Contemporary Art - Beautiful or Sublime. Kant in Rancière, Lyotard and Deleuze, Stephen Zepkedoc

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Avello Publishing Journal Vol. 1, No. 1. 2011 Contemporary art - beautiful or sublime? Kant in Rancière, Lyotard and Deleuze. Stephen ep!e, ni#ersity of $ienna. Recent French aesthetic theory remains fixated on the realm of sensation that was laid out for art by Kant. We might find this surprising given that art since the end of the 60s – and with uchamp earlier – too! a path that re ected sensation #or at least challenged its privilege$ in

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  Avello Publishing Journal Vol. 1, No. 1. 2011 Contemporary art - beautiful or sublime? Kant in Rancière, Lyotard and Deleuze.   Stephen ep!e, ni#ersity of $ienna.  Recent French aesthetic theory remains fixated on the realm of sensation that was laid out for art by Kant. We might find this surprising given that art since the end of the 60s – and with uchamp earlier – too! a path that re ected sensation #or at least challenged its privilege$ in favor of conceptual and political practices that mixed art with philosophy% mass&media% information technology and the rest of the world. 'oday% there are no expectations that art should be a specific medium% (uite the opposite% and if it is to be considered )contemporary) it must include a minimum of conceptual * political techni(ues and ob ectives. +t is therefore somewhat ironic% given their importance to art theory today% that the aesthetics of ,ac(ues Ranci-re% ,ean&Franois /yotard and illes eleu1e remain largely concerned with the legacy of Kant. 2oth /yotard and eleu1e place Kant)s experience of the sublime at the base of their aesthetics and indeed their ontology% while Ranci-re condemns them for this% and favors Kant)s category of the beautiful. 'racing these differences provides a Kantian topology of contemporary aesthetics% and reveals some of the deeper implications these different philosophies of difference have for contemporary art and aesthetics. Ranci-re develops his )politics of aesthetics) in the wa!e of Foucault)s historici1ation of Kant)s 'ranscendental 3esthetic. Following Foucault% Ranci-re claims there is an aesthetics  at the core of politics that operates )as the system of a priori forms determining what presents itself to sense experience) #4005 7$. 'his )partition of the sensible) determines the conditions of possibility for what can be seen and said% thereby establishing the rules for belonging to a given community. 8olitics is the articulation of a )disagreement) with these rules and conditions% it is the emergence of a )part that has no part) in statements that manage to force their way in to produce a new and e(ual )common) space. irectly concerned with the sensible as such% the avant&garde movements of art into life #postmodern non&art$ and life into art #modernist art for art)s sa!e$ converge )in the same initial !ernel) #4009: 75$. 'his )!ernel) is their shared attempt to )reframe material and symbolic space) by creating a )dissensus) #4009: 45&;$. 2oth of these movements create a )fissure in the sensible order by confronting the established framewor! of perception% thought% and action with the 1  )inadmissible)) #4005: <;$. 3s a result% both modern and postmodern avant&gardes are historical examples of how art produces )a regime of the sensible that has become foreign to itself) #4005 47$. Ranci-re)s concept of )dissensus) is based on the Kantian concept of the beautiful% and the )free&play) of the faculties it implies. 3ccording to Kant the pleasure given by the beautiful emerges when a sensible experience is undetermined by both the understanding #the conditions of possible experience$ and reason #a universal idea of )art)% or a personal desire$% and so enters into a new relationship with them. )+t is this neither... nor... that defines the experience of the beautiful as the experience of a !ind of resistance)% Ranci-re argues% a dissensus at once aesthetic and political because it produces a new regime of the sensible #400: =7$ .  2oth forms of the artistic avant&garde therefore ma!e a )distinction between modes of being) #4009: 49$% they distinguish between the given mode of being and )a sensible mode of being specific to artistic products) #4005: 44$. 3n art wor! is therefore )political) when it produces a heterogeneous experience that )suspends the ordinary connections not only between appearance and reality% but also between form and matter% activity and passivity% understanding and sensibility) #4009: 7$. We can clearly see Kant in this last suspended opposition% which occurs in the aesthetic experience of beauty. 3 specific form is beautiful when it is produced by a disinterested )free&play) of the faculties% but because this udgment is undetermined by a concept or +dea% it reveals an a priori principle which ma!es this udgement universal. 2eauty as a reflective udgement of taste is political for Ranci-re because it is a singular sensible experience that creates a new% universal partition of the sensible% or sensus communis . 2eauty is at once a singular difference arising as a )dissensus) within the realm of the given% but it is also the promise of a new e(uality emerging beyond the current conditions of domination and disparity. +n this sense art)s )beauty) is an eruption of e(uality in the realm of the sensible% it is a new sensual )common)% and promises the freedom of a new and undetermined community. +n the realm of contemporary art this has the remar!able conse(uence of erasing the current preference for non&art strategies #what Ranci-re calls )autonomous art)$ over formal modernist strategies #which Ranci-re calls )heteronomous art)$. 3s Ranci-re puts it>'he aesthetic regime of art institutes the relation between the forms of identification of art and the forms of political community in such a way as to challenge in advance every opposition between autonomous art and heteronomous art% art for art)s sa!e and art in the service of politics% museum art and street art. ?...@ 'hus there is no conflict between the purity of art and its politici1ation #4009: 74$. 2  'his eradication of conflict between modern and postmodern aesthetic strategies% Ranci-re argues% wor!s both ways. An the one hand% the concentration on )pure form) in modernism is not an insistence on material at the expense of life% but the creation of a radically democratic heteronomous sensation that becomes )the constitutive instrument for a new dBcor of living). An the other% the )politici1ation) of art is not achieved by art simply supporting a political movement% but by bringing art into the everyday so as to achieve )a revolution in the very mode of production of material life) #4009: 77$. +n this very positive sense% art&into&life is more than simply the angry erasure of art)s heteronomy% ust as art for art)s sa!e is more than solipsistic self&reflexivity% as both draw upon aspects of the other in directly contributing to the construction of a new sensibility. 3s a result% both sides of the modern*postmodern opposition operate through the same )founding paradox)% one Ranci-re continually repeats> )art is art insofar as it is also non&art% or is something other than art) #4009: 76% see also 400: <% 40: 7;$. 3rt is political by first of all dissenting from the sensible givens that regulate )life) #ie.% by being )art) undetermined by life$% and then by see!ing to create a new )life) in which this dissensus disappears #ie.% by being )life) undetermined by the +dea of )art)$. 3s a result% the )two vanishing points) of Ranci-re)s aesthetic regime – art and non&art – each imply their opposite% causing the aesthetic regime to constantly )shuttle between) its constitutive poles #400: 74$. Conse(uently% there is no chronology or priority to these positions in aesthetic or political terms% leading to what in our present context is a surprising conclusion> )'here is no postmodern rupture. 'here is a contradiction that is srcinary and unceasingly at wor!) #4009: 76$. Ranci-re offers Dchiller)s ) aesthetic state ) as the )first manifesto) of the aesthetic regime #4005: 45$. 'his aesthetic state mar!s both the )fundamental identity) and the )dual cancellation) of an active thought and a passive receptivity of sensible matter in the )free&play) of the faculties #4005: 45% 4=$.   +t is this )play) that ma!es beautiful art adhere )to a sensorium different to that of domination) #4009: 70$. +n this way% Ranci-re argues% Dchiller )translates) Kant)s aesthetics into political propositions #4009: 7$% because aesthetic play creates )the material reali1ation of an unconditional freedom and pure thought in common forms of life and belief) #4005: 4=$. 'hese common forms% whether generated by a heteronomous modernist art or a postmodern art of the everyday% offer an experience )which appears as the germ of a new humanity% of a new form of individual and collective life) #4009 74$. Ranci-re)s understanding of Dchiller)s )aesthetic state) is the way he transforms art into )real) politics% most importantly by by&passing )representation)> 1  Elsewhere Ranci-re suggests the Kantian concept of the )aesthetic idea) as a )representation of the imagination which induces much thought% yet without the possibility of any definitive thought whatever% i.e.% concept% being ade(uate to it) #40 5$. 3  'he suspension of power% the neither...nor... specific to the aesthetic state announces a wholly new revolution: a revolution in the forms of sensory existence% instead of a simple upheaval of the forms of state> a revolution that is no mere displacement of powers% but a neutrali1ation of the very forms by which power is exercised% overturning other powers and having themselves overturned. 3esthetic free play – or neutrali1ation  – defines a novel mode of experience that bears within it a new form of )sensible) universality and e(uality #4009: 99$.3lthough Ranci-re)s affirmation of Dchiller)s )aesthetic state) conveniently accounts for a modernist heterogeneous sensation and postmodern conceptual autonomy within the same paradigm or )regime)% it is also confronted by the eruption – in Kant and in recent French aesthetic theory – of another aesthetic state% the sublime. +n /yotard)s and eleu1e)s affirmation of the sublime the free play of the faculties is overturned% and the sensus communis is gleefully and irremediably shattered. +n their place emerges difference in itself% a super&sensible but nevertheless immanent element that is the vital and virtual principle of sensation% a sensation&event that is expressed or actuali1ed in an art wor! ade(uate to its sublime dimensions. Ranci-re will condemn both /yotard and eleu1e for their sublime aesthetics% as we will see% and it is through these various confrontations that it might be possible to begin a mapping of the aesthetics and politics of the present. /yotard)s commitment to the radical heterogeneity of odern art is immediately obvious in his championing of 2arnett Gewman. /yotard argues that Gewman)s paintings give an atemporal experience of the )here and now)% an experience that is sublime because it )dismantles) consciousness #99: 90$. espite its sublimity /yotard distinguishes Gewman)s wor! from Romanticism because it doesn)t see! to represent a )beyond) and so mourn its passing% but tries )to  be a visual event in itself) #99: <7$. /ac!ing Sehnsucht the )it happens) of the empirical event represents nothing% because in relation to a consciousness that might experience it this event is unpresentable. 'his unpresentable  presence of the painting&event is immanent to the sensible inasmuch as it embodies the difference between sensibility #the aistheton $ and its comprehension in thought% between the presentation itself and what is presented% this difference being what /yotard calls a différend . 4  'his sublime event of the )now) characteri1es% /yotard claims% not only Gewman)s wor! but modern avant&garde painting in general #99: 97$. +ndeed% /yotard)s differences with Ranci-re become clear at this point> )'he current of )abstract) painting has its source%) /yotard claims% )in the re(uirement for indirect and all but ungraspable allusion to the invisible in the visible. 'he sublime% and not the beautiful% is the sentiment called forth by these wor!s) #99: 46$. 2  /yotard writes% )a differend ? différend @ would be a case of conflict% between #at least$ two parties% that cannot be e(uitably resolved for lac! of a rule of udgment applicable to both arguments) #9<<a xi$. 4
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