Review: Art After Metaphysics

Art After Metaphysics
Art After Metaphysics by John David Ebert
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

THE ARTIST: FROM TRIBAL SHAMAN TO GAIATIC MONADOLOGIST

I got very excited when I saw some extracts of this book and the promotional videos on youtube, so I ordered it on Amazon. As I was very eager to begin, I did not want to wait, so I also bought the audiobook version, read by the author, available on Google Drive, and so was able to start reading immediately. The book has two parts: the first part is a general introduction to the four world ages of European art, and the second is composed of specific analyses of individual artists of the post-modern epoch. Ebert points out that there is no single center or capital of art in the contemporary world, and that the major artists are geographically dispersed, so one can call the two parts Chronos and Gaia.

1) Chronos. The book begins with a very interesting synthesis of the typology of historical periods proposed by Jean Gebser and of that proposed by Peter Sloterdijk in the SPHERES trilogy. His synthesis includes the ideas of Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Serres, Marshall Mcluhan, Hans Belting, Martin Heidegger, Arthur Danto, Cornelius Castoriadis, Vilem Flusser, Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, and many more thinkers. Ebert distinguishes 4 major epochs in the semiotics of art, and more generally of our relation to being: the pre-metaphysical period – the artist is a shaman, the metaphysical or perspectival period – the artist is an optician in Euclidean visual space, the modernist or aperspectival period – the artist is an archetypologist of geometric or anthroplological forms in multi-dimensional space, the contemporary or post-aperspectival period – the artist is a monadologist in a liquefied quantized fom-space.

2) Gaia. Ebert argues that the contemporary period began not in 1962 with Andy Warhol’s “Brillo Boxes”, but in the period immeditely after World War II with the Abstract Expressionists. Pollock and Rothko correspond to a moment of effacing and liquefying the modernist “iconotypes”, and dissolving the shared multi-dimensional macrosphere of modernity. They herald in the contemporary period, where the artist can no longer presuppose a universal organised semiotic system, and is obliged to select and combine the signifiers of the present and the past, and hybridise them with new signifiers, into idiosyncratic, temporary, partial, multiple organisations, with no universal legitimacy. Initially the living center of art moves from Paris to New York, only to be disseminated into a mobile polycentric dispersive phenomenon spread over the whole planet. From Parisian art has become Gaiatic. Ebert devotes chapters also to Basquiat, Beuys, Richter, Kieffer, Beksinski, Nerdrum, Bacon, Hirst, Kapoor, Kounellis, Boltanski and situates their singular work within the general episteme of the contemporary world.

This is an ambitious work taking in a vast period of history, from the ancient Mesopotamians and Egyptians to the contemporary world. Geographically Ebert moves from New York through the German artists to London, Rome, and Paris. The artists examined are very diverse, and allow Ebert to fill in his general frame with many more fine-grained analyses. Further, his categories are interdisciplinary or transversal, in that they apply to much more than artists and art works. To be sure, art has become a proliferation of singular semiotic processes, but frequenting the diverse art works that are elucidated with the help of Ebert’s categories we find that our own lives are elucidated too. This is more than an academic manual, it is allso a useful guide to our own individuation in the pluralist ocean of foam that constitutes the semiotic and ontological background of our contemporary world.

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EBERT ON POLLOCK: from archetypes to alchemy

I began to talk about John David Ebert’s recent book, ART AFTER METAPHYSICS, in my last post and I sketched out his history of the 4 ages of European art. Ebert considerably complexifies this picture, adding sub-epochs and distinguishing different tendencies and solutions within each epoch and sub-epoch. He shows that a deconstruction of the old religious iconotypes takes place with the move from the perspectival epoch to the aperspectival epoch. Beginning with the French Impressionists, the whole episteme of unified homogeneous perspectival space is progressively deconstructed, leading to a fragmented multiple space-time tending to separate out into multiple incommensurable worlds. Euclidean visual space and Newtonian 3-dimensional objects disappear in favour of a noetic assemblage of non-Euclidean space and hyperdimensional objects. From visual, art becomes noetic, i.e. based in structures that exist behind the visible that we must grasp with our understanding (noetically) rather than simply with our eyes (optically). The result is the artistic equivalent of structuralism: an art based on the exploration of abstract geometrical or anthropological archetypes underlying the visible and giving it shape.

For Ebert Jackson Pollock belongs to a further movement of withdrawal from the visual, that engages in the dissolution of the archetypal forms, uncovering a formless field of energies and dynamisms that lie even deeper than the formed archetypes. He describes a first phase of Pollock’s work, mobilising archetypes such as the Great Mother and presenting the artist as a shaman. These Figures are dissolved and the artist constructs a non-figurative a-hierarchical a-centered cosmos, a rhizome.

Ebert describes this evolution as the dissolution of the Jungian archetypes and the liquefaction of forms. But one must remark that dissolution and liquefaction are archetypes too, as is the rhizome. Jung is often associated with a structuralist-type theory of the archetypes, but Jung radically changed the nature of his theory when he discovered the process of individuation first in his life, and later in the texts of alchemy. Jung underwent a “confrontation with the unconscious” in 1913, after his break with Freud, and which extended over several years. He later sought for an equivalent of his experience that could give him the language to evoke what he experienced and understood, and he found the necessary resources in alchemy. Even if Jung never fully eliminated his structuralist presuppositions, in his later work he gave priority to the process over the structure. In this way Jung was a precursor to the post-modernist movement away from modernist archetypes and sketched out by means of alchemy a type of language appropriate to this movement.

ON JOHN DAVID EBERT’S ART AFTER METAPHYSICS (1): CHRONOS

The book has two parts: the first part is a general introduction to the four world ages of European art, and the second is composed of specific analyses of individual artists of the post-modern epoch. Ebert points out that there is no single center or capital of art in the contemporary world, and that the major artists are geographically dispersed, so one can call the two parts Chronos and Gaia. In this post I will talk about his historical narrative, or Chronos.

Summary: John David Ebert’s recent book ART AFTER METAPHYSICS begins with a very interesting synthesis of the typology of historical periods proposed by Jean Gebser and of the typology proposed by Peter Sloterdijk in the SPHERES trilogy. His synthesis includes the ideas of Gilles Deleuze, Jacques Derrida, Michel Serres, Marshall Mcluhan, Hans Belting, Martin Heidegger, Arthur Danto, Cornelius Castoriadis, Vilem Flusser, Joseph Campbell, Mircea Eliade, and many more thinkers. Ebert distinguishes 4 major epochs in the semiotics of art, and more generally of our relation to being.

1) The pre-metaphysical age, from the Paleolithic to the time of Plato. According to Sloterdijk in this epoch there was a semiotics of immanence. Being in the world was a matter of being in the body of the Great Mother. The typical movement was the journey downward into the depths and return. Time is cyclic and space is a commonly share macrosphere, identified with the body of the mother. The individual is a cell in this organic totality, in the womb of the Great Mother. The artist is a shaman.

2) The metaphysical age, from the time of Plato to that of Heidegger. Each historical period within the metaphysical epoch has a privileged set of “iconotypes” or transcendental signifieds which fix meaning into organised significations. These semiotic systems and their signifieds are regularly de-legitimated and dissolved to make way for those of the next epoch. Being in the world is a matter of being inside the body of the Father. The semiotics is based on transcendence. In the Middle Ages, the typical movement is ascension and voyage in the celestial spheres. Truth is certainty. The artist is a cosmocrator, a creator in the image of God. In the post-Reformation period we have the advent of the age of the world picture. The macrosphere of the heavens dissolves and we are thrown into infinite space. Space is Euclidean, infinite, and three-dimensional. Time is linear. There is no macrosphere. The artist is an optician.

3) The post-metaphysical age, which divides into two epochs: the aperspectival or integral age from Heidegger to World War II and the post-aperspectival age, from the end of WWII till today. In the aperspectival age, a new macrosphere is constituted containing no longer just one perspective, but all perspectives.  The world is no longer optical, what we see, but noetic, what we understand and imagine. Truth is multiple and relative to the different perspectives. the culturally specific iconotypes have been replaced by structural archetypes (geometrical or anthropological). Space is an integral hyper-dimensional macrosphere. Time is integrated into space-time. The artist is an archetypologist.

With the advent of the post-aperspectival age the reconstitution of hierarchically organised systems is no longer possible, and we are left with a “midden-heap” of abandoned, isolated, and fragmented signifiers. The artist can no longer presuppose a universal organised semiotic system, and is obliged to select and combine the signifiers of the present and the past, and hybridise them with new signifiers, into idiosyncratic, temporary, partial, multiple organisations, with no universal legitimacy. Truth is no longer just multiple, it is also a matter of degrees – from relativist it has become quantised. Space is no longer a hyper-dimensional macrosphere, which has been deconstructed and dissolved. Space is an ocean of quantic foam. Time is miniaturised and discontinuous. There is no universal macrosphere, only individual semiospheres. The artist is a monadologist.

Remarks: This historical schema is fairly familiar. What drew my interest was the integration of Peter Sloterdijk’s ideas into the big picture, and also the application to individual artists. Ebert remarks that his historical sequence is too tidy and organised, calling it a meta-narrative, and indicating that it is suspicious for that reason. He calls his perspective “Chronos”, but I think that his description of the dissolution of relativistic time in the post-modern epoch would allow him to affirm that today time is evental and so, in Deleuzian terms, Aion. This would mean that the epochs he describes are named after the dominant semiotic system, but that others continue to exist marginally in each epoch. In particular, in the contemporary world we can find instances of all of the semiotics co-existing in juxtaposition or even superimposed in the same individual.

 

Review: Capitalised Education: An Immanent Materialist Account of Kate Middleton

Capitalised Education: An Immanent Materialist Account of Kate Middleton
Capitalised Education: An Immanent Materialist Account of Kate Middleton by David R Cole
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a book about many things, but it is not about Kate Middleton the human being and her path to individual fulfilment. Rather it is about KM the media object and her path to financial and semiotic hegemony. It is not about her individuation but rather about her capitalised education. It is not just about social and economic power, but about psycho-power and bio-power, about the production of desire and subjectivity in a capitalist society, and about the economic and semiotic war to control subjectivity and to reorganize our very drives so as to serve only capital and to desire according to its models. For David Cole our global post-industrial capitalist society is not the society of the spectacle but semiocapitalism, where the economic struggle for control of the market is relayed, intensified, and completed by the semiotic struggle for control of subjectivities. The royal family is not some medieval atavism artificially maintained as spectacle by the media for a world that has left such things far behind. The royal family is a formidable financial and semiotic assemblage of elements from diverse historical epochs, converging on a new iteration of the power to control financial fluxes and to define our desire not just for the consumption of the spectacle of the royal family and of its associated products but also for the sort of capitalised education writ large that KM benefited from and that we can experience at our own level and on our own scale as we live out, or try to live out, our own success story. It is a book about education, that educates us into immanence even while it lays bare the capitalised education that edifies such semi-transcendent models as KM. Kate Middleton media object is neither an instance of purely transcendent royalty (unattainable and so incapable of mobilising our desire), nor an example of purely immanent caring for one’s life and one’s loved ones (attainable by quite other means than frenetic capitalisable consumption). The book is also a reply to the claim that the age of immanent materialism as exemplified in Deleuze and Guattari’s works is dead, and that academic commentary is the best that we can hope for from that direction. Cole does not comment Deleuze and Guattari, he uses them, as he uses Laruelle and Berardi, Agamben and Zizek, Marazzi and Lazzarato, but also William Burroughs and Philip José Farmer, and many other writers and thinkers in the mobilisation of his own immanent education for the task of understanding the KM-effect in all its multi-layered amplitude. This is a very rewarding read, and can only make us more thoughtful about the motivations that guide our lives.

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