THE AESTHETIC WITHIN PHENOMOLOGY 2.
FLAT REALITY 3.ON A PERSONAL NOTE
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL
|The principles of Phenomenology
were developed by the German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859 - 1938).
His method was a reaction to the rationality of Descartes and to the "certainty"
held by Cartesians. He was also reacting against the historical determinism
Husserl used the ancient Sceptics
technique of the epoche,
or bracketing, which is a holding back of opinion, a suspension in judgement,
as a way of finding truth. Doubt, which was central to the Sceptics, was
not so for Hussel.
Later, a younger generation
of French intellectuals would develop upon Husserl's work.
Maurice Merlau-Ponty and Jean-Paul Sartre, in
particular. Merleau-Ponty would write the 'Phenomenology of Perception',
1945, and Sartre would develop Existentialism. Sartre famously employed
the technique of the epoche
in Nausea, with
the description of a chestnut tree.
| A problem had arisen
with Husserl's brief flirtation with Fascism and that would diminish his
influence. Later both Merlau-Ponty and Sartre would embrace Marxism; however
Merlau-Ponty soon rejected this over Stalin's policies while Sartre did
not. These political asides had the unfortunate effect of reducing the
aesthetic and intellectual influence of Phenomenology and Existentialism.
But Socialist and Marxist thought remained strong in Europe, as seen in
Herbert Marcuse and Walter Benjamin and the Frankfurt School; and in the
Structuralists; Roland Barthes, Piaget, Saussare and Claude Levi-Strauss.
The Structuralists would develop the theory that the only important relationships
were the structural ones between units and it was only these that held
any social import, whilst the likes of Marcuse would develop far more radical
critiques of the depersonalising effects of Western capitalist society.
The essentially Marxist leanings of these intellectuals, in the context
of the Cold War, meant that fierce opposition arose to some very valid
ideas. It also meant that some rather extreme attitudes developed. The
net effect was a distortion of the aims of truth-seeking, and the blame
must rest with these same intellectuals and the institutions which they
For the Existententialists
the "held" moment would later become the "gaze" and this would be used
effectively in literature and film. The gaze would be a fixation that isolated
a moment or a thing and so sevealed an essential truth; Husserl had developed
the epoche into
a process by which something was reduced to its essential nature;
hence the fixation on a chestnut tree, the tree held in the gaze and then
a detailed description of what chestnut 'treeness' really was. Alain Robbe-Grillet
would do similar with the detailed description of a sliced tomato in the
and thereby earning the scorn of the anti-intellectuals.
| Another related principle
was that of the eidetic image,
which became useful for the Structuralists; that is only drawings done
by children and the mentally insane were "pure" expressions as they involved
no filtering or reflection -- this would have far-reaching consequences
for later Twentieth Century Art.
Almost at two extremes
then, are two art forms related to Structuralism: the "pure" expressions
of children -- and the mentally insane -- and what would become known as
Minimalism, which, although may be eidetically reduced images, are in fact
Structural: relating units or parts to wholes or places. The Minimal artwork's
"truth" is in its composition or structure. Later several Minimal artists
would extend their work to examining social structures and provide a critique,
in Marcusian form, of those.
It is in painting --
and recently photography -- that we find the technique of eidetic reduction
in its more instinctual form, or as a way of expressing a knowledge of
inclination, and it is not new: from the still-lifes of Jean-Baptiste Chardin
(1699-1779) to Paul Cezanne (1839-1906), but most clearly in the deceptvely
simple compositions of the Italian Giorgio Morandi who lived his entire
life without travelling much beyond his native Bologna -- the site of one
of the first universities in history and a communist-intellectual enclave.
Eidetic reduction can also be seen at work in the paintings, but incidentally,
of Piet Mondrian.
In the U.S.A., perhaps Edward Hopper is instinctually and intellectually
closest to Phenomenology and may be the only painter to develop a truly
Phenomenological aesthetic (Hopper very conciously distanced himself from
Modernism) and which can be seen in even his early works, such as Le
Parc Saint-Cloud, of 1907, which already
display the carefully selected and arranged non-narrative elements characteristic
of his entire oeuvre. Also the manner of cropping, similar to that of Manet
and which feels so contemporary, is evident. But Hopper is not alone: William
Faulkner, Dashiell Hammet and Film Noir (including Hitchcock) demonstrate
the influence of Pehomenology, unremarked and unrecognised as it may be.
The images and stylistic devices of Pop art are also similarly derived.
With the opposition
of Conservative, and that may be pro-Capitalist elements, to what may have
been considered a Marxist aesthetic (not Social Realist, however, as there
were no ideals or message, involved), the effect was for the Modernist-Utopian
aesthetic to remain and gain in predominance until the end of the Cold
War and the end of the Twentieth Century.
| It is only now that
we can see the strangle-hold that Modernist thought had on our interlocking
cultural worlds: The image of an overall balanced and united structure
(which may now be termed "globalism"), the grandeur of gesture and the
sheer scale of many works, all display a tension that was rooted in and
central to the tension between Fascism and Communism -- that of heroism
Even in the grand works
of the late painter Mark Rothko, Jewish and heroic, who created his own
chapel but was a suicide, even in his great spiritual moment he embodies
all the uneasy paradoxes of Modernism -- and in his case the mirror image
of Facism. With the deconstruction of Rothko's chapel we find the Holocaust
And a similar analysis
can be applied to Jackson Pollack, too.
And so with the end of the "Cold War" -- essentially a war between capitalism
and communism -- and with the close of the Twentieth Century, the distortion
inherent in the aesthetics of the first past fifty years can be appreciated.
and so it is possible to take once more the techniques which may also constitute
an aesthetic which initially appeared with the ideas of Husserl and Phenomenology.
Divested of distorting ideologies we have a method with which to hold and
appreciate the world we inhabit, free from grand designs, focused upon
the quotidian and which may illustrate the simple truths common to all
cultures. It may be said, however, that such an approach is still anti-capitalist,
or more specifically today, critical of the global market and the forces
shaping an international econmy: this is true only insofar as some may
wish to use the aesthtetic to critique images -- media controlled images,
for example -- which promote, yet still further, the very successful Modernist
Hopefully the aesthetic
in Phenomenology can be established freed from distortions.