifiers that allow us to talk about method
depend on the transient nature of illusion. Because of this state of affairs, arts
illusion gains criticality; in other words we become critical by means of our
engagement and by the strength of our possibilities through transience/illusion. To
understand this one must looknot just see. Thus we could look at Tpiess Les
Haricots (The beans, 1969) and make distinctions between what we see and what
we find ourselves looking at.
Lets elaborate this concept further. Transience moves. This is a tautology but a
truth in terms of how this works in a work of art: it just works! Does it work for the
artist? Does it work as form? Les Haricots is an example of how a work of art
really works. The signs are there, the beans are beans not a metaphor of beans. The
intervention of the bracketing is formally impressive. It puts the beans in
parenthesis. But somehow, without resisting the pun, it tells you exactly what it
says on the tin: these are beans. Or should we say the beans are in parenthesis? Or
should we parenthesize the idea of a parenthesis by the literal intrusion of the
beans? Are we allowed to consider the beans as a method without methodology? Is
it the literal image of beans or the forms that the beans take which disrupts the
whole expectation of the use of images in works of art? One must apologise for
such poetic twists, but I cannot help engaging with the form that Tpies puts in our
face, while I somehow seek to avoid any narrative that is all too tempting to
attribute to this work.
When it comes to fomenting historical narratives Tpiess work plays with
weights and counterweights. On the one hand the form emerges as that which
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rejects the strength of a univocal history. It is an invitation to the weakening of


history, by taking on the stories that women and men might want to tell about
themselves. Yet in such weakness, the larger story also emerges, not necessarily in
full foundational arrogation, but in becoming form, and as form in dictating so that
I, as the viewer and as the listener of the smaller stories, could dictate to myself
what I really think about both the story and the form. This remains confounded in a
tautological structure; which is where arts illusion is clearly transient, as it may or
indeed may not be able to escape historys hermeneutic traps. In this case the
implements remain forms and it is also a premise of the entire argument for arts
transient illusion that the reality it claims remains kenotic, and with it art makes a
plea to pause before it assumes that other question which has plagued it since
definitions were attempted on itthat of beauty.

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OUTWITH BEAUTY

Nihilism turns into farce, into mere method, as has already happened to
Cartesian doubt.
Theodor W Adorno, The Jargon of Authenticity
(1986, p. 28)

Weak thought must extend beyond philosophy, art, theology or politics. What
Vattimo and Rovatti articulated almost 30 years ago13 surely invites a leap beyond
what is presented as a fait accompli, including what lies beyond weak thought
itself. This cannot be read as an application of some newfound doctrine of weak
thought to concepts such as reality and art. The concept of a weakening of the role
and place of thought proscribes applications, as this would imply yet another
method and yet another emergent totality. This means that an argument for weak
thought does not forfeit its dialectical characterthat is, it cannot be taken out of
the context of antagonism. As far as I can read weak thought, I do not see a
nullification of states of affairs found within the multiplicity by which an argument
is made against closed and strong assumptions of thought. An argument for
groundlessness cannot nullify the dialectic, because groundlessness would amount
to metaphysical nonsense unless it is positioned within multiplicity and
antagonism.
This is how I would read Vattimos discussion of dialectics and difference vis-vis weak thought. Just as Vattimo crosses philosophical traditions and recoups
concepts within Heidegger that he takes into those of weak thought, one must seek
ways beyond his strict adherence to a Heideggerian origin. This would come from
a critical reading of Vattimos and Heideggers own historical contexts. Anyones
opening to the idea of weak thought must be tempered by its main tenetsthat of
weakening the power of philosophical genealogy, while recognizing that this does
not come from a desire to suspend philosophy into a vacuum, but to take it in and
closely follow its inherent dialectic. The dialectical character of philosophy does
not come simply from the genealogy of its argument, but from the human need of
criticality.

13
Il Pensiero Debole was first published in 1983.

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HE MUST HAVE REACHED IT!

To approach weak thought is to take the same scepticism best articulated in


Adornos critique of Jaspersian and Heideggerian existentialism in his Jargon of
Authenticity:
Philosophical language transcends dialectically in that the contradiction
between truth and thought becomes self-conscious and thus overcomes itself.
The jargon [of Heideggerian ontology] takes over this transcendence
destructively and consigns it to its own chatter. () The dialectic is broken
off: the dialectic between word and thing as well as the dialectic, within
language, between the individual words and their relations. Without
judgment, without having been thought, the word is to leave its meaning
behind. (1986, p. 12)
Like any entry into the lexicon of philosophical language, weak thought cannot be
simply assumed on the grounds of philosophical expression, especially when read
within the aporetic context of art and the politics of aesthetics. A weakening of
thought is moved by a protestation over foundationalism. Foundationalism cannot
be critiqued outside the realms of historical and social antagonism. A rejection of
foundationalism is prompted by a deep conviction that far too many lives were lost
and as much, if not more, human beings have lived and continue to endure a
miserable life due to a few in whose power they sustain an obsession with
ideological or religious certainty. It is unacceptable that even after so many
centuries dominated by ideological and religious tyrannies, there are still thousands
if not millions of human beings enduring the threat of being jailed, exiled,
persecuted, executed, or exterminated systematically in camps on the pretext of
strong ideological, religious or ethnic grounds.
Indeed the argument for foundationalism is also contextualized in antagonism.
Both religious and secular foundationalism make their claim on the basis of a fear
of the unknown and a rejection of historical contingency. Those who sustain this
argument would argue that certainty and freedom are not mutually exclusive. They
would say that groundlessness leads to chaos and oppression. They would present
their argument for an identifiable ground as a necessity for freedom and meaning.
One could ruminate over the choice between a strong net that claims to be there
for ones safety, and a net that traps everyone within a reassuring totality. A
nihilist approach to this dualism could move from being an existential condition to
a way out of the quandary by which political and socio-economic helplessness
become bywords for freedom and democracy. This is where ultimately
philosophy is reduced to the predicament of mere self-explanation.
On the other hand, one could shirk any teleological traps that have been
consistently laid down by those who argue that there could be no alternative to a
grounded status quo. At this point we often think that there is mileage to be gained
simply by sheer movement, by just travelling mentally, artistically, or by any
means from a to b, without having to fix a destination. And yet the more one
travels, the less one realizes how far or near the presumed goal seems to move,
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especially when one is forced to invest a teleological approach into just about
everything, and without which, we remain in an existential hiatus.
This is where art continues to gain centre stage. The struggle for arts autonomy,
as this dialectically transcends the existential hiatus that blocks it, is central to what
authors and philosophers like a Virginia Woolf or a Toni Morrison, an Hannah
Arendt or an Emmanuel Levinas, a Slavoj iek or a Stanley Cavelljust to cite a
few notable favouriteshave dedicated their life and work to.
In the foundationalist conditioning of thinking, time becomes neutral and to
speak of moving forward or backward amounts to the same nonsense by which
positivists tend to research facts in politics, or in education, culture, the economy,
etc. And yet, even when we are often told that we must make everything
accountable to fact and measure, human beings choose not to abdicate from their
right to claim back their own. This is where I would take a leaf from Woolfs
character, Lily Briscoe who, tired of trying to determine whether Mr Ramsay
reached the Lighthouse or simply drowned, she simply states: He must have
reached it! (Woolf 1995, p. 223) without bothering with factual legitimation, as
Ramsay-the-professor would have done.
The question of weak thoughtand with it, the kenotic reading of art and
realityis never prompted by an interest in knowing what actually is a fact or a
presumed completion of a fiction. Why should human freedom be compromised by
fact when the politics of freedom is faced with a more complex system of control
and power? This recalls Milan Kundera, whose sense of frozen judgement is
entertained by a philosophy that fancies a world suspended from all possible
judgement, as a way out of the impenetrable banality of the State.
Then again, one might ask, why should one buy into a method of suspension?
What is it with epoch? Is Tomass levity in Kunderas Unbearable Lightness of
Being just another take on epoch? Should we bracket an era as if everything
could be suspended up there, somewhere in the middle of a nowhere known only
to whomever decided to suspend judgement in the first place? But isnt this where
no judgement is served? Where no scandal is possible? Where error is willed?
Where no will is realized, with no disappointment to be had? But isnt such a
suspension of judgement an abdication from the dialectical reasoning by which we
claim the ability to suspend?
But why epoch? Isnt its pyrrhic excuse far more attractive than its considerate
claim to internal criticality? Perhaps, as in Kundera, it is a case of starting off with
the scenario of a perturbed Doctor Tomas who does not really know how to deal
with women, even when he seems to be a successful, though peculiar, Don Juan in
his sexual adventurism. She screamed so hard, Kundera (1999) tells us, that
Tomas had to turn his head away from her face, afraid that her voice so close to his
ear would rupture his eardrum. (p. 55) But the doctors egomaniacal way with
women turns out to be a political masterpiece; indeed a farce turned tragedy, or a
tragedy that becomes an epic, or even an epic-turned-epoch/epochwhich
brackets that other political farce graced with the virtues of a communism that
never was. To his question What are the possibilities for man in the trap the world
has become? Kundera (2000) replies that to be able to answer this question one
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must first have a certain idea of what the world is. One must have an ontological
hypothesis about it. (p. 48) But isnt any hypothesis a negation by way of its
positing? Isnt everything dialectical by way of x becoming ys other?
Dialectical thinking might appear as an odd state of affairs, especially in arts
realization that fact and fiction are coterminous. For example, one finds it hard to
accept that in Prague there was no lightness felt when Alexander Dubek died in a
traffic accident. Somehow Dubeks tragedy was made worse by the fact that his
death was domestic, an untimely end in a car accident; like Albert Camus, that
other protagonist of the existential hiatus.
In effect, foundationalism is a myth. It is an excuse to impose force onto
everyone and everything. Beyond any foundationalist reassurance, all kinds of
grounding remain contingent on their own rules, as we have seen with systems that
practically collapsed, such as the myth of scientific socialism. Communism
could never become a system. Like capitalism and liberal democracy it should
have been recognized as a state of coincidences even when in its inherent
contingency it was used by those whose only aim was sheer power. In their
certainties, the foundationalist epigones of scientific socialism led everyone to
believe that power is the key to social emancipationthus flaunting the first rule
of Marxism, where dialectically, one must first seek to understand the cultural and
economic contexts of power, rather than simply attack their form (which turns out
to be as illusive as its presumed essence). Some forget that Lenins first lesson in
revolutionary tactics was founded on the recognition of coincidence and its use as
the embodiment of politics as a system of opportunity and stealth.
As one continues to indulge in Vattimos koin of hermeneutics with nihilism,
one must also take heed of Adornos cited caution at the opening of this chapter:
such a koin is always susceptible to turn nihilism into a method and a farce. Thus
the question of weakening is not closed. It remains under the same critical
microscope by which Vattimo takes apart the argument for grounding. Vattimo and
his colleagues were not the first to do so, and surely they wont be the last. This
does not invalidate the argument for weak thoughtfar from it! But with the
qualifiers just cited in mind, the idea of weak thoughtand what is here presented
as a possibility of a weakening of the concepts of reality and artis never a given.
Which is where that other thorny question, the quandary of beautys relationship
with art, begins to raise its head.
ART AND BEAUTY

Any discussion over the relationship between art and beauty is tantamount to
find itself entangled in a dilemma. It would be a question that remains suspended
between teleology and relativism. On the one hand we find ourselves taking a
teleological position by which we attempt to justify the complementary nature of
art and beauty, with the consequence of obfuscating their necessary distinction. On
the other, we are often confronted with a relativist cop-out, where what we mean
by art and the beautiful remains an accident of what we would like them to be.

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A relativist slippage is easily construed. Its qualityas a slippage, which


somehow signals a dangeris somehow fascinating in terms of how this is
judged and against what criteria one would denounce its eventuality. Without
sounding as if one could really carry relativism as an excuse for multiple positions
that would simply suit an argument (who would want to do that?), one could argue
that any subsequent relativist confusion would not come from the subjective
quality of art and beauty, but from the quite legitimate argument for art and
beauty as horizons that are not only plural in their contexts, but where the
question of context is located more in the argument and less so in the
problematization of art or beauty per se.
The relationship between art and beauty has to confront its own historical
character, and thereby its contingent fate. It also invites us to take a historical
approach that would ultimately preclude those teleological positions by which art
and beauty are entered into speculation over a common homological origin.14
This preclusion is essential because often, historical positions are mistaken for
teleological positions. In this state of affairs, surrogate forms of measure frame art
and beauty. The expectation would be that of a standardized ground that gives us a
system of values by which art and beauty are supposed to be rationalised and of
which we are supposed to make sense.
So when I argue that the relationship between art and beauty needs to confront
its historical character, I mean that even the idea of history must partake of the
dilemma that arises between art and beauty. In this case art is distanced from the
idea of it being for something, somewhere, sometime or someonewhether this is
beauty, history or art itself. Lyotard (1989a) rightly argues that when it comes to
art, theres no for, because there is no finality, and no fulfillment. (p. 239) This
also precludes the attempt to play the game of beauty and art over a constructed
relationship between subject and object. Adorno reminds us that in art the
subjective act, by presenting itself as the successful rescue of objective meaning,
becomes untrue. Of this it is convicted by kitsch; the latters lie does not even feign
truth. It incurs hostility because it blurts out the secret of art and the affinity of
culture to savagery. (Adorno 1978, pp. 2256)
The relationship between art and beauty remains solidly historical because it is
tantamount to a paradox that we can only illustrate by history. A form of
illustration does not imply an externalised view. Rather, history is a form of
hindsightthoroughly critical and not merely reflectivethat allows us to see our
human doings for what they are. Through historical illustration we know that there
is no such thing as a resolution to the dialectical articulation of antagonism, nor
any straight hope for entelecheic fulfilment where a presumed origin is fulfilled by
an inevitable end-objective. In seeing the relationship of art and beauty for the
quandary that it presents, we can confirm that no historical postulate could be
simply assumed a priori. When we talk about art, history or beauty we are in effect

14
On the shortcomings of the notion of a homological origin see the opening chapter of Andrew
Benjamins Art Mimesis and the Avantgarde (1991).

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posing a context that we come to assume as historical, beautiful and artisticas


they remain hermeneutically ordered by the respective specificity by which they
are made, perceived and located.
It is important to take note of the history of art, and how in the last century and a
half, Modernism radically shifted the relationship between art and beauty. Even
when Modernity bears its own responsibility for those so-called meta-narratives
that trapped human doings in the morass of instrumental reason, the art of
Modernism had no choice but to be engaged by arts openness when it came to its
positioning vis--vis beauty. Modernism recognised and opened up historys
interstices. Being imbued by the ratio of the Enlightenment and its consequent
paradoxes, art could not remain immune from the aporetic juxtapositions amid the
articulation of universality as this subsumed particularity and instrumentalized the
mediating categories of individuality. As it sought to posit the character of the
dialectic by suppressing the possibility of a negative enfolding, the paradox of the
enlightenment has invariably rubbed off on Modernist art. Even with the strengths
of its claimed criticality by which it has insisted on cutting across history while
carrying the paradox that sustains its autonomy, modern art could not paper over
the cracks that started to appear in the great projects which took humanity into an
impasse that gladly sat between utopia and dystopia.
In this respect beauty is never immune to the paradox that marks the art of
Modernity and late Modernity as that of the modothe actual. It could be argued,
as some have amply done, that the modern remains a condition within which rather
than a rupture with grand narratives, we continue to witness the multiple
rearrangement of what often lies within the interstitial subdivision of what we
insist on seeing as wholes. Here we cannot take this further without recognising
that art portends such an actuality by the strength of its non-identitarian character.
What retains major historical centrality in our appraisal of beauty and art in the
light of Modernism is that once the faults became evident, there was no point in
trying to paper over them. Any attempt to meld the quandary of non-identity, or
resolve the dilemma of the relationship between art and beauty through a
constructivist approach, would be a futile exercise. Modernism could not avoid the
openness by which art found a way to legitimise its autonomy without shirking its
historical responsibility.15
Arts openness, which one could approach as an interpretative condemnation as
well as a condemnation to further interpretations, leaves a further opening, where
one could discern art and beauty as two distinct conceptsthat is, art as an act qua
object and beauty as an attribute qua object. Beyond the instrumental impression
that this objective positioning might give, the logical sequence by which art and
beauty follow each other comes from a kind of deceit. When art is seen to be
followed by beauty it is implied that, logically, a sense of beauty is already

15
While Ecos Opera Aperta (1995) (originally published in the 1960s) gained quasi-canonical status,
Eco follows this book with other works like The Limits of Interpretation (1994) and his discussions
with colleagues, including Richard Rorty, published as Interpretation and Overinterpretation
(1992).

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prefigured in art as a desire that opens the object to other than art and other than
the object qua object. Yet we also know that to announce the event of art after that
of beauty, one would add nothing to either art or beauty. It is just a tautological
assumption, which on close inspection leaves us high and dry. In fact, to suggest a
state of affairs where art is a consequence of beauty hence art after beauty
highlights the impossibility by which anything that is supposed to follow from art
after (or from) beauty tends to impress upon us. This also means that any
sequential relationship between art and beauty can only hold on the basis of
tautological symmetry; which is why I remain very doubtful whether the term
follow holds any validity at all, and which is why one would be more inclined to
view the direction of beauty as exitinghence the notion of moving outwith
beauty.
But if one must go outwithrather than outside or withoutart, how would
arts following from beauty be an act of deceit? The desire to move into the world
by what the Modernists saw as their utopian tlos was ultimately the greatest lie of
Modernity. The Modernists were intent on other than the redemption of history:
they remained within the ideals of a quidditasa whatnessin a world outlook
that required everything to become object.16 Pedagogically this culminated in the
Bauhaus where the notion of the total was a framework within which everything
would be possible, but also where the terms remained dictated by a productivist
aesthetics whose Weimar social democratic pedigree was clearly pivotal.17 In this
articulation of art, arts magic is found in how art could deceive while
constructing what it is meant to undermine. This is the way of arts illusion, which
opens the question of arts relationship with beauty. It could be argued that the
irony of Modernisms revolution is revealed by how ultimately, modernist artists
present beauty in art as a willed failure that was necessary in order to free art from
the shackles of the reason that the polity of Modernityarticulated by the
antagonising certainties of Capital and the Revolutionproclaimed as art. Adorno
(1978) argues that such forms of objectivity confirm art as magic delivered from
the lie of being truth. (p. 222) In the openness by which arts question is posed
through illusion, the work of art confirms the quandary by which Modernism made
a promise to the world while keeping its fingers crossed.
The discussion of the work of Carr, De Chirico and Le Douanier earlier in this
book already presents an approach to art and beauty that appears to be settled (if
one can use this word) by an aporetic relationship. An aporetic relationship
between art and beauty is an oxymoron. It corroborates the deceit that art inherits
from the Enlightenment. The art of Modernism takes arts illusion to its logical
conclusion, and openly wears the mask of deception in order to posit its take on the
dialectic. While claiming its criticality as central to its dialectical nature,

16
On my discussion of modernisms quidditas (whatness) and the utopian tropes of the avant-garde
see my Easels of Utopia (Baldacchino 1998).
17
The concept of productivist aesthetics must be read in its relationship with the politics of social
democracy as stated in the pedagogical project of Modernism embodied in the Bauhaus. I discuss
the political logic that emerges from this pedagogy in Baldacchino 2009c.

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Modernism sought to resolve the matter by force of those narratives that explained
the world in the assumption of its own terms, where even would-be nihilist
gestures such as those of artists like Marinetti, Dal or Kandinsky would be
ultimately neutered by the implicit certainty of their reassembled grounds. This
recalls Nietzsches ambivalence with a certain form of nihilism, which would
appear as dismissive, but which also confirms the flight of wilful deceit for the
sake of new horizons as somewhat worthy (albeit always enigmatic):
All those brave birds which fly out into the distance, into the farthest
distanceit is certain (!) somewhere or other they will be unable to go on
and will perch down on a mast or a bare cliff-faceand they will even be
thankful for this miserable accommodation! But who could venture to infer
from that, that there was not an immense open space before them, that they
had flown as far as one could fly! (Daybreak 575, in Nietzsche 1977, p.
205).
There is always a perverse sense of reassurance in the certainty of deception. In
terms of art per se, it secured outrage and therefore attracted utmost attention from
the Establishment. This was especially so when the artists of Modernism realized
that the risk far outweighed any presumed benefit that artists before them took into
consideration. While the artists of late Romanticism must have considered new
forms of patronage in the State and the emerging bourgeoisie as insurance against
the scandal of their flights, early Modernists like Carr, Douanier, Gauguin and
Van Gogh never foresaw (and less so enjoyed) the ridiculously enormous equity
that would grow from their work. Surely those whom they despised as the boorish
nouveau riche were never expected to fork out so much money to acquire their
work in order to reinforce their own status as the new patrons of art (and the State);
which goes to show that a pecuniary argument for arts perceived success is not
only irrelevant but also bluntly obscene. Early Modernist art offered no safety net.
Yet that was soon to be changed and even when artists like Van Gogh never
entertained success in their lives, many others did and soon the artists comfort
zone grew into newfound celebrity, while the reassurance of his arts deception
shifted from youthful nihilism to other, less tumultuous socio-economic ambitions.
This must not be read as some purists denunciation of the artists pecuniary
success. Modernism was neither monastic nor virtuous. Yet it was a flight into the
unknown, even though many brave birds found more than a humble cliff face to
perch on, and some even lost their will to fly further, though others were never
happy with what they found on the far end of the horizon.
Be that as it may, the deception of Modernity found its viability (rather than
mere justification) in forms of openness by which the inherent Machiavellian
nature of its politics of aesthetics came into operation. One could say that
notwithstanding its self-emasculation, the certainty of Modernism gave ground to
an openness that would ultimately surpass the rational strictures from which it
originally emerged. With Modernism as its ultimate offspring, the inherently
Machiavellian nature of the Enlightenment would open the polity, or at least create
the conditions by which the polity would be reconsidered. After the dust of aborted
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and triumphant revolutions alike started to settle, a glimpse of a horizon beyond


the morass of instrumental reason began to emerge once more.18 Yet this openness
wasand remainsno guarantee to a better cycle. The cycle may be broken
temporarily by historic events, but other cycles beyond these perceived ruptures
would quickly emerge. Any reassurance that somehow a groundless dawn will
emerge would be as grounded as its forebear.
To take a Machiavellian view is to say that political events of such magnitude
(what Gramsci calls punti storici, what Badiou defines as vnements) must
unground even the arbitration of power at the core of Machiavellis Prince. The
Prince is meant to be the final arbiter of good governance. The guarantee for this
governance is an investment in power. This is where the hermeneutic tautology of
power becomes a condition of the boundaries that we set for ourselves within the
polismaking no difference as to whether this would aspire to be democratic or to
retain its authoritarian antecedents.
In terms of art, this state of affairs may or may not be as foundational as the
political establishment. Even in authoritarian States, art remains a manifestation of
possibilities that implicitly aspire to deconstruct the Machiavellian assumptions of
power by using an equally Machiavellian method to contradict the Princes
poweror better put, power per se. However, as we can see from the cultural
reading of Machiavelli in Gramsci (1975b), this is not a straightforward
assumption, not even in the politics of aesthetics. If we are to take culture and art
as participants in the hegemonic strategies of the polity, this remains debatable,
especially when the argument is that art could never accept an instrumental role
because that would snap back to what it is meant to reject. At this stage, these
questions must wait, as the quandary of culture will be discussed later in this book.
However it would be sufficient to add here that the way Modernism was
particularly trapped in culture goes to show that art had to take considerable risks
for obvious historical reasons from which art (qua art) could not be detached if its
questions were to continue to lay claim on reality.
Surely, while there is no end to quibbling over those presumed turns that
characterize history and thought, the mourning over a loss of certainty followed
by the inauguration of small narratives in the last fifty years proved to be una
festa di passaggio. The clamour of this passing fte has now abated and its joys
ended in tears for another (totally different) reason than that for which tears were
shed under the yoke of larger narratives that in their days were equally entertained
with as much clamour. What remains is the knowledge that it was never the end of
the journey. This is why Nietzsche sees beyond immediate forms of nihilism with
the reassuring statement: Other birds will fly farther! (1977, p. 205) At this stage
in time, we could say with some certainty that everything is as open as ever, and
while there is no place for mourning or rejoicing, the discussion of art and beauty
remains wide open.

18
For Gramscis assessment of Macchiavellis Il Principe as a modern concept of the polity, see his
Noterelle sulla politica del Machiavelli (Notes on Machiavellis politics), particularly pp. 9ff. in
Note sul Machiavelli. (Gramsci 1975b)

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REDEMPTION AND ARTS PROTEST

The openness by which we can now assume the quandary of art and beauty is
informed by the history of arts relationship with beauty. In the 15th and 16th
century art and beauty remained intrinsic to each other because art was predicated
by a theocentric assumption of beauty. In Western civilisation this intrinsic
relationship was moved by a desire to realise Gods beauty in the ultimate sacrifice
of Christs human death. Christs death takes an historical character, assuming for
history a collective catharsis where God-made-flesh is made manifest as Spiritmade-art in the eyes of those who had to make sense of the aesthetized politics of
the day. The Christian catharsis must be read within the weakening of the Judaic
notion of God whose face one cannot see and whose name is never uttered. In the
kenotic character of Christianity God is made man. He is incarnated and therefore
weakened by the nature of humanity. He speaks to women and men not from
behind a burning bush, as he did with Moses, but as a human amongst other
humans. As human he would also be conditioned by the rules of space and time,
and by those rules he would die as a human being. For such a man to declare
himself the Son of God would be the ultimate scandal, severe enough to be
punishable by death.
While the Christian narrative makes sure to accentuate the horrendous suffering
of an execution on the cross, this same narrative must remain salvific. In other
words, like a Greek tragedy, it has a reparative objective as an event of salvation.
The salvific narrative reassures its audience that Jesuss death on the cross would
result in Divine Resurrection. When in the Renaissance, the humanistic aspect of
Christianity was borne out from the scholastic traditionswhich not only emerged
from the Christian theologys adoption of the Greek philosophy, but whose
engagement with Judaic and Muslim philosophers was as cosmopolitan as
philosophy and theory are todayit was inevitable that the conceptualization of
beauty through art gained a degree of centrality. Read from the humanist
paradigms of the 15th and 16th centuries, art and beauty entered a new relationship,
where the aesthetic imagination looked closer to its own human origins. This is
where the notion of beauty also began to emerge as distinct from that of art and
where its relationship to art became markedly dialectical.
It was therefore necessary for the Christian aesthetic imagination of the
Renaissance to make Christs ugly death manifest by an intense beauty that only
the mimetic traditions of art could express. It was as mimesis that art could gain
the privilege of presenting once more what was assumed to be the first
presentationthat is, the original performanceof the salvific act: the
Crucifixion. Far from being a mere imitation of this historic act, the depiction of
the salvific event was a privileging of art over everything else. But how could art
carry beauty in this respect? Unlike the Byzantine artist, whose depiction of beauty
was given indirectly through a cosmological representation of the universe,
sustained by narratives like Pseudo-Dionysiuss angelic order and celestial
hierarchy at whose peak stands a triune God, the artist of the newfound western
humanism begins to realize the kenotic project of Christianity from a different
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position. The theatre of kenosis is not heaven, but the earth where the human
condition is at the centre of Christs death and resurrection. Christ the man is the
historical peakthe eventof arts participation with the salvific narrative that
remains at its core a referent of weakness, notwithstanding the Churchs mightily
corrupt power.
It is no coincidence that some of the canonical works of art that are seen to be
turning points in renaissance art, were moved by this discourse of kenosis: Giottos
depiction of the life of Francis of Assisi; Fra Angelicos works of meditation
whose profound images revealed the humane character of the Christian narrative;
Fra Filippo Lippis sensual Madonnas; Pieros anticipations of an imaginary that
could not be more human right to Botticellis absolute humanism in whose art
men and women remain delectable creatures notwithstanding the horrific
background of political struggles and brutal authoritarianism where all across
Christendom life was debased and cheap, and where brute power was blessed and
sustained by an increasingly powerful and deeply corrupt Church.
To try to equate art with the horrific hegemony that ruled Christendom and the
horrors it imposed within and outside its jurisdiction (including its systematic
extermination of Jews and Muslims), would mean that art could only be an
instrument of Christian hegemony and would have been close to its demise. Yet,
notwithstanding its brutal paymasters, art was the only salvific narrative that
remained real to those who deeply believed that the historical Jesus lived and died
amongst women and men of flesh and bone. The jarring contrast between the
salvific message of the Gospels and the art patrons corrupt practices could not be
wider than at the peak of the production of works of art which practically stood for
Christianitys central narrativethat of kenosis. At this stage, while arts mimesis
gave artists the privilege to present humanism to an utterly inhuman world and
were mostly paid by the perpetrators of this misery, arts dialectical relationship
with beauty represented its paradoxical ways to kenosis, as a way of re-presenting
a hope to women and men the majority of whom led a hopeless life. This also
meant that the concept of beauty gradually evolved away from the idealized beauty
of the Middle Ages.
Put this way, one would hardly entertain any doubt that in the Renaissance art
was one with the beautiful. Yet in such a statement one must read the opposite: that
art could never be the same as beauty because beauty in and of itself is a concept
that could only be approximated beyond the condition of human existence. The
concept of beauty in poetry and the arts might be closer to what emerges in the late
18th and 19th century. However even that could not be simply assumed as a
condition of art, even in the Renaissance.19 The very issue as to whether the
beautiful is a transcendental concept or not does not come in, but if one were to
read theology as a cue to what artists responded in their art during the 15th and 16th

19
I refer to three works that discuss the matter of beauty before Aesthetics became, after Baumgarten,
Burke, Kant and Schiller, a separate branch of philosophy. These are Umberto Ecos Art and Beauty
in the Middle Ages (2002) and Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas (1988) and Jacques Maritains Art and
Scholasticism (2007).

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centuries, then the concept of beauty must be considered as other than just a fact of
art. Unlike the Romantics, the men and women of the Renaissance viewed art and
beauty from a context that could never be secular, even at the heights of humanism
and even when scepticism and dissent were as rife as they are today. Yet
theological debates were never closed and they remained mutable. Even when one
risked being burned at the stake, human thought was never immune to radical
shifts, especially within the arts.
This complexity becomes evident in works of art where the notion of the Son
of God is assumed by totally historical reverence, actualized within a space and a
time that were familiarized and modernised by arts opening and inhabiting of
truth. This revealed a dialectical relationship between art and beauty even in the
days when theology was safe in its a priori certainties. Perhaps it is because of the
safety of theological certainty that this dialectic was further evidenced by the
radical shifts in which arts historical positioning took a different route.
Michelangelos non-beauty
This is very clear in the work of Michelangelo Buonarroti. His three Piets (1499;
c. 1550; c. 1564) come to represent arts manner as a sphere of multiplicity where
the idea of beauty moves away from the purism of the Quattrocento to become
arts other in the Cinquecento. In Michelangelos representation of the Piet
which denotes the ultimate consummation of the kenotic narrative in Christianity
with the son of God lying dead in his human mothers lapwe find a great
example of the gradual humanisation of art as this moves away from an idealised
notion of art as beauty and begins to articulate the human condition through an
antagonism between art and beauty. Throughout the three Piet the notion of
beauty changes not only stylistically or formally, but more fundamentally in how
arts autonomy unfolds. It is not at all shocking to argue that whereas in the first
Piet art is consumed by a classical notion of beauty which was supposed to bond
with form as perfect and complete, it could also be argued that it manifests art at its
lowest possible state of autonomy in terms of it being a work of art whose
dialectical immanence is suppressed. Whereas one could argue that even if
incomplete, Michelangelos last Piet has the highest degree of autonomy. Here art
is at its most kenotic with its autonomy being at its strongest. As these works
represent three events in the move towards the human dimension of kenosis, one
could begin to argue that the middle Piet becomes the most human, being
somehow flanked by the firsts idealisation and the lasts absolute state of selfnegation. Somehow the older Michelangelo comes to terms with the paradox of a
world in whose inhumanityexpressed as a state of sinhe has to realize his art.
While distinctly aiming at a fulfilment of humanity through his work, he moves
towards a further weakening of arts presence, which is radically different from the
notion of aesthetic realization in classical perfection. This tension is distinctly
expressed in his poetry where he famously laments: Vivo al peccato, a me
morendo vivo; vita gi mia non son, ma del peccato (I live for sin, for my dying
alive; by now a life not mine, but one of sin). (Buonarroti 2003)
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The re-conceptualization of beauty within the paradox of arts humanism is best


represented in Michelangelos Cappella Sistina. Arnold Hauser (1984) argues that
the Last Judgement () is the first important artistic creation of modern times
which is no longer beautiful and which refers back to those medieval works of art
which were not yet beautiful but merely expressive.
Michelangelos work is nevertheless very different from them; it represents a
protest, achieved with obvious difficulty, against beautiful, perfect,
immaculate form, a manifesto in the shapelessness of which there is
something aggressive and self-destructive. It is not only a denial of the
artistic ideas which the Botticellis and Peruginos sought to realize in the
same place, but also of the aims once pursued by Michelangelo himself in the
representations on the ceiling of the same Sistine Chapel, and it surrenders
those ideals of beauty to which the whole chapel owes its existence and all
the building and painting of the Renaissance origin. (Hauser 1984, II: p. 105)
It could be argued that the latter Michelangelo challenged the very foundation of
the positive dialectic of theocentrism. His response to the theocentric polity was to
take the narrative of salvation to its extreme consequences, thus bringing forward
the humanity of Gods interventionfigured in Christs human deathwithin the
grasps of human reason. Michelangelo does not deny Christianity, but he takes it to
its rational conclusions: that of the denuded history of an equally denuded human
condition. Michelangelo reveals the scandal. Christ, the Messiah is God made
Man. Not just a new Adam but also a new Moses. But in both these figures, the
Messiah is murdered by humanity. As a truth inhabited by art, the story cannot
simply be narrated by a series of images that put words in our mouth. This was not,
as many would argue, a way of teaching the faithful. Michelangelos work was
there to scandalize the faithful, because the faithful could not be immune from the
larger scandalthat of God being murdered by man.
After Michelangelo, the dialectical relationship between art and beauty has no
choice but to find its articulation as paradox. In the humanized polity of
Michelangelos art there is no hope for a synthesis between arts aesthetic deed and
beautys salvific narrative.
Caravaggios modernity
The distinction between art and beauty posed no problem to theology or the
discourses of morality and the polity. Rather, the expectation of redemption (as
articulated by Michelangelos salvific narrative) is made robust by the intellectual
and ethical sobriety that the distinct positions of art and beauty have helped artists
to achieve. Here I offer the example of what I have called elsewhere Caravaggist
modernitythat is, the actual ways by which Caravaggio attunes art to the modo
of history and thereby gambles (and ultimately eliminates) the very serenity by
which art has always been limited to the beautiful. (Baldacchino 1998, pp. 86ff.)
In Caravaggios Mannerist context of the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the
human condition appears in its horrendous truth. It is not short of a denunciation of
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the horrors by which the prevalent hegemony has suppressed humanity. Even when
Caravaggio verges on the heretical, his art remains true to history and in turn true
to the redemptive dilemmas where the beauty of Gods salvation remains true to
the horrors of the death of Gods only begotten Son. Historically this was
consonant with the ideas of a low Church within Catholicism, emerging in
figures like San Filippo Neri whom Caravaggio admired and whose life with the
poor and the dejected he sought to reveal in its challenge to the high ideals of a
previously undisputed theocentric polity.
We know that Caravaggios art is not only a breakthrough in terms of its own
aesthetic narrative but also carries beauty into new forms of theological thinking.
In Caravaggios work we have the gospel of Gods only begotten Son who dies the
death of a thief and a criminal for the sins of the world that dejected the poor, the
marginalised and those made outcast by a polity that claimed its roots in a divine
calling (and therefore a polity that was supposed to be beautiful by dint of its
assumed divinity). To Caravaggio, who was a criminalised outcast of this polity,
the redemptive message had to be borne out by a beauty that becomes other (if not
extraneous) to the relative serenity found, in say, Raffaellos Deposition (1507).
In Carvaggios art we are regaled by an ontological argument for beauty that
takes art into the bowels of truth, only to return it to us in its brutal sense, so that it
could enlighten us with the horror of the same truth by which beauty relates to art.
Caravaggios truth is neither Aristotelian nor Platonic. It rejects a positively
synthesized dialectic. It thrives in the non-identity between its parts and portends
the horror of skinning someone alive a martyrdom that remains central to the
Catholic imagination of the Mannerist and Baroque notions of beauty, which the
late Michelangelo had already anticipated in his depiction of St Bartholomews
martyrdom in his Last Judgement (1536/41).
MUSKY WORDS AND SYLLABLES IN FLIGHT

When the 20th century poet Eugenio Montale is faced by the aesthetic greatness of
the Mediterranean sea, he declares that all we have are mere lettere fruste; old and
obvious letters, stale, mouldy and musky words. That we may have to use, time
and time again, these words that make no sense whatsoever, is almost a way of
asserting ones helpless endearment. The poet tries to explain and reaffirm that any
union between our conception of beauty and it being made manifest is by no means
a given.
() non ho che le lettere fruste
dei dizionari, e loscura
voce che amore detta saffioca,
si fa lamentosa letteratura.
(Montale 1990, p. 60)

134

() Ive none but the stale words


of dictionaries, and the murky
voice that love utters is faded,
[as it] turns into [a] grieving
(literature.

OUTWITH BEAUTY

In Montales beautifully crafted stanzas one could sense the frustration of this
state of affairs. The words that are musky and the syllables in flight, which we
have come to love by dint of habit and certitude, are the only instruments by which
we could challenge the certainty that we have come to acceptand to some extent
lovein the idea of art and beauty.
We also sense that Montale is suggesting that this union is by no means less
assumed by a justification of why, as human beings, we want our manifestations to
be beautiful. And indeed his very narrative cannot be other than composed in a
poetic form that is no less beautiful even when it remains intentionally hermetic.
But we can also see how this modernist poet only takes us as far as assuming that
this union between a concept and a manifestation comes to us as an innocent
expectation.
Pur di una cosa ci affidi,
padre, e questa : che un poco del
tuo dono
sia passato per sempre nelle sillabe
che rechiamo con noi, api ronzanti.
(Montale 1990, p. 60)

Yet you entrust us with one thing,


father, namely: that some of your
talent
has been forever passed through
(those syllables
that we bear in us, [like] buzzing
bees.

In Montales awe of the beauty of the sea, there is a bewildered feeling that any
relationship of this kind could turn into a serious breach of what the poetic forms,
by which we manifest such awe, should do for us. This becomes evident when we
opt to make art for ourselves in an attempt to preserve the feelings we had when
we did not experience beauty in art, but in something else. Kant reminds us of this
state of affairs when he discusses beauty by way of the subliminal fears that we get
from the sight of mountains or the fear from natural cataclysms like earthquakes.
So the question is: In view of the historicity of the relationship between art and
beauty, why should art remain a form of beauty and why should beauty, as an
unqualified attribute of art, be made to serve as an instrument for the
legitimation of art? The latter statement raises an issue regarding beauty as an
attribute, which also questions the very nature of beauty in relationship to
something else. The issue of relationship is crucial because we know that the
phrase a beautiful horse brings up the question whether (i) beautiful is just an
attribute of a thing (in this case the horse); or if (ii) the thing bears out the notion of
beauty as (a) an ideal to which we attach our modes of understanding of (or indeed
by saying that) the horse is beautiful; or (b) that the horse brings to us to an
originary quality of beauty.
These questions may solve the problem for us in a lateral way. We could
argue that beauty is a matter of language and to that extent it offers the opportunity
of a game for us to consider in ascertaining what we value as beautiful and
thereby what we could retain and preserve from the very notion (and utterance) of
the term and attribute beauty. We could argue that the question of beauty has to do
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with an agency of language in so far as it has to do with the denial of private


languages; so we can withdraw from the very temptation to keep the beautiful
intimate. In this way we may want to see how we could draw beauty out of a
linguistic excuse and attempt to establish how it could be played upon the game of
life relations in terms of what it says of us when we use it as a kind of agency of
thought and language.
However here we are also discussing beauty in terms of art. The consequence is
more than simply assuming beauty as a linguistic agency. In arts historic
illustration, there is no straight answer prompted by historical function or aesthetic
language. Art is a manner that assumes itself out of the multiple aspects by which
we cope with history and indeed by which we lay our claim on reality. This is
where the idea of history as illustration, brought up earlier in this chapter, would
come to a definite end. Like beauty history forms part of the claim to a reality that
is human and is responsive of, and a respondent to, the interpretations by which we
make sense of our deeds as human beings.
Another question that moves this discussion also revolves around the question
of value and standard. It is here that the notion of insufficient words (for Montale
with regards to the Mediterranean sea; for us in view of the dilemmas of our own
history and its necessary deceit) comes into play. This initial insufficiency is
indicative of the insufficiency of our dialectical designs when these are confronted
by the deceit that is assumed in order to survive historya fallacy that hides truth
to protect its potential effect against the mores of time; or the Machiavellian
strategies by which art, amongst other phenomena, is played against the crude
standards by which human expression is expected to perform in the name, or to the
service, of the polity.
So when we attempt to conform to the idea of a standard by which we measure
beauty and art we know that standards are by no means innocent. This is where the
historical context for the question of art and beauty kicks in, especially when we
know that the question of art and beauty often gets entangled with an
epistemological agenda. In the latter case, art and beauty begin to be seen as
pertaining to forms of knowledge by which we are expected to dance to the tune of
those very norms that are imposed on us as values. One can see how like the
fallacy of a sequential procedure from beauty to art, we have a procedure of values
from standards that would claim a stake in just about everything: from religion to
politics, from the economy to civil society, from culture to education.
The very notions of procedure and sequence are symptomatic of a structure that
seeks to construct meaning via a sociology of means and ends by which knowledge
comes to us in a rubric and is charted out by the efficiency quotient that it is
supposed to articulate. The economy of knowledge, like its sociology, assumes a
logical procedure that fulfils the same teleology by which art and beauty are bound
together to fulfil the positive dialectic of the polity (even when the polity is
presented to us as democratic and thereby secular).
In this state of affairs the beautiful horse is questioned by the values by which
we consider the horse as beautiful, where the whys and wherefores are not
necessarily objectified forms of knowledge (as if there was an objectified beautiful
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horse) but are posed in loose Platonic terms. More precisely, they are brought up to
obfuscate the dialectical grounds by which Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Schoenberg,
Joyce or Beuys have moved to articulate their own forms of modernity.
This is also where the question of the relationship between art and beauty is
framed in a context where the value of beauty and the value of art mean something
different. The main reason is that the context for what is value (in terms of the
relationship between art and beauty) has something else as its object apart from art
and beauty. This other object can take various forms that, more often than not,
pertain to specific political assumptions made in the various spheres where art and
beauty appear as free agents or agents even when we know that this means
something other than freedom as a phenomenon of humanity.
PERFECTION DEFERRED

So the idea of beauty and art remains flawed by its own dilemma. This is
compounded when values and standards become the means by which beauty is
supposed to follow from art and vice-versa. At this stage I want to remind myself
why Kant proposes disinterestedness in his discussion of the questions of beauty
and aesthetics in general.
In his Critique of Judgement (6) Kant argues that:
The beautiful is that which apart from concepts is represented as the object of
universal satisfaction. (...) For the fact of which everyone is conscious, that
the satisfaction is for him quite disinterested, implies in his judgement a
ground of satisfaction for all men (...) Consequently the judgement of taste,
accompanied with the consciousness of separation from all interest must
claim validity for all men without this universality depending on objects.
(Kant 1974, pp. 4546)
And in the Introduction (V) to his Logic Kant also explains that:
Aesthetic perfection consists in the agreement of cognition with the subject
and is based on the special sensibility of man. In aesthetic perfection ... no
objectively and universally valid laws can be applied, in accordance with
which this kind of perfection could be judged a priori in a manner universally
valid for all thinking beings as such. So far as there are, however, also
general laws of sensibility that are valid, though not objectively for all
thinking beings, yet subjectively for all mankind, an aesthetic perfection may
be conceived which contains the ground of a subjective-general pleasure.
This perfection is beauty: that which pleases the senses in intuition and for
that very reason can be the object of a general pleasure, because the laws of
intuition are general laws of sensibility. (Kant 1988, p. 41, my emphasis)
The relationships between art and beauty, value and standard, might initially
appear as being embedded in the peculiar conditions that make them. So far as
history was concerned, I started by arguing in this chapter that beauty and art, as a
relationship, had a responsibility towards the contexts that made them, and by that,
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the conditions appeared as indeed peculiar and specific. Yet it is not enough to say
that the conditions remain peculiar without critically engaging them in art. This is
where arts way of deceit in Modernism secures a qualification for arts autonomy
from any sequential relationship between art and beauty, value and standards.
However this state of affairs throws in a further caveat: that of a dialectical
relationship between art and beauty. While beauty entertains a dialectical
character, art does not necessarily assume the synthesizing certainties of the
dialectic, especially when it comes to history and the historical assumptions that
are made about beauty. But arts claim to reality remains far removed from any
positive resolution. What takes place in art is not a dialectical narrative of
resolutions but a manner of form and being by which any historical dialectic
appears in its true intents; as evident in the entrapment of Modernity by the logic of
instrumentality.
It would be easy to entertain the idea that by means of a relational pattern
between art and beauty, values and standards one could float an argument for a
method of epoch without having to lose the very ground on which we can
continue to relate beauty to art and without having to succumb one to the other.
This has been the thrust of the argument in the last three chapters. Yet the
method by which this came forth was not by a suspension of the whereabouts of
art, but by the very assumption of arts historical grounds, which proved to be in
itself a way of suspending the positivist assumptions that are often made by art
historians who tend to assume a straight laced relational pattern between art and
beauty in terms of the values and standards that appear as the historical contexts of
art. However, I find this relational pattern to be illusive. Equally illusive is the
expected location of arts method of epoch, which proved to be other than a
simple assumption of symmetry between values and subjects that are normally
perceived as self-evident in terms of their reduction.
The bottom-line of these attempts and counter-attempts may not have led to
what I expected in terms of the symmetrical sequences of art, beauty, value and
standard. Knowing that such patterns were tautological, I assumed that their
assumption of being quandaries would break the hermeneutic cycle by which they
become tautologies. Yet this is not enough. Even when art and beauty (in their
relational dilemma) are left undisturbed (so to speak), and therefore assumed as
disinterested, the notion and application of disinterestedness needs to be read
against a specifically qualified history where art is seen as radically autonomous
from beauty.
If as Kants argument goes, aesthetic perfection is beauty: that which pleases
the senses in intuition and for that very reason can be the object of a general
pleasure, because the laws of intuition are general laws of sensibility, we could
never find this mirrored in art. This is because art does not aspire to perfection per
se. Perfection in art has nothing to do with beauty. It comes with arts claim to
autonomy by speaking twice over about history (as we have seen in Rancires
argument). Likewise in the artistic endeavour, the laws of intuition do not follow
the general laws of sensibility as in beauty. In art, intuition diffracts itself from
universality into a multiplicity of singularities (as we find in Badious notion of
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OUTWITH BEAUTY

universal singularity). If one has to make an argument for intuition in art this
would be located within the contingent nature of singularity. (This recalls Lukcss
attention to particularity as an aesthetic category).
If there is any sequencing or mirroring between art and beauty, it is one that is
reflected in a shattered mirror. At the same time, any values by which we try to
assume this relationship, are never reflected anywhere. What is often assumed as a
number of standards or concepts by which the relationship between art and beauty
could be measured, is only a forced assumption of the same tautological mirroring
by which we insist on invoking art by means of beauty. The values that are
expected of this relationship can do nothing but confirm that although seemingly
destined as a pair, art and beauty remain out of joint.

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WITHIN HAPPINESS

It is the run of the mill, the so-called minor acts, who are inclined towards
moralising, preoccupied with the little moral, with the good teaching that is
useful to children or adults who will always be children: do not steal,
dont be naughty, dont get into trouble. They love to show how by some
misfortune you are lured into thieving, but how you must never steal and that
you must give back what does not belong to you, even if it is a slice of bread
and youre dying of hunger.
Moralisers love all the tales that come from the heart, but they show no
regard towards mans heart. In contrast, the authentic great comic, who seeks
to enter the core of reality and if necessary, fight injustice with injustice,
exceeds in stealing, in making do by defying any order; thus stating that the
world needs a different order, some kind of madness with a human taste.
Certainly, the comics play exudes a kind of quietism (qualunquismo) that is
declared, and which is never casual.
Dario Fo, Tot. (1995, pp. 5758)
The arts confirm that like beauty, happiness is not a reward received from the
moralized edifices of truth. Like beauty, happiness runs on the horizon of
contingency. Happiness is ludic and it is played on the wide-awareness of
groundlessness. Though historical by dint of its humanity, the horizon of beauty
and happiness is not qualified by history as a first principle, but by the language
and philosophy of fragments that ensues in historical contingency.
Agnes Heller reminds us that, contingency is the loss of innocence (1993,
p. 4). As in the allegory of the Garden of Eden, when humans partook of the tree of
wisdom they realised that destiny is in their hands and that teleological certainty is
a myth. In becoming similar to God (by gaining the capacity to discriminate
between good and evil, that is, by gaining reason), man also becomes the absolute
difference; the absolute otherness before the face of God, the mortal, who knows
that s/he is mortal; the Zero vis--vis the infinite. (Heller, ibid.)
The story of Eden embodies the human desire to return to an origin that never
was. It reads the state of happiness as a lost paradise where everything was certain
and where truth was univocal. Yet the same story also reveals that to affirm liberty
is to reject the univocal truth that forbids the plural possibilities opened by
contingency. The poetics of Eden and its lost happiness never abate in the human
desire for an irenic state where humans would one day restore innocencewhether
in an earthly state of utopia or in the afterlife. Yet this is where the quest for the
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irenic becomes a myth. Far from perdition, a loss of innocence means that
everything is possible and nothing is forbidden. In the world beyond Eden,
happiness is a matter for possibility and labouring for it. Here the human
predicament comes into effect and responsibility stays with men and women.
Karen Armstrong (2009) reminds us that this lost-paradise myth is not unique to
the Judeo-Christian tradition. Like any myth, its purpose is to help us to
contemplate the human predicament. Why is human life filled with suffering, backbreaking agricultural labor, agonizing childbirth, and death? Why do men and
women feel so estranged from the divine? (p. 28)
As far as human memory could recall, the lament over the human predicament
remains preoccupied with historical contingency. The added distraction of Western
Christianitys doctrine of original sin (Armstrong, ibid.) reinforces the myth of an
innocence that never was. Yet far from lamentable, to recognise contingency is to
recognize that human decisions rest with the everyday. This also implies that the
poetics of nostalgia are transformed to a homecoming that is never fixed; in other
words, a homecominga nstosthat turns avant-nostalgic. (Baldacchino 2002,
pp. 46ff.; Baldacchino 2010, pp. 119ff.)
In the poetics that move beyond the allegory of Eden, contingency provides the
arts with the ultimate historical mise-en-scne in the sense that historical
contingency claims no preordained facts but affirms truth by entering what factual
or teleological certainty fails to provide. The poetics of contingency continuously
aim to supersede a simplistic equivalence between happiness and the good. This
equivalence springs from a pedagogical moralising that mistakes social entrapment
for democratic inclusion and processes happiness through a mechanism of
contractual ethics. Yet we know that happiness is neither univocal nor a
prerogative of the good. Like beauty, the good is never fixed and is bound to the
language games in play.
BETWEEN THE IRONIC AND THE IRENIC

Rather than locating happiness within the brief of transactional ethics or


pedagogical socialization, I would locate happiness within the space that appears
between the ironic and the irenic. In art this space is drawn between various forms
that reflect the diverse and paradoxical manifestations of the quotidian, by which
humans go about their daily affairs. The contingent nature of this space can only
allow me to suggest this as a proposition that remains open to constant change. As
a tentative stance this might sound distant from a notion of art as a universal act or
art as a disinterested affair. Yet far from a neutral claim to disinterestedness, what I
am suggesting comes from an interest in defining happiness somewhere in the
contingent spaces found between: (a) an ironic engagement with the world, and (b)
the irenic ideals of human consciousness.
An ironic engagement is a way of understanding the world from a point of view
that is critical by being at best humorous and at worst sardonic. Furthermore, this
engagement could be seen as part of a larger formative intentionality without
having to impose any moral or pedagogical precept. The ironist, says Rorty, is a
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nominalist and a historicist. She thinks nothing has an intrinsic nature, a real
essence. So she thinks that the occurrence of a term like just or scientific or
rational on the final vocabulary of the day is no reason to think that Socratic
inquiry into the essence of justice or science or rationality will take one much
beyond the language games of ones time. (Rorty 1990, pp. 734)
On the other hand, by our irenic ideals we anticipate and wish for the realisation
of our teleological projects; projects that are intended to transcend the contingency
of the human condition. This is always contestable. But surely the intention behind
transcending contingency must not be read as essentialist or foundationalist. While
irony seems quite accessible through the various arts (popular, high, on the fringe
or in the mainstream), the irenic appears as rather problematic when the very
notion of teleology is challenged by historical contingency. A legacy of irenic
promises found in religious millenarianism or ideological utopias complicates any
attempt to discuss the irenic. Somehow any idea of irenic happiness is ruled out as
pie in the sky; which is unfortunate, because when matched with the ironic
recognition of contingency, the notion of an irenic desire has always played a
dynamic role in the arts.
The case for the irenic and ironic presence in artistic discourse makes a solid
argument for the arts even when currently it could be argued that art as an expected
aesthetic experience has entered a prolonged hiatus, a kind of lull or pause. This
has nothing to do with artistic production. People will continue to make stuff and
do art. However I see this hiatus in what I would discuss further in the concluding
part of this book as a condition of impasse that calls for a redefinition of the very
notion of a surpassing, or rupture, or even a revolution that might as well claim the
right to the projection of happiness, which always risks being read as a desire for
an irenic state. I say this not without a degree of irony because I see irony as being
implicit to any argument for art (not to mention the content that comes from art) as
a condition of stasis.
What I mean by a condition of stasis is that although many artists are still
producing what is presumed to be forms of artistic creation, creation and creativity
often come to us as a suspended activity; as an activity that is wilfully selfalienated from what the arts have been expected to be or do. I would never argue
that contemporary artists are dubious or producing rubbish (as some critics tend to
suggest). To say so would imply that there are identifiable standards or
benchmarks for what is art or what art should be. However I would say that the
contemporary arts are caught between (a) the contingency (as an ironic capacity)
that invalidates any argument for a universal narrative (as an irenic possibility);
and (b) the need to reclaim art as a universal narrative (as an irenic actuality) that
allows us to live and survive our historical contingency (as a right to be ironic).
If this sounds like a tautological absurdity, this is because it is tautologically
absurd; which is not to say that one cannot speak of the ironic and the irenic at the
same time. As one speaks of teleological aspirations while one also makes a case

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for contingency-awareness20, one might consider the spirit of Rortys definition of


the dialectic as the attempt to play off vocabularies against one another. (Rorty
1990, p. 78)
In this way arts expression of content comes out of a negotiation between a
desired irenic state and an existing ironic reaction to the fact that an irenic state is
not at hand although it remains desirable in a context where contingencyawareness is not yet reached. While the arts cannot afford to be cynical even when
they appear to encourage a degree of cynicism over immutable notions of truth,
artists retain their right to irony when they engage, learn and indeed do art by ways
that often appear to be erroneous, partial, vulgar, and nonsensical. Even with the
reservations that one might level at the Liberal assumptions invested in Rortys
notion of irony,21 his definition of the ironist retains strong validity:
ironist () name[s] the sort of person who faces up to the contingency of
his or her most central beliefs and desiressomeone sufficiently historicist
and nominalist to have abandoned the idea that those central beliefs and
desires refer back to something beyond the reach of time and chance. Liberal
ironists are people who include among these ungroundable desires their own
hope that suffering will be diminished, that the humiliation of human beings
by other human beings may cease. (Rorty 1990, p. xv)
This recognition of groundlessness presents a hope beyond the predicaments that
condition and often frustrate our objectives. Hope is articulated by those who
converge on the notion of irony from their different philosophical, political and
artistic traditions. This is possible because ironists are by definition attendant to the
contingent nature of tradition. The arts facilitate the ironic recognition of
groundlessness because irony is implicit to what artists do. Likewise the arts
preserve the irenic dnamei (in potentiality) and not as an end reached by the ironic
in the arts. The ironic-irenic antinomy is implicit in the being of arts criticality.
Without irony there is no critical art. Without the irenic criticality is art-less.
This toing and froing between the ironic and the irenic opens the argument of
happiness and art to myriad meanings and possibilities. I say this while bearing in
mind that both the ironic and the irenic aspects of contemporary art attest to an
understanding of the happiness in the forms of hope, empathy, love, friendship,
community, philanthropy, etc., even whenor perhaps more so whenthe
comforts of a ground are rejected. A further caveat to this discussion is that while
happiness as a human quality remains a must in our desire to fulfil and make sense
of our lives, the contemporary arts also warn us off any hope to achieve happiness
through identitarian routesespecially when throughout history such qualities
have been deformed and manipulated by oligarchs and hegemonies of all

20
For a discussion of contingency-awareness, and how this interfaces with teleology see Heller 1993,
pp. 4ff.
21
I remain sceptical because the politics of liberalism acquiesce to forms of identitarian thinking,
which Rorty clearly rejects. This presents a dilemma to anyone who agrees with Rortys argument
for irony and solidarity, but remains sceptical over liberalisms ideological and political fallback.

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persuasions. This highlights another aspect of the kenotic choices that art makes in
its recognition of weak reality (as discussed in previous chapters in this book).
Here the rejection of foundationalism takes a further aspect. Rather than consign
happiness and hope to a strict moral boundary that corresponds to a series of
ethical grounds, we take the notion of happiness into the scenario of contingency
where ironists would also have to include in groundless aims and desires, our own
hope that suffering will be diminished, that the humiliation of human beings by
other human beings may cease. (Rorty 1990, p. xv)
FRAGMENT AS PLASTICITY

Agnes Heller prefaces her book A Philosophy of History. In Fragments as follows:


This book is not a book on history. It is a philosophy of history after the
demise of the grand narratives. The leftover of the past is historical
consciousness itself; post-moderns understand themselves as dwellers in the
prisonhouse of our contemporary/history/historicity. This is why we cannot
get rid of the awareness of historicity and history, although one can give it a
try. I have attempted this a few times, but, on the whole, this book manifests
rather the entanglement of modern men and women caught within this prison
house.
She goes on to argue that:
Post-moderns inherited historical consciousness, but not the selfcomplacency of the grand narratives. The confidence in an increasing
transparency of the world is gone. This is not a good time for writing
systems. On the other hand, it is quite a good time for writing fragments.
(1993, p. viii)
History as a multiplicity of fragments is not a rhetorical argument. It comes to a
sharp edge in Kant, whose Critique of Judgement confirms the implicit gap
between the grammars of the understanding and those of reason; of the conformity
to law and of the final purpose; of nature and of freedom. This apparent separation,
or alienation, emerges from the fact that in his rational construction of these
grammars, Kant could not avoid the imperatives of an equally rational structure by
whose implements these grammars preserve themselves as philosophically
legitimate and thereby distinct from each other.
Whether, as Kant suggests, judgement, purposiveness and art could respectively
bridge what appears to be an interstitial gap between these constituencies, remains
a major philosophical question that has re-defined and set the foundations for the
aesthetics of modernity and what is deemed to follow it. Surely beyond this
alienation of the beautiful, Kants third critique offers a conceivability of notions
that are otherwise considered as nonsensical. I refer to Kants concept of
purposiveness without purpose in matters of beauty; of disinterestedness in matters
of taste; and of his re-articulation of the Sublime (beyond that of Longinus and

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Burke) as a short-circuited system (as Lyotard calls it) that comes into full effect
with the matter of judgement. (Lyotard 1994)
One could react to these reiterations by simply dismissing theory in favour of
some botched notion of artistic or educational practice (as many Educationalists
have done in their anti-intellectual endeavour to reduce art and education to the
realms of social scientific accountability). However, intelligent reflection would
reveal an optimistic interpretation that regards this state of affairs as necessary for
the opening of those possibilities by which, Heller (1993, p. viii) suggests, we
could write fragments.
Apart from suggesting that there may be no choice but to indeed write in
fragments, to write fragments is to open possibilities beyond the posturing of
performativity vis--vis the tautological nature of meta-narratives. I say posturing
because as I said elsewhere, metanarratives turn out to be false in their assumptions
of performativity. (Baldacchino 2010, pp. 146149) The condition of
postmodernity claims its ground on that of transition. There are no grounds
because the ground is performative and thereby transient. This leaves any
assumption of performance in a recurrent nascent state. Lyotard reassures us that
the postmodern is in effect the modern in its nascentand not decadentstate.
(1992, p. 13) In this respect all contradictions that sustain both the meta-narrative
and its critique, rely on the same performative character by which metanarratives
define themselves. This amounts to a tautology that neuters any sense of longevity,
and by consequence any assumed ground for metanarratives.
Thus when Heller speaks of the possibilities opened by the act of writing
fragments she ditches the postures of performativity by which, supposedly,
metanarratives are simultaneously propped and deconstructed. This opening allows
us to proceed by the strength of our historical consciousness (albeit deprived from
the comforts of the performative postures of metanarratives) to resume our
responsibilities towards history. This is possible even when, philosophically,
history emerges in fragmentary form. This also means that the question of
happinesswhich remains an integral part of any historical consciousness (in
whichever way it is defined)retains relevance within the wider moral and
aesthetic corollaries of our lives.
The need to write fragments, rather than mend middles (which Rose [1992]
rejects), is the only option that we have. We need only recall Kierkegaard and
Nietzsche, who, still experiencing the Hegelian ghost in the philosophical corridors
of academia, came to conclusions that are not dissimilar from ours; which is why
we find in their work a way of surviving the dilemmas of a modernity in
continuous nascent states.
Attempts to emancipate what Hegel (1998) terms as Kants deferral into
infinity by means of a dialectically embedded history clearly ended in disaster.
These attempts failed not because of Hegels system but because modern history is
the history of Capital. By the pragmatic and positivistic assumptions with which
the power of Capital has reigned supreme everywhere, Hegelianism has been
relegated to totalitarianism. The latter found its fulfilment in the ideological
reification of human reason, partly done (and justified) by the hopes with which
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the Enlightenment gave way to the positivist assumptions of Capital. In practice,


these assumptions emerged in Capitals individualist and collectivist immediacies
in the form of market and command economies respectively. (Mszros 1995)
Adorno (1990) articulates this state of affairs as follows:
History is the unity of continuity and discontinuity. Society stays alive, not
despite its antagonism, but by means of it; the profit interest and thus the
class relationship make up the objective motor of the production process
which the life of all men hangs by, and the primacy of which has its
vanishing point in the death of all. This also implies the reconciling side of
the irreconcilable; since nothing else permits men to live, not even a changed
life would be possible without it. What historically made this possibility may
as well destroy it. (p. 320)
To write fragmented histories is not to declare the end of history or the failure of
humanity. It is another way of saying that our philosophical, artistic, ethical and
political articulations of history could only be deemed as fragments and not
wholes. This is because the conceptual building blocks by which we as human
beings have constructed our philosophical horizons remain insufficient, or at best
remain wilfully suspended in philosophical discourse. Neither philosophy nor art
could fully convey the immanence by which women and men can declare
themselves to be historical beings without descending into the mire of sophistic
tautologies by which fascism has, under many guises, caused human thought to
degenerate into violence. This is also a realisation that a history that comes to us in
fragments is a reversalindeed a categorical refutationof the identitarian
aspirations by which history itself is forced on us. Adornos denunciation of
identity principles still holds:
The world spirit, a worthy object of definition, would have to be defined as
permanent catastrophe. Under the all-subjugating identity principle, whatever
does not enter into identity, whatever eludes rational planning in the realm of
means, turns into frightening retribution for the calamity which identity
brought on the nonidentical. There is hardly another way to interpret history
philosophically without enchanting it into an idea. (1990, p. 320)
AMOR FATI

In his second thesis on the philosophy of history Benjamin (1973a) writes:


reflection shows us that our image of happiness is thoroughly coloured by the
time to which the course of existence has assigned us. (p. 244) In The Gay
Science Nietzsche (2008) wants to perceive the necessary characters in things as
the beautiful: I shall thus be one of those who beautify things. (276, p. 133)
Benjamin qualifies the happiness that could arouse envy in us as existing only
in the air we have breathed, among people we could have talked to. In this way he
sees our image of happiness as indissolubly bound up with the image of
redemption. (1973a, p. 244)
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Here one must ask: What is this redemption, if it were to be framed in a history
that is essentially fragmentary? In the sixth thesis on the philosophy of history,
Benjamin states: to articulate the past historically does not mean to recognize it
the way it really was (). It means to seize hold of a memory as it flashes up at a
moment of danger. (1973a, p. 246)
In this seizing of a moment of danger, one could hear echoes of Nietzsche:
Amor fati: let that henceforth be my love! I do not want to wage war with the
ugly. I do not want to accuse, I do not want even to accuse the accusers.
Looking aside, let that be my sole negation! And all in all, to sum up: I wish
to be at any time hereafter only a yea-sayer! (Nietzsche 2008, 276, p. 133)
Nietzsches moment is not unlike Benjamins. The moment begets a history that is
taken on not by simply recounting backwards to other moments, but by
recognizing its redemption from the teleological prescriptions of a causal chain.
While we want to leave the Gods alone () and wish to content ourselves with
the assumption that our practical and theoretical skilfulness in explaining and
suitably arranging events has now reached its highest point, Nietzsche also
recognizes the contingent nature of what we do. Thus he recommends that we do
not think too highly of this dexterity of our wisdom. This is because there is one
who plays with usbeloved Chance: he leads our hand occasionally, and even the
all-wisest Providence could not devise any finer music than that of which our
foolish hand is then capable. (Nietzsche 2008, 277, p. 134)
If the past is, as Benjamin remarks in his fifth thesis, seized only as an image
which flashes up at the instant when it can be recognized and is never seen again
(1973a, p. 247), this also means that far from being simply bereft of history, this
moment is beholden by the present. It may well be deemed fragmentary, begotten
by chance or indeed contingent, but as a moment it retains the highest value that
we could ascribe it; which is where redemption takes a new meaning beyond
religious or utopian ascription. In this notion of the present we behold the past as a
moment that, not unlike happiness, is an image of redemption. Benjamin says:
the past carries with it a temporal index by which it is referred to redemption.
This is a secret agreement between past generations and the present one. (1973a,
pp. 2456) One would read in this a redemptive possibility that survives without
having to be quashed under the identitarian imperatives of an ethical system (and
with it a definition of happiness) that is held hostage to its own grammatical
rigours.
The redemptive qualities that Benjamin attributes to happiness and the past also
sit well with Zarathustras Of The Vision Of The Riddle, that tells of a gateway
with two aspects.
Two paths come together here: no one has ever reached their end.
This long lane behind us: it goes on for eternity. And that long lane ahead
of us that is another eternity.

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They are in opposition to one another, these paths; they abut on one
another: and it is here at this gateway that they come together. The name of
the gateway is written above it: Moment (Nietzsche 1980, p. 178)
The gate is a moment that recurs eternally. In this context Nietzsche reminds us
how all things that can run have already run along this lane. The same goes for
all things that can happen have already happened, been done, run past.
(Nietzsche, ibid.) This emphasizes the possibility of the running of things and in
turn the recurrent possibility of what happens. The happiness that is made possible
by recurrence is not beholden by one identity but by the return of a multiplicity of
identities that pass through the moment. The momentone could even say the
moment of happinessis therefore singular. But it is a singularity that is in itself
multiple and non-identical even when it enters repetition.
So if we talk of happiness as a moment, we need not hang happiness on a causal
line that is premeditatedor pre-mediatedby already identified origins and ends.
This also distances happiness from a process that anticipates it, or worse still,
conditions it by ethical assumptions tied to a legislative frame that proscribes the
irenic assumptions it makes. Traditionally we have assumed that the irenic is a
state of mind that needs to be won through a transactional morality, and thereby
framed by the preconditions that regale us with a state of happiness transcended
and distanced from the contingencies of life. This distancing from the quotidian
characterizes several religious assumptions of happiness where it is invariably
linked to a negotiation with states of suffering.
Here one could recognize a Stoic characterisation of the attainment of happiness
that proscribes the Hedonists sense of immediate happiness through gratification.
Happiness as gratification seems too immediate to the minds of those who still
misconstrue hedonism as a kind of unscrupulous search for constant pleasure.
While a discussion of hedonism and stoicism would warrant an entire volume, it is
worth noting that many assumptions of an irenic state are distanced from hedonism
because the latter is misconstrued as temporary, whereas a more stoic-like route to
happiness remains more worthy in the eyes of those who closely tie happiness to a
view of ethical happiness as a prolonged process of self-amelioration.
The dichotomy between immediate gratification and gained irenic states
becomes irrelevant when happiness is not perceived as an overcoming of a
contingent state, but by recognizing contingency as an integral part of the human
condition. This would take the concept of the irenic beyond the limitations of a
narrowly conceived teleological view. Indeed this would not exclude the nobility
of stoic self-sacrifice. Far from a rejection of contingency, self-sacrifice reaffirms a
writingand indeed a doing and livingof fragments. This recalls, once more,
Nietzsches admonition to the preachers of morals:
Truly, you understand the reverse art of alchemy, the depreciating of the
most valuable things! Try, just for once, another recipe, in order not to realise
as hitherto the opposite of what you mean to attain: deny those good things,
withdraw from them the applause of the populace and discourage the spread

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of them, make them once more the concealed chastities of solitary souls, and
say: morality is something forbidden! (2008, 292, p. 142)
By and of itself, the irenic is insufficient to the definition of happiness. The
irenic needs to travel to (and from) the ironic and back, where the interstices of the
fragments that we write, see and do emerge in their recurrent state. For this to
become clearerat least in my mindI would need to resort to the philosophical
narratives that are regaled to us by the arts.
Pasolini, Tot and Ninetto: Oedipuss joy
In Pier Paolo Pasolinis work of drama Affabulazione (first published in 1966),
which is characterised by the relationship between a father and his son (taking up
where Sophocles leaves off his oedipal works) we come across a re-articulation of
the Pater Noster, the Lords Prayer, which begins like this:
Padre nostro che sei nei Cieli,
io non sono mai stato ridicolo in
tutta la vita.
Ho sempre avuto negli occhi un
velo dironia.
Padre nostro che sei nei Cieli:
ecco un tuo figlio che, in terra,
padre

Our Father who art in Heaven,


I have never been ridiculous in all
my life.
I have always had a veil of irony
over my eyes.
Our Father who art in Heaven:
here is a son of yours who, on
earth, is [a] father

(Pasolini 2001, p. 492)

In the earthly fathers invocation of the heavenly Fathers attention, Pasolini


draws our attention to a filial recurrence that is re-projected by the same force with
which Sophocles traps his audience in his tragedies. Ultimately the father is
trapped in the same state of ridicule that he continuously sought to avoid through
his ironic world outlook. This is a tautology bent on itself, an oedipal recurrence
that even goes to suggestalmost by way of blasphemythat the Father-Son
recurrence starts with the heavenly Father who is the only One who has any say or
power over this incestuous cycle. Somehow more than a blasphemy this is a
Pascalian gamble played on the equivalence between the heavenly Father and the
earthly father who is also a son. Thus just as the father is the son, the son is also a
father. On top of this juxtaposition between mortal and immortal fatherhood,
Pasolini adds an Oedipal cycle, where one finds that the heavenly aspect to which
the earthly father resorts is intended to give an eternal character to recurrence. This
larger eternal recurrence could be deemed less Freudian and more Nietszchean in
that it presents us with the transient nature by which the gate of the Moment moves
from one eternal route to another.

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As a moment of the Moment, the mortal earthly fathers prayer to the immortal
heavenly Father also suggests that the fragments by which one writes life could
only be seen (and understood) through the veil of irony but never that of ridicule.
Irony is readily available, accessible for use. But irony is not the same as ridicule.
Irony is a form of critique. It potentially leads to redemption (read as Benjamins
seizing of the present). Ridicule is a way to perdition. It leads to nowhere because
it is lost in the constructs of a past that is never seized. This distinction between
irony and ridicule is very important because it also frames irony in a light that has
nothing to do with the immediate and (sometimes cruel) guises that ridicule takes.
From under the veil of irony, we could write, do and live fragments in a way that
will not simply lead to nothing but add more irony. Unlike ridicule, irony enables
the seizure of the image of redemption that Benjamin casts in the realms of
happiness. In this case, happiness is not temporary; neither is it an elated moment
of short-lived excess. Rather, irony aspires to a longer form of happinessnot
dissimilar to eudaimoniaan understanding of which leads to the possibility of the
irenic and through which the world is understood in the chance that is played
between limitation and possibility.
The recurrence between the ironic and the irenic is made more manifest in
Pasolinis film Uccellacci e Uccellini (Hawks and Sparrows, 1966), where one is
presented with two confluent stories, positioned in different time frames but
conjoined by a recurrence that is reflected forward and backwards, between a
father and son, and an old Franciscan and his young novice and mentee.
In this film, the father and son, Innocenti Tot and Innocenti Ninetto, meet a
talking raven during one of their erratic and hopeless journeys. The raven declares
that he comes from a distant land called Ideology and whose parents were Mr
Doubt and Mrs Conscience. The raven tells Tot and Ninetto the story of Frate
Cicillo and Frate Ninetto, an old monk and a young novice who are ordered by
Saint Francis to evangelise the birds. Frate Cicillo and Frate Ninetto spend a long
time trying to learn how the birds speak and after a long pilgrimage and a lot of
soul-serching they finally reach their objective. They realise that sparrows (the
small birds, the uccellini) could be spoken to by chirping, while the hawks (the big
birds, the uccellacci) communicate between each other using strange leaps and
dances.
At the end of their pilgrimage the two monks realise that although evangelised,
the hawks remain intent on killing and devouring the sparrows. This is catastrophic
to the monks, who in their journey have to come to terms with the tragic relativism
by which love remains in fragments and where Nature presents no picture of
innocence or benignity. This also questions their concept of love. The hawks love
each other as uccellacci as a bigger and stronger species. The meek, small and
weak sparrows do the same. They love each other as a smaller and weaker species.
But when it comes to the larger, plural and diverse species of birds (uccelli) large
and small, uccellacci and uccellini, it is a different story. What you get is mayhem
and violence and there is no love lost between them. Yet the relationship between
Frate Cicillo and Frate Ninetto is characterised by episodes of buffoonery,
affection and a boundless love toward the world as Gods creation. This love
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remains uninterrupted even when the Franciscans irenic passage to understanding


is marred by the irony of its fragmentary ways.
The wider picture of irony becomes more acute when we are taken back to
Tots and Ninettos errant and erratic journey. Though mentored by the wise
words of the raven over every aspect of human lifesexuality, morality, birthcontrol, politics, religion and economicsthe father and his son are so poor and
hungry that they decide to devour the raven. Pasolini explains that the raven
represents Marxist ideology in the 1950s at a stage when it was being superseded.
At the end, the raven had to be eaten. This was the instinct and plan by
which my tale was bound. It had to be eaten because from its standpoint it
fulfilled its tenure. It completed its role. In other words, one could say, it was
past it. One could also say that from the standpoint of its assassins it needed
to be assimilated in terms of the good, which at the very least, its role could
do to humanity (Tot and Ninetto). (Pasolini 1991, p. 126)
Apart from having the most loved comedian in Italy, Antonio de Curtis, (better
known as Tot) as its main protagonist, Pasolinis Uccellacci e Uccellini is
celebrated by how as a work of comedy it delivers the most sensitive account of
empathy and compassion. As in most of his works, Pasolini articulates the human
predicament by writing in fragments. His choice of Tot and Ninetto Davoli as his
main actors is specifically tied to the element of paradox. He chose Tot because
of his double nature. He explains how on one hand Tot represents the
Neapolitan lumpenproletariat, while at the same time he embodied the pure and
simple clown-figure, the undone puppet (burattino snodato). Pasolini argues that in
the film Tot does not present himself as a petit bourgeois, but as a proletarian, a
lumpenproletarian, a worker. By being unaware of history he is oblivious to the
history of the innocent man, not of the petit bourgeois who does not give a hoot
because of his wretched personal and social interests. Pasolini wants to oppose the
figure of Toto to the bourgeois Marxist intellectual. This antagonism is not found
in Tot or the raven-the-intellectual, but is found in all things (nelle cose).
(Pasolini 1991, p. 128)
Pasolinis aim is very clear. I oppose existence with culture, and innocence
with history [Ho opposto esistenza a cultura, innocenza a storia]. In this respect
Ninetto Davoli is equal to Tot. In both of them there is a combination of absolute
monotony and magicality, and between the two characters there is no generational
conflict. The son is a good man like his father. Only the clothes are different.
(1991, p. 129)
Benigni, Breugel and Currin: the cruel, the banal and the obscene
The relationship between irony and the extents of human tragedy recalls another
film, whose protagonist is yet another prominent Italian comedian and director,
Roberto Benigni. Benignis film La Vita Bella (Life is Beautiful, 1997)
represents a most incisive commentary on the tragedy of the holocaust by depicting
human tragedy through the implements of irony, which in its comedic (and never
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WITHIN HAPPINESS

ridiculous) parameters, carries the audience to a deeper understanding of the


obscenity of fascism.
In Benignis La Vita Bella, the irenic is internalised in the boundless love
between Dora, Guido and their son Giosu. This love prevails beyond the horror of
the holocaust in which Guido (played by Benigni) is caught and executed by an SS
guard while attempting to enter the female wing of the camp, dressed as a woman,
to meet his wife. This state of affairs is made more poignant by how Dora
volunteers herself to the camp. Though she was not listed as Jewish (and therefore
of no interest to the Nazi butchers) Dora insists on following Guido and little
Giosu.
La Vita Bella brings together the powers of tragedy and comedy where the
ironic moves in tandem with moments of the irenic; moments of happiness that
prevail over and transcend the anguish and deadly sadness caused by the horrors of
fascism. La Vita Bella deals with fascism first with the sharp tools of irony, by
which the tyranny is shown for what it is and brought to absolute disrepute. Then
the same comedic implements become cathartic in moments where Guido decides
to fight fatalism while hiding the horrible truth from young Giosu, convincing
him that the labour camp was actually a theme park and that they were entering a
competition of hide and seek where the prize is a much coveted armoured tank
(which plays on Giosus favourite toy). This rather controversial mechanism
never denigrates the dignity and remembrance of the victims of the holocaust.
Guido pays the ultimate sacrifice and dies for the happiness and salvation of his
son and wife. The outcome is heartbreaking.
This film fulfils the classic expectations of an art form that intends to redeem its
audience by doing good in the face of the horrendously irrational. The ironic
never moves to the grotesque, and Benigni scrupulously protects the victims of
history. Benigni reserves the grotesque for the perpetrators of the horrors of the
labour camp and their allies. By means of comedic irony Benigni not only
obliterates fascisms cynicism and arrogance, but he also restores the hope of
happiness by turning the moment of the past into irenic moments of human
possibility.
The recurrent moves between the irenic and the ironic could probably be
captured in works of fine artmore specifically in visual workswhere the
condition of contingency comes to immediate focus, shockingly clear and in so
many ways as intimately personal. By the latter I mean that ironically we come to
realise that contingency becomes a universal condition with which we all identify
at a personal level even when we do not know any of the individual details by
which we share it. This goes back to Badious notion of universal singularity,
discussed earlier in this volume.
One notorious example is Peter Breugel the Elders work, known in English as
The Land of Milk and Honey (The Land of Cockaigne, 1567). Breugels depiction
of an impossible utopia is sufficiently punchy to suggest that it is ironic to think of
an irenic state, especially when the attainment of such an irenic state appears to be
marked by laidback and lazy dreaming. In this respect the ethical critique of this

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hope for the irenic is chastised by an array of symbolic cues that are in themselves
an admonition of the easy way.
Of specific interest in Breugel is the observers ability to bypass the need to
acquire the art historians tool and instead make use of what Baxandall (1985) calls
the consumers picture-troc. The consumers trocher ability to barteris the
consumers prerogative where she can respond or not to classes of things that
have been made by the artist even when there is no sufficient knowledge of the
work except for ones own observations. (p. 48) Although Baxandall is discussing
Picasso and what could have been his brief when he painted his Portrait of
Daniel Henry Kahnweiler (1910), in my relationship with Breugels work as
Breugels consumer, I can barter his perusal of irony, just as I would do with
Benignis or Pasolinis representation of the predicaments of ideology. In bartering
my predicament as an observer of other peoples predicaments, I can recognise
irony through the universal character of human contingency, as this is captured in a
work of art, a play or a film. Even by way of a cursory, immediate and very
uninformed appreciation of Breugels or Benignis work, I partake of the ironic
social commentary by which they capture everyones imagination beyond the
historical, cultural or even epistemological limitations by which we approach
works of art.
Could we then argue that the ironic facilitates the bartering of meaning, by
which we are invited to consider happiness and to some extents weigh the value of
the irenic?
Another set of works that I consider as open to such bartering, are John
Currins. Here the ironic is not simply facilitated by the caricaturised social and
cultural deformities of the artists subjects, but the ironic is also bent on a
figurative style that could be attributed to an influence from classical Flemish art.
The latter attribution is mainly given to Currins elongated nudes; works like Pink
Tree (1999) and The Go See (1999). Yet this attribution may or may not be more
important than the intention that emerges from Currins work as an act of ironic
social commentary. The banal gestures and stylised positioning of his nudes
already suggest something odd going on with figures that retain a certain 20th and
21st century look even when unclothed and strangely figured and staged as if they
were posing for Memling or Cranach. This irony remains intrinsic to the form,
which is best illustrated in other works by Currin where his Memling-like figures
are garbed in contemporary clothing; suggesting another narrative which may well
be interpreted as a commentary on the ideal (read irenic) attributes which we give
to a certain puritan slant in 16th and 17th century Flemish and German art.
I hesitate to suggest that there is a play on the protestant character of these
works. However I would hasten to add that I read this as an ironic commentary on
the puritan recapitulation of the desired irenic stages of beauty and goodness by
which art is expected to make the world look and feel delectable. This recalls the
protestant ethic and its aesthetic expectations. In Currins case one is never sure
whether this is really an issue, but surely his work does recall a certain waspish
New England streak in reverse. The predominance of white middle class subjects is
presented as a statement for radical scrutiny. Currins visual commentary on
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WITHIN HAPPINESS

streaky bodies and plasticized add-ons (such as surgically enhanced breasts and
blatant images of genitalia) present a critical commentary of identifiable forms of
social and economic conventions by which the body doubles as an object of
ridicule. And yet those ridiculed are all too familiar to ignore. This puts the puritan
recollection of Memling and Cranach immediately out of joint, especially in those
works by Currin depicting artificially stylized and banal sexual scenes, as in
Trouville (2007) and The Women of Franklin St. (2009).
In Currins Stamford After Brunch (2000) and Thanksgiving (2003), we are left
with a taste of an ironized reinterpretation of an irenic desire that somehow goes
wrong by the fact that contingency creeps in and leaves no space for the assumed
perfection and presumed innocence by which Cranachs Three Graces (1535) or
Memlings Vanity (1485) are meant to come acrossat least in the eyes of a 21st
century audience, and more so, as read alongside Currins nudes.
* * *
Rorty sets three conditions for the definition of an ironist:
(1) She has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary she
currently uses, because she has been impressed by other vocabularies,
vocabularies taken as final by people or books she has encountered; (2) she
realizes that argument phrased in her present vocabulary can neither
underwrite nor dissolve these doubts; (3) insofar as she philosophizes about
her situation, she does not think that her vocabulary is closer to reality than
others, that it is in touch with power not herself. (1990, p. 73)
The terms by which ironists describe themselves are always subject to change,
of which they are always aware. Ironists are always aware of the contingency and
fragility of their final vocabularies; and thus of their selves. (1990, p. 73) The
works that we have discussed evidence this awareness. In the case of the arts,
vocabularies are always challenged and we see this not only in the very case by
which one could engageperhaps endlessly and uselesslyover Currins
Flemish style, but more so in the works of Benigni and Pasolini where it is not
just the storyline that attests to the awareness of contingency, but more palpably
the work of art as a political state of affairs.

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PART III.
IMPASSE AS REVOLUTION

The coincidence of the changing of circumstances and of human activity or


self-changing can be conceived and rationally understood only as
revolutionary practice.

KARL MARX

CHAPTER 9

CULTURES LEARNING

I denounce all those


who ignore the other half,
the irredeemable half ()
Federico Garcia Lorca, New York (Office and Denunciation)
(2002, p. 131)
As I attempt to understand how the ironic and irenic converge in defiance of each
other within a work of art, two works come to mind: Joseph Beuyss La
Rivoluzione siamo noi! (We are the revolution, 1972) and Maurizio Cattelans
work with the same title (2000). While it could be argued that Cattelans adoption
of the same title is itself an ironic jest, one must seek to understand his actual
critique in his double take on (a) Beuyss work per se; and (b) Beuyss critique of a
fixed notion of revolution.
Beuyss original title is an absolute ironic statement. I say absolute because any
equivocation that it might raise is part and parcel of the ironic strategy that the
work manifests. As argued earlier, Beuyss La Rivoluzione siamo noi! comments
on the irenic utopias assumed by the narratives of revolution and their
appropriation. More so, it puts in question, or rather resumes the question over the
efficacy and truthfulness of historic change, and particularly who or what is the
agency of such change. What is a revolution? Who makes it? What actual changes
do revolutions cause? Given that like Goyas Saturn (1820/3) revolutions tend to
devour their own offspring, one cannot avoid the question: Where do revolutions
go wrong? And do all revolutions go wrong? Do they all devour their offspring?
But more importantly, where do revolutions get it right and could one conceive a
history without revolutionsbe they violent or peaceful?
Pretty much like Breugels Land of Milk and Honey Beuyss work takes off in
full ironic form. But unlike Breugels, Beuyss work is not crowded at all. He is
the only protagonist. He depicts himself and signs off the print with a slogan, in
Italian: La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi! The comment is historical. It is organic. It
bears the hallmarks of an utterance said with conviction that also takes on a
necessary cynical view while claiming back the revolution on our behalf. In turn,
Cattelans double take is found in how he suspends an effigy of himself wearing
Beuyss felt-suit on a coat hanger; as if he is saying that given we are the
revolution then we could hang it away at leisure. Beuyss original ownershiphis
take on the revolutionnow belongs to Cattelan. Like a good revolutionary

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Cattelan expropriates Beuys. In effect he takes Beuys to his word: what one does
with oneself (qua the Revolution) is ones own business.
However, Beuys and Cattelans appropriation of the revolution cannot be
reducible to a game of ironic statements. Neither do their works dismiss the
awaited happiness by which, in history, women and men confront the contingency
of the human condition and in appropriating it, they confront the tyrannies that
revolutions were meant to overthrow. Just as revolutions are not a matter for
speculation, one finds no levity in these works of art. Though these works take
forms that may appear to ridicule the obvious, they must be read from within a
cultural context where the audiences right to barter arts meaning is tempered by
its awareness of a horizon of language games taking turns in superseding each
other. Language games, we are told by Wittgenstein (1989), are forms of life. As
these forms of life are exchanged, what is at stake is more than just a game of
words or phrases.
Cattelans works are particularly full of cultural references without which they
often dont make sense. Like language games they take us to task and deny the
myths of privatised languages. Good examples are Novecento (1997) and Ave
Maria (2007), both of which relate in title and references to specific political
contexts, playing the sinister on the benign, making the obvious look ridiculous
while what is manifest is never so simple even though arts presence is blaring and
obvious. Key to these works is a political culture and its peculiar traditions, as
these emerge in the Italy of the early and mid 1900s. Somehow these works recall
the infant modernity, which, as discussed in the first chapters of this volume, were
laid bare by the politics of aesthetics articulated by the historic avant-garde. I
would dare suggest that what Boccioni left behind, Cattelans work tends to recall,
rearticulate and somehow vindicate with the benefit of a centurys hindsight.
Undoubtedly, Beuys and Cattelans art is serious business. Its ironic turn on a
possible irenic state relies on a struggle manifested within and outside art. These
artists both refer to arts Canon, only to move out of the sphere of influence that a
Canon would purport. Recalling my earlier discussion of the Canon, I would argue
that Beuys and Cattelan neither dismiss nor confirm the Canon while somehow
their work would make no sense outside canonicity. Their work is a great example
of defiance towards any anxiety of influence, thus embracing canonicity only to
reappropriate new artistic and political spaces for themselves, their work and for us
as their audience.
Nevertheless for these artists art remains an excuse that exonerates itself and its
inevitable canonicity. They do so by taking upon themselves subjects that are
bigger than any work of art or artist could carry. Just like all his other works,
Cattelans take on Beuys is an invitation for a move from our part; just as Beuyss
work did half a century before. Any move from our part recurs by the knowledge
of arts troc. Clearly Cattelan and Beuyss works remain open to bartering. They
barter history, artworks, traditions, canons, and revolutions. Most of all they barter
phrases. Culturally speaking, arts troc inhabits the same horizon by which myriad
phraseologies retain a place in the narratives of struggle.

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STRUGGLE AND THE QUANDARY OF CULTURAL STUDIES

Taking leave of art for a moment, one could see how words like culture,
humanism, polity and pedagogy inherently hold gravitas by resort to
phraseologies of struggle that are in turn configured and identified with specific
constituencies such as those of radical philosophy, critical theory, progressive
education, and critical pedagogy. These constituencies in turn foreshadow another
set of words, like the social, social justice, democracy, liberty and
equality. These words become emblematic of a teleological ground on which
theory is expected to intervene and reveal human history against the backdrop of
the worlds causality. Not unlike Beuys and Cattelans works, these words expect
us to make something out of them because in simply uttering such words one
subscribes to a normative order that calls for some form of action. Even more than
a performative assumption, this action confirms that these words construct and
reside within a cultural agn where a political struggle takes place.
The idea of struggle is not limited to a form of militancy as found in the old
formula of the political party or in the activism of an artist or educator. Neither
should one limit theory to a contemplative process where one is expected to
critically reconstruct human thinking without departing from the predicaments of
theory itself. Any critical theorist would argue that the intervention to reveal the
world should be an intervention to construct it; and therefore to put in effect a
critique that grapples with the formulaic and performative questions that still
besiege the problematic relationship between theory and practice.
A shysters trick
Almost a decade ago, terms like New Humanism and Third Way Discourses
gained some presence through Cultural Studies as derivatives of political and
social theory.22 Although one must not dismiss such debates, one cannot help
notice that neo-humanist arguments often reinforce the same ill-fated quandaries
by which Cultural Studies has been shaped over its development as an academic
discipline. These quandaries take their lineage from the dilemma that emerges
between the reality of historic contingency on the one hand and the teleological
and productive concepts of a foundational culture (as Bildung) on the other, which
Cultural Studies seems to have sidelined by insisting on developing itself on the
corollaries of social scientific methodology and their ensuing epistemological
economy.
Long before Cultural Studies was coined as a term, this quandary was already
prefigured by Marxs critique of popular materialism; a critique that Adorno

22
See for example the debate on new humanism in Gibson et al 2004. While under the aegis of new
humanism we find a disparate and often contradictory discussion, a crop of texts arose around Tony
Blairs so-called third way politics, which reflect Giddenss work (1998, 2000, 2001). A critique of
the third way is found in Callinicos 2001, Newman and De Zoysa 2001 and Williams 2002. On a
discussion of third way discourses see Bastow and Martin 2003.

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captures in his own commentary on the sociology of knowledge: A dialectical


theory is boundlike Marxs, largelyto be immanent even if in the end it
negates the whole sphere it moves in. (1990, p. 197) Adornos critique of the
sociology of knowledge is not that far from any critique that one could level at
Cultural Studies. In so many ways, Cultural Studies comes across the same limits
of the sociology of knowledge in that it fails to uphold the immanence by which
the dialectical approach could take on philosophy. A sociology of knowledge fails
before philosophy: for the truth content of philosophy it substitutes its social
function and its conditioning by interests, while refraining from a critique of that
content itself, remaining indifferent towards it. (1990, p. 197)
This state of affairs is easily identified in the methods that permeate the study of
education, art and culture where more often than not Adorno is cited as an adopted
mentor. Yet as art, culture and education slide into social scientific positivism,
Adornos critique is mostly forgotten:
A sociology of knowledge () denies not only the objective structure of
society but the idea of objective truth and its cognition. To this sociologyas
to the type of positivist economics to which its founder Pareto belonged
society is nothing but the average value of individual reactive modes. The
doctrine of ideology turns back into a doctrine of subjective idols, similar to
the early bourgeois one; in fact this is a shysters trick to get rid of
materialist dialectics as a whole, along with philosophy. (1990 p. 198 my
emphasis)
In contemporary academia the shyster is not the Arts Education or Cultural Studies
student who seeks to understand the nuances behind particular visual cultural
phenomena; nor is it the artist who is taken by the convictions of those who claim
to identify visual culture in its specificity; nor the educator who wants to
understand the immanence of formativity beyond the schooled discourses of
accountability and standardization. Rather, the shyster has become institutionalised
in the way academia reifies the methods of art, learning and culture into schooled
methodologies that reject the immanence that give them objectivity. In the
obsession with the economics of educational accountability and performative
applicability, universities have become the Mecca for an economics of knowledge
that is all too quickly assumed within a verifiable rubric which, in claiming to have
found its truth value on the grounds of practice, fact and objectivity, fails to
understand the dialectical nature of arts practice, the formative relationships that
animate learning, and more importantly the political parameters that hegemonize
culture.23
This state of affairs invariably misses the point when it comes to engage with
culture, and patently fails to suggest or utter anything on how or why art and more

23
For my critique of the social scientific morass on art, education and aesthetics education see my
Education Beyond Education (Baldacchino 2009a).

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so education must recognise their teleological and productivist predicaments by


seeking to supersede them not only philosophically but more so politically.24
Tlos and production
The study of art and learning sits right at the centre of the quandaries that define
culture. To define culture as a formative horizon is well and good, but as discussed
in previous chapters, by their political nature the arts must reject any teleological
imposition that would instrumentalize them or their consequences (as in the case of
Arts Education). This rejection is best articulated in debates on the politics of
aesthetics; more specifically in the historical debates that emerged on the Left,
especially those between Brecht, Lukcs, Adorno, Bloch and Benjamin, where the
question of realism and more specifically the idea of arts construction of reality
elicited antagonistic interpretations and positions. (Adorno et al., 2002)
Yet amidst all this discord and debate, arts role in the construction of reality
can never be considered outwith the cultural agn where the arts are propelled by a
distinctly formative trajectory. On this formative (and therefore, educational) route,
a distinct pedagogy of culture emerges from an equally distinct political sphere. In
this respect, any discourse or discussion of art, learning and culture is somewhat
anchored within the quandaries of humanism.
Humanism always animates theory by an ethical responsibility to critique the
world. This is directly pledged on what Georg Lukcs identifies as men and
womens teleological projects. Lukcss lifelong political project was animated
by a bold and sincerely radical philosophical expectation that such projects would
humanize our relationship with the world through active forms of critical
participation with its causal facts (and effects).
Production as it occurs in labour consists of course in the labourer setting
himself a teleological aim that he plans to realize. In this way something
completely new can come into being. () There is essentially no such thing
as a wheel in nature as we know it, whereas men came to produce the wheel
at a relatively early stage in their development. The nature of the teleological
project is such that, with the help of the knowledge of causal series, it allows
these precise causal series in nature to act on one another in a different
combination than would have occurred without the teleological project.
However the existing causal relationships can only be known and applied;
they can never be altered. (Lukcs, 1974, p. 74)
According to Lukcs this teleological intent (and the expected consequence of
equality, emancipation, freedom and social justice) relies on a unity between
human activity and nature, where human teleological projects would ultimately
measure up with the causality of nature. In view of Lukcss appraisal of Hegels

24
I discuss the teleological and productivist predicament of art and education in my essay What lies
beyond the Bauhaus? (Baldacchino 2009c)

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identity of identity and non-identity (Lukcs 1974, p.73), a teleological intent


must be dialectical in both method and expectation. Humans are seen to measure
up with causality by fulfilling the potentials that they rationally recognise in nature.
Lukcs was careful to stand for this formula as a way of denouncing the danger of
irrationalism, which, accordingly, a teleological position should implicitly
preclude. Yet Lukcs fails to recognise the flip side of his teleological take on
production where in effect the teleology of production (as a humanisation of
natures causality) also leaves us in serious predicaments. Unlike Lukcs, Adorno
comes to this from the other end of the spectrum of productionthat of
unleashingfrom which he does not shy away but takes it on as a factor within the
dialectical state of affairs that characterize the immanence of production:
There is a passage in [Marxs] Das Kapital: As a fanatic of value utilization,
the exchange value ruthlessly compels mankind to produce for productions
sake. On the spot this strikes the fetish which the barter society makes of the
production process; beyond that, however, it violates the presently universal
taboo against doubting production as an end in itself. There are times when
the technological forces, while scarcely impeded socially, work in fixed
conditions without exerting much influence on those conditions. The
unleashing of forces no sooner parts with the sustaining human relations than
it comes to be as fetishized as the orders. Unleashing, too, is but an element
of dialectics, not its magic formula. (1990 p. 307)
The quandary of teleology does not arise from its origin in metaphysics in a
grammatical sense, but from the problematic of history as a contingent state of
affairs. Without valuing the latter, one could never articulate the meaning of
immanence; nor would it be possible to articulate or describe the fullness of a
dialectical correlation between what appears to be an immediate unleashing and
what could desirably imply a form of mediation between the here and now and
what might be perceived as a set of projected or desirable aims in the manner of a
tlos, an aimed objective. If (particularly after Hegel) humanism came to iterate
history (rather than Aristotles matter) as the ground over which potentiality and
actuality would articulate human fulfilment, an even more crucial question for us
remains: How could a teleological structure sustain, defend, or reject the notion of
an end-objective to our historical pragmatics? The only answer that makes this
viable is the contingency that characterized historyi.e. the historical contingency
by which we continue to project, negotiate, change and rearticulate our transient
end-objectives.
Adorno (1990) remarks that it would be too simple to argue that [p]eriods of
harmony with the world spirit, of a happiness more substantial than the
individuals, [are] associated with the unleashing of productive forces, while the
burden of the world spirit threatens to crush men as soon as their forces and the
social forms they exist under come into flagrant conflict. Rather, he sees an
affinity between the unleashing of productive forces and the violent domination of
nature. The relationship is dialectical and even if temporarily that domination may

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recede, () the concept of productive force is not thinkable without it, and even
less that of an unleashed productive force. (p. 306)
Often (and mistakenly) some assume that the criticality that emerges from the
study of culture has been precluded by the advent of post-structuralism. Yet as we
turn to contemporary discussions over the implications of art, learning and culture,
we cannot avoid the context that moved Adorno and Lukcs to take an opposed
approach to history and production. Rather than try to give philosophical or
political credence to one at the expense of the other, I suggest that this opposed
positioning provides us with other ways by which a pedagogy of culture could
retain criticality and avoid the predicaments of the social scientific positivism that
stymies the study of art, education and culture.
Culture beyond Bildung
This is where the argument might appear to be parting ways with the humanist
project. Yet what is more the case is that the process by which humanism has been
hitherto argued must be turned on its head because no humanist project could gain
legitimacy unless the definition of culture is severed from the benign contraptions
of Bildung as a foundationalist image of culture. Whether one subscribes to
humanism or not, this severance is necessary because as Adorno (1990) reminds
us, no theory today escapes the marketplace and to that effect no argument for
culture as a context for the critical is immune from being swallowed by the
functionalism that the marketplace represents.
The severance of culture from Bildung distances the notion of culture from the
functionalist predicaments by which the study of art, culture and education is
reduced to a set of issues that make a lot of noise and elicit a good deal of passion,
but which fall short of being politically (let alone pedagogically) effective. As we
have seen above, this predicament is no different from that of the sociology of
knowledge and popular materialism, which Adorno dismisses as amateurish
explications of the world. (1990, p. 197) For the study of culture and an
engagement with the cultural condition of the arts and learning to begin, the safe
dialectical grounds of history and human intervention must be substituted by the
unleashing of the unpredictable force of production that is marked by its own
contingency and for which no direct justification could be made in terms of either
Aristotelian entelechy or Hegelian dialectic.
This is learnt from Adorno but never from Lukcs. Lukcs would reject what
Hullot-Kentor (1989, p. xvii) identifies in Adornos later writings, where the
critique of a false immediacy, a false nature, has as its intention a true immediacy,
a new nature, but dialectically through the greatest distance from it. For Lukcs
this would represent a disruption of the dialectical credence of a teleological
project that could never accept immediacy as a signifier of mediationparticularly
in the aesthetic context, which is what Hullot-Kentor alludes to. Hullot-Kentors
explanation that for Adorno, a realm of immediacy is shown to be merely
tactical, (ibid.) also clarifies how the notion of the unleashing which appears as
a false immediacy, tactically turns out to be the only possibility left to avoid the
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fetish of immediacy. This operational logic would be completely alien to Lukcss


linking of the dialectic with that of men and womens teleological projects.
Yet without the unleashing there is no culture to be spoken of. Also, without
the tactical recognition of the contingent climes of this unleashing, art and
learning would be reduced to instruments made accountable to the grounded
structures of institutional programmes. By contrast, art and learning must be
positioned within the tactical fold between a false immediacy and a new one,
where the texture of unleashing begins to confirm the tactical discourse of
culture. This discourse invites us to recognize culture as a meeting of rupturing
events where our pedagogical, critical and aesthetic undertakings begin to inhabit
other spaces; critical spaces that are not simply antithetical to a fixed system but as
third spaces where theory escapes the marketplace (an escape that neither
Cultural Studies nor Arts Education have yet realized).
Here pedagogy and critique come nearer to the whereabouts of the khra, as a
space that rejects the marketplace and as an agn that must ultimately deschool
society. Khra is a third genre-gender (triton ghenos), often assumed as a space of
possibility.25 As we have already argued earlier in this volume, as an agn this
space portends a pedagogy that is not merely a technical tool, but which embodies
a fortiori the summation of learning as a process of arguing.
LAICIT AND THIRD WAY DISCOURSE

Though Tony Blairs much heralded third way has somewhat vanished from the
political radar (mostly by being overshadowed by a dubious and rather catastrophic
foreign policy), we must always distance third way discourses from the
predicaments of Blairs politics. There are several reasons for this, one of which is
the history of the term itself. It is essential to retrace both the term and usage of the
third way in order to reclaim and restore the space and polity that originally gave
it legitimacy. In fact one finds that third way discourses are rooted (in their
divergent origins and intentions) in the problematic of teleology and the ensuing
humanist contexts of critique and social responsibility, and not in Blairs expedient
attempt to claim to have founded a new political tradition, which, I would argue,
could be traced back to Eduard Bernstein. As the then leader of the French
Socialists, Lionel Jospin, rightly remarked in 1999, what Blair called the third
way has long been established by European social democracy. One must not
forget that a third way between continental socialism and liberalism has always
characterized the British Labour movement, especially through the labouritegradualist character of Fabianism, which Blairs New Labour happily exploited
as a platform, but which it never really clarified in view of what was new about
the politics purported by Blair and his allies within the Party. Furthermore, third

25
See Jacques Derridas discussion of the khra in his Khra (Derrida 1993), particularly pp. 30ff
where he elaborates Platos notion of the khra as triton ghenos which allows the dynamic of a third
genre (understood as both manner and gender) to be played around the notions of space, possibility,
but also manner and sexuality.

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way discourses are as much bound to discourse and theory as they are rooted in
organisational and political strategies.
In other words, third way discourses are very much rooted in the notion of
praxis, where organisational strategies in politics become intrinsic to the
philosophical horizons that articulate them. Like the School, the Judiciary or the
State, a political Party (with a capital P) has a direct bearing on how we as citizens
of the polis and as consumers in the marketplace, play our roles within the dynamic
relationship between critique and social responsibility. This dynamic relationship
belongs to philosophy, where what we think and dowhat ultimately becomes our
praxisis formative, cultural and therefore political.
Gramsci (1975a, p. 27) asks: What is philosophy? Is it a purely receptive or at
best, a categorizing activity, or is it completely creative? As a creative act,
philosophy pertains to a thought in constant change. This change is attendant to the
desires and needs of the many, as that major number (maggior numero) to which
reality belongsin that it (reality) is the construct of the many; the construct of the
citizens; our construct. Here one could remark that unlike the sociology of
knowledge, or a social scientific construct, philosophy cannot be self-indulgent. It
remains anchored to the forms of reasoning by which the many see to it that it
remains historical (and, I would add, contingency-aware). Gramsci argues that the
historicity of philosophy is bound in this way to express itself as a critical action
that cannot afford to be ideologically fixed.
Keeping this concept of philosophy in mind, it is interesting to note how
Gramsci assesses the success or failure of the political party. He argues that while a
sectarian assessment would consider the immediacies of internal strife as a gauging
of the political partys success or failure, the historian would put priority over the
real efficiency of the party, its determining force, both positive and negative [and]
on how [the party] contributes to the creation of an event as well as how it is
capable of impeding other events from happening. (Gramsci, 1975b pp. 2728)
Gramscis work is essential to any understanding of third way politics and its
consequent discourses. This is because the notion of a third way as consequently
adopted in mainland Europe widely anticipates (and was radically different from)
Blairs adoption of Anthony Giddenss take on social democracy by almost four
decades. Also, this narrative of a third way is more to the Left of social democracy
than Blair or Giddens would care to admit. The roots of the radical undertaking of
a third way that specifically called itself by that name go back to the late 1960s and
1970s where the New Left and its consequent influences on (and from) EuroCommunism emerged in Europe as a democratic alternative to the dual entrapment
of capitalism and state communism, while seeking to remain distinct from socialdemocracy. This political movement emerged from a combination of philosophical
debates that arose from the revaluation of works like Gramscis Prison Notebooks,
Lukcss History and Class Consciousness and Sartres Critique of Dialectical
Reason (to mention just three canonical texts) and the historical backdrop of
student riots, Soviet invasions, the Vietnam war and fascist coups in Latin
America, notably in Chile.

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When, in 1982, the then general secretary of the Communist Party of Italy (PCI)
Enrico Berlinguer made his Third Way speech to the Central Committee, he
asked the question: In what respect do we say third phase, or third way? His
answer was unequivocally Gramscian:
It is obvious (although one still needs to reiterate this in view of
misunderstandings that still hang around) that it [the third way] has nothing
to do with finding a way between socialism and capitalism. It is to go beyond
capitalism as we have it in its present state in the industrialised and
developed West; which we need to supersede by constructing a socialism that
is realised and safeguarded by those democratic freedoms we have already
achieved and by their subsequent development. (Berlinguer 1984, pp.201)
This third way vision comes straight from a Gramscian perspective. In 1977
Berlinguer offers his reading of Gramscis work and argues that to become truly
democratic, the State cannot be an ideological State, but secular. It cannot be
the exclusive and direct projection of a [political] party, but a reality that is
distinct from [political] parties and which guarantees freedom of decision and
expression. More importantly, Berlinguers strategy was not bound by the myth of
imminent historical causality for which a teleological formula would have to be
found. (Berlinguer, 1985 p. 283)
Already in the early 1970s Berlinguer argues that a secular position would not
only and solely defend and guarantee the secular nature (laicit) of the State, but
also the secular nature of politics. He gives the example of a position taken by a
Christian who is active in a secular political partythat is, a party unlike what was
then the (also now defunct) Christian Democratic Party (DC). Even as a Christian,
a member of a secular political party like the PCI could still draw a distinction
between personal faith and political conviction. In other words, Berlinguer
predicted a scenario where a Catholic would find more fulfilment in a secular party
like the PCI than within the DCs privileging of the Churchs social doctrines.
Equally secular would be the act of a non-believer who has his own philosophical
convictions but does not expect these convictions to be enshrined in the State or
the Party. Berlinguer concludes that while the old secularism is sectarian and thus
divisive; this laicit provides a foundation for a new culture, a new partnership,
and a new unity of political position[ing] and a convergence within political and
social action. (Tat, 1985 p. 211)
THE PROBLEM OF EMANCIPATION

Third way discourses have other origins. They are trajectories that operate on
intellectual grounds outside (although, to an extent, in parallel with) the political
Party. These discourses have gained other (and to my mind, better) value in the
hands of philosophers like Lyotard whose relevance to the discourse of culture is
indispensable, especially when it comes to dispel the spectre of postmodernism.
Lyotards own take on a philosophical laicit could assist us in revisiting

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emancipation and how it inhabits the differential spaces between political


strategies, critical praxis and education.
Lyotard: struggle as diffrend
In Lyotards 1982 essay Pierre Souyri: Le Marxisme qui na pas fini (Pierre
Souyri: The Marxism that has not come to an end26) what he calls the diffrend of
living is recognised in a state of affairs where it becomes critical for philosophy
and more so political philosophy to adopt a way out of endless and repetitious
cycles of dialectical clichs. I want to single out two aspects of Lyotards essay
that warrant direct citation: the first being plurality, the second dealing with praxis.
The drift which separated me from Souyri made me measure the extent to
which a diffrend is not a contradiction, even in the dialectical materialist
sense. For our diffrend did not, in my eyes, affect mutually exclusive
propositions which could each still be expressed by dialectical logic, and
which that logic was supposed to synthesize. The alteration affected that
logic itself. Perhaps reality did not obey one unique language, I told myself;
or rather and this was worse the obstacle was not that there could exist
several languages in reality, for after all, languages are translatable into one
another, and their multiplicity so little hinders the universality of meaning
that the translatability of an expression is instead the touchstone of that
universality. No, the multiplicity that constituted an obstacle to dialectical
logic has to be analogous to the one that distinguishes the genre of
discourses. (Lyotard 1988a pp. 523, my emphases)
()
This thing that I call here the diffrend bears in the Marxist tradition a
well-known name which gives rise to many misunderstandings; it is that of
practice and praxis, the name par excellence that theoretical thought
misinterprets. Souyri was not mistaken; he was not confusing Marx with
Hegel. If there exists a class practice, and if at the same time the concept does
not give rise to practice, it is because universality cannot be expressed in
words, unless it be unilaterally. The roles of the protagonists of history are
not played out in a single genre or discourse. Capital, which claims to be the
universal language, is, by that very fact, that which reveals the multiplicity of
untranslatable idioms. Between these latter and the law of value, the diffrend
cannot be resolved by speculation or in ethics; it must be resolved in
practice, in what Marx called critical practice, in an uncertain struggle
against the party which claims to be the judge. (Lyotard 1988a, pp. 612, my
emphases)

26
This essay is translated and published in English as an Afterward to Peregrinations under the
curious title A memorial of Marxism: For Pierre Souyri. See Lyotard 1988a.

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Lyotard gives the notion of struggle a different context, where critical practice is
bound by an uncertainty that is implicit to its own certainty. This chiasmic ordering
pertains to a state of affairs where a diffrend is not a simple divergence precisely
to the extent that its object cannot enter into the debate without modifying the rules
of that debate. (Lyotard 1988a, p. 49) Lyotards context is specific to the
question: How could the means of expression known as Marxism put itself into
play and debate about itself as though it were just one content among others?
(ibid.) Lyotards various ways of answering these questions in his essay also imply
a way of opening the notion of praxis by distancing it from the teleological traps
that neutralise universality. This kind of neutrality is an external attribution that is
more analogous than real. This is because universality cannot be expressed in
words and the condition for that to happen lies in the act of being essentially
unilateral. Lyotard moves the agency of the diffrend from what makes it as such
(i.e. a diffrend and not just a difference), to a form of struggle that is marked by
its own uncertainty.
If a third way is true to itself as other than a mere alternative to a first or second
way, it cannot be a merely constructed middle, a sort of neither-nor. The very term
third is somehow ambiguous and therefore limiting. However the notion of a
third alternative is surely characterised by a strategy that is moved by a number of
diffrends that cannot be merely addressed as a mechanistic form of alterity. The
subsequent commonality between such diffrends also emerges as a strategic remit.
A third way is primarily besieged by what characterizes it as such: an ambiguity
that cannot be resolved by speculation or in ethics. Its remit is that of the
diffrends that make it. This is because it is not merely acknowledging a difference
that has to be fought on a level playingfield, but it pertains to a short-circuiting of
the same system that gives rise to the diffrend as such.
Laclau: ungrounded emancipation
At face value this would confirm the classic case of a dialectical logic positively
construed as a synthesizing continuum of theses and antitheses. Yet, as Lyotard
argues in the case of his dispute with Marxism, the alteration affect[s] that logic
itself. Again the quandary of a straight-laced dialectic is not afforded to a third
thesis. The Party becomes a surrogate form of Bildung. In other words its culture
becomes foundational. It morphs into a closed hierarchical species where a
formative dialectic is expected to resolve difference, whether it pertains to the
economy, society, art, learning or culture. Yet, as history confirms, a political Party
that is assumed as Bildung is implicitly paralysed by its own logic. The case is the
same for any other formative ground, such as the School, the Judiciary, Parliament,
and the State. Even when these formative grounds arise from traditions of freedom,
social justice, tolerance and democracy, their propulsive drive is stalled by their
foundationalist logic of emancipation. This is because, as Ernesto Laclau (1996a p.
6) puts it emancipation means at one and the same time radical foundation and
radical exclusion; that is, it postulates, at the same time, both a ground of the social
and its impossibility.
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Elsewhere, Laclau reveals a similar quandary with regards to toleration. He


argues that when we try to think of the category of toleration, we are confronted
with two vanishing points: if we try to ground it in itself, without any reference to
its contents, it becomes its oppositeintolerance; if we try to ground it in norm or
content different from itself, it dissolves as a meaningful category. The solution to
the deadlock is not to try to do away with this aporia, but in inverting the
assumptions on which both (inadequate) attempts at solution were based. (Laclau
1996b, p. 51)
Laclaus approach is not dissimilar from Lyotards indication that any
dialectical synthesiswhether it is speculative or ethicalbecomes insufficient.
This is because traditionally, formative struggles for justice and emancipation have
tried to trace back and reverse consequences of injustice or inequality. Yet such
reversal has been shown to be insufficient and transitory with the result of a
stronger hegemony that precludes any attempt to reform. In other words, the
synthesis expected of emancipatory polities failed to consolidate and what we got
is a politics of alternate parts but never an alternative.27 Like tolerance, alternatives
have multiple, yet vanishing, points. The adoption of such alternatives by the
formation of new Parties is often not effective because the political endeavour
(albeit reformist and progressive) remains locked within the logic of alternate
parts.28
This is where the scenario of the diffrend emerges as another ground; as
another space that is found only by way of doing away with the fixtures of a causal
chain. It is something akin to what Gillian Rose identified as finding the world
anew, but only facetiously. (1992 p. 116)

27
In Latinate languages, the distinction between the Italian alternanza and alternativa or the French
alternance and alternative is much more tangible. This distinction remains very much in use in
political speak, as evidenced during the 2007 Italian general elections and the French presidential
elections. Alternanza is a noun but also an act of alternate parts, while alternativa is more or less the
same as alternative in English. Alternanza implies a passive change where a course of events is
expected to alternate between x and y. Alternativa is active and places x and y in direct, critical
opposition.
28
An interesting example of this scenario is the development of the Democratic Party, Partito
Democratico (PD) in the aftermath of the 2007 elections in Italy. This marked the historic end of the
remnants of the old PCI that survived in the then renamed party, Democratici della Sinistra (the
Democrats of the Left). The PD also left behind it a rickety alliance of leftist parties consisting of
communists, radicals, environmentalists and many other dissenting factions. The emergence of the
PD also confirms what Laclau (2005) identifies as the political logics triggered by chains of
equivalences that bring together what seem to be unlikely alliances and new political formations.
Laclaus re-evaluation of populism from the position of Left challenges many anti-populist
assumptions that have paralysed the Left for decades. The logic that Laclau presents is the
culmination of his workfrom his and Mouffes Hegemony and Socialist Strategy (1985) to his
debate with Slavoj Zizek and Judith Butler (2000).

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KHRA AND THE PEDAGOGY OF CULTURE

One could argue that the juncture between art, learning and culture can enunciate
this other ground. In moving within the interstices of other disciplines, Arts
Education and Cultural Studies could offer an alternative science, an alternative
philosophy, or even alternative works of art. However, just like another take on the
sociology of knowledge, in its various attempts to establish itself as a legitimised
academic subject the reification of the study of art, education and culture finds
itself adopted as a methodology of alternate parts. This reification privileges an
issues-based approach, taking in what others leave behind. It is incapable of
being distinct, as if it drifts away from one subject or another. To take Cultural
Studies as a typical example, those who are less sympathetic to it as a discrete
discipline often deem it a hotchpotch or the work of a band of academics not sure
of their identity. Those on the sympathetic front would see it as a melting pot of
forms of inquiries that challenge academia.
This may well be enough to argue that the ambiguity of the approach taken by
Cultural Studies is its strength. There is an argument to be made for this discipline
to be a third space between the scientific and the artistic, the empirical and the
speculative, the functionalist and the humanist, etc. However this is insufficient,
even if we were to argue strongly for Cultural Studies as engaging with third way
discourses. As a pedagogical programme, the study of art, culture and learning
needs to be effective in rebutting the teleological quandaries by which an issuesbased platform is trapped.
The ambiguity of Cultural Studies might belong to the immediacy by which it is
read, greeted or rejected. Pedagogically speaking the ambiguous is essential to the
rational recognition of the need to learn x or y. However, when x is and is not y, the
role of ambiguity must also be recognised by the fact that we are rational beings
who claim the right to be ambiguous. Being drawn into the complexity of
ambiguity is part of a human and rational ambition. While old humanists might
want to make it their task to sort out the ambiguity, new humanists may well see
this as an integral part of the human construction of the world. But beyond any
doubt, all humanists alike know that we cannot abdicate from reason and to that
effect ambiguity cannot be relegated to the tautologies of relativism. This is where
humanism cannot concede to mere self-indulgent games.
To further the discussion, I refer back to an earlier discussion where I begin to
suggest how pedagogy and critique come to pertain to khra and agn as spaces
for a third genre and a space for the possibility (and settlement) of dispute,
respectively. As I argue elsewhere I regard the polis, agn and khra as broadly
corresponding to the political, the polemical and the indefinable as inter-related
places where learning is made possible beyond the limits of a schooled society.
This means that to argue for an education, it must be found beyond itself. An
education beyond education cannot be simply understood as an historical or
ideological surpassing of the current state of education, but as an inhabiting of a
horizon that radically questions and changes the positivist assumptions of
instrumentalized learning. (Baldacchino 2009a, pp. 149ff) This is where the
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juncture between art, learning and culture must play a role as that indefinable
spaceas khra where the polemical and political are engaged.
When Derrida revisits Platos notion of khra, his intent is clearly one that does
not concede to myth by playing up a misinterpreted khra against an overinterpreted logos. Logos and mythosthe power of the word and the ground of
representationare set apart from khra. Khra denotes a multiplicity of states,
nouns and meanings that would include space, place, area, region, neighbourhood,
and what Timaeus likens to a mother, a nourisher, a receptacle, or an opening that
suggests an imprint (door-mark, porte-empreinte). Derrida tells us that the khra is
approached by the intent to avoid any confusion of a place-postulate with a ground
of representations or mere analogies. (Derrida 1993, pp. 234) Like mythos and
logos, khra is a construct of reality. In this respect, reality is constructed in three
genres, and not two.
Even when this hasty sketch may do no justice to Derridas revisitation of the
khra, it will be useful to quote his words directly from Khra:
The khra is neither sensible nor intelligible. It belongs to a third genre
[untroisime genre] (triton ghenos, [Timaeus] 48e, 52a). () Timaeuss
declared embarrassment is manifested otherwise: at this point the khra
appears to be neither this nor that; at the same time [it is both] this and that.
But this alternative between the logic of exclusion and that of participation
() may perhaps be limited to a provisional appearance, and within the
constraints of logic it is viewed as some inaptitude in naming. The khra
seems to be foreign to the order of the paradigm, this intelligible and
immutable model. Yet, invisible [and] with no sensible form, it
participates with the intelligible in a most embarrassing way, truly
aporetically (aportata, 51b) (Derrida 1993 p. 16).29
Later on, Derrida revisits the polity whose context Timaeus approaches by
discussing the city, gender, procreation, education, etc. Derrida pays particular
attention to Platos narrative per se and he questions whether this constitutes by
itself a logic and a programme dictated by such analogies. This is where he takes
the reader into the mis en abyme of the discourse on khra (Derrida 1993, p. 49):
Here we should not consider, in the first place, these formal analogies or
these mises en abyme so refined [and] subtle (some would think, too subtle),
as devices, audacities or secrets of formal composition: the art of Plato the
writer! [Platon lcrivain!] We are interested in this art and so it should be.
But also, of immediate interest as well, independently from the assumed
intentions of an author [compositeur], are the constraints produced by these
analogies. Could we say that these constitute a programme [?] a logic whose
authority imposes itself on Plato? Yes, but only to a certain point; and this
limit only appears within the same abyss: the programmes being-a
29
As indicated above, in French (as in other Latinate languages), the word genre means both
manner and gender. Derrida places great importance on this double meaning of khra.

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programme [ltre-programme du programme], its structure of preinscription and of typographical prescription form the explicit theme of the
discourse en abyme on khra. (Derrida 1993 pp. 512)
Mis en abyme comes from heraldic speak where a small herald is placed within a
larger one. This can be taken as a window within a window, an image that is
imaged, or as we find in Van Eycks Arnolfini Portrait (1434) and Velasquezs Las
Meninas (1656), a mirror within the work as a mirror that suggests further mirrors
within mirrors ad infinitum. Again, this brings to attention the aporetic lineage of a
certain kind of (non)dialectic which is inscribed in (or by) the khra. It is
important to emphasize how the scene is one of inscription and not mere
description. To that effect the distance of word or representation is made shorter,
and at some point it might be obliterated. So we are enabled to realise what is put
en abyme in Platos Timaeus. It is not a dialogue on or about the polity, but a
critique (qua intervention) that takes place with(in) the polity as a stage and context
for the insufficiency that is presented to us by either imitation or language over the
polity. As Socrates argues in Timaeus:
Now I, Critias and Hermocrates, am conscious that I myself should never be
able to celebrate the city and her citizens in a befitting manner, and I am not
surprised at my own incapacity; to me the wonder is rather that the poets
present as well as past are no better not that I mean to depreciate them, but
everyone can see that they are a tribe of imitators, and will imitate best and
most easily the life in which they have been brought up, while that which is
beyond the range of mans education he finds hard to carry out in action, and
still harder adequately to represent in language. (Plato 1989, p. 1155)
The polity cannot be merely reflected within the contexts of a theoretical or
representative order. In the latter case, one would include the representations of the
polity per sein terms of its politicsas a generation of acts that emerge over
problems that mostly arise from a third space which is often ungraspable by
language or imitation. This is where any programme or logic of writing (Platos),
of dialogue (Socratess) or indeed of our own reading, rebounds on itself unless the
context is engaged by something otherthat is, by the khra. These distinctions
and limitations of what does or does not intervene within the limits and scope of
the various grounds we choose for the politics of a polity could shift our reading of
culture as a formative ground.
As a formative ground (qua Bildung) that is intent on eliminating the aporia of
this something other, culture and its study does not go far enough to break out of
word or representation. The discursive mis en abyme of the khra is a model of the
other context by which the issue is not afforded the safety of the (largely fenced)
grounds of ethics, fact or speculation (as exercised in the narratives of Arts
Education and Cultural Studies). No amounts of certainty or artistry in science or
discourse have shifted the notion of culture from the diarchy of word and image
and its consequent benign pedagogy. This is where the only argument for
pedagogy that remains, must be taken by way of exit.
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EXIT PEDAGOGY

Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,


everyone going home so lost in thought?
Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say
there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, whats going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.
Constantine Cavafy, Waiting for the barbarians
(1992, p. 19)
I want to conclude this book by contesting the relative safety of a democratic and
free polis whose forms of representation, though appearing benign, are invariably
characterized by the politics of fear and cultural fascistization. More specifically I
want to speak of a polis that does away with its walls; where instead of a space that
keeps out the barbarians (whoever they are), the culture of fascistic comfort is
radically challenged.
In this book I have shown no desire to put walls around art and consign the
rest to kitsch. Nor have I shown any interest in arts pecuniary gains, or in
dismissing art as some pawn in the game of the culture industry. Such an interest
would only affirm the obvious, and the obvious offers no opportunity of exit from
the cultural conditions that turn critique into a pastime for the chattering classes.
Not without irony, in an earlier chapter I choose to cite Benedetto Croce, arguing
that when it comes to art we all know what we want to know. This is because, as I
state from page one, the non-question Is it art? only warrants one answer: art is
art.
What matters to art, are the possibilities that we seek in doing it. Through art we
inhabit a horizon where tired dualisms such as same and other, inside and outside,
are not trapped by linguistic procedure. Arts refusal to play the game of dualism is
neither assumed as a positive outcome, nor as a benign ending to its paradoxical
nature. On the contrary, in seeking arts paradox we realise that dualism only
serves as an excuse for narratives of emancipation and democracy to be used as
procedures for discrimination and oppression. Thus to the question where would
such an exit strategy find its initial articulation? my immediate answer is: in the
ways we do art without having to claim facts or results that make it accountable to
education or culture.
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ART, IMPASSE AND REVOLUTION

Contemporary arts political nature is often confused with an appropriation of


popular cultures tendency to shock and scandalize. Yet we know that this reduces
art to a teleological project. By way of bringing together this books various
threads, I would propose that rather than in shock, rupture, climax or crisis, arts
political trajectories are sought in the condition of impasse.
In a state of impasse art emerges in its total formit becomes revolutionary. By
means of impasse the instrumentalization of inclusion and emancipation is rejected
by an argument that locates arts political offensive in what we have not yet found
and therefore, in what we continuously look for. This would dismiss as irrelevant
and superfluous any argument that entertains democracy, liberty and equality as
teleological extensions of art.
Almost symbolised by the myriad Che Guevara t-shirts bought on any street in
New York, London, Berlin, Tokyo or Beijing, the image of revolution has been
long reduced to an emblem of political amnesia. If current political antinomianism
suggests that we are not beholden by the moral laws of the politybe it civil or
academic; philosophical or economic; artistic or otherwisean equally potent
amnesia has consigned politics to a peculiar imaginary that distorts history by
alienating the experience of revolution from its forms of representation. More often
than not, Che t-shirts have come to represent an abyss between the reality of
upheaval demanded by rebellion and a distant representation of revolutions
consequencestragic, heroic, or whatever they may be.
Che Guevara captures this complexity in his essay Socialism and Man in Cuba:
The difficult thing for someone not living the experience of the revolution to
understand is the close dialectical unity between the individual and the mass, in
which the mass, as an aggregate of individuals, is interconnected with its leaders.
(2003, p. 215)
This difficulty does not come from ones personal inexperience of revolution,
but from the mechanisms of necessity by which capital and capitalism frame the
narrative of progressive politics; and where a willed ignorance of the dialectical
nature of struggle precludes the same progressive notions that originally prompt a
revolution. This does not merely warrant that one must participate in a revolution
in order to support or reject its politics. The conditions that alienate revolutionary
representation are already found within the fibres of capitalistic parameters. Such
phenomena are already present in capitalist polities, when politicians capable of
mobilizing popular opinion appear, but these phenomena are not really genuine
social movements. Then he adds that these movements only live as long as the
persons who inspire them, or until the harshness of capitalist society puts an end to
the popular illusions that made them possible. (ibid.)
Guevaras qualification of what is a genuine political action is not prompted
by some kind of arrogation over what should be a precise and real political
sensibility that would be appropriate to progressive politics. His position stems
from a pragmatic view of how the politics of capital works. At this point in history
one might even argue that his words sound extremely optimisticalmost
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utopianat a time when the word revolution often stands in for inverted nostalgic
sentiments that go something like: Revolution is what could have happened had
things been different.
Far from an act of complacency, to be nostalgic about a revolution that never
happened verges on tautology. The conditioning of revolutionary politics by the
excuses and sophistries of what we experience as political actuality, is just a thin
veil cast over an insufficient political will in those who claim to militate for
progressive politics. This is not only an admission of defeat (which is not that bad,
considering that much of the noise being made about the Left resembles a ritual of
mourning over a lost tribe), but is more symptomatic of a reluctance to move away
from political bereavement.
I would hasten to add that this ritual of bereavement has always been false and
hypocritical because just like other moments that shook and ultimately changed
progressive and radical politics forever, the fall of the Berlin Wall (if that is
considered as a single significant event in the history of the contemporary Left)
was joyfully greeted by everyone. Amongst other historical events, I would include
the death of Stalin and the ensuing 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party;
the Cuban Revolution, its non-Soviet ideals and its subsequent fate; the riots in
1968, especially those that took place in Eastern Europe; Gorbachevs glasnost and
the ensuing revolutions that changed Asia and the whole of Europe; not to mention
more recent events in the Maghreb, the Middle East and the Gulf where, as I write
this conclusion, people are witnessing unprecedented revolutions whose outcomes
and consequences are stunning the world and continue to leave the Left (not to
mention European and American foreign policy) clueless and helpless.
The effects of these events are such that the changes they prompt have a
tangible influence across the entire political spectrum. If anything, politics now
finds itself in a quandary, as it did after the defeat of the Spanish Republic, where
apart from the might of Francos fascism, the world witnessed the worst infighting
that could happen within an alliance, which to start with, so heroically stood for the
ideals of a secular and progressive future. With hindsight one can say that just as
the Spanish Civil War was a dress rehearsal for the Second World War, it was also
an early omen for the collapse of liberal and social democracies, the self-mutilation
of progressive and radical politics, and ultimately, politics morbid propensity for
continuous funereal rituals. Maybe Che was being prophetic when he said: these
movements only live as long as the persons who inspire them, or until the
harshness of capitalist society puts an end to the peoples illusions. (Guevara
2003, p. 215).
Yet one must remain guarded against such characterizations of political
bereavement as this could further contribute to the jargon of historical ruptures
that continues to adorn modern political discourse even when the notion of
inevitable crisis is long gone and buried. By this I mean that by treating
historical events as milestones that mark the end of whatever one considers to have
begun, one would be adding another entry in a political, artistic and
philosophical necrology that is as misleading as those who seek to justify (and

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somehow rejoice in) a discourse of crisis where politics, art and philosophy are
seen to be stuck between the differential antipodes of necessity and contingency.
Far from rejoicing in the pains of crisis or mourning the imaginary loss of
revolutionary politics, we must declare our anger. By anger I mean a valid
category of discussion and argument that avoids irrational emotions. Far from
desperation, the meaning of impasse in arts political narratives mustlike
angerbe always tempered with laughter, just as laughter itself becomes a form of
angry reasoning. In other words, when I say that through art we must see impasse
as an occasion for revolution, I am adopting the irony that we have discussed in
Pasolini and Benignis work, which recognizes the powers of comedic logic, and
where anger serves as a point of departure that begins to look at history as una
festa di transito, a passing fte.
This perspective on history requires irony and self-irony. Luckily, I also had
another gift from the gods, says Dario Fo, perhaps the most prominent: irony and
self-irony. So I have enjoyed all this fun but deep down I have never taken it
seriously. I can also say that I have lived all this as a passing fte [una festa di
transito]. Indeed magnificent, but where at some point one must leave the stage.
(Fo 2007, p. 7)
In regarding history as una festa di transito I draw attention to three occasions
that would help us form a framework for what I see as intrinsic to the notion of
impasse as a revolutionary moment. The first is what I regard as arts political
anomaly. I will identify the second occasion with the critique of mourning. The
third occasion of this passing fte is rational anger. On these three occasions the
moment of impasse begins to suggest ways of understanding why we need to act in
terms of art where learning and culture are no mere vehicles or instruments, but
where they are shared as critical horizons marked by paradox.
ARTS POLITICAL ANOMALY

Art poses a political dilemma to what it is supposed to be doing. As argued earlier


in this book, a first-person concept of art making limits art to an elusive oneness
that entertains a notion of art within a misplaced context of phenomenological
origins. This solipsistic arkh reinforces the myth of grounded being. It legitimates
instrumentalization, where art is expected to make something so that we can
learn from its artefacts as referents of our culture; thus reinforcing the firstperson impression that distinguishes what is ours from what is theirs. Apart
from perceiving art from a personalized productivist tlos, this approach traps art
within a cultural mechanism that remains accountable to cultural-educational
remits that are open to fascistization.
Even when arts making is deemed as an object of beauty or delectation, arts
objects hardly have anything to say or do for us. This is because while artists do art
by making objects, to simply state that this is what art is all about would mean that
one could only legitimize art by its products and thus implying that art must have a
teleological logic. Apart from a distortion of art, politically and aesthetically this
invariably leaves us nowhere.
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In Minima Moralia Adorno plays on this quandary and argues that, every work
of art has its irresoluble contradiction in the purposefulness without purpose by
which Kant defined the aesthetic; in the fact that it is an apotheosis of making, of
the nature-ruling capacity that, as a second creation, postulates itself as absolute,
purpose-free, existing in itself, whereas after all the act of making, indeed the very
glorification of the artefact, is itself inseparable from the rational purposefulness
from which art seeks to break away. (1978, p. 226)
When I suggest earlier in this chapter that in a state of impasse art emerges in its
total form, I could have simply cited this irresoluble contradiction. Just as we
cannot invest in art as an apotheosis of making, at the same time one cannot
assume art as a self-referential form of doing. For an act of making to be seen as a
doing art breaks away from the object implied by this making, including itself.
This explains why artists remain attracted to the ludic potentials of Kants
purposefulness without purpose.
Kant argues that there can be purposefulness without purpose so far as we do
not place the causes of this form in a will, but yet can only make the explanation of
its possibility intelligible to ourselves by deriving it from a will. He qualifies this
chiasmus by adding that to regard what we observe in respect of its possibility
we are not forced to see it from the point of view of reason. Thus we can at least
observe a purposiveness according to form, without basing it on a purpose (as the
material of the nexus finalis), and remark it in objects, although only by
reflection. (1974, 10, pp. 5556)
Indeed artists do regard art as having total purposefulness without it being
accountable to a purpose. To understand this in view of politics as well as learning
and the subsequent cultural conditioning that we live in, any quotidian convention
of form and doing must be suspended. While the purposiveness of form requires
that we do not base it on a purpose, as this would then reduce it to a rationalized
limitation, we must also understand how art does things differently. Later in his
third critique Kant states that we ought only to describe as art, production through
freedom, i.e. through a will that places reason at the basis of its actions. (1974
43, p. 145) Does this contradict Kants concession by which he invites us to
regard purpose without resorting to the point of view of reason? It does not. This is
because, as Kant remarks, only through the will are we able to perceive a purpose
that cannot be imposed by a will. This apparent paradox provides a way out of the
quandary of a willed purpose. Bearing in mind that we are speaking of form and
not just an object, the paradox of purpose must be read in how we do (rather than
generally make) art.
Art is distinguished from nature as doing (facere) is distinguished from
acting or working generally (agere), and as the product or result of the
former is distinguished as work (opus) from the working (effectus) of the
latter. (Kant 1974, 43, p. 145).
Nevertheless, as we move into a political context, the question of freedom by
which art is viewed (as production through freedom) still remains suspect. When
art is declared in its autonomy of doing (and work) from the external purposes of
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natures acts (and effects), we tend to claim that freedom through art cannot escape
its strong political import. Yet it seems to me that Kants notion of freedom is
radically different from the political freedom by which we attribute art with a
radical aesthetic. Read as it were from a Kantian perspective, to politicise art is to
take away its freedom. This freedom is removed when arts doing is reduced to a
mechanical act, when its ways of doing (facere) are misconstrued as a way of
functioning (agere). One can only find a way out of this anomaly in actual works
of art that purport a political aesthetic.
As we have established at the beginning of this book, unlike an object or act,
works of art do not have a political purpose. Rather, art could only purport a
radical aesthetic by transcending the here and now of the polis itself. Reading this
argument back through Kant, one could argue that a radical aesthetic must emerge
from a Kantian position on arts freedom. This also means that art is always
seeking a way out while it claims to remain inside. Art does not escape but
neither does it succumb to the will or purpose of the polis.
In the previous chapter, Maurizio Cattelans work Novecento (Nineteenhundred, 1997) was cited as denoting a political context that is not evident in the
image unless the title and the spectacle of a hanging racehorse puts an ironic twist
on the political history of the 1900sas the title suggests. If Cattelans Novecento
is read against Giovanni Pellizza da Volpedos Il Quarto Stato (The Fourth Estate,
1909) where the proletarian march becomes emblematic of a social realism situated
in fin de sicle Italy, one would find a referential parallel between the two works.
More so, this parallel reading could provide an insight into the irresoluble
contradiction that Adorno speaks of.
In both works there remains a twist in the sense given by an apotheosis of
making. Whereas in da Volpedos work the apotheotic resides in the
monumentality of the work as a political deed (the proletarian march) and in the
emblematic nature of its formal-compositional dimensions; in Cattelans
Novecento the monumental is embodied in an embalmed racehorse hanging in the
middle of a dome. Cattelan weakens the grand narrative of the 20th century and
presents the totality of art in the political state of impasse. The horse is dead, the
environment is elegant and architecturally opulent, and yet the polity simply looks
back and is reducible to a suggestive narrative of absolute irony. While da Volpedo
inaugurates the 20th century with proletarians marching towards a desired freedom,
Cattelans memorial presents us with a stuffed horse.
Impasse is a narrative that reveals arts political anomaly. If art were forced to
say something and become a political act in the way an object is expected to carry
a political message, then art ceases to be art. To say something, art must relinquish
its insoluble contradiction of purposefulness without purpose, and therefore
surrender itself to become something else, such as a party political programme or a
stage prop for corporatism.
For art to be political it seeks the apolitical. What makes art political is its doing
art qua art. At the risk of tedious repetition, art qua art is not art for arts sake but
an expression of how women and men do autonomy. Autonomy is arts attempt
to deny any form of pre-determination by speaking twice over. (Rancire 2009,
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p. 46) To do something political means to deny pre-determinations. But how could


we (as the political referent-purveyors of art) deny pre-determinations when we
politicise art?
Toril Goskyr and Camilla Martenss performance and installation work It
would be nice to do something political (2004) is a great example; particularly
when as in the case of the parallel reading between Cattelan and da Volpedo, one
could read It would be nice in view of, say, Honor Daumiers Le soulvement
(The uprising 1848/60).
Goskyr and Martenss is a very simple setup. It consists of a large
photographic work with each artists portrait on each side; one saying It would be
nice to do something important and the other replying: something political?
This is set behind glass in a shop-window. The performance involves three persons
of colour (immigrants?) cleaning the window, as the largely invisible workforce of
window cleaners do every morning in metropolitan cities around the world. The
political narrative seems passive enough, yet the use of glamorous images of the
artists who seem to be looking out at the world and suggesting something nice to
do, is potent enough to question the political within contemporary art practice. This
jars with Daumiers image of the crowd marching in an uprising, with a member of
the crowd prominently raising a clenched fist. Yet there is a peculiar equivalence
in terms of how in both works, political narratives of equality and justice remain
ambivalent in artistic terms. More so, as I do with Cattelan and da Volpedo, here I
am citing two works of art that could easily bookend the politics of the 20th
century.
In the same passage in Minima Moralia Adorno elaborates on his previous
argument. He states that, the contradiction between what is and what is made, is
the vital element of art and circumscribes its law of development, but it is also arts
shame: by following, however indirectly, the existing pattern of material
production and making its objects, art as akin to production cannot escape the
question what for? which it aims to negate. The closer the mode of production of
artefacts comes to material mass production, the more naively it provokes that fatal
question. (1978, p. 226)
As I read this passage over and over again, I keep wondering where indeed is
arts shame. Is it found in the contradiction between what is and what is made;
that is, between what we find around us as the real and what we make of it by
means of art? Or is it located in arts inability to escape the question what for?
which, Adorno says, art keeps trying to negate? The question is indeed fatal. But
fatal to what? The whereabouts and fashions of reality? Or arts inability to escape
these spaces and habits?
To take the notion of arts shame a bit further, I would suggest that arts
purported shame lies in its political anomaly. As an autonomous act, doing art has
no choice but to deny making. It does this even when it emerges historically from
the historical whereabouts of homo faber (which I would distance from a naively
poised naturalistic homo aestheticus). Somehow, as we have seen in the previous
chapter, rather than a teleological project, arts bond lies with historic contingency
and what emerges from the unleashing of production. However here we have
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another possible paradox. In this unleashing art confronts the political predicament
of its anomalies while it seeks to transcend the condition of making by seeing itself
in the strict senses of doing. As we locate this doing in the paradoxical junctures
that converge in works of art, we could say that as doing, art becomes political.
Yet as a politicised form, art needs to deny political pre-determination. Can art do
this without denying representation?
THE CRITIQUE OF MOURNING

This takes me to the second occasion for impasse in historys passing fte: that of
mourning and its critique. If art were to deny representation, it would remain
captive to an unresolved mourning. What do we mean by mourning, other than a
sense of loss for the postured certainty of grand narratives?
As we have argued earlier in this book, the historical unravelling of the quest for
a true, good and beautiful horizon lies in the contingent nature of history. Truth,
goodness and beauty remain, in and of themselves, dependent on several forms of
contextualization. One inevitable context is that of politics. Whichever argument
might favour the good, and however well the true and the beautiful might bode for
desirable actions, this triune approach is always premissed by the decisions that we
take on our own behalf. In other words, even if we really maintain that the true, the
good and the beautiful represent our desire for a unified perspective of the world,
they can never be transcended away from the horizon of our forms of
representation. If anything, our approach to this triune narrative reflects what we
would like to do with regards to ourselves and to others. As such, intentionality
remains firmly grounded in a first-person realm where politics plays a very strange
role, and where its representation could indicate more than ontological, moral and
aesthetic considerations. This is especially the case when our actions concern acts
of autonomy like art.
Rose argues that, politics does not happen when you act on behalf of your own
damaged good, but when you act, without guarantees, for the good of allthis is
to take the risk of the universal interest. Politics in this sense requires
representation, the critique of representation, and the critique of the critique of
representation. (1997, p. 62)
At face value here representation appears to take a role. Considering that the
idea of autonomy cannot be essentialized into an identifiable role, to claim that
representation embodies a role would be problematic. So if representation does not
play a role, what does it do or stand for? A closer reading of Roses statement
confirms that what is at play is political not representational. Politics requires
representation as a point of critical approach; thus Rose speaks of representation,
the critique of representation, and the critique of the critique of representation.
But beyond politics and representation Roses is an argument for critique. The play
of critique on the political and the representational reflects an intentional scenario
by which we must take the risk of the universal. To play only for ones damaged
good is not enough. Politics cannot be reduced to the damaged goods of a singular
person. One might add that the damaged good of singularity is another matter, as
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this remains integral to the risk that we must take in order to engage with the
universal.
Indeed, the risk that Rose speaks of is neither hollow nor capricious. It arises
from the awareness that to seek retribution just for ones damaged good is to
remain open to the politics of fear and voyeurism. In a fascistic context, fear and
voyeurism are coterminous: as we fear the foreigner, we are likely to become mere
spectators when we witness the fascist plotting to exterminate what he has posed as
the agent of feari.e., the same foreigner that was originally presented as the
agent of fear. Rather than identify the fascist as the true agent of violence and the
one we should fear, we deem the foreigner as the barbarian whom we keep out of
our safe, democratic and free polis.
We are told that the foreigner is a danger to civilisation as we know it. We are
led to believe that foreigners cannot understand democracy. Their women wear a
veil and hide their face because they are submissive to their husbands, who often
wear long beards and a skullcap and in their own country practice polygamy. The
worse offence seems to be that these outsiders do not appreciate our sense of
freedom.
If it is not a foreign culture, it may well be an alien lifestyle, where those
amongst us live differently, have different sex lives, are considered as suspicious
because they either think too much, or they dont think at all. They could be too
liberal and are threatening the traditions of a country. When Barack Obama
appeared on the national political scene in the United States, these arguments
became more vocal. Later, supporters of the Tea Party wanted back the America
they grew up in, until an African American gentleman who experienced hell during
segregation reminded them on CNN what this lost America really meant to him
and other people of colour.
These are the claims that come pitted for and against representation: fear as a
form of representation plays on the will to rebut a made-up fear by not doing
anything about fascism. Thus as the fascist exterminates the enemy of freedom
and democracy, we greet such acts with perplexity because we fear that now the
refugee will appear on our doorstep. As I write, this has become more tangible in
Europe vis--vis the protests and revolts in the Maghreb and the Middle East.
Europes approval of the events that swept the so-called Arab world (as if this
were a homogeneous mass) is tampered by a tangible fear that Tunisian, Libyan
and Egyptian refugees will be knocking on the doors of the Western polis. As
North Africa could be no longer the guardian of the Mediterranean shores
against an influx of yet another foreignerthe sub Saharan Africanthe fascism
of representation becomes a tangible narrative that soon gives way to the
representation of fascism, emblematised in the protection of the other by way of
the same.
So where does mourning kick in? Is this mourning a lost order that kept them
out? Or are we mourning a lost freedom that brought into effect the fascist
representation of the other, which turned representation into a narrative of
defence? What do we mourn exactly while we wait for the barbarians?

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In The Postmodern Condition Lyotard states: We can say today that the
mourning process has been completed. Wittgensteins strength is that he did not
opt for the positivism that was being developed by the Vienna Circle, but outlined
in his investigation of language games a kind of legitimation not based on
performativity. That is what the postmodern world is all about. (1989b, p. 41) We
ask: Does this loss of performative-based legitimation absolve us from the
dilemma of representation? Is performativity another word for a representation
internalized by the purpose of a willed act? And could one surmise that
Wittgenstein resorted to language games as a way out, an exit from the
representation of fact?
Most people have lost the nostalgia for the lost narrative, Lyotard argues. It
in no way follows that they are reduced to barbarity. What saves them from it is
their knowledge that legitimation can only spring from their own linguistic practice
and communicational interaction. Science smiling into its beard at every other
belief has taught them the harsh austerity of realism. (Lyotard, 1989b, p. 41)
As one kind of nostalgia is lost, another one is invented. Just as the performative
postures of a lost narrative ebb away, newfound postures will flow in. While
barbarity may not be such a dangergiven that, as Cavafy aptly remarks, those
people have turned out to be a kind of solutionthe impending fear seems to
have come from the newfound narratives that have learnt the austere realism of
sciences smile. Whatever the case, the mourned will lingers on, just as multiple
bereavements morph into each other. This supports Gillian Roses adage:
mourning becomes the law.
Here I recall two paintings, about which I find myself writing several
commentaries, as if one obituary is never enough. (Baldacchino 1998, pp. 132ff;
Baldacchino 2009d) These are Valerio Adamis Le gilet de Lnine (Lenins
waistcoat, 1972) and Renato Guttusos I Funerali di Togliatti (Togliattis Funeral,
1972). The names Togliatti and Lenin may be referents of a lost narrative. Togliatti
was the historic leader, who together with Gramsci and his comrades of the Ordine
Nuovo, founded the communist party of Italy (PCI).30 Lenin was Lenin. Just as
Che was Che. The names themselves are forms of representation that take on the
contingency of history and take the risk of the universal. They are venerated by
supporters; loathed by their enemies. Saints to the former, monsters to the latter.
Unlike Mao and Che, Lenin and less so Togliatti do not sell as mug shots on tshirts in New York or Paris.
Both done in the early seventies these two paintings hinge on a name. Invariably
their role is to re-present and in doing so they also push beyond ones private
damaged good. As art they trail on the problematic grounds of the politics of
aesthetics. Guttusos work recalls footage that was shown at the time of Togliattis
funerals on newsreels and television. This footage became canonical and it also

30
In 1919, the young socialists Gramsci and Togliatti together with Angelo Tasca and Umberto
Terracini founded a weekly newspaper, LOrdine Nuovo [the New Order], which became the main
organ of a labour movement in Turin that would lead to the foundation of the PCI that split from the
then historic and powerful Italian Socialist Party (PSI).

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appears in Pasolinis Uccellacci e Uccellini. Yet on a closer look, his painting


mourns the mourners, as it speaks twice over about history. Mingling with the
party faithful who are mourning their historic leader, Guttuso includes canonical
figures from the history of the Left. These mourners appear, time and time again in
the crowd. There are those who died beforelike Lenin and Gramsci; and those
who survived Togliattilike other historic leaders, such as Luigi Longo, Nilde
Iotti and Enrico Berlinguer.31 Like other works by Guttusoincluding one
Crucifixion (1941)this painting is a representational quandary. It is not a
memorial, yet it is. It is not an apotheosis, yet it takes on a classical mode, just like
Ingress Apotheosis of Homer (1827).
I Funerali di Togliatti is modern yet sub-modern in that it does not succumb to
the censures of a dualism between form and content, though it seems to inhabit
what Rose calls an irenic milieu, a holy middle that serves as an act of communion:
Post-modernism is submodern: these holy middles of ecstatic divine milieu, irenic
other city, holy community () and the unholy one of the perpetual carnival
market, bear the marks of their unexplored precondition: the diremption between
the moral discourse of rights and the systematic actuality of power, within and
between modern states. (Rose 1993, p. 47) As I attribute this to Guttusos work I
also urge caution, because one cannot say with certainty whether a work of art
could inhabit the dirempted space that splits a discourse of rights from an actuality
of power. It is, however, a challenge for art works not to do so, particularly when
the claim is made for a representation that must deal with the ebb and flow of
narratives.
Yet there is also a sense of reluctance in these named works. This is particularly
found in Adamis Le gilet de Lnine. Lenins waistcoat is hung on a washing line.
The painting is emblematically red. The figure of a lady moves in and out of the
picture, as Adamis famous poster-like linear figuration tends to do in all his
works. There is also a certain convention used in Adamis works, and here the
name forms a larger series of other paintings, as if he were engaged in a
hagiography of names and saints: Lenin, Freud, Gandhi, Mahler, Casals and others.
In an essay on Adami, Lyotard reflects:
These portraits are flatly inscribed on all sorts of pages, complete with their
fissures; accompanied by written instructions, titles, legends, broken-off or
incomplete thoughts, like old photos annotated with a word, a name, from
the distant past perhaps, that our memory associates with them. (1988b, p.
468)
This leaves us with a memory for which we seek our own associations. We might
find something to associate them with, but we might draw a blank. No purpose is
assumed by any will except that of the name that we must take on or reject as we

31
Luigi Longo (1900-1980) succeeded Togliatti as leader of the PCI. Nilde Iotti (1920-1999) was both
a prominent member of the PCIs leadership as well as Togliattis lover for whom he left his wife,
scandalizing Italys Catholic sensibility. Enrico Berlinguer (1922-1984) succeeded Longo as leader
of the party.

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please. In this pleasure there seems to be no anger or argument for or against the
figure in question. In this painting Lenin appears nowhere; only waistcoats appear
to be hung to dry, with two dateshis birth and deathadorning the image. Is this
comedic? Does it renounce the dialectic of purpose and purposefulness? One could
even say that as a work Le gilet de Lnine aims to gain nothing beyond line and
colour. What is remarkable is the unexceptional formulation of Adamis aesthetic.
THE COMEDIC AS DIALECTIC

Surely a cultural condition (whether modern, pre- or post-modern) is not reducible


to quibbles over relativism. What I want to say in this book is that any question
concerned with our condition has to do with impassewhether such a condition is
situated in our own damaged good or risked beyond our individual whereabouts.
A condition of impasse is marked by a propensity to refuse representation. The
refusal has nothing to do with iconoclasm or indifference, but with a problem that
goes straight to the heart of the fascistic cultural polity that closes itself within its
presumed walls on the pretext of fear. In his denunciation of Marinetti, Benjamin
(1973b) famously identified fascist representation as aesthetized politics. Almost a
century from the beginnings of fascism in the 1920s, I want to qualify
contemporary aesthetized politics by highlighting three phenomena: the
privatization of anger, the violation of possibility and the invalidation of hope.
Privatized anger: Anger has become increasingly publicized, yet strangely the
more we grieve in public, the more our anger is shut within private walls. As a
personal matter anger has been grossly and widely mediatised. This gives way to a
privatisation of pathos through the fallacy of collective expressions of outrage.
Outrage is quick. It takes a few commentators to whip up an angry mob. It took
Fox 5 less than two years to whip up the so-called outrage of the Tea Party against
the Democrats in America. Mediatized anger is quick and simple; easy and free.
Tea Partyists were quick in drawing their conclusions: blame can be quickly
portioned out between the Banks, Washington, and President Obama.
This culture of mediatised anger is also founded on the loathing of intellectuals
and those who are regarded as the lite. Even when clearly anti-elitism is a fallacy
(because other lites play their part in whipping up anti-intellectual populism) the
idea that meaning is not commonsensical draws antipathy from angry crowds
who want back their country. Politics is reduced to what is put fairly and
squarely. In saying so, these political pundits hardly realize that what seems too
simple is in effect much more elaborate than they care to accept. Yet their
approach pays dividends. In the USs 2010 mid-term elections the Tea Party
agenda entered Congress and the Senate to the acclaim of democratic freedom.
The same mechanism for quick outrage is also caused by serious affronts
ranging from an abduction of a little girl in a holiday resort, to racist attacks, to the
death of Diana Princess of Wales, to 9/11. However, by having ones damaged
good as the only political platform, this anger remains peculiarly depoliticised.

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Violated possibility: Once anger is privatised by public outrage a sense of


impossibility and helplessness begins to undermine possibility. This creates an
artificial sense of perpetual mourning where a politics of fear quickly creeps in.
Ironically, while private anger pushes further the faith in a triune metaphysical
union between the good, the true and the beautiful, the sense that our various
possibilities have been violated tends to historicize the three-way alienation of
ethics, metaphysics and aesthetics. This paradox works both ways, in that a sense
of absolute contingency opens the way to a foundationalist view of history and life.
Instead of looking at possibility from within the plurality of historical contingency,
a sense of fear and private anger begins to entrench people in their own privatised
view of historyas this is reinforced by a culture industry that thrives on the
immediate and the mediatised.
Invalid hope: Most tend to react in favour of their damaged good. Their reaction
invalidates any hope in the opened horizons of groundlessness. Rather, an equally
privatised hope churns out other forms of other hopes. These other hopes are
articulated by a privatized anger that seeks irenic solutions within a monolithic
articulation of faith and ideology, and ultimately disposes of any dialectical
assumption.
Mao after Mao
In May 2007, Chen Yan, a 51-year-old actress, gained international notoriety for
her almost perfect impersonation of Mao Zedong. Local TV discovered her act two
years before. This transformed Chen Yans notoriety from that of a humble actress
living in Mianyang in Sichuan province, to national prominence. While other
impersonators might have had some effect in rousing nostalgic reverence towards
modern Chinas historic leader, Chen Yan posed a great dilemma because of her
gender. One could not avoid a certain sense of irony as Chen Yan drew crowds
who were eager to witness and participate in her performance.
As one would read this as a form of performance art, a representation of
Maonot unlike that of Che, Lenin and Togliattibegins where it supposedly
ends: as a work of art. But does this example work like that? Unlike Warhols
prints of Mao (1975), Chen Yans performance is neither ironic nor distanced from
the Mao with whom the public seeks to shake hands. This distancethough
somewhat differentis also found between the official painting of Mao hanging at
the entrance of the Forbidden City facing Tiananmen Square and the respect that
Chen Yan and her audience pay to their iconic leader.
Given Maos emblematic presence within Chinas mechanisms of political
representationwhich continue to draw adulation and hatred in equal measure;
and given the mediatised reality of modern Chinawhich is, in and of itself,
emblematic of the same dilemma; one wonders whether here we have a situation of
impasse in the relationship between revolution as a historic event that becomes
emblematised in a human figure (indeed a face and a manner) and the
representation of revolution as a way of changing the world by politicising it
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beyond and against the privatization of anger, the violation of possibility and the
invalidation of hope.
If all this means impasse in terms of art, then impasse also invests representation
through other means. I see in these aesthetic means a way to supersede the
privatized anger by which the pedagogy of tragedy has been numbed into a
reification of catharsis. Likewise, here I regard impasse as an occasion to take
possibility and the hope that comes with it beyond the irenic and ideal visions that
articulate an American Presidents highly mediatised electoral campaign or the
memory of a Chinese revolutionary figurewhether this really represented hope
(as many have claimed in the case of President Obamas election) or an historical
catastrophe (as some would claim with regards to Chairman Maos revolution).
Satirical politics
Where does this leave the comedic?
In his essay Philosophy and Painting in the Age of their Experimentation,
Lyotard asks: Why say satirical politics? Because what is tied in each artistic
proposition and in the satire they make up collectively is also social being. You
multiply manners of speaking and sensing, but how will you communicate? The
contemporary artist knows that this difficulty in communicating happens. (1989c,
p. 193) Unless I am misreading Lyotard, what I take from this is that social being
is the horizon that the satirical inhabits. In this context the satirical constitutes the
presence of the multiplicity of manners of speaking and sensing.
For a multiplicity to come to fruition, one cannot have privatized anger,
stultified possibilities and the oppression of hope. Social being as the horizon of
satire stands for the opposite. It stands for anger as a rational public activity, where
one is expected to engage in a multiplicity of perspectives and narratives, and
where the manner is neither anodyne nor sterilized. Likewise satire assumes that
possibility and hope emerge in laughter as a form of communication by which
people get it critically by understanding that controversy is integral to normality
and that satire affirms life in its dialectical complexities.
However, we also know that to accept the dialectic as comedic, we must exit the
conventions of the dialectic itself. From page one of his Negative Dialectics
Adorno states his intention to free dialectics from the affirmative traits without
reducing its determinacy. (1990, xix) Not without a similar preoccupation with
affirmative traits within comment and identification, Lyotard states: If todays art
works can be identified and commented on, it is at the price of the paganism or the
satire that defies the multiple to the point of including even the computation of
time. (1989c, p. 186)
In art, the politics of satire remains a matter of praxis. In this regard, praxis is
not reduced to critical practice, but to an amalgam of phenomena that is plural and
distinctly contingent. Unlike the idea of praxis as being dialectically affirmative
arts praxis is negatively dialectical. While holding onto its determinacy, the
dialectic seeks neither resolve nor a positive outcome. Traced within the horizon of
social being, praxis remains satirical out and out. A good example of satirical
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praxis is the work of Dario Fo, and especially his approach to language. Ron
Jenkins captures this elegantly:
Fos approach to language is visceral: his syntax is sculpted by the instincts
of his muscles as he performs. His phrasing is orchestrated by the responses
of his audiences. His texts are a collage of medieval sources, forgotten
dialects, onomatopoeic inventions, current events culled from newspapers,
and codified improvisations. Fos eclectic style could be termed postmodern,
but it also recalls the oral epics of Homer and the texts of Shakespeare and
Molire, which were forged in performance as well. (Jenkins 2001, p. 194)
The drama of misrecognition
ROSA (decisive):

I will do my duty! Notwithstanding everything! Antonio,


lets go there!
ANTONIO: Where, there?
ROSA: In the room! ...
ANTONIO: To do what?
ROSA: To eat!
ANTONIO: Nooooo! (thumping the table) For months I have dined as a
wretch. Now I want to dine here, seated like a Christian ... seated like a
Marxist! Christian! Seated! Christian, Marxist, seated ... and baffled! Just as
in Poland! (Fo 1994, p. 115)
In Fos work the comedic is a dialectical space where everything works in a
desired syntony but where nothing conforms to each other. This quote from the
second act of his play Horns, trumpets and raspberries makes an array of
references that appear to be haphazard. Diverse contexts appear disjointed and
layered on top of each other with no extrinsic explanation. The comedic effect lies
in an unspecified innerindeed immanentconnection. Members of the audience
have to reveal these connections for themselves. They must also read such
connections in the corporeal juxtapositions between events, spaces and semblance,
as these emerge, ebb and flow from within the play.
The comedys farcical tempo is compounded by a play on the relationship
between Christian and Marxist narratives. Apart from the local context, it also
makes reference to Wojciech Jaruzelskis complete take-over in Poland in 1981
Just as in Poland! The course of events that act as a backdrop to this comedy also
work in syntony between the then Polish Pope, John Paul II and his open support
to Solidarno, which caused the demise of communism in Poland, leaving the rest
of Europe jubilant and astonished yet equally confused. This alternate emergence
of a historical scenario overwhelms the old Marxist militant who is very sensitive
to his Catholic upbringing in a society where although Communists and Catholics
were at loggerheads, they share a mutual confluence between identity and nonidentity. Fos universe truly operates on dialectical grounds. The disparate comes
to terms with itself not in view of resolving its issues but by means of emphasizing
the role of contraries and contradictions.
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In discussing the comedic, Rose makes three observations with regards to


Hegels Phenomenology of Spirit:
Let me shoot from a pistol: first, spirit in [Hegels] Phenomenology means
the drama of misrecognition which ensues at every stage and transition of
worka ceaseless comedy, according to which our aims and outcomes
constantly mismatch each other, and provoke yet another revised aim, action
and discordant outcome. () Second, reason () is comic, full of surprises,
of unanticipated happenings, so that provision is always provisional and
preliminary () Thirdly, the law is no longer that of Greek ethical life; it is
no longer tragic. (Rose 1997, p. 72)
With spirit embodying a drama of misrecognition, and therefore a need to keep our
perception of history in constant check, reason must be freed from teleology. If
reason is full of surprises, then the law looks up to the comedic as that which is
becoming of possibilities, or surprises that allow us to engage with lifes
contingency. I take from this that an argument for impasse would inaugurate the
recognition of representation through satire and misrecognition. But is this
possible? Could one recast the Revolution from the vestiges of impasse andlike
Hegels Spiritadvance through the politics of satire and the dialectics of the
comedic? I would leave this to those who care to view and engage with works like
Martin Creeds Dont worry (2000) and Paula Regos The Shakespeare Room
(2005)
WEAK PEDAGOGY

Just as art disallows our sense of appropriation, our senso proprio of anything that
has to do with it as art and non-artwhich (as we have seen in an earlier
chapter) Creed and Burri bring to the tablewe could argue that democracy only
comes to pass when it disallows appropriation; where no one would own anything,
and where ultimately the appellation of Greek, Roman, or Barbarian is nullified
and the walls of the polis are completely disowned and dismantled. This is where
the law begins to belong to comedy, while reason succumbs to contingent surprise,
and the spirit is allowed to inhabit the stage of misrecognition.
Yet this would not make sense unless we also remember that art inhabits the
khra as that something other where space and discourse are shaped on the
recurrent infinity of mis en abyme. Beyond any grounds of morality, factuality or
speculation, this infinity represents a myriad possibilities of interpretation and
counter-interpretation where we recognise reality as contingency-aware, and where
the possible is not defined by the construed safety of word and representation, but
is put out of joint by a third gender-genre that purports arts aporia.
This is where art begins to articulate another context, particularly when it sees
itself for what it is, and where in its weakness it put[s] down the mighty from their
seats, and exalt[s] them of low degree. (Luke 1: 52)
Without art, there is neither learning nor teaching. Without the art (the tkhne)
by which one performs within spaces of disputethe agnthere is neither
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EXIT PEDAGOGY

politics nor philosophy. To argue that tkhne is a mere art by which one does
politics and philosophy is to misconstrue Platos critique of the poetics while
forgetting that Plato did and wrote philosophy, spoke of and taught politics
poetically. Tkhne embodied and situated Platos poetic discourse. In its kenotic
roleas an ability put in low degree by curricular hierarchiestkhne as art not
only built the great temples to Zeus and Athena of antiquity, but also gave word
and representation to the polis and its consequent philosophical imaginaries.
Since contemporary art, over half a decade ago, came to inhabit the kenotic
spaces of minimalism and arte povera, the notion of weakness retains even more
relevance now, where as argued in this book, weak art becomes cue to a wider
horizon of possibilities. Within this horizon we could also argue that pedagogy
must partake of the same kenotic approach.
A weak pedagogy pertains to other than a mere space of teleological
possibilities. Its diffrends cannot respond to the teleological certainty of
measuring up to an assumed natural causality. Learning is not limited to the acts of
its politybe it the School, the University, the Academy or anything that ethically
assumes the use of education as its own. Indeed, learning is an art form but art is
not merely educational. To say so would mean that art is an instrument of learning.
By the same argument, pedagogy must kenotically appear on the horizons of a
groundless, open and hopeful reality. Hope and openness are contingency-aware.
These human qualities assume a position of weakness because they would not
presume to predominate over or serve as surrogate forms of certainty. As I have
amply argued in this book, weak thought is not feeble or ineffective thinking. On
the contrary weak thought embodies our awareness of historical contingency, and
thereby assumes whatever we do, hope for and learn by the same state of fluidity
with which reason creatively engages with the multiplicity of particularities that
characterise the equally multiple senses of truth. Weak pedagogy inhabits the
khra as a horizon that carries the dilemmas of that something other than word or
image, than logos and mythos.
In view of what has been discussed and developed in this book, and especially
in view of the kenotic argument by which the politics of pedagogical aesthetics are
articulated on the possibilities opened by arts groundlessness, we can at this point
state that weak pedagogy is characterized by a state of affairs where learning is
affirmed in its deschooled, agonistic and multiple properties.
As arts aporetic nature confirms, and as its consequent pedagogical aesthetics
could help us understand, the notion of a weak pedagogy is far from being a
political or utopian desideratum. On the contrary it is marked by the awareness of
historical contingency and how this necessitates a critical programme by which we
could claim a process of arguing the ambiguity of our rational and political
constructs. Although this sounds abstract, it does not excuse us from making a
case for learning that would supportif not prompta political scenario where
with art we seek a way out.
Does this way out cause stalemate? Is impasse an excuse to pause interminably? Is
it a call for indifference? Certainly not. An exit pedagogy is prompted by a political
191

CHAPTER 10

strategy that seeks a space beyond the illusions that have stultified knowledge and
learning by means of fixed and hierarchized and curricularized forms of learning
and knowledge. Even when the curriculum is deemed organic, the structural
assumptions that a schooled knowledge makes remain a moving force behind this
illusion.
In this book art is not presented as a model of how an exit strategy could
behave. This would be impossible because art refuses to be politicised even when
it is central to a politics of aesthetics. In retracing the question of pedagogy to the
infancy of modernity, I have placed art at the centre of the question itself. In its
non-pedagogical behaviour, art allows uswomen and men, girls and boys, adults
and youngto be the protagonists of the metaphysics of a modern childhood by
which art, politics and learning provide a horizon of multiple relations that remain
infinite in their possibilities. As a horizon that rejects groundedness, this
multiplicity provides the grammar of an exit pedagogy; a grammar that is playful
and by whose playfulness it also cautions us against the pitfall of privatised
immediacy, as emblematised in Pinocchios fall for a Funland whose promises
remind us very much of those political promises that the Right all too quickly
makes in the name of liberty.
As popularized forms of artistic and cultural immediacy give way to an
affirmation of reality as historically contingent, an exit pedagogy must work with
its back to the future while staring squarely at the errors of a past which cannot
be forgotten. However this does not affirm a symmetrical dualism between
conservative and progressive, liberal and critical pedagogy. An exit pedagogy
moves by ways of slippage that seek the continuous referral of such symmetries by
simply setting them aside. An exit pedagogy thus finds its way out by means of its
ludic forms of reason. Its forms of representation are satire and comedy. Its
dialectic is negative and thus jocular. Its art remains autonomous and therefore
radical.

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198

KEYWORDS

banality
barbarians
baseball
Bastow, Steven
Bauhaus
Baxandall, Michael
beauty
Beckett, Samuel
Being,
being, state of
Benigni, Roberto
Benjamin, Andrew
Benjamin, Walter
Berg, Alban
Bergson, Henri
Berlin, Isaiah
Berlinguer, Enrico
Bernstein, Eduard
Beuys, Joseph
Biesta, Gert
Bildung
Bingham, Charles
Blair, Tony
Bloom, Harold
Boccioni, Umberto
Borges, Jorge Luis
Bresler, Liora
Breugel, the elder
Buonarroti, Michelangelo
Burri, Alberto
Busoni, Ferruccio
Butler, Judith
Cahnmann-Taylor, Melisa
Callinicos, Alex
canonicity
canonicity
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Merisi
Carmelite
Carmelite order
Carmelite spirituality
Carr, Carlo

Abramovic, Marina
Adami, Valerio
Adorno, Theodor Wiesegrund
Aesthetic, the
aesthetics
aesthetics, politics of
aesthetized politics
Agamben
agathon
agn
alienation
alterity
alterity, in art
amor fati
An-denken
anamnesis
anger
anomaly
anti-art
antigrazioso
Apollinaire, Guillaume
aporia
Aquinas, Thomas
Arendt, Hannah
Aristotle
arkh
Armstrong, Karen
art, and education
art, as anti-art
art, for arts sake
art, general concept of
arte povera
Auschwitz
Austin, John Langshaw
autonomy
autonomy, arts
autonomy, personal,
avant-nostalgia
Badiou, Alain
Baldacchino, John
Balla, Giacomo
199

KEYWORDS

Carracci, Annibale
Casals, Pablo
Castoriadis, Cornelius
Cattelan, Maurizio
Cavafy, Constantine
Cavell, Stanley
chance
Chen Yan
Childhood
Childhood, and experience
Childhood, concept of,
Childhood, depiction of
Children
Children, in art
Cole, Ardra
Collodi, Carlo
comedic
contingency
contingency, as concept
contingency, historic
convergence, as concept
convergence, in art
convergent I, the
Cortzar, Julio
Courbet, Gustave
Creed, Martin
Cricket, the game of
critical pedagogy
critique, as practice in art
critique, in philosophy
Croce, Benedetto
Cultural Studies
culture
culture industry, the
Currin, John
Dada
Dal, Salvador
Danto, Arthur
dark night
Daumier, Honor
Davoli, Ninetto
De Chirico, Giorgio
De Zoysa, Richard
Delaunay, Robert
democracy
200

Depero, Fortunato
Derrida, Jacques
Descartes, Rene
deschooling
dialectic
dialectic,
positiveminds04@gmail.com
Diana, Princess of Wales
difference
diffrend
doing
doing, as distinct from making
Donatello
Douanier, Henri Rousseau Le
Dubek, Alexander
Duns Scotus, John
dnamis
Eco, Umberto
Education
Education, Arts
Education, general
Emancipation
Emin, Tracey
empathic recurrence
empathy
enigma
enlightenment
entelechy
Epictetus
epoch
equality
equity
eudaimonia
event
exit
exit pedagogy
experience
fascism
fascism of representation
Filippo Lippi, Fra
first-person fallacy of art-making
Fo, Dario
form
form, as eidos (idea)
form, in art

KEYWORDS

formation
formativity
Fossati, Paulo
Fra Angelico
fragments
Francis of Assisi
Freire, Paulo
Freud, Sigmund
futurism
Gadamer, Hans Georg
Gandhi, Mohandas
Gauguin, Paul
Gibson, Ian
Giddens, Anthony
gift
Giotto
givenness
Gombrich, Ernst
goodness
Goskyr, Toril
Goya, Francisco
Gramsci, Antonio
grasping
Gray, Carole
Greene, Maxine
ground
groundlessness
Guevara, Ernesto Che
Guevara, Ernesto Che
happiness
Hauser, Arnold
Hegel, Georg Friedrich
Heidegger, Martin
Heller, Agnes
hermeneutics
Hickman, Richard
Hirst, DamienDanto
historical contingency
historicity
history
history
Holdridge, Lin
homo aestheticus
homo faber
Horkheimer, Max

Hullot-Kentor, Robert
Husserl, Edmund
hybridity
identity
ignorance
ignorant schoolmaster
illusion
image
image, and word
image, as representation
impasse
impasse, as revolution
inclusion
inclusion, critique of
inclusion, social
individuality
Infant modernity
Ingres, Jean Auguste
intentionality
interpretation
invalid hope
Iotti, Nilde
irenic, the
ironic, the
irony
Ishiguro, Kazuo
Jaruzelski, Wojciech
Jenkins, Ron
John of the Cross
John Paul II (Karol Woytila)
Jospin, Lionel
Joyce, James
judgement
Juno
Kandinsky, Wassily
Kant, Immanuel
kenosis
khra
Kierkegaard, Sren
knowing
Knowles, J. Gary,
Kristeva, Julia
Kundera, Milan
Laclau, Ernesto
Laicit
201

KEYWORDS

Lenin, Vladimir Ilic


Levinas, Emmanuel
liberty
liberty, third concept of
logos
Longo, Luigi
Lorca, Federico Garcia
Lukcs, Georg
Machiavelli, Niccol
Macleod, Katy
Magritte, Rene
Mahler, Gustave
making
making, as distinct from doing
Malins, Julian
Mann, Thomas
Mao, Zedong
Marcuse, Herbert
Marinetti, Filipp Tommaso
Maritain, Jacques ??
Martens, Camilla
Martin, James
Marx, Karl
mask
meaning
Mediterranean
memory
meritocracy
Mszros, Istvan
Metaphysical Art
Michelangelo (Buonarroti)
Millet, Jean Franois
modernity
Montale, Eugenio
Morrison, Toni
mourning
mourning, as law
mourning, the critique of
Murdoch, Iris
mythos
Nagel, Thomas
nave
nave art
nave, concept of, in art
Neri, Filippo, St.
202

Newman, ??
Nietzsche, Friedrich
nihilism
nobody
non-art
non-form
non-form
non-identity
nostalgia
nstos
Obama, Barack Hussein
object
occurrence
Oedipus
Offili, Chris
otherness
own damaged good
Paese dei Balocchi (see Pinocchio)
paidagogo
particularity
Pasolini, Pier Paolo
Paul, St., the apostle
ped(ago)gy
pedagoga
pedagogy
pedagogy, as exiting
pedagogy, critical
pedagogy, liberal
pedagogy, progressive
Pellizza da Volpedo, Giovanni
performativity
phenomena
Picasso, Pablo
Pinocchio
Pinocchio, Funland
Plato
play
play, and education
play, and experience
play, concept of
play, in
playground
poien
polis
politics of aesthetics

KEYWORDS

polity
Pollock, Jackson
Poole, Roger
possibility
Previati, Gaetano
Pseudo-Dionysius
purpose
purpose,
and
purposiveness/purposefulness
purpose, in art
purposefulness, without purpose
quidditas
quotidian, the
quotidianity
Raffaello Sanzio (see Raphael)
Rame, Franca
Rancire, Jacques
Raphael
reality
reality, construction of
reality, in art
recurrence
recurrence, eternal
redemption
Rego, Paula
remains of the day
remains, as concept
Renaissance
representation
representation of Fascism
revolution
revolution, and art
revolution, and education
revolution, and impasse
revolution, concept of
revolution, politics of
Reynolds, Joshua
Rorty, Richard
Rose, Gillian
Rosso, Medardo
Rousseau, Henri Le Douanier
Rousseau, Jean Jacques
Rovatti, GianPiero
Sartre, Jean Paul
satire

satire, and irony


satire, in art
Schiller, Friedrich
Schoenberg, Arnold
School, the
Segantini, Luigi
semblance
September 11th (9/11)
Siegesmund, Richard
singularity
singularity, universal
situatedness
Skinner, Quentin
Smithson, Robert
social justice
Socrates
Soffici, Ardegno
Solidarno
Sophocles
Souyri, Pierre
standards
Stein, Edit (Teresa Benedicta of the
Cross)
Stein, Edith
subject, the
subjectivity
Sullivan, Graeme
Surrealism
Taleban
Tpies, Antoni
Tat, Antonio
Tea Party, Patriots
tkhne
teleological projects
teleological quandaries
teleology
tlos
Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (see
Stein, Edith)
Teresa of Avila
third genre
third way
third way discourse
time
Togliatti, Palmiro
203

KEYWORDS

Tot (Antonio de Curtis)


toys
toys, and art
toys, and play
toys, as memory
Tragedy, and comedy
Tragedy, as art form
Tragedy, German
truth
truth, as limit
truth, as plural
truth, in art
truth, the
Turner Prize
Tzara, Tristan
Uccello, Paolo
ugly, as antigrazioso
ugly, concept of
ugly, in art
Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen)
universal singularity
universality

204

untruth
uselessness
uselessness
values
Van Eyck, Jan
Van Gogh, Vincent
Vattimo, Gianni
Velasquez, Diego
Verwindung
Vico, Giambattista
violated possibility
way out
way out, arts
weak pedagogy
weak thought
weakness, as kenosis
Wilde, Oscar
Williams, Raymond
Wittgenstein, Ludwig
Woolf, Virginia
Zabala, Santiago
iek, Slavoj