In Praise of Nonsense

In Praise of Nonsense: Aesthetics, Uncertainty, and Postmodern Identity

Ted Hibert
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    In Praise of Nonsense
    Book Description:

    What is truth in the postmodern age? The artistic generation of the twentieth century has grown up immersed in the delirious imagination of postmodern thought, which insists upon the ultimate uncertainty of meaning and that there is no self-evident truth. In Praise of Nonsense explores the possibilities and parameters of a postmodern imagination freed from the philosophical responsibilities of fiction, fact, and replication of lived experience. Mobilizing an array of scholars and contemporary artists, this study examines postmodern thinking through the lenses of identity and visual culture. Speculative, critical, and always creative in its approach, In Praise of Nonsense focuses on theories of disappearance, irony, and nonsense, where the pleasures of the imaginary give rise to artistic inspiration. When truth is unhinged, so is falsity, and all artistic thinking is called into question. Ted Hiebert takes on the ambitious project of holding postmodernism accountable for its own conclusions while also considering how those conclusions might still be given philosophical and artistic form.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8733-5
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Preface
    (pp. 3-12)
  6. PART ONE Technologies of Disappearance

    • [PART ONE: Introduction]
      (pp. 13-19)

      Jorge Luis Borges wrote a fable about a man who spent years of his life attempting to dream into existence a perfect child. In his dreams he began by looking for a child that already existed, but soon realized he would have to create this being himself. And so he began, building the child piece by piece – fourteen nights of dreaming to make a heart, a year more until he had rendered into lucid imagination a full skeleton, and shortly after a complete child, asleep in his father’s dream just as his father slept in the world. The final step...

    • 1 Willful Alienation
      (pp. 20-36)

      There are certain moments when the creature called technology begins to reanimate, reinvigorating itself through an elaborate fiction of mediation and taking on mythological proportions in the process. At times such as these, technology begins to challenge its own utility – reversing the formula and imposing itself instead on the human utensil, extending those interfaced bodies in a dance of machinic destiny. Is it any wonder that under such circumstances the human control centre gets nervous?

      A recent exhibition by Christian Kuras portrays this relationship well, creating monuments to contemporary mythology, golems of a revivified technological mysticism.Nervous Control Centreis...

    • 2 Prosthetic Phenomenology
      (pp. 37-52)

      There are certain media dynamics that could never have existed before the voices of a televised generation stepped on stage. Among the voices is a challenge to the typically formulated media relationship in which the audience is a passive witness, mindlessly consuming entertainment and through so doing also passively ingesting the ideologies of a consumer media culture. There is a video by artist Michael Paget that perfectly represents this alternative voice of a media generation, a voice that is in no way passive in its consumer habits; a voice that instead treats spectatorship as an opportunity.

      Two young men are...

    • 3 Vacuous Being
      (pp. 53-68)

      The most challenging, preoccupying, and devastating forms of disappearance are those that occur despite their own impossibility, seemingly reviving a lost kernel of appearance while actually doing nothing of the sort. This phenomenon is on display in Duncan MacKenzie’s sculptureKiddie Pool, a provocative conflation of playful consumerism and morbidity.

      Into the kiddie pool go the summer memories of the nostalgic mind: hot sunny days spent running through the sprinklers or around the block, bike rides through the playground, sleepovers with friends and siblings. To remember in this way is not different from resurrecting moments gone, moments archived that can...

  7. PART TWO Technologies of Ironic Appearance

    • [PART TWO: Introduction]
      (pp. 69-76)

      The performance of disappearance always contains a trace of irony, a selfreflexive relationship to the paradox of its own impossibility. Consider theGreek myth of Daedalus and Icarus, the story of a father and son who escaped the island of Crete on wings made of wax and feathers. The story is part allegory, part catalyst for the imaginary, part challenge to the constraints of reasonable thinking. It is also a story of possibility, imagined into existence and just as quickly subsumed by the ironies of experience.

      As the legend goes, Daedalus was a craftsman of some renown, who, ended up on...

    • 4 Playing Dead
      (pp. 77-91)

      The irony of contemporary living is that not all disappearances are equivalent, and not all forms of incommensurability come with the same set of consequences.

      Mohawk artist Jackson 2bears has something to say about ironic appearance.Ten Little Indians [Remix]is a video and audio re-mix of the (once popular) children’s songTen Little Indians, a song now rarely heard because of its overtly racial subject matter, a social and historical prejudice that contemporary society finds distasteful because it refuses to acknowledge the persistence of such bias. 2bears’ remix seems, at first glance, to be a political activism of sorts,...

    • 5 Mirrors that Pout
      (pp. 92-109)

      How many Scott Rogers does it take to find Scott Rogers? An interesting paradox since the more Scott Rogers’ one finds, the more difficult it is to say which Scott Rogers one was looking for. The more Scott Rogers are discovered, the less Scott Rogers is able to just be himself, the less distinct is each and every Scott Rogers, the more each begins to diffuse into the nebulae of Scotts-Rogers, the less recognizable is any given Scott Rogers among the horde of others who, by all accounts, seem just like him.

      This would seem to be the central point...

    • 6 Perspectival Roadkill
      (pp. 110-130)

      On the streets of Montreal, an archaeopteryx is loose. Traveling sometimes as one and sometimes as many, this mythical creature is intimately familiar with the circulatory dynamic of the city. A strange evolutionary link – not quite bird but no longer dinosaur – the archaeopteryx refuses all categories except for those “in between.” But perhaps this is why the creature can be so at home in a city like Montreal, a city that is an ongoing evolutionary festival, never stopping, never ending, forever refusing all that is static and binding, a city where categories stand up and protest and bleed back into...

  8. PART THREE Technologies of Nonsense

    • [PART THREE: Introduction]
      (pp. 131-139)

      InThe Psychoanalysis of Fire, Gaston Bachelard proposed the Prometheus complex as the drive towards knowledge that is characteristic of intellectual life. Arguing that the knowledge of fire originates from a point of general and social prohibition (a child is prohibited from playing with fire, for example) Bachelard draws a parallel to the Greek myth in which Prometheus steals fire from the Gods. Learning (and knowledge in general) in this case must always involve an element of transgression, defiance or an “art of clever disobedience.”¹ In Bachelard’s words: “We propose, then, to place together under the name of the Prometheus...

    • 7 Becoming-Rorschach
      (pp. 140-161)

      Jorge Luis Borges once wrote about a map so large that it covered the entirety of the territory it was intended to describe.² This story is much cited by theorists of the postmodern, in particular by the French thinker Jean Baudrillard who has proclaimed that when maps are capable of this amount of detail it means that the territory beneath the map, or the reality beneath the simulation, has entirely disappeared – murdered by the map itself.³

      We may think that the real persists despite maps, but a simple question reveals the fallacy here: which real? No longer is the map...

    • 8 Photographing Vampires
      (pp. 162-185)

      There is a deep, dark secret to photography, one which most people are unaware of. Photography is a practice of deceit, betrayal, and inevitably, violation. But this has nothing to do with the photographic subject or with the photographer him or herself. It is a characteristic of the very medium. Marshall McLuhan said that the medium is the message, but Susan Sontag took this a step further, claiming that “the camera is sold as a predatory weapon.”²

      What is it that the camera preys upon? It is not the image, for the image is implicated in the act of appearance....

    • 9 Metaphysical Laziness
      (pp. 186-205)

      Just when we were coming to terms with the fact that the world is round, theoretical physics comes along and tells us the universe is flat. They know this by default, which is to say simply that none of their calculations make sense in anything other than a flat universe. And, of course, it could not be the calculations that are wrong. Yet, if this hypothesis had been tested in some way, we could feel a lot better about it. If, for example, they knew that the universe was flat because somewhere, at some time, a satellite strangely fell off...

  9. Postscript
    (pp. 206-214)

    The strangeness of an encounter with the contemporary world is that the conditions of understanding have disappeared into the lived necessity of aesthetic practice. Possibility no longer being accountable to truth or to falsity, the delusion of subjectivity is fair game. The only necessary caveat is that if one does not believe in the possibilities of one’s delusions then those same delusions will be limited by the doubt harboured towards them.

    There is a philosophical paradox that emerges when one advocates for the relevance of that which occurs anyways – in spite, or in defiance, or in ignorance of philosophy. What...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 215-224)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 225-232)
  12. Index
    (pp. 233-236)