From Pareyson To Tuttle

Round II. Continuation of an invigorating philosophy & art discussion with Aurelio Madrid


"Al Hambra", photo by Joliexis

Dear Aurelio,

Due to my wonderful trip to Thailand (on which I’ll write in the not too distant future) you had to wait more than a fair bit, but “all good things come to he who waits

Your curiosity, intellectual generosity, and open-mindedness, to me, are clear signs of a kindred spirit (someone philosophically minded). I understand exactly what you meant, when you said that too much philosophy hampers your artistic impulses[i]. I’ve experienced something similar myself. I think the reason that is, is because both philosophy and art demand you apply your creativity and/or imagination to the fullest (not to forget your reason). And once you’ve entered the maze called “philosophy”, it is almost impossible to find your way out with its endless twists and turns, its hidden nooks and crannies – and numerous cul-de-sacs. Philosophy showcases the mind’s extraordinary, and often fantabulous, potential to create. Sometimes though, I regret the time and energy it costs, the undeniably interesting books that keep piling up – and the agony of all those I haven’t read yet… It’s almost like an addiction in its ability to captivate and mesmerize the mind. I think it is no overstatement when I claim: philosophy is a never-ending, yet crucial ‘self-critical’ project – if applied correctly[ii].

With philosophy, as with art, you create something and the act of creation is always exciting – as is the growing anticipation of its reception! Philosophical creations are obviously of a very different nature than those considered to be art proper. Undoubtedly they can be grand, because if you’re a truly brilliant thinker you might captivate and shape the minds of millions, by framing issues and setting agendas (or by discovery: syllogism, geometry, theology, allegory, ethics, etc.). Philosophical and religious systems are able to influence the lives of entire generations, sometimes whole civilizations, and can even change the course of history. Think for instance of those pious patriarchs like Moses, the Buddha, Jesus Christ, Plato, Aristotle, Zarathustra, and Confucius, to name but a few. In other words, the philosophical ‘work of art’ is the very transformation of human behavior and thought itself. Now don’t get me wrong here, I don’t suffer delusions of grandeur :-) I’m just saying some philosophers and wise sages managed to do that – and that it can be extremely exciting tracing the development of those ideas, and exploring the rationale behind them. To wander around their mental constructs, and marvel at the temples that arose with their words and were founded on their beliefs and actions. Of course it should always be remembered that it takes two to tango: You need an audience that can relate or identify, and is willing to participate[iii] (Luigi’s ‘Law’).

True artists do something very similar, yet less tangible. They’re able to capture the aspirations, hopes, sorrows, fears, and joys of a people in an inspirational form. Their work is just as important if not more so, but on a cultural level – instead of an intellectual one – because they give expression to a society’s living soul, its fabric or tissue: its flavor, if you will. For what would be life without art? That’s the reason why many philosophers and laypeople alike, think it’s not unfair to judge a society on basis of the art it inspired – seen as a testament to that society. Since art outlasts the civilization that gave rise to it, it forms the key to unlock its “lived experience”. It can resonate on a profound level, inspiring wonder and awe in us and our children – like the mosaics of Byzantium, the Coliseum of Rome, Michelangelo’s painted ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, the Kitchen Maid of Johannes Vermeer, Virgil’s Aeneid, or Wu Cheng-en’s amazing Journey to the West. But as you well know, I wrote about all this before. My point is: when I’m busy doing philosophy it taps into my creativity, leaving me with less time and energy to practice and develop my artistic skills, and since practice makes perfect… Yet when I decide to sit down and do some serious drawing, I can’t read! Making me lose track of all those interesting ideas I wanted to pursue! It’s almost I think, a dilemma of closely related but mutually exclusive media. Though there are of course always exceptions to the rule such as Plato’s literary masterpieces, that are the pinnacle of art and philosophy[iv].


Dermot Moran has done a good job in writing his “Introduction to Phenomenology” (2000). We used it a lot during our phenomenology classes. Sokolowski and Russell, I’ve to admit I’m not yet familiar with, but Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1908 – 1961) was a great French philosopher, one who’s definitely worth your careful consideration. Without wanting to bury you alive beneath your already impressive pile of books, I do want to recommend you read John V. Kulvicki’s excellent book “On Images: Their Structure and Content” (2009). But its ‘structuralist’ approach differs considerably from phenomenology. The beginning of the book is a bit dry and technical, in the end though it’s very rewarding. An important phenomenological thinker you mustn’t miss out on is Helmuth Plessner (1892 – 1985), I’ll guarantee he’ll blow your mind! I also warmly recommend Malcolm Budd’s “Aesthetic Essays” (2008), to give you another exciting perspective on the whole art question. Last but not least, someone you must have heard of: Sir E. H. J. Gombrich, with his classic “Art and Illusion” (1960). Perhaps you would also appreciate “Art as Experience” (1934) by the American pragmatist John Dewey, because Pareyson’s philosophy sometimes reminds me of his. But it might be wise to work out your ideas on Dylan Trigg first.


Let’s see, where to start? You raised so many issues! Luckily for me, you’ve also shown to have a solid grasp of the subject and already answered most questions yourself. So let me begin by saying that the last couple of points you raised, though very interesting, would take our discussion too far off field, even for me ;-). But I do agree with you: the best way to experience art is undeniably “face-to-face”. That said, thanks to the wonderful invention of the printing press – and a little more recently, computers and internet – the way we experience most art, and there’s a lot of it these days, is second-hand”… (see also Walter Benjamin). There are only three things I’d like to say about it before moving on, and that is: 1. we should be aware of the inescapable fact that most of our perceptions are “always already” pre-shaped or colored to some degree or other, and that this doesn’t apply to art alone. 2. Armed with this awareness, it shouldn’t stop us from trying to catch as many of the great works of art in our ‘real’ life as we can. So that 3. when standing before a Van Gogh we should at least try and take the time to form our own opinions, as based on our own impressions. Because I do think objectivity[v] is possible in the Pareysonian sense of a “correspondence, consonance, or sympathy” or in Husserlian fashion when we return: “zu den Sachen selbst”. There is a ‘reality problem’[vi] though, and it should come as no surprise that media and communication theories have flourished as a result of it.


What you say about Luigi Pareyson sounds about right. When Umberto Eco deceptively simple, states: “For Pareyson, form is a structured object uniting thought, feeling and matter in an activity that aims at the harmonious coordination of all three and proceeds according to the law as postulated and manifested by the work itself as its being made”. We should take a step back and reflect. The problem is: exactly what does this “law” consist in? How it is “postulated and manifested by the work itself as its being made” is another crucial question. We both agree I think, that Pareyson views art as: 1. the quintessence of form, 2. or as form incarnated, 3. the residue or substance which makes visible or tangible, 4. that which enables expression. In your own words: “Art is a special case because it is a proving ground of form, (form + art = Form pur sang) a way that matter is brought together artistically”. You add to this: “While art (“the prototype of resistance”) is devoid of a typical use value, another object’s given form might be obscured by its inherent use value”. This is an important notion, lend from Martin Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1935). In which he writes on what he calls the “thingness” of Van Gogh’s painting of the peasant shoes. I think it is helpful you brought Heidegger[vii] into the mix here.

“A Pair of Shoes”, 1886, by Vincent van Gogh

So how does Vincent van Gogh’s (1853 – 1890) painting transmute these ordinary items into art? The Dutch have a long tradition of outstanding painters who elevated humble scenes out of everyday life into the realm of art, but Van Gogh took it ‘one step’ further. By taking these useful objects out of their context, he presented them in a whole new light, thus creating a state of verfremdung (or astonishment). In the form of a painting these shoes cannot be used in any meaningful sense, instead they can only be looked at, or contemplated – stopping us dead in our tracks. Much of Heidegger’s philosophy is about “awareness”, about the “jolt” that awakens us from our stupor, forcing us to reevaluate our useful and/or proven habits, customs, and traditions. The jolt that led the first philosophers to ask those big a-historical all-encompassing questions[viii], like: “why there is something rather than nothing[ix]?” The questions we ask ourselves, or try to avoid[x], when we’re confronted with life’s vicissitudes. It is this capacity to question that allows us to ‘step out of time’ and out of ‘our-selves’ (to ek-sist[xi]), enabling us to reorientate ourselves. These ‘questions of being’ that occur when consciousness kicks in allow us to criticize all that ‘is’, the ‘given’ state of things – or in political terms: the status-quo. The biggest shock of all is of course death[xii], the very definition of finitude; its surface reflecting darkly.

Going back to Pareyson the question becomes: what exactly is leftover when we subtract an object’s use-value, and what about it qualifies it as being art? “If”, as you say “the eidos of an object is its essence (or essential qualities), to look for that essence we must extract all that is irrelevant to that object”. Then what is this “form” we are left with and what “law” governs it? Plato being the essentialist he is came with an ‘every-only’ definition, the definition of definition. The idea being – applying the high standards of mathematics[xiii] – that an essence like for example ‘Justice’, in order to qualify as an essence, should occur in every single one of its manifestations and only in those manifestations. When I read Pareyson, what I think he is getting at is that art is something essentially human, that is: art in its relationship to technê or craft. The latter understood as defined by a goal, and as a kind of knowledge (with “Form” providing the blueprint). In this Platonic sense it used to connote so much more than what is nowadays considered art. In fact, it encompassed almost everything human, making art a mere subset. Plato made a distinction between technê and empeiria (experience) but more importantly: he also tried to distinguish between technê and epistêmê (theory). The second is another craft-like skill; but the skill remains focused on the objects of knowledge[xiv] (the relations or “harmonies” between the “Forms”). In these different ways craft is like art, because being a human undertaking, it implies creativity and fallibility.

If my interpretation is correct, it would connect up with your insightful statement, that: “The artist has to pass his/her experience[xv] through matter, by this matter becomes form, matter becomes art, as it is then to be received. Work itself is looked at as the key transformative act”. I think you’re absolutely right, after all it’s about: “the harmonious coordination of thought, feeling and matter”. Of course, ‘work’, understood as craftsmanship, doesn’t necessarily imply ‘art’, even though a shoemaker’s work can be artful and even artistic. In this sense work can also be the transformation of an object into something useful. But art, as we saw with Heidegger, seems to work the other way around. Yet not every object is art nor beautiful, otherwise why bother making art? I think what Heidegger’s idea of verfremdung points to, is that art isn’t necessarily about taking things out of context[xvi], but more about human relationships. By taking away the usefulness of an object, in this case the peasant shoes, Van Gogh reflects on the role they play in human experience. And experience, as phenomenology has shown us, is always directed at something, that is: in relation to something. It is these relationships and interrelationships that are the content of art’s reflections. After all, art can also reinforce relationships by celebrating or commemorating them, the very reason why Jean-François Lyotard (1924 – 1998) vehemently attacked the concept of “harmony” (as opposed to the Avant-Garde “sublime”).

Last but not least: “The way art is made, should be considered as an intrinsic part of the object’s reception, according to Eco’s reading of Pareyson”. Again you’re on point. For almost every artist, I can’t think of one who doesn’t, makes his art with a (potential) audience in mind. Put in different words: his or her art can only be understood as an expression, as something ‘communicable’ – to ourselves and by that token (potentially) to others as well. Thought and feeling fit the bill perfectly, with matter functioning as their conduit. Now we also have an explanation how Pareyson can hold two seemingly contradictory notions. Claiming on the one hand that there’s an immanent ‘law’ guiding the artist’s hand, while simultaneously contending: “As form gathers together an infinity of things, which it contains but does not exhaust, so a person is an infinity, and each one of the points of view which we can adopt contains us entirely although not exhausting our possibilities.” The ‘laws’ governing art are simply the limits of expression and the various ways meaning, depending on the medium, can be inscribed or transmitted. For example: even when we’re alone or having an interior monologue  – a theatre of the mind –  we express ourselves as if with an addressee in mind (‘acting out’). Drama is simply in our DNA. Also, matter understood as concrete material is not art’s only or even primary vehicle, if you consider poetry, dance, and music to be part of it too. Art as form incarnated, the residue or substance which makes visible or tangible, that which enables expression, is potentially infinite precisely because we are its limit! With our capacity to enter into potentially ‘infinite kinds of relationships’ with the world around us, or: “points of view which we can adopt”.

Seen from this perspective René Descartes’ famous one-liner “Cogito ergo sum” (“I think therefore I am”) could be read thus: I prove my existence by saying something to myself. A definition of ‘consciousness’ perhaps not that far removed from Heidegger’s ideal of a ‘jolt’ or ‘shock’ leading to self-awareness (Being in full). Yet, when I am asked to tell someone what I am thinking, the frequent sense of strain, of having to translate a thought forcibly into verbal form shows that I express myself in solitude in a more intimate way than can easily be captured in words. In “Logical Investigations” (1900) Edmund Husserl makes a subtle, though brilliant distinction between ‘indication’[xvii] and ‘expression’, and comes to the surprising conclusion that in solitary thinking meaning resides in expression. The fact that we can still mean something without engaging in indication shows that there is a contrasting expressive side to language. Odd as it is, my expression embodies my meaning whether or not this meaning is available as an indication, to someone observing me. Though normally expression relies on indication as its vehicle, but indications can only be considered expressions if they have been selected by someone in order to convey a meaning. Chosen by someone as a means to say something. I believe it is this highly personal and thus emotionally charged expression that is conveyed in works of art, and that paradoxically, art is an indication of meaning as pure expression.

photo by Juicyrai 


Obviously this leaves an awful lot of playing room, so what exactly does my problem with Richard Tuttle consist in? After all with a definition this wide it covers nearly everything. Let me start by clearly stating that people should be completely free to express themselves any which way they feel like, including artists. All I’m doing is reflecting on the possible effects of certain artistic strategies – their cultural ramifications – by focusing on their ‘internal logic’. Analogously perhaps in the way Siddhartha Gautama’s Buddhism doesn’t prescribe how you should live your life (as Judaism, Christianity, or Islam for example do), but simply states the most fruitful way of living one (considering the karmic consequences[xviii]). Similarly, anyone can choose to become an athlete, but the best way of achieving that objective is to train with an experienced coach, instead of having to re-invent the wheel yourself – notwithstanding natural talents or Buddhas[xix]. It goes without saying that everybody can make art, and on occasion does, as everybody is similarly able to engage in philosophy or psychology. In principle we all have access to the same material: humanity. But that doesn’t necessarily make everyone a good artist, philosopher or psychologist.

Contrary to what these preliminary remarks might suggest, I’m not saying Richard Tuttle isn’t a good artist – he might very well be – nor that he’s in need of a coach of some kind. I’m not the right person to judge the quality of his work (because I’m not at home in this type of art). I am much more interested, from a philosophical perspective, in the ideas and assumptions behind his art, their cultural merit or lack thereof, and especially the ‘cultural climate’ that gave rise to them. This also fits with Pareyson’s claim that each artwork is “the harmonious coordination of thought, feeling and matter”, as well as with the distinctions you made between the artist as maker of the forms, the work itself, and the influence of the culture on that process. Tuttle’s art makes sense within a certain cultural context, from which he makes a un/conscious selection, which in turn says something about Tuttle. The way he chooses to represent his work, its tone – aggressive, urgent, contemplative, lovingly, etc. – says something about the feelings or emotions motivating Tuttle and about his relationship to that context and society at large. While the work in its material sense transforms[xx] Tuttle’s original expression by externalizing it, and in its finished state feeds back into the culture from which it sprang, thereby changing or reinforcing it.

With this basic schema in mind we can re-examine Tuttle’s conceptual post-minimalist ideas, by subjecting them to a Pareysonian inspired critique. It seems we’re in full agreement that the bare object has become Tuttle’s subject matter. I also agree with you, that post-minimalism has let go of the strict geometries of high minimalism, focusing instead on a more lenient and expanded formal language, resulting in what are called ‘feminine’ objects – of a more frail and flexible ‘organic nature’ – and in so-called readymades. We already established and sufficiently proven the cultural link that exists between Tuttle’s work and postmodernism in our previous discussion, sharing much more than just their prefix. And, as we saw, Tuttle’s bare object is the equivalent of Pareyson’s nakedform”. “Form” understood as the “resisting object” or “obstacle”, with art being the “object pur sang, the object that commands our attention and solicits our interpretation.” And, in Pareyson’s words: “Interpretation is a form of knowing in which receptivity and activity are inseparable and where the known is a form and the knower a person.” Add to all this, my Husserlian interpretation of art as a form of expression, and you get art as “form” and art’s “form” understood as expression.

Talking about natural beauty Theodor Ludwig Wiesengrund Adorno (1903 – 1969) says: “A rock appears for an instant as a primeval animal, while in the next instant the similarity slips away […] in the way clouds present Shakespearian dramas, or the way the illuminated edges of clouds seems to give duration to lightning flashes. While art does not reproduce those clouds, dramas nonetheless attempt to enact the dramas staged by clouds…” (Aesthetic Theory”, 1997, p. 71). Adorno shows how something can appear as an expression of something else, and that in art and nature the frailty of such fleeting moments can be experienced as great beauty. But for Tuttle, being an exponent of a particular brand of postmodernism, and endorsing a specific interpretation of the sublime, those likenesses are mere ‘illusionistic representations’ and should be shunned. Tuttle’s work is focused on destroying those natural (re)semblances in art by pushing expression to its limits, to the point where communication breaks down – ‘releasing’ the object from its constraints: its context. Slowly eroding the framework of meaning as well, since it can only function while things are still making sense, or ‘correspond’.

Plato’s texts are a mimesis of the examined life, but sometimes they lead to inconclusive results called aporia. These usually point toward some kind of communication (logos) failure due to a bad Socratic interlocutor (Plato understood ignorance as vice), and are meant to stimulate further questioning by showing us the domain of our ignorance. Since postmodernism celebrates aporia, and focuses almost exclusively on contingency, indeterminacy, and subversion, it deliberately aims at incoherence and irrationality, thereby destroying meaning and ‘setting it free’. You could content that an intimate or too personal expression isn’t (fully) communicable to others, since they don’t share the same frame of reference or background. But the same applies to Tuttle’s “group of paper octagons” (1970), that only make sense with the proper theoretical background, providing them with the right context. Without it people will simply judge them on the sensual pleasure they afford, the way they look and hold our attention, or their usefulness. And since postmodernism holds that everything changes over time, and that everything can turn out to be something else if it is simply reinterpreted or seen from another perspective, Tuttle’s work can very easily become indecipherable if postmodernism – the context within which his work makes any sense – should disappear[xxi].

What I am getting at, is that even if communication breaks down man will remain – as psychology has conclusively shown – a naïve theorist, forever on the lookout for patterns of meaning. So when ‘incoherence rules’ and objects revert back to themselves, these objects will revert back to being an “object pur sang, the object that commands our attention and solicits our interpretation.” With the result that humanity will start afresh: reading something new into the objects that present themselves, re-using them as building blocks in the construction of meaningful contexts – creating new “forms”. By leaving things open indefinitely the way postmodernism does, continuously questioning everything; it works like a corrosive that’s slowly disintegrating the “givenness” of things, as well as eating away at worthwhile traditions. By reverting back to primitive forms and childlike play, postmodernism seems to be seeking a “reset”, or erasure (of the traces) of history. Nobody denies the value of skepticism and playfulness. Society’s capacity for self-reflection, self-criticism and self-correction is an absolute necessity and often feels like a breath of fresh air after the suffocation of tradition. It’s being overly self-conscious, leading to uncertainty or apathy and blocking further development, that’s the problem. At its worst, it could even alienate us from ourselves and our surroundings. This is why I think we should strive for a healthy balance.

According to Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889 – 1951) “We do not follow a rule by saying to ourselves, “I’ve got to take the next step now,” any more than we walk by deciding to put one foot in front of the other. When we dwell on our decision to take a particular step and tell ourselves that we follow rules not automatically but thoughtfully, we deliberately remove ourselves from what rule-following is actually like. Such articulation makes a theatrical gesture[xxii] where, usually, none is required. Since the thought I am dramatizing cannot possibly be obscure to me. But when I interact with other people, the performance is real, since at times I’m unclear to them, and they to me.” (“Who Was Jacques Derrida”, 2009, p. 52) The second part of Wittgenstein statement, about the theatrical gesture, brings us back to art as expression. No matter how personal or intimate: art is, and will always be, directed outward. Art, like speech, is a way of conveying something, and speech, like art, needs ‘to make a show’. That is: speech, in order to convey a message, needs to draw attention to where it’s needed: the content – while at the same time leaving enough room for people to express themselves. Science, with its exclusive focus on content, on the other hand, uses a fully formalized and standardized form of expression, exactly in order to minimize or eliminate personal expression (as in algebra). Idiosyncrasies in science are loathed, precisely because they tend to undermine its claim to universality, while making translation and reproduction more difficult.

Art, of course, is the exact opposite of science, with personality and ego running rampant. Where form is the content, and the message highly personal. Nonetheless, even in art there are certain conventions or ‘forms of expression’, and this is where Pareyson comes in. I believe these ‘forms of expression’ are in fact the highly valuable and venerable art schools and artistic traditions that organically grew and developed over time. Iconography, for example, is a means of codifying different ways of expression, but figures of speech, are another. These sophisticated ‘formal languages’ allow for people to relate and artists to convey – and provides artists with various vocabularies for expressing themselves. What I think we should do in art is to let different ‘forms of expression’ shoot root, compete, and develop, instead of halting their growth by constantly questioning their legitimacy. For a fruitful art-scene, the intellectual and sensible should work in tandem, cross-pollinating each other, but always with the sensual as starting point. If it’s the other way around, there is the risk of performing an intellectual inquiry instead of making art: with the ‘idea’ dominating and curtailing genuine artistic expressions. For modern art, for example, merely reading about the (witty) idea behind the work often seems to suffice. In this case, art runs the real risk of becoming empty posturing and superfluous, or worse: propaganda. I believe Jean Baudrillard’s (1929 – 2007) mercenary philosophy[xxiii] provides the key to a flourishing art scene, by being postmodern but not dogmatic.

Another way to make this point is by focusing on the transmission of forms. I believe Pareyson, with his hermeneutic background, conceives of art as a continuous dialogue, a ‘give and take’ or ‘tug and pull’. A conversation or ‘form language’, that gets richer and more intricate with the passage of time. Husserl and Kant have convincingly shown we think in ‘forms’ and that these forms are at least partially ‘given’ by our environment. These forms are both natural and artificial, and quite literally ‘frame our minds’. You could see the world we live in, surrounded as we are by artifacts of various sorts, as a gigantic storehouse stuffed with objects ‘encoded with messages’, patiently awaiting our response. We can chose to pick up these threads of conversation and position ourselves in relation to what once was, or chose to turn a deaf ear. By ignoring these ‘forms of expression’ they wither away, because the commonalities behind them will stop being common and the ‘shared experience’ that once informed them will eventually become ossified and alien. For institutions you can see a similar trajectory, with the rise corresponding to the immediacy of a ‘lived experience’, and their eventual demise, after being no longer experienced as meaningful or relevant, ending in lifeless formalities. This is why the original experience that gave birth to an institution – its raison d’être – needs to be carried on, or kept alive, by at least a small group of ‘believers’.


I’ll end by hopefully clearing up some of your confusion surrounding Husserl. The best way to do that is, I think, to start with quoting you to yourself again: “The philosopher has to step away from the natural attitude in order to regard features within it. I’ve been thinking of Husserl’s reduction as a distillation & removing of certain tendencies of the natural attitude, namely science & ‘psychologism’” and “Husserl wanted to create a philosophy that went before these ways of understanding, and to then take the conscious subject into a world of pure lived experience. He wasn’t afraid to call it a science either, making for even more perplexed readers. Added to my perplexity is that I can’t understand how all of this is tied to metaphysics, you might have the answer”, finally: “Phenomenology does not want to prove that the object exists.” Add all this up and you’re almost there. In order to fully understand why Husserl equated ‘philosophy proper’ to phenomenology and then called the latter a ‘science’, you’ve to take a closer look at what he agitated against. You already mentioned science, but science understood as naturalism. It was Husserl’s strong conviction that “naturalism hadn’t established a truly scientific basis for itself; it was rooted in experimental results, rather than reason, and therefore could not develop a coherent picture of the mind.” Furthermore: “Naturalism tries to explain human experience, including mental events, in terms of natural processes. (Cognitive science, now a serious influence in many disciplines, is a leading form of naturalism.)” (“Who Was Jacques Derrida”, p. 38)

Even today, strange as all this may sound, Husserl still has a point, because human experience remains epiphenomenal. For example: many neuroscientists now believe consciousness is completely determined, yet that won’t change us feeling like ‘autonomous actors’ one iota. Husserl’s phenomenology exists in order to try and bridge this seemingly unbridgeable gap. Of course psychology didn’t fit the bill either precisely because of its ‘reductionism’; and neither did “the ready observations of common sense” that “so often proved faulty by philosophers from Socrates on.” (p. 38). Still, you may ask, why equate philosophy with science and what does that have to do with metaphysics? Well, according to Husserl, Philosophy was needed to clarify science. What do we really mean by basic terms like thing, event, consciousness? How do we attend to an object’s wholeness while still being able to understand the object’s separate features? The answer cannot be found in scientific experiment but rather must be sought through phenomenology, the study of how do things definitively appear to us.” (“Who Was Jacques Derrida”, p. 39)

Thus, Husserl can speak of phenomenology as a ‘strict science’ by assigning to it a very specific circumscribed task, demanding the utmost focus and discipline[xxiv]. You also have to take into account that metaphysics back then didn’t have the negative ‘speculative’ connotation it carries today. He simply used it in the quite literal meaning of (philosophy) coming after physics – physics of course being based on scientific experiment, and the very object Husserl was trying to integrate into everyday experience (by way of phenomenology[xxv]). There’s one more highly illuminating quote in relation to Pareyson by David Mikics that I don’t want you to miss out on, and one which will also show the strong influence Husserl had on his young student Heidegger: “Typification underlies the common possibility of experience. For this reason, Husserl attends to the sameness, the givenness or continuity, of experience. But also notices what interrupts such continuity: when self-consciousness, wonder, or doubt arise suddenly and unexpectedly, throwing us out of our usual complacency. Suddenly things look strange, unaccountable.” (“Who Was Jacques Derrida”, p. 39)

I’d like to conclude with your perceptive final remark concerning my slogan:

“Don’t banish beauty from art! Don’t bar your senses— come to your senses!” This compelling quote comes with a slight directive to understand what beauty is. To this I say, a concept of the beautiful that encompasses the sublime & the difficult should be included. Beauty cannot always be found in questioning or as a strict intellectual quest & as you say, it also needs just the right sensual balance.”


"Court of Lions", photo by Joliexis 


DISCLAIMER: I’ve to admit that, like you, I don’t have much of Luigi Pareyson’s writing at hand since I don’t speak Italian myself. I mentioned before that I tracked him down via Gianni Vattimo, but I think Pareyson’s philosophy struck a chord with me because I’ve been working a lot on John Dewey’s pragmatism (which I like very much). To be honest though, I’m making Pareyson’s philosophy up as I go along, perhaps even ‘misreading’ him to my advantage. I guess it would be more accurate to say ‘I’m trying to piece it together’, since my goal is to make sense of the bits and scraps I do have – that inspired me on this quest. Anyways, I might run the real risk of distorting Pareyson’s philosophy beyond recognition because of the limited evidence available to me – but that in itself isn’t unusual for philosophy, or even bad if you’re upfront about it.

[i] In your words: “It’s tricky enough doing philosophy while making art!”

[ii] Of course there’s nothing innocent or transparent about my use of the qualification “correctly” here. In my view philosophy’s primary task is Kantian in nature: due to the limits of our ‘understanding’ philosophy’s role should be to tentatively feel its way, by a careful and critical ‘reflexive inquiry’ into the way ‘things are or appear to be’. You could call it a continuous process of ‘recalibration’.

[iii] Clearly I’m not denying the historical importance of scientists, which can be as great as or greater than that of true artists and philosophers, because scientists are able to directly change the conditions on the ground. It should be added that great achievements are almost always the result of a cooperative effort, and/or conflux of favorable conditions. Also, it goes without saying that women are in no way inferior to men in all of this.

[iv] Ironically these literary texts are themselves exemplars of what Plato understood to be ‘good’ or ‘state sanctioned’ art. Being both morally edifying (the examined life) and of sublime beauty. Instead of celebrating the Homeric hero of violence such as Achilles, Plato introduced a new type of literary hero: Socrates the hero of wisdom. Socrates was to be a better and improved hero, one without a tragic flaw. The flaw was with the Athenian people, who in their ignorance sentenced Socrates to his death for corrupting the youth. The tragic irony being that Socrates was innocent and the only man trying to educate them!

[v] Here I’m not referring to a scientific objectivity, but ‘objectivity’ in the sense of a direct, more or less ‘retrievableexpression – one that isn’t forever lost, buried, or corrupted. Think of my John Carroll example.

[vi] This ‘reality problem’ stems from an explosion of conflicting perspectives, due to the ubiquitous media. The sheer amount of seemingly incommensurable small narratives pose a serious threat to coherence, and thus to rationality, objectivity, neutrality, and truth – further aggravated by postmodern inspired theories.

[vii] Taken together with Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844 – 1900), Martin Heidegger (1889 – 1976) marks one of the big turning, or tipping points in Western philosophy. Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) marks another, as do René Descartes (1596 – 1650), Plato (427 BC – 347 BC) and Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC). Heidegger’s philosophy is also on the intersection of phenomenology, hermeneutics, and existentialism. Already pregnant with the seeds of postmodernism.

[viii] Teleological questions concern the ‘Why’ of things – in contrast to scientific inquiries into ‘how’.

[ix] From Heidegger’s lecture “What is Metaphysics?” (1929).

[x] Questions most people forget about once the moment has passed, or try to forget since there are no easy, clear-cut answers. Nowadays, for example, we understand these questions to be ‘symptoms’ of depression that will eventually go away when we “let go and move on”.

[xi] This “capacity to question” is related to Heidegger’s concept of “Being” (capital “B”). Heidegger “describes Being as the indescribable factor that is always furthest away from man yet always near too, and strangely inaccessible. Being remains permanently different from beings [lowercase “b”], the various [finite] entities in the world. It cannot be identified with any specific being, any person or thing…” (“Who Was Jacques Derrida”, p. 135) The word “ek-sist” refers to humanity’s double nature, with just a foot in the door of the “House of Being” it will remain “strangely inaccessible” to him. I believe the rise of modern media will result in Heidegger’s “Being” brought even closer, making its ultimate inaccessibility ever more aggravating, and creating an insatiable craving for some kind of event or spectacle, something solid and real.

[xii] “Heidegger speaks in his early masterwork Being and Time of Dasein’s anxiety before its own death, a mood that spurs resolute decision making.” (“Who Was Jacques Derrida”, p. 135) Death defines the self; it is the constitution of subjectivity. While “Dasein” refers to man’s state of “being thrown in the world”. This is where Heidegger’s phenomenology transforms into existentialism.

[xiii] A good example of Plato’s ‘every-only’ definition would be the definition of an even number – especially considering mathematics is the icon of True knowledge for Plato, because of its universal nature. Definition: even numbers are divisible by two without remainder. This counts for every even number and only for even numbers. Wittgenstein later demonstrated the validity of ostensive definition: defining something by giving examples, or by enumerating each and every one of its instances. While being a great admirer of Plato, Wittgenstein criticized him for demanding too high a standard for Truth.

[xiv] In calculation for example, the objects are numbers, and in dialectic they are the kinds. This kind of knowledge has no product separate from its activity, as is the case with a technê (like carpentry). Epistêmê is thus not so much a body of knowledge, as an ability to grasp very abstract sorts of distinctions.

[xv] In this respect reading John Dewey’s “Art as Experience” (1934) alongside proves to be very interesting indeed!

[xvi] Verfremdung also designates a type of “human relationship” with the outside world, albeit not a very healthy or sustainable one.

[xvii] Husserl’s examples of ‘indication’ are “canals on Mars” which would indicate the presence of life, and “fossils” as indications of the past existence of vanished animals. But a shouted denunciation is also an indication that someone is angry. Our tone of voice, our choice of words and gestures, indicates our ‘meaning’: “we ‘see’ their anger, their pain”. Not all human gestures are expressions: involuntary facial tics merely indicate that the speaker is nervous, for example. I’m more or less quoting David Mikics here (as in the rest of this paragraph on Husserl) from his excellent MUST READWho Was Jacques Derrida” (Yale, 2009, p. 49 – 52).

[xviii] Buddhism takes the wonderful and intricate system of karma as a given, because it arose in response to Hinduism, in particular to its concept of Ātman or Self. The Buddhist idea of conditional causation is a direct and powerful critique of any type of ‘transmigration of the Soul’. In fact, technically speaking there is no rebirth in Buddhism, since there’s nothing to be reborn, there’s only the passing on of negative or positive charged karmic energy. Buddhism criticizes the natural attitude which gives rise to this spontaneously but ‘erroneous’ idea of Self, by claiming everything is a composite of transient processes. Precisely this attachment to Ātman or Self is one of the desires chaining us to Samsara. A desire we should try to extinguish in order to escape Samsara. Hinduism though, cleverly re-assimilated a weakened Tantric Buddhism in the 8th century, by claiming the Buddha was the 9th reincarnation of their god Vishnu.

[xix] A Buddha (in contrast to an arahat or holy man/woman) is he who achieves enlightenment and reaches nibbana on his own, without outside help or teaching.

[xx] In much the same way as: “having to translate a thought forcibly into verbal form shows that I express myself in solitude in a more intimate way than can easily be captured in words.” With words having a materiality of their own as Derrida has convincingly shown, and each material having a limit of flexibility that dictates what can and cannot be expressed.

[xxi] Contexts shift when positions within a context change, and when contexts shift, meanings change accordingly (hermeneutics). These shifts are the result of the inherent instability of life’s circumstances, its vicissitudes. When I was talking about Husserl and contingency before, I had these issues in mind. Nonetheless your examples of adumbrations, anticipation, memory, and imagination are equally valid, since they all color our outlook and direct our attention. You could add forgetfulness, distraction, black-outs and madness. But postmodernism, due to its radical skepticism and its impossible standard of evidence, has given up on meaning all together. They claim that given meaning’s inherent instability, it shouldn’t be trusted: that anything ‘contingent’ doesn’t warrant our belief. Postmodernism’s rabid anti-essentialism leads it to praise ambiguity, diversions, digressions, unpredictability, the “in-between” – and the random, never-ending Heraclitan flux of “becoming”. Personally I’m of the opinion we should salvage as much we can from postmodernism and discard the rest…

[xxii] These imaginary performances can be used as a kind of self-therapy, by stressing for example: “You can’t go on like that”. Solitary reflection might also lead one to personal revelations. The “theatrical gesture” that removes ourselves from what we are doing should also be read with people like Bertolt Brecht (1898 – 1956) and Antonin Artaud (1896 – 1948) in mind.

[xxiii] Baudrillard’s poststructuralist philosophy with the ‘commodification of the signifier’ is a perfect example of what I meant with: “depth being on the surface of things” – surface conditions generating an ‘illusion of depth’ (though I do not fully subscribe to this myself). Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 – 1913) a famous philologist, discovered that meaning arises from the interplay of differences. This discovery in turn led to the devaluation of (by bypassing) the studies of history and philology, that had now become ‘tedious’ and ‘superfluous’ because of their exclusive focus on origin. The discovery of DNA is a very real, though abstract example of Saussure’s logic, since DNA code is nothing more than a ‘system of differences’ that can be ‘read’ and ‘rewritten’. ‘Rewrite’ the code and you revise life itself! Another, more concrete example would be how we ‘read’ facial features through ‘differentiation’, and: how feelings of anger and fear – while experienced as deeply personal – can simply be generated by imitating their outward appearance (or by seeing them on the faces of others).

[xxiv] “Husserl, following Weber, cautioned against basing life either on reason detached from values, the route of technological advancement, or on values devoid of reason the path of European nationalism.” (“Who Was Jacques Derrida”, p. 39)

[xxv] You could content that phenomenology has a somewhat paradoxical stance towards “pure lived experience” since its primary objective is to unite everyday experience with “scientific experimentalism”. Yet in order to do so it seeks to return “zu den Sachen selbst” by “stepping away from the natural attitude”…