Representation and Aesthetics: Rituality, the Beautiful and the Sublime; Performativity and Architecture.
Research Paper (postgraduate) 2013 34 Pages
1) Mimesis I (Definitions…).
2) Mimesis II (A Beautiful Mimesis /Mimesis of the Sublime).
3) Mimesis III (Poetics & Politics).
4) Anti-Mimesis I (Architecture and Mimesis).
5) Anti-Mimesis II (The Promise of Architecture/Architecture’s Promise).
6) Anti-Mimesis III (Again Aesthetics).
Mimesis/Anti-Mimesis: Architecture, the Beautiful and the Sublime investigates the misleading role of Mimesis in forming our understanding of representation and its others, in pretending to explain our relationship to architecture, and in its underpinning of the concepts of the Beautiful and the Sublime. So occluding the sense of performativity, or ritual exchange, which offers us an alternative way of understanding architecture, along with the rhetorical value of a troubling pleasure coupled with the rhetoric of the outside (the rhetoric of eternity); a rhetoric associated in a one-sided fashion with the terms Beautiful and Sublime.
The first section, ‘Mimesis I’, can safely be passed over by those willing to get straight to architectural matters (dealt with in Sections 4 and 5, ‘Anti-mimesis I’ and ‘II’ respectively) or to the re-examination of the terms ‘Beautiful’ and ‘Sublime’ from an non-exclusive point of view, which finds their kernel of truth to lie in their relation to the ritual element in human culture (Sections 2 and 6, ‘Mimesis II’ and ‘Anti-mimesis III’, respectively). The contents of Section 1 list the range of the concept of ‘Mimesis’ focusing on three issues, Mimesis and representation, Mimesis and the performative (in many ways the ‘opposite’ of the mimetic) and its relationship with the rhetoric of eternity (or the rhetoric of the ‘outside’).
‘Mimesis II’ treats of the terms ‘the Beautiful’ and ‘the Sublime’ as aesthetically privileged forms of Mimesis, to be superseded by an examination of their constitutive elements (as but two ‘moments’ from an aesthetic spectrum configured by comforting and discomforting forms of pleasure and a related opposition, featured in discussions of advanced rhetoric, that of the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’).
‘Mimesis III’ treats of a ragbag of attendant theoretical issues broadly concerning poetics and the political (the copy, the original, Myth, Nature).
‘Anti-Mimesis I’ the first of the two sections devoted to architecture, seeks to debunk the relevance of the concept of Mimesis in understanding architecture and suggests an approach based upon the human experience of architecture as made up of relations of contiguity, of layers or horizons.
‘Anti-Mimesis II’, the second section devoted to architecture, is perhaps the most difficult of the set, arguing for the role of the performative in the understanding of architecture. Indeed for the re-grounding of the understanding of (the role of consciousness in constituting) architecture through its performative functions. Architecture performs identity.
‘Anti-Mimesis III (Again Aesthetics)’, offers a summary of the fore-going critique of the concepts of ‘Mimesis’, ‘the Beautiful’, and ‘the Sublime’. Suggesting a recasting of the latter two terms as useful in describing the workings of (the effects of) a broad -that is inclusive- range of cultural phenomena.
Mimesis (I) (Definitions…)
Concerning the art of the copy from the mirror of Nature to the mirroring of the heavens, the copy of the map of the stars, the motions of the Hand of God. Where the hand of finite inscription passes without warning into the inscription of the Infinite Hand. And we the writers (the readers) find we are the written (and the read).
Mimesis. Always with a sense of representation, of repetition, of an accompanying, doubling shadow. A reference to something, somewhere else. Outside of itself (when identified, as beside itself: when unidentified, as beside the point, as pointing elsewhere… absolutely elsewhere). In whatever denomination of reference. Coin of memory. Means of exchange. Currency of communication. Currency of identification and belief.
Beginning with the temporal as the source of representation, of our everyday acts of Mimesis, and proceeding to that which might be thought to be beyond representation, the a-temporal, the impossible Mimesis of the Beyond. En route finding the relationship of representation, of Mimesis, to that which is designated the same and the other; first through the relationship of the (community of the) Same to the other (to its ‘other’) and then in the relationship of the Same to the Other (writ large). The latter offering to us an other without a same. A Mimesis therefore not the same at all. A copy which is not the same…
The Mimesis of the Temporal (making/copying). The bottom-line in duplication. Duplicity of word and thing (even down to the echo of thing in word, the material nature of the word, its phonic, graphic, mental trace). Representation as it is, as such; relations of similarity and resemblance, the miracle of the translation of actions into words. More cogently the degree of evolution of realism; mimesis here is used for the ‘realistic’ description of events (Auerbach); its degree of correspondence to its object. Then (or on the other hand) there is (this) representation as divisible into mimesis and diegesis, a matter of the directness of the relation between speaker and spoken (not word and thing), the division into showing and telling, citing and describing (at one remove), direct and indirect speech (Plato). Making the words of drama and the images of film (and their interpenetration in realisation) into mimetic arts: leaving poetry and verbal/textual narrative (citation aside) to diegesis. Then finally we have the degree of mixture, or co-reliance of both (of the overt or covert presence of a narrator) in the tug-of-war between citation and description, in the poetics of verbal narrative, the poetics of the word.
Showing (showing the words spoken) and telling (paraphrasing the words spoken or describing an event) as mimesis and diegesis; but these terms may also, and very quickly, be inverted: ‘showing’ is, of course, shown through representation (be it repeated words or made images and not a matter of witnessing the original event)they are thus re-shown, and so retold; and ‘telling’ as the showing of the telling; leading us, not least through their convertibility, their aporetic ambiguity, to the world of the text where the text is the world (Derrida).
Mimesis and Metaphor. At first sight, metaphor is the mimicry at the heart of Mimesis (whose relation of similitude is spelt out in simile, but offered up without apology -if sometimes in disguise- in metaphor). This replication of the elements that make up the similarity, the parallel parts that make wholes similar, may also be read as resolving themselves in a double synecdoche (the Liege group). Yet the strings of words themselves offer no real mimicry (unless we pass them by the route of the image) rather the mimetic element is built up out of reconstructing the events (real or imaginary, actual or fictive) from the flow of symbols, as one would unravel a code. Unless we pass by the image (the image of the thing represented), then the word is related (as it is in life) to the thing only by convention, as a symbol, or better, as a signifier (material or mental inscription) and signified (mental picture or meaning) to its referent (Saussure). Language is only indirectly mimetic. Language is only mimetic in relation to itself. Reality, putative source of Mimesis, is always, and quite literally, a different order of things.
The real victory of Mimesis will be digital (when all aspects of an object-event will be stored and replicated, not just the light bouncing from it, but its weight also, so that it may interact realistically with other such stored data/object-events in a virtual environment). The ends of Mimesis: the virtual copy.
Anti-Plato. The copy is not less (as Plato maintained) but more. Mimesis is more? We, here before it, sense it is more. Why? (And how on earth?) First, it has or represents or indicates more than itself if it has, or has had, or is believed to have had, contact with something more – its referent (and because of the looseness of this connection, to many other possible referents). And most especially if it represents a link to something beyond, something larger, beyond even its referent - the beyond (not on earth). Likewise, a similar aura may obtain if we perceive in it an echo of a copy of something beyond (again, over and above the literal field of reference), something apparently not of this earth (the something that also transforms the genres of Landscape and Still Life) the power of which still hovers around it, although a mere copy. Yet could it be that this power is in some part bestowed upon it by its presence as representation? For it is the ideal, or unanchored, nature of representation itself (its presence as a copy, a stand in) that is found conferring this effect. An aggrandisement which is the most basic source of a sense of the sacred. This glow is further magnified if the representation is present in, or presented through, a means of expression such as a precious metal. The stamp of an everyday object or creature is transformed by being stamped onto, by being moulded in precious metal; as in the case of a plate, a broach, or of coins (or vice versa, as with the shroud of Turin, where it was the face, the imprint that was deemed precious). Or if it somehow alludes to its genesis in, or previous use as, part of a process whose end is sacralisation, the sacred suturing of identities; in its employment or origin as part of the process of ritual. A reminder of the potency associated with ritual process. Even in the minds of the civilised (who, even as they witness its formative hand in the recognition of the glow of the copy, can not however bring themselves to believe to what extent their very being is spoken by ritual, from life’s everyday repetitions to its periodic resurgence as the intense punctuation and even puncturing of our everyday time).
Mimesis and the Performative (between Ritual and the Word). Where x is said to be the same as y (to represent or to ‘be’ y for the purposes of communication) and believed to be so, this act of union constitutes, not only a sign (the relation of representation), but also a performative (the act of identity): x is y if and only if we say so (we believe so) and when we say so (when this event is performed). This is the agreement that underlies the union of words and things (in this way there is a trace of the performative in all meaning, in all words, in all identity, the identity of words and meaning). As when we promise… a promise to others or to ourselves about the nature of something. Like the meaning of a word. An unspoken compact. A promise ‘understood’. A social contract on the meaning of words, without words. A social ritual. Without words, the word becomes the Word. The power of agreement meets the force of belief. Through the force of habit: ritual. Changing word into act. Proposition into emotion. (Representation) thing into (some) thing. Something else. (Sometimes…)
(But done invisibly. Like the other everyday rituals of life. Like the near invisibility of the performative in the construction of meaning. Whilst at the visible end, the performative proper loudly announces its intention to create, seemingly ex nihilo, shared ground between word and event, of word as event – over and above its phonic presence, its semantic network, its context in syntax and world. Over and above these: the change of state, of identity, of classification, of being, performed by the performative. The ritual force of the promissory note, irrevocable, eternal - or so we would think - the verbal end of the continuum that ends with the grand events, consumerist or otherwise, with which we construct, conform and consecrate our collective being.)
Often embedded in ritual format, we may locate the form of Mimesis that invokes copying into the self (enacting/copying). Consciously or unconsciously making of oneself, from the display of external demeanour to the folds of inner being… a copy. Whether being influenced by Nature (mimicry, by any other name). Or being influenced by others’ behaviour (from semi-conscious, semi-automatic protective imitation, like the colouring of insects, to the deliberate setting up of someone or something as model for emulation). If the ‘others’ are the Same (our group and its norms, as with the concept of Mimesis in the work of Girard) then we have our community of identification (imaginary or otherwise – remembering, of course, that all such communities are in some way imaginary, facts of the mind). If the ‘others’ in question are in fact of the other (small case), the other case, the other side of the equation, then we have found our competition, our equals-as-enemies, those (definitively) not part of the community of the Same. Copy or die (if you are fortunate enough to be given the choice, or to be able to choose…).
Mimesis and the A-temporal. If the Mimesis in question is in relation to the Other (upper case), then we have the metaphysical relation; the sublime relation to the Other. Often governed by an edict forbidding the copy (from the varieties of religious iconoclasm, to philosophical disapproval as in the work of Levinas). Copying ideals, the ideal, immortals, the mythic, the relation to the universal as foundational (fictional, axiom-dependant) or society as a model of, as modelled upon an absent ideal. With ourselves read as already (poor, degraded) copies of something sublime (Nature, the Gods, the ideal forms of Plato or some other fundamentalist credo). On the other hand such a mimesis may be read as the attempt to reverse the trajectory of the Fall (essentialism, alienation, authenticity, where difference is defined by the negative). Heaven (and the mode of being of its inhabitants, the angels) realisable here, on earth. The way of salvation, the narrow route of the righteous, the path of panacea. Paths requiring a single truth, an undivided (unfolded) map, sectarianism masquerading as a universal (the ubiquitous rhetoric of part for whole, ‘some’ for ‘all’).
In another definition, one following on from the a-temporal formula suggested above, Mimesis is read as the earliest human relation to Nature (the Frankfurt School). A relation we must grow out of, as individuals and also collectively, in order to become ‘civilised’ (as the site of the Beyond, the only significant and potentially infinite context of authentically human life). Here we have Mimesis portrayed as the mythic ritual relation (the primitive means of relating to Nature), the state of play before reason (before organised religion, before monotheism). A Neolithic form? Anyway a time before the ‘historical’ relation to Nature (including ’human nature’ last court of criticism for the commodity and its reign). Mimesis as a particular relation to the world and to humanity’s Other, the abstract Beyond, the Outside… whose remnants are now vestigial. (A world ‘once’ governed by sacrifice). Now largely… gone ? And if not gone, a sign of our persisting archaic being. (Another Myth of the Enlightenment?)
However it has more recently it has been suggested (Taussig, writing in the wake of Benjamin, Adorno and… Bataille) that the mimetic faculty is that capacity in all of us (a species-being) which enables us to use the other to help make the world signify; to use ‘the nature that culture uses to make second nature’, to make ourselves, to understand others.
Reprise. Mimesis in three modalities: Same; other; Other.
(i) Mimesis of the Same; as recognition; membership, learning, socialisation, community (if of the same community). The Same as that which is bigger, successful, surviving – or so we would like to believe (our hyperbole, as opposed to the unutterable hyperbole of the Other). Parents. Peers. An ideal, that is, nevertheless, largely an imaginary community of identification.
(ii) Mimesis of the other… as an enemy to be either destroyed or incorporated; but to be learnt from first (whence classified as foe, not just as prey…). It approaches. Bigger again, than ourselves. A threat. Or almost; we are not sure. Better to copy first… a safety check! If scared, than take what scares and throw it back. Mimesis. Learn what it is that gives the other the advantage. And repeat. Mimesis. Always assuming that the other did in fact intend to scare or to dominate, has come to steal or control, an assumption made of the similarity of the other to us, the other as the same (as us), made the same here in order to identify motivation, intention and rationale, a paranoid assumption made out of the worst of ourselves, our fears born of collective self-knowledge. A mimesis whose origin may be ourselves. Mirror mimesis. Potential trap.
(iii) Mimesis of the Other (unmistakably, unquestionably, the Other). As fear, as terror; as the Sublime relation - the very configuration of the Sublime relation. The Pythagorean imitation of the heavens, the divine made concrete, the world of graven images and universal formulas. A copying of the highest power, the first term, the last word, the superior level, of the divinity, of the greater power, of Lord and Master, of the hand that moves the horoscope, that rocks the cradle - as with a child before its parents, as with all dependants. Therefore of the relation to the stars, to ideals, to ideal types, to immortals and other imaginary but crucial notions. To objects we must copy… on that side, the other-side and so inaccessible to us… this side, temporality’s side. The sublime relation as the unavoidable, impossible relation to the eternal. Mimesis in the context of this shadow play is simultaneously the desire to understand larger matters (matters larger than ourselves) and to justify the existence of current totems, the masks of power. The Mimetic paradox.
Copying the invisible. Making appear the invisible ones. The Beautiful ones; the Angels and Immortals. Copying as calling up, conjuring. Our compact with the Other. The very origin and rationale of ritual. The function of its uncanny frame. The beings called up in the centre of the pentagram. So ritual is ‘as if’…a mimesis without an origin, a real relation to a ‘fictional’ otherside, to the realm of myth; for all relations to the eternal are relations to the Sublime, are types of the sublime relation (not least to the eternally beautiful). The mimesis of these immaterial matters, the ritual relation; the wafer of community confirmation. The cup of communal blood. Renewal proceeds via the sublime relation. Mimesis is its handmaiden.
But Mimesis as fictive.
And Mimesis as (in the context of) ritual.
Mimesis as Ritual.