Student Journal

Mourning the Ever Present Past: Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Kristeva on Art and Being

Maybe we’re here only to say: house,

bridge, well, gate, jug, olive tree, window-

at most, pillar, tower...but to say them, remember,

oh to say them in a way that the things themselves

never dreamed of existing so intensely [50]

 

Preface: Philosophy Counts the Bones in Its Hand

The oxygen machine punctuates our conversation, as its tubing dislodges a hearing aid, and she fusses with impatience at the inconvenience of breathing, the betrayals of the body, the persistence of the will. I take her hand, feeling the hard pressure of mortality beneath her skin, thrusting with clandestine insistence towards the surface, signaling an inevitable end…Silently, I name the bones of her hand; carpals, metacarpals, phalanges…I list muscles and tendons; adductors, flexors, abductors…I describe to myself their function and form. I draw them; only art can portray being.          

         Within this body are more than bones, a fierce and tender presence fills this space; I draw a line around it and fill it with color, then offer it to the world as a testament to being.

Now, count the bones in your own hand…

 

 

I. Departure: Dia Beacon, January 2009

 

         Outside the train window, a winter evening closes its brumous blue grip upon the day. A snowstorm transforms the passing landscape into something improbably beautiful, a terrain of imagination and memory. Viewed from a single and subjective viewpoint, through the moving window of a train, this ever – receding present can neither hold its space nor preserve its moment.[51]No matter how much the eye and the soul wished to linger, to seize for memory’s sake this shadow kingdom of snow and advancing night, the joint cadences of time and space drive relentlessly forward. Imagination, memory, sight and sound, the soul, time and space– these are the terrain of our life journey,[52]shuffling backward and forward in a career of stations, arrivals, delays, platforms of cold impatience and warm carloads of pleasurable travel, always hurtling towards the unknown night, the anticipated destination. Deft as snow upon the wind, we build a world from what is sensed, what is remembered, and what is imagined.[53]Before thought, before science,[54]before the conscious “idea,” the imagined world is configured by what is seen, heard, felt, tasted… sensations organized in sequence through the agency of the body. Consciousness begins with what the body knows, what the body remembers and selects as knowledge, knowledge more real than all the fabulous billboards of rationalism,[55]barely visible in the half darkness, the wind driven snow, and the speed of our train. Cobalt, ultramarine, violet… the evening fields beyond the window are fields of perception, their instantaneous arrival as “field” and departure as “past” mark the transit of our existence. This is the same terrain, but not the same field, of yesterday’s monotonous, snow-less commute. Now it is a field transformed by snow into the fields of childhood, a snow meadow framed by white-shouldered trees, organized through a procession of yesterdays[56]and colored by the anticipation of an arrival, a future. There is no need to consult the perfect idea of “yesterday’s snows

upon an anonymous landscape viewed from an evening train as I travel to a museum I have never visited before.”[57]There is no need to stop the train and take measurements: distances, temperature, inches of precipitation, these cannot recover the feeling/meaning of a tenebrous, velvet winter evening: wind, snowflakes, speed, the rhythm of the train.[58]The subjective self organizes this carriage of perceptions within a mobile horizon of assumed concepts. We[59]compare perceptions to memory, organizing them in a sequence of perceptions[60]influenced by qualities, by time, space, and the lived experience of being in the world. Being is not some substrate of which this perceived and receding “now” is a “symptom,” indicative of a Being beyond this time, this place, these perceptions. Being is its symptom, the arrival in the senses of the “now” of this perceived moment, this place, this leaving, and this arrival.[61]To form the subjective horizon of Being into a poem that becomes more than a snow struck field, into a cognitive field available for endless contributions to a succession of possible horizons; that is the business of art.[62]To ignore or exclude the full range of human experience, particularly the experience of the senses, the regions of bodily import, is to foreclose upon the most interesting and essential part of the journey of Being.[63]

         Within our selves, on this journey of Being, there resides the potent, polarized “other;” the body as a familiar, and often “invisible”[64]amicus curiae, or repulsive and reviled stranger. Expressed as a judicious balance or intemperate discord between the body’s inside and outside,[65]its realms of visibility and taboo, the psyche becomes either a consoling, fictive unity born of repression and constraint, or a dark and transgressivestranger peering at us through a miasma of desire, fear and loathing. In either case the notion of mimesis is essential, inevitable, and ineluctable; we are destined to recognize as either friend or foe, strange or familiar, the other that is or is not us. Inseparable partners, catharsis and mimesis contribute to a process of recognition that requires an abject presence – we must see the damaged and divided other as ourselves, all the while recognizing the abyss that divides the “me” into many, divides the “I from the other.” It has been the history of thought to sunder and join these “others in self,” to offer them the hospitality of the aesthetic,[66]or to show them the frontier and bid them never return.[67]Art joins these uneasy pilgrims through the presentation of “object resembling subject” as a species of privileged and penalized abjection. Catharsis becomes more than identification with the sufferings of a tragic hero; art offers a cathartic release by offering recognition as Being.[68]In the seminal recognition of “other” as different, “other” as same, and “other” in an abject vacillation, the self is repeatedly drawn, erased, and redrawn. This constant search for recognition defines the value of mimesis, not as the reproduction of appearances, but the perception of Being as it arises in and through contrasting modalities of self and other, self and society, the physical and psychological selves, the regions of spirit and the body. Attempts to sunder these qualities arrests the perception of Being as an indeterminate motion, a progress through time, offering a substitute that denies and ignores the primal, formless nature of Being as recognition. 

         Departure, arrival, and a continuously moving present, hurtling forward while reaching back, this is our fate, the nature of our Being. We travelers pass through a topography of our own creation, which simultaneously envelops us; the landscape of “now” a field of perceptions transformed and charged with significance. Time sweeps us ever forward, Being is impossible without time,[69]Being is forever in motion, defining and defined by space. Here is the essence of our abjection; Being forces upon us an awareness of our own foreignness, our strangeness to ourselves, our equivocal temporality: we construct being, and we are constructed as beings within Being.[70]Yet this construction of Being requires that we know and recognize some measure of ourselves – perceptions, to be meaningful, require a context anchored in sense experience as cognition: a past that recognizes the present and recommends it to a future. Yet, as the experienced traveler knows, there is sometimes a consolation in strangeness; there are capsules of experience that stretch our conception of time, and occupy a space that seems to bend in concert with the eccentricities of time. Fueled by our attention, art travels forward and backward through an intense present, upon rails of style, context, and sensuous immediacy. Suspended between a certain departure, death, and a provisional future, art offers a temporal duality and an horizon of amplified perceptions. Available within its horizon are the contexts it records and carries forward, and an imitation of the arrival of Being in consciousness. Arrival and departure ultimately and inevitably intersect in death, but with care for the world, in this moment, and care for the past, the inevitability of death may be forgotten. Through art we obscure the inevitability of death, art deflects and denies the ultimate arrival/departure that is death, ironically making us intensely aware of our own transience, the “now’ of the “I” reflected in the “eyes” of a stranger who resembles me.

II. Arrival

         So we come to the realization that death is our ultimate destination, apparently reserved for the world of bodies and sensation. We attempt to deflect this fate through the “idea” as a transcendental absolute, a “timeless” concept. This timeless region consoles us with an illusion of totality that is sustained across a partitioned space of consciousness, ignoring the body in favor of mind. As a result, our self-recognition is partial, and there is always, at the frontier of recognition, a faceless stranger, the shade of our self-deceptive mimesis: recognition now consists in a denial of seeing. The rejection of the body, sensation, the irrational and the emotional, is a rejection of the indeterminate. Law is offered to regulate the body and its indeterminate tendencies towards feeling, sensation, ambiguity, and doubt. Consoling itself with universal and trans-historic concepts, law and rationalism overlook sensation to establish a disembodied Cogito as the origin of knowledge. Subjective presence is legislated into a social order; a mirror of reality that reflects an incomplete history, an insufficient residue of time, and a premature genesis for thought. For idealists like Plato and Shaftesbury, knowledge claims based upon subjective sensory import, equivocal time, inversions of established relations, and existence too near the frontier of subject-object relationsinvite an intolerable anarchy. The resistance of the liminal and the indeterminate to the disembodied ideal demands an authentic mimesis, a system of representation that assumes the fragmentation and unpleasantness,[71]as well as the beauty[72]and sublimity, of the present. Without this truth, loathing shapes the looking glass: if we face the strange and reviled countenance found within it, the glass, and all it symbolizes, shatters. Or we may choose to preserve the illusions of law and religion by turning our eyes towards the heavens or the courts. In either case, fear is always a partner of mimesis. 

         A work of art is a body that is not a subject, an abject body that engages sensual perception. Usurping the privilege of subject-ness in an eruption of material presence, the work of art is a field of perceptions that animates our senses and engages/composes an horizon of ideas. Art becomes a “sort of” mind and a “sort of” body, a body that borrows or annexes our consciousness, to arrogate to itself an illusion of self - consciousness. No wonder such distrust is directed at the work of art, its mimetic illusion is more than a fooling of the eye; mimesis is more than a naive reproduction of appearances– unmediated sensation is as impossible as it would be incomprehensible. Art creates a mirror of Being, like Being, art devours our attention[73]and absorbs our presence: we are the mirror, the field of perception, we are in the mirror as its horizon expands to include us. Works of art exist as provisional, incomplete beings, the world- making of art offers to the senses and consciousness contingent and tentative versions of Being. Art operates as a damaged or incomplete subject, an inadequate “other” in need of completion.[74]Migrating from object to subject, art transgresses the frontier between these entities, finally settling into a nether world between, accomplishing the status of a “privileged” meta-object. As such the work becomes a laboratory of difference - a field of indeterminate relations available for recognition or rejection.[75]In the abject a psychological premise finds a physiologicalpretext – the body in defiance of law,[76]an indeterminate, transgressivetopos that carries an unspeakable shadow presence whose cry becomes art. Uncertainty is always a partner of mimesis.

III. Return. Dia Beacon, November 29, 2009

         I had first come to this place, these thoughts, aboard a train in a snowstorm, with the boundless magic of an unknown destination for company. Now I return, on the way home from a funeral, to the space of these thoughts, detouring from the highway in the bright and candid light of a winter morning. What consolation did I hope to find here?  Was it the stillness of these meta-objects, housed in a cavernous, vast, white, and silent preserve of sacred industry that I sought after my mother’s death?[77]Was it their reserve, their preoccupation with ideas and lack of strident emotions that I sought as a palliative for the profound emotions that death inspires? I did not turn to these “objects striving to be subjects” for the consolations of an obvious religious narrative, their austerely secular presence avoids overt reference to saints, miracles, or martyrs.[78]Yet there is something miraculous about the transubstantiation this art accomplishes, transcending its abject necessity; vacating the corruption, defilement, and death associated with abjection. The artwork I “discovered” this day provided a catharsis through their buoyant refusal to be some thing ruled by absolute limits,[79]offering instead, a feast of possible thoughts. It was not an entertaining distraction that drew me: this art rarely entertains, it offers instead, a challenge to see and to think, to be present in this moment. The mimetic challenge of this work exists in their ambiguous relation to object-ness; the responsibility for their subject-ness is mine.[80]I am needed to supply a concept to give the work life, the idea of the work collaborates with perception, arrives with looking as thinking. What is represented/recognized is the moment of grace… jouissancedasein… when Being rises into consciousness through the engagement of the senses in the present moment, colored by mood, attunement,[81]and configured by space. The visual silence[82]of the work reproduces the silence of all mysteries, drawing us closer to a reflection that can never be fixed, and must be known through the senses, across the horizon of human experience.[83]There is a dignity in this work, borne of its strangeness, drawn from the incompatibility of its means. It requires of us an extension, a reaching out towards the unfamiliar, a willingness to comprehend.[84]

After word: Bodies and Subjects
         To speak of art is to speak of the body, to speak of the body is to speak of death. What of the most abject of bodies, the dead? What consolation can art offer us in the face of death? We must speak of death, not as a poetic abstraction, nor as a postponement, an anxiety about the future, but death in the present, in the body of the dead.[85]Death is a poor artist, offering, as a trace of its profound and impenetrable mystery, an inept and lifeless portrait; the dead vaguely resemble their living selves.[86]In death the mimetic process of art is reversed, a regression or retreat of the subject towards object seizes the body. The dead, like art, occupy a liminal territory between present and past, subject and object[87]but the transformation is, as with art, often as incomplete as it is irrevocable; memory and “care” preserve, recognize, restore a shadow of life to the dead, and to the inanimate work of art. It is our reverence and stewardship of the dead that gives them a presence and a temporality comparable to the work of art. The dead are creatures of the “beyond,” of the future and an irrevocable past. Entirely dependent upon memory, their present is our present, and their future is now their past, their memory, and their future/past, is our responsibility.[88]  How is it then, that galleries and museums, the artist’s studio, are not seen as mausoleums, but places of vital inhabitance? This is due to the presentation of Being and the usurpation of subject - presence performed by works of art and obtained through the most fundamental of mimetic processes: the a priori union of sense and consciousness needed to recognize Being. Art replenishes and exercises our internal capacity for the apprehension of possible worlds, and we recognize only what is already within us.

 

 

Bibliography

 

 

Heidegger, Martin. Being and Time. Joan Stambaugh, trans. Albany: State University of New York,

1962.

Kelly, Mary. “Re-viewing Modernist Criticism” in Imaging Desire. Boston: MIT Press. 1996.

Kristeva, Julia. Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Leon S.Roudiez, trans. New York: Columbia

University Press.

LeWitt, Sol. “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art” in Art in Theory, 1900-2000. Harrison and Wood, eds.

Oxford: Blackwell, 2005.

Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. Colin Smith, trans. London: Routledge, 2002.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. On the Genealogy of Morality. Diethe, C. trans., Ansell-Pearson, K. ed. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press. 1994.

Plato. “The Republic” in The Dialogues of Plato Vol.II. B. Jowett, trans., Random House: New York,

1937.

 

Rilke, Rainer-Maria. Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus. A. Poulin, trans. Boston: Houghton

Mifflin, 1977.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Idea. Berman, J. trans., Berman D. ed. London: J.M.

Dent, 1995.

 

 

[50] Rilke, Rainer-Maria, Duino Elegies and the Sonnets to Orpheus. A. Poulin, trans. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977. P.63.

[51] “Hence time, in our primordial experience of it, is not for us a system of objective positions, through which we pass, but a mobile setting which moves away from us, like a landscape seen through a railway carriage window.” Merleau-Ponty, M., Phenomenology of Perception. Colin Smith, trans. London: Routledge, 2002, p. 487.

[52] This is essential to Merleau-Ponty’s argument “we are caught up in the world and we do not succeed in extricating ourselves from it in order to achieve consciousness,” Phenomenology of Perception, p5; while Kristeva makes a case for the “struggle which fashions the human being…the mimesis by means of which he becomes homologous to another in order to become himself” as “logically and chronologically secondary…to the recognition of abjection as a pre-condition of narcissism,” p. 13. In both cases there is a drive to establish a seminal moment of arousal and arrival; “I abject myself within the same motion through which ‘I’ claim to establish myself,” p. 3. Of particular interest, for the argument sustained within this paper, is Kristeva’s claim that it is in this seminal moment of recognition that we find “the makings of the imagination whose foundations are being laid here,” Kristeva, J., Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection. Leon S. Roudiez, trans., New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, p. 5. 

[53] Kristeva suggests the regions of the abject as “a land of oblivion…constantly remembered” KristevaPowers of Horror, 1982, p. 5. Memory is as crucial a projection as imagination to the phenomenology of Being; a case could be made for each as different temporal facets of the same cognitive process. For MerleauPonty, sensation and phenomena themselves become “a transcendental field…the universal focus of Knowledge” p. 69 and “Bodily experience…a representation of psychic fact,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 87; the body is the epistemological “pivot of the world” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 94.

[54] “Experience of phenomena is…the making explicit or bringing to light of the prescientific life of consciousness which alone endows scientific operations with meaning,” Phenomenology of Perception,p. 68.

[55] Merleau-Ponty engages in a lengthy critique of “intellectualism” and its attempt to validate the region of consciousness in terms of an “absolute mind...or a world that is detached from us” which is “no clearer to me than my own finite mind…the…phenomena which are the ground of all our certainties” of which absolute mind is “no more than a rationalization,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 475.

[56] Mais  sont les neiges d'antan…? asks Villon, whose sense of the recollected past presents an interesting dilemma for translators and philosophers alike.

[57] “Reality is not a crucial appearance underlying the rest, it is the framework of relations with which all appearances tally,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 349.

[58] “Empiricism excludes from perception the anger or the pain which I nevertheless read in a face…the city whose temper I recognize in the attitude of a policeman or the style of a public building,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 27.

[59] I prefer the first person plural to third person singular in this case. Beyond the awkwardness of the third person singular, the first person plural, in my opinion, best conveys the play of self and other inherent in being  toward death; “Death reveals itself as the ownmost nonrelational possibility [of Daseinnot to be bypassed...an eminent imminence.” On the one hand inevitable death is inevitably our own; “The nonrelational possibility, death individualizes...death is always one’s own...more primordial than any certainty related to beings encountered in the world...as such, it claims not only one definite kind of behavior of Da-sein, but claims Da-sein in the complete authenticity of its existence.” Yet, we all share the same inevitable end, and we either choose to ignore or postpone our recognition of death (“covering it over” in the manner of “the they;” a form of being together that divides the “I” from the “our”- death happens to someone else) or recognize it as our own, within the agency of “care,”  as “the fundamental constitution of Da-sein...expressed in the ‘definition’: being-ahead-of-itself-already-being-in-the world as being-together-with-beings encountered within the world.” Heidegger, M., Being and Time. Joan Stambaugh, trans. Albany: State University of New York, 1962. 232, 244, 231.

[60] “Perception creates a cluster of data, sees that they have meaning, and deciphers that meaning,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 42.

[61] “The being in itself of inner worldly beings is ontologically comprehensible only on the basis of the phenomenon of the world,” p. 71. Heidegger’s phenomenology appears to stop short of declaring perception as being, rather we have perceptions of being, we perceive “symptoms” of Being as a substrate available for apprehension in given manifestations at given moments in time and space. Heidegger, M., Being and Time. 1962.

[62] “Every perception is a communication or a communion. The taking up or completion by us of some extraneous intentions…or complete expression outside ourselves, of our perceptual powers and a coition, so to speak, of our body with things,” p. 373; yet in a curious adumbration of Kristeva’s abject no-thing that does not have “a definable object” p.1, Merleau-Ponty asserts “the perception of the world is simply an expression of my field of presence…the body remains in it but at no time becomes an object in it,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 354.

[63] “Mental life withdraws into isolated consciousness…instead of extending…over human space…joy and sadness, vivacity and obtuseness are data of introspection and when I invest landscapes or other people with these states it is because we have observed the coincidence between these internal perceptions and external signs…feeling will remain to be explored as original ways of looking at an object,” Phenomenology of Perception, p .28.

[64] “We loose sight of the fact that we are seeing,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 82.

[65] The fundamental opposition…between I and other…inside and outside,” Powers of Horror, p.7.

[66] Schopenhauer, and Nietzsche anticipate, to different degrees and sans Freud and Lacan, Kristeva’s position that art signifies the “jouissance of…primary narcissism…sublimated into a signifier…recast and sematicized into music,” p. 179. Certainly, Schopenhauer would place abjection in the world as will, and music on the side of “idea,” while Nietzsche might argue that abjection is an expression of perverted, unduly “Christianized” and “priestly” law. Both would agree upon the super-abundance of Being available in the aesthetic.

[67] Famously, or infamously, Plato develops a strategy for the dignified banishment of undesirable Poets, poets of abjection. See the “Republic Book III, in The Dialogues of Plato Vol. II. B. Jowett, trans., Random House: New York, 1937, p. 661.

[68] “Rhythm and song arouse the impure,” Powers of Horror, p. 28. The Dionysian content of catharsis is amplified beyond Aristotle’s notion of catharsis as a dramatization of a kind of Being, the being of the abject being with whom we mimetically associate, through plot. Nietzsche and Kristeva agree that there are particular, formal expressions of the abject as well, despite Merleau-Ponty’s caveat; “The existence of the idea must not be confused with the tangible means of expression,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 454. Aristotle, Kristeva, and Nietzsche all upon the “purgative” dimension of catharsis, though they might not agree on what, in particular, is being purged, and how the purgation is to be accomplished. Is it a surprise that, for a phenomenologist, rhythm and dance, so keenly anchored in the body, are themselves cathartic? See Powers of Horror, pp. 17-28.

[69] One of the crucial transformations of the mimetic, across our readings, concerns the relationship of mimesis to time - is the appropriate target of mimesis the fleeting moment of perception, and emotion: being in he world, the Dionysian jouissance, the intoxication associated with the “gushing forth of the unconscious the repressed, suppressed pleasure, be it sex or death,” Powers of Horror, p. 206; or an Apollonian landscape of eternal “forms” spatially and temporally distinct from the world as will, as sensation, as desire. Ideal formulations of the aesthetic, more often than not, demand a re-presentation of the past, and as such, a paralysis of time through the representation of the “purified” abject, a realm untroubled by desire and liminality, replete with canonical laws of taste than have the force of ethical legislation. It is interesting to contrast Wofflin’s immersion in the marmoreal purity of classical art, versus Nietzsche’s revision of the classical tragedy as a realm of primal jouissance. Obviously, Heidegger views a recognition of the temporalities of Being as an essential of daseinbut partitions these into categories of the temporal/ontological, whileMerleau – Ponty moves time into the origins of Being, as an “external world immanent in time as a fallacy…time arises from my relation to things…true time…the nature of flux or transience itself…an overlapping of past and present,” Phenomenology of Perception, pp. 423, 482, 488. In either case the “overlapping of past and present” is core component of mimesis: representations are a more a matter of this present seen in the time/form of the past; without this chain of identities, the present would be utterly foreign, impossible to recognize “each moment of time calls to others to witness,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 79.

[70] “Any perceptual consistency refers back to the positing of a world and a system of experience in which my body is inescapably linked with phenomena,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 354.

[71] “The tacit cogito, the presence of oneself to oneself being no less than existence, is anterior to any philosophy, and knows itself only in those extreme situations in which it is under threat: in the dread of death or of another’s gaze upon me,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 470.

[72] “Literature: the sublime point at which the abject collapses in a burst of beauty that overwhelms us.” Powers of Horror, p. 210

[73] “Attention creates a field or horizons,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 33.

[74] Kristeva speaks of the abject in terms of a “phobic object,” an “impossible object,” a “phobic mirage,” a “fetishsization of object relations,” and “partial objects.” Powers of Horror, pp. 40, 42, 46, 47, 73.

[75] “Borderline subjects…constitute propitious ground for a sublimating discourse (aesthetic or mystical, etc.) rather than a scientific or rationalist one,” Powers of Horror, p. 7.

[76] “Abjection turns rules…aside, misleads, corrupts, uses them, takes advantage of them the better to deny them,” Powers of Horror, p.15.

[77] “Death would be the chief curator of our imaginary museum,” Powers of Horror, p. 16. How much is the making, and consumption of art a resistance to the temporality? Just as the rupture of the subject - object relation is “edged with the sublime…the rapture of bottomless memory…a space of perceptions and words that expands memory,” Powers of Horror, p. 12; the aesthetic moment collapses time.

[78] For the relationship of the abject the sacred, see Kristeva, pp. 17-27.

[79] Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty and Kristeva agree, in different terms, that the shape of being is largely, if not entirely, determined by the “historicity” of my experience; “I am affected by what does not yet appear to me as a thing, it is because Laws, connections, and even structures of meaning govern and condition me,” Powers of Horror, p. 10. The artwork occupies a present moment of sensation/perception and reflective digressions, horizons, which shape meaning. The work bundles a procession of non-linear sensations that theorize a “world.” Shape is a “sum of limited views, consciousness of shape a collective entity…horizon…a theme of knowledge…at every moment…former experience is present in the form of a horizon…which immediately provides the perceived with a present atmosphere and significance,” Phenomenology of Perception, pp. 16, 25.

[80] The work of art demands signification by virtue of its ontological intensity. “The visual cathexsis in the phobic image…allow it to drift…towards symbolicity…change it into a sign of love, hatred, enthusiasm or damnation…poetic language would then be contrary to murder and the univocity of the verbal message…an attempt to symbolize the beginning,” Powers of Horror, pp. 46, 61.

[81] I use these terms in the sense that Heidegger employs them in Being and Time. Indeed, this entire essay is organized around the related concepts and modalities of “mood” and “attunement,” as they appear in Being and Time.

[82] Synaesthesia would appear to be a problematic confusion of experiential phenomena, indicative of either an errant pathology, a mirage/illusion, or a moment of heightened perception A direct semantization of acoustic, tactile, motor, visual etc., coenesthesia,” Powers of Horror, p.53.

[83] For example, LeWitt’s wall drawings offer a consoling, systematic horizon, a transformation of space into the poetry of sequential perceptions, and a silent music of scale and mark. I find solace in Beuys’ persistent confidence in art as an anodyne for a future wounded and seduced by the past, and his challenge to heal and renew the world through a continuous, courageous re-definition of art. Flavin draws with light; his deceptively bland industrial syntax reanimates this ancient and atavistic symbol of transcendence, restoring confidence in the incandescent power of ideas…

Indeed, this argument between the ideal and the phenomenal in the aesthetic can be dramatically illustrated through a comparison of the writings and work of two contemporary artists – LeWitt and Mary Kelly. LeWitt claims for his art the primacy of the idea, that “physicality is a deterrent to our understanding of the idea,” and the “idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work” yet the idea is not “logical…not theoretical or illustrative of theories…made to engage the mind of the viewer rather than the eye or the emotions.” In his claim for a measure of irrationality within a system of artist selected “basic forms and rules” may be found traces of the Dionysian and the abject, scoured of “expressionist” content. The jouissance offered here is the narcissism of the intellect, recognition, a mimesis of idea. Compare this to Mary Kelly, who engages the eye, in its complex manifestation as the “gaze,” and the body as a “universal” signifier of experience. Here the experience of the body is presented for its abject, Dionysian fluency: “The body must be chiseled into the world in accordance with direct experience…the actual experience of the body fulfills the promise of the painted mark…the art of the real body refers back to its essential content, pain…the body as an artistic text” is read for the idea of femininity it presents through Being in the world, through a subversive “intoxication” of the gaze.

[84] “The perceiving subject must…reach out towards things to which he has…no key, and for which he nevertheless carries within himself the project, and open himself to the absolute other which he is making ready in the depths of his being,” Phenomenology of Perception, p. 380. “Abjection is a resurrection that has gone through death (of the ego)…transform[ing] the death drive into a start of life, of new significance,” Powers of Horror, p. 15.

[85] But, of course, this is impossible. Kristeva notes, with Lacan, “fear and Object are linked…and the abject entity is the object that ‘condenses all fears,’” Powers of Horror, p. 33. The self-representation, the mimesis of death, is painted with fear, anxiety, and horror, as well as an inexplicable attraction.

[86] “It is death that…represents the strange state in which a non-subject, a stray, having lost its non-objects imagines nothingness,” Powers of Horror, p. 25.

[87] I omit, but am not incognizant of, loss and forgetfulness: “In the shape of our bodies an ever present principal of the ‘absent-mindedness and bewilderment,’” Phenomenology of Perception,p.31.

[88] “The past…is not past, nor the future, future. It exists only when a subjectivity is there to disrupt the plenitude Being in itself…a past and future spring forth when I reach out towards them.”Phenomenology of Perception, p. 489.