Philosophers on Art from Kant to the Postmodernists

Philosophers on Art from Kant to the Postmodernists: A Critical Reader

Edited by Christopher Kul-Want
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 376
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    Philosophers on Art from Kant to the Postmodernists
    Book Description:

    Here, for the first time, Christopher Kul-Want brings together twenty-five texts on art written by twenty philosophers. Covering the Enlightenment to postmodernism, these essays draw on Continental philosophy and aesthetics, the Marxist intellectual tradition, and psychoanalytic theory, and each is accompanied by an overview and interpretation.

    The volume features Martin Heidegger on Van Gogh's shoes and the meaning of the Greek temple; Georges Bataille on Salvador Dalí's The Lugubrious Game; Theodor W. Adorno on capitalism and collage; Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes on the uncanny nature of photography; Sigmund Freud on Leonardo Da Vinci and his interpreters; Jacques Lacan and Julia Kristeva on the paintings of Holbein; Freud's postmodern critic, Gilles Deleuze on the visceral paintings of Francis Bacon; and Giorgio Agamben on the twin traditions of the Duchampian ready-made and Pop Art. Kul-Want elucidates these texts with essays on aesthetics, from Hegel and Nietzsche to Badiou and Rancière, demonstrating how philosophy adopted a new orientation toward aesthetic experience and subjectivity in the wake of Kant's powerful legacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52625-8
    Subjects: Philosophy, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction: Art and Philosophy
    (pp. 1-20)

    “I passed beyond the unreality of the thing represented, I entered crazily into the spectacle, into the image.”¹ So wrote Roland Barthes in 1980 about his passionate relationship to the image. Such a response, he proposed, arose because images have an immeasurable power—the power to overwhelm the subject and shatter their sense of self. This sublime experience of losing oneself in the image is underpinned by an approach that sees the image as equivalent with reality, and vice versa. Inseparable, and yet in an unstable relationship owing to their interchangeability yet their difference, image and reality implode in a...

  5. 1 Critique of Judgment
    (pp. 21-39)
    Immanuel Kant

    Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Judgment (1790) is one of the founding texts of aesthetics, representing a crosscurrent of ideas springing from the metaphysical tradition of philosophy and the growth of Romantic thought in the eighteenth century. Its importance lies in its consideration of the ways in which certain aesthetic experiences (of the beautiful and the sublime) cannot be classified as objects of knowledge.

    The framework for Kant’s consideration of aesthetics was established in the earlier critical philosophy—the Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and the Critique of Practical Reason (1788)—in which he referred to a tripartite network of three...

  6. 2 Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics
    (pp. 40-59)
    Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

    Influenced by rationalist ideas concerning the primacy of the mind, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) developed a teleological account of the history of humankind’s awakening consciousness and realization of Spirit (Geist). Hegel’s reputation and influence rest upon four published books—The Phenomenology of Spirit(1807), The Science of Logic (1812–16), The Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817), and The Philosophy of Right (1821)—and the numerous series of lectures he gave at the University of Berlin, where he was professor of philosophy between 1818 and 1831. Many of these lectures were compiled posthumously. Included in them was an important...

  7. 3 How the “True World” Finally Became a Fable: The History of an Error The Will to Power as Art
    (pp. 60-73)
    Friedrich Nietzsche

    The son of a Lutheran minister, Friedrich Nietzsche was born in Röcken bei Lützen, a village in Saxony, in 1844. A brilliant student, he gained a chair in classical philology at the University of Basel, in Switzerland, at the age of only twenty-four. After retiring from academic life in 1879 on account of poor health, Nietzsche concentrated upon writing, and for the next decade he published a succession of books almost annually. Nietzsche suffered a nervous breakdown in 1889, spending the rest of his life in a sanatorium without writing any further, and he died in 1900.

    Following Nietzsche’s death,...

  8. 4 Beyond the Pleasure Principle Leonardo da Vinci and a Memory of His Childhood
    (pp. 74-95)
    Sigmund Freud

    Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) is often credited as “the inventor of the unconscious”—a possibly extravagant claim, notwithstanding the fact that he founded the institution of psychoanalysis and had a seminal influence upon the modern theory of the psyche. During the course of his work, Freud wrote a number of papers on the subjects of creativity and art (including both visual art and literature). These form part of Freud’s overall investigation into the psyche, as constituted by the id, the ego, and the superego, and its relationship to neurotic or pathological symptoms and fantasies (which Lacan later referred to as...

  9. 5 The Lugubrious Game
    (pp. 96-101)
    Georges Bataille

    Friedrich Nietzsche’s vision of a Dionysian energy of libidinal intoxication had a profound effect upon a number of disaffected surrealist intellectuals and social scientists in France in the 1920s and 1930s, including Georges Bataille (1897–1962). Bataille’s day job until 1942 was in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. He was also involved in a number of factious organizations and projects, among which was the publication, beginning in 1929, of the short-lived journal Documents, from which the following text is taken.

    Bataille developed Nietzsche’s ideas of excess through his own theory of the universe’s solar energy as an economy of consumption...

  10. 6 A Small History of Photography
    (pp. 102-117)
    Walter Benjamin

    Opposed equally to capitalist and totalitarian ideologies, Walter Benjamin (1892–1940) made a series of important contributions to debates in the 1930s about art’s political efficacy in the context of a wider investigation into the historical origins and telos of modernity. As such, his writings bear comparison with those of his compatriots Martin Heidegger and Theodor Adorno.

    As a Marxist, Benjamin focused his aesthetic concerns upon media that he believed would best suit the revolutionary purposes of the proletariat. As a consequence, he rejected the aesthetic experience associated with the contemplation of art—owing to its auratic character—concentrating instead...

  11. 7 Nietzsche’s Overturning of Platonism The Origin of the Work of Art
    (pp. 118-148)
    Martin Heidegger

    Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) is one of the most famous of twentiethcentury philosophers. His book Being and Time (1927) is a landmark in philosophical thought, raising the issue of a crisis in modernity that can be resolved only by a wholesale rethinking of contemporary humankind’s thought and very existence. Inevitably, Heidegger’s reputation has been colored by his association with National Socialism, beginning during his appointment as rector of the University of Freiburg from 1933 to 1934. After the Second World War, Heidegger was prohibited from teaching owing to his support of the Nazis, although he resumed lecturing at Freiburg in...

  12. 8 The Mirror Stage as Formative of the Function of the I of the Gaze as Objet Petit a
    (pp. 149-167)
    Jacques Lacan

    Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) was one of the leading interpreters of Freudian psychoanalysis in the twentieth century. His seminars and papers have been highly influential upon the development of theories of subjectivity and visual representation. Lacan described his psychoanalytic project as “a return to Freud.” Ferdinand de Saussure, whose influence is felt in Lacan’s famous dictum, “ the unconscious is structured like a language,” closely informed this “return.” The phrase is intended to stress the idea that the psyche, with its conscious and unconscious minds, is formed together with language. The psyche’s dependence upon language underpins Lacan’s approach to the...

  13. 9 Las Meninas
    (pp. 168-177)
    Michel Foucault

    Michel Foucault (1926–1984) described his philosophical project as an “archaeology of knowledge.” Ranging over subjects of sexuality, madness, discipline, and punishment, Foucault investigated the network of ideologies, beliefs, and values composing the different “epistemes,” or discursive systems, governing knowledge and its formation in the West. As well as mapping out the transition points between these systems, this investigation implicitly demarcated the knowledge bases and ideological limits of each episteme with the effect that each episteme is viewed as singular and discontinuous without any teleological sense of progress or ultimate completion to history. With this approach to history in mind,...

  14. 10 Society
    (pp. 178-183)
    Theodor Adorno

    Theodor Adorno (1903–1969) was one of the leading Marxist intellectuals of the modern period. In 1931, together with Max Horkheimer, he founded the Institute for Social Research in Frankfurt, which came to be known as the Frankfurt School. In its heyday from its inception through to the 1960s, the philosophers of the Frankfurt School played an important role in interrogating the legacy of Enlightenment rationalism as transmitted through the ideologies of capitalism and totalitarianism.

    Adorno developed a methodology of “negative dialectics,” the purpose of which was to negate notions of transcendence as perpetuated by ideology while maintaining, at least...

  15. 11 The Work of Art and Fantasy
    (pp. 184-194)
    Sarah Kofman

    The work of the French philosopher Sarah Kofman (1934–1994) represents a cross-current of influences derived from her studies under Gilles Deleuze, who supervised her primary thesis,¹ Jacques Derrida, who she met in 1969 and whose seminars she attended at the École Normale Supérieure, and André Green, a Lacanian psychoanalyst whose seminars she also attended at the Institute for Psychoanalysis in Paris in the late 1960s. Kofman’s writings provide a reading of Freud, via Lacan and Derrida, that counters Deleuze’s staunch opposition to psychoanalysis but is compatible with his admiration of Nietzsche. Between 1970 and her death, Kofman published a...

  16. 12 Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography
    (pp. 195-204)
    Roland Barthes

    Roland Barthes (1915–1980) was born into a Protestant family in Cherbourg, in northern France, and taught in the last part of his life at the École Practique des Hautes Études and the Collège de France in Paris.¹ As Barthes describes in his autobiography,Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes (1975),² his family was descended from a line of petit-bourgeois notaries whose utilitarian approach to language and meaning came to represent the very antithesis of his own. In the 1960s and 1970s, in the eponymous journal of the Tel Quel group,³ Barthes propagated the notion of “the death of the author” by...

  17. 13 Giotto’s Joy Holbein’s Dead Christ
    (pp. 205-216)
    Julia Kristeva

    Julia Kristeva was born in 1941 in Bulgaria but left the Soviet-dominated state in 1965 and settled in Paris, where she continues to work as a psychoanalyst and academic at the University of Paris VII. She was a member of the leftist intellectual group associated with the literary journal Tel Quel in the 1960s and 1970s, when she developed a poststructuralist approach to semiology as a radical challenge to patriarchal notions of identity and representation.

    In much of her work, including the accompanying passages of writing, “Giotto’s Joy,”¹ Kristeva investigates experience beyond patriarchal representation—“something that is more-than-speech”—through Barthes’s...

  18. 14 Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles
    (pp. 217-227)
    Jacques Derrida

    Jacques Derrida (1930–2004) is one of the most renowned philosophers of recent history, notable for his “deconstructive” readings of many of the canonical texts of philosophy¹ and for his contribution to debates about politics, ethics, and the arts. Deconstruction—a term Derrida popularized—is a form of analytic reading that opens up the given text to its own assumptions and contradictions so as to highlight the way in which, often despite itself, the text elides definite meaning or interpretation. Extending Saussure’s linguistic theories, Derrida emphasized the multiple and, ultimately, limitless nature of signification as “deferred” through space and time....

  19. 15 Hysteria
    (pp. 228-236)
    Gilles Deleuze

    Like many French philosophers of his generation, Gilles Deleuze (1925–1995) traced the origins of political and psychic repression to the afflictive influence of metaphysics upon Western thought and discourse. Informed by Nietzsche’s philosophy Deleuze proposed that “the enemy of life” lies in the metaphysical dialectic of presence and lack as this shapes the structure of representation.¹ With this in mind, Deleuze mounted a substantial critique of psychoanalysis and its theory of desire, which, he suggested, supports the notion of the subject through a dialectic of desired phallic unity (presence) and repetition driven by lack.² In contrast to this dialectical...

  20. 16 Answering the Question: What Is Postmodernism?
    (pp. 237-249)
    Jean-François Lyotard

    Jean-François Lyotard (1924–1998) was a major force in debates about the postmodern in the last decades of the twentieth century, to which he brought a reading of Kant’s critical philosophy. In his book The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979),¹ Lyotard claims that “the status of knowledge is altered as societies enter what is known as the postindustrial age and cultures enter what is known as the postmodern age.”² Lyotard argues that knowledge, whether scientific, technological, or otherwise, depends upon its legitimization by ideas of progress and utopias that are ultimately modeled upon the teleological “metadiscourses” of religion...

  21. 17 Privation Is Like a Face
    (pp. 250-258)
    Giorgio Agamben

    The Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben (b. 1942) has come to prominence over recent years for his work on citizens’ rights and totalitarian policies of exclusion enforced by the so-called liberal democracies of the West. In this regard, Agamben’s ideas have been influenced by the work of Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, and Immanuel Levinas. This extract from The Man Without Content (originally published in 1994) is principally concerned with aesthetics rather than politics, but it shares a common strategy of thinking within the interstices of received assumptions and ideas that run throughout Agamben’s work.

    In “Privation Is Like A Face,” Agamben...

  22. 18 The Vestige of Art
    (pp. 259-276)
    Jean-Luc Nancy

    Jean-Luc Nancy (b. 1940) is professor of philosophy at the University of Strasbourg. He was a close associate of Jacques Derrida, and he has also worked in collaboration with Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. While his writings cover a variety of subjects a consistent theme is that of politics and the idea of a future community organized around singularities of being and experience.

    Referring to Hegel’s idea of “the end of art,” Nancy’s paper “The Vestige of Art” (1994) addresses the uncertain situation for art today concerning its definition, purpose, and value. Nancy sees the current anxiety over art’s status as part of...

  23. 19 Art and Philosophy
    (pp. 277-292)
    Alain Badiou

    Alain Badiou (b. 1937) is one of France’s leading philosophers. He teaches at the École Normale Supérieure and the Collège International de Philosophie in Paris. Badiou’s major work, Being and Event, was published in 1988, and its sequel, Logics of Worlds, came out in 2006. As the titles to these books suggest, Badiou’s philosophy is preoccupied with the history of evental changes to humanity’s understanding and beliefs and the way in which these changes are ontological without being metaphysical.

    “Art and Philosophy” is the first essay in Badiou’s Handbook of Inaesthetics (1998), which contains further chapters on Beckett, Mallarmé, Pessoa,...

  24. 20 The Janus-Face of Politicized Art
    (pp. 293-302)
    Jacques Rancière

    Jacques Rancière (b. 1940) taught at the University of Paris VIII from 1969 to 2000, occupying the chair of aesthetics and politics from 1990 until his retirement. He was a pupil of the Marxist theorist Louis Althusser, but, after the events of May 1968, he rejected Althusser’s claims for Marxism as an objective science. Since then Rancière has pursued Marxist concerns through a structuralist account of history allied to an inquiry into the relationship between discourse and the image as this informs, and is shaped by, dialectical thinking.

    Rather than subscribe to a postmodern rupture with the past, Rancière believes...

  25. Notes
    (pp. 303-336)
  26. Bibliography
    (pp. 337-344)
  27. Index
    (pp. 345-362)