By Wilson Hurst, Cohort ’13
Beings think and live creatively when expectations and assumptions no longer epitomize existence. Overcoming preconceptions, perhaps art can catalyze an oblique access to an indefinite unknown something, thereby negating it as an unknown. The paradox of knowing involves an unknown something that is no longer an unknown. In the following exposition, I am interested in the possibility of exercising an aesthetic apophantic judgment as a circuitous process of revealing the noumena of existence, considered in terms of knowledge corresponding to reality. In other words, are indications of a mysterious unknown approachable in the potent perceptual presence of certain aesthetic experiences? I will argue that aesthetics, especially as an artistic perceptual presence, uniquely functions to disclose unknown aspects of actuality through heightened phenomenal experience. In this discourse, I consider aesthetic theory defined as sensory or sensori-emotional ideals deployed in empirical judgments as truth indicators. I will rely on Immanuel Kant and his philosophic confederates, such as Schopenhauer and Heidegger, to elucidate art’s potential revelatory influence. To uncover hidden truth, one must apprehend the being of an entity in and for itself, “for truth or illusory appearance does not reside in the object, in so far as it is intuited [sensed], but in the judgment upon the object, in so far as it is thought” (Kant CPR 273). As Heidegger insightfully reports in his seminal book, Being and Time, “a sign points at what is indicated” (258). This implicates art as a symbolic mechanism indirectly alluding to an essence through its unconcealment. The imaginative poems of Jim Morrison will be intertextuality interspersed as examples of artistic discovery. Such potent lines as, “You know the day destroys the night, night divides the day/Tried to run, Tried to hide/ Break on through to the other side,” (“Break on Through” 1-5) positions the artist’s perceptive desire to reveal that which is unknown, or unknowable.
Apophantic is a term Aristotle coined to specify a type of declaratory statement made in truth or fallacy determinations. An apophantic judgment adjudicates phenomena veracity by establishing logical object predicate attributes, rather than by empirical true/false comparisons. Aristotelian philosophy proceeds “from this ontological basis, to establish the ‘pure forms’ of all possible true (and false) predications; it becomes the formal logic of judgments” (Marcuse 134). Adopted by Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger as part of phenomenology, an apophantic exploratory evaluation is made of entities-in-themselves (noumena) unreliant upon subjective comparisons. Truth is not a property of an assertion, but rather a process enabling any affirmation formulation to be formulated. As sensations promptly process into perceptions, core assumptions are always operative. The subject, in an evolving matrix of becoming, devises the objective. Because humans can never absolutely know the underlying essence of existence, our truth constructions are useful hypotheses rather than unequivocal models of an objective reality. Truth is nothing more than a constructive model upon which to base action. Indeed these truth constructions are culturally and temporally contingent, as Morrison explicates:
“Slither of moaning wisdom
The unblinking blind eyes
Behind walls new histories rise
And wake growling & whining
The weird dawn of dreams” (101).
Conjuring essence out of existence, persistent wonderment engenders seemingly insoluble problems concerned with perception of physical objects and their intrinsic nature in the space-time continuum. Regardless of quality or commitment of conceptual effort, aspects of reality will necessarily remain indefinite. Aesthetics in its perceptual questioning can reveal the certainty concerning the ambiguity of ultimate reality. Thus, what aesthetic experience reveals is that reality is indistinct. As Heidegger might put it, art therefore “unconceals” a noumenal truth about the world, specifically that there is no definitive knowledge. “I know that I know nothing” (Plato 21) is the well-known saying derived from Plato’s account of Socrates. Because the imaginative process reconciles distinctive elements forming a new synthesis, it frequently challenges established values. The creative impulse fuels the desire to transcend beyond a comfortable delusion. Actuality is approximated more completely when additional representations are aesthetically created.
Kant’s philosophical relationship of noumenon to phenomenon continues to engage thinkers as the limit of consciousness defines humanity. Kant’s immediate successors in German Idealism rejected the noumenal as having no intelligible mental existence. Yet, the recognition of a noumenal possibility unavoidably legitimizes its existence, because to know is simultaneously to establish an entity boundary outside of which locates the unknown. The absolute reality of the noumenal is expressed in the prevailing phenomenal, while the source from which this power emanates is just beyond. Consequently, Kant instructs us that “things which, though quite unknown to us as to what they are in themselves, we yet know by the representations which their influence on our sensibility procures us” (Prolegomena 79). The truth attached to the known is relative, subordinate to our senses. Uncovering the essence of things is reliant on an independent existence dependent on the ever-changing process of perceptual understanding. Universal laws must transcend all experience, but knowledge is unstable, and irreducible, to a singular meaning. Heraclitus articulates the view that creativity and change are about breaking-through into the unknown: “The harmony past knowing sounds more deeply than the known” (fragment 47). The power of the new, produced by an encounter with the previously unknown, is a synthesis having the capacity to alter understanding. Knowledge is constructed from an external reality that is conditioned by an ever-changing experience, because both perceptual capacity and conceptual processing undergo temporal development. The rationalist and empiricist traditions both assumed there was a reality dichotomy between understanding the finite knowable and an infinite reality itself existing as an unknowable. How could one be sure that the ideas in one’s mind correspond to the real, the actual, or the true? Rationalist philosophy, represented by Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, stipulates that unambiguous objective knowledge is possible through innate mental ideas and reason. Empiricist philosophy, represented by Locke, Berkeley, and Hume, maintains that knowledge is uncertain, subjective, and available only through sensual response to an objective external reality. Kant attempted a fusion of the Rationalist and Idealist traditions with his Transcendental Idealist philosophy. His desire was to establish a universal subjective mental structure making possible any experience. In this account, knowledge synthesizes by grasping passive sensations with active concepts. Some of these concepts are transcendental categories presupposed by experience. Thus, a synchronization must be operative between the external objective world (nature) and the subjective, but to a certain extent, universal mind. Nevertheless, things unknowable in themselves (noumena) inexplicably prowl behind appearances (phenomena). Within the everyday, experience is extraordinary, as
“Strange days have found us
And through their strange hours
We linger alone, bodies confused
Memories misused, as we run from the day
To a strange night of stone” (Morrison “Strange Days” 16-21).
Because it is useful to act “as if” there is truth, we tend to accept certain propositions unequivocally. Yet, truthful perception of reality necessarily embodies vague meaning determined without precision. Mental intervention is unavoidable and dependent on fuzzy memory compared with present experience, formulating coherence. The known is reduced from the unknown. Interpreted divergently, meaningful expression represents freedom, as fictions are pervasive in discursive thought, facilitating ideational capacity. Many thought processes and thought constructs, therefore, “appear to be consciously false assumptions, which either contradict reality or are even contradictory in themselves, but which are intentionally thus formed in order to overcome difficulties of thought by this artificial deviation, and reach the goal of thought by roundabout ways and by paths” (Vaihinger 201). Kant recognizes the distinction between phenomena and noumena as an early philosophical achievement, but redefines the traditional disparity between Platonic realism and bewildered phenomenal sensibility. The subject/object divide imposes doubt, as “all illusion consists in taking the subjective basis for a judgment to be objective” (Kant Prolegomena 80). The “distinction between empirical receptivity and transcendental constitution appears to be the obligatory framework for all modern thought” (Meillassoux 3). In this regard, the essential noumenal component is the unavoidable problematic limitation of human sensibility. This limitation opens up the possibility there may be real objects existing for a “quite different intuition [sensation] and quite different understanding from ours” (Kant CPR 287). This specifies the existence of a concealed unknown, but real realm. Thus in theoretical reason, the noumena may be accorded the title of “an unknown something” (Kant CPR 256). A phenomenon is a temporal or spatiotemporal object of sensory experience as distinguished from a noumenon. As received by the senses, any observable appearance occurrence understood as a phenomenon does not define itself, but rather announces itself. Announcing an entity entails presenting by not showing, indicating the presence of something concealed. This seems akin to the idea of the “presence of nothing” that Sartre discusses in Being and Nothingness: “What being will be must of necessity arise on the basis of what it is not. Whatever being is, it will allow this formulation: Being is that and outside of that, nothing. Thus a new component of the real has just appeared to us [as] non-being” (5). Here appearance becomes an indirect positive emissary of a reality that does not paradoxically appear in any manifest form. Whether by conjuring possibilities in appearance or by annihilating them, consciousness exercises the ability to conceptualize potential. The possible is available in our uncertain realities, as Morrison extols us,
“Let's swim to the moon, let's climb through the tide
Surrender to the waiting worlds that lap against our side
Nothin' left open, and no time to decide
We've stepped into a river
On our moonlight drive” (“Moonlight Drive” 12-16).
The way in which humans respond to sensation is dependent not only on the external stimulus presented, their appearances, but also on the biological structures that permit the stimulation. Thus, the physiology of the sense organs and the perceptual processing that modifies those conditioned signals combine to form perception. The first stage of making coherence out of the multiplicity of perceptions is the effect of imagination, which allows cognition and self-identity through continuity and pattern recognition. The starting point for creative independence involves intense interest in existence, recognizing the unavoidable discrepancy between appearance and actuality. Events usually have an internal complexity. During their history, there is both a plurality of temporal phases and a plurality of spatial components. Discoveries are made through employing abstraction, filling the gaps, as the unobservable is postulated from speculative imagination. The imagination process results in mental representations of objects and of states-of-affairs that are not currently being sensed (Kant CJ 64). There may be advantage in giving-up a desire for immediate access to meaning.
Being occurs in a universe of material objects existing in boundless space and time. To interact with this external world, we are equipped with physical sense organs. Objects impinge on our sensory apparatus in various ways. Meillassoux in his speculative realist work, After Finitude, establishes constant links between real things and their sensations, for “if there were no thing capable of giving rise to the sensation of redness, there would be no perception of a red thing; if there were no real fire, there would be no sensation of burning” (5). Nevertheless, conscious sense perceptions do not consist of the raw data captured by our sense organs. As articulated by Schopenhauer, “the understanding is the artist forming the work, whereas the senses are merely the assistants who hand up the materials” (Magee 99). Schopenhauer presents us with an interesting contrast to Meillassoux, precisely because he is very much a Kantian but also very much believes in our ability to comprehend the nature of the noumenal. Conversely, perceptions are startlingly disparate in many respects. From experience multiplicity, we generalize to form ideas that enable us to conceptualize objects when they are not present to immediate experience. Thus, direct experience is comprised of two parts, sensation and reflection. By being self-aware when reflecting on our sensations, we learn something about our own mental operations and develop concepts including perceiving, reasoning, believing, doubting, and knowing. Meanwhile, the external environment around us cannot abide a simple one-to-one relationship with our associated mental representation. If we possessed other sensation and processing equipment modalities, then we would apprehend reality differently. Thus, the subject in-itself and the world in-itself are metaphysical and unknowable in totality. Nevertheless, Morrison indicates they both must exist in a vague balance of awareness, as necessary presuppositions of experience: “Morning found us calmly unaware, noon burn gold into our hair/At night, we swim the laughin' sea/When summer's gone, where will we be” (“Summer's Almost Gone” 7-11). If reality consists only of perceptual experience, then it would presumably be possible to encompass it exhaustively in perception or experience, to know it completely without remainder. However, reality may exist concealed behind our perceptual capacity, as the world of ideas is not a perfect portrait of reality. Starting from Kant’s notion of “thing-in-itself,” the noumenon is an important ontological and epistemological question relative to existence and its reality. Kant says “the doctrine of sensibility is also the doctrine of noumena in the negative sense, that is, of things which the understanding is obliged to cogitate apart from any relation to our mode of intuition [sensation], consequently not as mere phenomena, but as things in themselves” (CPR 187). Time and motion synthesized as intelligible content is rendered coherent through form and repetition, “where this unity of time is not to be met with, as is the case with noumena, the whole use, indeed the whole meaning of the categories is entirely lost” (Kant CPR 187). Furthermore, “even the possibility of things to correspond to the categories is in this case [are] incomprehensible” (Kant CPR 187). Recognizing the inherent limits of these circumstances increases the number of potential choices, but cannot remove the structural restrictions.
Schopenhauer recognized reality as a complex structure within an organizational system. Yet, from outside the limits of human nature, something might be apprehensible which is not accessible to humans. Because all experience is unavoidably subjective, time dependent and limited to a small frame of biological reference, sensation of a visible world cannot be mind-independent. However, the absence of apprehension apparatus does not negate existence.
Schopenhauer believed knowledge of this shared existence resided in original interpretations of that which everyone encounters. Thus, “the solution of the riddle of the world is only possible through the proper connection of outer with inner experience, effected at the right point, and the combination thereby produced of these two very different sources of knowledge” (Schopenhauer 428). A human being, like all objects of experience, is a phenomenon in time and space. As such, humans are subject to the law of causality, as “concepts have content and significance only in so far as they derive from experience and can be cashed back into it” (Magee 6). The limits of the intelligible are not necessarily the limits of what is. In the immortal words of Captain Kirk from the classic TV series: Star Trek , “you know the greatest danger facing us is . . . ourselves, and irrational fear of the unknown. There's no such thing as the unknown, only things temporarily hidden, temporarily not understood” (TOS:The Corbomite Maneuver). Knowledge is dynamic.
In modern convention, the words objectivity and its antonym subjectivity relate to an aware experiencing subject and a perceived or unperceived exterior object. As an entity that exists independent of an associated subjective perception, the external object must be real regardless of the perceiving subject’s involvement. The very beginning of modern aesthetics considered along these lines of thought “raises the question of the truth which may be attached to individual perceptions” (Bowie 6). Hence, objectivity and subjectivity are necessarily associated with concepts of consistency, truth, and reality. Is truth universally eternal and/or is reality relatively finite? While humankind harbors an insatiable desire for continuous knowledge development of a unified reality, the limits of potential comprehension intellectually are deliberated. German Idealism, broadly defined as a reactionary development to Kant, stipulates that thoughts or ideas comprise reality thus casting aspersions on an external independent noumenal actuality. Therefore, the sole thing actually knowable is consciousness, or the contents of consciousness. Depending on the particular flavor of Idealism practiced (Subjective, Transcendental, Objective, Absolute, etc.), external reality ranges from uncertain to imaginary. Properties ascribed to objects depend only on perceiving subject appearance, not on something objects possess in themselves apart from experience. The question of what actually exists autonomous to the mind is accordingly unintelligible for Idealism.
The subject/object relationship ontologically can be explained as pluralistic, dualistic, or monistic conceptions of reality. Monism recognizes a range of existing things explainable in terms of a single reality or substance. In this view, all existing things generate from a source that is distinct from them, a sole unifying essence. Idealism places the unifying essence in internal consciousness. Although this would seem to be subjective, it can be universal, eternal, and thus objective. Materialism places this unifying essence in external matter. Although this would seem to be objective, it can be sensually incomplete, contingent, and thus subjective. Dualism characterizes reality as a system that contains two essential parts. Specifically this view claims that subjective mind and objective matter are irreducible and coexist. Epistemology is dualistic. Knowledge only occurs in consciousness (subject) but must be about something (object). In this sense, for knowledge to exist at all requires a subject (observer) that knows about separate and distinct external objects (observed) that are knowable. If self-consciousness is a form of knowledge, then we are in an unsustainable position. Knowledge requires that something is understood by something that understands it. A known and a knower cannot be the same thing. The subject is never able to appear as an object in the world of its own perceptions, because “[t]he idea of vision escapes/The animal worm whose earth/Is an ocean, whose eye is its body” (Morrison 91). Moreover, here we arrive at an unavoidable philosophical predicament. We often express ourselves in terms of dualities while nevertheless life is a unified entirety. However, as physical objects existing in the world, each person must contain within themselves a noumenal realm. Reality as it is in itself, including our own existence as it is in itself, must be knowledge-less. Bowie asks: “How can subjectivity itself give rise to objective certainty without relying upon the ‘dogmatic’ assumption of a pre-existing objectivity of the world of nature which the arguments of David Hume about the contingency of our knowledge of causal connections had rendered untenable for Kant?” (17). Modern aesthetics relates to art by presuming the subject/object duality. In this position, an essential partition between the art object and the experiencing subject manifests, a divide that is subsequently crossable through sensation and perceptual processing.
Are energy and matter the only fundamental realities of the universe, or does consciousness transcend physical systems? This query seems central to an aesthetics that travels past the limits of conventional understanding, again indicating a duality between knowable matter and a knowing mind. Metamorphosing an inner subjective realm into external reality, creativity manifests an invisible component. Originality emerges from nothing because “if the nothing itself is to be questioned as we have been questioning it, then it must be given beforehand. We must be able to encounter it” (Heidegger BW 98). Ultimate absolute knowable materializes from the careful efforts of external and internal explorations, neither of which can be fully exhausted. Thrownness describes our individual experiences as riders on a generalized storm, “Into this house we're born/Into this world we're thrown, like a dog without a bone/An actor out on loan” (Morrison “Riders on the Storm” 3-6). Must existence independent of experience be completely dissimilar from the world of our representations? Not necessarily categorically, because reason infers that noumena can have some aspects or characteristics similar to phenomena. Although not verification, this at least opens up the possibility that portions of the noumena are indirectly knowable by extrapolating the known. Rephrased, the question is not whether noumena and phenomena can coincide, but rather, whether a methodology can be devised allowing determination of their correspondence. Experiencing existence, Kant’s most conspicuous inconsistency involves understanding the potential of independent reality. Simply because things-in-themselves are outside human structural cognition does not emphatically require that the noumenon cannot conform to space and time. This does not imply that we can thus resolve space/time antimonies. Even within the phenomenal, we cannot explain the associated universal mysteries of eternity and the infinite, as “mystical explanations are considered deep; the truth is, they are not even shallow” (Nietzsche GS 121). Thus, it seems prudent to recognize that reality in itself, whatever it is independently of our conceptions, also contains something radically unconceptualizable. In this sense, knowledge is in its essence always uncertain, as other potentials and perspectives remain available.
Perpetually positioned outside of things, humans seem unable to penetrate into inner nature with certainty. We are structurally restricted to sensation, perception, and cognition when seeking objective knowledge. Thus, advancing beyond phenomenon involves expanding perceptive capabilities. A potential mechanism of knowing what things-are-in-themselves is creative imagination and its sibling, aesthetics. The material world of subjective experience is thus regarded as a surface that is sustained and presented to our senses by a more permanent, underlying order of things which itself is invisible. Noumenal pursuit of this strange physical truth is bound to make demands on the imagination as well as on the intellect.
Knowledge is a theoretical or practical familiarity, awareness or understanding of something. This is associated with notions of truth, accuracy, veracity and fallaciousness, as humans have long wondered whether the world as it appears corresponds to the world as it is. Any new knowledge is synthesized from the unknown, or formulated by re-contextualizing and combing existing knowledge afresh. This means that the potentially unknowable is susceptible to further disclosure, while also recognizing that the entire unknown can never be totally known. The assurance of the known, the unknown, and the unknowable, is thus collectively tentative because “dogmatism and skepticism are both, in a sense, absolute philosophies; one is certain of knowing, the other of not knowing. What philosophy should dissipate is certainty, whether of knowledge or ignorance” (Russell 21). Presence is both the state of existing or occurring, but also of being present in an explicit space and time, open to the potentialities of experience. Moreover, as Morrison points out, each of us face existentialism individually,
“Left all alone
Playing warden to your soul
You are locked in a prison
Of your own devise” (“Unhappy Girl” 2-6).
Some encounters with existence force recognition of understanding restrictions, stimulating insistent exploration of the indefinite. Aesthetics function as an antidote to reality impenetrability, approaching the knowable up to, and just past, the previous latent perimeter. Circumscribed by spatiotemporal structural order filled with causal content, the universe considered as an imaginative realm opens up a world of aesthetic experiences. Unbounded time and space create many conceptual problems, especially relative to subjective perception and objective existence. Meaning resides in the inexpressible potential of all possible contingencies.
Kant’s categories of thought are not applied to non-sensible objects. Thus, they open an undeniable space for other and dissimilar objects. In The Critique of Pure Reason, Kant reiterates that while certain knowledge of noumena is denied theoretical reason, free will requires the possibly of thinking of the noumenal (43). Additionally, through morality, humans can get an indirect understanding for “purposiveness” (Kant CJ 280) outside of phenomenal experience. Schopenhauer further develops these thoughts by interrogating Kant’s phenomena/noumena separation. He differs from Kant by believing we have more access to noumena (Bowie 262). To the Kantian contention that we can have access to material objects only through sensory and intellectual apparatus, there is one notable exception, explicitly our own bodies. These are material objects in time and space that present themselves perceptually as accustomed. In addition, however, everyone has direct, non-sensory, non-intellectual knowledge of his or her own body from inside. Thus, for Schopenhauer, the corridor of self-examination is a persuasive pathway to awareness of total reality, including aspects of the noumenon. This actuality yields the addition of knowledge by inner sense to knowledge by outer sense. Schopenhauer identifies “Will” as the “most inner essence, its kernel, the thing itself most immediate . . . according to the most immediate of its objectifications” (31). This inner world consists largely of the operation of primitive forces unaccompanied by consciousness, unremittingly representing appearances, as “My eyes have seen you/Let them photograph your soul/Memorize your alleys, on an endless roll” (Morrison “My Eyes Have Seen You” 27-30).
Nietzsche rejected Kant’s idea of transcendental reality as an unknowable world opposite from the knowable because it would require knowing what the definitive boundaries of the knowable are. Nietzsche asks, is “the calculability of the world, the expressibility of all events in formulas -- is this really comprehension?” (Nietzsche WTP 324). Nietzsche places knowledge back into the instability of a phenomenal existence. Even Kant supports such unfixed knowledge boundaries, assuring an open, shifting, original synthetic knowledge development. Bowie elaborates that “the capacity for the creation of appearances, which Nietzsche terms ‘art,’ including both science and religion in the category, is itself grounded in the Dionysian, the noumenal force that engenders the phenomenal world” (283). Analytic and/or aesthetic human cognitive activity is essentially artistic, imaginatively constructing significance from reality. Engaging invaluable insights and exercises, uncertainly may be a universal essential component of existence. Embracing uncertainty takes the restraining pressure off, freeing the mind to expand its possibilities, offering a protective umbrella in an incessant adaptation environment. Responding to natural fluctuations replete with creativity, noumenal insinuation is the catalyst for knowledge transformation and regeneratation. For Bergson, the processes of immediate experience and intuition are more significant than abstract rationalism for understanding reality (CE 58). The process of intuition provides access to the-things-themselves, as harmony arises from energy transform in space and time. To grasp reality in its flux, go beyond the concept and embrace the moment in its duration. In the experience of the moment, objective reality provides the most effective critique of speculative hypothesis conjecture. In this regard, it offers a powerful potent philosophical instrument in formulating comprehension upon which to support subsequent action. Freedom entails overcoming the limitations of illusion. Change necessitates rupture of previously prevailing knowledge.
The term sublime comes from the Latin sublimis referring to something outside calculation. Dynamic overwhelming circumstance encounters can compel recognition of significant knowledge restrictions, stimulating insistent exploration of an indefinite noumenal realm. Illuminating the complexities of existence, there is a psychological power associated with the sublime. As journeys progress, physical reality evident on an immense stage transcends anthropomorphic anxiety. Importantly, the sublime seems to “contravene the ends of our power of judgment” (Kant CJ 23), when mute articulations of comprehension are exceeded. This inadequacy realization paradoxically is associated with a sense of the authority of reason executed though an uncontainable moment of stimulation excess. Kant relates the sublime to aesthetics mainly through nature, but also through art. In either case, confrontation with a powerful unknown also reveals its existence. Whereas beauty forms an object, the sublime is unlimited or even formless in its transcendence. In this way, the sublime evokes a purposiveness that is “a delight in an extension affecting the imagination itself” (Kant CJ 80). The sublime involves things which are so “absolutely great” (Kant CJ 78) that they initially make us feel insignificant. This greatness is not solely empirical because it depends upon an idea, “as a presentation of an indeterminate concept of reason” (Kant CJ 75). This idea has to result from that which allows us to think beyond any phenomenal characteristics, reaching into the noumenal. Morrison indicates the combination of freedom and ambiguity that associates noumenal probing: “Moment of inner freedom, when the mind is opened/The infinite universe revealed/The soul is left to wander, dazed & confused searching” (“The Opening Of The Trunk” 1-5). The sublime indirectly makes us aware of the unknown evident through its extreme inexpressible manifestation, when reason falters and certainties disintegrate. In this regard, Bowie identifies “the idea of the supersensuous emerges from the realization that reason’s attempts to grasp the totality are empirically unrepresentable” (44). What the sublime does is remind us of phenomenal limitations “aroused and called to mind by that very inadequacy itself which does admit of sensuous presentation” (CJ 76). This realization involves “a feeling of the privation of the freedom of the imagination by the imagination itself, the effect of which is to ‘broaden the soul’ by taking one away from the finite sensuous world” (Bowie 44). The sublime makes us aware of our awareness of the powerfully unknowable, known through its uncertainties.
Aesthetic experience shows us that a fundamental nature of reality is its indistinctness, and one consequence of this doubt is that the traditional split between noumenon and phenomenon is also ambiguous. In effect, the distinction between phenomena and noumena is nebulous and unfixed, with their relationship contingent and subject to dynamic change. But as human subjects functioning in a physical actuality, the noumenal still has aspects ‘outside’ of experience that can be accessed through the sublime, or other altered perceptual states. Thus, the uncertainty implicit in experience is not due to the divide between phenomenon and noumenon, but rather due to the ‘true nature’ of their indeterminate correlation within a total reality. Linking perception of a multiplicity of concurrent sensation must invoke a synthesis. Ordering the patterns of life, conceptual cognition requires past memoires and future predictions. To recognize sequential order entails continuity of subjective reference, or identity. This connection must employ imagination to associate the existing instant with a history gone and a future yet to be. The same old characteristics keep appearing repeatedly. A dispositionalist account of conceptual cognition considers that the tendency to expect certain possibilities is based on pattern repetition. Furthermore, exactly such repetition allows thought formation to occur, for without such recurrence, all sensual input would be novel and incoherent.
Even more comprehensively, imagination is the faculty responsible for perception by forming representations out of sensations, and for synthesizing sensations with concepts to form mental objects that are ready for judgment. Thus, imagination as deployed and refined by the artist in creative production takes on critical importance relative to a subjective understanding of an objective world. Deploying imagination, higher levels of cognition can direct fundamental abstractions, overcoming predetermined structural limitations. Furthermore, as William Blake explains, “this will come to pass by an improvement of sensual enjoyment” (247). In a finite existence of temporality, sensual experience provides a foundation for speculative reason. Bergson indentifies uncertainty associated with the real/unreal, because “a mind born to speculate or to dream might remain outside reality, might deform or transform the real, perhaps even create it -- as we create the figures of men and animals that our imagination cuts out of the passing cloud” (CE 7). Experiencing an increasingly complex spontaneous morphogenesis, formulated as a vital impetus, thought transcends the state of things as they actually subsist.
Divergent reasoning synthesizes a number of simultaneous perceptions, opening up the possibility of original comprehension. Creativity includes a necessary destructive component, since the conventional mold is rejected to formulate something new. In perception, the new is formulated, as Merleau-Ponty claims, because “we do not think the object and we do not think ourselves thinking it, we are given over to the object and we merge into this body which is better informed than we are about the world”( Phenomenology 214). Perception pulls in itself a principle of order and knowledge, and by changing perception to change knowledge, further penetrates into the unknown. With these words, Merleau-Ponty identifies the “primacy of perception [to] mean that the experience of perception is our presence at the moment when things, truths, values are constituted for us” (Primacy 25). In his view, perception “teaches us, outside all dogmatism, the true conditions of objectivity itself; that it summons us to the tasks of knowledge and action” (Merleau-Ponty Primacy 25). Art functions to transport beings from the confabulated manner in which they habitually perceive, consider, and comprehend. Freedom resides in breaking the bonds of convention: “Oh tell me where your freedom lies/The streets are fields that never die/Deliver me from reasons why” (Morrison “The Crystal Ship” 9-12). Morrison’s poetry works beyond Freudian dream-work that uses symbolism to disguise its alleged real content, but rather uses imagery to reveal a previously unseen vision. The ability to produce art without conscious mediation is a useful process nurtured by numerous workers. Often aesthetics finds its way when an unconscious progression erupts into awareness. In Blake’s poem Jerusalem, “Imagination is the real and eternal world of which this vegetable universe is but a faint shadow,” (77) thereby indicating that the unknowable inhabits the condition of nothing. Creativity seeks the extraordinary that paradoxically hides embedded in the commonplace. Conjuring an object into existence from out of apparent nothingness seems an essential component of mental processing. The aesthetic act involves boundary shifting, tapping unconscious processes to formulate new synthesis unifications. Arthur Rimbaud establishes that “the poet makes himself a seer by a long, prodigious, and rational disordering of all the senses . . . during which . . . he arrives at the unknown!”(“Letter of the Seer” 4-6). The classic philosophic argument goes that those things that exist outside of our capability to perceive must remain unknowable. Thus, sensation and perception mark the distinction between phenomena and noumena. Even if this stipulation is accurate, however, it is evident that modifying perception could change the dynamics of understanding. By making things previously unavailable accessible, “our knowledge of the phenomenal world is a partial knowledge of the world as it is in itself” (Nagel 101). The potential of art to alter perception is its very power.
Observing the unknown experienced in the everyday is spontaneously mindless. Within the confines of a sanctioned exploratorium, the hidden is explicitly made conscious. Getting closer to the truth incrementally while simultaneously recognizing the inexhaustibility of external reality, art elucidates. Merleau-Ponty articulates this position, as “visible and mobile, my body is a thing among things; it’s caught in the fabric of the world, and its cohesion is that of a thing. But, because it moves itself and sees, it holds things in a circle around itself” (Primacy 163). Completely unforeseen intellectual interests emerge from an investigation into aesthetics. Perhaps it is from an expression of feelings, situated in a multitude of embedded contexts, which meaning may emanate. Alternatively, the indirect innuendo implied by aesthetic mystification offers an opportunity to think about existence differently. As the artist performs art, a sort of Husserlian “bracket” supports a philosophical practice in which certain aspects of normal experience are perceptually suspended.
Hegel begins to indicate the certainty-value of circuitous aesthetic experience beyond simple appearance, as “the appearances of art should be seen as possessing the higher reality and the truer existence in relation to normal reality” (20). By interrogating empirical reality, art involves universal forms indicating truth, with artistic appearance pointing “through itself to something spiritual” (Hegel 20). In support of Hegel’s position, Bowie says, “a picture of a mountain involves more mediation than just looking at a mountain in a natural landscape” (169). Thus, an artist like Morrison creates art where representation can become more spiritually meaningful than that which is ostensibly represented, “Waiting for you to hear my song/Waiting for you to come along, waiting for you to tell me what went wrong/This is the strangest life I've ever known” (“Waiting for the Sun” 13-17). Life is strange as appearances take on enhanced, perhaps disassociated, meaning. Along these lines, Heidegger’s understanding of the work of art embraces revolutionary aspirations going well beyond appearances. He believes that, “the work, therefore, is not the reproduction of some particular entity that happens to be at hand at any given time; it is, on the contrary, the reproduction of things’ general essence” (Heidegger BW 162). Selectively reinforcing an implicit sense of what is and what matters, art is the becoming and happening of truth. Fundamental experience of reality’s structure radically modifies historically, in which artwork helps elucidate intelligibility transformations. Ontologically truth functions as a temporally dynamic disclosure of transparency embedded in time, because “to gain access to the work, it would be necessary to remove it from all relations to something other than itself, in order to let it stand on its own for itself alone” (Heidegger BW165). Art as a process of reality is comprised of an essential strife between two interconnected dimensions, revealing and concealing. Aesthetically artworks become external objects for human subjects to experience in an especially passionate meaningful way. Unfounded in the certainty of the absolute, Heidegger answers Hegel’s positions on art truth as the unconcealing of entities as entities: “Being is what shows itself in pure, intuitive perception, and only this seeing discovers being. Primordial and genuine truth lies in pure intuition.” (Heidegger BT 160). Works of art in Heidegger's parlance could manifest, and thereby reveal a new understanding of the being of entities. In discerning any essence, the problem of the hermeneutic circle invariably arises, as “the point is to discover the thingly character of the thing. To this end we have to be acquainted with the sphere to which all those entities belong which we have long called by the name of thing . . . [including] a thing that does not itself appear.” (Heidegger BW 146). Paths that lead nowhere, all component parts must be individually understood to comprehend the whole. However, without embracing the unity of the absolute whole, the individual parts remain incomprehensible.
Aesthetic inquiry, creative process, and resulting artistic manifestation can disclose an indistinct spirit inaccessible to awareness. This paper must set aside in-depth exploration of the human unconscious as a source of noumena. Frequently identified as spiritual elements, there are levels of reality within us that are more extensive than analytical thinking can grasp. What hidden noumena lurk beneath the surfaces of human consciousness? Derrida explicates Heidegger's use of the spiritual when “the word spirit returns, it is no longer rejected, avoided, but used in its deconstructed sense to designate something other which resembles it, and of which it is, as it were, the metaphysical ghost, the spirit of another spirit”(24). Responding to surface appearances as the mechanism to dig-deeper into the meaning of things, some circumstances exude distinctiveness. Interrogating the correlation between thought and being, an object-oriented ontology requires durable individuality unexhausted by relations independent of human perception. Existing on a level plane, nonhuman relations fundamentally distort their associated object identities akin to human consciousness affects. In the philosophy of speculative realism, “if the human perception of a house or a tree is forever haunted by some hidden surplus in the things that never becomes present, the same is true of the sheer causal interaction between rocks or raindrops” (Harman 2). Harman thus speculates, “even inanimate things only unlock each other’s realities to a minimal extent,” (2) indicating the universality of uncertainty.
The noumena as the cause of our sensations may not exist. Kant characterized noumenon as the imperceptible, but ultimately real, substratum of the object, in which all its perceptible characteristics reside. This is what might poetically be called the objective object, existing as it is in itself, beyond subject experience. However, if the categories of space and causality are characteristic of subjective experience only, then there is no way in which the noumenal can be any sort of external object. Nor can they give rise to our experience of them because position in space and causality are subjective.
I have argued, along with Jim Morrison, that art is privileged: “Ooh great creator of being/Grant us one more hour, to perform our art/And perfect our lives” (“Ghost Song” 35-38). Nevertheless, it is also possible that art has no special license in terms knowledge acquisition, but rather is just one amongst many divergent human activities. In addition, if art lacks potential advantage, this does not necessarily imply that all human activities are equal in their epistemological value. Although impossible to prove, the aesthetic thread of western thought seems to implicate and corroborate art as a special method of ascribing meaning to existence. Heidegger recognized Kant’s classification of art as providing ambiguous meaning: “This schematism of our understanding as regards appearances and their mere form is an art hidden in the depths of the human soul, the true devices of which are hardly ever to be divined from Nature and laid uncovered before our eyes” (BT 20). As an indirect allusion, art points to new ways of apprehending ever-present possibilities in an uncertain existence, the realm of creative beginnings. Other such revelation may arise from different sources.
The reality of an invisible noumena illuminates its relationship to the visible phenomena. Something from outside itself forms the essence of meaning. Hidden assumptions of metaphorical depth govern conceptions of reality. Reciprocal determination emerges from appearances, as deconstruction is an attempt to expose and undermine the metaphysics of presence. Again the words of Jim Morrison obliquely position us “Smug in the wooly cotton brains of infancy/The music and voices are all around us” (“Ghost Song” 1-11). A noumenal reality, the specifics of which we are unaware, exists as part of our understanding. The phenomena can function as a window penetrating the noumenal, breaking through into an unconcealed cloaked realm. This veiled region of the unknown helps to support the subject/object divide. By inference, the subject is firmly isolated from the unknowable, and thus resists its influence. Nevertheless, noumena itself on the other side of appearance is approachable indirectly, through various modalities of implication. The sublime is one such oblique intimation, indicating noumenal potential. An intense emotional experience associated with sublimity alters knowledge and understanding. Aspects of the noumena are also accessible through altered states of perceptual processing. Fluidly in the multiplicity of its dimensions, altering perception penetrates the opaqueness of tangible experience. Aesthetics and art tap indirectly into this wonderment, functioning to broach noumena and expand awareness of the totality of existence. New knowledge is dynamically synthetic, connecting a metaphysical encounter with the tentative unknown. Aesthetics splinters conventional understanding. Concerned with trying to ascertain the limits of reason and its capacity to acquire true theoretical knowledge of a reality lying beyond the boundaries of human experience, Kant argues that we cannot know things-in-themselves. Nevertheless, the noumenal is invoked when trying to explain the phenomenal, by implicating underlying causes. Explanation is causal, because to demonstrate causes is to explain their effects. According to Kant, what we can say about the noumenal world at most is that it exists. Further than this, we cannot know anything else about it. Nevertheless, to know that it exists informs understanding, opening up lines of continuous inquiry as part of human experience. The very obscurity of reality is clearly part of the human experience, formulated as the validity of the irrational. Noumenal knowledge is speculative knowledge. Heraclitus considered that the basis of everything is opposition and strife. In the unquenchable thirst for knowledge, strife is fundamental issue divergence. Theoretical speculation attempts to explain the noumenal world to elucidate the findings of empirical observation. Speculation can be irrationally unrestrained or rationally disciplined when delineating authentic noumenal knowledge. Everything known about electrons, photons, quarks, space-time curvature, black holes, gravitational singularity, etc. is about noumena. While empirical surveillance of phenomena supplies the evidence for noumenal knowledge, art provides corroboration by indirect exposure of hidden essentials.
Aesthetics and art are strategies for broaching the unknown. All three depend on creative imagination as the starting point of speculative departure. Knowledge contributes to the human condition while answers simultaneously engender many more questions. Wallace Stevens elaborates on the theme, as “the truth seems to be that we live in concepts of the imagination before the reason has established them” (154). He thus clarifies that even as understanding grows, and the unknown becomes known, the unknowable remains infinite. Accessing the detachment of the noumenal, knowledge is about becoming and not being. In becoming, “[w]e’re like actors/Turned loose in this world to wander in search of a phantom/Endlessly searching for a half-formed shadow of our lost reality” (Morrison “Unsourced”). Even more directly, in his poem “Adagia,” Stevens reveals the artist’s power of revealing the unknown: “The poet is the priest of the invisible” (1). Identifying the warp and weft cross-sectional framework of existence, modern physics articulates an unknown space and time into a singular continuum. This unity is reveled in the form of light, making energy the underlying irreducible essence of being. Perhaps as a “metaphysical abstraction,” (7) this energy is the fire of Heraclitus, placing everything in a constant state of flux. Further explicating light energy, Heraclitus says “the elemental fire carries within itself the tendency toward change, and thus pursuing the way down, it enters the strife and war of opposites which condition the birth of the world” (15). Working with probabilities, light expression is a potential aesthetic conveyance crossing the boundary of the knowable. Dance on fire as it intends, for “if the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite” (Blake 247). The locus of being is truly situated in the essence of becoming, as the unknowable energetically passes into the known.
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