Age of Abstraction 2.0?



“I always decide in favor of feeling rather than calculation.”

           – Kandinsky

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?

  1.  Kramer, Hilton. The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1987–2005 (Kindle Locations 92-96). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

9 thoughts on “Age of Abstraction 2.0?

  1. Thank you for this provocative little piece. I’ve rebloged it, and repeated there the comment that follows.
    The ‘realism’ of the artist was never that of the scientist, even when their work drew on geometrical perspective, was colored by optics, and anatomically rendered. The pictorial plane never truly “represented.” What was suggested there has always been both more and other than the named subject, even when following conventional rules and stripped of other worldly intentions (see Hubert Damisch: A Theory of /Cloud/ for a case study of development of internal resistance to pictorial realism from Correggio to Cezanne).
    The moment an artist accepts what they know to be true–and let’s that realization influence what they do (even more so when meticulously following realist conventions, because the contradiction between the claim to representation, and the dependence on these conventions is all the more disturbing), a desire to deal with the fact of that contradiction–in the work itself. This is not a flight from reality–material or otherwise, but commitment to it. There is no art without the “meta.’ Naive realism simply chooses to let illusion stand for the real, without calling attention to it. I would go so far as to suggest that this contradiction, the failure of representation, is the generative engine that drives change. I think that can be said for abstract, ‘non-representational’ art as well, with the fault lying, not between the claim to a ‘subject’ that exists in the material world and the pure fabrication that is the art, in the failure to entirely reduce the aesthetic object to the picture plane, or surface form and matter of 3 dimensional works. There is just no way to exclude the viewer, who is no mere observer, but actively participates–enters the work and moves through it–creating something like a virtual reality that changes with every viewer, across cultures and spans of time.

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  2. “Or better yet, no more oppositions, but rather a parallelism without boundaries, an openness that is inclusive rather than exclusionary?”

    Yes. No need for more oppositions. Diverse experiences exist. Explore them, Freedom of association is cool too. We need not impose integration laws to bus new idea children into anyone’s intellectual neighborhood that doesnt want them there.

    Objectivity and subjectivity both exist. However, I think objective language serves (better) to describe both experiences. I’m not an art expert, however I am fascinated by my own reaction to certain art and the diverse manner in which humanity creates and engages with objects of art, and … religious symbols.

    Taking a step back to the primitive “participation mystique” and carried forward to present day iconoclasm, certain non-art gallery going folks have deep emotional cash invested in objects that leads to either high veneration or destruction of same.

    Participation mystique
    A term derived from anthropology and the study of primitive psychology, denoting a mystical connection, or identity, between subject and object. (See also archaic, identificationand projection.)
    [Participation mystique] consists in the fact that the subject cannot clearly distinguish himself from the object but is bound to it by a direct relationship which amounts to partial identity. . . . Among civilized peoples it usually occurs between persons, seldom between a person and a thing. In the first case it is a transference relationship . . . . In the second case there is a similar influence on the part of the thing, or else an identification with a thing or the idea of a thing.[“Definitions,” CW 6, par. 781.]
    [Identity] is a characteristic of the primitive mentality and the real foundation of participation mystique, which is nothing but a relic of the original non-differentiation of subject and object, and hence of the primordial unconscious state. It is also a characteristic of the mental state of early infancy, and, finally, of the unconscious of the civilized adult.[Ibid., par. 741.]

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  3. Henry calls the invisible “life” which is not seen like we see an object in front of us but felt in all its nuanced tones between the suffering of sadness and joy. It seems we are most alive when life is bittersweet. If abstraction is a practice then it is fleshing this life out while the light of the world turned on by the processing of the understanding goes dark. Laruelle is talking with Henry to some extent when he reads the Real as a human-in-person which as non-knowledge is not approached by taking an intellectual position on this or that topic. This is why the practice is u-topic or an uplifting subtraction from a geographical location. This process of deterritorialization is that of hyle as a technical object that turns humans into operators or efficient causes according to Stiegler at least in Technics and Time 1 as I am reading him at the moment.

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    • Yes. We are not one with the universe. We are not part of the collective world soul.

      We ARE however one with our LIFESTYLE AUTO/ETC. BRANDS!

      Except for those fully or partially naked and afraid in wilderness not exposed to such marketing sensory bombardment. The primitive.

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      • And even the indigenous peoples are not immune to global civilizations impact, so consumer society has invaded and depleted every corner of the earth. Think of the encroachment of civilization upon the rainforests, burning of forests; the encroachment and colonization of the extremities of Eskimo and outer Sami (Finland0)… the Kalahari tribes, Indonesia, … everywhere you turn the primitive indigenous tribes are under economic annihilation from Russia, India, China, EU, and the U.S.A. etc.

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