[-empyre-] Sublime

John Haber jhaber at haberarts.com
Tue Jan 15 01:53:31 EST 2008

Before going on, I guess I'd share those puzzled at Brett's scheme. 
Since Kant alone is such tough territory, and I'm thinking aloud, I
can't promise to sound convincing or indeed to make much sense, but I'm
just finding too many questions. 

I'm not clear why we start with an assumption of an esthetics set forth
by Kant, among competing ones.  If it's because of specific influence on
Smithson's work, I'd have to see some discussion of this in Smithson's
writings.  If it's felt parallels, we can explore them, but of course we
have to be aware of qualifications, and I can run off just a scattered
set.  Kant of course is attempting a critique of "judgment," so he
certainly doesn't think his book applies only to some artists.  They're,
um, a few years apart.  We already did the sublime thing with Robert R.
on AbEx, and it was a conscious attempt to free them from Modernism in a
way that was lively, interesting, contentious, and of course probably
baloney.  There's a big gap, too, from that generation, with Clifford
Still's caverns on canvas, to Smithson, which I think is rightly seen as
a break. 

Next while Kant's third critique is very difficult (for me easily the
one I least had a handle on), I'm not comfortable with seeing it as
laying out a diagrammatic opposition between beauty and the sublime akin
to the mapping schemes that Smithson loved.  They're different aspects
of esthetic experience.  Both are sufficiently disinterested to be cool
for Kant, in that they exceed the self, but one, roughly speaking,
because the intellect is detached and the other because it's exceeded. 
I'm also not comfortable identifying Smithson's projects with either
one.  One can see them all -- critical exploration of existing sites,
debris in galleries, dumping earth -- as anything but a search for
beauty (an anti-esthetic, as Foster had it).  And I don't know about a
turn toward terror.  Smithson never seems so happy and so much at home
as when he worked on site.  Not coincidentally, he starts to appear more
in the first person on video on site.  His ambling down Spiral Jetty is
what made the work open to me.  He also seeks sites with some
association with human limits, as opposed, say, to Michael Heizer's
"cities" that assimilate an entire Western mythology.  Instead of the
Grand Canyon, we get a woodshed on a midwestern college campus salt
lake, with a structure that includes confinement as well as openness
(not to mention so that it can capture a part of nature, algea, and
change color). 

I'll accept, not in a position to critique it, that he was moving more
in this direction.  Now, there could have been other factors (such as
success enabling larger projects and because of rising ambitions).  But
I'm not sure he and Krauss do abandon a scheme that incorporates
nonsites by maintaining his four compass points, with sculpture and
landscape at the other two points and thus his two as hybrids and
disruptions.  In fact, basically my own project at Emypre has been
basically to argue for his continued viability for data-driven art based
on shared, corrupted notions I otherwise haven't elaborated enough, I
guess -- such as the hybrid, mongrel, cyborg.  I spoke simply of
disruption, entropy, decay, rupture, and so on, because I'm trying not
to privilege cyberspeak. 

Last, I'm not seeing myself the parallel to the data/information axis. 
Nor do I think of data as a kind of exceeding of narrative.  One can
think of it as a prior, or one can think of it as tied up in narratives
because science must create theoretical structures in order to capture
data.  I preferred in my article to insist on the latter.  But either
way, I don't think somehow of an easy alignment between Kant and
information science. 


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