9:00–10:50 PAPER SESSION 4
BETWEEN ARTS AND ETHICS
BRIAN RUSH - ENCOUNTER ENGINEERING: STRATEGIES AND QUESTIONS FROM A PARTICIPATORY PRACTICE
As an artist who makes participatory objects, it is my goal to foment in my audience mild discomforts and minor embarrassments, highlighting automatic social habits and temporarily hacking them. Whether it means wearing a helmet device that cranks you closer and farther from your counterpart, or sitting on a bench that won’t let you sit alone, my most recent body of work dishes small doses of undesirable feelings. While most willing participants come away with a chuckle as well, I nevertheless wrestle with my justifications for intervening in others’ behavior. My dissatisfaction with the network of inhibitions and social conventions that hinder meaningful interaction between people and my conviction that they can be changed are what lead me to make these objects. But what right do I have to tinker with the emotional-relational world of strangers? As an engineer of interpersonal encounters, how can I balance the demands of hospitality, truth-telling or -doing, and experimental curiosity? I draw on my own practice and the little-known tradition of other artists (Franz Erhard Walther, Lygia Clark, Krzysztof Wodiczko, etc.) who have made these, what I call relational prosthetics, to discuss tenable strategies for afflicting the comfortable, and to raise questions that come into sharp focus when considering this species of art object but which nevertheless apply to many forms of art making, questions such as: If an object can be said to embody the intentions of its designer(s), is the artist potentially culpable, in part, for the actions or responses of future users? Or, what responsibilities does the artist have in informing/warning potential participants about the nature of the engagement in which they are to take part?
Brian Rush makes videos, performances, relational objects and interactions that use humour and discomfort to investigate inhibitions, fruitful vulnerability, invitation, and authenticity. An undergraduate alum of Trinity Western University, Rush received his MFA in Visual Art from Azusa Pacific University and is now practicing in Portland, OR. You can view his work at brian-rush.com
RICA GRIMM – SKIN BOATS: “ETHICS AND AESTHETICS ARE ONE”
It is clear that ethics cannot be put into words. Ethics is transcendental. (Ethics and aesthetics are one and the same.) -Wittgenstein, Tractatus
Untangling Wittgenstein’s well-known enigmatic phrase, fundamentally linking ethics with aesthetics–but cryptically situating both beyond words–has puzzled philosophers and moral theorists since it was written in 1918. It remains an elusive, contested statement that has sparked a contemporary call for “aestheticized ethics” amongst western theorists (Shusterman, Rorty, Nussbaum, Bai and others). In this paper I add my own speculative answer to this puzzle, suggesting the connection might be the embodied practice of self-emptying attentiveness. Deep seeing, active receptivity and self-emptying attentiveness characterizes many artistic practices and can also be described as taking the first step towards living a moral life, a belief that Iris Murdoch held dear. I will explore Simone Weil’s concept of decreation, Tim Lilburn’s self-emptying, Gao Xingjian’s loneliness and Aristotle’s catharsis as each capable of dislodging the egoistic self, releasing energy to fuel the making. I suggest that the arts make manifest without words largely due to our common embodied condition. We are, each of us, skin boats. Art is also material and fosters insight in materialized experiential rather than propositional language. And furthermore, it seems to me that art, unlike other subjects, enacts meaning, negotiating insight by trusting unknowing, the oceanic apophatic abyss, the liminal silent gap. Self-emptying paying attention; active receptivity and opening oneself to awareness stops hasty conceptualization, incomplete categorization, premature conclusions: the habits of thought that blind us. Hence I have come to understand art-making as an epistemology of unknowing–an apophatic force. Through trusting a cathartic complicating and completing of reason within a web of culturally mediated contexts, art-making is a form of understanding born of embodied self emptying attention.
Erica Grimm is an artist whose drawing practice remains at the core of her work. Through drawing she inquires into embodiment, extending the meaning of body (and drawing) over a variety of materials and signifiers. Steel, lead, wax, ash and gold; PET scans and MRI’s; depth, aerial and topographical maps; each of these ordinary materials, medical and navigational imaging techniques make meaning, and allow her to map both interior and exterior territories of the body. Extending this exploration through using animated gifs of her own angiograph projected onto steel and inquiring into the epistemological implications of visual processes, have fueled the completion of her PhD dissertation The Aesthetics of Attentiveness at Simon Fraser University. Erica is Assistant Professor and Chair of the Art + Design Department, School of the Arts, Media and Culture at Trinity Western University. Represented in galleries across Canada, she has had over 25 solo exhibitions and is in numerous private and public collections, including the Vatican Art Collection, Canada Council Art Bank and the Richmond Art Gallery. She was in 2002 the Distinguished Nash Lecturer at the University of Regina, the first Prize recipient of the Imago National Juried Art Competition, and was honored as the Distinguished Alumnae from the University of Regina.
STEWART BRETT – THE IN-BETWEEN SPACE OF ARTISTIC CREATION AND RELATIONAL ETHICS: POSTMODERN AUTHORSHIP AS ETHICAL PRAXIS IN THE WORK OF MIKHAIL BAKHTIN AND J.M. COETZEE.
Attending to the interrelatedness of artistic production and ethical practice, this paper explores the manner in which artistic form functions as a relational ethics. Responding to the formalist view that art remain an isolated and self-referential object of experience, this paper reinstates the role and function of the postmodern artist as a responsible participant in the creative process, not a disinterested and removed progenitor of value and meaning. Responding to the question of artistic production as the enactment of a postmodern ethical praxis, this paper examines the dissident apartheid writing of J.M. Coetzee through the philosophical optic of Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of dialogic authorship. Functioning as a response to the modernist notion of aesthetic/subjectivist autonomy, Bakhtin’s notion of dialogic authorship returns art to life through the recovery of the ethical in-between space of answerable participation. This space functions as a communicative nexus point, configured to mirror the phenomenological and linguistic relations between self and other in lived-experience. The manner in which a postmodern ethical praxis is enacted through literary form raises further questions concerning the ethical responsibilities of the artist. Approaching Coetzee’s apartheid writing through the prism of this enquiry, this paper furthermore attends to the problematic notion of authorial authority and the politicized act of representing the historical other from a standpoint of complicity. Responding to the postmodern moral imperative that the artist and the work of art answer life, Coetzee’s disavowal of a univocal position of authority as an Afrikaner novelist corresponds to an attempt to implement a literary form that resists the replication of the power dynamics undergirding apartheid discourse. Answering for one’s own unique placement in time and space as a responsible artist heightens the necessity of responding to difference through the in-between space of participation. It is through this release of authorial control that literary form can respond to, and be responsible for, the enactment of a postmodern ethical praxis.
Stewart Brett is currently completing doctoral research at the Queensland University of Technology. His Ph.D. is entitled ‘Literary Creation and Postmodern Ethical Practice in the Work of Mikhail Bakhtin and J.M. Coetzee’. The research examines the convergence of Bakhtinian ethics and the late modernist literary ethical and aesthetic practice of J.M. Coetzee. Stewart’s wider research interests include post-apartheid literature and art, postcolonial literary theory, and philosophical applications of the work of Martin Heidegger and Mikhail Bakhtin. Stewart is based in the Creative Industries Faculty at QUT.
ARTS, ETHICS, AND PHILOSOPHY 2
BETTINA STUMM – THE EYE OF THE BEHOLDER: ETHICAL RESPONSIBILITY IN THE FACE OF ART
In his various reflections on art, Emmanuel Levinas holds seemingly contrasting views on the relationship between art and ethical responsibility, particularly for the beholder. On the one hand, he is deeply suspicious of art, especially the aesthetics of form and beauty revealed in the classical tradition. Such an aesthetics, he argues in “Reality and its Shadow,” lulls viewers with its reflections of wholeness, harmony, and order, causing them to disengage from the world and evade responsibility (141). Indeed, he deems “the art of the visible” generally suspect because what is revealed and represented integrates elements into a whole—a universal order—that results in the beholder’s cognitive grasp over what is seen. On the other hand, Levinas describes certain art forms in terms analogous to those of ethical responsibility. In particular, Modernist art (and poetry specifically)—in its fragmentation, discordance, and de-rangement—challenges the aesthetics of beauty and renders it unintelligible. Beholders cannot remain disinterested in the face of such art; it disturbs and destabilizes them. It is a trauma of sorts, an interruption of being and revelation. It could well be seen as a “call” of alterity that takes one outside oneself and demands an ethical response. Taking Levinas’s reflections as a starting point, this paper will examine two questions: First, is the art of fragmentation and disorientation the only aesthetics that can take us outside ourselves and stimulate response? In other words, is it only trauma and destabilization that moves us to ethical responsibility and social justice? Bringing the work of Simone Weil and Elaine Scarry to bear on this question, I want to revisit the aesthetics of beauty and the nature of the visible that Levinas denounces as irresponsible, and consider how the beholder may in fact be rendered vulnerable, destabilized, and moved to ethical responsibility for others in the face of beauty. Second, if both the fragmented and the beautiful have the potential to stimulate ethical response, how does such a response work in the world? To be concrete, what can beholding art do in a city like Vancouver, particularly on the Downtown Eastside? Is there a practical dimension to be drawn from my analysis for the community in this space, one both fragmented and beautiful?
Dr. Bettina Stumm is an instructor in the Coordinated Arts Program at the University of British Columbia and the reviews editor for the academic journal, Life Writing. She recently completed and defended her dissertation, “Witnessing Others: Ethical Responsibility in Relational Life Writing” and is currently beginning an analysis of the intersections between ethics and aesthetics on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
MERRIDAWN DUCKLER – IN THE CLEAR: ETHICS AND ART IN EMMANUEL LEVINAS’S “REALITY AND ITS SHADOW”
Levinas’s essay (published in 1948) “Reality and its Shadow” is a fascinating exploration of ethics in art that does not look at the ethical in artistic creation from the point of view of rightful or wrongful image but is interested in the ethics of the relationship between art maker and art viewer. To Levinas, as contemporary artists expressively avoid defining statements about the “meaning” of their work the discipline is positioned as a producer of that which is “more real than reality” an absolute that, by its nature, resists dialog and interaction. I propose discussing this essay in its Jewish, historical context, as a post-Shoah document, and in the context of postmodern anxieties about what art owes its audience. The intersection of the moral or ethical in art is usually concerned with immoral, questionable or controversial content but Levinas instead looks to the spiritual aspect of artwork that necessarily creates its own distanced and disenfranchised audience. “Does not the function of art lie in not understanding?” asks the author. To answer affirmatively is to participate in a near autocratic nexus from which responsibility is expelled. Does ethical responsibility necessarily conflict with artistic freedom of expression? By analyzing and presenting fresh looks at this essay, I hope to open new discussion about meaning, ethics and valences of power in visual art.
Merridawn Duckler has a B.A. from Reed College and an M.A.J.S. from Hebrew College where she received the Myer and Anna Wolf Prize for academic excellence. She is a published writer, Professional Society of Journalists and NEA awardee with fellowships at Yaddo, Centrum, the Norman Mailer House, the Bertha Anolic Fellowship to Israel among others. She was a moderator at the Continental Philosophy symposium at Syracuse University and presented “New Jewish Icons” at the Religion and Spirituality in Society Conference, in Vancouver, B.C. She’s a Senior Fellow at the Attic Institute, Associate Editor at Narrative Magazine and blogs at www.merridawnduckler.com
CHRISTOPHER S. MORRISSEY – MAKING MUSIC TOGETHER: ALFRED SCHÜTZ’S CHALLENGE TO EDMUND HUSSERL
Alfred Schütz’s writings on music present a significant challenge to Edmund Husserl. In his investigations into the phenomenology of the social world, Schütz investigates the structures of our Life-World (Lebenswelt). Music presents a unique case for the study of the relation between art and ethics because of what it reveals about the social construction of our Life-World. This paper evaluates Michael Barber’s argument regarding Schütz’s achievement: “Schütz, himself a trained pianist and widely read musicologist, integrated his phenomenology with his understanding of music. Music, differing from language in being non-representative, lends itself to phenomenological analysis in the meaning it carries beyond its mere physical nature as sound waves and in its character as an ideal object that must be constituted through its unfolding stages, i.e., polythetically … For instance, music and inner time unfold polythetically and cannot be grasped monothetically; that is, one must live through the unfolding of a symphony or inner experience, and any conceptual summary of their contents inevitably fails to do justice to their meaning. However, since all conceptualization consists in a monothetical grasping of polythetic stages, Schütz is actually realizing that certain dimensions of consciousness elude conceptualization and thus demarcating the limits of rationalization, just as he had pointed out how certain provinces of meaning (e.g., dreams) evade theoretic comprehension or duration eludes memory… Schütz has seen clearly that the passive associations of listening (e.g., recognizing the appearance of symphonic theme) differ from those of sight (e.g., apprehending an object like a house) and that listening does not identify numerically distinct items but produces an illusion of identification. Schütz’s conclusion that sameness in music involves not numerical unity but recurrent likeness challenges the fundamental Husserlian thesis that the synthesis of passive identification is universal, at the basis of the constitution of the world” (Barber, Michael (2011) “Alfred Schutz”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy).
Christopher S. Morrissey is a professor of Philosophy at Redeemer Pacific College, the Catholic liberal arts college at Trinity Western University, where he also teaches courses in the Latin language and in Greek and Roman history. He studied Greek and Latin at the University of British Columbia and has taught Classics courses at Simon Fraser University. He has published on Thomas Aquinas and his commentatorial tradition, which includes John Poinsot (“John of St. Thomas”), from whom we may trace a foundational doctrine of signs for the interdisciplinary field of semiotics. He has also translated the ancient Greek poetry of Hesiod.
11:10–12:15 KEYNOTE 3
MARCEL COBUSSEN AND NANETTE NIELSEN – ON THE MUSICALLY ETHICAL
The relationship between ethics and music is one of the oldest topics in philosophical discussions of music, dating at least as far back as Plato, who warned against the morally corrupting power that music could have on the soul while also recognizing that it could engender grace and harmony. Music and ethics is, at the same time, one of the most recent topics attracting attention within both music studies and philosophy, in that it is only within the last twenty-five years that critical developments have begun to open up this sphere of inquiry. Drawing on examples from our just-published book Music and Ethics, this paper explores various ‘ethical moments’, which involve, on the one hand, ethical issues that warrant musical discussion and, on the other, examples of music that invite ethical explication. We argue that music’s contribution to ethical issues can be useful and fruitful because music operates, at least partially, outside the domain of language, outside the restraints of discursivity. The specific role that music can play in and around ethics or morality is a musical one: via encounters with music, prevalent ideas about ethics and morality can be challenged, transgressed, changed or deepened.
Marcel Cobussen studied jazz piano at the Conservatory of Rotterdam and Art and Cultural Studies at Erasmus University, Rotterdam (the Netherlands). He currently teaches Music Philosophy and Sonic Studies at Leiden University (the Netherlands) and the Orpheus Institute in Ghent (Belgium). Cobussen is author of the book Thresholds. Rethinking Spirituality Through Music (Ashgate, 2008), editor of Resonanties. Verkenningen tussen kunsten en wetenschappen (LUP, 2011) and co-author of Music and Ethics (Ashgate, 2012) and Dionysos danst weer. Essays over hedendaagse muziekbeleving (Kok Agora, 1996). He is editor-in-chief of the open access online Journal of Sonic Studies
(www.sonicstudies.org). His Ph.D. dissertation Deconstruction in Music (2002) was presented as an online website located at www.cobussen.com.
Nanette Nielsen is Lecturer in Music at the University of Nottingham. She works on music and philosophy, especially intersections between ethics and aesthetics in twentieth-century music, and on opera and music criticism in the Weimar republic. Current projects include a book on the German music critic and opera producer Paul Bekker. Her article on ‘Ernst Krenek’s “problem of freedom” in Jonny spielt auf’ will be published in twentieth-century music in early 2013. She is the co-author of Music and Ethics (Ashgate, 2012).