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Big time sensuality: co-aesthesis and the end of indiscernibilia-philia

Michael Angelo Tata
p. 155-168


In this essay, I examine Arthur C. Danto s highly influential thesis that Andy Warhols Brillo Box ends art by obviating the need for art object to differ sensually from ordinary object. Coining the term Co-aesthesis, I demonstrate that it is only by improperly applying Extensionalism that anyone is able to make the claim that the Brillo Box is substantively equivalent to a Brillo Box in the first place: if we just work harder to coordinate the various visual, tactile and contextual data striking our sensorium, we can arrive at a very different spot than the place from which we witness art ending — especially when we consider the revelations about multi-dimensionality in the realm of physics. To help make my point, I use Italian philosopher Tiziana Andina’s recent book Arthur Danto: Philosopher of Pop and her interpretation that, after Danto, a sensual Aesthetics parts company from a conceptual and sensually inert Philosophy of Art.

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Testo integrale

Only connect.
E.M. Forster, Howard’s End

1. Behind the Beyond

1For postmodern Aesthetic Theory, the problem of what to do with indiscern- ibles is not one to be taken lightly, in particular as more and more objects take on the guise of being mass-produced, minimally manipulated, found, stolen, plagiarized, repurposed, desecrated, detoured, détourned or otherwise rendered indistinguishable from things that do not bear the impress of a human hand acting at the behest of a creative consciousness tumescent with intention. Through the thought of Arthur C. Danto, whose Analytic Philosophy of Art in a work like his influential and experimental Transfiguration of the Commonplace recommends a transcending of the sensual surface and leap into a non-sensuous, cerebral set of semanticized interpretations, the art object ceases being an issue of form, color, scale, weight or retinal residue, and more a thought problem shaken free from the zone of theoretical physics and applied to questions of display, exhibition and aesthetic materiality, even subjectivity, if we extend his ideas to the fabricative mind producing art and poetry in the first place, an “aesthetic subjectivity,” in the language of Christophe Menke in his Sovereignty of Art: Aesthetic Negativity in Adorno and Derrida. Via Danto, the problem of mechanical reproducibility, which for the Walter Benjamin of Illuminations was primarily a crisis in aural dissipation, becomes rephrased in the language of the thought problem, deflecting it toward the level of the conceptual, where seemingly identical items are divorced from intention and intension alike - in order to prove a point about contemporary aesthetic production and the total fusion of high and the low, extraordinary art and ordinary life, trash and class, all in a flash.

  • 1 See, for example, Wittgensteins physiognomization of Modal Logic in The Blue and Brown Books-. «Let (...)

2In the looking glass world of Danto s indiscernibilia, a washing machine can miraculously produce Rembrandts, while a box of scouring pads scrubs the Art World clean of the illusion that there can be a sovereign art-pour-l’art or any such autoerotic luxury: sorry, Oscar Wilde, but there is no longer the chance that spheres of production can be so neatly packaged and cordoned off from one another; Aubrey Beardsley, kindly bring St. Rose of Lima back down from the heavens, please, and place her in Aisle 6 of the Pik-n-Save, where she’ll be in charge of synthetic weaves for brides-to-be and aspirant transvestites. That is, unless there were a way to return to sensation, to retain ominous entities like the History of Art and the Artworld without losing sight — and touch, taste, the whole synaesthetic panoply - of the rich tissue of co-ordinated sensations that combine to produce the objet in its niche, a sensual amalgam that does not so easily dissolve into figure and ground (Gestalt Theory), structure and event (Barthesian poststructuralism), or any similar binomial keeping a thing separate from a milieu and ordering them as somehow distinguishable from one another. For it is my contention in this essay that sensuality needs to be enriched, not abandoned, returned to generously in the interest of giving back to the work of art its physical due, and of recapturing the somatic dimension of thought, which as Ludwig Wittgenstein has been correct to note in his largely anecdotal and conversational work after the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus is itself intimately and autonomically coordinated with movements, facial expressions, tics and physiognomies that are not simply subtracted from the organic complex of “thinking” as present participle verb implying continuous action and motion, for they compose it as much as they are composed by it, and are in every way a feature of its ordering, inseparable, indivisible, alive1.

3The problem with Danto s transfigurational maneuver is that, along the way, «Danto» becomes «Dantos» Analytic Philosopher coming into conflict with Philosopher of Pop, as Tiziana Andina boldly rechristens him in her Andy Warhol: Philosopher of Pop, these dual, dueling Dantos playing their banjos in the cool moonlight as au revoir to an art that can figure historically and operate according to an aesthetic version of the correspondence theory launched by Gottlob Frege in his Foundations of Arithmetic: image corresponds with object (Representation), or emotion corresponds with deviation from objective presentation (Expression). That Danto uncannily doubles is something which first came to my attention when I was researching and writing my Warhol investigation, Sublime Superficiality (Intertheory Press, 2010). For me, it became apparent that it was only when Danto ceased being a philosopher, and in particular one of the analytic ilk, that he finally grasped the Pop phenomenon he found exploding all around him in art gallery and ultimately on the street where the popular thrives among the visual din of advertisements and the sonic cacophony of commercial noise: that is, the very Proustian street symphony of temptation, offer, bargain and commodity competition at work outside his window in La Captive and in our present lives filling the streets with all the stuff of pop, gross, indiscriminate and loud.

4Later, when I was reviewing Italian scholar Tiziana Andina’s book for JAAC, her own interpretation of Danto left me puzzled, for it suggested that the postmodern object literally required two systems of interpretation within philosophy proper, as opposed to philosophy calling upon some other discipline, like psychoanalysis or anthropology, to come to its rescue as it fails to do its assigned work without summoning an interdisciplinary comrade to speak for it. In Andina’s analysis, the two competing intra-philosophical disciplines required to talk about the postDuchamp object are: (1) an Aesthetics, or science of the surface, and (2) a Philosophy of Art eschewing physicality and committed to the Begriff, therein departing from surface concerns entirely in a leap toward the concepts and ideas giving rise to the object and carving out an ontological space for it within oikos and chrematistics. In Andina’s words:

  • 2 Andina 2011:70

5You may have noticed that I speak of philosophy of art rather than aesthetics, and this is not accidental. As much as Dantos writings on philosophical questions tied to art are studied in the aesthetic realm (in an analytic field just as in a continental one), he often distances himself from aesthetics, especially from an aesthetics understood as “theory of perception”, in order to bring the reflection on art back to the heart of the philosophical and, notably, epistemological debate. Specifically, Danto considers aesthetics to be an invention of the eighteenth century that has clear political origins and is based on the same causes that were at the heart of the Platonic decision to expel artists from an ideal state2.

6Andina is correct: Danto’s legacy is this perceptual bifurcation, as the philosophy of art distances itself from its roots in sensation, leaving Baumgarten in a cloud of dust and making the experience of the objet anything but an issue of form, color, sound or substance, as I discuss in my review of her book.

  • 3 In Zizek’s Fragile Absolute, the end of art releases the excremental object from its subjugation be (...)

7For Andina, it is «that which the eye cannot see» that matters more than matter when the philosophy of art separates itself from perception, becoming almost completely immaterial, extended matter transformed into thinking matter: As 18lh-century relique, aesthetics might actually have ceased to be a meaningful way to discuss I’objet, as a non-sensuous philosophy supervenes to take on the role of describing and interpreting production, placement, and consumption. Reading Andina, I began almost immediately to conceive of Danto’s polemic differendy in Transfiguration and The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, even his recent Andy Warhol, as it finally became clear to me that through and after Warhol, aesthetics had not so much died, as much as it had multiplied, creating an unholy supplement challenging its very raison d’etre. What was at stake in the game of assigning the marker “work of art” to an “object” was not so much the Hegelianization of Art History, its redescription in the florid language of the fabulous bildungsroman Hegel poetically and luridly suggested for Geist in his Phenomenology of Spirit, but rather the problem that abandoning sensuality for some other philosophical discourse led only to its doubling through the doppelgdnger of a radically unphysical, disembodied set of propositions positioning the art object so far outside the flesh that it became little more than conceptual elaboration or mere procedure, the least necessary part of the process, the devalued thing imbued with excess value or Freudian Uberschàtzung as an exercise in romantic irony, an desublimated excremental object, in the language of psychoanalytic theorist Slavoj Zizek, for whom Courbet s l’Origine du Monde ends art, not the Brillo Box, opening the portal to an alternate art-historical cataclysm, one concerned not with discernibles, but with the hinge connecting the abject with the sublime, fecal object with divine presence3.

8What Richard Shusterman calls somaesthetics in his Body Consciousness or Performing Live: Aesthetic Alternatives for the End of Art is definitely a step in the right direction, and is an excellent corrective for Danto s philosophical and categorical leap into the incorrigibly abstract, but I would like to go even further than this Feldenkrais method of live thinking, returning to the sensational web that in the first place gives us the work of art, much as for the Derrida of Given Time it is the «donative consciousness» which presents the sense datum, making it materialize almost ex nihilo, as demonstrated by our use of the demonstrative pronoun in any of the expressions beginning with the words «There is» which we use to convey the fact that a presentation rising outside our own volition has occurred. “There is space,” “There is time,” etc.: the great parade of authorless noumeno, provided to the sensual apparatus as beneficent raw material through which a poiesis or making/gifting is possible is donated to consciousness, as is the objet, which, notwithstanding questions of aesthetic solipsism or noematic hallucination, can be described as a sensual “there” opening itself to the prosthetic workings of a sensorium instinctively programmed to process it. Re-somatizing the aesthetic is an important Deweyan move that allows the work of art to sync up with the many other sensations that are not related to the museum, gallery or atelier, revealing a sensual axis connecting the taste of lemon sorbet I devour as I sit on the steps of a closed pizzeria in Greenwich Village on a sultry August night that causes my hair glue to melt just a little, for example, with the feeling of awe the 18th-century poet experiences while encountering the rocky crags of an Alpine expanse: in the Deweyan scenario, the two are of a piece, occupying slots on a spectrum of sensation: art is experience, and directly so.

2. Extending Extensionalism

9As I have already mentioned, reading Andinas thought-provoking book about Danto, a quintessentially Italian response to his theories about art and life, left me with an unshakable ponderousness about the fate of thinking-about-art after a sensual Aesthetics is abandoned in favor of an incorporeal Philosophy of Art; namely. Andina forced me to reconsider what it meant for the future of art if we accepted the thesis that the Brillo Box was this consequential both in terms of the dephysicalization of art and the proffering of an incorporeal solution to Leibnizs Indiscernibility Principle according to which sensual qualities are matched in a one-to-one correspondence and identity rests upon there being total bijectionality. Clearly, using Extensionalism to account for similarities and differences between the elements comprising the set of art objects that begs the question of indiscernibility and the those stuffing the brackets of the set of human implements that are rendered indiscernible from their aesthetic counterparts in the first place was an elegant move, yet along with it came the unfortunate developments that now unequal entities could or would be improperly equated and that competing qualia could be passed over without incident under the tyranny of the visible. In the case of the Brillo Box, for example, simply not weighing the object in question would produce a falsely extensional result, while ignoring the glossy, almost glossolalie allure generated by the phonetic texture of the product name “brillo” would create a glaring failure to account for why other boxes in the Brillo series, such as the Del Monte or Kellogg s ones, are passed over entirely and never precipitate or participate in the end of anything, except perhaps hunger.

10These issues and others make me wonder about the viability of Extensionalism in its aesthetic application, since to me at least it is apparent that when one stretches or extends the limits of object and context, there really are no indiscernibles: simply put, an art gallery and its contents will never be mistaken for a supermarket or stock room and its loot, not by an art expert, and certainly not by a Unionized worked charged with managing the bulk of wholeseale aggregations of items for sale, as again. Brillo viciously begs the question of massa and moles, primary and secondary matter, individual thing and aggregate, in this Monadology of steel wool wonders. What are the limits of Extensionalism particularly within the language-games of art history, aesthetics, philosophy of art and art criticism, all supposedly related yet unique, selbstandig spheres that sometimes but not always communicate with one another? How far much we extend our analysis of the physical features of objects — and not just the visual ones, which Danto obviously favors — before we jump to the conclusion that any two are identical and in essence interchangeable, the one just as easily inserted into the context of the other in such a way that no ripples tear through spacetime to alert us that any substitution has occurred? Is there real substitutability or synonymy here, where an empty silkscreened crate or Box of Boxes whose kinetic name draws us in with that energetic terminal “O” indicating that an object is about to perform a function that absorbs and programs its identity entirely, as the advertising and marketing nomenclature goes, can be mistaken for a box of kitchen implements which is not a crate, but a box presumably taken from the Box of Boxes in the stock room of a grocery store and placed upon a shelf for sale, the labor of store employee differing fundamentally from the acquisitional behavior of a shopper, both of whom approach Brillo from different and irreconcilable angles? Crate resides in stock room; box resides on shelf: how can this distinction be ignored in this, Warhol’s most labor-intensive piece, according to David Bourdon, a sculpture that would more accurately be called Brillo Crate or Brillo Boxes if we took the boxing of boxes under proper consideration? Furthermore, would anyone in charge of emptying the Box of Boxes ever call it a box, or “Brillo Box”, in the first place? What is the behind-the-scenes parlance of the stockroom? Even the Type Theorist must concede that its physical properties have bumped it up to the next level of thingness, where boxes are themselves boxed as a kind of mimetic mindbender. It’s almost a pastiched version of Russell’s Paradox: the Box of Boxes that itself is or is not a box. The Box of Boxes is thus less an art-historical interrogative where Abstract Expressionism is washed clean and more the place where ergonomics and economics meet workplace Mereology. Reading Andina, I realize that it is only by setting in motion an unfortunate act of aesthetic epoche and allowing it to extricate the object forcibly from its natural habitat only to reinstall it in the neuter space of aesthetic consciousness that any set of simultaneous equations is ever able to be produced, and that we might be better off if we had never begun the game of subtraction in the first place, since all it can end in are false identities, reassuring and inert, «art in a box» and also boxes of art, neatly contained portions of exsanguinated aesthesis forced to stand in for one another so that pluralism might make some kind of sense in its pulverizing democratization of taste.

11For Andina, the reason Danto waved adieu to Aesthetics in the first place was a simple one: following the Leibnizian principle of indiscernability upon which Extensionalism, an Analytic staple, is constructed, he had no choice but to draw the conclusion that relying on sense data would never solve the problem of why, for example, the Rembrandt made by a Maytag is different from the Rembrandt made by Rembrandt, or why the label designed by Abstract Expressionist and graphic artist James Harvey, that poor soul, who even on Wikipedia presides over an isolated page identified by the powers that be as an “orphan,” figured differently in the context of supermarket and art gallery, despite the fact that its sensual features were for all intents and purposes identical. In some ways, this was a line of interrogation with its own legalities, as in the case of Patricia Caulfield’s 1966 suit against Warhol for his — and her — Flowers, and with its own criminology, as in the respective violences of Dorothy Podber, whose shots produced the illustrious 1964 Shot Marilyns, and Valerie Solanas, whose shots were the result of intense anxieties about theft, ventriloquism and absorption, in that the destabilization of the border between real deal and simulative substitute carries with it a concomitant disruption of tectonic order within the psychologies and personalities of those people who comprise the artworld, populating it with their objects and papering it with their criticism.

  • 4 Andina 2011: 73. Scale is problematic when we consider the size of the individual box vis-à-vis the (...)
  • 5 Wilson 1968

12Andina neatly summarizes the Harvey Paradox in her analysis of what it means for the labor of the graphic artist or art director to come into conflict with that of the fine artist - a controversy intensely meaningfid for one who had worked his way up through the aesthetic tasks by which the products of the chrematisdc order are marketed to a public encouraged to consume them almost as a reflex. Not merely a product, but a national commodity announcing the self-sufficiency of nation-state, the Brillo box designed by Harvey mobilizes liquid and dpeiros, combining the movements of water and air in a steel wool pad which holds the secret of cleaning and gleaming, gleam-o-matic, as the earlier yet less iconic 1962 box announces, the site of a messianized resplendence-to-come: and yet according to Andina, it is similar, not identical, «a plywood box that is a bit smaller», and hence in my opinion not indiscernible at all, if scale is properly monitored and measured, and if material is taken into consideration (in this instance, plywood versus cardboard)4. For as aesthedcian and Executor of the Ray Johnson Estate William Wilson correcdy observes in his 1968 Prince of Boredom: The Repetitions and Passivities of Andy Warhol article, Warhol produces exact replicas of nothing: each of his copies bears the marks of uniqueness and originality carried by misalignment and other mis-steps, as silkscreens overflow their borders to reveal the fact of human error that reads as a kind of Romanticism: «When Warhol shows repetition as an ideal of mindlessness, like an ideal it recedes from the grasp of man, who is condemned to variety, novelty, and precarious margins»5. Another way to articulate Wilsons brilliant and for some reason largely overlooked point is that there is similarity in Warhol, but not identity - and yet without identity, how can there ever be indiscernibility? Even an “is” is not an “=”, as Wittgenstein reminds us in Philosophical Investigations and On Certainty, like it or not, our destiny is a difference that eludes the abstractions of mathematics. Warhol himself sums up the fate of discernibility as such in his eponymous interrogative: «Isn’t life a series of images that change as they repeat themselves?» As emblematized by the mutating strand of dna, the replicatory process, wherever and however it occurs, is inherently imperfect and is in fact the mechanism by which novelty enters the world, as Wilson recognizes and Danto elides.

13Danto takes a completely diametrical approach in all of his writings on Andy Warhol - in particular, his Andy Warhol, which contains a strangely anti-Exten- sionalist take on the fraught situation of the Brillo Box’s identity. For Danto, even actual differences between real and simulated boxes do not make a difference:

  • 6 Danto 2009: 62-64

One could say something like this: Andy’s boxes were made of wood and the ordinary Brillo cartons were made of corrugated cardboard. But surely the difference between art and reality cannot consist in the difference between wood and cardboard! After all, there are plenty of boxes that are made of wood, in which, for example, wine is shipped. Or someone could say, Andy’s boxes are frill of accidentalities, while the commercial Brillo cartons are impeccable as far as printing is concerned. But Andy’s could have been impeccable as well. The difference between art and reality would stand6.

14How is it possible that things as important as real, substantive — literally, bearing weight, and speaking to age-old debates about substance — differences between art carton and carton carton be smoothed over so glibly? As Wilson has correctly highlighted, the mistakes incorporated into Warhol’s works are anything but accidental: they are intended, unmistakable reminders that someone’s hand has been at work, at that bright moment when Romanticism slips into the picture in the form of a human error irrecuperable by labor and completely outside alienation. Andy’s boxes could not have been impeccable — they could only house the aesthetic peccadilloes of bijective error. To say that these errors are something we can dismiss in the name of Theory is to subtract an entire dimension from the Brillo Box - something I am not prepared to do, as it would simply reduce this complicated work of art to the solution of a thought problem in which Readymades are mistaken for imperfectly fabricated reproductions whose co-aesthetic coordinates have been diminished to the point of non-meaning.

15With regard to the material of the Brillo Box, it is Merleau-Ponty’s concepts of a style of being and of the deep connection between the visual and the tactile which figure, as it is precisely the competing phenomena of cardboard-ness and wood-ness that matter from the perspective of the flesh. Think, for example, of what the red of the red dress means to him in The Visible and the Invisible in the place where Proust meets philosophy! Alive at the place where straits uniting interior and exterior horizons flow, the red of the red dress is like the wood of the Brillo Box or the cardboard of the carton of Brillo Boxes and of the individual box of Brillo pads: it punctuates a field vitally, calling forth cultural associations along with raw sensation, my point being that the difference between wood and cardboard cannot be passed over without incident, as it is a huge difference, especially when we consider it in light of Extensionalism and the analytic philosophy it supports and the empiricism it seems to want to embrace. Its ecceity cannot be ignored, nor can its tactility — even though the social rules governing the artworld prevent our touching what we do not yet own, a synaesthetic truncation that seems to give Danto the green light to leave sensation behind but which Co-aesthesis combats through a more total comprehension of the object in its environment.

16Beyond the poetics of the logo or slogan, though, the problem of indiscemibles is fundamentally an anthropological one, a fact Andina addresses via Wittgensteins observation in the Philosophical Investigations that a mathematical expression like J[F(x) + g(x)]dx = jF(x)dx + Jg(x)dx might also be used by a tribe unfamiliar with algebra as speleological ornament: of course it will mean different things to mathematician and tribal elder, despite the fact that there is a fundamental physical indiscernibility to the expression when and only when, or iffit is isolated from the synthetic web of sensations that constitute an existing, endemic context as opposed to an artificial, sterile neutral environment that is the abattoir of meaning. Andina’s point seems to be that two objects - in this case the identical calculus formula for simplifying the summation of integrations by way of a primal commutability making a complicated procedure more manageable - are in some productive way ontologically interchangeable, raising the issue of how two entities that are extensionally equivalent reveal a radical dis-equivalence and dissonance when they are viewed as semantic vehicles. For Andina, as for Wittgenstein, the natives do not “know” the expression, since they misappropriate it, although they do have a use for it, which is completely appropriate, and another way of knowing it, in fact causing the aesthetic value of mathematical form to materialize as sudden, unexpected disruption too easily read as trivialization and banalization. What Andinas example of a re-engineered calculus equation immediately calls to mind is what for Quine is the Lévy-Bruhl problem: that is, the ways in which the eager anthropologist struggles to translate the sets of propositions he encounters at work in a native tribe which is very often a «wild tribe». As philosophers, we err if we blame the tribe for being unable to understand the mathematical symbols they use as decor: use is a form of understanding, as 'Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations demonstrates. Hence use and knowledge need not be on the same page for equivalence to occur, so to speak, as within aesthetics there is every possibility of misfiring, loss and misdirection: and most vitally so.

3. Parallel Worlds in PostEuclidian Space

  • 7 Quine: 2004: 94.

17Back in the supermarket and the Stable Gallery, ironically the most unstable places in and for the artworld, the challenge for Aesthetics is how to translate the language of commodity to the language of objet, in other words how to get these two arenas communicating with one another without loss of meaning or total evacuation of content. For Quine, then, translation, so often an anthropological or sociological project, is not transparent, nor does it produce an indiscernibility rooted in bijection, for translations are as inscrutable as references: in fact, there is ultimately «nothing to scrute» except the totality of a language and culture which, via conventionality, only points to itself7. I drag Quine into the ring of course because he is a «confessed extensionalist», someone who does believe in the establishment of identity once the proper number of comparisons has taken place, and yet even for him there is no neat or simple way to subsume the multifarious languages of the family of man into some kind of meta-dictionary or dictionary of dictionaries constitutive of equivalence and synonymy and permitting substitution to go off without a hitch - which it of course does not because we truck primarily with discernibles, whether we are able to sense it or not. Even the blind man has his aesthetics: it’s for this reason that Wittgenstein allies this philosophical realm with mysticism and ethics, funhouse zones where assertorie speech is a form of nonsense and Russell’s propositional attitude bumps up against the groundlessnesss of belief, which in the end rests squarely upon the weight of Dominique Bouhours’ je ne sais quoi, discernible, yet inscrutable, describable only via Kantian negative presentification, and yet with no sacrifice of imagination.

18According to Quine, the Lévy-Bruhl paradigm and the anthropology it supports go awry the second that we succumb to the belief that logics are translatable into one another, in particular as what we are dealing with are entire systems of thought and the mentalities they foster and nourish. In Quine’s anthropology, there is no way of successfully connecting tribal languages without remainder or residue: in essence, language is idiom, and idiom never translates, except comically, as when street jargon like «Talk to the Hand» becomes something no one says, like «Habla al Mano», or when, to use the famous Derridean example regarding suicide, the English «taking a life» becomes the French «giving a life» (donner le mori). The relevance of Quine’s assessment of the lexicographical situation for aesthetic theory and in particular the notion that aesthetic indiscernibles are possible in the first place is that it points to the fact that translations are themselves unique creations — parallel worlds, if you will, places where one- to-one correspondences of the type integral to Freges method fail and instead what results is a separate organization of space and time. If what the Aesthetician cannot bring us is truth — this despite the best efforts of a Romantic poet like John Keats to equate truth and beauty or of Kant to make the truth of beauty something communal, consensual and communicable — then perhaps what he or she can offer is something far superior: another world, a new facticity, a unique city of meaning or semantopolis. In fact, we are at the spot where beauty comes to constitute its own truth, groundless, non-consensual and ultimately communicable only through miscommunication.

19For the Victorians, this adjacent aesthetic world was a creation of ékphrasis, as art criticism itself became an art proper, producing a parallel universe of meaning that in its unfolding did not so much reveal the truth of art history or art object as much as it generated a separate work of art with its own principles of cohesion beauty and self-sufficiency, something to be judged in and of itself. Arguably the most refined and powerful statement of the ekphrastic phenomenon is Oscar Wilde’s The Critic as Artist, the essay in which he uses the writings of art historians John Ruskin and Walter Pater as prototypes for the aesthetic heights to which art-critical writing can soar. As we know from Wildes dialogue Decay of Lying, the sunset is already little more than a «very second-rate Turner» - and now it is the first-rate Turner whose own paintings are eclipsed by John Ruskin s ekphrastic effusions describing and interpreting them so well that his words become another painting entirely (Wilde 1989: 987). Clearly, Walter Pater adds something to the mysterious and elusive smile of Mona Lisa, a magical quantum that transcends the limits of philosophy or art criticism, but this supplement is something marvelous, the moment when philosophy and criticism transcend themselves in the production of a new work of art inhabiting its own parallel milieu.

20The ekphrastic method thus treats the work of art as incidental, raw material for a second-order creation that will pinch off in its own act of aesthetic pinocytosis and become a beautiful thing unto itself, sensuously separate and demanding its own critique which, if executed properly, will only necessitate the creation of another world. Fortunately, there are just not talented people in existence for these universes to multiply infinitely: so goes Wildean élitism. As the parallel universe theories of a physicist like Michio Kaku, whose Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the 10h Dimension, details, parallel worlds multiply almost too rapidly, creating an unwieldy multiverse that defies conception along with Descartes’ geometrical hellion, the chiliagon, in the Meditations. The Wildean corrective to this physics would simply be that, aesthetically, very few human beings can successfully use ekphrasis to turn art object into art object, or AO into AO’, a fact of human nature that finitizes the infinite and makes the series [AO’] countable. The ekphrastic method is simple

  • 8 Wilde 1989: 1029.

21in theory, yet a challenge to execute, for although «it treats the work of art simply as a starting-point for a new creation», few humans and no machines are up to the task8. In short, this second-degree production of similar triangles is what Danto achieves by positing a rich philosophical puzzle of aesthetic indiscernibili ty that I have previously argued in my Andy Warhol: Sublime Superficiality is less Warholian, more Duchampian, as we move from minimally manipulated Readymade to maximally manipulated silkscreened Box of Boxes. It is only by subtracting out qualities like the texture of cardboard versus that of wood, for example, «accidentalities», as Danto dismissively calls them in his Warhol, that he is ever able to separate the Philosophy of Sensation from the Philosophy of the Object, leaving as his legacy an artworld in which the theoretical triumphs over the actual and where brain silences body in an unfortunate taming of the res externa. Dantos writing is absolutely beautiful by Wildes standards, truly a thing unto itself, setting up an ancillary Brillo World where the difference between a box and a Box of Boxes doesn’t figure, and where cardboard and wood are interchangeable, yet the possibility of an end to art history glows brilliantly on the horizon as a kind of solar moon illuminating the postrevolutionary dark night of ardessness with the stolen photons of an explosion taking place elsewhere in the multiverse, in the locus where the somaesthetic is passed over in favor of the disembodied and Extensionalism simply stops extending, perhaps coming to touch itself in a loop making mathematics, philosophy and logic useless. If there are indeed 11 dimensions, as Membrane Theory currently believes, then how can there be philosophical truth in any philosophical discipline, be it epistemology, aesthetics or logic, until we are able to extend our lines way out beyond the four dimensions are bodies are apparently set up to process, this 36R or slighdy more than 1/3 Reality bounding our experience of experience? Material proliferation is theoretically endless, as Derrida has demonstrated with respect to textuality, and as Ludwig Wittgenstein comes to realize in his work after the Tractatus: eventually, we reach the whole of a language, a culture, a mentality, a way of living and doing things and getting things done. Aesthetics intervenes in this infinite regress to impose its own network of stoppages at whichever points it sees fit, for in essence we must finitize the infinite if there is ever to be writing or philosophy at all — and clearly, the human spirit requires these ventures, as the dual logics of intentionality and intensionality dictate. What we arrive at is a kind of metagallery of aesthetic theories that themselves demonstrate the best qualities of the art object: we might call these ideas truth, if we like, but to confuse them with the Ps and Qs of a propositional network would be an unfortunate abuse of archery. At best, the philosopher merely stops, and if he’s particularly clever, he or she is able to express the importance of the perspective afforded from where the alighting has taken place in the abbreviated extending of Extensionalism, ekphrastically bewitching us into sweet submission.

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Andina, T.
- 2011, Arthur Danto: Philosopher of Pop, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Danto, A.C.
- 2009, Andy Warhol, New Haven, Yale University Press
- 1981, Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art. Cambridg, Harvard University Press

Golec, M.J.
- 2008, The Brillo Box Archive: Aesthetics, Design and Art, Lebanon, New Hampshire, Dartmouth College Press

Kaku, M.
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1 See, for example, Wittgensteins physiognomization of Modal Logic in The Blue and Brown Books-. «Let us now consider the proposition, “Believing something cannot merely consist in saying that you believe it, you must say it with a particular facial expression, gesture, and tone of voice”. Now it cannot be doubted that we regard certain facial expressions, gestures, etc., as characteristic for the expression of belief. We speak of a “tone of conviction”. And yet it is clear that this tone of conviction isn’t always present whenever we rightly speak of conviction» (Wittgenstein 1960:144).

2 Andina 2011:70

3 In Zizek’s Fragile Absolute, the end of art releases the excremental object from its subjugation beneath the beautiful via a radical desublimation that makes hedonism mandatory and oppressive, paving the path for trash art to take over. Within this aesthetic economy, it is Courbet, and not Warhol, who effects the end of art, as it is the face-to-face confrontation with the vulva that obviates the need to obscure a latent content beneath a manifest content, as there are no longer any secrets.

4 Andina 2011: 73. Scale is problematic when we consider the size of the individual box vis-à-vis the Box of Boxes. For Andina, Warhol’s Brillo Box is smaller than the original designed by Harvey, and yet she cannot be talking about the individual Brillo box amassed in units of 24 (“24 GIANT SIZE PKGS.” as the Box of Boxes announces), since Warhol’s is 17 1/8” X 17 1/8” X 14”, clearly making it larger than any of Harvey’s individual Brillo boxes on any shelf. If she is comparing Brillo Box with the Box of Boxes locked in the supermarket stock room and identifying it as larger than Warhol’s, then what are that Ur-box’s dimensions? To be properly extensional, we must measure, we must know. Again, box blurs with Box of Boxes, as Harvey’s work is orphaned over and over again, his logo floating from box to Box of Boxes in the transmutations and transmissions of the advertising industry.

5 Wilson 1968

6 Danto 2009: 62-64

7 Quine: 2004: 94.

8 Wilde 1989: 1029.

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Notizia bibliografica

Michael Angelo Tata, «Big time sensuality: co-aesthesis and the end of indiscernibilia-philia»Rivista di estetica, numero speciale, supplemento al n. 55 | 2014, 155-168.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Michael Angelo Tata, «Big time sensuality: co-aesthesis and the end of indiscernibilia-philia»Rivista di estetica [Online], numero speciale, supplemento al n. 55 | 2014, online dal 30 novembre 2015, consultato il 14 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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Michael Angelo Tata

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