Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Lasciviousness of Delivery: Extracts from J. Lichtenstein's "The Eloquence of Colour" #1

These are yummy morsels from PartI of Jacqueline Lichtenstein's meticulous exploration of the history of the French Enlightenment's liberation of Colour from its tangle of externally mis-applied classifications. #2 here...

For colour is the material in , or rather of, painting, the irreducible component of representation that escapes the hegemony of language, the pure expressivity of a silent visibility that constitutes the image as such

The true fine wit praised by Ariste: judicious and delicate reasoning. And this delicacy of wit is expressed in a very particular kind of knowledge that spans knowing, sensing and seeing. Neither a concept nor an affect, not a perception, and yet all of these at once, it is a certainty felt but not demonstrable, an obviousness accompanied by no proof. It is a knowledge that depends on eyesight and manifests as a feeling, that senses the vantage point for accurate perception. This delicacy of wit that infallibly places an individual at the right distance from the object of contemplation –neither too close nor too far away- has all the characteristics of visual judgment.

Intuition is the capacity to discern the infinitesimal differences existing between things that are apparently confused in nature, realities indiscernible to mathematical minds seeking clear, obvious and palpable principles.

Moral puritanism and aesthetic austerity, along with resentment and old, stubborn, and underhanded desire to equate drabness with beauty, thus make their righteous alliance and take delight in a constantly reiterated certainty: only what is insipid, odorless, and colourless may be said to be true, beautiful and good.

[Painting] does not present us with an illusory appearance but with the illusion of an appearance whose very substance is cosmetic. Unlike other forms of adornment, this one does not exceed reality by adding ornaments that mask its nature: it takes its place by offering an image whose nature is entirely exhausted in its appearance, a universe that is the pure illusory effect of an artifice.
In denaturalizing appearance, painting thus realizes the essence of ornament that consists in being without essence. It is like an adornment from which nature is absent, makeup whose colouring does not merely correct the faults of a face but invents its features and gives it a form, a garment that cannot be taken off without pulling off the skin, an originative metaphor.

Cicero repeats time and again: eloquence is not born of rhetoric but the other way around. True rhetoric does not come from wordmongers who put together treatises for those who naively believe that technique alone will allow them to speak with eloquence. It comes from orators who most often write down their speeches only after delivering them.

If the charms of enunciation are the marks of the rhetorical and thus deceptive character of an individual’s words, the absence of charm becomes the indubitable sign of truth. To the sophists’ seductive persons and sparkling words, philosophers must then oppose an expression whose dreary pride and tedium present themselves as signs of the highest wisdom, and speeches whose repellent form lays claim to unfathomable depth.
Defined differentially, rhetoricians and philosophers are compelled to take on the negative attributes that each assigns to the other. The characterization strips rhetoric of all legitimacy and abandons it to the reprehensible pleasure of a seduction, condemning its effectiveness while recognizing its force. As for philosophy, the definition affords it an indisputable eminence and at the same time deprives it of any power, drawing truth as the unpleasant and unseductive image of a pale and dull negation of pleasure. Placed by Plato within a single frame in a scene where they respond to each other as complementary figures, rhetoric and philosophy take up their positions at the poles of ever-deceptive pleasure and necessarily bleak knowledge.

The choice and frequent use of such metaphors and comparisons, which define beauty essentially from the viewpoint of health, show the extent to which most aesthetic judgments are determined by moral evaluations, that is, based on criteria borrowed from nature, not art. The most striking evidence of this overlap of moral and aesthetic values comes from the way in which the various figures of femininity –chaste or indecent, virtuous or corrupt- constantly offer up metaphors for the faults and qualities of eloquence.

Forced to balance precariously between pleasure and reason, rhetoric has always found itself trapped between an ornamentation whose brilliance is suspected of lending discourse a purely sophistic seductiveness and an austere philosophy whose somber gleam threatens to deprive rhetoric of the means necessary to assure its effectiveness.

The courtesan and the prostitute always appear as emblematic figures of the culpable temptation of a pure pleasure to which art, when unable to save itself from the dangers of its own power, succumbs.

The traditional place of the image necessarily affects our perception of its power. Its legitimacy is still in doubt though its importance is not. To rid ourselves of such a contradiction we would need to abandon traditional hierarchies and reach a complete reevaluation that allowed a relation between the visible and discourse in terms of complementarity and not subordination. All these relations weave into the weft of their history image and language as complementary figures that an archaic gesture has torn apart. More than rival sisters, they resemble separated lovers haunted by a desire for the unity of an origin perhaps forever lost, each seeking in the figure of the other the missing part of the self. As if this other’s absence were the heart of all representation.

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