Subject/Object of Art

Intertextually interrogating the archive allows the present to engage in conversation with the past, as ideas continuously evolve. Ideas with the longest trajectory elude an achievable definitive answer. Modern aesthetics frames its understanding of art by presupposing a subject/object dichotomy. Such an idea-construct, the topic of this paper, attempts to reconcile subjective relationship to objective veracity, “between Consciousness in general and the non-conscious Reality” (Kojeve 150). Truth is the objectivity behind subjectivity. “Subjectively, every philosopher appears to himself to be engaged in the pursuit of something which may be called ‘truth’ ” (Russell 785). Throughout the historical dialectic, philosophers have divided subjectivity between the ability to think (reason) and the ability to feel (sentience). Furthermore, functioning as a sentient-being involves mental processing of an interior (brain) and an exterior (matter) experience. “For there to be "Realism," the concept (knowledge) must be opposed to the thing (the object)” (Kojeve 157). However, the question remains, to what extent is sovereign existence fashioned by mental processing. “No longer, as in all previous [philosophic] conceptions, do concepts take their forms from objects; now, on the contrary, objects take their form from concepts” (Jaspers 91).

Considering the relation between subject and object, a subject is a unique entity with an interior consciousness shaped by exclusive experiences. “The pure Subjective is [just] as much [an] abstraction as the pure Objective” (Kojeve 151). Additionally each individual entity is in relationship with other unique exterior entities (objects), with or without their own consciousnesses. Thus, a subject is an observer while the object is a thing being observed. Subject self-identify formulates in interaction with the observed other. This duality distinction between subject/object corresponds to René Descartes division between thought (mind, soul) and extension (matter). Descartes positioned thought (subjectivity) as the essence of the mind, with extension (taking up space) the essence of matter (Russell 567). A problem of Cartesian Dualism is associated with freedom. That which is free is not subject to the deterministic laws of matter, because all physical things are subject to such laws. Therefore, the mind as the source of “free-will” must be independent of matter, allowing a subject material transcendence (beyond experience in the Kantian logic) and freedom.

Recognition and understanding of “the other” can only occur based on individuality disparity. It is through identity we establish a distinction between ourselves and everything else. A distinction of this distinction is made between other things as objects and other things as subjects. This perceived division of experience generates questions regarding how subjects relate to objects, how objects relate to subjects, and how subjects relate to subjects. The whole may be constructed “by the interaction of several consciousnesses, none of which entirely becomes an object for the other” (Bahktin 18). “Consciousnesses submerged in the given-being of animal-life” (Kojeve 10), subjects’ recognizing other subjectively permits heteroglossia within the subtext of existence.

Critical Path
"Critical Path" by wilson hurst 2014

Understanding subject/object relationships is illuminated by comparing thought distinctions between Kant and Hegel. For Kant, one notion of the “other” relates to freedom and independence: “Freedom is the alone unoriginated birthright of man, and belongs to him by force of his humanity; and is independence on the will and co-action of every other in so far as this consists with every other person’s freedom” (Metaphysic of Ethics 185). Freedom is a balance between independence and the power of a subject to adjudicate itself. “The course of human history is no more known to us the path of the sun in the universe” (Jaspers 107). Kant believes human capacity limits knowledge, and things (objects) can exist beyond human comprehension (noumenon). “Reason knows the finiteness of man and is aware of its own limits” (Jaspers 98). Unlike empirical concepts abstracted from perceptions, humans possess pure or a priori concepts that originate in the mind. Kant called these concepts categories that shape objects. Kant thinks space/time are forms of sensibility and thus constitute a transcendental ideal; we impose them on our intuitions. Kant analyzes the structures of thought to understand reality, recognizing this reality is limited to experience. Only phenomena, not noumenon, are in space/ time, while “transcendental ideas” involve conditions of possibility beyond the empirical associated with a priori knowledge. “Kant knows that his thinking surpasses, ‘transcends,’ natural [material] thinking” (Jaspers 34).

Hegel considers an individual free when it is independent and self-determining. This notion questions the self/other boundary, how dependency is determined, and how freedom is protected. Hegel considers this boundary unfixed and always contingent. Along these lines, Hegel believes that absolute knowledge is possible, available when the subject becomes absolutely self-aware of itself and “the whole of universal history” (Kojeve 32). Concepts are abstracted from sensory data. Thus, concepts are not stridently distinct from objects, and are formed by objects. Space/time are considered as the most fundamental manifestations of the concept in nature, which would make their source external to the individual. “Time is the Concept” (Kojeve 154). Spirit resolves through time as a function of history. Hegel sees the ‘real’ emergent from the totality of all conditions, thus reality is a process. The appearance of things is different to their reality, with “the idea of freedom, or more precisely, of automomy, the absolute independence of all given conditions of existence” (Kojeve 53). Reality is constructed by the mind; however, the mind does not know this (source of alienation) until reaching the Absolute. Reality is identical to thought, a rational process: “What is rational is real and what is real is rational” (Hegel, Philosophy of Right, Preface). Hegel’s “Absolute” idea describes a process of how a being is ultimately comprehensible as an all-inclusive whole, “thought thinking itself” (Aristotle Metaphysics Λ. 9) as self-consciousness. “Self-Consciousness is nothing but pure Being-for-itself” (Kojeve 12). This dynamic, historical process necessarily unfolds by itself in increasingly complex forms of being and of consciousness, ultimately giving rise to and encompassing all. “Freedom is real, real in the Beyond” (Kojeve 55).

Questioning Hegel’s notion that “The ultimate content of the self knows itself as all existence” (Phenomenology of Mind 800), a truly egalitarian notion of the subjective means recognizing the legitimacy of overcoming the limits of monologic subjectivity in the quest for dialogic truth. Mikhail Bakhtin recognized that experience is unavoidably subjective. “From the point of view of truth, there are no individual consciousnesses” (Bahktin 81). Each individual is an aggregate of variance, rendering unique and equally valid worldviews a condition of existence in a social collective. Allowing these polyphonic voices equivalency in the dialogic exchange enriches aesthetic and cultural understanding, better representing social reality. Dostoevsky uses such a “dialogic idea” in his great novel, The Brothers Karamazov. Bakhtin claims that the Dostoevsky worldview affirms, “Someone else’s ‘I’ not as an object but as another subject” (Bahktin 10). There is of necessity an interstitial zone between two autonomous subjects, for without such a zone, individual identity would be lost, along with all associated polyphonic voices. With a complete and total acceptance of subjectivity as a polyphonic heteroglossiacity, does objectivity become unattainable or merely pure fantasy? If we fully accept and embrace individual subjectivity and further extend subjectivity to an inclusive polyphony of voices, then a comprehensive understanding of subjectivity results. In such a scenario, no particular voice is dominant, but rather a broad amalgamation of generalized or universal voices speaking closer to objective truth in their chorus emerges. “Truth is not born nor is it to be found inside the head of an individual person, it is born between people collectively searching for truth, in the process of their dialogic interaction” (Bakhtin 110).

Needing to develop an argument for a new theory of subjectivity predicated on the Bakhtinian notion of the “polyphonic,” I begin to consider individual voices speaking in parallel as nodes of equivalency. Bahktin advocates for the superiority of a subjective-plurality in mutual dialog, lacking any individual authority. He postulates that the resulting aggregate informational-content more closely approaches truth when distinct subjective voices, in greater numbers, are in simultaneous dialog. My new theory of Subjective Transcendence recognizes the danger of this condition. Soon the combined subjective cacophony becomes incoherent in its chorus, reaching the level of background noise. Background noise is a form of acoustic pollution or interference, requiring separation and cancellation from the essential significant information in attendance.

Furthermore, favoring one form of subjectivity (pluralistic rather than individual) over another is splitting hairs. The more significant aspiration relative to subjectivity is to mitigate its influence, rising above limitations in an effort to reach truth not under any subjective control. The goal of Subjective Transcendence is to obtain an objective understanding of truth outside of a subject’s (or multiple subjects) individual emotions, predispositions, interpretations, and dreams. This ambition, similar to Hegel’s notion of the Absolute, is approachable but can never be finalized. “As long as a person is alive he lives by the fact that he is not yet finalized” (Bahktin 59).

External objects and energy fields obey the laws of physics regardless of observational variances. Things actually exist and we are equipped to respond in a way that supports decision-making and subsequent action. Beyond efficient functionality however, the mind is equipped to use actual existent source material to fabricate an internal fantasy world, exercising the “free play of the imagination” (Kant, Critique of Judgment 149). “I inquire: Whence do you obtain propositions of this kind, and on what basis does the understanding rest, to arrive at such absolutely necessary and universally valid truths” (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, line 2378). Fortunately, truth can be approached in a variety of circumstances, not the least of which is found in aesthetics. A kind of organic veracity map evolves out of the ingredients of its own vulnerabilities, with increases in experience reinforcing uncertainty. There is an aspect of reality that is inferable but never knowable. We respond to energy at the threshold of human sensation. The search for truth is eternal.

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