Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Life and Art: Toward a Politics of Genesis and Creation

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Life and Art: Toward a Politics of Genesis and Creation

Article excerpt

Dennis Schmidt's book, Between Word and Image: Heidegger, Klee, and Gadamer on Gesture and Genesis (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2013), is an intense and extraordinarily rich work that moves across the history of aesthetics from Kant to Gadamer. It traces with extraordinary insight the movement of thinking that responds to the artwork and to what painting lets shine forth in the world of appearance. It also offers to us a genuinely original understanding of aesthetic life and of the space of painting that has opened up for our times. The fact that the first line of the text is about what gave birth to and shaped the book is no accident. This book is all about birth and genesis and new forms of life and about the movement that shapes and belongs to this life. I say this without forgetting that it is a book about painting. I am tempted to suggest playfully a new title for this book. If I did, it would be something like: "Life and Art: Toward an Ethics of Generation and Creativity." But the author would no doubt respond that the title he did choose, "Between Word and Image," says exactly this. Everything hinges on the "between" that is so prominently announced in his title. This book is about the movement and enlivening that occurs between word and image and between image and word, about a doubling of word and image, about the possibility of a translation between word and image.

As I have already suggested, for me the central theme of the book is the relationship of art and life and therefore about how art has the capacity to intensify human life and thereby revitalize our experience of life in general. If Schmidt is correct and if his insights take hold, and if modern art has the impact on us that it has had on him, then there is hope for us in a world increasingly dominated by our desensitization toward and objectification of the life-world in which we dwell. This is a theme from Heidegger that Schmidt takes very seriously. Schmidt comments on Heidegger's brief encounter with Klee's artworks and writings and highlights the possibilities Heidegger glimpsed for a rekindling of the deep connection between techne and phusis, between art and life, that for Heidegger flashed up in Klee's work. He elaborates on what Heidegger sees as the difficulty of our times that inhibits any genuine engagement with painting. Schmidt identifies this obstacle to engagement as "the still-unthought essence of technicity, the essence of production in the present age. To think that essence, one needs to begin by thinking the destitution, the abandonment, of being in the historical present" (80). Heidegger saw a renewed possibility for this kind of thinking, that is, for thinking the abandonment, in the works of Paul Klee, but he never followed up on this insight. Schmidt declares: "To pursue the possibilities [in Klee's paintings] that Heidegger so abruptly abandons, is the intention of this book" (80). For Schmidt, the works of Klee are, for reasons he shows, the exemplary artworks through which we can learn something about modern art in general that may provide an opening in these destitute times for a non-objectifying, life-affirming sense of production. They have the potential to break through the closure of our times and rekindle our love for and wonder in the face of the "address of the world" (142). Heidegger worries about the age of machination that threatens to close us off to the possibility of art, and, despite the exceptional art of Klee, he is concerned that it is precisely non-objective, abstract art that announces and inscribes this collapse. In contrast, Schmidt sees the non-objectivity of modern art as a site for optimism about appearance because it refuses any claim to capture and objectify what cannot be grasped and comprehended. It is for this reason, for example, that Schmidt asserts as a basic conviction of his that "nothing less than the work of art will suffice 'after Auschwitz'" (11). I wonder what Schmidt would say in this regard about Blanchot's work, and whether he shares with him the sense that art has to enter into this devastation and stay with it in order to address the depth of absence and loss that is indicated by the word "Auschwitz. …

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