Aesthetics & Philosophy of Art

Marxist Aesthetics, Realism, and Photography. On Brecht’s War Primer Capital in the Mirror:  Critical Social Theory and the Aesthetic Dimension, ed. Daniel Krier and Mark P. Worrell, New York: SUNY Press 2020, 63-88. [download]

In this essay, I present thoughts on critical aesthetics in connection with a theory of society that deals with the problem of the socially visible and invisible. By considering yet again Marx’s method in Capital, I will argue that the modern problem of how to make the invisible visible, i.e., of how to represent capital from an artistic point of view, originates in Marx’s philosophy and in Marxist methodology. In order to make sense of this thesis, I offer – in the form of a “case study” – reflections on Brecht’s Kriegsfibel (War Primer), which was first published in 1955 in the GDR. In this work, in the form of what he calls “photo-epigrams,” Brecht presents a history of WWII. The work consists of 81 photographic plates (taken from magazines) that display main figures and atrocities during WWII, which are accompanied by their original caption and brief four-line poems by Brecht. The principle of montage, in Brecht a proper realist practice, is central for this book, on which Brecht continuously worked since the early 30s (as one can see from his Journals). The problem of how to represent abstract social structures becomes, here, the problem of how to represent war and, most importantly, the problem of how to remember it. Put differently, the problem of (in)visibility can be found on virtually all levels of critical aesthetics: theory-capital-war-memory.

Sensuality, Materiality, Painting. What is Wrong with Jaspers’ and Heidegger’s van Gogh Interpretations? Van Gogh among the Philosophers: Painting, Thinking, Being, ed. David Nichols, Lanham: Lexington Books 2018, 81-97. [download]

I argue that both Jaspers and Heidegger miss the essential dimension of van Gogh’s art, namely, the role of materiality in painting. Van Gogh’s art is characterized by the attempt to preserve a certain non-representational quality of the sensational experience of the world in and through paint, but this gets lost in Heidegger’s attempt to eradicate all traces of subjectivity in van Gogh. Heidegger’s thesis that the work of art establishes a unique synthesis of earth and world ignores the role of the painting in van Gogh’s painting. Regarding Jasper’s psychologist and existentialist view of van Gogh’s art, his thesis that van Gogh’s change of style during the late 80s goes back to his schizophrenic illness ignores the fact that van Gogh’s change of style emerged out of his materialist vision of painting, which leads to a new conception of paintings as a synthesis of drawing and painting.

Representing Capital? Mimesis, Realism, and Contemporary Photography The Social Ontology of Capitalism, ed. Daniel Krier and Mark P. Worrell, London: Palgrave 2017, 173-193. [download]

We find the problematic relation between the socially visible and the socially invisible reflected in (critical) art and aesthetics; in particular, in the critical tradition of art and aesthetics in the 20th and 21st century, which includes Brecht, Eisenstein, Kluge, Benjamin, Adorno, and, more recently, Rossler, Farocki, Sekula, and Pagen. All of these artists, and perhaps art as such, are confronted with the problem of visibility and invisibility because art works cannot remain within the conceptual and theoretical realm alone, insofar as they are in need of the sensual presence of meaning. The problem becomes more difficult, however, when artists either explicitly work from a critical and Marxist standpoint (such as Farocki and Sekula do) or implicitly want to address capital, capitalism, globalization, economic issues, etc. in their work. The question, then, is very simple: how can something that is as such socially and really abstract, such as money, capital, exchange, global structures, trade flows, banks, financial speculations, etc. be made perceptible? Put plainly, how can that which is invisible be rendered visible? After introducing the problem of how to represent capital(ism) and after renewing the concept of mimesis and representation for critical purposes, I deal with two contemporary artists, Alan Sekula and Edward Burtynsky. As I will indicate, a critical concept of mimesis and a new realism is needed to further develop critical aesthetics in a Lukacsian spirit; for however one approaches the overall problem of the (socially) invisible, the following is clear: without a strong concept of contemporary realism, which is opposed to post-structuralist relativisms, the problem of how to represent capital in the arts cannot be tackled.

Husserl, Expressionism, and the Eidetic Impulse in Brücke’s Woodcut Phenomenology and the Arts, ed. Peter Costello and Licia Carlson, Lanham: Lexington Books 2016, 91-119. [download]

With very few exceptions, phenomenologists have not been very interested in reconstructing some of the leading ideas in the phenomenological tradition with respect to their origin into the culture within which they emerged. This lack of interest is even more surprising if we take into account that central concepts that phenomenologists have elucidated, such as empathy (Einfühlung), were employed in aesthetics and in the art world at the beginning of the 20th Century. My essay attempts to overcome this neglect and seeks to demonstrate how one of the most prominent ideas in phenomenology, namely, Husserl’s concept of eidetic insight and the “intuition of essences” are “echoed” by an aesthetic culture in Germany during the first decades of the 20th Century. In my contribution, I will focus on the fine arts and argue that Husserl’s eidetic variation and eidetic intuition can be understood from an aesthetic point of view and that they can be applied to art, especially to the German Expressionist tradition of graphic arts and wood cuts. The overall thesis of my essay is simple: the attempt by German Expressionist artists to reveal the essence of the world in their art (particularly artists of the “Bruecke” movement) should be seen as a kind of eidetic intuition that gives the viewer direct access to the truth of that which is depicted. Expressionist art, at least the movement that I have in mind, does not “apply” phenomenology; rather, in its core, it is phenomenological.

Art = Capital? Reflections on Joseph Beuys’ Das Kapital Raum 1970-1977 Against Value in the Arts and Education, ed. Sam Ladkin, Robert McKay, and Emile Bojesen, Rowman & Littlefield 2016, 93-213 [download]

In this essay I analyze one of the later works of art by Joseph Beuys entitled Das Kapital Raum 1970-1977 (housed in Hallen für neue Kunst in Schaffhausen) in relation to his ideas on social plasticity, human sensuality and creativity within a non-capitalist social horizon. As I demonstrate, Beuys’ ideas can be traced back to Feuerbach’s and Marx’s humanism, which includes central Marxist concepts such as alienation, value, and human productivity. In order to develop this philosophical background and to make Beuys’ conception of the work of art as a critical device and a process of social-political transformation visible, I will exclusively focus on his late work Das Kapital Raum 1970-1977. Beuys’ work is based on a conception of images as plastic images [Gebilde], i.e., the idea that an image organically contains its genesis and brings out its own formation as an inner result. Accordingly, the work of art is here understood as a process and as becoming. As I argue, Das Kapital Raum 1970-77 as a multi-dimensional, multi-media, and multi-sensual installation should be understood as a Denk-raum, i.e., as “spatialized thought” and a “room” that opens up and contains a vision of a non-capitalist form of social existence and social activity. As such, it should be understood as a vision that is against the abstractions of (capitalist) value.

Distant Presence. Representation, Painting and Photography in Gerhard Richter’s Reader Symposium. Canadian Journal for Continental Philosophy, 1/2012, 87-111. [download]

In this essay, I offer thoughts on the constitution of images in art, especially as they are constituted in painting and in photography. Utilizing ideas from Gadamer, Derrida, and Adorno, I shall argue that representation should be conceived as a performative concept and as an act of formation; i.e., as a process rather than as something “fixed.” My reflections will be carried out in connection with a careful analysis of Gerhard Richter’s painting “The Reader” (1994), which is a painting of a photograph that depicts a female who is reading. I demonstrate how a close analysis of this fascinating painting leads us deeper into the problem of painted images, insofar as it enacts what it is about, namely, the constitution of itself as an image by means of a complex and enigmatic relationship between seeing, reading, memory, inner, outer, gaze, and blindness.

Poetry as Anti-Discourse. Formalism, Hermeneutics, and the Poetics of Paul Celan Continental Philosophy Review, 4/2011, 491-510. [download]

I argue from a hermeneutic point of view that formal elements of poetry can only be identified because poetry is based on both the phenomenon and the conception of poetry, both of which precede the attempt to identify formal elements as the defining moment of poetry. Furthermore, I argue with Gadamer that poetry is based on a rupture with and an epoche of our non-poetic use of language in such a way that it liberates “fixed” universal aspects of everyday language, and that through establishing itself in a new, self-referential and monologue unity, it individualizes speech. From the hermeneutic position, poetry is a form of speaking rather than a “fixed” object. As such, I will try to make sense of what Paul Celan said in his famous “Meridian” speech: namely, that the poem is “actualized language, set free under the sign of a radical individuation, which at the same time stays mindful of the limits drawn by language, the possibilities opened by language.”

The Photographic Attitude. Barthes with Husserl Phenomenology, Archaeology, Ethics: Current Investigations of Husserl’s Corpus, ed. Sebastian Luft and Pol Vandevelde, Continuum Press 2010, 152-167 [review here] [download]

Roland Barthes’ essay Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography is probably the most famous essay written on photography after WWII. Barthes’ essay is usually taken as a theory of realism, especially since Barthes claims that a photograph is “somehow co-natural with its referent” (Barthes 1982, 76). This thesis, however, as I intend to show in my paper, is misunderstood if we understand it to imply a simple form of causal realism; for almost all major commentators, overlook that Barthes’ essay is written in a phenomenological spirit. In my paper, I intend to correct the aforementioned view of Barthes’ position as a simple causal realism by arguing that the relation between photograph and referent should instead be understood as a relation between the looking subject and the referent, which will lead to a non-naturalist thesis about the relation between photography and referent. I shall first demonstrate that Barthes’ essay is primarily not about photography taken as an object; rather, Barthes tries to describe the experience of photograph, which comprises both the noetic and the noematic part of what I will call the photographic attitude. The photographic attitude is the consciousness of photographs. I, finally, argue that a phenomenological theory remains ultimately unsatisfactory because the mentalist underpinnings of this approach to photography do not permit us to understand photographs as a medium.

Im-Bilde-sein: Husserls Phänomenologie des Bildbewusstseins in Das Bild als Denkfigur. Funktionen des Bildbegriffs in der Philosophiegeschichte von Platon bis Nancy, ed. Sabine Neuber, München: Fink 2010, 167-181 [On Husserl’s Phenomenology of Image Consciousness]. [download]

Ästhetik und ungenaues Denken Über das alte Vorurteil für das Neue. Vernunft als Quelle von Innovation, hrsg. von Lothar Knopp, München: Fink 2010 [Aesthetics and Imprecise Thought][download]

Fritz Kaufmann’s Aesthetics Handbook of Phenomenological Aesthetics, ed. by L. Embree, Dordrecht: Springer 2010, 176-181. [download]

Formations: Gadamer’s Hermeneutics of Images Research Journal of the Iranian Academy of Arts , 2/2009, 30-42 [English and Persian]

Gadamer’s conception of “image” is of interest for a general philosophy of images and imaging in particular for the following reason: in contradistinction to most contemporary accounts of images, Gadamer does not give up the traditional horizon indicated by concepts such as “eidos” and “essence.” In this paper, I will first reflect on this general notion of image and the German term “Bild,” after which I will more concretely deal with the process by means of which images are constituted. I will conclude my reflections with a brief confrontation of the hermeneutic project with one of the more recent and for phenomenological theories important theories of pictures, namely, Richard Wollheim’s analysis of “seeing-in.” Gadamer’s main idea, as I will claim and briefly elucidate, ultimately leads to a theory of images that is superior to Wollheim’s account.

Representation or Sensation? A Critique of Deleuze’s Philosophy of Painting Symposium. Canadian Journal for Continental Philosophy, 13/1, 2009, 59-74. [download][A critique of my position can be found here]

In this paper I shall present an argument against Deleuze’s philosophy of painting. Deleuze’s main thesis in Logic of Sensation is twofold: [1] he claims that painting is based on a non-representational level; and [2] he claims that this level comes out of the materiality of painting. I shall claim that Deleuze’s theses should be rejected for the following reasons: first, the difference between non-intentional life and the representational world is too strict. I submit that the non-intentional relation that painting opens up is itself part of and emerges out of the representational force of painting. If this would not be the case, then the criterion for differentiating between paintings and other objects cannot be developed. Indeed, Deleuze fails to give us a criterion. Second, Deleuze’s way of dealing with materiality in painting remains unsatisfactory, insofar as he is unable to take into account how materiality is charged with an “attitude towards the world.” In sum, materiality can only be painting’s materiality if we understand it as being formed and disclosed in representation.

Depiction and Plastic Perception. A Critique of Husserl’s Theory of Picture Consciousness in Continental Philosophy Review, 2/2007, 171-185. [download]

In this paper, I will present an argument against Husserl’s analysis of picture consciousness. Husserl’s analysis of picture consciousness (as it can be found primarily in the recently translated volume Husserliana 23) moves from a theory of depiction in general to a theory of perceptual imagination. Though I think that Husserl’s thesis that picture consciousness is different from depictive and linguistic consciousness is legitimate, and that Husserl’s phenomenology avoids the errors of linguistic theories, such as Goodman’s, I submit that his overall theory is unacceptable, especially when it is applied to works of art. Regarding art, the main problem of Husserl’s theory is the assumption that pictures are constituted primarily as a conflict between perception/physical picture thing and imagination/picture object. Against this mentalist claim, I maintain, from a hermeneutic point of view, that pictures are the result of perceptual formations [Bildungen]. I then claim that Husserl’s theory fails, since it does not take into account what I call “plastic perception” [Bildliches Sehen], which plays a prominent role not only within the German tradition of art education but also within German art itself. Inn this connection, “plastic thinking” [Bildliches Denken] was prominent especially in Klee, in Kandinsky, and in Beuys, as well as in the overall doctrine of the Bauhaus. Ultimately, I argue that Husserl’s notion of picture consciousness and general perceptive imaginary consciousness must be replaced with a more dynamic model of the perception of pictures and art work that takes into account [a] the constructive and plastic moment, [b] the social dimension and [c] the genetic dimension of what it means to see something in something (Wollheim).