Thursday, August 31, 2017

COOPH Magazine, Austria

COOPH Magazine, is a cooperative magazine written by photographers for photographers. The past two years I have been working as a writer and editor for COOPH. Please see here for sample articles:

CAA 106 Annual Conference: Haitian Aesthetics & Resistance

It is with great pleasure that I announce that I will be giving a talk on Haitian Vodou Aesthetics and Resistance, at the CAA 106th Annual Conference in Los Angeles. The artists and artworks I will be talking about, have so much importance in contemporary times, expressing a historical narrative within the Creolization of language, art, music and dance. This is something which has been very important to me for a long time now. As an undergraduate I worked for Haitian Art Historian Dr. Marilyn Houlberg, archiving 6567 slides of Haitian Artworks for the Smithsonian. A link to the archive can be found here: Marilyn Houldberg Nigeria collection, circa 1956-circa 2005
As an undergraduate student, at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, I worked closely with Marilyn and I considered her a friend and a mentor. With the guidance of Philosopher Howard Caygill, I have developed a theory of Resistance within the Haitian diaspora of cultural aesthetics. 
I am honored & humbled to be given the chance to speak at CAA 2018.
Marilyn Houlberg & Rowynn Dumont 2006
Marilyn would be proud #haitianart #haiti #resistance #aesthetics #artistphilosopher

Art & Decadence: Interview with Dr. Otto M. Urban, Czech Curator

May 1st, 2007 Luke Willard and I did an interview with Czech curator Dr. Otto M. Urban. The publication was for fnewsmagazine; the school newspaper at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I have decided to reprint that interview here. The original link can be found here: FNEWS

Photograph of Rowynn Dumont and Otto M. Urban
Prague, CZ 2007 

Czech art historian and visiting professor at the School of the Art Institute Chicago, Otto Urban, studied art history and aesthetics at Charles University in Prague, and, in 2000, earned his PhD in the same field. He is currently teaching at SAIC, focusing on Central European Symbolism, specifically the question of Decadence. He has curated a number of exhibitions, and his book In Morbid Colors: Art and the Idea of Decadence in the Bohemian Lands, 1880-1914 recently won the Book of the Year 2006 award in the Czech Republic. His articles about Decadence and Symbolism have been published in magazines in the Czech Republic and abroad, and his texts have been included in a number of anthologies and publications.
Q: What is decadence in art?
Otto Urban: It is essential to define clearly what is and what is not decadent in the visual arts. However, the answer is not unambiguous, because until now the use of the term “decadence” in visual art was unclear and equivocal, as well as being more than once ideologically influenced.
Q: Who created this phenomenon of decadence?
OU: The first to define decadence in visual art was Joris-Karl Huysmans in his novel Against the Grain (1884). The author describes decadent visual art through its content as a flight into a “distant dream,” as a picture of the innermost self “destroyed by hysteria,” for which the decadent tragic vision of the life of a painter, printmaker or sculptor finds its themes in “horrors, corruption, complicated nightmares and cruel visions.” Later, art studies began to show a marginal interest in decadence as an intellectual and artistic opinion and adopted a critical attitude toward it. The avant-garde perceived decadence as the culmination of one stage in an artistic development they had rejected, not excluding its decadent manifestation. The concept of exalted decadent individualism stood in opposition to collectivist ideas. For the avant-garde, decadence to some measure meant Mannerist, thus eclectic and repetitive in form.
Q: I got to see your show in Prague, In Morbid Colors. What was the purpose of that exhibition?
OU: There have been relatively few attempts to expand the concept of decadence in the history of the visual arts. In Morbid Colors was an attempt to define the concept of decadence in the visual arts, in the period 1880-1914, not only theoretically but above all by introducing the content of this concept through works of art, and thus showing that the decadence manifestation was not a question merely of a few individuals and that it cannot be narrowed down to a neglected motif or aspect of form. Rather, Decadence can be considered an artistic current permeating the whole period at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Q: How does Decadence relate to other art movements?
OU: Decadence is often mentioned in connection with Symbolism; however, for many later Symbolists, both in the visual arts and in literature, the starting point was Naturalism. An inclination from Naturalism towards more imaginative form of portrayal took place in the 1880s in (for example) the work of Edvard Munch or Felicien Rops. (Joris-Karl Huysmans, Gabriele D’Annunzio and Emile Verhaeren all emerged from Naturalism.) It was important, in describing the concept of decadence in the visual arts, to formulate its relationship to Symbolism and to Naturalism.
Is Decadence a subset of one or the other, is it their interpenetration, or does it represent a self-sufficient and independent orientation and attitude? Unlike Decadence, Symbolism and Naturalism are concepts commonly employed in the history of art. There is a dual use of these two concepts: on the one hand, as the name of an artistic trend in the last third of the 19th century, on the other as more generally understood term when emphasizing the specific method of portrayal. For an example, the symbolism of Renaissance painting (Erwin Panofsky) or the naturalism of the sculpture from the High Middle Ages (Max Dvorak). But in this respect, the concept is used more like the adjectives “Symbolist,” or “Naturalist.”
Q: Is there a specific style to identify something as Decadent?
OU: Decadence originates through a subjective linking of extremes regarding the content of Naturalism and Symbolism, through a linking of the pathology of the body and the spirit of art. According to this thesis, Decadence originates through a subjective combination of the extremes of Naturalism and Symbolism as regards content, through the merging of apparent antithesis of the morbidity of the body and exaltation of the soul. The formal expression of a work of art is subordinated to subjective requirements, thus making the Decadent form heterogeneous and—sometimes quite deliberately—beyond the rules of the canon of the time. It is opened to the most varied experiments and, even consciously, inspired by the past. It is therefore difficult to classify a distinctive Decadent work, not only into the mainstream, but sometimes even into the work of one artist.
Q: What are some contemporary themes of Decadence?
OU: The portrayal of the horror and madness of the modern world became a key theme of Decadence. Decadence no longer had utopian visions of change, but only a grimace of ridicule and longing for isolation. The modern world was a world of the average, of leveling, a world without great deeds, but a growing number of horrors and tragedies.
Q: Why is Decadence important today?

OU: The meaning of Decadence for the visual arts can be summarized in a few points: there was much that Decadence introduced for the first time, above all themes that had been taboo (sexuality, Satanism, Anarchism); the emphasis on the subjectivity of visual expression influenced the imagination of the art of the 20th century; by putting an emphasis on art criticism as the factor bringing the exclusive nature of these forms to life and differentiating their conceptual nature, Decadence contributed to a more subjective view of art and creation; through vigorously refuting the national aloofness of earlier artistic concepts, Decadence shared in the creation of space for the later ascension of an internationally oriented avant-garde; and lastly, Decadence also required the creator to be independent of the surrounding society, thus making it one of the first manifestations of an alternative subculture. Decadence in the visual arts represented the dynamic duality of order and chaos, the painful moment of the birth of a new life and a new structure.

Interview with Philosopher Howard Caygill for IDSVA, April 14, 2016

Last year I interviewed the Philosopher of Resistance, Howard Caygill, for The Institute of Doctoral Studies in the Visual Arts. I have decided to republish this interview here, for your viewing pleasure. The original can be seen here: IDSVA Newsletter 2016

RD: Can you start off with talking a little bit about this last text on Kant, which is highly unknown, that you have been working on. Are you directly translating that from High German yourself?
HC: The last work that Kant did is called Opus Postumum, made up of 12 convolutes. He wrote it from about 1795-1803. It is after the critical philosophy. It is a remarkable text, he considered it to be his main work and he was working to finish it. There are kind of three works in it, three books. What survived were the notes that he took. He would write notes, and collect them in little kind of folders, and then he would stand with this bit of paper, so he would have sheets in a folder, so he would stand with these sheets, and he would do what I am doing now, which is just talking to an amanuensis; the guy’s name was Worm.

 Rowynn Dumont and Howard Caygill
Berlin with IDSVA, Summer 2015
Photography by: Louis Wales 
RD: You even know his name?
HC: Yah, he appears in the manuscripts, Worm. So he would dictate and then a fair copy would be written, he would do it again, and then it would be written up into a book. So that is how [Kant] used to work. So the Opus Postumum is what is left of this last book, of what he was working on up until his 80th years. It is the very last Kant, and his literary executives after he died thought, “Kant has gone mad. He is throwing away everything in the critical philosophy.” And the text disappeared for about 70 years. It was never published until the 1930’s and is almost never discussed. It has only been translated partially; it has been only about 20-30% translated into English, same in French and Italian.
My project in this is I started to work on a translation of this and now I am thinking about doing it again, but in a way that respects the original translation as a facsimile, with the texts and the margins, exactly how the manuscript originally was. I hope to start that next year, with Nicholas Walker.
RD: So you are working as a team on it?
HC: Yes, I am.

RD: You mentioned to me in an email that you and some students from your Paris school are reading a sheet a week of this Kant text. How does that differentiate from the methodology that we utilize at IDSVA?

HC: In answer to your question about the difference in style between the French system and IDSVA, at the University of Paris you are required to teach your current research. We do not have a curriculum, like you would have at IDSVA or like universities in the UK. What they have are professors that teach their current research.
I am teaching Opus Postumum, sheet by sheet. So each week we go over a single sheet. What I have done is take the last folder that Kant had prepared, the last book that is from 1801-1803, so it is Kant as a 19th century philosopher. He already knows Fichte, he knows Shelling, Schiller, all of those post-Kantian critics. It is like a post-Kantian, post-19th century Kant.
The particular text is called the “Convolute” and in this folder there were 12 sheets. And this is the first time that this particular work has been taught anywhere in the world, because (Kant) was considered to be senile. It was basically assumed that he was mad the last five years of his life, certainly the last three, while he was writing this text.
RD: Do you think that he was mad?
HC: Absolutely not! So this is part of a test for the students, you have to read it sheet by sheet for 12 weeks. It is close reading, pretty much line by line, which shows how it is different from any other text that Kant has written, completely different from The Critique of Pure Reason.
RD: So it is not something you could read through quickly?
HC: No, the course is actually to introduce students how to read Kant, this is the final stage before it was dictated. We are looking at what Kant would have dictated from. There is a difference between philosophy and philosophizing. This is an insight into [his] philosophizing. You can see him in the act of actually thinking, it is very extraordinary.
RD: So you are teaching your students in France how to learn how to read his philosophizing?
HC: Yes, they have to learn how to read it. And another thing they also have to learn as well is, is the last that they used as this kind of typeface, Gothic typography, in Nazi Germany. It was published in sponsorship with the SS as well. So that is another reason why it has been relatively unknown then. Even though Kant wrote it 130 years before, but I do not exactly understand why that happened.
A new edition is being made, they are re-editing it in Germany. So that is the project, but what it does is, it completely reverses the understanding that we had before. So to give you one example of what the text is: the project that I am working on is called Kant’s ‘cosmological turn’, because remember in the Critique of Reason it is all about the Subject, that is the Subject of knowledge, so it is not about what Being is, but how the Subject perceives experiences. In the Opus Postumum there is no Subject.
RD: That is why you said at our residency in Berlin, there is no Subject. There is no Subject and there are no direct references to Consciousness. But what there is, is the play between attraction and opposing forces; there is a battle of forces. So he is pulling cosmology … we get to understand Ontology as the way of Being. In the Critique of Pure Reason he says that psychology, or the Subject, is the way that we get to understand Ontology. So it is about the abolition of the Subject. It sounds like he has even transcended the perspective from the body…
HC: Yah, that is right, he is sort of saying that we are just balances between attracting and opposing forces. He even talks about the destruction of stars and supernovas, the speed of light, the idea that if there were only attractive forces in the universe we would just be a singularity, in a black hole. And as repulsive forces, we would just be scattered, but in both cases there would be no events. So it is really cosmological.
RD: Can you tell me about your relationship with IDSVA, what you think of the program, where it is going and what it is trying to do with this notion of the artist-philosopher?
HC: I have been with IDSVA since almost the beginning, the second year, and I was always attracted by that idea of the artist-philosopher. Plato expelled the artist and now the philosopher has made the return to art. It is very nice that IDSVA is going to Athens this year, so it is the first time that the artist-philosophers are returning to that place in which they were expelled 2.5 thousand years ago. The program very ambitiously takes students who work in the art world, and really gives them rigorous training in philosophy to create this next level of philosophy.
RD: Can you share something about your newest work on Kafka? Anything brief that you would like to say about it? Maybe a little background of why you became so interested in Kafka to begin with and what led you down the path of this project?
HC: The book on Kafka is coming out in about 6 to 7 months. It was meant to be the first in three books on critical philosophy. These books are focused on instead of trying to get pure judgments, to achieve legitimate knowledge like Kant does, [these text] do the opposite. That is to start with defiance, what happens to philosophizing when you start with defiance. What insecurities and reason become endangered, instead of secured, like with Kant. These three texts mirror the critical philosophy texts of Kant.
The first text is about what truth looks like under the conditions of defiance. In relationship of looking towards law or reason, we look at accidents. It asks the question: what does truth look like through the lens of Kafka in relationship to an accident? It takes Kafka’s insurance writing and says he is not the writer of domination, and bureaucratic subjugation, but in fact he is writing about accidents. So basically it is an ontology of the accident. What happens to truth when it is just a matter of an accident? 
The second one you know, On Resistance, which is based off of The Critique of Practical Reason. So it asks, what should we do and how should we act? So instead of saying we should be more abiding citizens, it is saying that resistance is first and it is the law that is dictated in order to forestall resistance. Defiance comes first and the law comes after.
The third volume, which I am working on, is called The Aesthetics of Madness. And it is looking at the art made in mad houses in the first half of the 20th century. So I was looking at the way in which art objects were produced by people who have lost their reason, [who] have entered the art market as Art Brut, with Dubuffet and how that happened. Basically it is breaking the link between what Kant talks about in the third critique between beauty and reason. It asks what works as beauty when reason is endangered?

RD: Clever!
HC: So it is a perversion of the Critique. It asks why are these objects that these people [with no reason] made classify as art? How did they challenge our understanding of art and its relationship to philosophy? So [as a whole] it is three critiques but done backwards. So the Kafka book will be out next fall and the last text the following fall. When I finish that last book that will probably be it for me.
RD: You say that now…
HC: I say that now, but obviously, well!

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Frieze London 2015: The Aesthetics of Unification

The Frieze London 2015 art show was a mixture of surrealist pop art, iconic antiquities, and the extraordinary alongside the effete. The galleries represented were from all over the world, not just from Paris and New York as one might expect. Artists included were your usual big name classics, such as Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso and Willem de Kooning. However, you also had up-and-coming artists such as female Iraqi painter Hayv Kahraman and African artist Kudzanai Chiurai.
Surprisingly a number of installations on the premises physically brought people together, forcing them outside of their comfort zones. Rachel Rose’s carpeted crawl-through tent brought everyone who dared to enter face to face with each other in seclusion from the outside world. That space, complete with music and colored lights, resembled something like a trance zone. The ÅYR’s Frieze Project was a succession of bedrooms including screen-printed duvets, hanging lamps, and iPhone chargers. There were school groups of children jumping on the ÅYR beds, a mix of eclectic eccentrics alongside conservatives. Something most striking was galleries representing hostile countries situated within a single space. Even so, the atmosphere was relaxed and everyone was at peace with one another. Overall, the fair had the appearance of one giant party. 

the futures
the question
the unexpected 
the warning
the forests
the stories
the lives
the worthy
the desperation
the fearful
the beaten
the abused 
the forgotten
the lost
the decontextualization
the abstraction
the sublime
the silence 
the awakening 

the bridge 

Inspired by the 2015 Venice Biennale 

All photographs taken at the 2015 #VeniceBiennale

Friday, July 11, 2014

Verity and the Myths of Zeus

The beginnings of the contemporary understanding of myths are particularly associated with early nineteenth century discourses on secularism and colonialism. The battle of the sciences for authority over the church and similar powers in their ‘truth-claims’ about reality, led to continued debate on the rational and irrational in the aim towards verity. This was intricately linked with prevailing theories on race and empire, class, sexuality, the civilized world and the primitive, and in such light the term ‘myth’ and all of its associations were set as degrading - references to the fabulous, untrustworthy, deceptive, and non-rational. These discourses were directed in large at the belief systems of colonial imperialism, at “other” people; however through the lenses of universalist and transhistorical theories, they were also increasingly directed within - at the internalized and barbarian otherness inherent in modern ‘civilized’ man with all of its complex expressions. In this paper I will be referencing Craig Owens’s “The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism”, Sigmund Freud’s “A General Introduction of Psychoanalysis”, Slavoj Žižek’s “The Sublime Object of Ideology” and Jacques Lacan’s “The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis”, amongst various other peripheral resources. The dramatic and textual arts of myths provides a wealth of substantial material to these theories in their uncovering of universalist and transhistorical codes in expressions - particularly those of Classical Greece with which this paper will focus. The argument here however, is that relativism and universalism are malleable terms, and that the postulates of myth and those of philosophy are best seen as forms of local knowledge. To this end, in the following essay I will argue that historical metaphysical postulatesabout reality should not be interpreted by the standards of transhistorical philosophy. It is my hope that this will ultimately lead us to explore the broader question: to which (and whose) reality is it that myth speaks to? Past theories have cited that myths can be translated into allegorical impulses. An allegorical impulse is an examination of why humans are driven towards creating stories with hidden and symbolic meanings. “Every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably”, Walter Benjamin (Owens, 67). This quote has interesting implications for the question –“to which (and whose) reality do myths speak to?” – as it is only through their validity to present concerns (their ability to speak to the present) that myths continue to be relevant.1 The question then unfolds into the following – how and why the interaction between myths and the theories and philosophies which have addressed them in the modern and contemporary world remain relevant. Like the term ‘allegorical impulse’ this essay will be dealing with several other keywords. These keywords are principles in the discourse of the topic in hand. It is imperative to examine these keywords here before addressing their additional readings as the essay bridges the gap between the dialogical players and the myths themselves. The first in these definitions is the word itself: myth – The word myth is derived from the Greek word muthos. It has a very different meaning in contemporary times than it did in Classical Greece. “For them muthos was a true story, a story that unveils the true origin of the world and human beings. “ (Partenie, Stanford Online) For Hegel, the myth was something to be un-shrouded by philosophy (Kojéve, 78). In these two notions we see an opposition. In philosophy, the “truth” became the story and muthos became the myth. Plato himself had a hand with this exchange, as he would often use traditional myths in addition to his own invented ones for academic purposes (Partenie, Stanford Online). Transhistorical - the second keyword - holds to the idea that a concept can transcend a particular period of time in history. Various aspects of the human condition can be given as an example of being transhistorical. Transhistorical can be something that is considered “timeless” in nature - applicable to all humanity in all times (Oxford Online). The third keyword is Universality or the universal; according to Kant a proposition that is thought of as universal is a priori; independent of experience. Universality in a way is in direct opposition to relativism - that certain truths exist, but only under certain circumstances and contextual means. Universality, in opposition, refers to a “truth” that exists within the whole of the universe (Johnson, Stanford Online). The last few keywords are all covered in depth in their application to the Greek myths of Zeus & Alcmene and Zeus & Semele. The two particular myths that I have chosen pertaining to Zeus encompass what could be interpreted in philosophical terms as symbology. Searching for hidden meanings in myths, symbology implies that they have an allegorical nature, allowing us to keep myths relevant, to rescue them from historical oblivion – it follows that with each breakthrough in theory, philosophy, psychology, and cognitive science, that we can continuously see them in a new and refreshed light (Owens, 68). Freud related symbolism to dreams. His psychoanalytic analysis of his patients consisted of the interpretation of dreams. He believed that the unconscious mind would create wish-fulfilling dreams, and hide these desires in symbology. Each symbol would only give specific meaning to the individual dreamer. This brings up the concept of subject and object. In this case, the subject is the dreamer and the object would be the dream. A term like psychoanalysis can be mercurial in nature as there is no fixed meaning. However, using the OED’s and Freud’s definitions as a reference point, one could say that psychoanalysis is a method of psychological therapies which attempt to treat mental conditions by exploring the interface between conscious and unconscious fundamentals of the mind. In using these observations a psychoanalyst may help the subject to bring their repressed fears into conscious being. In this way the story of Zeus and Alcmene would very likely be treated as a symbolic, psychoanalytical dream. So the question must be asked, “Who is the dreamer?” Alcmene was the daughter of King Tiryns, Electryon. She was considered the most beautiful and wise of all mortal women. Alcmene was exiled to the land of Thebes to marry Amphitryon. However she refused to sleep with Amphitryon, until he had sought revenge, on her behalf, for the wrongful death of her brothers. Zeus took advantage of Amphitryon’s absence in order to seduce the stunning Alcmene. When Amphitryon had gone, Zeus changed his form into Alcmene’s soon to be husband and returned home in his guise. He proclaimed that he had revenged her brothers and would now claim his reward. Alcmene willingly gave herself to him, believing in his facade. With this union a child was conceived and was later born as the hero Hercules. Amphitryon returned to Thebes, unhappy with the union of Zeus and Alcmene, but unable to do any thing, as he was only a mortal man (N.W.E.).
This painting by Giulio Romano painted in 1525, called “The Lovers”, illustrates a reinterpretation of Zeus and Alcmene. The Classical Greek Period was fixed between 500-335 BC and this painting was painted during the Renaissance. Allegory was considered highly popular during the Renaissance, making Greek Myths a clear favorite amongst many painters. However, that is all these paintings were, allegorical interpretations. “Allegory and symbol – like all conceptual pairs, the two are far from evenly matched. In modern aesthetics, allegory is regularly subordinated to the symbol, which represents the supposedly indissoluble unity of form and substance which characterizes the work of art as pure presence”(Owens, 81). Žižek would say, in the spirit of Lacan, that in the action of Zeus taking Alcmene there is a void. The action itself holds no meaning. However the pretext for setting the action in motion holds meaning to the subject: Alcmene. The pretext of the said action is the object of the subject. Amphitryons’ return to Thebes would symbolically take on the role of the Real. The paradox that this action would cause could be described as an ‘excrement’ of the Real. It is the symbology of what is Real, the truth, which holds these individuals together. “In other words, the imaginary balance changes into a symbolical network through the shock of the Real. The symbolic structure must include an element, which embodies its ‘stain’, its own point of impossibility around which it is articulated: in a way it is the structuring of its own impossibility” (Žižek, 207). “This suggestion would find an important point of rapprochement between the structuralist and psychoanalytic approaches to myth in Freud’s thought” (N.W.E.). Structuralism is a theoretical concept that argues that certain elements in human activity can only be understood by looking at the larger picture. What structuralism professes to do is examine the underlying things that people do and how they think, act, and feel (Audi, 181). The shock of the Real would have been a structuralist intervention into the actions of Zeus and Alcmene. The question must be asked, “Is Alcmene really the subject, the dreamer?” This transhistorical myth is an important truth to the Ancient Greek people; it is not just an allegory for the futurists. “ The basic gesture of ‘structuralism’ is to reduce the imaginary richness to a formal network of symbolic relations: what escapes the structuralist perspective is that this formal structure is itself tied by an umbilical cord to some radically contingent material element which, in its pure particularity, ‘is’ a structure, embodies it. Why? Because the big “Other”, the symbolic order, is always failed, crossed out, mutilated and the contingent material element embodies this internal blockage, limit, of the symbolic structure” (Žižek, 208).  “Symbolization of the Imaginary” (Žižek, 209) Alcmene is not the one dreaming the dream. She does not pose as the true subject; the dreamer would be the population of the Ancient Greeks, which would make them the subject. The dream itself is the object.
Image reference: Žižek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. “Lacan: Encore”. London and New York: Verso, 1989. P. 209  Its perhaps one thing to analyze a single patient on a single couch, but to sit an entire culture upon it is another entirely, especially when that culture is a historical one. The past can only speak in one direction. There is no mutual or level-footed conversation it can hold with us, and because of this, we can place any number of interpretations upon it. In a sense it becomes a kind of “Other”, one, which is much more related to the values, and postulates which are applied to it than those of the previous reality of itself. Transhistorical theories seem to overlook this, and because of that, they cannot meet the past on its own terms. This is certainly a productive line of enquiry, but its creating symbols and the hidden forces behind them for a historical culture, which would not have been recognized by them. It undermines their versions of reality, and through focusing on the ulterior motives of creation stories, loses sight of its own providence and the forces, which have influenced and brought it into being. It’s almost like looking at a phantom reality through the lens of a constructed reality. Although myth is intrinsically bound to the political, social, and moral concerns of its culture, it does not necessarily mean that these are reflected back into the myth in such a clean or simple way; neither is it correct to apply science as a truth over the actual beliefs of the culture. Because although the transhistorical approach is able to provide a convincing argument for the hidden meaning behind these symbols, it does so at the expense of not understanding or seeking to understand the context of the use of myths in everyday practice. The transhistorical approach, in a sense, forces the data to conform to its theory, while selectively overlooking competing or alternative versions.
The second myth is of Zeus and Semele. Semele was a mortal priestess of Zeus. One day Zeus saw her slaughter a bull as a sacrifice at his altar. Afterwards, Semele, went to wash in the river Asopus, in order to cleanse the blood from herself. As Zeus flew over in the form of an eagle, he fell desperately in love with Semele. Later, he came to visit her in secret and they consummated their feelings for each other, conceiving a child. Zeus’s wife Hera, became jealous after discovering the affair. Masked as an old crone, Hera befriended Semele and gained her confidence. Semele confided in Hera that Zeus was her lover. Hera proclaimed that she did not believe her and demanded proof. Semele began to question Zeus and demanded of him that he grant her a wish. Out of his absolute love for Semele, Zeus swore that he would give her anything that she so desired. She asked Zeus to reveal his true form to her. Zeus protested proclaiming that it, was dangerous, Semele persisted. Zeus, reluctant, but not wanting to go back on his word, did as she asked and revealed his true nature. Semele, being a mortal, was unable to handle Zeus in all of his glory, and burst into flames. Zeus rescued the unborn child from her belly and sewed it into his own leg. Later the child was birthed from Zeus’s calf, and named Dionysus (N.W.E.). There is a great tragic air to this story of life, love, jealousy, destruction, and rebirth. This painting of Semele by Gustave Moreau, titled “Jupiter and Semele” (Jupiter was the Roman version of Zeus), was painted between the years 1894-95. Moreau was a leader in the Symbolist movement of the 19th century, which channeled Renaissance art. The Symbolists were known for constructing their own meanings out of historical references and feeding their emotions and imaginations into them. As a work of art, this painting is stimulating and emotionally charged. However here once again we have a painting that is taking its values from the allegorical nature of artwork in the Renaissance time (Allan, 19th CAW). “This mystery is, in the final analysis, the mystery of the transference itself: to produce new meaning, it is necessary to presuppose its existence in the Other” (Žižek, 210) Like Mareus’s painting of Zeus and Semele, the use of the mirror as a means of interpreting alterity, Lacan’s “the gaze” achieves a similar solution. Jacques Lacan used Freudian theory to develop the concept of “the gaze”. As described by Lacan, “the gaze” is a state of consciousness created in the subject after awareness takes place. This is the association that develops between the eye and the gaze. A degree of autonomy is lost once the individual becomes visible. “In so far as I am under the gaze, Sartre writes, I no longer see the eye that looks at me and, if I see the eye, the gaze disappears.” (Lacan, 84) Lacan disagrees, saying no this is not the case, but rather that “when I am under the gaze, when I solicit a gaze, when I obtain it, I do not see it as a gaze...The gaze sees itself - to be precise, the gaze of which Sartre speaks, the gaze that surprises me and reduces me to shame, since this is the feeling he regards as the most dominant. The gaze I encounter – is, not a seen gaze, but a gaze imagined by me in the field of the ‘Other’ “ (Lacan, 84). “We can apprehend this privilege of the gaze in the function of desire, by pouring ourselves, as it were, along the veins through which the domain of vision has been integrated into the field of desire.” (Lacan, 85). The concept of desire is crucial to Lacan’s account of sexuality. Desire is defined as the “remainder” of the subject (Rose, 55). How does fantasy and desire relate to each other? According to Rose, “when the subject addresses its demands outside itself to another, this other becomes the fantasied place...of certainty. The “Other” appears to hold the “truth” of the subject and the power to make good its loss...” According to Lacan, we gain acknowledgment by the “Other”. We are made whole by the “Other’s” recognition of us. We can have a sense of ourselves, but it cannot be solidified until we are looked at from the outside, how we are seen from an outside view. This “Other” becomes a fantasy place - fulfillment through fantasy. We give the “Other” power to satisfy our own needs and demands (Rose, 56). The gaze becomes the filter. The eye has the function of seeing. In this particular instance, “the woman that is being looked at”, but knows she is being looked at - the woman (Semele) is the object and subject of desire; she is both. Semele saw herself, or the greatness that she desired in herself, in Zeus. She was a high priestess for his temple; this is a position of high esteem. She admired Zeus. In the root of admiration for another, one usually seeks the same in oneself. Semele sought out “the gaze” of Zeus, in order to solidify herself. Semele loved and worshiped Zeus, she wanted him to see her, thus justifying her existence. This path caused a domino effect. Zeus’s wife Hera took notice and became jealous, which led to Semele’s demise. This is just another example, of an interpretation of the allegorical version of a Greek Classic, using transhistorical philosophy as the key method. Žižek says, “The problem arises, of course, when there are a number of mutually exclusive readings claiming access to the true meaning: how do we choose between them, how do we judge their claims?” Žižek suggests that it is through the use of ‘Eternal reflection’ that a way can be found to transpose the ‘essence’ or truth of a text, “making of it a transcendent ‘Thing-in-itself’. All that is accessible to us, finite subjects, are distorted reflections, partial aspects deformed by our subjective perspective, the Truth-in-itself, the true meaning of the text, is lost for ever” (Žižek, 242). Žižek attains that we can never know what the Greeks really meant. That truth is unattainable, because of ‘historical distance’. A way of attaining some influencing truth would be to look at it from the perspective of the ‘succession of historical influences of the text’. How did these stories affect the Greeks, and in turn the Renaissance, Freud, Lacan and so forth. “And to accomplish the‘determinate reflection’, we have only to experience how this problem of the ‘true’, ‘original’ meaning ‘in-itself’” is. The real truth that can be found “ in the series of subsequent readings, than in its supposedly ‘original’ meaning’.” In other words, “the Truth of a thing emerges because the thing is not accessible to us in its immediate self- identity” (Žižek, 243). We must be aware of our actions and how they can cause a reaction in reinterpreting these myths through transhistorical philosophy, not putting said “Truths” onto the meaning of the myths, but finding the only “Truth” that we can find in them by looking at their historical value. Emmanuel Levinas, the philosopher, gives a good example of how our actions can cause a reaction. “The comedy begins with our simplest gestures. They all entail an inevitable awkwardness. Reaching out my hand to pull a chair toward me, I have folded the arm of my jacket, scratched the floor, and dropped my cigarette ash. In doing what I willed to do, I did a thousand and one things I hadn't willed to do. The act was not pure, it left traces. Wiping away these traces, I left others. Sherlock Holmes will apply his science to this irreducible coarseness of each of my initiatives, and thus the comedy may take a tragic turn. When the awkwardness of the act is turned against the goal pursed, we are in the midst of tragedy.”(Levinas, 3). Conclusion: In this essay we have explored two Classic Greek myths and demonstrated how they can be viewed under the light of transhistorical concepts. Although psychoanalysis and its paradigms are able to provide convincing arguments concerning the nature of the mind, we hold that it is unable to meet the past on its own terms, or to accept contexts outside of the agenda of its theory. These inherent difficulties make it too problematic for universalist or transhistorical approaches to be applied to these myths, and I feel that the very nature of these problems call for a more local and contextual understanding of them - where multiple viewpoints and contexts can be presented over grand ‘truth-claims’. As stated in the introduction, relativism and universalism, are malleable terms, and I believe that they should not be placed in competition as a result, but rather that both could be used to help inform us of the broader picture. It’s never a simple case of the rational and irrational, the specific and the general, the subjective and the objective, but an appreciation, awareness, and understanding of them all in combination. Science believes in concrete laws and rules, which can be applied and tested in the physical world, but I do not believe that this is something that can be said of elements outside of this world. As we have seen, when you attempt to pull history close to you, to place laws and codes upon it, you cannot help but obscure it. I think, however, that this investigation leads us to several interesting viewpoints on the nature of art, perhaps central of which is whether art itself is capable of transcending the context and frame of reference in which it was created - as with the concepts we’ve examined, I believe it can, but not in a fixed way. As Žižek maintains - the truth is unattainable because of the ‘historical distance’ that remains between the Ancient Greeks and the now. However the real truth can be found in the historical effect of myth on writers,philosophers, and artists, and what it meant to them. And in mind of our introductory question: they will speak to all realities, everybody’s reality, at the same time. Works Cited Texts: Bertrand Russell, The History of Western Philosophy, Simon & Schuster, 1972. Freud, Sigmund. A General Introduction of Psychoanalysis, “The Psychology of Errors First Lecture”(Kindle version). P.6, 7,10,11,18,25,39 Gay, Peter. The Freud Reader. W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. 1995. Kenny, Anthony. A New History of Western Philosophy, “Schopenhauer on Renunciation”. Oxford University Press, 2010. P.219-224 Kojéve, Alexander. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Ed. Alan Bloom. Trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. Ithica: Cornell UP, 1969. Lacan, Jacques. The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. Alan Sheridan. New York and London: Norton, 1978. Levinas, Emmanuel. Entre-Nous. Trans. Michael B. Smith and Barbara Harshaw. New York: Columbia UP, 1998.  Morford, Mark P.O. and Lenardon, Robert J., Classical Mythology, Seventh Edition. Oxford University Press, 2000. Owens, Craig. The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism, Vol.12. MIT Press, 1980. Rose, Jacqueline. Sexuality in the Field of Vision. London & New York: Verso, 2006. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Second Edition. Ed. Robert Audi. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Zirpolo, Lilian H. Historical Dictionary of Baroque Art and Architecture. Estover Road, Plymouth, United Kingdom. 2010. Žižek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. London and New York: Verso, 1989. Films: The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology. Dir. Sophie Fiennes. Perf. Slavoj Žižek. 2012. Images: Mareau, Gustave, Jupiter and Semele. 1894. Romano, Giulio, The Lovers. 1525. Oil on panel, transferred to canvas, 163 x 337cm.  Žižek, Slavoj. The Sublime Object of Ideology. “Lacan: Encore”. London and New York: Verso, 1989. P. 209 Internet Resources: MMIX Encyclopedia Mythic. Ed. Jamie Cisco. May 1999. Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: a journal of nineteenth-century visual culture. “Gustave Moreu’s “Archeological Allegory”. Scott Allan. 2013. Oxford Dictionaries. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Catalin Partenie. “Plato’s Myths” 2011. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Robert Johnson. “Kant’s Moral Philosophy” 2008.  Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Ed. Sandra Shapshay. “Schopenhauer’s Aesthetics”. 2012. New World Encyclopedia. “Greek Mythology” 2007. Theoi Project Ed. Aaron J. Atsma, New Zealand. 2011. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Form and Content at the Centre Pompidou, Paris

This essay offers a brief discussion on the discourse of Kantian form vs. Hegelian content in relation to the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France. Can form and content coexist in one architectural entity? My argument is that the Centre Pompidou, outwardly displays Kantian form, and yet at the same time, holds Hegelian content throughout its collective spirit. In terms of defining form and content, we will use the following definitions: Eternal Kantian Form, is one which holds line and geometric shape but without the content. Hegelian Content is the concepts and history of an object. Modernism was a celebration of form, a metaphorical shedding of the allegory. But you cannot have form without content. Postmodernism came along and fractured form. It changed the way people saw and were seen in their constructed theories on art and philosophy. Now form could be something, which could also hold content. With this new sight it was apparent that everything has content. One of the architectural landscapes that could be said to hold both form and content is the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The architectural team consisting of Rogers, Piano and Franchini, designed this complex entity in 1977. The center is considered a great achievement in the forth coming of Postmodernist Structuralism. Le Figaro, a daily French newspaper, in reaction to the Centre stated, “Paris has its own monster, just like the one in Loch Ness.” (Silver). The building’s skeletal like “pure form” had never been encountered in Paris before, nor has it since. A new library and one of the greatest collections of Fine Art was placed within the Centre and made open to the public, this helped to pass the aversion. The Pritzker jury said the Pompidou, “revolutionized museums, transforming what had once been elite monuments into popular places of social and cultural exchange, woven into the heart of the city.” (Pogrebin). Can form and content coexist in one architectural entity? The Centre Pompidou in Paris proves this possibility making the world a better place for it now and for future generations to come.