The First Postulate of Future Non-Aesthetics

Gilbert Kieffer, trans. Sylvia

from: « Le postulat premier de la non-esthétique future », Textes: Corpus, ONPhI, 2 November 2004.

            A new art perhaps already sprouts from the digital world, in a sort of indifference to old aesthetics, which moreover renders it a profound contempt in return. And however, it will certainly bring new technical exigencies to an expression that had been considerably impoverished since. With their more-and-more extraordinary tri-dimensional digital frescoes, graphic artists win the emotion of the public, the young public. Should they also learn, one day, that technique alone is not sufficient, a bit like figurative academic art had to do at the end of the 19th century? By waiting, they are prepared rather to give a highly technical lesson to the academism of the nonfigurative, too impoverished by repetition. Without technical surpassing, art is nothing: this is old evidence that comes back to us. We forgot it a long time ago. And there are others who will follow. Perhaps everything in the domain of aesthetics must be rethought.

            Art’s descriptive tradition is not innocent or natural, as we believed too often. Neither is it true. It is maybe not legitimate. It has a history and missions. It is crystallized around a postulate that must be put in question again, that establishes a link of truth between aesthetics and art. It is what should be suspended first of all.


Non-aesthetics’ first postulate is the radical break of aesthetics and art.

            There is an essential hiatus between art and the speech that comments on it (that will appear from this fact that is necessarily second in relation to it). It is a consequence of the last revolution that touched philosophy, whose principle of sufficiency was put out of use by Laruellian non-philosophy. Delivered from its first pretention, philosophical aesthetics is then only a descriptive system. This new postulate tags another field of thought. It reveals a new aesthetics, rendered to a new liberty. Its approach is asymptotic to real art, since descriptive (philosophical) speech and art (creative doing) are essentially different things.

            The first corollary that discharges from this new space of thought is that of the essential relativity of the history of art as a system of truths on art. A descriptive form would no longer necessarily be attached to an art like the oyster to the rock (according to Balzac’s expression). De facto, Boileau’s classicism describes the anterior classics no more than the posterior romantics (if only by this versatile, ductile, and supple concept of the sublime that he reintroduced into the history of thought). Pollock’s art is no more artistic with the theory that accompanies and supports it than without it. This theory is superfluous and only adds an aesthetic and verbal mirage to a work that should not need it. The history of art therefore becomes essentially relative outside of its work of archiving the world.

            The second corollary that discharges from this postulate of the radical break is that of the opening of the “saying”, of the aesthetics of speech. In effect, as what is said is no longer directly linked to what is done in art; all can be said, on all and in whatever order. There will be no more limits relative to taste, epoch, chronology. The limitation of this new space of aesthetic speech will appear only when what will be said will be poorer than what is done apropos what is said, and inversely.

            Our first postulate should thus call others that can tag a new demarche of aesthetic or, rather this time, non-aesthetic approach (because it no longer respects philosophy’s principle of authority and truth and therefore the aesthetics that depends on it). This should immediately [de suite] show the second postulate, that of thought. Since aesthetics no longer has a preeminence of thought on art, it will perhaps finally accord to art a sort of semblance of thought, of thought without words perhaps.

            A certain abstract art has habituated us to the fact that the less it shows, the more it speaks. Since then, the interference and support of the aesthetics of speech becomes more and more evident. How could this have been done? Theoretical philosophy has elaborated tools of a rare efficacy since Kant. The latter had invented the tremendous idea of a nonconceptual dimension behind an illusion of conceptuality. Thus, there was no longer a concept and norms to direct art. The breach was opened. Art is without concept and without message. It is what codifies without norm and without utility. Nothing then makes it possible to distinguish it, if not a kind of suspension, from the neutralization of two functions: the understanding and the imagination, hypnotized by their proper reciprocal activity. The idea was properly awesome. It was capable of explicating the hypnotic fascination of the artistic fact by the paralysis of functions. At the same time, it impeded every academism of taste, of the good taste of reappearance. It definitively relieved the gross interferences of classicism in the name of the norm. It suspended the old academism without knowing, in fund, that it opened the way to a new one, all the more puissant for leaning on it, on the negation of academism itself.

            Despite a more or less voluntarily retained conceptual garble, the Kantian modern is maintained across the 20th century as the very soul of non-art. It is the post-modern part that is a condition, as Lyotard suggested. And the modern is Kantian, the philosophical with its system of sufficiency. The post-modern is the soul of this modernity conceived in such a manner that it may be adapted to every metamorphosis, every academism. It is the super-academism par excellence.

            Thierry de Duve had made a study apropos Duchamp and others, of those who make us believe that art is a simple naming, that it reposes on the proper name. It suffices that I take any urinal, that I name it a work of art, for it to become one. It is clear that the thinking speech of the world of aesthetics has infiltrated within art; it has brought it a support, an alibi even. But it could only have done this because art simulates a hierophanic appearance as Mircea Eliade calls it in le Traité d'Histoire des religions. De facto, as for hierophanies no objective sign signals art as art in a sufficiently clear manner. Even if the sacred stones are sometimes visually distinguished, they can be sacralized in reality by a simple collective decision. And it is this process that simulates the art of the proper name. And, doing this, it exploits the link from the second postulate (that of thought), to the third, that of senefiance[1].

             Our world is always contemporaneous to the spirit of great cathedrals in the foundations [soubassements] of reverie. We are direct heirs. Senefiance calls us. It spins [spire] and inspires us. It pushes us to surpass and transcend ourselves. Moreover, it provides us with routes. And these routes are proper to us. They vary from one civilization to another. Art is this living testimony. We speak of archetypes as if there was a finite repertoire in the collective consciousness or unconsciousness, a dictionary, from which we draw to express ourselves, a little like in language. It is only half true. Since, in reality, it is something almost impersonal that grabs my own expression when I paint. Like an inertia of older reveries that traverse me and progressively decline across me, into me and further than me.

            Through its long metaphysical mission, art is also at the service of a civilization’s transcendence. It translates the energetic, it transmits heritage. And it is not so much about an official religious art as an energy of surpassing that traverses time and bears a people, a civilization towards a future traversed and borne by great reveries. We can evidently discuss the quality, the texture of these reveries, their effective presence… all of this is quite difficult to objectively discern. But art only has sense by that thing in it somewhere that postulates transcendence, senefiance, a higher sense of things, without which there would be no civilization.

            The third postulate of senefiance, called by the first (of the break) and the second (of thought), recenters things on a nonrational essential. So that the work is totally free, whether the aesthetics that is related to it or not says anything about it or not, there exists all the same a limit: that of insignificance and senefiance. The limit below is insignificance; that of the beyond is senefiance. It is not the “whatever” that will be imposed by it alone, if it does not manage to feed strong reveries, if it does not transmit the energetic of civilization, this great dream that has federated men.

            Everywhere that senefiance speaks, art is signifying. It makes us think without aesthetics, much further than words.

            And from this third postulate, another will discharge, in its turn, quite naturally. We call it the postulate of crystallization. As the Kantian aesthetic principles of writing are foiled, and art itself could affirm a power of think without philosophy’s help, as still simple naming would no longer be sufficient to call senefiance, the speaking of art must retrieve a certain humility. Since, like for hierophanies no objective sign signals art as art in a sufficiently clear manner. According to Mircea Eliade, in effect, microscopic and, in appearance, objective and scientific study does not suffice to give an exact view of hierophanies (and therefore perhaps also of artistic phenomena). It is the scale that makes the phenomenon and to take the proportion of things, one must be put in a spirit of sympathy, of “Einfühlung”. It is indeed this that the new non-aesthetic description should retrieve, this profound connivance with the work, this complicity of reverie with the creator, in fund this common part that sensibility designates to us perhaps, and that civilization has already loaded with reveries. All of our civilization is a species of crystal that survives, a transparent petrification. The fund of what is thought (without words perhaps) at the heart of art, is not so much the resilience of aesthetics as much as art itself. It is a sort of germinant crystal that petrifies life on its most beautiful transparencies.

            In this context, what is signified by announcing the death of art? the end of genius? All of these things have only a verbal essence. The permanence of their presence on the side of the creative doing perhaps illusions us on their real efficiency. There is perhaps in all this only a certain discourse on art, a worn-out discourse that we have always assimilated to art itself by aesthetics’ intervention [entremise]. Speech’s illusions are tenacious in the descriptive world. Since speech that leans on art and confirms it is the tool of recognition of the work. So, we had wanted to make ourselves believe that the work only lives by the speech that supports it. It is an illusion of representation. Since the work not only is the representation of the world, which is commonly admitted; but it is equally a representation of itself by speech. Which means that it is its proper verbal reflection. That is to say that the old apparition of aesthetics irrupts within the work itself. All of this reposes on an illusion comforted by habitude, that because speech can accompany the illusion it should be its support. It is a variant of the offendiculae (obstacles) of fallacies (distorsions) that Bacon translated by his concept of idolae (illusion), and especially by the idola theatri, this illusion that is indirectly transported by representation itself, and therefore by the frame of presentation of thought in speeches. This touches our subject [propos] itself in a certain manner that could no longer speak by philosophical certitudes. Must this loss of certitude and the unique truth be saddening? Isn’t it rather the starting point of a new attitude, of a new posture in front of what speech-thought can say? An opening onto the limitrophic domains of art is possible outside of aesthetic philosophy’s system of truth. Thought in this manner, things take up sense. They are multiplied in their potentiality. They will give ideas back to us.

[1] Senefiance is an Old French form of the word that is now “significance”.