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Ovi Symposium; Fourth Meeting
by The Ovi Symposium
2013-07-18 08:48:15
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Ovi Symposium:
“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”
between Drs. Nannery, Paolozzi and Paparella
Fourth Meeting: 18 July 2013


Dr. Lawrence Nannery has studied at Boston College, Columbia University and at The New School for Social Research where he obtained his Ph.D. He founded The Graduate Faculty Philosophy Journal and authored The Esoteric Composition of Kafka’s Corpus. Devising Nihilistic Literature, 2 vols. Mellen Press.

Dr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

Dr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.




Section 1: “Thoughts on Modern Painting and Sculpture,” a presentation by Dr. Nannery
Section 2: “On the Universality of Art,” a presentation by Dr. Paolozzi
Section 3: Comments by Dr. Paparella on Drs. Nannery and Paolozzi’s presentations
Section 4: A reply by Dr. Paolozzi to Dr. Paparella’s comments
Section 5: “On Modern Nihilism: Entrepreneurship, Technology, Utopia,
                Extinction—Part 1” a presentation by Dr. Paparella
Section 6: An Observation from Dr. Paparella on Drs. Nannery and Paolozzi’s 3rd meeting’s presentations


Thoughts on Modern Painting and Sculpture
A Presentation by Dr. Lawrence Nannery

nannery01The subjects of modern painting and sculpture are very exciting and important, no doubt, but also they entail an eventual decline that caught up with them.

First, let me give my thoughts about painting, which pioneered the changes that so deeply transformed the definition of art from 1905 until today.  Picasso was the most important figure in the great change.  A boy genius if there ever was one, his father, who was himself a painter, came to him and surrendered his painting materials to him when he was merely 14 years of age.  There followed many decades of work, feverish at all times, as he traveled through his pink and blue periods and on to many other variations.  But it was only when he teamed up with Braque in the early 1900’s that the two together broke through to another level of creativity. Together they discovered that realism, the governing assumption of all European painting for several centuries, could be discarded and painting set free to do whatever the artist wanted to do, and still be a valid work of art.

The two set out on a journey that was intensely cerebral, intensely creative, that astonished the art world, and set the tone for the entire art world in Europe for almost seven decades.  Along that way, painting went through many “isms,” but through all of them the basic premise was that painting may be as arbitrary as the painter wished, but it still could be a valid painting.  This shifted the emphasis of interpretation from the finished work of art to the intention of the artist.  The trouble was that the only way to find out the latter was to scrutinize the former, and most people had no experience, or even care, to put themselves under an obligation of trying to figure out what these weird and seemingly meaningless paintings could tell one about what the painter wanted to convey.

There were two basic reactions to this strange performance.  One was to eschew these works altogether, and to deride this step as “nonsense” or worse.  For example, the Venetian biennales held during the rule of Mussolini from 1922 through 1944 completely ignored the new painting, settling for drawings and paintings that mimicked in the safe confines that characterized artworks from the second half of the 19th century.

Over time, however, another reaction grew.  Based on the recommendations of some few art critics the very rich, who always wanted to be au courrent, started dabbling in purchases of these indecipherable works.  By the 1920’s modern art had drawn the young painters into the vortex of the market.  Such purchases were seen as not only an affirmation of good taste, but also good financial investments.  It was a win-win.

What happened over the first five decades of the 20th century in Europe and, in part, the Americas, was a response to the artworks of foreign cultures, be they African, or Far Eastern, or the work of peoples denominated as “primitives”.  With so much variation, the sky of painting seemed limitless.  In fact it was limitless, as the quick succession of “schools” of painters testifies.  One can list many: Cubism; Expressionism; Surrealism; Vorticism; Futurism; Abstract Art; Action Painting, and on and on. 

But with such amazing bountifulness, there was always pressure on the artist to be original.  This placed a heavy psychological burden on the lone artist, and psychological disorders were on that account very common among them.  In any event, bye and bye, the educated public was fascinated by men (almost exclusively men) who risked so much, no matter how loutish they might be. 

This step into artistic freedom had caused an explosion of creativity, and within a decade there was a large body of work in the new departures from the rules of drawing and painting and sculpting.  

This was not the same fate as had occurred in music because all these movements produced valid works of art, but after a long period perhaps it did suffer from exhaustion too. 

The fecundity of the 20th century art and sculpture can be shown in the mere enumeration of the famous names that are included in that cohort.  Equally it is exhibited in the mere mention of the many movements these new freedoms generated. 

During the good decades many artists of note composed paintings, drawings, and sculptures almost indifferently.  Picasso was the most fecund.  Interested in every pictorial form, it seems that only the cinema escaped his lust for showing his powers.  Whatever demons moved his spirit, the results were commonly shattering and elemental.  His works affected everyone, even the most evil.  His painting “Guernica,” which hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, is the best known work of the century, and justly so.  Picasso’s eminence is indicated by the fact that he resided primarily in France during its occupation by the Nazis.  But they never molested him because, I believe, they never dared to. 

All the movements that sprang up, from cubism to futurism to surrealism to abstract art and many others besides bespoke a vigor which prided itself on the impulse to create and let the critics be damned.  But such vigor had its costs, namely that it was easy to run out of gas under such a regime, one that placed all the weight of creation on a lone individual, and also placed a second weight of needing to be unique, or the product of a new, very small “movement.”  So, it was often necessary to distinguish oneself from the other artists, but in the course of time it became harder and harder to do so.  All art forms seem bound to become less vigorous as time goes by, and by the 1930’s there were many bad painting produced.  Even Picasso produced a few well-known clunkers.   

With the shift into abstraction, in the late 1940’s, modernism was relocated to New York.  Mondrian had relocated there during World War II, and was a frequent guest of Peggy Guggenheim’s penthouse.  His remarkable beautiful designs are masterworks of decoration, powerful as Jackson Pollack’s abstractions that bring us to a state of exhaustion from the power that exude from his works.  But the result is more similar to the works of Mondrian than people think.  His self-destructive personality did not preclude a new, late phase of his powers in works that are even more interesting than the earlier periods of his development. These works are not well-known, but they exude a calm and comforting imagination.  Imagine that!

And imagination is the key to understanding the downfall of modern painting.  In my opinion, the problem first appeared in the “collage,” a form that is usually associated with the name of Picasso.  It is no more than an arrangement of flat objects, for example the page of a newspaper, or linen, put on a surface and then affixed to it with any substance that will act as a glue.  The point was the totally arbitrary nature of the relation among the elements so arranged.  This left the viewing public in the position of having to, once more, interpret the “work of art” all by themselves.  The artist would claim that he did not have to, leaving that job to the viewers entirely.  If pressed further, he would bristle with anger. The general public was once again at a position of nullity, since the objects d’art presented no clue as to what their reaction was supposed to be.  On the other hand, critics found a great abundance of things to say about the meaning of seemingly “meaningless” objects.  The critics had a fiduciary interest in convincing those who ready to be convinced.  But for the most part, distrust grew between those supposedly in the know and the general public. 

Abstract art began in the 1940’s and flourished in the 1950’s in New York.  The New York School was quite enhanced by these developments.  Their enthusiasm brimmed over, now that there could be no rules of any kind to the art of painting.  It felt like liberation to the creators, no matter what the critics might or might not say.  Its center, (not epicenter) was the Greenwich Village section of  New York, and the freedom now exercised by them gave them all the illusion of total power.    

In addition, two great critics came to the fore at that time; Harlold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg.  Greenberg defended this new trend, and called all these novel works of abstraction “gestures.”  That was a very intelligent thing to come up with, but it entailed a serious limitation: viz., that such gestures could only arouse generic emotions and nothing more.  Added to that was the money angle.  New York was literate and rich.  The rich folk in town vied with one another to have painters at their parties, where the average painter managed to be either dumbstruck at the questions they were being asked, answering many queries with the assertion that he just did what he did, and had no more to say.  The sharpie critic, which does not include either of the two great critics, would always have a great deal to say, and there is no way of deciding whether his monologues were simply made up on the spot, or a put on.  The artist, left alone with a member of the public would, as often as not, become offensive against his interlocutor, or even do something outrageous.   

At these soirees many six-figure checks were written and many paintings changed hands, allowing the rich folk to preen in their living rooms about the booty they had wrested from the author himself, some poor guy who had lived in a garret for a dozen years now was blessed with a country estate somewhere near on a fashionable beach or well into the verdant hills of success.  Though modern art was a success in these ways through the 1950’s and 1960’s, it was a surface phenomenon, forming and delighting only the cognoscenti, whether real or fake.

In the end, the fates of modern music and modern painting were the same, with the only difference being that the paintings were in fact quite successful, and some few were and remain brilliant, whereas the music was too cerebral to be recognized as art at all. The fall of abstract art dates from 1970, when the last and most desperate form of modern art was invented; it called itself Minimalism.

Minimalism was so true to the task of non-disclosure that it really is foolish to call it art at all.  Paintings may look like a piece of graph paper; dolls bought in a little shop, and then shopped around as a work of art; and, notably, every creation by one Andy Warhol  — all these and more fit into the category of non-art masquerading as art.  Minimalism cut the head off modern art because it proved that the latter was indeed dead.

I should like to turn now to modern sculpture. 

For centuries sculpture had usually been reserved for positioning in a larger setting, in other words as an element of architecture.  But modern sculpture was different.  The artistic community in these generations did not want their works to be mere adornment.  They wanted their pieces to stand alone, and many painters began to create sculptures.  In fact, some sculptures are very much like painting.  Henry Moore, for example, thought of his works as arrangements of masses.  He always stayed within the parameters of seeming organic masses, and tricked out interesting relations among them that could almost be called abstract art or even a collage.  Calder does much the same, but looks for motion, and so he invented “mobiles,” which came to be associated with his name.  The point was to be as free as painting.  And so, once again, there was an explosion of creativity in the field. 

Although I admire many sculptures as brilliant and evocative of the most inner resources of the artist and of the viewer as well, I will mention only three directly in what follows.  Brancusi produced exceptionally beautiful objects, entirely appropriate to their theme and meaning, even though not a copy of the objects referred to at all.  Giacometti, on the other hand, depicted only narrow over-thin figures who resemble victims of the fires of war, which had not happened yet.  And Picasso did everything and anything and always seemed to succeed.

As later critics attested, what spurred the sculptors to such original works were the same wonderful appropriations as had occurred a little earlier in painting.  The world was full of art, and the 20th century was able to go out and find these objects at bring them home, or at least photograph them, valuing and validating the artistic enterprises of many lands and cultures.  The only limit was abstract sculpture, which, it must be admitted, can only function as decoration.

In the end, sculpture and painting during this period had downfalls that can only be called “ridiculous.”  In the 1970’s, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, I immediately saw the downfall of the entire medium when the sensation of that time was Claes Oldenburg, whose giant hamburger was all the rage.  It is so perfect a representation of an American hamburger that its existence can have only one purpose, and that is to defy interpretation.  (A few years before, Susan Sontag had written a book of essays, the main essay being entitled “Against Interpretation.”)  This defiance of interpretation was a reaction that might have been motivated by the blather that art critics had been guilty of for decades and decades.  The hamburger had the added advantage of not being made out of dung or materials dipped in menstrual fluids.  But the need to defy interpretation was a defensive move by Oldenburg, who perhaps would die of shame if any critic actually examined the nullity that was behind the piece.

This is also sometimes the case in the field of painting.  Witness the recent issue of the influential magazine, The New Yorker, which in its July 1, 2013 issue features a long article on a painter, Ed Ruscha, who is very prominent amid the Hollywood crowd in Los Angeles.  Beginning in the mid-1960’s, Ruscha painted many different materials poured out on to a picture which he captioned with the object depicted.  The article continues: “[This] led to a three-year series of immensely skillful trompe-d’oeil word- pictures … .  He also did paintings of bowling balls, olives, marbles, amphetamine pills… “ [excerpt from page 53].  While this sounds exactly like what Oldenburg had done, the author of the article, Calvin Tompkins having missed the point entirely, is ecstatic about everything about Ruscha.  Having taken words from other artists’ works, he made the word, for example, “Ooff!”, a word from a copy of a comic book, literally reproduced, but used all alone by Ruscha with a single color background, the point of defying interpretation is rather obvious, but the naïve critic tires to make something out of nothing, talking about the man’s life, and car trips with him that led to nothing, filling up space with these uninteresting things until he just tires out.  The reader would be crazy to take it any other way.  It would have the benefit of leaving to the reader the ability of not getting fooled.

Whether Western civilization has used up all avenues to real art, art that moves people, noble arts, is not known, but if the arts are all dead, then so is mankind.  A famous man once wrote, “only a god can save us now.”  It seems true.



On the Universality of Art
A Presentation by Dr. Ernesto Paolozzi
Translated form his book L’estetica di Benedetto Croce

enThe issue of the universality of art can be discussed from two different viewpoints which are directly or indirectly related to Crocean thought. Some deny the very concept of universality, and then there are those who sustain that Croce contradicts himself when he affirms that art is a universal form of knowledge.

As far as the first viewpoint is concerned, we are dealing with a general philosophical issue which can go all the way back to the polemical Socratic dialogues with the sophists. As far as we are concerned, I retain indispensable to think of this concept in other than universal terms. Specifically, the fact itself that we distinguish art as a separate category affirms its universality since one cannot generate a universal from a universal, it can only be generated by itself. Either we consider art universal, or under the name art we empirically and arbitrarily gather a series of objects and events which we consider more or less similar.

Let’s us consider therefore the apparent contradictions of Crocean thought. If aesthetic thought is alogical, if it is to be distinguished from philosophy, how can it be universal if universality is something attributable to thought? I art knows the particular, how can it be universal? To these objections we can add others of a psychological nature. To discuss the beauty of a poem may seem futile given that we would immediately intuit that we cannot find a serious point of common agreement as is the case for mathematical and logical issues. These kind of valid objections are the same as those which occur within the problematic of taste (whether it is objective or subjective), and more generally, the problematic of interpretation. In fact, the universality of art guarantees the objectivity (at least hypothetically) of taste and interpretation, or as the same Croce writes, the re-evocation of the poetical. We need to be aware here that the entire conceptual fabric of Crocean aesthetic is held together by a very tight net of logical connections.

There are moreover valid objections of an historical or social nature which can find their foundation in Croce’s historicism, a theoretical aspirations to oppose his theories. For example, a Chinese, because of a different historical and linguistic environment, will have difficulty to understand Ungaretti’s or Montale’s poetry, just as a Westerner will have difficulty in understanding oriental arts. Therefore art appears incommunicable and therefore not universal, given that communicability is the sine qua non of universality.

In reality, in Croce’s thought, art is a Kantian foundational reality, the possibility of transcendent knowledge of the particular. This identification of aesthetic with language, that is to say with expressivity, means that art is a common function and therefore it is universal, integral part of every man’s humanity.

Thus we have arrived at the second aspect of the issue which explains better even the first one. We have arrived at the theoretical Crocean problematic of the cosmic aspect of art. In his Il carattere dell’espressione artistica [The Character of Artistic Expression] Croce had asserted that “to confer to a sentimental content an artistic form is to endow it at the same time with imprint of totality or the aspiration to the cosmic…every genuine artistic representation is itself and the universe, the universe in a particular form, and the particular form as the universe. In every poet’s enunciation, in every creature of his imagination there is the whole of human destiny, all its hope, its illusions, its pains and its joys, the greatness and the poverty of humanity, the entire drama of the real which evolves and grows by itself expressing suffering and joy (p. 122).

The above is the modern transformation of the Aristotelian catharsis from a purely moral position to an epistemological one. It is the Leopardian distinction between lived feeling (practical, for Croce) and the contemplated feeling (theoretical): “my feelings of joy are different from the narration of it to a group of friends. This is what Croce writes about in his Aesthetica in nuce: “Within this distinction between contemplated feelings or poetry vis a vis acted out or suffered feelings there is the virtue attributable to art as liberator and calming of feelings (catharsis); and the condemnation of those works or part of those artworks where the immediate feeling burst forth or gives vent. Moreover, from this distinction one can derive the other character,…its infinity juxtaposed to the finitude of feelings or immediate passion: this being branded as the universal or cosmic character of poetry.”

From all this we can deduce that art is communicable and, at least in part, we can overcome the mystery of its incommunicability. A physical pain or a sentimental depression cannot be communicated in themselves ma only as representations, known, intuited, made universal by art which, without recurring to the concept, renders the particular universal.

To sum up, there are at least three fundamental meanings that we can confer to the Crocean position: art is  universal because it is a transcendental activity, something which is substantially inherent to all men and not only in an empirical mode, because it renders objective subjective and individual intuitions via representation, because in every single representation one becomes conscious of the entire drama of the universe sub specie intuitionis. This last point is undoubtedly the most complex and has not appeared clear to all critics. At first sight it appears that the philosopher wishes to say that in every particular act of the spirit one can detect the entire human history, the entire process of consciousness, the entire drama of the universe in its etymological sense, that is to say, in the sense of the contrast which can be comic, ironic, sad, tragic, indifferent. This explains why each one of us can recreate and feel as one’s own the tragedy of the lucid and astonished perplexity of Hamlet which paralyzes action.

Undoubtedly this thinking of Croce is an arduous and complex one, reminiscent, to remain within our own century, of the Bergson of the concrete duration, the Proust of involuntary memory, the Joyce of the stream of consciousness, of the epiphany. A complex position to be further deepened.  



Comments by Paparella on Nannery and Paolozzi’s Presentations (fourth meeting)

These two insightful presentations by Nannery and Paolozzi on the nature of modern art, whether or not it is genuine art or is the jury still out on it, and on the universality of art will undoubtedly keep me and other readers musing on those issues for a long while. I may have more detailed comments or observations on them at the next meeting of our ongoing conversation.

For the moment, I’d like to briefly dwell on some conundrums on the very nature of art which I included in the very last chapter of my Ovi e-book (Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers) titled “The Nature of Art as a problematic of Aesthetics” which seem relevant to  those two presentations and to which I was brought back as I read them. ( see http://www.ovimagazine.com/cat/56)

I trust in fact that in the future dialogues of our symposium’s meetings we will have an opportunity to exchange some views on the above mentioned topics.

In that chapter I mention that “The simple all encompassing question ‘What is the nature and the definition of Art’ is accompanied throughout history by corollary questions such as: ‘Is art synonymous with beauty or does it encompass the ugly and the abhorrent also?’ or ‘Is a literal definition even possible?’ or ‘What makes something a work of art?’ or ‘Do the artist’s intentions make it art?’ or ‘Does the so called artworld make it art?’ or ‘Are judgments about Art objective or are they simply a matter of taste?’ or ‘Is one artistic or aesthetic judgment as good as another?’ or closer to our times, this thorny question: ‘Is contemporary art still art or is it a mere instrument of ideological provocation and propaganda?’ Some of those questions are in conflict with each other because they derive from different assumptions (p.65)….Both Lawrence Nannery and Ernesto Paolozzi have already broached these conundrums following on Croce’s aestethics.

And that brings us to the most thorny issue of all: Is contemporary art still art? Its critics have called it ‘the rule of surprise novelty and provocation,’ having little to do with genuine art. It would be enough to read the fierce controversies in newspapers over public funding of art, to realize why some hostile critics believe that Mapplethorpe’s confrontational photography, Karen Finley performance art, or Nigerian painter Chris Ofili’s Virgin Mary, seem to them to have lost touch with the values realized in earlier art. Heidegger for one, as we have also seen, in his The Origin of the Work of Art reveals an aspiration that art should return to what he considers its authentic mission: the revelation of the historical world that produced it. On the other hand there are other philosophers, such as Danto, Piper, Korsmeyer, who challenge the very idea of art with a mission and see in contemporary art possibilities for novel expression. So, the dialogue goes on and it is good that it does. It would appear that art is integral part of man’s historical journey and consequently it changes as the journey takes different routes and the destination of that journey becomes clearer. After all, the jury on the whole of man’s history is still out and so is the jury on the whole of man’s artistic production through time and space.” (pp.66-67)



A Reply by Paolozzi to Paparella’s Comments

Italian version: Provo a dare qualche risposta alle tue difficilissime domande senza presumere, naturalmente, di risolverle in tutto e per tutto.

Il brutto, l'aberrante può essere bello?  Certo. Così come il bello può essere brutto!  Se intendiamo l'arte come una forma della conoscenza dell'individuale, la rappresentazione di uno stato d'animo, di una emozione come dicono gli attori  che non vogliono sembrare moralisti o politici, se l'arte è questo si può rappresentare il bello in modo brutto e il brutto in modo bello. Quanti personaggi di film o romanzi, belli buoni etc risultano freddi, irreali, inefficaci? Un esempio classico è dato da Dante. L'inferno è aberrante ma spesso è rappresentato in modo così artistico da essere bello. Qualche volta, invece, solo qualche volta, il Paradiso appare brutto perché rappresentato male, moralisticamente, insomma in modo non artistico. Ciò spiega anche l'autonomia dell'arte.

L'altra grande questione è quella che potremmo definire della storicità dell'arte in rapporto all'universalità dell'arte. Non vi è dubbio che il gusto cambia con le epoche e, dunque, anche il giudizio critico. Se ci limitassimo a questa constatazione cadremmo in una sorta di scetticismo estetico. In realtà ciò che è universale è la categoria, per così dire, non il contenuto della categoria. Noi identifichiamo un'opera come opera d'arte (utilizzo un metodo socratico-crociano) perché non è moralità, non è economicità, non è politicità, non è filosofia. Un'opera d'arte in questo senso è universale, ma ciò non significa che il giudizio sul valore di un'opera non sia storico. Un'opera d'arte per il suo contenuto, ma anche per lo stile e le tecniche, esprime sempre il sentimento e il pensiero di un'epoca. Può essere anche utilizzata come documento  storico per meglio intendere un'epoca. Ciò, per quello che si è detto prima, non contraddice la sua universalità nel senso dell'arte come universale rappresentazione, come conoscenza. Penso che Heidegger volesse dire questo: un tempio greco apre a noi una possibilità di conoscenza dell'essere autentico della sua epoca. In questo senso è vicino a Vico e a Croce. Nella sua storicità, il tempio, propone un' orizzonte universale di comprensione.

L'arte cosiddetta moderna. Penso che nella stragrande maggioranza dei casi non sia arte in senso proprio. Come il futurismo italiano. E' provocazione ma una provocazione ripetuta mille volte è una tragica stupidità, è il massimo del conformismo. Talvolta è l' espressione di una insofferenza , di un malessere e, in questo caso talvolta raggiunge l'arte. Ma, penso ne parleremo in seguito, io non credo ai generi letterari  e artistici come metro per valutare l'arte. Esiste il barocco bello e il barocco artificioso e brutto. Dipende dalla singola opera. Così, tutto sommato, penso dell'arte moderna. Dipende dall'opera singola. Tutto il resto è politica culturale e, in seguito, pura moda. La discussione si fa sempre più interessante perché autentica, non "accademica" e senza pregiudizi. 

English translation: I will attempt to answer Paparella’s thorny questions without the presumption of answering them all exhaustively.

Can the ugly and the aberrant be beautiful? Of course, just as the beautiful can be ugly. If we understand art as a form of the knowledge of the individual, as the representation of an attitude, of an emotion, as those artists who do not wish to appear moralizing or political, say, then we can represent the beautiful in an ugly mode, and the ugly in a beautiful mode. Think of how many characters from novels or films are cold, unrealistic and vacuous. Dante gives us a classic example. Hell is ugly but often in Dante it is represented so artistically that it looks beautiful. On the other hand, at times, but rarely so, Paradise looks ugly because it is badly portrayed, in a moralistic tone, that is to say, not artistically. That explains the autonomy of art.

The other crucial issue is that of the historicity of art vis a vis its universality. There is little doubt that taste changes with the times and that therefore the critical judgment also changes. If we limit ourselves to just this phenomenon, we would soon get stuck into a sort of skeptical aestheticism. In reality what is universal is the category, so to say, not the content of the category. We identify something as a work of art because (using a Socratic-Crocean methodology) it is not morality, it is not economics, it is not politics, it is not philosophy. In that sense a work of art is universal, which does not mean that the judgment on its value is not historical. In its style and its techniques is always expressive of the thought and the feelings of a particular time. In fact it can be used as an historical document to better understand an epoch. That means, as we have already asserted, that it does not contradict its universality in the sense of art as universal representation and as knowledge. I think this is what Heidegger was trying to put across: a Greek temple opens up for us the possibility of the knowledge of the authentic being of its epoch. In that sense he is quite close to Vico and Croce. In its very historicity the temple is opening up for us a universal horizon of comprehension.

As far as modern art is concerned, I think that in the vast majority of cases it is not properly speaking art just as Italian Futurism is not art. It is rather provocation, but provocation repeated a thousand times becomes a tragic banality, the apotheosis of conformism. Sometimes it is the representation of an intolerance toward restraints, or of a sickness, and in that case it can be considered art. But we’ll have an opportunity to talk about this in the future. I personally do not believe in literary or artistic genres by which to evaluate art. There is a beautiful baroque and an ugly baroque. It all depends on the particular artwork. The rest is cultural politics and mere trend of the times. This discussion is becoming increasingly interesting because it authentic, that is to say, not “academic” and devoid of prejudgments.



On Modern Nihilism: Entrepreneurship, Technology, Utopia,  Extinction
Part 1
A Presentation by Dr. Emanuel L. Paparella

“…so far will machinery have Americanized us, so far will Progress have atrophied in us all that which is spiritual, that no dream of the Utopians, however bloody…will be comparable to the results.”

                                                                                                             --Charles Pierre Baudelaire

papA year or so ago Lawrence Nannery forwarded me a very interesting book titled The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger (Cambridge University Press 1993) and edited by Charles Guignon. It is a compilation of 13 essays by some of the most eminent Heidegger scholars in Anglo-Saxon culture, among whom John Caputo, Charles Taylor, Richard Rorty, Hubert Dreyfus. Especially relevant to the issue at hand and a partial inspiration for the theme of this presentation is Dreyfus’ essay titled “Heidegger on the connection between nihilism, art, technology and politics.” In any case, I am grateful to Larry for bringing that book to my attention. It clarified in my mind a philosophical conundrum that had vexed me for several years. Worth  remembering here that Nannery himself made a very interesting contribution to solving the puzzle that is Heidegger’s life for Ovi magazine in the guise of an essay-review titled “Heidegger without Tears” (see http://www.ovimagazine.com/art/8162).

To explain the conundrum we need to go back to my college years in the mid-60s when I attended a whole semester’s seminar on Heidegger’s philosophy. I remember a spirited discussion ensuing between students and professor on the question of whether or not there was a nexus between Heidegger’s philosophy (his theory) and his existential life and conduct (his praxis) in the light of his misguided joining the Nazi party in the 30s. I should mention that the college I attended is a private Catholic college. I keep wondering though if the professor in question, forty-five years later, has changed his mind on the neat dichotomy he used to make in that seminar between the philosophy and the life of Heidegger, who after all has been declared by some history of philosophy experts, Dreyfus being one of them, as none other than the most eminent existentialist philosopher of modernity taking his original inspiration from none other than the father of existentialist philosophy Soren Kierkegaard.

After reading attentively Dreyfus’ essay I asked myself this question: pursuant to such an exhaustive rendition of Heidegger’s philosophy and its nexus with his life, how could one summarize in a few words the overall tenor of Heidegger’s metaphysical scheme, even granting that it may ultimately turn out to be an anti-metaphysical one? I arrived at a rather tentative conclusion: Heidegger, when all is said and done, is ultimately concerned with the problematic of the effects of technology on modernity. It is quite certain that after Heidegger, to a pervasive scheme of Cartesian thought which begins in the 17th century there has been added the more current nihilistic philosophy of “the will to power” whose precursors are  Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Hegel. As we have seen in the previous presentation, in the 19th century Vico and Croce were all but ignored by the wider academic community of Western philosophy. In any case, Heidegger’s claim is that this modern adoption of “the will to power” was practically inevitable after the oblivion of Being in our modern times.

The above preamble begs for a definition of modernity. The reader has surely noticed that our symposium’s heading is “A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity and the Envisioning of a New Humanism.” It is incumbent on us therefore, if we are to conform with the philosophical wisdom of the Socratic method, to clarify our terms at the outset, before proceeding with our conversation on art and modernity. This task, not unlike the definition of art itself, is of course easier said than done. If we look up the simple Webster’s dictionary definition of the word “modern” we find this: the quality of being current or of the present. An example is given: “a shopping mall would instill a spirit of modernity into this village." These very brief banal and rather superficial definitions and example reducing modernity to the economic aspects of life will obviously not do within a broadly cultural philosophical context.

If we look up Wikipedia Encyclopedia however, the term “modern” does not immediately become any clearer. There the term is traced all the way back to the 5th century AD. and we read this: the term "modern" (Latin modernus from modo, "just now") dates from the 5th century, originally distinguishing the Christian era from the Pagan era.” But then sidestepping this original ancient usage modernity is thus further defined:
“a post-traditional, post-medieval historical period, one marked by the move from feudalism toward capitalism, industrialization, secularization, rationalization, the nation-state and its constituent institutions and forms of surveillance.” It appears that, according to this particular definition modernity begins with the Renaissance, with a fusion of Graeco-Roman culture with Christian culture.

To further increase our confusion, the above explanations and definitions of modernity are soon followed by this intriguing statement: “yet the word entered general usage only in the 17th-century quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns—debating: ‘Is Modern culture superior to Classical (Græco–Roman) culture?’—a  literary and artistic quarrel within the Academie francaise in the early 1690s.” This brings us back to the very origins of two cultures already dealt at some length in our first meeting.

Indeed, this last definition may be more comprehensive because here we can glean a more universal understanding of "modernity" as denoting the renunciation of the past, favoring a new beginning, and perhaps a re-interpretation of historical origins, no matter the particular age when it occurs. It could in fact pass for a definition of progress. Charles Pierre Baudelaire is credited with coining the term "modernity" (modernité) to designate the fleeting, ephemeral experience of life in an urban metropolis, and the responsibility art has to capture that experience. Here art is brought into play as capturing the fleeting moments of everyday experience. This is close to our concerns with art and history as clearly elucidated via Croce’s philosophy by Ernesto Paolozzi.

This question logically arises here: historically speaking does modernity begin with the arrival of Christianity (1st century), or the Renaissance (15 century, the era of the rebirth of Graeco-Roman culture synthesized to Christianity, Western imperialism and the invention of the printing press), or with the post-Renaissance (17th century, the arrival of science via Galileo and the establishing of two rival cultures, the scientific and the humanistic), or with the Enlightenment (18th century, the age of reason), or with Romanticism (19th century), or more properly with the 20th century and the arrival of a fully developed technological scientific culture? Hard to tell.

Some historians, in an attempt to dispel the confusion have subdivided modernity into three distinct periods eliminating ancient times and beginning with the Renaissance: 1) Early modernity: 1500–1789 (or 1453–1789 in traditional historiography) 2) Classical modernity: 1789–1900 (corresponding to the long 19th century, 1789–1914 witnessing the invention of the newspaper, telegraph and other forms of mass media and producing a  great shift into modernization in the name of industrial capitalism). 3) Late modernity: 1914–to present, sometimes broken down into classical modernity and post- modernity (1990-). In this last phase, modernist arts and individual creativity marks the beginning of a new modernist age as it combats oppressive politics and economics. So we can safely assume that while modernity relates conceptually to the modern era and to modernism, it forms a distinct philosophical concept.

What I find most intriguing in this cursory research in the varied definitions of modernity is the tendency by some contemporary cultural anthropologists to focus almost exclusively on the social relations associated with the rise of capitalism. This is indeed in keeping with the age we live in, obsessively preoccupied with economic-political considerations and how they relate to the wielding of political power. Some of these cultural anthropologists however include a reference to tendencies in the intellectual part of the culture, particularly the movements intertwined with secularization and post-industrial life, such as Marxism, existentialism, and the formal establishment of the social sciences. I believe that Heidegger’s most pressing concerns were in tandem with this latter sense of the term modernity, its attendant technological know-how and its effects on cultural life in general.

Vico, and later on Croce had already intuited where we would end up with a Cartesian approach to reality. But let’s begin with some indications of how this generalized Heideggerian scheme of “the will to power” functions in modern social life. Let us take a look at the modern capitalist entrepreneur, sometimes referred to as a businessman, or a CEO, or a captain of industry; or a financial investor, or an investment banker. He is usually at the helm of industrial or financial enterprises which are ultimately in the business of acquiring wealth and power, money and profits, all signs within a Calvinist Puritan ethos of success and progress and indeed personal worthiness and salvation, even if salvation has by now been transformed from a theological to a worldly secular concept. Sometimes this type is also found in academia where he will retire to peddle books on an uncompromising laissez faire economy which reduces and subsumes even cultural life to what is considered “inevitable unstoppable economic progress,” a progress that in order not to fail has to continually increase a nation’s GNP.

Let’s be more precise and focus our attention on a particular well-known modern entrepreneur-businessman, one who has aspired recently to the US presidency of the US: Mitt Romney. Actually the only president in American history who was also a businessman was Herbert Hoover who presided over the beginning of the most disastrous of economic recessions and depressions  in America. But let us stay with Romney. He was so sure he would be elected president that he had already prepared an elaborate scheme (which cost millions of dollars of campaign funds) to transform the White House Office into a paradigmatic CEO office. The country would become the macrocosm of a giant corporation. We may in fact think of Mit Romney as a paradigmatic figure of this type of modern human being creating paradigmatic economic events.

This “new man” hardly strikes us as the incarnation of Nietzsche’s Superman with his will to power, a la Napoleon. Everything about him suggests rather a cautious and conservative temperament, steady and reliable. After all steadiness and reliability are good for venture business and market trends to mitigate what may be perceived as unpredictable and risky within a market capitalism. He does not in fact fit very well the role he is supposed to play in the overall Nietzschean metaphysical scheme, or the Hegelian scheme of World-spirit for that matter. He is not even the legendary rubber or oil baron of old. If anything, he will exhibit all the qualities of the unassuming modern bourgeoisie man. He may even be a devout churchgoer if not exactly a man of faith, given that faith has now given way to “religious affiliation” conferring social respectability, if not exactly theological salvation.

This entrepreneurial corporate executive may not even possess a personal philosophy, at least one of which he is conscious of, beyond his class and status. Should one ask him what he considers his life-project and work, he may well answer that he thinks of himself as a servant of the public at large, a philanthropist or a benefactor of humankind creating and spreading wealth, never mind that this wealth usually manages to merely trickle down to the disadvantaged and its distribution is not justly envisioned. In fact, it may never have entered our businessman’s mind to consider himself as a subject seeking domination over an object or over nature. He would consider it a travesty and a slander to boot to portray him as any sort of embodiment of the Nietzschean will to power.

But let us observe more closely our businessman at work. Let us imagine that he is charged with opening a new venture in his company chain of plants, be it in cars, or cosmetics, or computers. Nothing philosophical will enter his mind. He will restrict himself to the merely practical or objective matters at hand. Strangely enough this restriction to the mere practical is a level of abstraction which men of other epochs did not possess. It is a level achieved over many centuries which ultimately comes to be taken for granted. Our entrepreneur businessman will diligently calculate men and materials as so many units to be added, subtracted, balanced against each other. Men are considered work-force to be manipulated and objectified like other business factors. Products are broken down into categories and then rebuilt into a persona in order to compete on the market: the persona of bananas, the persona of olive oil, etc. There is nothing here of the Machiavellian and the conspiratorial. He proceeds in a natural objective mode of managing a problem whose overt aim is the fulfilling of desires (advertised as needs but often only wants) while the covert aim remains that of profits and power. As a good CEO He breaks the problem up into compartmentalized areas of specialization: the financial, the engineering, the transportation of raw materials, the marketing, the investing, etc.  Nature enters his scheme only as a place selected for optimizing production and profits, for its closeness to raw materials, transportation, markets. Sometimes nature will have to be modified and changed forever. So he proceeds to do that wholly unconcerned with environmental consequences.

To mention an example of this environmental disregard, Mitt Romney, in his recent presidential campaign, exhibited a complete unconcern with the rising level of the sea. He transformed into a not so funny joke a concern previously expressed by his political rival President Barack Obama declaring that while his rival would stop the rising level of the sea, he would provide jobs for his electors. Obviously what was more important to him and his minions was that his wife should own two Cadillacs and that everybody else should have a job and possess at least one car, never mind that they would be driving it under water once the low lands of the world, such as Florida, were submerged by the rising sea. Unconcerned about environmental issues, our brave new entrepreneur of our brave new world will go on with his schemes and ventures and practical planning complete with detailed cost and benefits’ analysis. To sell the products, shopping centers will appear, roads to get there will be built. Progress and the momentum of technology, that is to say “modernity,” is indeed truly unstoppable. It is like the train we saw apotheosized in the introduction to the London Olympics a year or so ago. It represents “progress” and it is unstoppable. The products of one place will enter the market of another place to be calculated in relation to other products from other regions or other countries. This is often called the “globalization” process, also unstoppable and a sign of progress and entrepreneurial success.

This is indeed a commonplace phenomenon in industrial life but the crucial question is this: are we able to grasp it as a whole before falling back on the usual clichés against the evils of capitalism and technology and the exploitation of the workers? For in point of fact it is not the greedy entrepreneurial capitalist or the faceless corporation which is imposing its will on us. It is the corporation which is doing our will, for we the consumers want more and more of its products. And here we arrive at the conundrum of technology.

Man besides being the Aristotelian rational animal is also the problematic animal. It is to be expected that an essential part of his current existence, his technology should also be problematic, despite its great advantages. Here Heidegger’s analysis becomes relevant. For indeed we now need all the resources of technical organization to simply maintain alive the current population of our planet. It is a fact often forgotten by luddites naively promoting the abolition of the machine as such, that in the US in a less than one century we have been able to raise 50% of our people to a standard once enjoyed by only 1%, not to speak of the matter of human rights and individual liberty. Those in fact do not enter Heidegger’s scenario of history. His view seems to be neutral or theoretically indifferent to them which may partly explain his brief association with a rabid nationalism such as Nazism, a move on his part vehemently condemned by Benedetto Croce at the time. In any case Heidegger knows full well that Marxism just as much as capitalism, are the essential offspring of the technical era and can only be understood within that modern context.

[To be continued in the next meeting of the Ovi Symposium on August 1, 2013]


An Observation from Paparella on Nannery and Paolozzi’s 3rd Meeting Presentations

I’d like to briefly return to the insightful presentations of Nannery and Paolozzi at our third Ovi symposium meeting of July 4, 2013 in the light of Heidegger’s conception of the work of art as elucidated by Hubert L. Dreyfus in the above mentioned book in the essay “Nihilism, art, technology, and politics.”  There Dreyfus informs us that it is Heidegger’s assertion that a work of art is anything that fulfills an interpretative function which he calls “truth setting itself to work.” He further tells us that the Greek temple is presented by Heidegger as an example in the sense that “the temple held up to the Greeks what was important and so let there be meaningful differences such victory and disgrace, disaster and blessing…that gave direction and meaning to their lives…Heidegger would say that the understanding of what it is to be changes each time a culture gets a new artwork.” (p. 297).

My perplexity is this: does this understanding of “what it is to be” change also when the medium of an artwork, such as music or painting or sculpture is degraded or destroyed? Could Heidegger be talking about paradigm shifts in culture, that is to say, paradigmatic human events producing a shared understanding in a whole culture? Moreover, could a shared understanding become a shared misunderstanding and a shared retrogression once a culture begins to decline and eventually dies? And if so what is the role of philosophy then and how does art remain autonomous from it? Vico tells us that man can only fully know what he himself makes but if what he makes (art and philosophy) are in decline can they still remain autonomous but friendly to each other? Can philosophical aesthetics judge art and vice versa? Was Croce’s aware of the Heideggerian insight on the role of an artwork and if so how, if at all, does it differ from his own aesthetic theory on the role of an artwork within historical epochs in shaping the very destiny of a civilization or culture? I suppose what I am driving at is this: can a decadent culture or civilization ever be able to judge the achievements of past epochs? Vice-versa, can the full understanding of the achievements of past epochs restore the wholeness of a presently decaying civilization?



Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

16th Meeting - 17th Meeting - 18th Meeting - 19th Meeting - 20th Meeting - 21st Meeting -

22nd Meeting -23rd Meeting - 24th Meeting - 25th Meeting -


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