The existentialists are, once again, squarely at odds with the surrealists, who condemned the novel and saw in poetry the real artistic medium. The existentialists made, however, some notable exceptions. Sartre also dedicated a long and largely positive review to the work of Francis Ponge, seeing in it a kind of profane phenomenology Sartre in a. For the same reason, the other non-discursive arts attract almost as little interest as poetry however, see Camus , Yet, when they are discussed, they are treated more favourably than poetry, since they do not have language as their medium, and this means that the accusation against poetry becomes irrelevant.
The implication for the other arts is that they are able to produce and convey ideal contents, meaning and beauty, but that these are never as transparently accessed as in linguistic expression. Notes, colours, and forms are not signs. They refer to nothing exterior to themselves. This seems to introduce some important differences amongst the existentialists, since Merleau-Ponty, for instance, claimed that all art forms function like language. But Merleau-Ponty agrees with Sartre on the important differences between art forms.
That is to say, they remain attached to their specific materiality, making the work a self-enclosed world. The history of painting, therefore, is indeed made up of constant echoes and criss-crosses, with each generation revisiting the visual themes and techniques of the past generations, but the communication amongst the works are haphazard, indirect, and cannot be accumulated.
There is no progress in the history of painting. In language, on the other hand, meanings acquired from the past are sedimented in current meanings and allow for the dialectic of spoken and speaking speech discussed earlier Merleau-Ponty b, This means that the material of literature carries with it the sedimented historical experiences of the lifeworlds it speaks about. There is no progress in literature either, not in a sense comparable to scientific progress, but the novel, simply by using the language of the lifeworld it arises from, is a direct witness of the broader historical narrative in which it is embedded.
As a result, it can portray ethical and political situations very powerfully.
This ignores the nature of linguistic expression, in which the signs must be traversed towards their signification. The reverse error is that of Paul Klee, who, according to Sartre, uses colour both as sign and as object a, The existentialist system of the arts is ordered according to the Hegelian principle where arts that involve language rule over the others, because they best express human freedom. However, it is true that the existentialists are more interested in the ways in which human beings sort out the entanglements of their freedom in the absurd world, than in the depiction of the materiality of that world.
Music, which in some classical systems of the arts in Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, for example is the highest and most metaphysical, also receives an ambiguous treatment in existentialist aesthetics. Marcel often emphasised the extent to which music had played a significant role in his philosophical inspiration. He was famous for his improvisations on classical 19 th century poems, which his wife noted after the Second World War.
Despite these descriptions of music as a privileged meaningful experience in an absurd world, none of the existentialists has undertaken any sustained analysis on the relationship between music, philosophy and the existential condition. Camus interprets positively the formality of music, its lack of discursivity and the abstraction of its relation to the world of flesh see also his early essay in Camus — , features that the latter Merleau-Ponty interprets negatively; but, in the end, the existentialist writers do not give music any detailed consideration.
In the case of Sartre, this is all the more surprising given the intimate association of Sartre with cinema at many points in his life. The profound influence of film on the young Sartre is well documented in his early writings, where he demonstrates great sensitivity towards the formal and political potentialities of the new medium, in contrast to most of the French intelligentsia of the time Sartre , Indeed, these early texts credit cinema with precisely the same capacities of expression that are later granted to theatre, such as the capacity to present action, the necessary yet ambiguous necessity of engagement and the capacity of artistic expression to represent the masses to the masses.
Literary criticism has established to what extent Sartre attempted to reproduce in literary form the techniques employed by cinema in the representation of time, space and internal states of consciousness, and specifically how such an influence was crucial in his first major work, Nausea Johnson During the war, Sartre was employed as a script writer by a production company for whom he wrote eight scripts. Two of these were published after the war Sartre c, b , and two of them were filmed.
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In , he also wrote two scripts for films on Freud and Joseph Le Bon. Despite this intimate connection with cinema, the enthusiasm that is apparent in the early texts receded in the background after his discovery of phenomenology in , following his study year in Germany de Beauvoir , After that date, cinema no longer features as an important art form in his aesthetic writings.
In other words, theatre is the true art of freedom in situations. As with the Nouveau Roman , Sartre and de Beauvoir were quite reserved towards the Nouvelle Vague , the new French cinema of the s ibid. Rather than Sartre, it is Merleau-Ponty who gave the most lucid exposition of the evident link between cinema and existentialist philosophy in a conference at the National School of Cinema in Paris b.
Phenomenology and Existentialism in the Twentieth Century
Metaphysical foundations of existentialist aesthetics 2. The phenomenological core of existentialist aesthetics 3. Art as revelation of the world 4. Art as expression of human freedom 5. Art and the absurd 6. Ontology of the artwork 7. Theory of expression 8. The artist 9. The audience The phenomenological core of existentialist aesthetics For the 20 th century existentialists, a decisive philosophical inspiration was phenomenology, the philosophical method devised by the German philosopher, Edmund Husserl, during the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, and which his famous student, Martin Heidegger, developed into a combination of existential analysis and deep ontology.
It is our presence in the world which multiplies relations. It is we who set up this relationship between this tree and a bit of sky. Thanks to us, that star which has been dead for millennia, that quarter moon, and that dark river are associated in the unity of a landscape. It is the speed of our car and our aeroplane which organises the great mass of the earth.
With each of our acts, the world reveals to us a new face. But, if we know that we are directors of being, we also know that we are not its producers. If we turn away from this landscape, it will sink back into its dark permanence. At least, it will sink back; there is no one mad enough to think that it is going to be annihilated Sartre a, Art as revelation of the world Sartre draws a basic aesthetic implication from the thesis that meaning in the world depends on acts of consciousness: the fundamental aim of the work of art is to deliberately and consistently exert this uniquely human quality to introduce meaningful order and regularities into the world.
Thus, our sense of freedom is tremendously increased: One of the chief motives of artistic creation is certainly the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship to the world.
Introduction To The New Existentialism – an appraisal
Art as expression of human freedom The metaphysical and ethical dimensions of human freedom are intimately related. Art and the absurd So far we have only considered the subjective side of the link between human revelation of the world and the world itself. Ontology of the artwork Sartre drew some particularly interesting conclusions from the definition of the functions of art on the basis of an existentialist metaphysics. In the case of a novel: … the literary object, though realised through language, is never realised in language.
On the contrary, it is by nature a silence and a contestation of speech. The hundred thousand words aligned in a book can be read one by one without the meaning of the work emerging; meaning is not the sum of the words, but its organic totality Sartre a, Camus, in the pages of The Rebel devoted to the aesthetic dimensions of rebellion, developed a concomitant conception of artistic expression: … unity in art appears at the limit of the transformation which the artist imposes on reality.
This correction, which the artist imposes by his language and by a redistribution of the elements extracted from reality, is called style and gives the recreated universe its unity and its boundaries Camus , The artist A central, shared assumption of existentialist aesthetics, beyond the stark religious and political differences of the existentialists, is the essential ambiguity of the human condition: I am radically free as consciousness, yet radically determined by my facticity, the physical, social and other circumstances in which my consciousness comes to the world.
This grants the artist a special status from at least two standpoints: 1 Artistic activity as an existential choice is a privileged mode of assuming and realising the paradoxical nature of being human. The audience An essential ambiguity characterises also the experience of the audience. There is no purer sensation. Camus, Albert, , Essais , Paris: Gallimard. An Essay on Man in Revolt , trans. Simons with M. Timmerman and M.
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Introduction To The New Existentialism – an appraisal – The Phenomenology of Excess
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