Philosophy Hammer
Philosophy, Economics, Politics & Psychology Tested with a Hammer

68: Antonio Negri part II:
On Art: the Sublime and Collective Work

Summary by: Jeff McLaren

         As we saw last time the modern is a power relation that imposes itself. The modern judges all things in comparison to itself and finds everything lacking. The modern artist is therefore especially full of despair(Q1). The modern artist cannot accept that there is no transcendence truth and will continue to seek this nonexistent truth as long as modernity is accepted. The modern is a dead end; a destiny of dejection. The never ending journey to find something that does not exist places the traveler in a state of continual despair and failure.(Q2)
         The modern can be overcome, surpassed in the postmodern. The postmodern begins at the limit of the modern: at the moment when despair is greatest: where failure is transformed into the acceptance needed to go beyond modern limits. When the impossibility of eternal truth is grasped; when the meaninglessness of the world is apprehended the limit of the modern becomes an obstacle to overcome. Overcome not through reason but through imagination. When one overcomes the mental blocks in one's thinking whole new vistas open up for the imagination to play in (Q3). This is the emotion of the sublime: the liberation of the imagination to run free (Q4). However, the sublime only shows us a possible path; it is only a potentiality. If one stays with the emotion one wastes it like a drug addict who wastes his potential. The emotion must elicit action; it must create a new ethic. A new ethic that is self created, self reflected and self imposed; not discovered on or imposed from the outside (Q5).
         Last time we saw that we are all artists all the time in the sense that we take the material of the world and style it to our tastes. This definition, while true, takes away and cheapens art in a dead end. Art to have any really deeper meaning has to be much more than the stylization of the world: that is what modern amateurs and advertisers do. Art in the postmodern sense is the representation of power over the constructive process made up of 1) the new abstracted world (this is as far as modern art gets); 2) the limit turned into an obstacle via the sublime; and 3) the ontological re-foundational self created ethic (Q6).
         This newly imagined ethic needs by definition to be social. Ethics relates your actions to an outside be they people, animals or anything in the world and the world is a bundle of relationships. A new ethical hope will cause ripples because investing in ethical hope is a violent and arrogant weapon that challenges the status quo. Therefore the productive work of ethical re-foundation is always collective work: sometimes competitive; sometimes antagonistic but always in relation to others. Living this ethical hope fills us with our own meaning, intensifies our sensibilities (we range over continuums to further extremes: experiencing greater possibilities of more intense pleasure and pain; exaltation and humiliation etc.) and amplifies our emotions (making us more loving and hating, caring and vindictive, etc.)(Q7). Next time: beauty in art.
         Q1 Despair in the philosophical sense is not a feeling or emotion like depression nor is it a chemical or neurological “imbalance” that can be corrected with a drug. Despair is a fundamental nihilistic attitude toward the Self: a wanting to get rid of a part or all of the Self. A person who dedicates their whole life to a cause is in despair. A person is more than just their job, goals, dreams, friends, family, hobbies etc. To focus on any one or two at the expense of any of the rest makes you want to eliminate a part of you to a certain degree. As such the modern world creates (in fact necessitates) desperate people: generally the more single minded you are in your career the more successful you will be. Do you believe that the modern world creates desperate people? Are most people in despair? Are modern artists especially prone to despair? It seems that the greatest people in history were likely full of despair: can despair really be so bad?
         Q2 A modern artist implicitly believes that there is some transcendent truth; an artist's job is to express this truth. Have you heard an artist say words like “this is my interpretation of....”; or “I am trying to express something inexpressible but....”; “One can never really grasp the truth of....” or “this is my poor attempt to express...”? These are all modern sentiments: they are admissions of failure; expressions of despair – even (and perhaps especially) in cases were the art work is a market success. Is the modern a dead end in the sense that it seeks an impossibility. Or is the cliché “it is better to aim at the moon and hit the mountains than never to have tried,” better?
         Q3 A bohemian unconventional or nonconformist life is quintessentially and stereotypically associated with a truly creative artist. The author suggests that such a life is indicative of a consciousness that has overcome the limiting mental programing of the modern world. Would you agree or is there a better reason as to why a bohemian life style is associated with artists?
         Q4 Traditional philosophy recognizes two kinds of sublime: the natural sublime (Martin Luther's thunderstorm) and the mathematical sublime (Kepler's laws of planetary motion). The author would like to introduce you to the ontological sublime: ontology is the study of the nature of being and existence. Your sense of being and existence is delineated by your subjectivities, by your thought categories and by your prejudices. These subjectivities, thought categories and prejudices act as limits to your consciousness and consequently your art and life. The ontological sublime is the moment when your imagination conceives of a world with dramatically changed or eliminated subjectivities, thought categories and/or prejudices. Has this happen in your life? Is it really a life changing moment? How often do people encounter the sublime?
         Q5 Ethics is the study of the moral rules and values needed for successful social living. Murder is unethical because we cannot live well in world in which murder openly practiced. We all have a sense of what is right and wrong; safe and dangerous. This sense comes from the history of the world we live in. a modern person would say that this sense is transcendent and/or progressing toward an absolute notion of right and wrong. The postmodern person would say that ethical norms are arbitrary cultural constructs that may or may not be good for us. When the sublime experience reveals the factious nature of modern ethics we begin to imagine a better way to live well. This newly imagined ethics may be in conflict with the modern ethic or it may not but it has the virtue of being self created rather than outwardly imposed. Is there anything fearful or exciting about the idea of people going beyond the traditional notions of good and evil? How do you feel when you meet some one who has ideas that are very different from you? Have you ever met someone who felt that ideological toleration is not a virtue? Should we let North Korea and Iran develop nuclear weapons? Should we tolerate honour killings?
         Q6 What do you make of this definition of art? Another way to explain this: As we saw in part one, the world is abstracted and artificial today – this is the starting point; the matter of any art; any art must come from the matter of the artificial world. The artificial world has made us who we are and limited our thought and imagination. To be creative (as opposed to a copyist) we must transcend the limits of our thoughts and imagination through the hint or path the emotion of the sublime provides. Once our imagination has soared in the sublime it must come back to this artificial world where the artist must act. The productive actions of such an artist represent a creative new world. The work of art now has a new truth; a created truth. Not one given out of modernity; not one that is a copy of modernity's values. Is this any more clear? Is he crazy? One benefit of art appreciation is the possibility it holds for experiencing the sublime – but it can also be a crutch: the overly technical or overly judgmental appreciation can actually enforce prejudices. Which is more likely for you? How does the notion of appreciating art for the possibility of the sublime strike you?
         Q7 Along with the bohemian life style, artist also are often portrayed as being more emotional, more intense. Is this fair? Is this necessary? We seem to move towards safety, comfort and a lack of intensity, as we grow older as people and as a culture. Do you want to give up the good to eliminate the bad? Is this a sort of death? Alexander the Great was quoted as saying: “When Achilles was given a choice of a long life in obscurity and a short life filled with glory, he chose glory, so did I.” A more contemporaty form of the same question may be: Which would you prefer: the full life defined as a shorter life full of intensity in human emotion and experience OR the full life defined as a longer life filled with average human emotions and experiences? Which would you want for your family and friends?

© 2008 - 2018, James Jeff McLaren