Tag Archives: Roland Barthes

[SYMPOSIUM] BOOK CLUB

[SYMPOSIUM] BOOK CLUB
Nietzsche: The Birth of Tragedy

Friday, 12 April 2019, 6:30pm – 9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Closest stations: Whitechapel / Aldgate East
Facilitated by Nat Pimlott
Suggested donation £2, booking via Eventbrite

Markus Lüpertz [1965] Schuhabdruck—dithyrambisch (Shoe print—Dithyrambic). Ströher Collection, Darmstadt, Germany.
Markus Lüpertz [1965] Schuhabdruck—dithyrambisch (Shoe print—Dithyrambic). Ströher Collection, Darmstadt, Germany.
DOWNLOAD Friedrich Nietzsche (2003/1872). The Birth of Tragedy. Blackmask Online. Chapters 1, 16, 17, 23 and 24 (please note this starts from Chapter 1 after the introduction by Nietzsche titled an ‘Attempt at self criticism’ (1886) further down on the PDF under the title the Birth of tragedy).

The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche’s first book, published in 1872 when he was 28, is both a historical study of the origins of Greek tragedy and a complex and compelling argument for the necessity for art in life.

In the Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche describes two competing impulses in Greek culture – the Apollonian and the Dionysian.

Apollo as the god of the plastic or representational arts of painting and sculpture, is associated with beauty and order.

Dionysus in contrast is the god of the non-representational art of music, and associated with flux, mysticism and excess. Through music man is given a true glimpse into the nature of life, and the dissolution of individual identity in communion with nature.

While the Apollonian artist is associated with light and clarity, the Dionysian offers an insight into the darker side of life, a confrontation with the pain and destruction of existence.

Nietzsche argues that these forces and artistic tendencies which were in conflict were merged in Attic tragedy with the combination of the musical chorus and poetry. He believed the combination of these states produced the highest forms of music and tragic drama, which not only reveal the truth about suffering in life, but also provide a consolation for it.

While this mixture of competing forces was richly realised in  Attic tragedy Nietzsche traces how the arrival of Socratic culture which prioritised the purely intellectual and rational led to the destruction of myth and the art of the tragedy.

In the second half of the Birth of Tragedy Nietzsche uses this framework as the basis of a critique of the rationalism of late nineteenth-century German culture.

In its wide-ranging discussion of the nature of art, science and religion, Nietzsche’s argument raises questions about the vitality and nature of culture in a secular, rationalist modern world.

It contains themes that will remain important in Nietzsche’s later work – including the ‘will’ (an ultimate force which determines human life which will become in his later work the ‘will to power’) and, as he sets out in his preface to the second edition, a critique of Christianity and modern science as forms of belief that he argues do not bring man close to the real meaning of life.

It also contains the roots of arguments that have proven to be some of Nietzsche’s most influential. It’s critique of rationalism in western culture links it to modernism; in it’s focus on dreams and the origins underlying latent content it also seems to have links to psychoanalysis; and in his search for the unknown origin behind avowed or accepted ones it also presages the work of post-structuralists such as Derrida, whose own work depends on disputing of accepted interpretations and origins.

The birth of tragedy has become one of Nietzsche’s best known and most influential books and a source of a challenging rich argument for how aesthetic experience relates to the meaning of life and other questions that remain central to the practice of art and criticism today.

Questions

  • What is the Apollonian and Dionysian? Is this opposition the right one?
  • Are there other forces that need to be considered? and is it relevant in interpreting art today?
  • How does rationalism and science shape modern culture?
  • What role can myth play in culture now?
  • Is aesthetic experience the only truth in a secular world?
  • Where is the Apollonian and Dionysian in modern culture? Does the Dionysian need revival?
Markus Lüpertz [1965] Schuhabdruck—dithyrambisch (Shoe print—Dithyrambic). Ströher Collection, Darmstadt, Germany.
Markus Lüpertz [1965] Schuhabdruck—dithyrambisch (Shoe print—Dithyrambic). Ströher Collection, Darmstadt, Germany.
Suggested further reading

Monthly reading group for artists, researchers and anyone interested in the intersections between art practice and critical theory. Everyone is welcome to propose a text and facilitate the reading group. Please book your place and download the shared document. For more information and an archive of previous events please scroll down.

Free & open access

The reading group is free and open to everyone who wants to join as long as they commit to the reading. Please register and arrive early, doors will close when we reach maximum capacity. Don’t forget to download the shared document and bring a hard-copy to the book club. Please consider donating to help cover our expenses and keep us going.

Discussion & decision-making

Texts are selected by group consensus on the basis that they reflect on the relationship between practice and theory. This includes a broad variety of texts, from philosophy to politics and aesthetics to science fiction – there is no limitation.

Facilitating the book club

[SYMPOSIUM] is a supportive community of peers who discuss and unpack their research interests. All participants have the opportunity to facilitate the book club on a text of their choice. If you would like to propose a text, you can start preparing right now:

[1] Decide on a text that you want to discuss.

[2] Do some background research and write a short introduction to provide some context, from your own perspective. When was it written? Why was it written? Who wrote it? Was it a response to something else? Why are you interested in the text? How does it relate to, or inform, your practice or your research?

[3] Pace the reading. How long is the text? If it is short, can we discuss the entire text in a 2-hour book club? If the text is long you may need to divide it up between two or more sessions.

[4] Write down some questions that you would like to bring to the discussion. Suggest some further reading and an image or two, with captions.

[5] Download the infosheet and send us your proposal.


[SYMPOSIUM] ARCHIVE

#34 Jared Diamond: Collapse
Friday, 8 March 2019, 7pm – 9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Alter Us

#33 Claire Bishop: Artificial Hells
Friday, 8 February, 7pm – 9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Eva Ruschkowski

#32 Eagleton & Zizek: The Idea of Communism
Friday, 14 December 2018, 6:30pm – 9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Neil Lamont

#31 Mark Fisher: Capitalist Realism Pt.3
Friday, 9 November 2018, 6:30pm – 9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Silvia Bombardini & Elliot C. Mason

#30 Debord: The Culmination of Separation
Friday, 12 October 2018, 18:30–21:00
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Penelope Kupfer & Darshana Vora

#29 Deutsch: Why are flowers beautiful?
Friday, 14 September 2018, 18:30–21:00
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by John Fortnum

#28 Fisher: Capitalist Realism Pt.2
Saturday, 9 June 2018, 2:30pm – 5:30pm
UNISON/Yurt Café, Limehouse, London E14 8DS
Facilitated by Sophia Kosmaoglou
Part of Antiuniversity Now 9-15 June 2018

#27 Derrida: Signature Event Context
Friday, 11 May 2018, 18:30–21:00
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Nat Pimlott & Sophia Kosmaoglou

#26 Derrida: Structure, Sign and Play
Friday, 13 April 2018, 6:30pm–9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Sophia Kosmaoglou

#25 Fisher: Capitalist Realism Pt.1
Friday, 9 March 2018, 6:30pm-9pm
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Facilitated by Sophia Kosmaoglou

#24 Cohn: Representation and Critique
Friday, 9 February 2018, 6:30pm-9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Aris Nikolaidis

#23 Adam Curtis: HyperNormalisation
Friday, 12 January 2018, 6:30pm-9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by
Neil Lamont

#22 Debord: Negation and Consumption
Friday, 8 December 2017, 6:30pm-9pm
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Aristotelis Nikolaidis

#21 Adorno: Commitment
Friday, 10 November 2017
LARC, 62 Fieldgate Street, London E1 1ES
Facilitated by Nat Pimlott

#20 Foucault: Of Other Spaces
Sunday, 15 October 2017
UNISON/Yurt Café, Limehouse, London E14 8DS
Facilitated by Dasha Loyko

#19 Bishop: Pedagogical Projects
Monday, 24 July 2017
Guest Projects, 1 Andrews Road, London E8 4QL
Chaired by Renata Minoldo
Part of School of The Damned‘s Common Room

#18 Virno: The Dismeasure of Art
Friday, 9 June 2017
Grow Elephant, New Kent Rd, London SE17 1SL
Chaired by Rubén Salgado Perez

#17 Judd: Specific Objects
Friday, 21 April 2017
88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH
Chaired by Richard Burger

#16 Deleuze & Guattari: Rhizome
Friday, 10 March 2017
88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH
Chaired by Katie Tysoe and Sophia Kosmaoglou

#15 Marx: The Fetishism of the Commodity & its Secret
Friday, 10 February 2017
Wimbledon Art Studios, London SW17 0BB
Chaired by Sophia Kosmaoglou

#14 O’Sullivan: The Aesthetics of Affect
Friday, 13 January 2017
Louise House, Dartmouth Rd, London SE23 3HZ
Chaired by Katie Tysoe

#13 Foucault: The Four Similitudes
Friday, 9 December 2016
88 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1DH
Chaired by Penelope Kupfer

#12 Foster: Post-Critical?
Friday, 11 November 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by Dasha Loyko

#11 Badiou: Art & Philosophy
Friday, 14 October 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by Kerry W. Purcell

#10 Sontag: Against Interpretation
Friday, 9 September 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by F. D.

#9 Groys: Under the Gaze of Theory
Friday, 8 July 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by Sophia Kosmaoglou, respondent Johanna Kwiat

#8 Rancière: Problems & Transformations of Critical Art
Friday, 10 June 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by Stephen Bennett
Part of Antiuniversity Now 9-12 June 2016

#7 Sewell: Tate Triennial III
Friday, 13 May 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by Richard Lloyd-Jones

#6 Duchamp: The Creative Act
Friday, 8 April 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by F. D., respondent Penelope Kupfer

#5 Latour: On Actor Network Theory
Friday, 11 March 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by Johanna Kwiat

#4 Barthes: The Death of the Author
Friday, 12 February 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by Henrietta Ross

#3 Owens: The Discourse of Others
Friday, 8 January 2016
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by Sophia Kosmaoglou

#2 Abu-Lughod: Writing against Culture
Friday, 11 December 2015
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by OmarJoseph Nasser-Khoury

#1 Kant: What is Enlightenment?
Friday, 13 November 2015
The Field, 385 Queens Road, London SE14 5HD
Chaired by Sophia Kosmaoglou

Reading and/or Looking

UPDATE ON [SYMPOSIUM] #04 BARTHES: THE DEATH OF THE AUTHOR

[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, flier.In February’s [SYMPOSIUM] we discussed Roland Barthes’ influential essay The Death of the Author (1977). Many thanks to everyone for their contributions to a very productive event. It was great to see everyone again and to welcome some new faces. A special thanks to Henrietta Ross for leading, chairing and summarising the discussion.

Henrietta got us off to a great start by suggesting three broad thematic approaches with the questions: What is an author? What is a text? and What is a reader? She also suggested that we address the question: What does the text mean? Adding that we might want to contest the terms of this question in light of Barthes’ own resistance to fixed meaning. And finally, she suggested that we might want to discuss the roles of the critic, of ideology and of literature.

We addressed all of these issues, maintaining some consistency with each term but also skipping back and forth between them. We questioned the difference between an author, a writer and a scriptor in Barthes’ terms, and came to the conclusion that beyond the “authority” of the Author, and the “performance” of the narrator, there was ambiguity around these terms. We also briefly alluded to the “author function”, which Barthes introduces in Authors and Writers (1960) and Foucault takes up in What is an Author? (1969). We adhered to a structuralist definition of a text as any cultural artefact that can be “read” and interpreted, we therefore discussed artworks as texts and stopped to ponder whether a scientific article could also be considered a text in this light, or whether Barthes was only referring to literary texts. We discussed Barthes’ premise that readers bring the text to life by reading it “here and now” as Johanna pointed out, thereby interpreting the text in a multitude and variety of different ways, and we were left with the vivid image of tiny reader-maggots feasting on the Author’s dead body. We didn’t address the question of how we construct meaning per se, and we might want to come back to this in the future. We also discussed the role of the maligned critic, who fixes or determines the meaning of a text authoritatively in public forums, referring to exhibition display texts as examples. We will have a chance to return to this subject when we discuss Brian Sewell’s review Tate Triennial 3 (2006), which will be led by Richard Lloyd-Jones in May.

[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, 12 February 2016 at The Field. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.
[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, 12 February 2016 at The Field. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.
We briefly addressed the question of ideology by considering the question of whether there is a need for a determinate meaning, and why, despite the influence and verity of Barthes’ premise that meaning is constructed subjectively and constantly shifting, there is nevertheless a general consensus on the meaning of texts? We posited peer pressure and the natural social tendency we have for consensus or sameness.

Henrietta summed up the discussion elegantly with a prescient observation on the topic of ideology, in her own words:

“…while I found the discussion of the role of the author in the production of texts such as works of art interesting, for me what is most engaging about Barthes’, and wider post-structuralist ideas, is their implications for ideologies. And the possibility of considering ideologies, alongside ‘image, music, [art]’ etc, as ‘texts’. In Mythologies Barthes discussed a wide range of activities: from drinking wine to wrestling, as cultural texts which have a role in creating ideologies. The ideas he discusses with regard to authorship in The death of the author suggest that the reader might not just be key to the understanding or the creation of meaning in writing (for example) but also ideologies. This suggests a concept of ideologies or hegemonies not as top-down, one-way or imposed narratives, but something that a wide variety of actors are involved and complicit in establishing and sustaining. While this might be a concept that is discussed or suggested by a variety of social theorists or philosophers I think the way in which Barthes and other post-structuralists come to this position through the consideration of linguistic theory and semiotics is interesting.” (Ross, 2016)

[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, 12 Feb 2016 at The Field. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.
[SYMPOSIUM] #4 Barthes: The Death of the Author, 12 Feb 2016 at The Field. Photo by Maria Christoforatou.
The jury is out on whether we would like to come back to the subject of ideology in the future. We could approach it via Louis Althusser’s “state apparatuses”, Antonio Gramsci’s “cultural hegemony” or a range of other approaches.

A feature by Dave Beech titled On Critique in the February 2016 issue of Art Monthly is relevant to the discussion we had about whether artworks can in fact be “read” and creates a link between Barthes and the texts by Marcel Duchamp and Brian Sewell that we will be discussing in April and May.

Beech begins by addressing his early critical writing and goes on to discuss the tension between looking at and reading about art. Beech shares the discomfort that many artists have with the idea of “reading” artworks, he sees it as a “misreading of CS Pierce or a misapplication of Ferdinand Saussure’s linguistics to non-linguistic material” (Beech, 2016, p. 7). I am similarly resistant to the idea that an artwork can be broken down to a code or a set of rules, like a language. Language is not merely a series of words that must be deciphered, language is governed by syntactical and grammatical rules. Although poets might play around with these rules, artists’ materials are not primarily linguistic. Artists may indeed think in linguistic terms about their work but they also think in terms of images, shapes, colours, pressures, textures, qualities, quantities, equivalences, oppositions and so on. All these values are governed by diverse and conflicting rules once we free them from narrowly aesthetic definitions. Do artists always think in narrowly aesthetic or art-historical categories? Do viewers approach art from narrowly aesthetic or art-historical perspectives? Artists, viewers and critics bring all kinds of other approaches and discourses into their engagement with art (personal experience, science, mysticism, critical theory, etc).

Wittgenstein claimed that we cannot conceive of something that we do not have the language to describe:

“The limits of my language mean the limits of my world.” (Wittgenstein, 1922, p. 74)

This is true to an extent; the structure of our language (its ideology) limits the kinds of thoughts we can have – to come full circle to what Henrietta said about ideology. When Derrida refers to language as a structure that both makes possible and limits play (Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences, 1966), he is talking about language as ideology. The concept of ideology in Marxist thought articulates the relation between culture and political economy. Ideology is a naturalised framework of assumptions about the world that we internalise. In Althusser’s words, ideology does not constitute “the system of the real relations which govern the existence of individuals”, it constitutes the “imaginary relation of those individuals to the real relations in which they live” (Althusser, 1971, p. 165). For Althusser, ideological state apparatuses are the material manifestations of ideology in practices and institutions. Language is arguably the primary social institution, it makes possible but limits the freedom of the agents who use it.

But I disagree with Wittgenstein, on the basis that if we could express everything that we conceive, perceive and feel in words, then we would have no need for art. Wittgenstein’s assertion also suggests that we can think of nothing that someone else has not thought of and named already. But we evidently can and do have original and unique thoughts and we don’t use language for all of them (how we articulate them and whether we reject them out of habit are different questions, Arthur Koestler goes into this in The Act of Creation, 1964).

I am reluctant to admit that artworks follow rules but, apart from rare exceptions, they generally do and this has grave consequences for my argument against Wittgenstein above and my faith in the liberating power of art. Wittgenstein says that if we change the rules of a game, we change the game (Wittgenstein, 1968). When an artist breaks the rules, art is redefined in the process. But evidently that doesn’t happen very often, instead there’s a fashionable shift now and then in the general sameness that is paraded in galleries and museums all over the world, until the next novelty comes along to spread the sameness.

The other reason that Beech offers for taking issue with “reading” artworks involves what he calls a “process of prolonged looking”, which he finds “inadequate for the works that engaged [him] the most” (Beech, 2016, p. 7). He finds that thinking and reading about these artworks in their absence is a better way to understand them. This is the main crux of his argument and I thought it might be interesting to debate it because looking and observing is generally considered a cornerstone in visual arts education – even in art schools that shun the discipline of drawing – and what about photography and film-making? I reckon that thinking and reading about artworks in their absence is certainly a good way of learning new things and generating ideas of your own – which brings us back full circle to the death of the author. Beech uses artworks as an inspiration and starting point for his own writing – so maybe this article is about how to generate critique and not about how to look at art after all, something he admits in his introduction:

“When I began writing, reviewing exhibitions in London in the 1990s, I was immediately struck by the contrast between my initial impressions of an exhibition and what I came to say about the work. Not always, but often enough to cause concern, in the time it took me to write about art my response shifted from enjoyment to disapproval. The practice of writing turned me from a consumer into a judge.” (Beech, 2016, p. 5)

Bibliography

Althusser, Louis (1971). Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. In Lenin and Philosophy. New York: Monthly Review Press, pp. 128-194.

Barthes, Roland (1977). The Death of the Author. In Image Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath. London: Fontana, pp. 142-148.

Barthes, Roland (1993). Authors and Writers. In A Barthes Reader, Susan Sontag ed. New York: Vintage, pp. 185-193.

Beech, Dave (2016). On Critique. Art Monthly, February 2016, pp. 5-8.

Derrida, Jacques (2005/1996). Structure, sign and play in the discourse of the human sciences. In Writing and Difference. London: Routlege, pp. 353-354.

Foucault, Michel (1977). What is an Author? In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, Donald F. Bouchard ed. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, pp. 113-138.

Koestler, Arthur (1975). The Act of Creation. London: Picador.

Ross, Henrietta (2016). Personal communication, 16 Feb 2016.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1922). Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. London: Kegan.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1968). Philosophical Investigations. Oxford: Blackwell.