File spoon-archives/lyotard.archive/lyotard_2001/lyotard.0111, message 78

Date: Mon, 12 Nov 2001 21:42:11 -0600
Subject: In the zone

Reg, Steve, Walter, Glen, Hugh, All: 

Here is the quote I promised Reg from Lyotard,

"There is no sublime object.  And if there is a demand for the sublime,
or the absolute, in the aesthetic field, it stands to be disappointed. 
When commerce latches on to the sublime, it converts it into the
ridiculous.  Nor is there some aesthetics of the sublime, since the
sublime is a sentiment that draws its bitter pleasure from the nullity
of the aisthesis.  A sorrow felt before the inconsistency of every
object, it is also the exultation of thought passing beyond the bounds
of what may be presented.  The 'presence' of the absolute is the utter
contrary of presentation.  The sign it makes escapes semiotics as it
does phenomenology, although it emerges as an event on the occasion of
the presentation of a phenomenon that is otherwise sensible and sensed."

This quote appears in the essay "The Zone" in "Postmodern Fables."  What
Lyotard calls the zone is contained in the margins of the city, the
suburbs, and what is characteristic of the contemporary metropolis is
its tendency to obliterate borders - inside and out. To live in the city
is to live nowhere because today the Urbs have become the Orbs.

Lyotard compares this condition to philosophy itself.  "Philosophy is
not in the city, it is the city in the process of thinking, and the city
is the agitation of thought that seek its habitat even though it has
lost it, and has lost nature."

Lyotard points to the fact that as the development of the metropolis
progresses, style and aesthetics become paramount.  He distinguishes
between the artistic and the cultural.  The latter is strategic.  It
manipulates the desire for development and makes all politics aesthetic
(the society of the spectacle, if you will).

The result is to turn culture itself into a kind of museum (like
Benjamin's arcades); one that is filled with interesting objects,
fascinating because of their style.  Aesthetics brands the world with
its rule of the imaginary, a price tag upon the lack.

Lyotard points out these various modernisms of both culture and the
metropolis are all humanisms; religions of Man.  What is most
characteristic about their theology is that Man becomes Man only by what
exceeds him.  Development co-mingles with the interesting in an orgy of
innovation, under the neon sign of capitalism.

Against this, Lyotard opposes the artistic and philosophy.  

The artistic resists the cultural because it recognizes the imaginary as
the denial of desire.  Art signals what the spectacle hides.

Philosophy too finds its own form of resistance in looking upon culture
and the metropolis in a manner that is "squint-eyed."  It remains
"impassive before the seductions of the aestheticizing megalopolis, but
affected by what they conceal in displaying it: the mute lament of what
the absolute lacks."

Here is where I take issue with Steve's comment that the spectacle has
superceded the sublime.  In truth, the spectacle only succeeds as a
parody of totality.  What is hides, distorts, forgets, ignores,
obliterates is what art and philosophy must ferret out by looking at the
world askew.  

Reg gives two examples that seem to sublimate the terror in an
appropriate way and he speaks of an artful silence that is the closest
we can get to the 'is it happening', the monstrous if of an unformed,
unpredictable future.  Of course, many other gestures are still possible
in this dance of Shiva the world has become.

Beyond the aesthetics of the spectacle, the sublime remains as the
"exultation of thought", the reminder that what is not there remains
important.  The rabbit hole within the world that goes all the way down.

The megalopolis today undergoes permanent renovation in a way that
resembles a computer virus.  Under such conditions, philosophy can no
longer hope to achieve an architecture or lasting edifice, unless it
hopes in some Nietzchean fashion to create with a jack hammer, busting
up the concrete in tatters all around it.

Philosophy shouldn't lament in some melancholy fashion the loss of its
architecture and the destiny of ruins. Instead it should create Bilbaos
that deconstruct themselves; made of industrial materials that gleam in
the night. 

Philosophy and art laugh amid their own agitated chaos, sharing secrets
that can't be told, seeing the world through ebony mirror-shaded
spectacles, and sending out smoke signals to the aliens yet to be. 

The question remains of course how do we make a politics of this, beyond
the spectacle, some alternative to what Lyotard calls the strange style
of the "precarious and the comfortable." 



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