«Thesis presented to the Faculty of Arts of the University of Zurich for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Mark Staff Brandl of USA and ...»
Bringing this principle to play on my own developing theory, it called attention to the fact that we must use such theories in art as tools, yet include a touch a self-doubt in their manipulation. I desire my theory to be an informative way to discover how creators achieve works which become irreplaceable parts of our lives. Great artworks, though, matter more than any theory; they are not illustrations of them. Each painting is larger than any of the explanations of it. My theory will be a model for use in understanding and creating works of art, which are themselves models for interpreting experience.
Gadamer's hermeneutic circle of understanding is one of the great insights in philosophy — and difficult to condense. Weinsheimer describes it as an "infinite dialectic — that is, the circle — of part and whole, in which the whole undergoes a perpetual enlargement through the fecundity of the exemplary particular." 49As I see it, according to Gadamer's account, each instance of understanding conforms to a pattern similar to the following script: A perceiver encounters an experience (object, event, book, idea, etc.) This perceiver necessarily and unavoidably carries prejudices into this action, assumptions that are the results of history, culture, society and previous adventures. He or she projects these prejudices imaginatively onto the experience in order to begin to attempt to understand it. Anders Engstrøm would say that this is a proposition.50 Such a projection involves, in my terms, tropes. These are not propositions themselves, but the act is proposal-like: that is, these preconceptions are offered to the mind for contingent consideration. Such pre-judging is not right or wrong, it simply is.
There is no perception "objectively" outside it and no perception so "subjective" as to be ahistorically independent of it. The perceiver's notions-in-advance are bounced off what is experienced, thus tested by application. Inevitably, they fall short of fully encompassing the experience; they may even be found to be completely false. We humans, therefore, (may) learn something with each interaction, each testing of a trope. Gadamer calls the desire for this understanding a "passion" rather than a process. The entire package of one's viewpoints is envisioned by Gadamer as a "horizon." Through the circle of understanding, one's horizon is
matched to another horizon. Thereby, horizons are fused, each is widened. In the alien or foreign horizon, one must find oneself, i.e. some aspects of one's own horizon. This allows the perceiver to come to be "at home" in the new, expanded horizon. Likewise, one must find elements of the alien in oneself to accomplish any understanding. We cannot avoid ideas-inadvance as much as put them under the pressure of the desire to interpret and learn through experience. This is an exegesis of lived encounter. In the creation of works of art, artists continuously phenomenologically "throw" themselves, in a Heideggerian sense, into new encounters. We test the particulars of our horizons against the whole of experience ("reality").
The particulars of an incident, of each new artwork, test the whole of each of our horizons.
Gadamer's circle of understanding, described in Truth and Method, has clear consequences for interpretation in general, but also for understanding art.
Anyone who wants to understand a text always performs an act of projection. He projects in advance a sense of the whole as soon as an initial sense appears. Likewise the initial sense appears only because one is already reading with certain expectations of a definite meaning.
In working out such a fore-projection, which is of course continually revised, consists the understanding of what is there. 51 A similar, complementary hypothesis was proposed by Chris Argyris and Donald A.
Schön, in an expansion of the ideas of Pragmatic philosopher John Dewey. As I mentioned in the Prelude, learning can be seen as a recurring course of action centered on open-ended assessment. One learns, tests, corrects and re-tests, adjusting one's knowledge even to the extent of allowing amendment of the initial aim itself, thus forming a double-loop of learning.52 The arts involve hermeneutic circles-within-circles, an idea which meshes well with what I have called the questioning of metaphors. The circle of understanding is how we put the tropes we already bear into application, finding them useful or inadequate. This then elicits the creation of more effective ones. There is one prominent doubled-circle for creators.
There is the hermeneutic circle of understanding the experience of life in general and another intertwined circle of understanding the possibilities available in one's media, tools, process, and other aspects of form. For most authors and artists these two are indivisible. In his sonnets, Michelangelo, for example, could not see his love for Vittoria Colonna except through his love for stone carving. I develop this doubled-circle within a cognitive theory of trope.
In some coteries it is disputed if my next thinker of choice is truly a philosopher or not.
Cornel West is a professor of Afro-American Studies and of Religion, yet he contributes one of the most stirring political philosophies now in discussion. He, in turn, doubts the relevance of much of the literary-critical thought now being idolized. West has said in an interview with Anders Stephanson in Art and Philosophy, that "the linguistic model itself must be questioned. The multi-level operations of power within social practices — of which language is one — are more important." 53 His work revolves around questions of power and inequities in society. West's philosophy has been a central inspiration behind my thought. West supplies
ideas which meld well with my notions and allow the examination of ways in which trope may be used in questioning foundational reasoning and subverting harmful metaphors.
West calls his approach "prophetic pragmatism." This term describes his philosophy well. West is concerned with hopeful analysis (the prophetic), and realistic action (the pragmatic). Prophetic pragmatism "promotes the possibility of human progress and the human impossibility of paradise."54 Prophetic thought, according to West, can be broken down into four basic components: discernment, connection, tracking hypocrisy, and hope.
"Discernment" means being historical and analytical; "connection" is his word for cultivating empathy with others; "tracking hypocrisy" is the demand that humans, especially intellectuals, be self-critical and not self-righteous; "hope" is his call that we face our contemporary, generally accepted misanthropic disbelief in humans as a challenge.55 In this light, one can understand West's controversial Left Christianity (many in the political Left do not like his Christianity, many Christians do not care for his social politics). His involvement with progressive African-American churches is instrumental to the extent that he finds in them "resources for sustenance and survival." He is a genuine believer as well, stating that he finds "Christian narratives and stories empowering and enabling." 56 West is an adamant critic of nihilism, especially because of its current, fashionable acceptance by many creators and scholars. His clear-sighted accounts of this phenomenon in the interview in Art and Philosophy demonstrate where his hopefulness merges with his pragmatism.
[N]ihilism is not cute. We are not dancing on Nietzsche's texts here and talking about nihilism, we are in a nihilism that is lived. We are talking about real obstacles to the sustaining of a people. 57 Reality exists in what West repeatedly calls "brutal fact," especially for those without much power such as disadvantaged minorities.
[T]here is a reality that one cannot not know. The ragged edges of the Real, of Necessity, not to be able to eat, not to have shelter, not to have health care, all this is something that one cannot not know. The black condition acknowledges that. 58 It is mandatory, then, that we hope against all hope. Creative and theoretical activity must be foregrounded against a background of the tragic. "Culture is, in part, convincing people not to kill themselves...," West has written in Prophetic Reflections, continuing that "the question becomes, then, as cultural critics and as cultural artists, how do we generate vision and hope?" 59 One answer I came to, inspired by West, is that we can do so by building new tropes to live by, ones which criticize inadequate cultural metaphors, but additionally point to wider vistas of inspiriting desire — metaphors of operativeness for "existential
empowerment." 60 I thus began to see West, and many of the others mentioned above, through the lens of metaphor, although I encountered their work before I discovered cognitive linguistics.
One function of art which has continually resurfaced in this chapter and underlies all my art theories is that art is the creation of opportunities for imaginative, tropaic interpretation.
Robert A. Sharpe's version of this idea is of such centrality to my thought that I already have had to apply it several times in the discussions above before properly presenting this philosopher. In his book Contemporary Aesthetics: A Philosophical Analysis, Sharpe offers a profound, elegant definition of art which is able to account for its complexity and contrariness. 61 Works of art are not merely objects of interpretation. Many objects are objects of interpretation. Works of art are also created or presented as candidates for the peculiar form of interpretation described [in his book]. As good a conclusion as any is the slogan, 'Works of art are objects for interpretation.' 62 The uniqueness of Sharpe's insight is that artworks are objects presented for multiple interpretations. Great works may even call for continuous, midrash-like re-interpretation by readers and even from their own creators, which helps explain why writers and artists sometimes change their minds about what a work means after it has been long completed.
Sharpe's philosophy suggests the essentiality in all art of a multiplicity of interlocked metaphorical readings, and the greater the abundance converging in the work, the more wonderful the work
While reading Paul Ricœur's The Rule of Metaphor63 and the wonderful short collection On Metaphor edited by Sheldon Sacks,64 I realized that the study of the creation of meaning through tropes within the larger field of metaphor studies was indeed the path my thoughts had brought me down. In examining as many sources as I could find, which was not then all that extensive, I discovered Metaphors We Live By by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.65 In this short book, I found a lucid, well-written portrayal of metaphor and its significance to our thought processes and therefore our lives. Although now a classic, the text was then rather fresh. In fact it still is in many ways, as it has revolutionized metaphor and linguistic studies but hardly has had an impact on fine art yet. The ideas of cognitive metaphor studies, as they are now known, in that book and its follow-ups are even actively resisted in the literary and artworlds, when they are known at all — as is also often true of the notions of Harold Bloom, my other major influence. (It has been pointed out to me that I am lucky that I am not a 20
something wishing to teach in a major Anglo-American or French university, as my choices of scholars are too controversial.) Metaphors We Live By made me aware that I was not interested in "figurative language" — or its visual equivalent — in the simple rhetorical sense, nor for purely formal reasons, nor for its deconstruction, but rather for the way this conception manifested itself in a lucid systematic process, one which could integrate all my other discoveries in those thinkers described above, others unnamed and my own extrapolations. The authors Lakoff and Johnson and their colleagues, especially Mark Turner, went on to write a variety of books, all of which I found exciting. Each expands upon particulars of cognitive metaphor theory or other aspects of cognitive linguistics. These include Philosophy in the Flesh,66 More than Cool Reason,67 and many others including the very recent book, The Artful Mind: Cognitive Science and the Riddle of Human Creativity.68 More than Cool Reason delves into specific literary texts (e.g., Emily Dickinson's "Because I Could Not Stop for Death," Shakespeare's Sonnet 73 and, most remarkably, William Carlos Williams's "The Jasmine Lightness of the Moon"), which suggested to me the prospect of comparable considerations of visual art. The implications of cognitive metaphor theory spread far beyond the initial authors' presentations.
Lakoff, Johnson and Turner may be most valuable for pointing the way, practically insisting that others extend their notions and apply them to other questions and fields. Lakoff and his colleagues started a series of major breakthroughs in understanding tropes. Especially in the last few years, major cross-disciplinary communication has been cultivated concerning the connection between "poetics" and thought in general. As I mentioned above, such a large portion of research is now grounded in cognitive neuroscience that this new outlook on the mind is referred to as "the cognitive revolution." The literature on the subject has exploded.
Lakoff and other researchers of cognitive metaphor point to a wider cultural application of metaphor as a thought process, one which underlies even language itself, thus is not dependent on it. This is the portal allowing us to explore other rooms in the architecture of thought, not just the windowless library which too many poststructuralist literary theories seem to take for the whole building. It is metacritically meta-formal, emphasizing cognition and content. Analysis of the process of art-making as a cognitive process offers opportunities for uniting a hermeneutics of suspicion with a hermeneutics of appreciation, leading to a hermeneutics of discovery. I see in it a great opportunity for understanding art history and the process of art-making.