20.12.11

SUBLIME: Terror

Hello & Hello. There are two chapters left in this purple MIT press collection. This chapter takes us through different ideas of how the horrific can unleash sublime. ((I empathize with this notion because no doubt watching a good horror film does allow me to slip into a silent state of reverie,,  Tokyo Gore Police anyone?)) 
I had a few favorites in this chapter: 
Thomas Weiskel's, The Logic of Terror, 1979 - "This is a why a diffuse melancholy predisposes to the sublime. The melancholic is in need of 'narcissistic supplies'-self esteem- from his superego, in which an original deprivation is likely to have been institutionalized.  The sublime appearance offers and overabundance of stimulation..." 
Julia Kristeva's, Approaching Abjection, 1980 - "The abject is perverse because it neither gives up nor assumes a prohibition, a rule or law; but turns them aside, misleads, corrupts; uses them, take advantage of them, the better to deny them."
And of course, Okwui Enwezors's, The American Sublime and the Racial Self, 2006 - "...Fanon's work then was a double therapy, dealing with literal madness and colonial racism.  Lorna Simpson's interrogation of race in her work has consistently  attempted to unravel the underlying madness of the same: the racial sublime, a combination of desire and repression.   The racial sublime operates on the prodigious multiplication of social signifiers along with the phantom forms of subjection in everyday life in America."  Whoa,, there is a lot going on in this chapter! The essay I'm writing about what was not necessarily my favorite, but it gave me a lot of interesting ideas to chew on for a while, so here it is.

Gene Ray
Joseph Beuys and the After-Auschwitz Sublime//2001

This essay is all about Joseph Beuys and his relationship to the horror that was the Holocaust through the work that he made.  A lot of this essay felt like speculation, but that didn't deter me from being interested in the connections that were being made. An initial quote from Beuys in 1980 at the beginning of this essay, 
"Bueys acknowledged a deep personal shock which came with his first realization, after the end of the war, of the full extent of the genocide.  That shock, he said, 'is my primary experience, my fundamental experience, which led me to begin really to go into art'." 
Ray goes on to make the point that we cannot truly know how Beuys felt about the Holocaust, if his objects were intentionally coded with Holocaust references or not. Ray goes on to make this point about Beuys' intentionality,
"One does not need to be an uncritical Freudian (with respect to the unconscious) or a missionary Derridean (with respect to intention and iterability) to realize that Beuys' works could function at one level as objects and gestures of mourning with or without Beuys' clear intention or full apprehension."
This idea makes sense to me, Beuy's works function as statements of personal mourning and as art objects.  The question becomes about whether or not Beuys was aware of this duality, even if he was aware of how they were functioning in relation to Auschwitz, perhaps he was not admitting it in order to save his work from falling into a category that would constrain it.  Rays emphasizes this point, 
"There would have been good reason to do so; the effects of the sublime depend in large part on a certain openness or vulnerability on the part of the spectator.  The expectation that one was about to view 'Auschwitz art' would have functioned for many as a protective shield of barrier against the hit of the sublime."
I love this, because Ray makes an excellent point about the sublime, that it can only really be achieved or experienced with openness to endless possibility.  A major downfall of categorization is it's ability to immediately cancel out many possibilities for understanding. But I shouldn't get started on the evils of definitive meaning...  Ultimately Beuys didn't want his spectator to leave his work with a definitive idea of Auschwitz.  Ray claims that the narrative of Auschwitz has remained on the sidelines of Beuys' art, which leads to a greater concern, the German's inability to mourn, and when confronted with mourning, threw themselves into a less painful labour of economic recovery. Ray quotes Zizek who makes an excellent point, 
"that the weakness of the major discursive analyses of Nazism carried out by Frankfurt School and poststructuralist theorists is that their focus on the levels of imaginary and symbolic identification misses the deep, 'pre-symbolic enjoyment' which the Nazi fantasy activated." 
Whoa again, Zizek, really. Zizek asserts that rational critiques are ineffective  because they leave this deeper level of enjoyment untouched.  It's clear that Zizek feels this deeper fantasy is what needs to be addressed.  Ray ties this notion back to whether or not Beuys was aware of this deeper fantasy,
"Whether he knew it or not, Beuys found a way to evoke and avow the genocide by means of subtler strategies of indirection, opening up the way to what Zizek calls the 'traumatic kernel'.  And as one nears the irreducible kernal of catastrophe, one is exposed to the sharp and disturbing punch of the sublime." 
Rays elaborates saying that the risk of the sublime is that it is not always followed by an adequate interpretation. Once we experience the sublime, it's not as though we can exactly say what or why it was happening.  Ray then states that the greatness of Beuys' work comes from it's simultaneous engagement of past and future.  This is true, but I suppose I feel that most great art should have this engagement.  Rays ends on a somewhat contextual historical note,
"As Beuys seems  to have implied, it may have been too early, even in 1985, to 'talk about one's own country' directly, with clear words and place names.  It may have been too early to make the more brutal linkages I have made here. One trusts it is not still so."

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