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Geoffry D. Hinton
"All Things being Equal"
Part 1
All texts and photographs copyrights owned by Geoffry Dean Hinton
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 of Hegel. 
    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 served. 
     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 eidetic reduction, 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 Erasers 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 in commonality. 
     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 death camps. 
     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 creed. 
     Hopefully the aesthetic in Phenomenology can be established freed from distortions.
PART  2: