«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 ...»
authors (including Ernest Hemingway); of a single painting (Color Unit 24.1 by Charles Boetschi); and a variety of other visual artworks, electronic media, literary works, and comics. I additionally apply the theory to models of the art history time-line, to the extended text concept in media, to a tropaic re-envisioning of Harold Bloom's theory of revisionism and to my own development as an artist. Finally, I attempt to embody my theory within the form, structure and details of the dissertation itself.
This is the most exciting aspect of this dissertation for me. It is a direct result of the amazing creative encouragement I received from my professor, Dr Philip Ursprung at the University of Zurich and my reader, Dr Andreas Langlotz of the University of Basel and the University of Lausanne. They suggested the performative application of my theory to the text, to my own work and to the conception of the dissertation as a whole. Concrete results of this notion will be seen in several aspects of the dissertation, e.g.: the Covers paintings beginning each chapter; the comic sequences adding a personal dimension, commenting on and ending each chapter; Chapter Three, which is entirely in a pictorial, extended comic form; the extended metaphors or conceits guiding each chapter's composition — some of which are the relics of actual use; the Conclusion, which is also largely in comic form; and Chapter Five, which is a painting-installation created by me to embody and visually discuss my own metaphor(m) within a work of my own. In that chapter, the installation is in fact the chapter.
The text is a contemplation of the artwork, making it oddly both secondary and primary (from the artist's mouth). This entire dissertation will exist, upon completion, as both a book and an exhibition, with the assistance of Markus Landert, the Director of the Art Museum of Thurgovia.
Both my professors noted that the chapters could be assembled in several orders other than that with which they appear here, each with a different effect upon the perceptions of readers, although the texts would stay the same. Professor Langlotz in particular feels that he most appreciates Chapter Five, My Metaphor(m), as the culmination of my dissertation, rather than as one interspersed, embodied example. However, he feels it works as it is situated as well. This reminded me of Alasdair Gray's Lanark: A Life in Four Books. In the Epilogue, this author suggests that he would like the book "to be read in one order, but eventually thought of in another." He has joined chapters into groups which he labels "Books." These he feels should be read in the order numbered and printed, but thought of in the sequence "books three, one, two, four."6 In this spirit, I will suggest an alternative ordering of my dissertation chapters, while leaving them as they stand. An order which places the emphasis upon my own art would be: Introduction, Prelude, Chapters One, Two, Four, Seven, Eight, Nine, Six, Three, Five, Conclusion.
Why have I spent so much time on this dissertation? Over the 12 years since I first had the initial inkling of desire to write it, Metaphor(m): Engaging a Theory of Central Trope has become my chief artistic creation, although in that time I did more than 50 art shows of paintings and installations, both group and solo, as well as taught, wrote articles and reviews, Alasdair Gray, Lanark: A Life in Four Books (London: Paladin, Grafton Books, 1989), p.483.
Introduction 5blogged and gave speeches. These exhibitions, publications and presentations were in galleries, museums and Kunsthallen all over the world, but Metaphor(m) dominated my thoughts since I first brainstormed it in discussion with Daniel F. Ammann in Switzerland. It has colored all of the other art and teaching I have done. Especially while learning Latin as a part of my studies, but also due to the length of time I took to accomplish this dissertation, I have been confronted by others with the question as to why I would want to write, paint and draw such an extensive work. Most frequently, I have answered that it is my own, though radically different, Über das Geistige in der Kunst, Wassily Kandinsky's personal book of theory.7 This is approximately true, although a bit disingenuous, for as compared to Kandinsky I am more philosophical and not at all esoteric in thought. It might be more appropriate to say that in my own thoughts it is my mixed and cross-media, personal, equivalent of Tintoretto's Scuola Grande di San Rocco, or at least the prolegomena to one.
A shorter answer to the question: Beyond the pure joy of using difficult reasoning to discover and formulate a serious new perception of art, the aim of this dissertation and theory, like that of many others, is to serve as a truth and corrective to certain deficiencies of the current theoretical landscape in which I am an artist —hopefully, in the minds of others, thus my web-presence and lectures, yet chiefly in my own mind. As Lakoff has pointed out, "Philosophy matters. It matters more than most people realize, because philosophical ideas that have developed over the centuries enter our culture in the form of a world view and affect us in thousands of ways."8 Most of all I am concerned with understanding works of art and the creative thought processes embodied in them. I have a daily practice of making art for some 40 years, thus am invested in the phenomenological reality of artistic agency. If this or any other theoretical analysis of art is worthy of serious consideration, it is in its usefulness for a fuller understanding and criticism of the works before us.
A Personal Beginning In the early 1980s, the artworld was in an uproar. It was increasingly clear that Modernism had, surprisingly, indeed been a "period," not the ultimate state of culture, and furthermore that it was slowly coming to a close. Postmodernism seemed a little insipid, even unappealing at first as diverse anti- or retro-styles vied for the pole position. French literary theory of a Deconstructivist bent slowly became hegemonic, a situation still now in place.
Yet, for most artists and authors, Post-Modernism (still capitalized and hyphenated at that time) seemed an opportunity to seek new theoretical inspiration, to free oneself of the previously prevailing Formalism, also termed the New Criticism in literature, while hopefully also offering a way to avoid the trap of what threatened to be a cynical mise en abyme of sophistry under the first influences of Poststructuralism. In heated discussions in New York and elsewhere, artists sought out new interpretations of the inevitably intertwined dialectic of form and content. Art was clearly not all about form; it was plain to see that creators had something to say, to discover. Equally, art was not all about the inability to say anything, about illustrating the unreliability of form as sole content. There was a widespread recognition that, indeed, form was a tool for discovery and yet also the discovery itself. Through that fissure, the great beast, long considered dead, re-arose in a new and splendid form: ludic trope. At first the source of inspiration for many artists, including myself, was Jacques Derrida and the Yale Deconstructivists such as Paul de Man.
Jacques Derrida was a French literary philosopher and the founder of what is called Deconstruction. He argues that much of philosophy rests on arbitrary dichotomous categories, sees language as writing, uses the metaphor of "text" for all experience, and suggests that there is no possibility of intentional meaning. Deconstruction can and has been disparaged as nihilistic, solipsistic, and a-political, but has also contributed greatly to the contemporary critical analysis of art and society, attacking seemingly fixed notions of gender, race, and privilege. I found Derrida's notions most interestingly presented in Writing and Difference,2 and Margins of Philosophy,3 although Of Grammatology 4 is his most popular book. Many of
the theorists affiliated with Yale University in the late 1970s, including Paul de Man, Geoffrey Hartman, J. Hillis Miller, and Harold Bloom, are especially influential in literary criticism and, influenced by Derrida, are called the "Yale Deconstructivists." One of de Man's key texts in my opinion is The Resistance to Theory.5 Theory in this vein remains the most powerful force in literature and art departments in universities around the US and indeed the western world. As a rather trendy art gallery owner once commented to me in 2003, "Aren't ALL contemporary artists Derridaian and poststructuralist now?"6 While this may appear to be true, many of the artists, authors and students who identify themselves with poststructuralist thought do not fully understand it, not truly applying their own preferred theory. They are generally citing it as an influence for fashionable reasons, verbally espousing many of its tenets, such as the impossibility of fixed interpretation, the death of the author, and others. Denis Dutton describes this situation in his
article of 1992, "Delusions of Postmodernism" from the journal Literature and Aesthetics:
That contemporary artists are as eager as ever for attention as unique individuals is demonstrated by the fact that they tend to treat their work as an expression of individual subjectivity in discussion and documentation. That the privileged position of the author/artist is not entirely dead in the minds of artists is also indicated by the unceasing tendency of artists everywhere—including those who style themselves "postmodern"— angrily to dispute hostile critical interpretations of their work which "fail to comprehend" their intentions, which "miss the point" of their work. For many artists, complete freedom of interpretation is fine as a general philosophical theory applied to other people's work, but not to their own. 7 What began as a situation promising a possibility for more free artistic play, has unfortunately now become the dominant master of the academy. Renowned art historian, psychologist and art critic Donald Kuspit has asserted in an email that, "In the artworld, followers of Derrida are not against hegemony; they now possess almost complete hegemony." 8 It was in this context that my study of literary theory arose — perhaps a bit defensively, yet also out of enthusiasm. In fact, it was more of a return to previous pursuits than a new interest. Throughout my university studies and in my free time I have been actively involved in aesthetics, the analytical philosophy of art. This passion operates in concert with my ardor for and interaction with the possibilities of an "extended" interpretation of the (supposedly dead) medium of painting, of installation art, of comics as an artform, and of display signpainting. Indeed, I even began my doctoral studies in the department of English Language and Literature (called in German Anglistik) in order to concentrate on the linguistic options of my endeavor. Later, after I had completed the learning of Latin as a portion of my studies, another opportunity arose. The University of Zurich finally had a scholar of modern and contemporary art as a professor, Dr Philip Ursprung, whom I met personally when we both were speakers at the convention of art historians in the US in Boston, the 2006 College Art Association conference. Almost simultaneously I became acquainted with Dr Andreas
Langlotz of the University of Basel, an expert in cognitive linguistics. These events led me to change to art history, leave my original, more orthodox literature advisor, and begin afresh with the stimulating new influences of Ursprung and Langlotz. Professor Ursprung understood not only my focus, but encouraged me to reach for a whole new form of dissertation, suggesting not only that I investigate other artists' works, both historical and contemporary, but that I also include my own art in it as an integral component, the performative presentation of the creation of these dissertation works and an attempt to analyze them with the tool of my theory. I was thrilled and yet presented with a whole new range of challenges, which I hope I have mastered.
At first my theoretical research consisted of working my way through key books and articles by and about the most influential poststructuralist practitioners of literary theory and of what has come to be called "critical" theory, the expansion of literary critical theories into the discussions of socio-political questions. Simultaneously, I intensified my already existing involvement with contemporary analytic aesthetics. In both fields, I was seeking points of conjecture which I felt illuminated my understanding of art in unexpected ways, yet also rang true to my experience as an active artist, art critic, art historian and appreciator of contemporary art by others. I was inspired by concepts from many thinkers, as I describe in the next chapter, yet not the entirety of anyone's system. I have thus sought to incorporate ideas I find enriching from a variety of sources into my own theoretical construction. I now realize that an ulterior motive was also to be able to theorize myself out of the constraints of theory, fighting fire with fire as is often my wont. I sought to discover philosophers offering pertinent, contemporary analyses which, however, also acknowledged agency: that creators were responsible makers of meaning and not mere symptoms of societal flaws. In truth, I heartily hoped for theorists who would go even farther, searching for ones who suggested intelligent means of resistance to an at that time ever-increasing dominance by the radical right of politics and mass media; likewise, seeking methodologies which could serve as insurrection against the even then quickly hardening academic stifling of art in consensus and market sophistry. Books important to me then included Hans-Georg Gadamer's Truth and Method,9 Bakhtin, Essays and Dialogues on His Work edited by Gary Saul Morson,10 Arthur C. Danto's The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art,11 John Lechte's Julia Kristeva,12 Cornel West's Prophetic Reflections: Notes on Race and Power in America,13 and R. A.