10.1.11

Lyotard's Caution on Taste

image credit: © Greig Roselli 
"There could be no greater misunderstanding of judgments of taste than to declare them simply universal and necessary."

Jean-François Lyotard, Analytic of the Sublime, p. 19.

     I went to the Museum of Modern Art on a free Friday in the early Summer. I stood in front of one of Jackson Pollock's "action paintings" — he did many, so I don't remember the name of this particular one — but his paintings of this kind are all of the same technique. The paint is not applied to the canvas but rather the artist pours the paint onto the canvas, with a stirrer or with a brush. The eventual splashes make up the work. Unlike a brush, where the artist has control over the application of the paint, Pollock's action paintings are devoid of this control, but rather it is the flick of the artist's wrist or his position over the canvas that marks the final outcome. Looking at one of these paintings, my eyes dart to the different colorations, to the mad splashes of paint, and I do not conceive of a whole, as if the painting is one thing, one idea, one figure, say. This is how aesthetic judgments work. I say to myself, "I like this painting because it leads me to different possibilities". 
     Taste is a feeling of a possible harmony, not a regulative idea. Judgment guides taste rather than laying down normativity. When I make a judgment of taste about a beautiful object, it's not a legislative judgment that lays down the law, but rather, for Lyotard, Kant is telling us that taste is governed by a lawfulness without law, where the harmony of the faculties presents me with possibilities of judgment. Reflection finds a home for concepts that are not regulated by reason. If I were to say I could prove the communicability of taste, I would be wrong. Aesthetic judgments are not provable through a determinate form of logic. Reflection's logic is domiciliation and anamnesis of cognizing objects.
     Kant finds a home for reflection in free play itself. Something akin to the random splashes of paint in a Pollock painting. To reflect is to discover, to search for, to quicken the senses, to think without total dependence on a totalizing logic. To reflect gives art muscle. Reflection is the postmodern way of thinking itself out of Kant's hegemonic concept.
     The irony of reflection is that Kant thought it would unify his theory when in fact it has severed itself from the transcendental project. Reflection is Kant's legacy to postmodern thought. Reflection makes Kant postmodern. It's the first step in an epistemology that doesn't privilege the universal but pays attention to reflection's capacity to think without universals (as a given). Universals are possibilities. Not laws.
     Reflection is to art what the abstract is to painting.

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