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Aesthetical Ontology, Ontological Aesthetics: Rethinking Art and Beauty through Speculative Realism

Mario-Teodoro Ramírez
Traduzione di Laureano Ralón
p. 201-216

Abstract

We thus propose to criticize the subjective-anthropological conception of beauty and to define the meaning of an ontological conception of the beautiful while at the same time inquiring into an aesthetic conception of ontology from the standpoint of speculative realism. We discuss first the general character of Kantian aesthetics, considered as the founding moment of modern aesthetic subjectivism. The first section reviews Gadamer’s criticisms of Kantianism before exposing, in the second section, the reinterpretation made by some neorealist thinkers (Shaviro, Harman) of the Kantian conception of art and beauty and, more generally, of the meaning of aesthetics at large. Through this line of inquiry the third section exposes an aesthetic interpretation of the ‘principle of unreason’ introduced by Quentin Meillassoux. By way of conclusion, the fourth section examines the philosophical meaning of art and the general aims of an ontological aesthetic.

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Testo integrale

  • 1 The term “correlationism”, introduced by Quentin Meillassoux, characterizes all modern thought inas (...)

1Speculative realism is a current line of thought that over the last decade entered the philosophical scene, advocating a return to the real beyond all forms of subjectivism, idealism, and correlationism, that is, beyond anthropocentrism1. One of the objections that can be made to speculative realism comes from aesthetics, art, and beauty. Can beauty exist without an apprehending subject who defines it and somehow guarantee its existence? Can something be beautiful without anyone present to observe it? Is there art without human beings? This line of questioning presupposes that art and beauty are at the top of our (predominantly subjective and anthropocentric) experience of the real and of reality itself; in other words, that art and beauty constitute the ultimate basis against any claim to reestablish realism as a general philosophical position. However, is not the subjective conception of the beautiful a product of pure thought, that is, of a historically configured episteme leading us to believe that we cannot think or see beyond its assumptions and operating regime? From an aesthetic point of view, we can call this the general episteme of modernity, and in principle it is what we would have to challenge to clear the way for the question about the possibility of a new, ontological conception of the beautiful —or at least more objective and less anthropocentric than it has been until today. We can find examples of an ontological conception of beauty not only in postmodern times, but in different moments of premodern thought, in classical antiquity as well as in the Middle Ages. We can also find them, informed by history and anthropological studies, in aesthetic and artistic modalities, sometimes contemplated as merely exotic, non-Western cultures, such as Aztec art. Coatlicue is an example par excellence of work that is not correlationist with the human spirit. Interest in the question of an ontological conception of beauty is therefore neither idle nor superfluous. It has, or can have, a wide range of implications in the field of speculative/pure thought as in sociocultural and human domains in general. To begin, we must understand that an ontological vision of beauty must settle accounts with mere (reductive) psychological, sociological, historical, or anthropological conceptions of the aesthetic experience. Instead of simply denying such perspectives (i.e., the humanist perspective in general), an ontology of the beautiful would aim at redefining them in order to reformulate, from nonrelativistic foundations, its conditions and limits of validity. At the same time and in a complementary manner, an aesthetic perspective on ontology will enable us to elevate the meaning and scope of art and beauty to a philosophical level, to a plane of thought.

2This article explores the relations and interrelations between aesthetics and ontology in their double movement. On the one hand, we speak of aesthetical ontology, of a conception of Being that follows as a paradigmatic example the working models of art and beauty. On the other hand, we propose an ontological aesthetics to explore a form of aesthetic experience and artistic work, in particular of the contemporary sort, whose function and ultimate meaning refers to an apprehension of being as being, to an ontological understanding. In principle, this ontological function would be a characteristic of all art, just as an aesthetic conception of ontology would reveal the ultimate meaning of all ontology. Such would be the speculative aims of our inquiry.

3We thus propose to criticize the subjective-anthropological conception of beauty and to define the meaning of an ontological conception of the beautiful while at the same time inquiring into an aesthetic conception of ontology from the standpoint of speculative realism. We discuss first the general character of Kantian aesthetics, considered as the founding moment of modern aesthetic subjectivism. The first section reviews Gadamer’s criticisms of Kantianism before exposing, in the second section, the reinterpretation made by some neorealist thinkers (Shaviro, Harman) of the Kantian conception of art and beauty and, more generally, of the meaning of aesthetics at large. Through this line of inquiry the third section exposes an aesthetic interpretation of the ‘principle of unreason’ introduced by Quentin Meillassoux. By way of conclusion, the fourth section examines the philosophical meaning of art and the general aims of an ontological aesthetic.

Subjective aesthetics

  • 2 For a synthetic vision of the aesthetic of Enlightment thought, cf. Cassirer 2009.

4Although the subjective conception of art and beauty began to be forged in the Renaissance, it became established in eighteenth-century thought (classical empiricism and the Enlightenment)2. In general, it is assumed that Kant defended a subjective conception of beauty, and that it was he who laid the foundation for aesthetic subjectivism in the modern world (beauty is something purely subjective and taste is purely relative). But how true is this Kantian framework? We comment on what is arguably the most comprehensive critique of Kantian subjectivism, that presented by Hans-Georg Gadamer, founder of the hermeneutic stream of contemporary philosophy. As an alternative, we turn to Steven Shaviro to present an ontological rereading of Kant and its consequences for the aesthetic interpretation of new or speculative realism.

  • 3 Cf. Gadamer 2004.

5Despite being a meticulous thinker, Gadamer echoes, perhaps hastily, the interpretation of Kantism as a mere aesthetic subjectivism. The destruction of the subjective conception of beauty is relevant to such a degree for Gadamerian hermeneutics that it becomes the alpha and omega of Truth and Method, its principal work3. It appears at the beginning of the book as the condition for the introduction of a hermeneutics capable of exceeding the limits of subjectivism. Understanding is not an act of subjectivity, not even of intersubjectivity. It is an act of language, a movement of experience that brings into play various aspects of the human condition—historicity, tradition, consensus, dialogue. It also appears at the end of the work (in “The universal aspect of hermeneutics”) as the basis and condition for the universalization of hermeneutics and the arrival of what Gadamer calls a ‘hermeneutical ontology.’ Essentially, he is against subjective aesthetics because it opposes, in general, the elimination of all cognitive character of art, the elimination of the question of truth in the aesthetic realm. According to him, this elimination is the complement and confirmation of modern scientific objectivism for which truth is exclusive of methodical knowledge in the empirical-natural sciences, to which the humanities or sciences of the spirit (human sciences, social sciences, cultural sciences) must submit in order to claim validity and truth. As we know, Gadamer and the whole phenomenological-hermeneutic line of twentieth-century philosophy consider this the wrong path, with dire consequences for human understanding.

  • 4 Gadamer 2004: 510.
  • 5 Gadamer 2004. Cf. “The ontological valence of the picture”: 130 ff.
  • 6 Cf. Heidegger 1957.
  • 7 Gadamer 2004: 505.

6In the first section of Truth and Method Gadamer questions all concepts stemming from Kant’s aesthetics: the subjective character of beauty, aesthetic disinterest (i.e., the noncognitive and nonmoral character of aesthetic experience); the reflecting (i.e., nondetermining) form of judgments of taste; aesthetic common sense as an a priori in jugdments of taste; the notion of genius as creative freedom, and so on. By contrast, Gadamer conceives of the beautiful as an experience of knowledge but under a perspective that revalues all those elements of humanity that modern Enlightment thinking had questioned and rejected: the strength of tradition, taste as an experience of social integration, the meaning and value of allegory, the adornment, common sense in general, the value of prejudice and preunderstanding. All of these refer to a recovery of the function of truth associated with human experience in an integral sense, as opposed to its reduction to a partial aspect of our condition, whether it be the methodological-objective experience of scientific knowledge, or our merely psicological or transcendental experience. Gadamer proposes as an alternative a conception of beauty as an ontological-hermeneutic quality: the quality of what appears and manifests itself. «It is part of its own nature to be something that is visibly manifest»,4 he states. The aesthetic presentation (the image) is not a reproduction or a copy, but a ‘presentation’ of the thing itself.5 The being of the thing only reveals itself (discloses itself, in Heideggerian terms6) in the work of art. The principal Gadamerian-hermeneutic point revolves around the fact that there is no distinction (i.e., the ‘aesthetic nondistinction’) between the manifestation (the appearing) and what manifests itself (being), between the thing apprehended and the apprehending subject. For this reason, for Gadamer as for Heidegger art is the unconcealment of the truth of the entity, and language is the manifestation of being itself. According to the famous Gadamerian formula, «Being that can be understood is language».7 Beauty as appearing and art as transformative-constructive experience of that appearing is the model of truth for language, hermeneutics, and the human sciences in general.

  • 8 Meillassoux 2006: 63.

7However, we believe that this alternative to aesthetic subjectivism embodied in Gadamerian philosophy does not escape the correlationist circle (subject-object, human-world) criticized by speculative and new realism. On the contrary, it represents its most sophisticated version—what Meillassoux calls “strong correlationism”.8 For hermeneutics, there is no Being outside appearance or manifestation; in fact, beings are exhausted in their manifestation (and in language). This ends up being a kind of subjectivism not of the individual, but of the species: the human and its language are all there is. Everything about being finds its conditions and truth in language. If we want to understand Being, all we have to understand is the linguistic act of understanding and nothing more. Being vanishes before the word, like a ghost vanishes with the light of dawn. This vanishing of Being as such, of a reality beyond and without us, is the final and inevitable result of a phenomenological-hermeneutic ontology that can only operate from the perspective of the human condition. As an ontology of the being of human entities, it has become highly valuable; however, an ontology of Being-in-itself (ahuman or suprahuman) is still to be constructed. It is the assumption that such ontology is impossible or meaningless what we must question and overcome today.

Speculative aesthetics, aesthetic ontology

  • 9 Shaviro 2009: 3.
  • 10 Cf. Shaviro 2009: 6.

8What Gadamer dismisses too soon in his critique of Kant is the relational character of the aesthetic experience, i.e., that the beautiful consists of a relation between an object and a subject. Certainly, Kant concentrated on the subjective side of this relationship whereas Gadamer concentrates more on the objective side (on the being of the beautiful), but neither of them considers the relationship as such. It is on this point that Shaviro focuses: the beautiful, he states, has the form of an encounter, of an adaptation or coupling between two beings: «Beauty is, therefore, an event, a process, rather than a condition or a state. The flower is not beautiful in itself; rather, beauty happens when I encounter the flower».9 Beings are matched as if they were made for each other. “As if they were” because in truth it is a contingent relationship, a happening rather than an appearence. This happening, this event, fully singular, is what possesses a real character, not merely subjective or merely objective. In Kant we find the idea that the experience of the beautiful is a contingent encounter that, unlike cognitive or moral experiences, characterizes a situation whereby the subject does not legislate, does not determine the object, but is simply “comported” to him (under the regime of a free play of the faculties). In Kantian terms, the aesthetic experience is not an act or an activity of the subject, it is not the work of human desire (desire belongs to the realm of practical, moral reason), not even of a cognitive interest that subordinates given phenomenal structures to cognitive subjectivity. As Shaviro observes, it belongs rather to the order of passion, of pathos. There is necessarily a passive element receptive in the experience of the beautiful: the subject is made available to the thing offered.10 There is neither determination of the subject over the object, nor determination of the object over the subject. The quality of the beautiful, Kant insists, is not a quality of the object, and, pace Kant, it is not a quality of the subject either. It is, as we say, a quality of the encounter.

  • 11 DeLanda 2016: 3.

9Relying on the philosophies of Whitehead and Deleuze, Shaviro associates the notion of the beautiful as contingent encounter with the very definition of Being. Relations of exteriority, as manifested in the encounter between the rose and the subject who contemplates it, govern the entire order of existence. In other words, there are encounters, relations not only between the object and the subject, but between the things themselves. Further, there are relations even when there is no subject to participate in them; the rose is also related to the insects that visit it, as well as to other flowers that accompany it (and with which perhaps it competes to be beautiful). We move, then, to an ontological plane of relationships. On this plane relations of exteriority are everything that counts. The cup of coffee, the coffee, and the plate are governed by a relation of contingent exteriority (“obligatory contingent”, as Manuel DeLanda says11), which is to say that there is no intrinsic and necessary connection among all three objects. By contrast, relations of interiority are those that govern the internal composition of each of those objects separately. The handle of the cup has a relation of interiority with the rest of the cup. But what are these relations of interiority? In what do they consist?

  • 12 Harman 2011: 171-179.
  • 13 A beautiful way of saying this is: “Je respire l’odeur d’une rose, et aussitôt des souvenirs confus(...)
  • 14 Cf. Harman 2016.
  • 15 Cf. Harman 2010; 2007.

10Following the American philosopher Graham Harman, inward relations constitute the substance or real object, whereas relations of exteriority form the sensual object (the “intentional object”, in Husserlian terms). The creator of the object-oriented ontology stream of speculative realism, Harman proposes to replace the classic subject-object dyad with a real object-sensual object pair.12 Everything is an object. The subject itself is an object, and the qualities that the subject projects onto the object really belong to the object – they are the sensual qualities of the sensual object.13 There is therefore interobjectuality: objects are related to each other, they are apprehended and understood by one another, and they ‘meet’ regardless of whether there is a subject present. Harman argues that the real object, the substance, is by definition inaccessible and irreducible; that is, the real object is withdrawn from all access and from itself – «the things-in-themselves remain forever beyond our grasp»,14 while at the same time affirming, in a decisive step beyond Kantian skepticism, their incontestable existence. For Harman this is the most precise formulation of a realistic ontology. Sensual objects and their sensual qualities maintain an indirect or allusive relationship with real objects and their real qualities. There is no direct relation between real objects: each one remains closed onto itself, each is like a monad without windows in the Leibnizian sense. This means that there are no real (efficient) causal relationships between objects and, given their total autonomy, each real object is impenetrable and untouchable in its own way. All there can be, operating at the level of sensual objects, is what Harman calls vicarious causality, i.e., occasional, expressive or aesthetic causality. On the sensual plane, things perceive each other and affect one another. Relations are metaphorical. Certainly for Harman a metaphor is not merely a linguistic procedure (a wordplay) but something originally ontological. It is on the plane of sensual qualities and sensual objects that metaphorical/poetic transposition occurs: “The cypress is a flame.” The cypress-flame forms a third object whereby the separate qualities of the cypress and the flame merge into a singular and unmistakable object. The metaphor achieves what no knowledge and no observation can accomplish, grasping through an enriched sensual object the very essence of the real object. In general, Harman proposes to conceive aesthetics as a privileged path for metaphysics.15

  • 16 Cf. Harman 2017.
  • 17 Harman 2017: 10.
  • 18 For a systematic exposition of Harman’s theory of objects and their relationships and interrelation (...)

11In the brief essay “The Third Table”16, Harman explains the ontological priority of the aesthetic perspective. According to his analysis, there are three kinds of tables (i.e., of objects or ways of conceiving them): 1) the table as defined by our sensible experience, phenomenologically explained as a set of subjective qualities that grant an intentional character to the object (here there is no apprehension of the table’s being, only of its configuration as a correlate of our lived experiences so that, in a way, the table is our own creation); 2) the table as conceived by physicists, i.e., as a set of atomic and subatomic particles whose real configuration escapes our sensible apprehension and where only scientific formulas can unlock their true being; 3) “the third table,” which is the table in itself, autonomous and silent, the table that retreats from any experience or representation and can only be alluded to by the aesthetic experience. The third table «lies directly between these other two, neither of which is really a table. Our third table emerges as something distinct from its own components and also withdraws behind all its external effects. Our table is an intermediate being found neither in subatomic physics nor in human psychology, but in a permanent autonomous zone where objects are simply themselves».17 In general, Harman revives for aesthetics the principle of negative ontology (negative realism): through an indirect, allusive access, we have news of a “thing in itself” that withdraws from all encounters while at the same time gives us a hint of the qualities that derive from it. The sensible qualities allude to the real qualities, which in turn are like emanations of the real object18. For Harman there is no problem here. Beauty and art do not capture or apprehend the thing itself because the true matter with the real is not to grasp it, represent it, or know it, but to observe it, admire it, and love it.

  • 19 Bryant 2011: 90.

12The ontology of objects proposed by Harman and its realism of substance is compatible with the ontology of processes (or new materialism) advocated by Shaviro and others, such as Deleuze, Bruno Latour, and Manuel DeLanda. There is a connecting thread between a philosophical perspective that understands the real as an irreducible object and another that conceives reality as a material, dynamic, and inventive process. The young American philosopher Levi Bryant, mediating between the philosophies of Graham Harman and Gilles Deleuze, proposes a revised conception of the Harmanian object (the real object) as power or virtual proper being, which accounts for the sensual qualities and the dynamic relationships in which it partakes. The table is not ‘something’; it is a power, a power-being. It must be said, in the manner of Deleuze, that the table ‘tables.’ In being what it is it does something; it is not an inert thing, closed and finished. Bryant’s example is a cup: “the bluing of the cup”, he explains, «is not a quality that the cup has, but something the cup does»19. The cup blues, we could say. In short, for speculative/new realism ‘substance’ or ‘virtual proper Being’ appears as the irreducible, the unrepresentable, as the being-beyond rather than the being-there (Dasein). This happening of the thing, its being an event, its “executant reality” (Ortega), is what we call beauty.

  • 20 Included in the book of the same title.
  • 21 Ortega y Gasset 1985: 20.

13Thus we come to the fundamental aesthetic-ontological question: does beauty exist independently of he or she who contemplates it? The answer we advance is precisely that to experience something as existing independently of us is the very experience of beauty. To see things as if they were not us who are observing them, to see them as if they saw themselves, there, alone, autonomous, self-sufficient, silent and perfect: that is the experience of beauty. To surprise the thing in itself in its quiet, generous, and infinite intimacy —that is the beautiful. In the case of art, and particularly as concerns avant-garde innovations of the early twentieth century, we must remember the essay by the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset “The Dehumanization of Art”.20 At the time, this essay was understood as a critique of twentieth-century art, although in truth it is an ontological characterization of art breaking free from the humanist function of reproduction and celebration of the human kingdom (hence its antipopular and therefore unpopular character). According to Ortega, that is an exclusive trait of nineteenth-century art; indeed, he claims that «all the great epochs of art have prevented the work from having its center of gravity in the human».21 More than dehumanization, which entails a merely negative sense, we should speak simply of an ahuman or nonhuman art, more than antihuman or inhuman. For Ortega this is a sign of liberation, of emancipation from determinations that are “human, all too human,” opening up precisely toward a vision of reality as such, that is, toward an ontological conception of art. Although previous art (i.e., nineteenth century art) presumed to be realistic, it is a realism consistent with definitions and human prescriptions, that is, socially determined (it is a correlationist realism, we can say, in line with speculative realism). Although Ortega interprets new art from an antirealist perspective, pondering the ethereal, abstract, and free character of artistic objects, his thesis can be reinterpreted from a new realist perspective as art that, in questioning anthropocentric realism, paves the way to the truly real, i.e., toward a reality that is beyond our concepts and determinations.

The principle of “unraison” as an aesthetic principle

  • 22 Cf. Longo 2017.
  • 23 Longo 2017: 91.

14According to a thesis by Anna Longo, the aesthetics of speculative realism is not only found in the field of art (what would an art be like that follows the guidelines of this philosophy?), but first of all in the form of an ‘attitude’ or a trait of speculative thought itself.22 Longo claims that «rather than looking for an aesthetic adapted to speculative realism, it would be a question of reconstructing the functionality of the aesthetic component of speculation».23 In line with this statement, we are now interested in elucidating and interpreting the “principle of unreason” proposed by Quentin Meillassoux as a fundamental aesthetic-ontological principle, a principle that not only accounts for the aesthetic being but for every existing entity as well as the general process of the real.

  • 24 Meillassoux 2006: 53.
  • 25 Meillassoux 2006: 53. Although Heidegger advances a criticism of the principle of reason, he does s (...)

15First, it is important to point out that the ontology of Meillassoux has as its fundamental basis the thesis of the priority of the entity over Being; his is an ontology of the entity rather than an ontology of Being as such. The entity is what exists and therefore what exists in time. Nothing exists outside of time; rather, to exist and to be temporal are the same thing. As Bergson points out, time is the fabric of which the real is made. It is because of time that there is something rather than nothing. This also implies a deep and radical philosophy of immanence. The entity, the extant, is self-sufficient, has no cause outside itself, and therefore, no ‘need’ in order to exist: there is no reason or ultimate cause on account of which a thing may be what it is. Every entity can be or not, it can be this way or another. This is the formula of the absolute character of contingency – the fundamental principle of all existence. Thus, against the “principle of reason” (nothing exists without a reason) established by the metaphysical tradition, Meillassoux puts forth what he calls the “principle of unreason” (or nonreason). In his own words, «the ultimate absence of reason – which we will refer to as unreason – is an absolute ontological property, and not the mark of the finitude of our knowledge».24 Unreason is on the side of Being itself; the principle of reason is false, absolutely false, «for the truth is that there is no reason for anything to be or to remain thus and so rather than otherwise, and this applies as much to the laws that govern the world as to the things of the world. Everything could actually collapse: from trees to stars, from physical laws to logical laws; and this not by virtue of some superior law whereby everything is destined to perish, but by virtue of the absence of any superior law capable of preserving anything, no matter what, from perishing».25

16The principle of unreason affirms a truth that we all have somehow verified but that normally, and by all the means, we refuse to recognize: that there is no reason why we (and everything else) exists, that there is no meaning of Being, not even the consolation that it is we who provide that meaning (as in Sartrian existentialism). The human being is as contingent as any other being. Against these truths, indeed metaphysical and absolute, all traditional thinking, all metaphysics of necessity, dogmatic and essentially anthropocentric, are left behind. Until now metaphysics had until now been the thought that seeks to subject Being to human needs. The new metaphysics of speculative realism proposes the opposite situation: submitting thought to the contingency of existence. Now the thought that par excellence has been subject to what there is, which does not ask for any other reason from the thing other than the being of the thing in its pure contingency, is the aesthetic thought. To be able to accept what it is as it is, to be “as such”, and also to celebrate it rejoicingly, is the thought that all art and all aesthetic experience carries forth and affirms (the fundamental proposition of the tragic attitude, according to Nietzsche).

  • 26 Kant 1987: 64.
  • 27 Kant 2000: 84. The Formula of Humanity as End in Itself: ‘‘Act so that you use humanity, as much in (...)
  • 28 Says Arendt: «The anthropocentric utilitarianism of homo faber has found its greatest expression in (...)
  • 29 «The self, the place where we live, is a place of illusion. Goodness is connected with the attempt (...)

17The unreason of the aesthetic object has already been thought out by the philosophical tradition under the ideas of disinterest, being without end, uselessness, or purpose without end. The latter is the expression that Kant uses in the third moment of the analytic of the beautiful in order to characterize judgments of taste.26 Beyond Kantian jargon, endless purpose designates the formal or organic character of the beautiful, that is, the object forming a unity not articulated by any condition external to the object itself, not even by charm or subjective emotion (internal end) or objective perfection (external end). Finality without end can also be understood as what contains in itself its own end, or what constitutes an intrinsic end – an absolute end that cannot be a medium for anything else. This character defines the beautiful, but also, for Kant, the good and the moral, particularly in terms of the third formulation of the categorical imperative, which commands not treating people as means to an end but as ends in themselves.27 However, as Hannah Arendt once pointed out, this conception is restrictive. Although necessary in principle, it ends up justifying anthropocentrism: the instrumentalization and general reification of everything that exists that is not human28. The solution to this unacceptable consequence would be precisely to extend ontologically the principle of purpose without end: everything that exists, existence itself, is an endless purpose and therefore an intrinsic end. It is on this aesthetical ontology (which consists of treating everything and not only human beings as an end in itself), and not in an uncritical anthropocentrism that the categorical imperative and our entire conception of the moral, political, and cultural world would really be based. What would remain is a human who is no longer the king of creation but who, nevertheless, keeps the superior dignity of being someone capable, as Nietzsche said, of surpassing himself and of opening herself up to a transcendence that is nothing more than that of the thing itself.29

A speculative art? Toward an ontological aesthetic

18Several questions arise when we consider the relationship between speculative realism and artistic practice in its different modalities. Let us pose the question anew: what would an art conforming to speculative realism consist of? We can make several points:

    • 30 Although from a certain spontaneous phenomenology (or ‘naif’), the Mexican philosopher José Vasconc (...)

    Remember, as Ortega y Gasset argues, that most art in the history of humanity has fallen outside the humanist orbit of European art: Oriental art (“symbolic art”, according to Hegel’s typology), Islamic art, Nordic and pre-Columbian art, and so on. For his part, the Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos pondered the superiority of art from ancient civilizations over all forms of modern art, which he considered frivolous and dull, without ‘spirit’.30 An ontological aesthetics adhering to the guidelines of speculative realism would offer us the possibility of a planetary aesthetics, open to the comprehension of multiple artistic manifestations, beyond the confines of a postmodern multiculturalism, condescending and lacking in criteria.

    • 31 Merleau-Ponty 1966: 28.

    All contemporary art, from Impressionism to present day, can be reinterpreted from a speculative aesthetic as the practice of exploring their ontological possibilities, beyond the interpretations and self-understandings of the different vanguards (dadaism, surrealism, expressionism, abstraction) in purely formalistic and stylistic terms, that is, as a pure search for means appropriate to the expressive intention of the artist (aesthetic subjectivism). Merleau-Ponty already interpreted the art of Paul Cézanne as an attempt to capture a prehuman nature. Cezanne’s painting «révèle le fond de nature inhumaine sur lequel l’homme s’installe. C’est pourquoi ses perssonnages sont étranges et comme vus para un être d’une autre espèce».31

    • 32 Cf. Trías 1982.

    Speculative realism grants us a new definition of art, one more in tune with the philosophical task of ontological understanding than with a merely anthropological function of expression and imaginative construction aimed at celebrating the human world. If this ontological definition is to have a universal character it should be in a position to cover all art forms. Indeed, every work of art in any space-time (historical-cultural) continuum posseses this ontological dimension, all the more so since every work is an object, has a reality of its own, and opens up a dimension of transcendence, in principle obscure and enigmatic to human perception. Already the Spanish philosopher Eugenio Trias was concerned with a revelation of the ‘sinister’ element present more or less discreetly in the most luminous works of the tradition.32 Conceptual art and various extremely scandalous formulas of recent art such as installations, performances, interventions, body art, art with animals, and environmental art have raised the need for a redefinition of what is and what is not art. A common feature of these manifestations is the overcoming of an aestheticist conception of art, in the sense of freeing the artistic object from a supposedly essential, sensitive component. A work of art can be simply a discursive instruction to make or imagine a work of art. Many artistic objects actually consist of the partial expression of a set of jointly associated meanings, which must be captured while taking into account elements from outside the work, such as the context, the ideas of the artist, or the judgments of art critics. These procedures do not make for a theory or a philosophy of art because the discursive elements that accompany them are not subject to the logic of theoretical elaboration; rather, they are diffuse ideas, philosophical intuitions or enigmas, and intellectual and emotional challenges posed to the viewer. However, the dissolution of the artistic object in certain practices of contemporary art does not eliminate the series of acts and experiences that can continue to be considered aesthetic: emotions, sensations, shocks, acts of imagination and fantasy, vague reflections, Luddism.

  • 33 Duchamp 1975.

19A new definition of art or, rather, a new art practice cannot completely eliminate all aesthetic (sensitive) elements, although it does exponentially elevate the participation of reflexive and intellectual functions in artistic activities. Art cannot continue to be conceived in purely aesthetic terms, an argument already held by Duchamp.33 It certainly does not become a philosophical activity, but in contemporary art, even or especially in cinema, the direct incorporation of philosophical elements is gaining more and more momentum. For some contemporary artists philosophy has become an essential component for the construction of works with greater depth of meaning, with greater content, going beyond the usual formulas and themes overdetermined by narrative, aesthetic formalism, or ideological, psychological, or sociological codifications.

  • 34 Harman 2017: 14.

20In short, current art can be defined as a means of exploration-revelation of the real, as a process of gradual appropriation of the real, such as insignificant objects or dark subjects such as death, suicide, pathologies, the corpse, animality, the monstrous and the disgusting, or else novel topics such as the possibilities of artificial intelligence, the Internet, and so on. All these searches can be interpreted as an alignment of art with the philosophical task par excellence of considerably expanding our ontological understanding. In this sense, art is increasingly revealed as the greatest ally of philosophical thought, up to or above other traditional allies such as religion, science, or politics. Hence we are before the possibility of the emergence and consolidation of what Harman calls the “third culture,” located beyond the scientific culture and the humanist culture —the culture of philosophical art (ontological even) and of an aesthetically founded and oriented philosophy. We must continue to think about what tasks and implications are involved on all levels of that third culture. «For centuries, philosophy has aspired to the conditions of a rigorous science, allying itself at various times with mathematics or descriptive psychology. Yet what if the counter-project of the next four centuries were to turn philosophy into an art? We would have ‘Philosophy as Vigorous Art’ rather than Husserl’s ‘Philosophy as Rigorous Science.’ In being transformed from a science into an art, philosophy regains its original character as Eros. In some ways this erotic model is the basic aspiration of object-oriented philosophy: the only way, in the present philosophical climate, to do justice to the love of wisdom that makes no claim to be an actual wisdom».34

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Bibliografia

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Gadamer, H.-G. 2004, Truth and method, London, Continuum.

Harman, G. 2007, Aesthetics as first philosophy: Levinas and the non-human, “Naked Punch”, 9, www.nakedpunch.com/articles/147 (X, 27, 2017).

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Harman, G. 2011b, The Quadruple Object. A metaphysics of things after Heidegger, Winchester, UK: Zero Books.

Harman, G. 2017, “The third table”: 100 Notes -100 Thoughts 1100 Notizen - 100 Gedanken, http://files.meetup.com/328570/Harman%20-%20The%20Third%20Table.pdf.

Heidegger, M. 1957a, Arte y poesía, México, FCE.

Heidegger, M. 1957b, Le principe de raison, Paris, Gallimard.

Kant, I. 1987, Critique of Judgment, Indianapolis, Hackett.

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Longo, A., 2017, Une esthétique spéculative est elle possible?, “Cahiers Critiques de Philosophie”, 19.

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Note

1 The term “correlationism”, introduced by Quentin Meillassoux, characterizes all modern thought inasmuch as it posits the condition and limit of all philosophy: the subject-object, language-world correlation is present in both analytic and continental philosophies. Cf. Meillassoux 2006: 18. For a general approach to this philosophical current see: Ramírez 2016.

2 For a synthetic vision of the aesthetic of Enlightment thought, cf. Cassirer 2009.

3 Cf. Gadamer 2004.

4 Gadamer 2004: 510.

5 Gadamer 2004. Cf. “The ontological valence of the picture”: 130 ff.

6 Cf. Heidegger 1957.

7 Gadamer 2004: 505.

8 Meillassoux 2006: 63.

9 Shaviro 2009: 3.

10 Cf. Shaviro 2009: 6.

11 DeLanda 2016: 3.

12 Harman 2011: 171-179.

13 A beautiful way of saying this is: “Je respire l’odeur d’une rose, et aussitôt des souvenirs confus d’enfance me reviennent à la mémoire. A vrai dire, ces souvenirs n’ont point été évoqués par le parfum de la rose: je les respire dans l’odeur même ; elle est tout cela pour moi.” Bergson 2012: 140.

14 Cf. Harman 2016.

15 Cf. Harman 2010; 2007.

16 Cf. Harman 2017.

17 Harman 2017: 10.

18 For a systematic exposition of Harman’s theory of objects and their relationships and interrelations cf. Harman 2011b.

19 Bryant 2011: 90.

20 Included in the book of the same title.

21 Ortega y Gasset 1985: 20.

22 Cf. Longo 2017.

23 Longo 2017: 91.

24 Meillassoux 2006: 53.

25 Meillassoux 2006: 53. Although Heidegger advances a criticism of the principle of reason, he does so from the perspective of questioning the metaphysics of representation and under the idea of identifying Being and Reason (“nothing is without reason” can be read as Being is reason itself). Meillassoux straightens his critique of the principle of reason from an ontological, even cosmological, point of view: there is no reason whatsoever, nor is being his own reason, because every being can be destroyed without reason. Cf. Heidegger 1957.

26 Kant 1987: 64.

27 Kant 2000: 84. The Formula of Humanity as End in Itself: ‘‘Act so that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as end and never merely as means’’ (G 4:429; cf. G 4:436).

28 Says Arendt: «The anthropocentric utilitarianism of homo faber has found its greatest expression in the Kantian formula that no man must ever become a means to an end, that every human being is an end in himself» (Arendt 1998: 155), from which it follows that everything nonhuman can be exploited, the entire Earth put at the service of the human being.

29 «The self, the place where we live, is a place of illusion. Goodness is connected with the attempt to see the unself, to see and to respond to the real world in the light of a virtuous consciousnessence. This is the non-metaphysical meaning of the idea of transcendence». (Murdoch 1971: 91).

30 Although from a certain spontaneous phenomenology (or ‘naif’), the Mexican philosopher José Vasconcelos presents conceptual traces of what would be an aesthetical metaphysics. See Vasconcelos 2009.

31 Merleau-Ponty 1966: 28.

32 Cf. Trías 1982.

33 Duchamp 1975.

34 Harman 2017: 14.

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Mario-Teodoro Ramírez, «Aesthetical Ontology, Ontological Aesthetics: Rethinking Art and Beauty through Speculative Realism»Rivista di estetica, 74 | 2020, 201-216.

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Mario-Teodoro Ramírez, «Aesthetical Ontology, Ontological Aesthetics: Rethinking Art and Beauty through Speculative Realism»Rivista di estetica [Online], 74 | 2020, online dal 01 février 2021, consultato il 19 juin 2024. URL: http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/estetica/7115; DOI: https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/estetica.7115

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