Barthes;Foucault;Agamben;Eco

I read the articles in the sequence Professor Wyman provided and also read them one after the other in one sitting. Although each author opens up different perspectives and possibilities on the complicated relationships between the producers of art, literature, and knowledge, the works themselves, and the consumers (viewers, spectators, participants, performers), the common whisper was that since Nietzsche pronounced God dead, the human maker has replaced the divine maker, and this has given the human maker much responsibility and much to think about. Each author also refers to space and time – it’s about positionality, of both the maker and the consumer, and how this positionality and context is always shifting in relation to the work. I feel such a deficit in my ability to fully grasp Barthes because I have not read Balzac, Mallarme, Proust, etc., however, I think his opening paragraph makes very clear the problem with language and writing, and it was easy to transfer his idea of the modern author no longer being a unique singular genius to the mythological idea of the solitary artist genius fantastically conjuring up original art in the studio. In visual art, this myth, unfortunately, is still alive an well.

I think Foucault counters Barthes, by viewing the absence of the author as problematic because it means the absence of the individual personality, characteristics of the author in the work, and that it is only a formal analysis of the structure of the writing/work that matters. Both authors discuss writing in terms of space, Foucault argues for penetrating space to uncover the author and meaning (209) while Barthes describes the space of writing as something to be “ranged over, not pierced” (147) because meaning is endlessly elusive. Agamben also talks about space. He conceives of it as “aesthetic beauty”, the art piece opens up a space for man “between past and future in which he can found his action and his knowledge” (110). This is a redeeming space that can ameliorate the sense of being lost in the time of the present – the presentness of the human condition because the transmissibility of the past has been destroyed. However, this “aesthetic space”, art is not a sure bet, of either the past or the future, art just is, and I think Agamben is saying that great art has this elusive quality – a spirit, a breath, a heartbeat, an intelligence that can not be fixed, explained.

Pesonally Eco’s ideas resonate with me the most. His concept of space in relation to artworks is their ability to create a space of openness for some sort of performativity by the audience. Ultimately “works in movement” embody such a space, “…but it is not an amorphous invitation to indiscriminate participation. The invitation offers the performer the opportunity for an oriented insertion into something which always remains the world intended by the author” (36). I love this take on the artist’s vision, ideas, hand etc. maintaining a certain integrity and importance as the maker of the work.

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