Thinking art post-aesthetically : beyond expression, experience and consciousness

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This dissertation asks: in what way can the practice of art, and the encounter with the work of art, constitute the site for a form of philosophical thinking? The work draws on ‘post-aesthetic’ theory, and, in particular, the philosophy of Martin Heidegger and Jacques Derrida to ask: to what extent would this thinking, or modality of knowing, consist of a material or poetic thinking, and how, if it not simply irrational, would it differ from logical discourse? Art is typically thought either in terms of the aesthetic attitude—incorporating subjectivist notions of expression taste and lived experience—or, alternatively, as a logical enterprise, where the work is seen as a carrier of a message incorporating an analytical-political critique. This project seeks to develop a third way that rejects a fusion or neutralisation of this opposition. Central to this argument is the necessity of displacing not only what Heidegger calls ‘representational thinking’ (Vorstellung), but also its metaphysical counter-part: lived-experience (Erlebnis). Interrogating the fields of both art and philosophy, this dissertation enquires as to how certain practices of art might engage in what might be art’s specific way of thinking, and consider the production and reception of art as a modality of knowing which displaces the modernist metaphysical notions of expression, intention, experience (Erlebnis), and aesthetic pleasure. At the same time it examines the theoretical documents and practices of (i), conceptual art, and (ii) John Cage and Fluxus, in order to open the possibility for a non-aesthetic, and nonconceptual, encounter with the work of art, that does not jettison materiality and thinking. In accordance with Heidegger’s thinking on art, This study finds that the nonintentionality of Cage and Fluxus constitutes a radical abstention from aesthetic judgment in making art, and that it offers a way of thinking beyond the closure of the strict volitional model of Conceptual Art. Yet this work puts into question a certain ontological naivety in Cage’s conception of the listening experience as an aesthetic attuning of the faculties. This dissertation proposes that the encounter with the contemporary work of art involves a complex interplay between pre-structured experience and language, rather than what would normally be conceived as sensual-emotional pleasure in form, direct contact with experiential flux, or the receipt of a message that is the explicit product of an artist’s intention.
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