Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Framed Frame

Kazimir Malevich, "The Black Square" (1915)
To recapitulate: for the transcendental approach, the a priori ontological frame is irreducible, it can never be inscribed back into reality as an ontic occurrence, since every such occurrence already appears within some transcendental frame. Hegel's way of overcoming the transcendental approach is to introduce a dialectical mediation between the form/frame and its content: the content is in itself "weak," inconsistent, barred, ontologically not fully constituted, and the form fills in this gap, the void of that which is "primordially repressed" from the content. This is why the form is not primarily metonymic with regard to its content: it does not express or mirror it, but fills in its gaps.

Furthermore, since every relation between a frame and its content is necessarily disturbed, there is a need for a supplementary element which will "suture" the entire field. In this element (baptized by Lacan the objet a), opposites immediately coincide, i.e., its status is radically amphibolous: it is simultaneously a particular idiosyncratic object which disturbs the frame of reality (the birds of Hitchcock's "The Birds", say) and the frame itself through which we perceive reality (the birds provide the focal point from or through which we read the story). This coincidence of opposites demonstrates Lacan's move beyond transcendental formalism: the fantasy frame is never just a formal frame, it coincides with an object that is constituitively subtracted from reality - or, as Derrida put it, the frame itself is always enframed by a part of its content, by an object which falls within the frame.

Such a disturbance in the "normal" relationship between the frame and its enframed content lies at the very core of modernist art, which is forever split between the two extremes marked at its very beginnings by Malevich and Duchamp: on the one side, the purely formal markings of the Place that confers on an object the status of a work of art (the "Black Square"); on the other side, the display of the common ready-made object (a urinal, a bicycle) as a work of art, as if to prove that what counts as art hinges not on the qualities of the art object, but exclusively on the Place the object occupies, so that anything, even shit, can "be" the work of art if it finds itself in the right Place. In other words, Malevich and Duchamp are like the two sides of a Mobius band, the front side and the obverse of the same artistic event, but for this very reason they cannot ever meet on the same side, within the same space. This is why the definitive kitsch saturation of modernism would have been to combine Malevich and Duchamp in the same exhibit - to put, say; a (painting of a) urinal in a frame (black square). But would this not simply be a return to traditional painting? Yes, which is why, once the modernist break has occurred, one cannot pretend that it hasn't happened, and any attempt to ignore it and to go on painting as before will be nostalgic kitsch, in the same way that, after the break introduced by atonality it would be kitsch to compose romantic music in the same old style. Putting a urinal in a frame would, however, remain a modernist gesture since the very obvious gap between the form (frame) and content (urinal) would raise the question "Why did the artist put such a common object inside a frame reserved for art objects?" and thereby preserve the gap. This is to say, the only possible answer to that question is: the artist put the urinal in the frame precisely in order to make it palpable that any object can become an art object the moment it occupies the Place of such an object.
- Slavoj Zizek, "Absolute Recoil: Towards a New Foundation of Dialectical Materialism"
Marcel Duchamp, "Fountain" (1917)


(((Thought Criminal))) said...

Zizek is the Pierre Brassau of psychoanalysis. ;)

-FJ said...

Praise from a master! :)