«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 ...»
In addition to leading us to a combined intellectual and sensual appreciation of literature and art, Kuspit's ideas could help us value "art that possesses a quality of desire that seems to undo the system from within, making it seem at odds with itself in unexpected subjective ways." 32 The next candidate for discussion may be construed as the suspicion and suppression of desire, hence the opposite of Kuspit's theory. Deconstruction has been the dominant influence on most postmodern literature and art, or at least on its critics. Therefore, every current theory must acknowledge this movement in some fashion; my analysis is primarily an attack on Deconstructivist fallacies and yet is colored by the movement as well. While its wittiest proponent has probably been Roland Barthes, the name which seems to pop up in most instances of art criticism is Jacques Derrida. I will not launch into a description of his work, as it has been discussed so extensively. In general, Deconstructivists concentrate on the relativistic indeterminacy of language, which leads them to doubt the possibility of any actual interaction with any "reality" outside expression itself (the "text" again). Furthermore, since every language structure is determined by its context, then every expression is suspect — it is seen as no more than the self-generated manifestation of an ahistorical, abstractly conceived hegemonic power. Critics can only hope to reveal the self-serving aspects of any utterance.
This is the famous "death of the author," which pointedly does not include a similar "death of the theorist." In short, I feel they are trapped in the age-old problems of solipsism, blinded by their rediscovery of the fact that all awareness is mediated. As one aspect of their approach, many Deconstructivists in the visual artworld have denied any possibility or desire for meaning and ethics in art and literature, calling on practitioners of the arts to simply concentrate on success. This places them squarely in the (also age-old) position of Socrates' great adversaries, the Sophists. "Nothing can be known, experienced or learned, but let us teach you about that." I see this as an especially malevolent strain of nihilism. The heyday of the hegemony of Deconstructionism seems to be slowly evaporating, yet there is little doubt that many postmodern artists still use these ideas quite consciously (e.g., David Salle, Barbara Kruger, most Neo-Conceptualists, etc.). At least, they can be said to work with Deconstruction as the principal component of their Weltbild. This, for example, results in the Artforum mode of criticism, a mélange of deconstructivist critical theory and quasi-Freudian psychoanalysis. Nonetheless, the technique of deconstruction can be a useful interrogative tool, particularly in the hands of feminists or queer-theory thinkers. Disassembling potential, ignored, or suppressed "corruption" in cultural objects and texts can indeed be enlightening, although this notably works better with artifacts of commercial culture than with fine art and higher literature. My dispute with Deconstructivism, and my occasional use of deconstruction as an instrument, is incorporated into the structure of my theory itself and will come to the fore in various parts of this dissertation.
The final literary theory I will consider is the product of the novelist and media theorist Daniel F. Ammann. He has an inventive critical achievement in his identification of format as an important, intrinsic element of the formal and significative structure in all media. Format is Kuspit, Idiosyncratic Identities, p. 46.
Wandering and Surveying 33 only one segment of his complex analytical Lesekompass ("reading compass") in his essay "Pfade, Knoten, Leerstellen: Leserstimulation und textuelle Mitarbeit." 33 Ammann predicates three levels of orientation in interactions with communicative texts and objects. (He uses the word text in its widest sense, as entities being interpreted). The first of these is the Instanzebene ("level of activation"), which refers to the subject who interacts with the text, whether reader, viewer, author, artist, or community. Second, he posits a Manifestationsebene ("level of manifestation"), which consists of the text or other artifact being focused upon.
Third, there is the Implikationsebene ("level of implication"): the background against which the text assumes form, such as the personal, cultural and social connotations and denotations of its elements for the author and/or reader.
The second of these levels has three subdivisions of its own: Zeichen, Medium and Format. The Zeichen ("sign") is the mark or series of indications of which one intends to construe a meaning — letters, words, drawn lines, electronic images, sounds, etc.; generally a system of these. Medium is the same word in English. By this Ammann means the tangible data-carrier, which is comprised of the material and the technology (as well as, perhaps, institution) in which the "manifestation" was created — a painting, a written book (text in the ordinary sense), sound waves, moving images, etc. Finally, Format, which can also remain the same word in English, denotes the Aggregatszustand (physical state) of the text, as Ammann describes it in this paper.34 Format thus consists of the package of details of the particular data-carrier, the singular vehicle bearing that text — magnetic-tape cassette sound recording; middle-sized, easel, oil painting on canvas; square-bound, trade paper-back book;
home, VHS videotape; DVD; mp3 encoding; and so on. The term format has several meanings outside Ammann's theory. Format often refers to computer discs, CDs, vinyl LPs, radio waves, projected slides, billboards, TV show genres, museum installations, and other such entities. All are explained well in his notion of format as the particulars of the holder and displayer of communication. While the listed examples are mostly media, according to Ammann's system, they are commonly discussed under the rubric of format because it is recognized that their importance lies in one or more of their specific characteristics, especially as these vary from earlier or more standard media forms. Format is truly these technical properties as pointed out by Ammann, not the medium in its entirety. The qualities which comprise format are those such as size, weight, scale, proportion, design, volume, duration, etc.
Format describes first and foremost the way in which information is stored or displayed on a data carrier, or how the content is constituted in a medium or through a specific piece of play-back equipment.35 Ammann's insight, which I find applicable to visual art, is that the three elements of sign, medium and format are invariably present and inextricably intertwined. Furthermore, format as a concept had not previously been recognized for its importance and had not been extracted for analysis. Ammann's idea functions best as a re-reading of the relationship between the elements in those arts featuring what philosophers term the type/token distinction
— novels, prints, poetry, multiples, etc. He radically and almost counter intuitively suggests that each token's potentialities reflectively leave tracks on the type itself. As an example, in the philosophy of art the term "work of phonography" has recently begun to appear to describe those pieces of music which exist solely or chiefly as manipulated studio effects, through multi-tracking and the like.36 In his book Rhythm and Noise: An Aesthetics of Rock, Theodore Gracyk finds the definition of Rock music in its dedication to the priority of the recording; he maintains that live performances of this music generally nowadays imitate the studio-created version as closely as possible, thus displaying its preeminence. 37 Additionally, though, Ammann's theory of format is useful in reconsidering aspects of form in other sorts of art, such as those Noël Carroll calls template works (films) or one-of-a-kind works (paintings, drawings, direct sculpture), thus it is valuable for me. A traditional singular stone sculpture, for instance, is made of a specific marble (material) carved in particular ways (technique).
However, it also possesses a certain size and scale in relation to viewers, and perhaps is intended for a specific location (cultural context) and makes use of anticipated light conditions (physical context); all of these elements are better understood in light of Ammann's concept of format rather than material or form in general. Examples of format becoming a chief element in artworks include Ad Reinhardt's black-on-black works which concentrate on aspects of painting which are unphotographable, Glen Gould's collage-like combinations of various recorded piano concert performances to make one track, David Mazzucchelli's drawings for comic books where the reproduction technology is anticipated (and where there is in fact no "original" outside of his layered production technique) — or, negatively, the occasional, unscrupulous practice of gluing drawings by famous artists on stretched canvas and claiming them to be paintings in order to demand higher prices. The last is a blatant misuse of format. It is a genuine Rothko, say, but a forged "painting."
Those seemingly incidental aspects of form which constitute the format of pieces of literature and art must also be taken into account in any creation or appreciation of a work.
This serves for me as a reminder that they are not transparent as is often assumed. Essential, then, to understanding a created object is whether it is envisioned for broadcast, internet, to hang in a specific light situation, has a particular size or scale, will exist in several formats simultaneously, was intended for a specific context, utilizes aspects of its own reproduction, etc., or denies any of these. Thus, format is a newly discovered aspect of form, which like others mentioned (material, size, syntax, handling, brushstroke, vocabulary and so on), becomes fodder for tropaic development. It displays how all formal and technical components, even those yet unrecognized, can be either used to produce a metaphor, or integrated into a creator's trope under the rubric of pervasiveness, which I explore in individual artists and works in subsequent chapters.
Although various literary theories such as those I have discussed have been the prevailing creative force behind most recent aesthetics, the tide may be changing once again.
Visually-generated tropes of thought are entering into a dialogue with the dominant literary and verbal metaphors of thought. W. J. T. Mitchell contends in his book Picture Theory, that a new "turn" — the "pictorial turn" — will supplant the study of cultural as we have known it under the sign of the "linguistic turn." He models his phrase after Richard Rorty's term for this
dominance of verbal metaphor. This is amazing coming from Mitchell, one of the leading theorists today and the editor of Critical Inquiry, certainly one of the chief propagators of literary theories of the verbal-Deconstructivist bent. Although published fourteen years ago and even now not yet clearly manifested, this is obviously good news for painters. Painters, even those seen as conceptually-oriented, are suspect for all the obvious reasons: sensuality, insufficient fashion consciousness, working with their own hands, non-verbal thought and so on. Novelists similarly create works which are too messy, not chastely intertextual enough, with their life-like dialogue, multiple characters, visual descriptions, mood evocation and — most frustrating — their continuous, frustratingly non-ironic pointing to life, even in and through the novel's own meta-existence. As Mitchell writes though, this turning away from a purely textual basis, from "linguistics, semiotics, rhetoric, various models of 'textuality'" will not be a return to naive mimesis, copy or correspondence theories of representation, or a renewed metaphysics of pictorial "presence"....
... It is the realization that spectatorship (the look, the gaze, the glance, the practices of observation, surveillance, and visual pleasure) may be as deep a problem as various forms of reading (decipherment, decoding, interpretation, etc.) and that visual experience or "visual literacy" might not be fully explicable on the model of textuality. 38 In my conjecture, I endeavor to construct a tool not limited to the verbal metaphor of "text." Of course, my theory, as most, is clearly rooted in poetics, which had its origin in rhetoric and the analysis of purely verbal art. Literary and cultural theory, as shown in my discussion, is an influential context within which my theory attempts to interject itself, both to
join in the discussion and to refute certain assertions. In his essay "Let the Fresh Air In:
Graduate Studies in the Humanities," Ihab Hassan has made a good point about the place of theory in the study of literature in general.
Despite my objections and objurgations, I believe that theory has a place in the curriculum:
a skeptical place. I mean that it must be approached with skepticism, and that it is itself a form of skepticism. Etymologically, theory derives from the Greek theoria, viewing or contemplation. But the intelligent eye also questions what it sees. At its best, then — as in the best of Derrida — theory is a mode of sustained interrogation. Interrogation does not mean deconstruction only; interrogation can proceed by models and metaphors, ways of probing reality by constructions of counter-reality. At its best, theory becomes a kind of quizzical poesis. 39
The aesthetics half of this chapter begins on a more positive note than the subsection above on literary criticism, but the positions of the two entities are roughly similar in their influence on my thought. I have been more deeply involved with logic and philosophy for a longer time than I have been with literary theory; hence, although my work here can be seen as a form of literary and artistic theory, it bears the impress of much aesthetic conjecture. The contemporary philosophy of art has supplied me with essential concepts that I have used in my reasoning. The philosophers who interest me have more fundamental concerns than literary theorists — generally questions of ontology, epistemology, phenomenology, occasionally problems of metaphysics, politics, logic, aesthetic quality, and more.