On Art or the Appearing of Disappearance
/1/ – What has art been?
Nigel Cooke’s Morning is Broken
Following Alain Badiou (as per usual) I stand by the fact that art remains one of the fields of truth (the others being science, politics and love). This is not to simply drudge up the old relation of truth and beauty nor I’m I suggesting that art has a relation to one truth.
Badiou rejects these interrelated ideas outright. He criticizes the Platonic notion that art serves as a sad echo to the Truth (the blazing sun outside the cave’s lip). Badiou points out how this explains the Greek obsession with the exercise of mimesis, the imitation of literary forms. Badiou goes on to say how this didactic treatment of art leads to an assumption that philosophy’s job is to lord over art deciding its worth as a mirror of truth.
On the other extreme there is the romantic notion of art, that it is the vehicle for truth. However, Badiou is optimistic that “between didactic banishment and romantic glorification” there is some peace between art and philosophy (Handbook of Inaesthetics, p. 3). This peace is set in terms of the third scheme, what he calls the symbolic scheme, that of art as catharsis.
Badiou closes his little history by pointing out that the avant-garde tried to (unsuccessfully) destroy modernism. The avant-garde combined the two aforementioned problematic views of art – the didactic and the romantic.
If there is to be a third way, a diagonal to cut across this opposition, Badiou argues that one must acknowledge the state of the world of art today. This world, much like the political world, is trapped in an oscillation between two extremes – that of the world of bodies (the search for pleasures, the celebration of the body) and that of the idealistic/theological subject/world of art. The world is all a war of enjoyment versus sacrifice. The “contemporary responsibility of artistic creation” is to search for this third way. For Badiou something must happen (an Event) in which artists, recognizing the trace of such an event, dedicate themselves to creating a new form of art, a new immanent infinity.
/2/ – Music and drawing
If the goal is a kind of immanent infinity, a new form in art, how is this possible in Badiou’s terms? One problem is that Badiou’s focus when he discusses art tends to be on prose and poetry and spends precious time on other things. One issue that comes up because of this is the fact that Badiou discusses the subjective paradigm of art as a solitary one. When discussing music, Badiou’s only example of an event in the musical world is that of Arnold Schoenberg’s invention of atonality. Is politics necessarily the only field of truth that is social? Does art need to be individual? There seems to be some crossover particularly when it comes to art collectives. Art collectives are often political and by their very definition eschew an individualistic approach to art.
There is a lingering feeling, however, that political art, if such a thing is possible, is a lesser form of art. There is some phantom of impurity when a group such as the NSK (Neue Slowenische Kunst or New Slovenian Art) and in particular, its musical branch Laibach. Laibach utilizes intentionally over the top fascist imagery in order to rile people up in order to highlight political complacency. NSK has also, interestingly, made it’s claim as a micronation and issues passports and stamps. The issue here, to return to Badiou’s theories of art, is the relationship between art and place. In the most recent issue of Lacanian Ink, Badiou has a short article entitled “Drawing” in which he discusses the (non)relation of place and art.
In his article Badiou defines contemporary art as that of description without place. Drawing, however, posses a more complicated problem in comparison to other forms of art because of its fragility. He writes:
“In one sense, the paper exists, as a material support, as a closed totality; and the marks, or the lines, do not exist by themselves: they have to compose something inside the paper. But in an other and more crucial sense, the paper as a background does not exist, because it is created as such, as an open surface, by the marks” (p. 44).
The play of existence and inexistence
For anyone one who is interested in the arts involving ‘mechanical reproduction’ such as photography or cinema, this should raise a warning bell. As far as I know, Badiou has remained silent on photography and his comments on film have been less then forgiving.
/3/ – Impure Cinema?
Badiou and his sometime friend sometime adversary Jacques Rancière seem to agree that cinema is the most impure of the arts. For Badiou, as he argues in “The False Movements of Cinema”, film is about what is cut out of what is seen and it is predominantly that of the have seen (p. 78, Handbook of Inaesthetics). Cinema is the art that operates upon the other arts, it implies all of the other arts within it. If there is a uniqueness to film it is how its subtractive nature works with the the other forms of art. The relationship, for Badiou, ultimately decides that film is the great impurifier. It clears the way for other impurities.
In his Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art, Badiou suggests that all art must begin with impurity but that it must slowly shape itself, following the trace of the event, in to order to create a singular truth that has universal appeal.
However, as Rancière points out, cinema is far more capable of surprise then many other forms of art, and it being marked a mass art, is not necessarily damning. However, if Badiou is adamant that art must be abstract, is it only the surprising new form it takes that can be didactic? Does art, as soon as it’s combined with the political, lose any possibility as an artistic singularity, as something which offers a new form in art?
Here cinema steps in as an interesting form because, as Badiou himself states, it is a kind of formless form that constantly reinvents itself because it is defined by the cut, the edit, the not seen or the have seen which is always the object of reminiscence.
Élie During in her article “How much Truth can Art bear?” points out that Badiou’s inaesthetics isn’t a new form of art in and of itself but more like a slogan. During criticizes, by way of Rancière, Badiou’s hold of modernism, claiming that he hangs on to a ‘twisted kind’ of modernism. Because of this During argues that Badiou’s insistence on art finding a new form has more to do with his view of how philosophy should relate to art and less to do with the form of art itself.
A commodified kiss?
Jean-Luc Godard’s film Pierrot le fou is an interesting film to discuss here. Rancière writes: “When in Pierrot le fou, 1965, a film without a clear political message, Belmondo played on the word ‘scandal’ and the ‘freedom’ that the Scandal girdle supposedly offered women, the context of a Marxist critique of commodification, of pop art derision at consumerism and of a feminist denunciation of women’s false ‘liberation’, was enough to foster a dialectical reading of the joke and the whole story.”
In many ways Rancière’s comment reflects Badiou’s comment about the aforementioned tension between disappearing and appearing and highlight a strain that is unique to cinema. Goddard is known for the following quote “Photography is truth. The cinema is truth twenty-four times per second.” The unacknowledged bit to this quote is that the very speed of film, looked at in terms of Paul Virilio’s dromology (or logic of speed) is not so much that cinema is ‘more true’ in terms of quantity, but that film is true because of its speed, because its very speed is what gives it its ‘truthfulness’.
/4/ – Film’s fragility
The failing heartbeat
In an amalgam of form and content, Alfonso Cuarón Orozco’s Children of Men embodies this tense fragility well. The film centers around the idea that in the near future all women become completely infertile and most of the world has descended into chaos or become a police state. In Britain, illegal immigrants are detained and treated as animals and the rich live in isolated comfort. The film follows Theodore (Clive Owen) who finds himself, due to an old flame (Julianne Moore) responsible for the only pregnant woman on the planet.
The film is incredibly intense and in particular, several scenes near the end of the film are harrowing as Kee, the first mother in eighteen years, tries to protect her baby as she is pulled into a war zone. As the British army lays siege to the ghetto of illegal immigrants what is missing on screen (Kee’s child) and what is unknown to the viewer (the fate of the child) crystallize into the fragile tension of appearing and disappearing.
Film’s status as the great impurifier should be read along with Badiou’s discussion of drawing.
The difficulty in discussing film, as Badiou himself points out, is that it always is and is not at the same time. While drawing re-edifies the background with its marks, filling the blank page at once but at the same time ‘pushing’ it to form a background – film questions the unreality of the filmed (staged) ‘reality’ – in other words the film utilizes the non-filmic world to create a world which is an imperfect screen of that reformed world.
Children of Men is a film about the possible goal of human genercity in a world which fear of immigrants has gone to obscene limits. The film is not ‘about’ any of these components per se, but is about the idea of a possible future amongst the impossible (an idea should be taken to mean a world without place, a place without place). The ship of the Human project (a pseudo mythical think tank/group trying to save humanity) named Tomorrow embodies this idea.
Despite the impurities of cinema, if impurities are really what they are, it remains, as Rancière says, the most democratic of the arts. The apparent paradox here is the fact that film utilizes the cut, the edit, the limitation. But what is important here is to take this cut, following Žižek’s reading of St Paul’s radical universality, as a universal cut. It is not the universality where nothing is at state, but the push for universality that bursts through the rotting roots of our fetid failures.
The master of morbid fecundity
Like the ethics of noir, the difficulties of being embedded in the failed world should not entice us, to borrow a phrase from Badiou, to drink the alcohol of nihilism, but instead press upon us importance of responsibility. At the beginning of Edgar Allen Poe’s Tell Tale Heart there is the following quote from Longfellow:
“Art is long and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.”
The beating of the hideous heart, of the first infant/last hope, insures the fragility of film but of its mass appeal.
Filed under: art, Badiou, film, music | 2 Comments