Ignoring the role of the Beholder-Object

Finally the flu- fog has lifted in time for Christmas. Somehow I decided to get into work early this morning to catch up (yes I have to work for Christmas Eve – Charity doesn’t stop for Christmas, quite the opposite).

Thought I should weigh in on Graham and Levi’s recent posts. Normally due to time constraints, I stay out of blog post replies; but Graham and Levi are good sports and having written an essay on Fried and Vicarious Causation I think I have one or two points that may aid conversation.

Rereading through Guerrilla Metaphysics, I think it’s fair to suggest that Graham believes there to be two different types of relation in causation. One causes, one does not. One resides in a perceptive view, the other initiates a rift into the heart of the sensual objects themselves. One circumvents around the object and its parts and one splits the object directly. One is perception, one is allure.

But what is important to note is that both relations fail to get to the heart of real objects themselves. I may view Graham’s Real Objects slightly differently from others, but by withdrawn I understand this as the executant Being of the object that we cannot ever make present. For Graham at least, allure is the best chance objects have of getting to the Beings of objects themselves; it signals a seemingly infinite depth in the object that was not there previously. In my understanding, allure does not split the real object directly (it would be destroyed), it splits the sensual object from its qualities relative to the beholder; allure then, is an alluding illusionary event of sorts that ‘fictionalises’ a depth into the object relative to the beholding object. What is beholding for one object may no longer be beholding for another; it may never be beholding at all.

No wonder this can only be anything but an aesthetic event.

To understand allure though, it is important to understand what Graham means by perception as a relation. Obviously the anthromorphism is unavoidable here; objects don’t perceive other objects directly, but perception is a real object’s interaction with sensual appreciations directly. The split between Minimalist works (perception) and formalist works (High Modernist) helps with this predicament.

I won’t launch into a convoluted anti-minimalist tirade of what Robert Morris and Donald Judd ‘meant’ by their work. For our purposes, it is generally agreed that minimalism focused on the circumstance of the work rather than the work itself. The beholder is meant to regard their works ‘as’ objects by walking around these three-dimensional constructions step by step. (see Morris’ Mirrored Cubes 1965 – below). Each step builds not a different object, but different adumbrations (in the Husserl sense). The work needs the beholder for that meaning and it embellishes co-relation aesthetics rather than object aesthetics. Expression is linked immanently with the beholders presence.

The high modernist work however does not need the beholder. In fact, the underlying point of the modernist work is to completely ignore the beholder and act as a transcendent vehicle for the artist’s expression for itself. There is always something intrinsic to the work that escapes any beholder’s beholding. Expression is witnessed in its ‘present-ness’ (Fried’s term). The beholder’s presence cannot be foregrounded by the work itself.

The foregrounding of the beholding object is crucial to understand the difference between perceptive-relation and alluring-relation. For allure to work it seems, the causing beheld object cannot ‘know’ (need a better term) it is doing the causing. As soon as the process makes the object’s beholding explicit then allure is cut short.

For me, an object which ignores its beholder is essentially the same as the process of vicarious causation. The beholder could be expressing explicit turmoil and bewitching splendors of blissful breakdown; however the object that is the painting, the plexi-glass, the sawn-in-half cow in formaldehyde; its Being thoroughly ignores the beholder ontologically, not through being a special artwork (that’s the important bit), but by being an executant object – indirectly forcing a beholder to behold it. An artwork (if you could call it that) is the object that ignores us and then hoodwinks us into not realising it.

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