ROBERT PIPPIN: This lecture is part of a three part series. It's, I hope, intelligible in itself. The third part of which you have for the Thursday Colloquium that David Welber and I will be doing. So you missed the middle part, but I think the-- both today and on Thursday, the lectures are relatively self-contained.
In trying to give a preliminary account of what I'm trying to do, only two things came to mind. One is the old line by Croce, which would imply that what I'm trying to do is resurrect the dead dog, Hegel, perhaps two dead dogs, Hegel and the now, for many people, dead question of modernism.
The other way of characterizing it is the American expression "kick a dead horse." Well, I'm about to try to dig up two and ride them in this lecture because I don't believe the Hegelian alternative has been given the full play it deserves. In 1863, the French painter Edouard Manet caused a public scandal when he exhibited his large painting, Dejeuner sur l'herbe in the Salon de Refuses. If we dimmed all the lights, they couldn't film. But this is just slightly washed out. It's much-- a much deeper, richer green, if you've ever seen it. That's going to be true of all the-- the paintings there. They're considerably washed out by this light.
He caused an even greater scandal two years later when he exhibited the startling Olympia in the Paris salon, an enormous scandal, lasted for months. The nature of and the reasons for the controversy have been told several times from a number of points of view by distinguished art historians.
In hindsight, it seemed to many of these commentators that something unprecedented and revolutionary in the history of painting began with Manet, a development that would eventually coalesce into what came to be characterized as a movement or epoch in virtually all the art modernism. Of course, Manet did not spring [INAUDIBLE] into history and did not simply begin modernism. The narrative that we need for modernist painting begins with the reaction against a Rococo in the 1750s and became something truly revolutionary only after the impact of impressionism in the 1870s.
This is a long story, but only if a few would now deny that Manet is the pivotal figure. Whether there is anything to such a categorization or not, and periodization in art history is notoriously controversial, the mise-en-scene, the technique, and something like the mood or tonality in each painting is so odd that something uncanny and unprecedented is clearly going on, something that seems to be about and a challenge to painting itself to the conventions of meaning in easel painting.
Normal perceptual apprehension and representational understanding is not so much intensified as we might expect in a great work of art, as it is rather in some way interrupted and challenged for reasons that were clear to almost no one at the time. For one thing, each of the two paintings invokes a traditional source. In order, it would appear to quote, problematise, or place in some sort of suspension the previous attempt, Raimondi's either late 16th or early 17th century engraving after a lost painting by Raphael, The Judgment of Paris, and the echo is clear. And for Olympia, Titian's Venus of Urbino.
The challenge to us and to painting is clear in the startling looks of the two women, the same woman, actually, Victorine Meurent, Manet's favorite model. Looks that all at once destroy the convention of pictorial illusionism, the illusion that we are looking into a three dimensional space and not at a flat painted rectangle seemed to address to the beholder of the painting, not the scene, with a confrontational challenge, as if to ask just what is it you're looking for. And which thereby also themetized the painting's facing position opposite the beholder, suggesting questions about the psychology of meaningful beholding and the status of the social conventions assumed in understanding the point of easel paintings themselves.
There are famously all sorts of somewhat violent challenges to pictorial conventions, in, for example, the Dejeuner. This is the woman in the background of the Dejeuner, when you can see right away-- I hope you can see it, even if you're way in the back, that her size is all wrong, that she does not obey the laws of vanishing point perspective and she's too big. And it's very unclear, as well, what exactly she's doing and why. So there's a kind of mystery to the narrative.
Some people suggested there's clearly something post-coital going on, but that's not at all-- not at all clear. The conversational relationships of the men who are talking are not to each other. He's not looking-- if you could see the whole picture again-- at the man. He's talking to-- and the other man is not looking at him at all doesn't appear even to be listening. So there-- there's something strange in the conversation.
There are these little details, like a very well-defined bird in the upper slightly right quadrant of the painting, and then, in the lower left quadrant, a tiny frog, as if Manet is playing around with iconography in ways that are clearly unreadable. They have no traditional echo in anything else. Many of you will also appreciate immediately that these are coded for-- going the way, sorry-- coded for gender and class.
And, unfortunately, my second lecture concerns-- since Manet is, in both of these paintings, clearly painting in, and I would say, clearly trying to destroy the tradition of the nude in painting from the 17th and 18th century. And in the Olympia, it's taken for granted now by almost every one that Olympia is a courtesan, a prostitute, a kind of prostitute, that resides in a brothel, not a street prostitute, but for whom illusions and theater of courtship and seduction are required as a matter of convention.
So as I say, coded for gender and class, that she's a prostitute, and that means a lower class woman. And I have a discussion in the second lecture of Tim Clark's analysis of the Olympia and of modernism, which we can talk about in the discussion if you like. The paintings are also a kind of original interrogation Manet had already used to great effect in the Old Musician. They're not strictly coded for gender and class and you get the same kind of challenging look in the Old Musician of 1860.
And other painters were also exploring the same rather violent disruption of the conventions of painterly illusionism. This Fantin-Latour's Homage to Delacroix. And this is even more tinged with irony, because, in the Homage to Delacroix, who's painted in the back, none of them are looking at Delacroix and almost all of them are looking directly at us.
I am, as will become ever more obvious, neither an art historian nor an art critic. And I will not pretend to be. But I am interested in a kind of philosophical attention to artworks, especially to visual artworks and the meaning of normative change in the history of art. This interest is largely inspired by the approach taken in a series of lectures on fine art given four different times by Hegel in Berlin during the 1820s.
Very roughly, Hegel was at the production, or, as he says, externalization of our ideas in artworks represents a distinct and, until very recently, indispensable form of self-knowledge. His unusual phrases that human being, understood as geist or spirit, must double itself, [NON-ENGLISH], in order to be able to experience and understand itself in its deeds and objects. And with that one characterization, we are already in uncharted waters.
Art does not double or imitate reality as in so many mimetic theories. But, rather, in art, geist, some sort of achieved collected like-mindedness tries to double itself. And this occurs within an ongoing collective continuous attempt at self-knowledge over historical time, a project one had to understanding in the light of interconnected attempts at such knowledge in religion, philosophy, and even, for Hegel, in the social and political practices of an age.
Although Hegel was very clear about the differences between the conceptual articulation of this self-knowledge at some level of achievement in philosophy, and what he called the intuitive [INAUDIBLE] representations of such self-knowledge in art. His position also had, as its consequence, a consideration of art works, and not just epics and great tragedies, but visual and plastic and musical artworks as well, as limited forms of and deeply continuous with philosophy, historically inflected philosophy by other means, let us say. Otherwise, expressed art, at least for most of its existence, had for Hegel a kind of philosophical work to do.
In his language, that work was a particular way of what he also called working out, [NON-ENGLISH], modes of self-understanding, with respect to the basic problem, all the post content idealists took to calling the issue of the absolute, the subject-object problem. Acknowledging the great difference between subjects and objects, while denying any metaphysical dualism was the holy grail of the period. And the problem encompassed everything from how subjects can know objects, how material states and events, especially art objects and bodily movements, could be said to bear meaning, something already implicitly interrogated that possibility by those facing looks in Manet, to how reason responsive subjects could also be material objects in space and time.
Hence, the obvious Hegelian question for Manet and for the entire epoch, he seems to have had an early role in helping to initiate. Is there anything in the spirit of Hegel that one can say about the sort of self-knowledge realized or worked out in the modernist art produced a generation after Hegel died in 1831? Anything consistent, at least, with the broad spirit, if not the letter, of Hegel's own account of the problem of the absolute, that is at least in the interpretation of Hegel. I would defend his concession about the other ontological materiality of human being and his insistence on the utter unavailability of materialist explanations of spirit practices, geists.
Could that very abstract problematic, the legacy of Kant's Third Antinomy, Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man, Shelling's 1800's System of Transcendental Idealism, and Schlegel's Reflections on Irony and the Infinite, be of any use in understanding the work of urban French culture in mid 19th century Paris? Hegel had certainly showed that he could put his framework to brilliant use in quite unusual aesthetic contexts.
If, for example, the classic addict tragedies meant what Hegel said they meant, or even simply if it's an interesting idea that a great crisis in the basic institutions of that society had a reason and could not now be resolved, that contradictory justification for action had somehow both become fully right, what, if anything, is revealed in some corresponding way about societies whose painters begin to make paintings where objects even seem to be dematerializing over historical time in succeeding generations, first as sensory impressions, then as occasions for artistic and often elaborate geometric reconstructions, and, finally, as absent in wholly non-representational experiments? A society that also makes self-referential and ironic literary works and that makes art music without conventional harmony, eventually melody, and eventually architecture, in which architecture is simply, as it is said, structure.
Is even implausible to try to understand normative change in the practice of art by understanding these alterations within broader social, religious, and even philosophical changes? Could such an approach do justice to the distinctly aesthetic meaning of these innovations? Or is it already bordering on some form of thematic reductionism?
There are many reasons to be very skeptical that anything of value can result from trying to project Hegel into the future like this. After all, anyone who has heard anything about Hegel has probably heard that he said two things, that philosophy was its own time comprehended in thought and some summary of the following remark. In these respects, art, considered in its highest vocation, is and remains for us a thing of the past. Thereby, it has loss for us, genuine truth and life, and has rather been transferred into our ideas, instead of maintaining it's earlier necessity in reality and occupying its higher place.
What is now aroused enough by works of art is not just immediate enjoyment, but our judgment also, since we are subject to our intellectual consideration. The content of art, and, two, the work of art, means of presentation, and the appropriateness or inappropriateness of both to one another. The philosophy of art is therefore a greater need in our day than it was in days when art by itself as art yielded full satisfaction.
Art invites us to intellectual consideration, and that not for the purpose of creating art again, but just for not for knowing what philosophically art is. If one considers the history of modernist art after Hegel, there is something both ominously prophetic and yet clearly hasty about Hegel's remarks. The tone of pessimism in the remark can seem to us more like something simply obvious.
It can seem trivially true that the fine arts could not matter to us as they mattered in the tragic festivals of ancient Athens, or in religious practices, or in the dreams of the [INAUDIBLE], post-Kantian allies and often enemies. And Hegel had not even anticipated two other threats to the vitality and autonomy of art, that an art buying leisure class of the bourgeoisie would become the principal patrons of the arts. Nor did he anticipate how much mass consumer societies would radically alter the conditions for arts' production and appreciation.
Yet, on the other hand, the revolutionary vitality of the modernist moment and the continuing validity and vitality, today, of art forms like film and photography are evidence enough that art has certainly not become a thing of the past. However, we can begin to see the opening to answer our Hegelian question about pictorial modernism. If we recall that this claim about the end of art is not an isolated one in Hegel's books and lectures.
After all, Hegel also does not believe that there's any world historical work for philosophy to do. Its content is also its past, now understood in the right way within a comprehensive philosophical system. And there are to be no world historical developments, according to him, in religion either, beyond the doctrinally thin ethical humanist Protestantism Hegel preferred. And the institutions of modern ethical life, [NON-ENGLISH], the distinction between the state and civil society, and the basic structures of modern civil society all also represent for him the achievement of, in his language, reconciled relations of genuinely mutual recognitional status.
That is, Hegel believes what he does about the finality of the achievement of romantic art because he is convinced of all of these other claims as well, not because of some feature of late romantic art which requires such a reduced significance. According to Hegel, late romantic art, however much the self-transcendence of art, still enacts such a transcendence as art, but for the last time. Paradigmatically, he believes that the basic structures of modern society had become at least incipiently rational.
Romantic art had already embodied the fact that we had liberated ourselves from our natural home and had successfully created another. The modern shape of spirit was a world of freedom realized or reconciled social relations of persons who are free because they actually stand in relations of at least institutionally secured mutuality of recognition. We have reached a form of self and other understanding where there is nothing substantial left to be worked out. No fundamental residual irrationality in the way we make claims on each other and about the world.
In a word, and I will simply assume that this does not need to be argued, this is all clearly false, as a claim about European modernity in the first third of the 19th century. And if being false means that the particular failure and the partial success of the modern attempt at the realization of freedom would still require, in Hegel's own terms, an attempt at the sort of understanding just referred to, an objective embodiment and self-recognition for the world of art. This would be an embodiment, both of still unresolved dualities, but as a required but incompatible commitments, and some presentment of their overcoming but an aesthetic form responsive to a historical situation Hegel had not properly conceptualized.
It should not be surprising, in other words, if there is a connection between tables account of our sense making practices with respect to the products that geists altogether human doings and making and his account of the distinct sort of intelligibility required now by aesthetic objects. And since the core of that general account involves a social theory of meaning, the meaning of intentional action, for example, how bodily movements bear meaning, it will not be surprising if that account is also of continuing relevance to the social dimensions of aesthetic meaning, especially with respect to three crucial issues, the relation to the beholder presumed in different ways at different times in visual art, with respect to the interpretability of the human actions depicted in paintings, and with respect to the artwork itself understood as a result of the action of the painter, clearly dependent on how we understand what actions are.
And all of this is of relevance only as historically inflected for a community at a time. So my hypothesis is if one can understand the persistence of the kind of conflicting commitments in intellectual, cultural, and political life required by rapidly modernizing European societies, the kind Hegel thought had been overcome, one will be in a better position to begin to understand the aesthetic experimentation that seemed to begin with Manet. Hegel, in other words, may have provided the resources for an approach to modernism and a way of understanding at least its relation to the self-knowledge problem, without having understood the potential and limitations of his own approach. He may be the theorist of modernism, [INAUDIBLE].
These formulations, of course, only gesture at those theoretical resources. And it would take several books to spell them out. But at the heart of the matter, the central claim of Hegel's idealism anticipates, in its very formulation, the issue of the conditions of the possibility of the intelligibility of fine art in general and giving the increasing pressure modernist art places on conceptual articulation, or what we now call criticism, for modernist art and criticism in particular.
That central claim requires both the-- and I apologize for the breathlessness of this summary. I hope it rings some faint bell in some former course in German philosophy that you read, but I have no choice but to go through this very rapidly. The central claim requires both the distinguishability and, more radically, the inseparability of concept and intuition and experience. And, similarly, a form of practical-mindedness, intentions in bodily movement and action. These two aspects of Hegel are his major contributions to philosophy.
And as I said, my conscience will bother me forever about this succeeding summary. Hegel denied that the basic categories, capacities, needed to understand what we experience and what we do. Active and passive categories were congruent with the notions of spontaneity and receptivity respectively. He maintained that especially any passivity, sensual passivity and openness to the world, was itself always already determined in a way with spontaneous discrimination.
This claim required a massive reconsideration of the very possibility of intelligibility, inexperience, and action, Hegel's major project. And they met a major disagreement with, even as he was enormously influenced by Kant's original argument about how thoughts can be said to inform sensibility, and how thoughts could be said to be in, be at work in, the bodily movements we count as describable actions. In aesthetic terms, so this is really important part, this position required of Hegel a rejection of rationalist, classicist, and perfectionist aesthetics, in which separable ideas are dimly, if pleasantly, intimated in sensuous experience, empiricist aesthetics, where central pleasure, on its own, is considered a directly reactive phenomenon, and Kantian and even Schillerian aesthetic, where the harmony or free play of faculties intimates a purpose of this, but one that cannot be rendered at all conceptually determinant.
This issue is all over the place in discussions of modernist aesthetics and by modernist artists. Consider only this Hegelian remark about his painterly ideal by Matisse in one of his letters, "The ideal to give yourself completely to what you're doing while simultaneously watching yourself do it." It's as if he was reading the Critique of Pure Reason and not terribly well understanding it, but the ideal he's evoking, that possibility of the sensuous immediacy at the same time that there's a reflective level that is intentioned with it speaks volumes about the course of this influence throughout the 19th century.
The vast theoretical pendulum swings that all you are more aware of than I am in post '60s theory between materiality as such of various sorts of Marxist, neo-Marxists, or [? lachinean ?] sort, and absolute linguisticality or textuality, as in semiotics of various stripes or deconstruction, are already on view in Matisse's quotation and its origins in the idealist tradition. And they're descended from the original disagreement between Kant and Hegel on the relationship between concept and intuition, thought and it's central embodiment.
As we shall see, the position especially associates the intelligibility of art works with the kind of intelligibility had by bodily movements we count as actions, where successfully circulating social norms are necessary for the content and the ascribability of the action to be fixed. So one question that will emerge in our counterfactual exploration of what would be Hegel's account of Manet is what such a requirement looks like-- literally, looks like-- when those norms begin to break down internally and lose their grip. So let us return to the striking claim that art has become for us [INAUDIBLE], a thing of the past, not capable of functioning for us with the power and importance it once had.
Of course, by claiming this, Hegel did not mean that art will not be produced or that it will be somehow discredited, like astrology or alchemy, or that it will come to seen a primitive version of philosophy. To understand what he means, we have to recall that Hegel's treatment of art itself, in whatever period, had already, throughout all the lectures, steered fairly clear of many of the traditional aesthetic categories. When he is discussing the notion of true beauty, for example, he says such unusual things as works of art are all the more excellent in expressing true beauty the deeper is the inner truth of their content and thought.
This is not a form of classicism being as Hegel does not-- as we'll see in a minute-- Hegel does not consider art work to be the representations of an independent objective ideal, the truth in the normal sense, but as we'll see, as vehicles for the practical realization of the relevant speculative truth. Partly, this is because of what he believes about the unique logical status of the self-knowledge embodied in artworks, even at this collective or civilizational level. And this is another crucial theoretical presupposition of the lectures that requires an all too brief gloss. Whether as collective or individual such self-- whether as collective or individual, such self-knowledge does not take an object in the usual intentional sense.
What we take ourselves to be is as much kind an avowal or commitment, a pledge about what we will keep faith with, and it is not a simple self-acknowledgement. Or self-knowledge is self-constituting in Hegel, as we collectively struggle actually to become who we take ourselves to be. This feature of self-knowledge has an even more important implication. Here is the passage where Hegel distinguishes himself from traditional classicism in the clearest terms, and one of the most important in all of Hegel, I think.
He is discussing classical art-- naturally, the favorite period for classicist theories. And he notes something about the way classical art should be said to reveal the truth. What he says here is extremely important, for it not only distinguishes his position from traditional classicism, but he is relying on the same logical structure in understanding the expressive and actualizing function of art works as he does in the understanding of the relation between subjective mindedness and a public deed, a connection, as we will soon see, crucial to his approach and connected to the problem described above as the idealist problem of the absolute. Here's the quotation.
"Ant it was not as if these ideas and doctrines were already there in advance of poetry, in an abstract mode of consciousness, as general religious propositions and categories of thought, and then later were only clothed in imagery by artists and given an external adornment in poetry. On the contrary, the mode of artistic production was such that what fermented in these poets they could work out only in this form of art and poetry." There's a great deal more to say about that very interesting phrase again, [NON-ENGLISH], to work out.
For one thing, this way of talking makes clear why Hegel might think that the externalization of our ideas about ourselves in artworks is essential, not merely exemplifying. We don't know in any determinant or living detail whom we take ourselves to be except in such externalization, either in action, or in material production, or in creative art. As he says, there are no ideas or doctrines before art, but only first in art.
As just noted in the case of individual self-knowledge, this knowledge is inherently first and not third personal, and not observational, in other words. And it's not-- and it is self-constituting, cannot be a mere self-discovery or self-report. In any significant sense of self-knowledge, beyond a report of empirical facts, the sense relevant to what philosophers sometimes call our practical identity, where what I am as a practicing Christian, or atheist, or political, or devoted father. We are, in that sense, at least provisionally what we take ourselves to be.
I say provisionally because Hegel adds to this self-constitution notion the claim that such avowals are real, [NON-ENGLISH], only as realized, [NON-ENGLISH], in a world at a time. He agrees with [? Gertada ?] that, in the beginning, was the deed, that the deed is the measure of the genuineness and indeed the true content of a subject's inner commitments. Hegel also adds to this picture of self-knowledge the controversial notion that something like our collective identity, geists, again, is distinct from the mere sum of or is not some mere function of individual avowals. The common and the individual are famously, for him, dialectically intertwined. And the common project is subject to the same logic.
But as any such individually self-constituting practical identity is not possible except within a continuing effort at a commonly achieved self-knowledge, and so self-realization. It is a very broadest of such projects that commonly realize self-knowledge that we are asking about, the modern. There's much more to say about this point, but it's the most important Hegelian contribution to a theory of art and we'll be returning to it frequently.
Secondly, when Hegel notes that, in our age, art invites us-- quote, "Art invites us to intellectual consideration, and that not for the purpose of creating art again, but for knowing philosophically what art is." He is not only already undermining his own narrow account of art appreciation as essentially intuitive and an affective, he could easily be taken to be introducing the possibility of a different sort of art up to this new expectation, not just cataloging our different expectations and needs, an art of the explicitly self-reflexive sort one begins to see with Manet, an art requiring from the beholder interpretive interrogation of a new sort. Such an interrogation of a new sort is the target of our inquiry, but now framed more determinedly by these notions of provisional self avowals, externalization, and realization.
This is suggested in many rich, but not well worked out claims by Hegel like, quote, "In this way, romantic art is the self-transcendence of art." But, again, he says, "Withing its own sphere and in the form of art itself." As well as in his claim that for us, now, art provokes a philosophy of art, or what he calls a scientific treatment, and not so much a distinct aesthetic sensual pleasure, although not in the total absence of that. That's still the primary mode of aesthetic intelligibility.
Moreover, Hegel also notes that the situation of the modern artist, by which means basically late romantic art, has liberated the artist from the burden of any dependence on a received national or religious or artistic tradition. There's nothing any longer in either sense that the artist is bound to take up on pain of falling outside what is recognized as conforming to the norm art. As Hegel says frequently in the lectures in a way that almost sounds like a celebration of postmodernism, for the contemporary artists, anything from the past is available, any style, any tradition, technique, any theme, or topic.
Admittedly, these suggestions about Hegel's initial relevance come at the price of reconfiguring some of his own formulations. There are two serious divergences, and both have to do with what I believe to be inherent finally unresolvable tensions in Hegel's account. The first concerned something I want to count as a great virtue of his approach, the absence of an essentialist and the promotion of a historicist approach.
Art, in other words, is not a natural human kind, no more than opera for film is. It is a practice invented under certain conditions sharing properties with other similar practices, like decoration, political self-glorification, religious rituals, and so forth. But Hegel wants to count it as a distinctive practice. Its norms are collectively self-legislated over time. In other words, in the same basic way, to speak very crudely, that the rules for a game could be formulated collectively over changes in time.
Such rules, once the game starts, are not arbitrarily formulated and can even be said to have a kind of internal necessity, given in the larger sense in which this is an-- of which this is an image, given the large scale project of self-knowledge attributed to Hegel earlier and his argument for the indispensability of some form of affective and sensual understanding, perhaps an intuitively oriented conceptual interpretation. That is Hegel may think that there are a priori reasons for there being art, the reason just cited. Any adequate understanding of the absolute must include an intuitive understanding.
But the spirit of his enterprise should mean that there cannot be any a priori reason to exclude post romantic art from the tradition of art. It would obviously be more consistent to say that art can come to be something quite novel under the novel historical conditions of modernity, perhaps so novel as not to be recognizable to anyone in the prior tradition as art. The fact that Hegel things that any art that does not conform to what had been understood as the task of an intuitive manifestation of the absolute should no longer be counted as art not only betrays a odd essentialism.
But it blocks a consideration of the fairly natural way that his remarks about the fate of romantic art open up onto the distinctive features of modernist art, as his own remarks about a new philosophical treatment suggests the extraordinary difficulty of this position, the more historicist one is that we still want-- or at least I still want-- to be able to retain the ability to say that something can now pose as art and not be art, that it can be historically produced and viewed as art, be treated by art as the relevant authorities, and yet still not be art. That's a issue, perhaps, we can return to in the discussion.
The second revision required to make Hegel more Hegelian involves passages like the following. "Art, by means of its representations, while remaining within the sensuous sphere," and, here, Hegel at his most triumphalist, "liberates man at the same time from the power of sensuousness. Of course we may often hear favorite phraseology about man's duty to remain in immediate unity with nature, but such unity, in its abstraction, is purely and simply rudeness and roughness and ferocity." It's barbaric, in other words. "And by dissolving this unity for man, art lifts with gentle hands out of and above imprisonment in nature."
Well, there's nothing problematic our intentioned with other things central to Hegel's project, to say that art is one of the ways in which the hold of any notion of being, in some way, nothing but natural creatures, burdened by biological destiny, or as he says, [? befung ?] and captured by a fixed species essence is transcendent. But in these and many other contexts, he does not qualify his remarks this way and seems to speak instead of a liberation from our sensible embodiment, a hopelessly non dialectical notion.
The idea being liberated from in nature prison is obviously foreign to the dialectical sweep of most of Hegel's enterprise and the place of his philosophy of nature within his ultimate encyclopedic system, and would make understandable, but not persuasive, some sort of claim that we have reached a kind of self-understanding that transcends our need to understand ourselves aesthetically, as corporeally embodied, understand ourselves sensorially.
And a person with such a view might argue that, given this achievement, we no longer find the primary sensual experience of ourselves perceptual, affective, passionate, all that important. That is the more extreme triumphalist readings of the end of art claim we don't simply need art as such anymore presuppose this undialectical formulation. Hegel's confidence that art itself has been transcended, rather than that our current self-understanding requires a radically altered form of art, is clearly tied to such unqualified remarks about liberation.
So breaking free of the myth of a given in empiricism, the myth of immediacy in romantic intuitionism, the dualistic myth of mental states causing bodily motions or of self-reductive naturalisms and so forth is not breaking free of our own sensible embodiment. What we need is a new intuitive understanding of such embodiment consistent with the sort of freedom we have achieved. And you can see in the quotation that Hegel being Hegel art by means of its representation while remaining within the sensuous sphere liberates man, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
And this is an indication of a blind spot in his treatment of modernity, his failure to anticipate the kind of dissatisfaction, what he himself kept calling this prosaic world would generate, or his failure that there might be basic forms of disunion, [NON-ENGLISH], or torn apartness, [NON-ENGLISH] that his project could not account for, for which there was no sublation or overcoming yet on the horizon. The duality is basically the same one he has been worried about since his Jena period and his first publications.
In the aesthetic lectures, he puts it this way in a striking image. Spiritual culture, the modern intellect produces this opposition in man which makes him an amphibious animal, because he now has to live in two worlds which contradict one another. He means the world of nature and the world of spirit, the world of necessity and the world of freedom. The result is that now our consciousness wanders about in this contradiction. And driven from one side to the other, cannot find satisfaction for itself in either the one or the other.
It's striking to note that Hegel does not say here that human beings have been and always will be such amphibious animals, but that spiritual culture, the modern intellect, has produced this wandering soul. The claim returns us yet again to a decisive aspect of Hegel's treatment of the problem of the absolute that we've been stressing. The problem our amphibian faces is not, for Hegel, a metaphysical problem about substance, how immaterial and material could interact.
We have produced such a being, [NON-ENGLISH]. And so the problem our subject faces is not the proper philosophical account of interacting substances, hylomorphism, emergent properties, anomalous monism, all the philosophical dodges of the late 20th century, but a problem he calls the problem of satisfaction, [NON-ENGLISH]. This, in effect, redefines the problem rather than addresses it in its conventional formal.
How can a subject of thought and deeds which always experiences itself as beyond or more than, even though also it's material states, come to any resolution about who or what it actually is? How can it find satisfaction in the absence of any such resting place? The premises for this sort of treatment by Hegel, let us say a more practical and metaphysical treatment, are quite complicated, both historically and systematically.
Basically, Hegel is not treating the German idealist problem of the absolute, the account of a possible subject-object identity, as a problem of some prior ground to be recovered in some intellectual intuition or aesthetic experience, like as in Shelling's project. He follows Schiller, instead in reversing the direction of the question forward, not backwards, where subjectivity is understood as a kind of socially achieved status, a mode of comportment towards each other and the natural world to be achieved, that such a status and practice reconciles and integrates our experiences of ourselves as sensible material creatures, as well as minded and active beings.
Schiller's useful example is one Hegel also occasionally uses, romantic love, and especially romantic love in the family, which is neither the mere imposing of an ethical form onto brute sexual need nor merely instrumental strategy for the satisfaction of such a need. Everything in this tradition of philosophical value comes down to the proper understanding of such a formality, materiality, relation. But what we need now is a general sense of this notion of a reconciled geist as an accomplishment. Whereas Hegel says frequently and mysteriously geist spirit is a product itself.
But Hegel also, repeating in a different register, what I'm saying is his cardinal error, now insists, in spite of these amphibian remarks, that philosophy and only philosophy has succeeded in overcoming this tension. And it is under that assumption that he ascribes to art the task that leaves so little room for much with any life or interest in it. Against this, we must maintain that arts' vocation is unveil the truth in the form of sensuous artistic configurations, the truth, to set forth the reconciled opposition just mentioned. And so, to have its end and aim in itself in this very setting forth and unveiling.
Well, if we simply change the key word in that quotation, reconcile, to unreconcile, as by any reasonable account of modernity, we must, a different picture of a possibly modern art opens up. But to appreciate Hegel's possible relevance here, consider, again, the Manet moment. First, in the light of traditional accounts of the beautiful and of art prior to Hegel, and then consider Hegel's very different suggestion. It is immediately apparent that philosophical aesthetics from Plato to Kant and Schiller is pretty much helpless with paintings like these by Manet, and eventually, of course, by Cezanne, Miro, and Picasso, and Pollock, and so forth.
Clearly, the tone of both of Manet's original revolutionary paintings is far from idealizing. If anything, it is anti-idealizing, even ironic. There is no serious attempt of verisimilitude in the depiction of the central properties. Olympia's skin has nothing of Titian's lush pink living quality. It even seems a bit dirty, and as many, many commentators noted, almost dead.
One even compared it to an inflatable doll. Another said it was like a picture cut out of a print and pasted onto a painting, and so forth. Furious, furious criticism. And so no invitation to any experience of sensual, intellectual harmony. As we shall see with more examples in a moment, it's effect is rather something like cognitive or musical dissonance. Almost as if both paintings were intended as a kind of front, or at least challenge turned in toto toward the beholder with estranged flamboyant indifference to that beholder.
In a striking departure from what many of you will recognize as Michael Fried's view about the absorptive tradition of the late-- of the 18th and early 19th century, the subjects in Manet's paintings often look out of the picture frame toward the beholder. Sometimes they just look out, not at the beholder. Sometimes, they look out, but without seeing anything, as we'll see examples of in a moment, inviting what would have been theatricality.
Here are the contrasting directions of attention in many of Fried's examples. Here, the Chardin, where the absorbed attention of the-- of the subject of the painting draws us-- the direction of attention, in other words, is deeply into the painting, nowhere more dramatic than in Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, where we're, in a way, almost sucked in to the incredible vitality of this attempt. It's almost-- if you believe Michael's narrative on this, it's almost like he's saying goodbye to absorption or the possibility-- the possibility to absorption. Or these pictures by melee of this intense absorbed attention that is pure-- clearly allegorizing the attention of the-- our putative attention to the painting.
But the uncanny effect of the Manet facing this, as Fried calls it, is that such beholders, us, standing right there, are, rather than being there for the painting, as if it's addressing us, as if it's for us, or as if invisible or at least irrelevant, occupying no important presence in the subject vacant or bemused look. The suggested absence of even the possibility of mutuality between the subject of the painting and the beholder suggested by this invisibility, or irrelevance, or perhaps even contempt, not a simple failure, not just misrecognition, and the air of unmistakable unease that this creates is what helps to suggest the incomplete and fragmentary atmosphere in many of the paintings. He was also very famous in the criticisms of Manet in terms of all the conventions for painterly finish.
It's unfinished. There too many details that haven't been, in effect, smoothed over. And while there are elements of great beauty-- oh, that's another fantastic Courbet I forgot to show you, another sort of trope of absorption or of anti-theatricality. While there are elements of great beauty in Manet, Woman in White is a spectacular painting. And even in details, like this simple hand, it's in a painting where the bizarreness of Manet is on view again.
This is, for no conceivable reason at all, a woman dressed as a toreador. And the picadores in the background are, again, the wrong size, unfinished, sketched. All the dimensions of space are ruined. The background is coming quickly towards the foreground, and so forth.
While there are such images of great beauty and a kind of pleasure in the sheer boldness of the painting, maybe even humor, the romantic categories, even the whole notion of the beautiful, now all seem simply beside the point. What would then be the point? I'm tempted to rest my whole case for the relevance of Hegel to these quotations from one passage of the lectures.
"So, conversely, art makes every one of its productions into a thousand-eyed Argus, whereby the inner soul and spirit is seen at every point. And it is not only the bodily form, the look of the eyes, the countenance and postures, but also actions and events, speech and tones of voice, and the series of their course through all conditions of appearance that art has everywhere to make it into an eye, in which the free soul is revealed in its inner infinity." The idea that visual art can be said to transform the surface of every painted object or depicted object or represented object, even the appearance of actions, events, speeches, and so forth into a thousand-eyed creature is also a claim that the reception and appreciation of the artwork should be understood not as an inspiring intimation of the ideal, nor as the occasion of an inner harmony or unusual disinterested pleasure.
After all, even when confronted by a two-eyed creature, the task of figuring out what is revealed in someone's eyes is obviously not straightforward or discursive. It can be much more difficult even than understanding what they say. A response appropriate to the ambition of the work must therefore be an interpretive accomplishment of sorts, one that begins in some interrogative, not merely sensually receptive or contemplative relation to the object, a feature of the aesthetic experience Hegel suggests is spectacularly more difficult than often appreciated by imagining that an artwork is a thousand-eyed argus.
Earlier on, Hegel had characterized all of art in a way that could sound like boilerplate, unless we note how unusual the formulation is. Quote, "It, the work, is essentially a question, an address to the responsive breast, a call to the mind and spirit." Such an attempt must be responsive to evidence, but it is never settleable by any fact of the matter and always remains open and contentious.
Moreover, the image itself suggests that we think of the difference between seeing a painted surface in an art work and seeing the object itself as like the difference between seeing a person or a person's face as an object like any other and seeing it as a face of a person, requiring a completely different relation between beholder and beheld. This also suggests that there is a deep connection between understanding meaningful conduct, actions, and expressions of purpose, persons, and understanding expressive meaning in art works as well.
And this all at least suggests something more determinant about the distinct category of central and especially visual aesthetic intelligibility that Hegel has tried to differentiate from what he calls representational and-- that's religion-- and conceptual-- that's philosophical-- intelligibility. Such a form of discrimination, obviously, of great relevance to pictorial intelligibility, is certainly not or cannot be wholly non-conceptual in Hegel's account or a mere material effect. But the modality of its less determinant conceptual determinisy addresses the beholder in a unique and, as he says, interrogative way.
Perhaps one small way of understanding Hegel's point is the call to mind a feature of social interaction quite prominent, interestingly, in many modernist novels. The suggestion that there is a unique form of visual intelligibility in the human face. In [? Proust's ?] novels, Swan can see in Odette's face that she is lying about an assignation. He does not see some evidence on her face on the basis of which he makes an inference. He is said to see the lie in her face.
Or in a conversation in a Henry James' novel, a character A can see in the face of another character B, see in the face of another character B, not only that B knows that A has revealed some confidence, but that B knows that A knows that B knows. And, again, whatever this form of intelligibility is, it is not inferential, is in some literal sense seen and is at work when a painting arrests us, compels our attention, and raises the kind of question Hegel has noted. That is, as Hegel understands it, the making and especially the displaying of artworks cannot but express an underlying assumption about the possibility of some public meaning, and so involves the status and role of the beholder, any putative addressee of such an expression of meaning.
This assumption would have to be congruent with assumptions about agency, a possibly public meaning embodied in bodily movements, and about those for whom such a display is intended, at least on the assumption that such a performative and public dimension is at the heart of Hegel's account of subjectivity in agency, too. That's the analogy I would like to press. And given the way Hegel approaches such questions, we have to say that he means the satisfaction of these aesthetic and performative conditions at a time, that is in our time, under the conditions of modernity.
If this is a feature of art now as such, then it might also be said that, under some historical conditions, the capacity to fulfill these requirements in both its manifestations, social and ingentive and aesthetic, could come to be experienced as deeply problematic or at least a great deal more difficult, requiring a different sort of relation between beholder and beheld, agents and others, than ever before, a new relation that is more an aspiration than a presentiment. Then something like the resistance of much modernist work to conventional appreciation and interpretation, the unfamiliarity and opacity we often see in its 1,000 eyes can be understood as something like the culmination of this difficulty now made much more explicitly self-conscious and insistent, and so is responsive to altered conditions of such public intelligibility.
The same could be said, mutatis mutandis, for the aspirations of much of modernism to forge a new and revolutionary understanding of these conditions to demand that we understand each other and thereby understand and appreciate art in a new way. This is the Hegelian link I want to insist we should retain in an anesthetics theory, even if we abandon, as we should, Hegel's triumphalism. And to make the point in a more literal rather than figurative sense, where else is the beholder's eye drawn in the two Manet paintings than to the face and expressions of the two naked women?
Both expression seem opaque and even somewhat contemptuous of the bondholder's own gaze, raising the stakes considerably in trying to answer what is expressed in their eyes. This sort of question is particularly important in Manet because there are so often an air of mystery and opacity in the expressions of his subjects in different contexts and in the unusual settings, a challenge that resists direct immediate narrative understanding, as if designed to prevent now inappropriate conventional readings. Some of these expressions are quite famous, not just these two.
But the expression of fatigue and especially the vacancy in the expression of the girl in the Bar at the Folies-Bergere. But these eyes, in very different kinds of modalities, are everywhere in Manet. This is one that Clark gives a particularly stupendous reading of, where he notes-- she's not listening to him, obviously. She's looking out at the painting again, but with the kind of vacancy that seems to, I think, allegorize something of the possible reception of the painting itself.
It also has something that Foucault in his lectures in '68 in Algeria was just as obsessed with as a formalist critic like Greenberg, that is as a way of calling attention to the flatness of the canvas. Instead of destroying the illusion that we're seeing a painted rectangle, Manet will often emphasize a horizontal and-- a horizontal and vertical line to reframe inside the painting the painting itself. And he'll often-- not so dramatically here, but very often bring the background of the painting forward to emphasize this as well. Even in these bizarre religious paintings, which have also quite controversial, because Christ had never been depicted that way, there's the same mysterious vacancy in the eye of the angel. Not now looking out towards us, but, again, looking without seeing.
I think a French critic at the time correctly characterized what's going on. This is one, that when it isn't loaned out, you can actually see in Chicago. But it seems to be always somewhere else. And then these striking, both in the Metropolitan in New York and Chicago, these striking enigmatic-- and even his parents get this kind of treatment.
This is a spectacular painting. But, again, the vertical, horizontal, and the tantalizing intonations of depth, but then all pushed forward, so that you can barely see the waiter carrying something in the background. And the same kind of looks, which, I think, again, I would not like to interpret psychologically or even sociopolitically, but rather as kind of allegories of the expectation of the painting, of the placing in suspension a certain kind of interchange between the beholder and beheld under the new conditions under which easel painting must be reconfigured. This is a fantastic painting in Berlin, with, again, the unreadable expression.
And I don't want to claim that this is only in Manet. He doesn't have any copyrights. This is Whistler's famous White Woman, which disturbed quite a lot of people. They thought she was mad. I don't think she was particularly crazy. But that's a very frequent reaction to the extremity of the wildness of the painting.
And even Degas has a lot of these, which are clearly more sociohistorically inflected, like this one. So other people were using this trope, in a way, but it's the extraordinary repetition of the them in Manet that makes it almost a mythological Danae. Once that issue is dramatically in play, than every other aspect of the painting becomes a question.
In Hegel's terms, an eye, a face, in the same way. Why naked at a picnic? Why are the men talking past each other? Why do they seem to ignore her? What does the position of the gesture of Olympia's left hand-- you can't believe how controversial this was at the time, because her hand appears slightly tense. That bothered people. And they knew it was a reference, an echo, to the Venus de Urbino, but I should think they'd be more bothered by this one. But they were bothered by that one.
Why black cat? Why the flowers? And, finally, under what historical conditions would this aspect of a painting's meaning, a kind of puzzled resistance to direct appreciation, even a somewhat contemptuous challenge to the beholder's expectation of meaning become so thematized so frequently and so problematically? One section left, winding up.
One reads frequently that the issue in modernist painting has a great deal to do with the so-called problem of subjectivity. And this certainly seems connected with the problem crudely sketched before as the idealist's problem with the absolute. Bataille has a famous little book on Manet in which he talks about the receding subjectivity in this. You see it vanishing. It becomes less and less present as we move towards-- they completely de-psychologize constructions of analytic cubism that erupt after Cezanne.
Such a problem certainly has something to do in painting after the Renaissance with working out what it means now to paint gallery pictures, easel paintings that could move about for beholders to be sold. What assumptions about the mindedness of beholders, their expectations about interpretability and meaning, and the portrayal of human mindedness in the painting, all that is now relevant now that various institutional contexts and assumptions no longer inform the interaction between painter and beholder as they once did. I have claimed that we can begin to develop the Hegelian understanding of post-Hegelian art if we take into account his project as a whole and appreciate the limitations of his diagnosis of the state of modern societies.
So what, in his terms, did he fail to see and how is that apparent in an art that thereby he could not have appreciated had he even seen it? Here is one of his most sweeping characterizations of the state of late romantic art. "Art in the process of becoming something past, yet there is something higher than the beautiful appearance of spirit in immediate sensuous shape, even if this shape be created by spirit as adequate to itself. For this unification, which was achieved in the medium of externality and therefore makes sensuous reality into an appropriate existence of spirit, nevertheless is once more opposed to the true essence of spirit, with the result that spirit is pushed back into itself out of its reconciliation with a corporeal into a reconciliation with itself-- of itself with itself."
It's already controversial to suggest that this is on the right track at all. There are many, Adorno, for example, who argue for some retrieval of memory of sensuous particularity and immediacy as the proper function of modernist art and who see in such statements the signs of identity thinking in Hegel. I agree with Hegel though that framed this way, this would be a romantic regression, and is not borne out in the trajectory of the aspirations of modernist art. But what then is spirits reconciliation of itself with itself, such that the failure of this reconciliation illuminates anything about painting after Hegel?
In the painting Tableau, we are restricted to the visible services of things under certain conditions of light and shadow, of human faces and bodies, frozen moments of time in action. If the Tableau depicts people, then the question of the meaning of what they're doing, simply the right act description, arises immediately. Premodernist art, we are usually aided by the title, the names of the person's portrayed, and perhaps some standard biblical or historical setting. But we must try to understand various gestural moments and something about the organization of the space within the picture frame.
Even so, why just that way? As was noted in discussing the argus passage, to a certain very general extent, we can say that the complex relation between the materiality of paint itself and painterly meaning mirrors or echoes the possibility of the relationship between visible corporeal surface and human intentionality generally. And it can give rise to the same skeptical problems.
We can say that we take the painted surfaces that we see to mean what they do and something like we might want to say we comprehend the mindedness we take to be expressed in corporeal movement and visible facial surface. But, again, the way we do so is not fixed is a kind of eternal platonic problem and it is not a two step process. We ascribe intention, motive, reaction, and purpose in ways broadly governed by norms at a time. In perhaps the most spectacularly obvious case, coming to see persons, see them immediately, not as primarily instances of psychological types or representative of family destiny, or as exemplifications of a natural social class.
But as absolutely distinct individual first and foremost is an ascription of meeting with a complex modern history that is a stupendous historical achievement. This ascription of meaning is not, again, an inferential or two stage relation, and therewith is paintings' great advantage as an art. We don't see bodily movements and then infer intentions anymore that we see painted canvases and infer represented objects and intended meaning. But such intelligibility is a conceptual articulation that is an achievement of some sort.
Understanding what we see is always, in some sense, provisional and revisable, especially contestable with others. And that characteristic is an aspect inherent in seeing or understanding itself. In the simplest sense, not being able to do this with any confidence anymore is what it means for there to be no reconciliation of spirit with itself. No confident self-understanding in the face of contesting claims or in the face of a confusion about how, in such a world, even to begin to try even what might bear the meaning with which we would try.
The ultimate expression of this is this very, very famous prophecy by Manet of what's coming the painting the Execution of Maximilian, where you get this echo of Goya's famous execution painting. But, again, you get the violation of perspective. The victims are way too close. The rifles are right on top of them, giving the painting a kind of jarring sensual visual dissonant air.
There's an intimation of space, but it's brought forward by the kids who are sitting on the wall. The kind of brutality of the anonymity of-- of the shooters, which is the same in the Goya painting, all makes this a very difficult narrative. But Manet, in order to make it more difficult, almost impossible, dips his paint in a can-- dips his brush in a can of red paint, and puts in the painting a completely nonrepresentational mark, as if-- in a way, as if he's prophesying that painting would become that, paint on a canvas.
So the absence of animated subjectivity in those expressions is not a sign, I think, of some discovery about the true absence of human subjectivity in favor of merely corporeal bodies, but the failure of the historical world to allow for the realization of such subjectivity in the only way it can become actual, corporeally or lived. Summarized one last time, I am suggesting that Hegel is asking us to understand the social meaning of individual actions in the way he understands the historical and social dimensions of the production and appreciation of art works, and especially in this context, vice versa. We are willing to concede, or at least more willing to concede, that an artwork can be said to embody the artist's intention, what she must have intended given what is there, in a way not all tied to what it explicit intentions the artist herself might have been able to formulate.
And we understand that artworks mean what they do only within the institution of art in a society at the period. There is, of course, great commonality across epochs and societies, but we also struggle with historical works to understand what they meant at a time in an age, as well as for us. I think it is clear that Hegel thinks of actions as having such a public performative and so sociohistorical dimension. Something like the realization of this is what turning the painting plane and the expressions of the depicted subjects so confrontationally toward the beholder raises as a challenge.
This feature means that agents can sincerely avow intentions which are not in or even are contradicted by the deed as that deed comes to mean what it does for others at a time. And that individual agents no more own the appropriate act description for what they've done than artists have proprietary relations with the meaning of what they've produced. To be best with such worries is to fail to achieve reconciliation with oneself.
In this context, we might say that just to the extent that under new rapidly changing historical conditions, we come to be more dubious, unsure, or confused about the sense we make in seeing intentions indeed, the less confident we are that we know how to do this, the less stable we might also expect the conventions governing pictorial success might be. The mark of this challenge and this difficulty is captured in those vacant looks in so many Manets and in many others and in the implicit paradox that, on the one hand, the subject sometimes are looking right at the beholder. But, on the other hand, they seem to have no hope in a beholder's response. They confront the beholder, but as if he or she were not there, as if they do not expect, could now not expect, anything satisfying in return.
By success in this gesture, I mean that the modernist's equivalent to beauty as the promise of happiness is the promise of meaning, perhaps under evermore intense pressure. In these paintings, it's a promise that frames the paintings, but is not perhaps can't be realized within the frame. That appears to be the point. An apt name for what it means to fail to acknowledge and appreciate the situation properly is the one made such fruitful use of by Fried, Diderot's theatricality, and a brilliant early exposition of the increasingly unsecured nature of mutual interpretability. Its constant possible fraudulence is Diderot's famous Ramos nephew.
But Hegel himself, in his greatest failure, never seemed very concerned about this potential instability in the modern world, about citizens of the same ethical commonwealth potentially losing so much common ground and common confidence. But a general irresolvability in any of these possible conflicts becomes evermore apparent, the kind of high challenge and low expectations we see in all those vacant looks. As we've seen, he doesn't worry much because of his general theory about the gradual actual historical achievement of some mutual recognitive status, a historical claim that has come to look like the least plausible aspect of Hegel's account and that is connected with our resistance to his proclamations about art as a thing of the past.
Since freedom is Hegel's-- in Hegel's expressive account has to do with an ability to see myself successfully in my own deeds, experience them as legitimately mine, stand behind them, defend them, a growing skepticism or uncertainty about being able to do this might be expected to cast a skeptical shadow on various other forms of embodied expressions of human meaning. This is what it is to see what Hegel missed, but to see it in his terms and make use of that to understand the conditions of modern painterly meaning.
Hegel's sense of the successful resolution of the question raised by trying to understand someone's deed or by the question posed by a thousand-eyed argus has both a subjective and an objective side, both a way of understanding the provisional and unstable subjective side, the intention, motive, or reason, a meaning actual only in the deed or in the aesthetic object, and the objective social conditions of an age, especially the struggle for recognition inherent in social conflict and the evermore unstable interpretive conventions of modern societies.
It is now generally acknowledged that Hegel's understanding of these objective social conditions were way too prematurely optimistic to say the least. But his account of what we need to take account of in understanding subjective intention and meaning and his insistence on a link with the objective conditions remains a kind of modern fate and one that needs to be set inside the later context of the fractured and prosaic character of the emerging industrialized bourgeois eventually consumerist nation state world coming into view in the 19th century. We get an intuitive view of the result in different ways in different 19th century painters after the beautiful. Thanks very much for your patience.
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In his Lectures on Fine Art, delivered in Berlin in the 1820's, Hegel argued that art works involve a unique form of aesthetic intelligibility, and that what they rendered intelligible was the state of collective human self-knowledge across historical time. This approach to art works has been extremely influential in a number of different contexts. The question posed in this lecture is whether Hegel's approach might also be of any value in understanding the most radical revolution in the later history of art, modernism. Accordingly the attempt is to provide a Hegelian interpretation of the paintings of Éduard Manet.