The Man Without Content (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics)

The Man Without Content (Meridian: Crossing Aesthetics)

Giorgio Agamben

Language: English

Pages: 144

ISBN: 0804735549

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this book, one of Italy's most important and original contemporary philosophers considers the status of art in the modern era. He takes seriously Hegel's claim that art has exhausted its spiritual vocation, that it is no longer through art that Spirit principally comes to knowledge of itself. He argues, however, that Hegel by no means proclaimed the "death of art" (as many still imagine) but proclaimed rather the indefinite continuation of art in what Hegel called a "self-annulling" mode.

With astonishing breadth and originality, the author probes the meaning, aesthetics, and historical consequences of that self-annulment. In essence, he argues that the birth of modern aesthetics is the result of a series of schisms—between artist and spectator, genius and taste, and form and matter, for example—that are manifestations of the deeper, self-negating yet self-perpetuating movement of irony.

Through this concept of self-annulment, the author offers an imaginative reinterpretation of the history of aesthetic theory from Kant to Heidegger, and he opens up original perspectives on such phenomena as the rise of the modern museum, the link between art and terror, the natural affinity between "good taste" and its perversion, and kitsch as the inevitable destiny of art in the modern era. The final chapter offers a dazzling interpretation of Dürer's Melancholia in the terms that the book has articulated as its own.

The Man Without Content will naturally interest those who already prize Agamben's work, but it will also make his name relevant to a whole new audience—those involved with art, art history, the history of aesthetics, and popular culture.

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based upon concepts, for otherwise it would admit of controversy (would be determinable by proofs). Antithesis: The judgment of taste is based on concepts, for otherwise, despite its diversity, we could not quarrel about it (we could not claim for our judgment the necessary assent of others). (g 56, pp. 183-84) Kant attempted to solve this antinomy by putting at the basis of aesthetic judgment something that had the characteristics of a concept, but which was in no way determinable and thus

has to concentrate on it to render it permeable to the inexpressible content he wants to express. But in the attempt, he ends up with nothing in his hands but signssigns that, although they have traversed the limbo of non-meaning, are no less extraneous to the meaning he was pursuing. Fleeing from Rhetoric has led him to the Terror, but the Terror brings him back to its opposite, Rhetoric. Thus misology has to turn itself over into philology, and sign and meaning chase each other in a perpetual

irrational, at least in the purely negative meaning this word is commonly understood to have. On the contrary, precisely because rhythm is that which causes the work of art to be what it is, it is also Measure and logos (ratio) in the Greek sense of that which gives every thing its proper station in presence. Rhythm attains this essential dimension, and is Measure in this original meaning; only for this reason is it able to open a region to human experience in which it can be perceived as 6pt0g6;

realm of the beautiful! But I fear that the reverse has always been the case; and so they have offered us, from the beginning, definitions in which, as in Kant's famous definition of the beautiful, a lack of any refined first-hand experience reposes in the shape of a fat worm of error. "That is beautiful," said Kant, "which gives us pleasure without interest." Without interest! Compare with this definition one framed by a genuine "spectator" and artist-Stendhal, who once called the beautiful

("the notion of the `great poet' has engendered more small poets than one could have reasonably expected from the combinations of fate"). Valery, Tel QueI P. 487. 8. Voltaire, Vie de Moliere avec de petits sommaires de ses pieces, ed. Hugues Pradier (Paris: Gallimard, 1992), p. 65. 9. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Letter to M. D'Alembert on the Theatre, in Politics and the Arts, trans. Allan Bloom (Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press, 1960), P. 35. to. Marie (de Rabutin Chantal) Sevigne, letter to Madame de

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