Thursday, April 09, 2009

Abstraction and Concept Creation, Part IV

"In an explicitly polemical essay, Answering the Question: What is Postmodernism?, Lyotard put forward a strong plea for continued artistic dissent. Cultures, he argued, need the challenge of new forms if they are not to settle into complacency, or, worse, terror.

His target here is what he calls 'realism'. Realism, he claims, reaffirms the illusion that we are able to seize hold of reality, truth, the way things 'really' are. Photography, film, and television, offering themselves as windows onto the world, delivering 'the facts', are no more than the completion of the programme of ordering visual space that began with Renaissance painting.

In 15th-century Italy, painters began to depict the world according to the rules of fixed-point perspective. As long as all the lines understood to be parallel to the ground converged at a single vanishing point, and as long as objects were shown as diminished and foreshortened accordingly, three dimensions were miraculously inscribed on a two-dimensional canvas, and the 'truth' appeared in painting. But this 'truth' was the effect of geometry; it was an illusion. On condition that the viewer stood in exactly the right position, opposite the vanishing point and at the distance, scaled for size, of the painter from the scene, and as long as the picture was viewed with one eye closed, the illusion of truth was conjured out of a very skillful fiction.


Realism, Lyotard argues, protects us from doubt. It offers us a picture of the world that we seem to know, and in the process confirms our own status as knowing subjects by reaffirming that picture as true. Things are, human beings are, and, above all, we are just as we have always supposed."--from Catherine Belsey, Poststructuralism: A Very Short Introduction,Oxford University Press, 2002, pages 100-102.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, yes, Lyotard, one of my favorites. Thanks for bringing him up.

I remember reading his The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (1979) several years ago, a work which he, by the way, later characterized as a "parody" since he admitted that all the technical references and footnotes were put in the book to impress "the Conseil des universit├ęs du Qu├ębec" who had commissioned the work.

But still he coined the phrase "postmodern". But as he also wrote in the introduction,

The reporter (of this report) is a philosopher, not an expert. The latter knows, what he knows, and what he doesn't. The former doesn't. One of them draws conclusions, the other poses questions. It's two kinds of language games. Here, the two are blended together, so that neither the one nor the other is played to the end.

And, of course, how do we know that realism isn't another game?

Isn't "realism" just one of the meta-narratives that are SO over?

Isn't he - in the quote you provided - in Catherine Belsey's book, just a convenient pacifier that "we" are, the "world" is, and everything is - as it always has been?

In other words: Isn't he PRE-postmodern?


6:30 PM  

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