“I always decide in favor of feeling rather than calculation.”
As Hilton Kramer suggested in his rendition of the those modernist artists after 1913:
For both Mondrian and Kandinsky, the artistic base from which they made their fateful leap into abstraction was landscape painting, but their respective approaches to landscape were, again, very different. Whereas Mondrian’s was that of an ascetic determined to strip nature of its mutable attributes, Kandinsky’s was that of a mystical lyricist for whom nature is an enchanted realm of poetry and symbolism. Yet for both, the leap into abstraction was at once guided and sanctioned by their faith in the metaphysics of the occult, which in the end emancipated them from the mundanity of the observable world.1
This notion of the disappearance of Nature, the natural as introduced by Enlightenment philosophe’s and the rationalists before them as the mechanistic, and observable, objective res extensa – the extensive world out there of naïve realism and naturalism had always had its enemies. In the 19th Century the Romantic Poets, the Decadents, the Symbolists, the Aesthetes had all called into question this naïve physicalism/materialism of the world. I sometimes wonder how the natural sciences ever came to power in our world, except that, oh yes – they produced a knowledge that could actually effect change upon matter in the world. Whether this matter was substantive and solid, or fluid and dynamic was always open to question for scientists.
Battles over our views of reality seem to crop up over and over again as either atheism or religious visions take hold of the common vision of the age. We in our own time hear of a opening into some new ‘religious turn’ as if all the apostles of skepticism, cynicism, postmodernism had been quelled, smashed under the falsity of there corruptions, etc…. but I wonder, is it more likely that the other party, the reverent and speculative religious mythographers, the sophists of our present era are trying through the power of rhetoric to reestablish their old place in the sun?
All this talk of realism in our time seems more about invisibility, indirect access, the darkness, the abyss of the Real, the Void of Voids…. suddenly the stable world of Platonic and Aristotelian substantive formalism of essences and eidos give way to the fluidic dynamics of processes. But haven’t we seen this battle before? Most of our present lot of philosophers seem to be updating what was already previously tried with Abstraction 1.0… the moderns… hmmm or we not then moving into Modernity 2.0? Is this what is happening, after a devolvement through postmodern deconstructions we are reentering the troposphere of a new formalist purity of abstraction… but on a different plateau? Immaterialism? Even our so called materialists talk from within radicalized Idealisms: Badiou (Plato), Zizek (Hegel), Negarestani (Stoic, Confucian, Kantian)… not to mention all the various flat ontologies under the OOO appellation, which is itself a pure abstraction of force withdrawn into the volcanic dynamism of a new substantive formalism.
Those who speak of affects, sensations, empiricism seem to be on the downswing today… condemned as – oh the bad word: “vitalist”. What of them? Rereading Kandinsky there is this movement of abstraction alright, but one that takes the effects of affective relations seriously, while wary of the calculative work of those ascetics like Mondrian. In our age of algorithms and calculation, computational functionalism and the supremacy of modeling, simulation, forecasting… should we retake a look at that other abstraction in such thought as Kandinsky? Affective relations vs. Calculative and computational functionalism? Or, better yet, no more oppositions, but rather a parallelism without boundaries, an openness that is inclusive rather than exclusionary?
- Kramer, Hilton. The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1987–2005 (Kindle Locations 92-96). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.