Our study of research on art and literature will now be conducted from a different angle, that of the various arts taken singly. Such an approach can certainly be challenged. On the one hand, contemporary thinking has in fact abandoned taxonomic methods: it no longer devises classifications; it no longer seeks to establish a 'system of fine arts' (to cite the title of a well-known work by Alain). Not that it refuses to systematize but, when it plans a system, it thinks in terms of relationships rather than elements: as is shown by Thomas Munro's title: The Arts and their Inter-Relations( 1949, 1967), or Etienne Souriau's: La correspondance des arts ( 1947, 1969). Furthermore, the practice of artists seems to justify this attitude. New forms of art struggle to emerge, breaking through the traditional frontiers, mixing genres, attempting to resist all classification. In what category can we place the encrustation technique of a Dubuffet, a Pop object, a form of theatre where the script is abolished, a text which allows itself to be invaded by images? And many artists unceasingly dream of total art, which would no longer appeal to one privileged sense, but to our entire body, itself total and glorious.
We have referred to these changes in practice and theory; they are far from having produced their full effect. But meanwhile we appear to be still entitled to speak of a specificity of the arts, the more so because certain artistic undertakings continue to aim at the unique essence of an art, be it painting, music or literature. They then seem to operate in their own particular way the eidetic variations recommended by Husserl, the intention being less to transgress the essence than to put it to the test. It may be that for some — may Spinoza forgive them! — this essence is 'l'obscurité élémentaire' wherein 'l'exaltante alliance des contraires'1. is formed. But it can test and manifest itself only in the work, and the work, in its turn, derives its own obscurity from the fact that it is an object. As Blanchot also says: 'elle est éminemment ce dont elle est faite'. At the origin of the work there is always an action determined by the matter against which the action is pitted. That matter, and the praxis to which it gives rise, may still serve as a principle for a specification of the arts.
Furthermore, we know that, at the very time when a transformation is taking place in the sciences comparable to that in the arts, scientists and technicians are tending to specialize more and more. The more the specificity of a domain is challenged, the stronger become the particularization of the object and the specialization of knowledge. The same applies here: scientists and critics remain specialists. That is why, finally, there need be no hesitation in showing how their research is becoming specialized, even____________________
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Publication information: Book title: Main Trends in Aesthetics and the Sciences of Art. Contributors: Mikel Dufrenne - Author. Publisher: Holmes & Meier. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1979. Page number: 264.
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