THE AESTHETIC WITHIN PHENOMOLOGY 2.
FLAT REALITY 3.ON A PERSONAL NOTE
ALL THINGS BEING EQUAL
"Locke's position places restrictions on the scope of the imagination:
whatever we make up we will only ever be compounding simple ideas that
ultimately originate in experience."
John Locke, 1632-1704
"Any reference to the
nature of character of the world is a reference to, and is only intelligible
as a reference to, actual or possible experiences. What we immediately
perceive in vision is a flat, two-dimendional array of colours and shapes.
in the New Theory of Vision
Berkeley presents arguments to show that distance is not something immediately
perceived but something constructed from certain orderly relations of the
ideas of different senses in the mind. Thus to say an object is one mile
away is just to say that a certain sequence of ideas -- for example, those
constituting the experience of walking forward -- would have to go through
the mind before we received such-and-such ideas of touch. This lays the
groundwork for the view that what is perceived (the object of perception
is something at a distance from us, is therefore always something in the
George Berkeley, 1685-1753
| "Flat" reality,
in both painting and photography, is termed flat not just because the images
may appear flat, but because "causality" has been reduced or removed. It
is also said that the images are "emptied out". The removal of causality
has interesting philosophical roots and reasoning. Examples of causality
may be nationalism, communism, fascism or history in general: it may be
political or sociological. Through cause we may seek interpretation or
"meaning". Often this meaning is subjective or manipulated. So it may be
desirable to remove causality so as to reduce the act of interpretation.
The importance of this can be seen when it is placed next to recent political
events, such as war.
Deconstruction is also possible with a flat reality: a scene that has been
reduced, that is, say, a peaceful, quiet scene is easily deconstructed
when we recognise that "peacefulness" is suppressing its opposite, namely
chaos. In this way we achieve a truer understanding of both "peacefulness"
and eruptive "chaos".
The development of this
attitude, however, needs further inquiry.
My own personal interest
dates to around 1976 or 1977, when I was staying at a friend's studio in
Paris. It was a psudo-Existential lifestyle while I worked on small very
-- a collection of ten or so -- all the while
listening to Brian Eno (Another Green World) and David Bowie (Low) -- great
stuff -- and reading James Joyce in between. The great Modernist exhibition
"Paris -- New York"" was on at the Georges Pompidou Centre, at the time.
| Jean-Paul Sartre developed
many of his ideas for Existentialism from the writings of the German philosopher
Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), who coined the term Phenomenology. In Phenomenology
Husserl developed the technique known as "eidetic reduction"; reducing
something -- a scene or a situation -- to its most basic essence: the thing-in-itself,
so as to apprehend reality truthfully.
Jacques Derrida also
went to Husserl and Hussserl's work on language and consciousness to develop
the theory and technique of Deconstruction.
Much of the work of
both Existentialism and Deconstruction was applied to shattering the myths
of Modernism: Utopianism and unifying concepts, and the supposed ability
of humans to perceive and to know all. This was exemplified in the two
Joyce extravaganzas Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake.
Common to both Existentialism
and Deconstruction is the "impartial gaze".
In painting, in particular, we have clear examples of eidetic reduction:
the still-lifes of Morandi; the colour works of Joseph Albers and the "flags"
of Jasper Johns ("The painting of a flag is always about a flag or about
a colour or about the physicality of the paint, I think."). Robert Ryman
is another painter that comes to mind.
There is also another
oblique lineage from Egyptian decorative art and the aesthetic ideal of
two-dimensional "flat" images to certain periods of Picasso and to the
early Egyptian paintings of David Hockney.
It should be noted here
that eidetic reduction is not Minimalism: indeed it is the opposite. The
Structuralists, Barthes, Piaget, Saussure and Levi-Strauss, held that individuals
were units in a meta-structure. There was no "free will" as was held by
the Existentialists. And this can be evidenced in Minimal art where the
only relationships were between particulars -- rather than the particulars
themselves. Structures are basic to human knowledge, it was held. Minimalism
is then both Modernist and Structuralist.
| With flat reality there
may not necessarily be any relationship between particular images.
There are some traits,
Removal of causality
It is not Utopian or promoting unifying systems
Intervention by the artist is restricted
The truthfulness of reality may be tested by eidetic reduction or may be
at the beginning to his Berlin Stories, famously stated that "I am a camera",
impartially recording the world about. Of course this is not entirely true
as the artist is participating, selecting. However, the truth of the reality
will be recognised by others.
Thomas Mann once stated that "having imagination does not mean thinking
up something; it means making something out of things".
As has been noted Locke
sought to limit imagination for its own purpose. The imagination, without
limits, is not in the service of truth.
The question that remains
is: Do we construct the conditions for our experience, and in so doing,
our reality; or, is it from our various experiences that we are conditioned
and so construct a reality?
For the artist -- painter,
photographer, and so on -- this must remain as a central issue.
In Phenomenology we
have the terms "eidetic reduction" and "eidetic image". It was held that
a visual image holds little or no true information as the act of seeing
is an act of the imagination, that is, in the first case, an act of construction
and so interpretatiom.
| It was held that the
only true eidetic image was that of a child's scribbles and musings, as
they are done without the filtering of reflection. An eidetic reduction
would be the conscious selection of information or images which are then
reduced, either singularly or in a constructed situation, to the bare essence
of that image or information. This reduction served to limit the imagination,
and so the act of interpretation, allowing the viewer to see the essential
truth of that image or information.
In ancient times the
Sceptics developed the technique of the "epoche" now commonly termed as
an act of "bracketing": This was a stopping of the act of opinion forming,
a holding back. The imagination is also suspended; simply put a condition
of "One doesn't know" or uncertainty is put into effect. For the Sceptics
"doubt" was an essential component of "belief".
In recent times the
technique of epoche has led to the "gaze": the fixed stare that holds no
meaning except as a way to isolate a situation before the act of interpretation.
It must be recognised that with the gaze there is no memory, as the gaze
is not an event, nor is it a filter.
With the contemporary technique of the gaze there is no relationship to
belief or doubt. It simply is a technique.
The act of taking a
photograph may be one of constructing a "reality" which is then suspended
-- it in fact holds little or no information as it is only an empty bracket
which cannot be called experience. However, when that bracketing ceases
and the act of interpretation is stimulated the central issue returns:
Is the photographer not aware that he/she is constructing the reality for
his/her experience, or is it the experience of the external "landscape/reality"
that constructs the photographer's reality (news/war photography being
a case in point.)
| The instant in measured
brevity of "taking" a photograph is a suspension, a bracketing or epoche:
there is is a suspension of judgement to allow for possibilities in interpretation:
This is not to say that consideration is not given to what the gaze is
fixed upon; the gaze, one's attention has been "captured" by something,
before the camera then mechanically and distantly "captures" what has captured
the observer's attention. The printed photograph, then, in turn, "captures"
the attention of secondary viewers and so slowly a second "reality" is
constructed. This secondary reality though, retains an essential element
of truth, as both imagination and interpretation have been virtually eliminated.
This secondary reality may be the only "true" reality. The subject and
the question of technique enter here; the sensational, the dramatic are
not suitable for the aesthetic of Phenomenology or Existentialism, as the
sensational has already been defined by an act of interpretation; indeed
"truth" can only be found in the mundane, the common, where causality and
wonder (awe) have been removed. The commonness of the ocean can produce
an awe which is interpreted as religiousity; the act of representing it
can "reduce" that awe to the sense of simply a heaving mass of water; it's
Paradoxically, skillfull technique can serve to enhance the non-moment
of bracketing as technique serves to create distance between the viewer
and that which is viewed. This distancing is seen as a prerequisite of
objectification; which is considered an essential in truth-finding.
But is the non-moment
of bracketing still an act? For the artist it must be, what's more it must
be a conscious act, whereas the choice of subject may be unconscious or
on the spur of the non-moment. Aesthetically this positions the artist,
posits the artist's images, somewhere between Surrealism and Existentialism;
this can be referred to in cinema, literature, photography and in the essential
American painting of Edward Hopper whose entire oeuvre is posited so, constructing
a second reality of Anerican life -- and hence its aura of truthfulness,
|The method and aesthetic of Phenomenology --
"that nothing is known save by a knowing subject" -- , a necessary illusion,
allows us to escape from interpretations of "reality": a reality we may
have constructed from our experience, or a reality which imposing itself
upon us: these may be dogma, the dogma of a laissez-faire economy, or a
tiranny -- the tiranny of an established aesthetic order -- Modernism,
for example; both of which seek to establish the terms for truth and reality.
The so-called "Flat
Reality" anti-aesthetic which here has been retermed "secondary reality"
is now, paradoxically, established as a legitimate contemporary aesthetic;
paradoxically by its practicioners who have added it to the body of history
Adorno, Theodore W.; Subject and Object
Herbert Read; Icon and Idea
Susan Sontag; Against Interpretation
Jean-Paul Sartre; Nausea
Alain Robbe-Grillet; The Erasers/Last Year At
Antonioni; L'Eclipse/ The Passenger
Marcuse, Herbert; The One-dimensional Man /On
Science and Phenomenology
Merlau-Pomty, Maurice; The Phenomenology of Perception
Kranzfelder, Ivo; Hopper
A PERSONAL NOTE
"Ambient mindscape", a current term which appears
to suggest Berkeley's description of the unconscious mind as belonging
to the background whereas the conscious mind is at the foreground. The
mid-point is the moment of the Existential gaze.
Desconstruction would be Berkeley's description,
in reverse. After co-inventing Cubism, Picasso went on to intuitively deconstruct
Distancing: the German painter Gerhard Richter
developed the technique of painting from photographs, intentionally removing
the artist from the subject. this is another method of eidetic reduction.
Eidetic reduction offers no object of satisfaction, for the viewer.
Structuralism: In France, this meant a rejection
of the conceptions of individual autonomy. Instead individuals were seen
a mere place-holders in social networks or structures and the idea that
they are human objects, i.e. agents whose decisions can influence the course
of social events, was regarded as an illusion.
Modernism: this had the unfortunate trait of the
heroic endeavour, therefore such titles as "Ulysses"; at the time other
authors were Ezra Pound and the doubting Modernist T.S. Elliot (The Waste
Land). The Apollo space program was the pinnacle of Modernist endeavour.