Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Week 2 - Modernism

Today's discussion grew out of the assigned readings which included Borges' "Pierre Menard," Benjamin's "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction," and John Lechte's Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers: From Structuralism to Postmodernity.

I jotted (on a laptop of course) as the discussion evolved:

  • Why is "aura" important to Benjamin?
  • Situate Benjamin within the climate in which he was working; modernist artists and composers were beginning to talk about defining aspects of the time including a look to the future, the importance of originality, universal concepts (grand narratives). One such believer in universality was Le Corbusier:

"If I hold up a primary cubic form, I release in each individual the same primary sensation of the cube; but if Iplace some black geometric spots on the cube, I immediately release in a civilised man an idea of dice to play with, and a whole series of associations which would follow. A Papuan would see only an ornament." (1920)

  • In other words, it seems Le Corbusier believes one can strip away cultural context in order to reveal only the surface meaning. This is, according to Le Corbusier because everyone "reads" primary forms in the same way.


  • Does abstraction imply a stripping away of cultural significance?


  • Without art in the world what would happen? Does art have a "utility" value? (Think of Malevich's Suprematist Composition: Red Square and Black Square)

Reading for next week:

Roland Barthes, Image/Music/Text, "Death of the Author" essay, and Mythologies

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein

Lev Manovich's The Language of New Media

Task: research the concept "literacy."


Paul Scattergood said...

Does abstraction imply the stripping away of cultural significance?

As you have just highlighted; in a modernist reading this would appear to be the case. Perhaps this is simply a view particular to a narrow reading. It is perhaps because of western society’s high level of usage of and reliance upon 'representational' or 'figurative' imagery in the communication of ideas. In the historical sense we could suggest that perspectival systems of representation and images which appear three dimensional upon a flat picture plane were primarily developed or utilised in western society for the exposition of religious ideals, beliefs, allegories and imageries. This tradition continues today in the form of advertising and mass culture (an expansive subject that I’m sure we will get to later). I believe that it would be untrue to suggest that representational imagery is universal. This is not to say that the wider remit served by pictorial imagery such as the use of languages which utilise visual signifiers is not universal (upon this I could not be so sure).

When you quote le corbusier's belief that the Papuan would not know what the object depicted would be (i.e the dice) I believe that Corbusier believes this is because they would not have seen, or used dice and would not be able to associate usage with the depicted object. I would here question the universality of perspectival systems of representations. I.e. is the reading of a perspectival system learnt? [Here we are into 'Ways of seeing' - John Berger Territory].

Another question would be; not only if they be able to understand associations from objects that they do not know the uses for, but is there a way of striping away cultural significance when there is no fundamentally 'correct' way of expressing language in a way which is totally free from any cultural significance.

This would lead me back to the discussion we were having last week relating to non western systems of visual language – such as ‘abstract pattern’ used to decorate mosques. Are the squares, triangles (or in that matter any primary shape) which are utilised devoid of cultural significance? Again we come back to the idea of context. For a modernist a monotone flatly painted square canvas would perhaps be some kind of transcendentally experienced object which is devoid of content – this meaning would (arguably) be by no means universal.

Jess said...

Thanks for commenting Paul. You've raised some excellent points which we'll be broaching in the lecture on postmodernism (Barthes et al.).

Good idea to link to an image! Thanks.