“Artworks are not being but a process of becoming” —Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory In the everyday use of the concept, saying that something is grotesque rarely implies anything other than saying that something is a bit outside of the normal structure of language or meaning – that something is a peculiarity. But in its historical use the concept has often had more far reaching connotations. In different phases of history the grotesque has manifested its forms as a means of (...) subversive resistance against society’s prevailing notions of form and power. What aids this impact and distinguishes two of its basic stylistic features is the grotesque’s dissolution of form and its hyperbole. Such grotesqueries, however, soon solidify into new forms, new structures of meaning, hierarchy and practice, and in this sense the history of the grotesque is, on one hand, a continual opposition and transgression of the prevailing notions of art as well as of God and humanity, while on the other hand it offers continual resistance to its own solidifying process. As such the grotesque will not and cannot be contained in form without it losing the very thing that makes it grotesque. Even though it is somewhat easy to point out certain stylistic features of the grotesque, the sum of those features tell us very little about what is at play within it. Definitions concerned with the grotesque’s content rather than its form faces similar difficulties. Throughout history, expressions relating to the grotesque have been used in defense of a whole host of different social and cultural discourse including, for instance, Catholicism (See Erhard Schön’s Der Teufel mit der Sackpfeife , 1536), Protestantism (See Lucas Cranach’s Der Papstesel , 1523), a material folk culture (see Mikhail Bakhtin’s Rabelais and his World , 1984) and an idealistic romantic structure of meaning (see Wolfgang Kayser’s The Grotesque in Art and Literature , 1957). Thus though the grotesque cannot be reduced to the expression of certain forms or meanings, in order to examine what the grotesque is about one has to try to see how it’s relationship to flow and process and how, by maintaining this relationship, it attempts to avoid solidifying into form and meaning. The process of the grotesque alluded to here revolves around a play between periphery and center, the marginalized and the dominant. Most often this is expressed as a direct negation of the center of power. In the medieval grotesque tradition of the carnival, for example, it is expressed by its emphasis on the nether regions of the body as the center of creation of meaning. Spirit does not come from above, but from the belly, buttocks and genitals, and there is, expressed in this manner, a mockery of the predominant Christian notion of truth and meaning. Such inversions of the sites of meaning most often explicitly express an increased interest in materiality instead of ideal content which comes to the fore through the play between periphery and center. Even in early grotesque Renaissance art (for example in the works of Raphael) the depiction of the mythological or ideal reveals an exploration of the possibilities of the material. The works of art thus explore their own boundaries rather than act as vessels of the divine and in this way the grotesque explores the limits of form and materiality. This in turn brings to the fore a metaphysical dimension in the workings of the grotesque: It is an immanent exploration of its own boundaries. Materiality and metaphysics are joined together, because it is through the awareness of itself as a structuring (dis)order that it places itself in opposition to the prevailing notions of form and power. This way the grotesque expresses an awareness of the division of sign and reality and a search for this reality. It implicitly expresses the awareness that meaning is not something God-given and static, but fluctuating and man-made. In modern explorations of the history of the grotesque it is commonly seen as a form of realism that manifests a shift from the ideal towards the material, freeing art from representing some hidden higher order and instead making the work of art the very site of creation and meaning. Going even further, the grotesque actively opposes the notions of the ideal by marking a shift from an ahistorical view of the world towards the historical. However, this also makes clear why the grotesque has a tendency to solidify into new static forms of meaning, for by establishing itself as a subversive counterforce there is an idea of transgression and emancipation. That is why the grotesque often historicizes and relativizes only to repeat the mistakes of that which it negates: putting itself in the king’s chair. The exploration of the material seems to create new forms and notions of the ideal. The representation of an otherness outside the prevailing notions of meaning and truth becomes a positive manifestation of this otherness as truth itself. Thus the historical “truths” of the grotesque are superseded by history itself. When the expressions of the grotesque solidify into static form and meaning, they become mere objects like anything else in the world. Instead of being this elusive thing of process and flow, it becomes tangible to the existing hierarchy of power as well as history itself. In this way the grotesque can be expunged, included or simply revealed as yet another false notion of truth, which is precisely what has happened with the grotesque throughout the course of history. If from the beginning the expression of the grotesque has not already been in the service of some structure of meaning and truth, it has quickly been included or has quickly included itself in such a structure. But by doing so it rejects its own basis: the tension between periphery and center is replaced by the attempt to create a new center, a new structure of meaning and truth. The doubleness, ambiguity and flow of the grotesque are then rejected by the grotesque itself. THE NON-FORM OF FORM In the critical thinking of Theodor W. Adorno (1903-69) the problem of art, caught between a reductive and prevalent notion of truth and meaning and a peripheral and alienated otherness, is reexamined and reformulated. For Adorno, the instrumental rationality of Enlightenment itself reverts into a new form of mythology which is every bit as static and exclusive as the hierarchies of religion it supersedes. All is excluded that is non-identical to the instrumental mastery of the objects of the world, "For the Enlightenment, anything which cannot be resolved into numbers, and ultimately into one, is illusion; modern positivism consigns it to poetry." 1 As such the non-identical has been banished from the realm of thought and action, and banished specifically to the realm of art. But the realm of art is not able to provide a decent home for it because even modern art is not something entirely autonomous. While it is excluded from the notions of truth and meaning provided by instrumental rationality, it still originates from society. Just like instrumental rationality art is about mastery, structuring and exclusion. Therefore, the problem for art is that it cannot directly provide a space for the non-identical because its mode of operation is similar to that of instrumental rationality. Even worse, art has very few possibilities to free itself from this. If it becomes l’art pour l’art it is at the same time reduced to the very thing instrumental rationality claims it to be: a subjective judgment of taste.expressionism also stands as an example of this. Conversely, art cannot work within the framework of the identity-thinking of society, because any notion of freedom or emancipation would reproduce the exclusive practices of instrumental rationality. For example: Explicit socialist literature may establish itself in opposition to instrumental rationality while at the same time reproducing it. Its language may seem different, but in reality it merely provides a different set of reductive schematics for human life and experience. The problem for the art of the grotesque was, as I mentioned earlier, that far too often it was merely a symbolic manifestation of a notion of otherness—not otherness itself. Because of this the subversive character of the grotesque ends up shaping and containing otherness instead of providing a space for it. According to Adorno the only way to avoid this is to radicalize the grotesque. In order to avoid solidifying into form the work of art has to be an object which cannot be contained in thought or form—a non-form of form. The work of art has to work in a way that it strives for autonomy but without entirely leaving a discernible reality. In other words, it has to pull in two directions at once. Thus the work of art is a paradox. It is autonomous in the sense that it closes itself off from everything outside of the work of art, trying to shy away from the contaminating influence of the identity thinking of instrumental rationality. At the same time though the work of art is heteronomous in the sense that it originates from a specific historical context and is bound to be what society is not. Autonomy and heteronomy are inseparably intertwined. Unable to display otherness itself, but still trying to be a refuge for it, there is only one option for art: It has to turn against itself and destroy its own logic of form, thereby demonstrating how any representation of otherness is impossible. Art becomes a lamentation of the victims of the identity thinking of instrumental rationality and shows the traces of the otherness that is unable to appear. Adorno’s pessimistic theory of art and history stages art as a negative dialectical process where the work of art closes itself off and rejects everything outside, while the individual elements in the work of art destroys its very own logic of form from within: Artworks synthetize ununifiable, nonidentical elements that grind away at each other; they truly seek the identity of the identical and nonidentical processually because even their unity is only an element and not the magical formula of the whole […]. The resistance to them of otherness, on which they are nevertheless dependent compels them to articulate their own formal language, to leave not the smallest unformed particle as remnant. This reciprocity constitutes art’s dynamic; it is an irresolvable antithesis that is never brought to rest in the state of being. 2 Relative to a traditional understanding of the grotesque, Adorno radicalizes the tension between center and periphery, autonomy and heteronomy. In the traditional understanding of the grotesque, as we find it for example in the writings of Mikhail Bakhtin, the grotesque establishes the display of otherness as a new center of meaning and truth. However Adorno rejects such notions and argues instead for a modernism of the grotesque in which both center and periphery are included in a negative dialectical process and continually synthesizing and destabilizing each other’s positions. A modernism of the grotesque works on the inside of the sign or the artwork, continually outlining and questioning the boundaries between materiality and form. This moves the focus away from the relation between the sign or work of art as a conceptual manifestation on one side and the object it refers to on the other side. Instead it implicitly points to the amorphous mass from which the signs and thereby meaning have been carved, the remnants that have been left behind. Modernism of the grotesque does not imply that it is emancipatory or that it reconciles man with nature, and does not represent a new position or a new ideology. It merely remembers and insists on the double nature of man and art: to write or paint yourself or an artwork whole by inscribing meaning in life or by applying form on a canvas is at the same time both creation and destruction. The very signs we use to center meaning in our lives carry its own alienation in them. Meaning surfaces only when process and flow comes to a halt—solidifying, but at the same time excluding parts that do not fit into that particular structure of meaning. NOTHING DONE AND NOTHING UNDONE It has always been difficult for art historians to find a suitable category for the works of the Danish artist Leif Lage (b. 1933). In his paintings the sensitive figuration seems so fragile that it is on the verge of turning into abstraction. Or conversely: the figurative emerges cautiously and hesitantly out of abstraction. As an art critic once wrote, he can almost paint things away. 3 Working in some undefinable space between abstraction and figuration, the Lage’s works shy away from the realm of words, and as a result few critics have been able to write anything meaningful about his works. In fact even fewer have been able to write more than one or two pages. The Danish author and art critic Leif Hjernøe is one of those few, but even he starts off by saying how impossible it is to write about Lage, confessing that his works exist both as process and in a field of in-between which words cannot reach. He writes: Always you find yourself in a place where nothing is done and nothing left undone, and where the elements of the work of art rest in a continuous motion. Always there is the open wound, where infection rather than surgical intervention is considered as an opportunity. And the conflict between matter and antimatter makes all diagnoses uncertain and allows conditions of uncertainty to spread in a place of raw presence. 4 The art works against the diagnosis and the certainty. Words are being eaten up by what is outside the realm of words: tension, process and doubleness. An approach to an understanding of the work of Lage could be to follow his connection to Samuel Beckett (1906-89). One can note, therefore, that Lage has illustrated several of the Danish translations of Beckett’s works. Though one is an author and the other a painter both seek a place where figuration, where the word, erodes. For both this entails an attempt to question and examine and so move in behind the façade of the surface in an exploration of that something or nothing that may be behind representation. At the same time even in the vanishing point of figuration or words, the meaningless words or the disjointed lines still stand as signs of human activity—signs of movement in emptiness. With very few exceptions Lage’s artworks revolve around one motif: Man—most often “en face.” But unlike traditional portraitures Lage’s people are found within. The artworks do not sense the reality of appearances, but rather the existential dimensions within man. As a seismograph they are sensitive to the utmost subjectivity in order to display an objective, sensuous depiction of the very problem of subjectivity. Instead of a static façade of a man, Lage’s “en face” shows the process-character of man. The people in Lage’s paintings are always in process—in the midst of becoming or dissolving. I will take a closer look in the following at the ways in which Lage establishes this sense of being in constant process, of being in-between modes or categories. THE DOUBLENESS OF THE STROKE Lage’s etchings attract attention in particular for the tension conveyed there between the material and the form. The material physically opposes the violence of the needle. But instead of embracing the violence of the needle and the victory over matter—instead of making the artistic creation and figuration express a heroic mastery of the background it is made out of—Lage uses the stroke to express the very tension between stroke and material, figuration and background. In the drypoint etching Untitled from 1983, which illustrated the Danish translation of Beckett’s Ill Seen, Ill Said , the needle tears up the material in long rough lines: Together, the primarily horizontal and vertical lines form a face. Thus the force needed to etch a line in the metal-plate draws attention to itself: It is there in the absence of curves and nuances. Man emerges on the metal-plate after great exertion and in a very simplistic form. This way Lage enhances the nature of the material, as the material’s resistance is not something to overcome. On the contrary the figuration is smitten by its very resistance and as such expresses the violence of its own becoming. Even more pronounced is the fact that the lines do not just show the violence of creation—it actively erases figuration in the same process that creates it. For example the mouth consists of 8-10 horizontal strokes, of which some seem to be connected to each other as if the mouth has been quickly scratched out. The mouth speaks of the inability to speak. In the same way, the eyes are black holes due to a large amount of criss-cross cuts, which together form a dark middle. Those lines, at the same time, form the eyes of the figuration and scratch out the eyes of the figuration. The extroverted aspects of the face—connected to speech and sight—are portrayed as introverted as well. Just as the etchings down into the metal-plate makes something appear. Leif Lage, Untitled , 1983 (etching) The figuration of the etching is connected to creation. It expresses that something is wrought into existence out of nothing by sheer artistic force. However, this force is at the same time presented as a violence of creation, which makes it impossible for form to truly emerge. Herein lies one of the basic principles of Lage’s art, namely that art cannot be that nothing or something behind the realm of words or signs. Without form, art would lose its ability to express anything at all. Form is a necessity if art is to avoid becoming as devoid of expression as the reality is that we cannot reach behind the appearance of things. On the other hand, art cannot raise itself above its own material in joyous celebration of the beauty of form. This would use the material in the manner of an instrument and thus would suppress the otherness it attempts to rescue. When art becomes mere form, any traces of otherness will have dissolved. Then art would be a question of technique, in no way different from the instrumental rationality of society. Therefore art works in a particular space between form and non-form. As Hjernøe says of the works of Lage, it is in the center of the event, in the in-between where things neither are nor are not, "And everything takes place just before it changes character. As the blood just before it coagulates, as the milk just before it separates, as fried egg just before it turns white […]." 5 The precise emphasis on the in-between of Lage’s art points in particular to the work of art as both outside of and in time. The work of art is a singular point in time, but at the same time it is continually in process. In the borderland between form and non-form, between creation and destruction, it shimmers like a fata morgana . The work is done but at the same time undone. It is only there as a cry in response to the inability to come into being. Akin to the etching is the drawing, but while both, of course, use the stroke or line as their main instrument, the paper does not resist the line in the same sense as the metal-plate of the etching. As a result in Lage’s drawings the stroke frolics in a space with almost no tension at all. There is nothing there to keep the pencil stroke at bay, but at the same time this means that there is nothing there to keep it together. One of the more expressive examples of this is found in an untitled drawing from Tegninger og Text ( Drawings and Text ) from 1999. The drawing consists of one unbroken pencil stroke. It is as if the stroke is confused—it darts around on the paper making doodles on the way or gathers itself in more straight lines in the center of the paper. It is in this manner that the semblance of a body is established. A couple of small circles serve as eyes and are the reason that the rest can be read as both face and body instead of pure abstraction. In fact the unbroken stroke serves as both abstraction and figuration as on the one hand it is the stroke that seemingly outlines the shape of a figure, while on the other hand the unbroken stroke dissolves any truly recognizable figuration by continuously, without end or aim, overflowing the boundaries of the figure. Seen again here is a doubleness to the stroke and the act of creation. In the etching it was all about the tension between the resistance of the material which created the doubleness. Here it is the opposite. It is the lack of tension. The stroke is free to do anything, but has no aim: without some kind of resistance, there is nothing to hold figuration together. It threatens to dissolve into nothingness. Conversely, the drawing can also be seen as a process of becoming. Like a form of automatic writing, the pencil darts around until it finds a point of densification. But even in such an interpretation of the drawing, the figuration appears artificial—it points to itself as the result of the artistic act of creation. The stroke is primarily stroke and only secondarily figuration. With its wild movement it calls attention to itself as stroke. Thus the figuration never becomes something in its own right. It points to the basic principle of creation: Someone has drawn me, I am the result of artistic endeavors, and therefore I am not for myself but always overflowing the boundaries that contain me. It is the stroke that in the very same movement creates figuration and dissolves it. Leif Lage, Untitled , 1999 (drawing) THE LIGHTNESS OF COLOR, THE DENSITY OF PAPER Often the watercolor is used as a precursor for larger paintings, because it has an immediacy in which one can quickly paint the main lines of a composition. However, Lage’s watercolors are not temporary points in a process leading to another final painting. They are not sketches, later to be filled with details in another material. For him watercolor is an end in itself. This also implies that he doesn’t try to work against the paper’s absorption of the water color and its tendency to absorb detail. On the contrary, he examines the possibilities inherent in this blurring of the line and absorption of color. As in the previous examples, there are of course recognizable shapes in Lage’s water colors. But these shapes are rarely separable from color, line or even paper. In other words: the figurative and the abstract more or less become one. One of the reasons for this is that Lage often works on wetted paper which means that the paper hungrily absorbs color into its fabric instead of it being on top of the paper. The paper becomes line because it is the absorption of the color which, together with the brush stroke itself, separates the colors from each other. The line is also color and the color is also line, because there is no separation between the different colors other than the colors themselves. At times this results in almost complete abstraction. In such cases Lage add lines with a pencil as if he wants to hold some sort of figuration together. At other times it is the other way around: the strokes of the pencil are a being dissolved by the water color blurring out the figuration. Untitled 1 from 1999 displays various tones of green. The contour of the colors appears unusually rough. Most of all it is reminiscent of a shoreline which has found its form through the work of thousands of years between water and land. Pockets of resistance surface as islands not yet drowned in color—as paper or color not yet consumed by the dominant color. The shape of the colors does not seem created by the hand of the artist, but rather by the inner workings of the watercolor: color against color over time has resulted in this very image, as if it is all a part of a natural process of change and decay. Despite the fact that there are no strong differences in color there seems to be a struggle taking place in the watercolor. For example, inexplicable holes in the dark color, which cover most of the right side of the watercolor, appear as if the underlying color is eating away the dark color, or that the dark color is in the process of covering up the underlying color. The small pockets of resistance demonstrate a process and development that, almost as a happy accident, evokes a couple of small eyes and a large mouth. Behind the colors a few slanted lines can be discerned, but the hand of the artist has long ago disappeared behind the life of the colors. Thus the watercolor seems to be held at precisely the point in time where figuration randomly appears. The small eyes and wide mouth seemingly express the realization of the figuration’s temporality. It is just a moment in time, soon to be consumed again in the life of the colors. The nature, the background it stems from and is part of, moves on undeterred, continuing its everlasting process of creation and decay. In this sense, the watercolor provides an experience of how neither artist nor man is able to transcend the materiality they consist of. The colors of man, the materials man consists of are “becoming” and “progress” but also “decay” and “disappearance”. The artist’s pencil strokes have been eaten up long ago, and the figuration is living on borrowed time. Human or artistic activity is about creating form, transcending mere matter by shaping and applying meaning to it. But Untitled 1 shows the doubleness of such creation: the transience and fragility of human life. Should the figuration come into being, should it rise and transcend the material, which binds it to its temporal existence, it would become nothing because its very existence is conditioned by the life and work of the colors. In the same sense man cannot escape his own temporality. He too, for better or worse, must accept a life in the volatility of sensation. Leif Lage, Untitled 1 , 1999 (watercolor) In most of Lage’s watercolors there seem to be a stronger artistic control than in Untitled 1 . Most often both the arrangement of colors and the technique in which they are painted express the hand of the artist. An example of this is Untitled 2 from 1999. While figuration in Untitled 1 seemed to appear as a happy accident, the figuration is much more “created” in Untitled 2 . Here the most important parts of the figuration, the eyes, the mouth and part of the skull, are colored black and painted on top of the background’s play of colors. The background primarily consists of blue and yellow tones. Only parts of the paper are covered in color, however, which yet again stresses the act of painting: There is a surface which is being filled by color by an artist. The blue tones are concentrated in the figuration, while the yellow tones surround it. All this means that the figuration stands out more clearly in this watercolor. This is also underlined by the fact that the blue and dark tones cover part of the yellow tones as spots here and there. Thus it is not a background which is in the process of consuming figuration, but rather the emerging figuration which blots out the background. Such an understanding is even suggested by how the mouth and eyes are placed in the larger blue color field. The eyes and mouth are in the center of the watercolor, while the blue color field is placed from center out towards the left side. This gives the impression of a face turned slightly to the right and slightly upwards, which again makes the mouth appear to emerge from the paper. It also helps that the mouth cuts the center axis of the watercolor. In other words, the arrangement of the blue and black colors create some depth and perspective which gives the illusion of a figuration, seen partially in profile, emerging from the background. Seen in profile, the eyes and mouth seem extroverted—they almost seem as if they are put on top of the face. But at the same time they are painted as black holes, sucking in the gaze of the onlooker. The watercolor is even more challenging if one follows what may be the faint outline of the skull, which, on the right side of the watercolor, no longer works together with the blue color, but rather alone postulates the outline of the skull. If not the blue color field, but this line, is the outline of the skull, then all of a sudden the face is not in profile but “en face”—staring directly towards the onlooker. Outline and color seemingly work against each other and establish two different expressions. Without the slightly upward tilted expression of the profile, the eyes and mouth do not seem to emerge from the paper. On the contrary, seen “en face,” the eyes and mouth are really gaping pits of darkness. In this sense Untitled 2 is at the same time surface and depth of perspective. The line gives form but at the same time it dissolves the form created by the colors, and vice versa. Leif Lage, Untitled 2 , 1999 (watercolor) As the last example of Lage’s artistic method, I have chosen another untitled work (as indeed nearly all of Lage’s artworks are)—this time from 2000. This is perhaps one of the most figurative watercolors Lage has created, though that doesn’t tell us too much. The painting depicts a human face in blue and green tones on a yellow toned background. The colors create a clear demarcation between the figure and the background, which compensate for the watercolor’s lack of outline. Beneath the face darker tones imply the beginning of the torso, and nuances of color even hint at something which could be a collar. The hair is in even darker tones and its structure is emphasized using pencil strokes on top of the water color. One eye is marked by a brown spot with a darker spot in the middle, while the other eye is added by pencil. The mouth is a round, red dot. In Untitled from 2000 the work between abstraction and figuration is much less pronounced than in the previous examples cited here. Nonetheless the watercolor has a delicacy to it which almost makes the figuration disappear, even as it appears. This has something to do with the fact that all the individual brush strokes have dissolved. The only outlines are those created by the clash of colors. Even the red mouth seems to be more paint than mouth—unable to be formed truly as anything other than a speck of color with some small semblance to a mouth. In contrast to the other watercolors, there is no movement, no progress or decay, just a vibrating standstill. The figure is not emerging or disappearing but embedded in and as surface, and as such it makes the figure seem stuck in its condition rather than freed by the act of giving form: mouth open as a wound. Pencil strokes add detail and life to the hair as an attempt to help the figure emerge. But all this does is create two levels in the watercolor: The pencil strokes are put on top of the figuration rather than being part of it. Thus they end up highlighting the endless distance between the movement and form-giving of the pencil strokes and the static and stuck figure behind these strokes. Leif Lage, Untitled , 2000 (watercolor) MAN AND THE VIEW OF THE ONLOOKER Lage’s works seem at the same time to be an examination of tensions between form and material in art and a display of an image of man full of the same tensions. This is because the people who are emerging in Lage’s images are not just in his works, They are his works. This means that man is not something emerging from a background but is part of this background and vice versa. The art of Lage inscribes man in its surroundings and background. Man is not the ruler of nature. Man does not rise above matter; there is no truly transcendent position for man to occupy in the art of Lage. Instead man is a part of the very matter, it, at the same time, tries to distance itself from in order to distinguish itself from its surroundings. Man emerges in an attempt not to be line, stroke, color. In an attempt to free itself of matter. Should it succeed in this, however, it would turn into nothing. On the other hand, if man fully accepted itself as mere matter it would disappear in it—in instincts, urges and lack of reflection. The appearance of man is thus subject to a state of being in-between. Only in the tension between material and its negation can the outlines of man be traced. However this also means that in the art of Lage man is never something in itself but always in process—on the way to its freedom and its loss. However, Lage’s art is not just about showing the tensions inherent in man but also about showing such tension on the verge of breaking point. In the moment before everything is done, or when nothing yet has been done, the delicate tension between form and material has been stretched to its utmost in such a way that man’s character of process emerges and is contained on the paper or canvas. Therefore, Lage’s art contain traces of human life. Not only is it an autonomous unity of tensions where man is stretched out between its singularity and the surroundings it is a part of. It is also this pulsation between figuration and material which brings about the traces of human endeavor and activity. Even when man almost seems to have disappeared into the material, strokes and lines are still there as a reminder of human activity and potential creative power—as a reminder that hope is still possible and that man is still there. The view of the onlooker seeks out forms and meaning. It seeks outlines and edges. But first and foremost it is the eyes in Lage’s works of art that allow the onlooker to decode the figuration at play. This creates a distinctive relationship between the onlooker and the artwork. The onlooker tries to wrest the enigma from the artwork, tries to reduce it to solid, meaningful form. But the very same moment that hints at such a possibility sees the view of the onlooker confronted with a gaze of its own. The eyes of the figure in the work of art are most often dark pits, as if they were an illustration of the violence committed against the eyes of the onlookers and their search for meaning. Or as if they were a dark reflection of the onlooker’s failed attempts to delineate the traces of life in the artwork to a solid meaningful form. Therefore, the gaze of the figuration speaks not only of its own powerlessness but also of the powerlessness of the onlooker. When the view or sight has trouble finding solid meaningful forms, it has something to do with the fact that the precondition for sight, light, no longer stems from something transcendent. In Lage’s art there is nothing outside the works of art, nothing outside of human life, and as such nothing to shed light on the works of art or human life and reveal solid meaningful forms. All light comes from within. In a western context, light as a medium for sight is central to the understanding of meaning. People speak of the clarity of thought, while knowledge is tied together with enlightenment, and so forth. But the light no longer originates from a divine point of view. It originates from man, who has created himself in the image of God. The problem with this is that light always covers up its own base. Light illuminates something but at the same time it hides itself. 6 While it was previously God who was unknowable, now it is man. It is also problematic that sight and the medium of sight stem from the same place. Following this thought one can posit two final problems. Firstly, the immediacy and presence established by light by making forms and objects accessible to sight is fake. Light is not some independent entity which present things in a neutral manner for the onlooker. It is inextricably tied together with the gaze’s desire after meaning. In other words: Light perverts the appearance of things because it doesn’t originate from some objective entity which allows them to appear as they are. Instead light is based upon and originates from the subject and its conquering gaze, seeking out meaning and form constantly. Secondly, the joining of sight and light makes introspection within human life impossible. Everything can be illuminated by its use value for the subject but only as long as it is separated from the subject, as long as it is an object. But the subject itself cannot be illuminated. Lage’s art tears down such a dividing line between subject and matter, but it does so without reestablishing a divine position from where the light emanates. Therefore, the light in Lage’s art may not illuminate very well. It may not have the certainty presented by modern science or the religions of yesterday. But it does show what such light tries to hide, namely, the subject as it is in its material reality—inscribed in time and death, which are the basic conditions of materiality, but at the same time also full of life in its joy and will to create. For the onlooker the meeting of the gaze in Lage’s works of art is thus also a destruction of the view of the onlooker. The ability to see is challenged in a radical way. Those outlines will not solidify into static form, as if the light was too dim to see. Just as in Lage’s figurations, the view of the onlooker turns to black: turns towards the onlooker in recognition and becoming—or disappearance. NOTES Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment . (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2002): 4-5. Theodor W. Adorno. Aesthetic Theory . (London & New York, 2002): 176. Carsten Bach-Nielsen. “Mere glæde end gru.” Kristeligt Dagblad . September 24, 2002. Leif Hjernøe. “Den yderliggående inderlighed.” LEIF LAGE—Retrospektiv udstilling 1983 . (Copenhagen: Brøndum, 1983): 18. Ibid. Maurice Blanchot. The Infinite Conversation . (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993): 162-163. (shrink)
Leif Wenar, in “The Nature of Rights,” claims to have provided an analytical framework which is not only adequate for explicating all assertions of rights but whose deployment offers a way out of the deadlock he believes to exist between will theories and interest theories regarding the nature of rights.i To have accomplished one, let alone both, of these things would be a significant achievement in the field of rights theory. It is therefore worth showing why, unfortunately, he has (...) not succeeded on either score. Despite the clarity of Wenar’s exposition of his own position, and notwithstanding the incisive insights he brings to bear in the course of it, his revised Hohfeldian analytical framework does not in fact serve better than the original to clarify what is at stake in controversies over rights, and his deployment of it does not provide a cogent alternative to the interest theory. (shrink)
Leif Wenar examines the impact on takings scholarship of the redefinition of "property" early in the twentieth century. He argues that the Hohfeldian characterization of property as rights (instead of as tangible things) forced major scholars such as Michelman, Sax, and Epstein into extreme interpretations of the Takings Clause. This extremism is unnecessary, however, since the original objections to the idea that "property is things" are mistaken.
In John Rawls’s The Law of Peoples we find unfamiliar concepts, surprising pronouncements, and what appear from a familiar Rawlsian perspective to be elementary errors in reasoning.1 Even Rawls’s most sensitive and sympathetic interpreters have registered unusually deep misgivings about the book.2 Most perplexing of all is the general character of the view that Rawls sets out to justify. For in this book Rawls, the twentieth century’s leading liberal egalitarian, advances a theory which shows no direct concern for individuals and (...) requires no narrowing of global material inequality. (shrink)
This volume brings together a range of influential essays by distinguished philosophers and political theorists on the issue of global justice. Global justice concerns the search for ethical norms that should govern interactions between people, states, corporations and other agents acting in the global arena, as well as the design of social institutions that link them together. The volume includes articles that engage with major theoretical questions such as the applicability of the ideals of social and economic equality to the (...) global sphere, the degree of justified partiality to compatriots, and the nature and extent of the responsibilities of the affluent to address global poverty and other hardships abroad. It also features articles that bring the theoretical insights of global justice thinkers to bear on matters of practical concern to contemporary societies, such policies associated with immigration, international trade, and climate change. -/- Contents: Introduction; Part I Standards of Global Justice: (i) Assistance-Based Responsibilities to the Global Poor: Famine, affluence and mortality, Peter Singer; We don't owe them a thing! A tough-minded but soft-hearted view of aid to the faraway needy, Jan Narveson; Does distance matter morally to the duty to rescue? Frances Myrna Kamm. (ii) Contribution-Based Responsibilities to the Global Poor: 'Assisting' the global poor, Thomas Pogge; Should we stop thinking about poverty in terms of helping the poor?, Alan Patten; Poverty and the moral significance of contribution, Gerhard Øverland. (iii)Cosmopolitans, Global Egalitarians, and its Critics: The one and the many faces of cosmopolitanism, Catherine Lu; Cosmopolitan justice and equalizing opportunities, Simon Caney; The problem of global justice, Thomas Nagel; Against global egalitarianism, David Miller; Egalitarian challenges to global egalitarianism: a critique, Christian Barry and Laura Valentini. Part II Pressing Global Socioeconomic Issues: (i) Governing the Flow of People: Immigration and freedom of association, Christopher Wellman; Democratic theory and border coercion: no right to unilaterally control your own borders, Arash Abizadeh; Justice in migration: a closed borders utopia?, Lea Ypi. (ii) Climate Change: Global environment and international inequality, Henry Shue; Valuing policies in response to climate change: some ethical issues, John Broome; Saved by disaster? Abrupt climate change, political inertia, and the possibility of an intergenerational arms race, Stephen M. Gardiner; Polycentric systems for coping with collective action and global environmental change, Elinor Ostrom. (iii) International Trade: Responsibility and global labor justice, Iris Marion Young; Property rights and the resource curse, Leif Wenar; Fairness in trade I: obligations arising from trading and the pauper-labor argument, Mathias Risse; Name index. -/- See: www.ashgate.com/default.aspx?page=637&calctitle=1&pageSubject=483&sort=pubdate&forthcoming=1&title_i d=9958&edition_id=13385. (shrink)
The twentieth century saw a vigorous debate over the nature of rights. Will theorists argued that the function of rights is to allocate domains of freedom. Interest theorists portrayed rights as defenders of well-being. Each side declared its conceptual analysis to be closer to an ordinary understanding of what rights there are, and to an ordinary understand- ing of what rights do for rightholders. Neither side could win a decisive victory, and the debate ended in a standoff.
For insightful comments, we thank G. A. Cohen, Barbara Fried, Leif Wenar, Andrew Williams, Jonathan Wolff, and the Editors of Philosophy & Public Affairs. 1. Barbara Fried, “Left-Libertarianism: A Review Essay,” Philosophy & Public Affairs 32 (2004): 66–92. This is a review of The Origins of Left-Libertarianism: An Anthology of His- torical Writings and Left-Libertarianism and Its Critics: The Contemporary Debate, both edited by Peter Vallentyne and Hillel Steiner (New York: Palgrave Publishers Ltd., 2000).
The subject of this volume presents a more difficult question: Who, if anyone, is morally responsible for acting to alleviate severe poverty? Here our convictions are less steady. Are impoverished people responsible for improving their own condition? Or are the leaders of their countries also responsible, or the leaders of rich countries, or we ourselves as individuals? When considering this question we tend to have the kinds of reactions—avoidance of the topic, brief enthusiasm, nagging guilt—that indicate that we perceive several (...) strong pulls on our reasoning, but are unsure how to order our thoughts so as to reach a firm conclusion. Here is where a philosophical account of responsibility might help. What we want to know is how to determine who, if anyone, has moral responsibility for ensuring that each person’s human right to an adequate standard of living is secured. What we seek is a general theory that will tell us how to locate responsibility for averting this type of threat to individuals’ basic well-being. (shrink)
What morality requires of us in a world of poverty and inequality depends both on what our duties are in the abstract, and on what we can do to help. T.M. Scanlon’s contractualism addresses the first question. I suggest that contractualism isolates the moral factors that frame our deliberations about the extent of our obligations in situations of need. To this extent, contractualism clarifies our common-sense understanding of our duties to distant others. The second, empirical question then becomes vital. What (...) we as individuals need to know is how to fulfil our duties to the distant poor. Moral theorists tend to base their prescriptions on simple assumptions about how the rich can help the poor. Yet a survey of the empirical literature shows how urgently we need more information on this topic before we can know what contractualist morality — or any plausible morality — requires of us. (shrink)
What morality requires of us in a world of poverty and inequality depends both on what our duties are in the abstract, and on what we can do to help. T.M. Scanlon's contractualism addresses the first question. I suggest that contractualism isolates the moral factors that frame our deliberations about the extent of our obligations in situations of need. To this extent, contractualism clarifies our common-sense understanding of our duties to distant others. The second, empirical question then becomes vital. What (...) we as individuals need to know is how to fulfil our duties to the distant poor. Moral theorists tend to base their prescriptions on simple assumptions about how the rich can help the poor. Yet a survey of the empirical literature shows how urgently we need more information on this topic before we can know what contractualist morality — or any plausible morality — requires of us. Key Words: Scanlon • contractualism • global <span class='Hi'>justice</span> • global poverty • aid effectiveness. (shrink)
Contemporary movements for the reform of global institutions advocate greater transparency, greater democracy, and greater accountability. Of these three, accountability is the master value. Transparency is valuable as means to accountability: more transparent institutions reveal whether officials have performed their duties. Democracy is valuable as a mechanism of accountability: elections enable the people peacefully to remove officials who have not done what it is their responsibility to do. “Accountability,” it has been said, “is the central issue of our time.” The (...) focus of this paper is accountability in international development aid: that range of efforts sponsored by the world’s rich aimed at permanently bettering the conditions of the world’s poor. We begin by surveying some of the difficulties in international development work that have raised concerns that development agencies are not accountable enough for producing positive results in alleviating poverty. We then examine the concept of accountability, and survey the general state of accountability in development agencies. A high-altitude map of the main proposals for greater accountability in international development follows, and the paper concludes by exploring one specific proposal for increasing accountability in development aid. (shrink)
There are, in the broadest terms, two views of the value of the right to free speech. On the first view speech rights good in themselves. To respect a person’s speech rights is just to respect the inherent dignity and worth of that person as a rational and autonomous being. On the second view speech rights are means to ends. We ascribe speech rights because doing so will help us to achieve desirable states of affairs like democratic stability, market efficiency, (...) and greater enlightenment. (shrink)
“There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.” (Blackstone, p.
Rights dominate most modern understandings of what actions are proper and which institutions are just. Rights structure the forms of our governments, the contents of our laws, and the shape of morality as we perceive it. To accept a set of rights is to approve a distribution of freedom and authority, and so to endorse a certain view of what may, must, and must not be done.
A Northern Ireland politician declared not long ago that the British people had a right not to believe the IRA’s latest statement on disarmament. Therefore, he said, the British government had no right to allow the IRA further representation at the talks. Rights assertions like these are quite common in everyday talk, even if pronouncements linking epistemic and legal rights are less so.
When discussing whether or not our elected governments should intervene to end genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity in other countries, the humanitarian intervention debate has largely been assuming that liberal democracies bear no responsibility for the injustice at hand: someone else is committing shameful acts; we are merely considering whether or not we have a positive duty to do something about it. Here I argue that there are important instances in which this dominant third party perspective (...) (TPP) is empirically false and normatively misguided. Much before our positive ?responsibility to protect? potential victims from mass atrocities, we violate our negative duty not to harm these victims. Employing work by Thomas Pogge and Leif Wenar, I argue that this harm currently comes about as our elected governments either buy, or allow our corporations to buy, the world's most precious resources from brutal dictators and warlords, who dominate some of the states that are at the heart of intervention discussions. In these cases, democracies' most immediate duty is not intervention but rather humanitarian disintervention: boycotting severely oppressive regimes, and in particular stopping to recognizing these regimes ? whether dictators or civil warriors ? as possessing legitimate authority to sell their peoples' resources. I begin with a brief survey of the intervention literature, followed by the foundations for the disintervention alternative. I then elaborate the conceptual and practical advantages of disintervention, concluding with thoughts on the reasons for TPP's lasting dominance. (shrink)
justice as fairness envisions a society of free citizens holding equal basic rights cooperating within an egalitarian economic system. His account of political liberalism addresses the legitimate use of political power in a democracy, aiming to show how enduring unity may be achieved despite the diversity of worldviews that free institutions allow. His writings on the law of peoples extend these theories to liberal foreign policy, with the goal of imagining how a peaceful and tolerant international order might be possible.
All of these claims for reparations have mobilized popular support, and all share a degree of intuitive plausibility. The challenge to the theorist is to judge whether and which of such demands are grounded in sound principles of political normativity, so as to be able to select out the valid claims and to measure how the urgency of these claims compares with other demands on the public agenda. The most basic question for those considering the justiﬁcations of reparations is how (...) to orient their theories within the space of reasons. Do valid claims for reparation rest at the deepest level on reasons we have for redressing a past injustice? Or do they rather rest on reasons we have to improve our current relations so that we can get along better in the future? Are valid reparative demands backward- or forward-looking? (shrink)
[FIRST PARAGRAPHS] One third of the human species is infested with worms. The World Health Organization estimates that worms account for 40 percent of the global disease burden from tropical diseases excluding malaria. Worms cause a lot of misery. In this article I will focus on one particular type of infestation, which is hookworm. Approximately 740 million people suffer from hookworm infection in areas of rural poverty: more than one human in ten, a total greater than 23 times the population (...) of Canada or twice the population of the United States. The greatest numbers of cases occur in China, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa—that is, mostly in the places in the world where poverty is most severe. (shrink)
This paper argues that Leif Wenar's theory of reparations is not purely forward-looking and that backward-looking considerations play an important role: if there had never been a past injustice, then reparations for the future cannot be acceptable. Past injustice compose the first part of a two-tiered theory of reparations. We must first discover a past injustice has taken place: reparations are for the repair of previous damage. However, for Wenar, not all past injustices warrant reparations. Once we have first (...) passed the initial test of demonstrating a past injustice has taken place, we then determine whether or not to finally accept reparations based upon forward-looking considerations. What is important to note is that this decision to award reparations is based upon forward-looking considerations, but only after first satisfying the test of a past injustice. Thus, backward-looking considerations make up an important first part of Wenar's two-tiered theory of reparations. It is not my argument that this theory is unsafe and I find Wenar's arguments both novel and highly compelling. However, the view that this theory is forward-looking -- and not backward-looking -- is not entirely accurate. My brief reply corrects this part of an important new theory of reparations in the hope of strengthening its persuasive power. (shrink)
So long as large segments of humanity are suffering chronic poverty and are dying from treatable diseases, organized giving can save or enhance millions of lives. With the law providing little guidance, ethics has a crucial role to play in ensuring that the philanthropic practices of individuals, foundations, NGOs, governments, and international agencies are morally sound and effective. In Giving Well: The Ethics of Philanthropy, an accomplished trio of editors bring together an international group of distinguished philosophers, social scientists, lawyers (...) and practitioners to identify and address the most urgent moral questions arising today in the practice of philanthropy. The topics discussed include the psychology of giving, the reasons for and against a duty to give, the accountability of NGOs and foundations, the questionable marketing practices of some NGOs, the moral priorities that should inform NGO decisions about how to target and design their projects, the good and bad effects of aid, and the charitable tax deduction along with the water's edge policy now limiting its reach. This ground-breaking volume can help bring our practice of charity closer to meeting the vital needs of the millions worldwide who depend on voluntary contributions for their very lives. (shrink)
ABSTRACT Four decades ago, Gerald Kramer showed that economic conditions affect electoral outcomes. Some researchers took this to mean that voters were self-interested, voting their ?pocketbooks,? while others, such as Leif Lewin, took it to mean that voters were sociotropic, motivated by the public interest?and therefore altruistic. It is important, however, to avoid conflating sociotropic voters with altruistic ones. Voters might be voting in favor of politicians or parties that they think will further the public interest as an (...) indirect route to furthering their own interests, as members of the public. More research, perhaps conducted using novel methodologies, is needed in order to settle the extent to which voters are motivated by self-interest or by the public interest. (shrink)
In “Property Rights and the Resource Curse” Leif Wenar argues that the purchase and sale of resources from certain countries constitutes a violation of property rights, and the priority in reforming global trade should be on protecting these property rights. Specifically, Wenar argues that the U.S. and other western liberal democracies should not be complicit in the trade of so-called cursed resources, and the extant legal system can be used to end the trade in cursed resources by prohibiting the (...) importation of cursed resources, litigating against companies that operate in resource-cursed countries, and imposing trade tariffs on third party countries’ exports if they trade in cursed resources. In this paper, I show that while Wenar is correct that the trade in cursed resources is morally objectionable and therefore creates additional moral obligations for participants in that trade, his normative assessment fails to take account of the complexity of the resource curse and his prescriptive proposal for clean trade will not reduce harm in resource-cursed countries. I suggest that the reduction of harm, rather than the enforcement of property rights, should be the normative and practical focus in evaluating and reforming trade in natural resources. (shrink)
Paul Horwich has formulated a paradox which he believes to be even more virulent than the related Hempel paradox. I show that Horwich's paradox, as orginally formulated, has a purely logical solution, hence that it has no bearing on the theory of confirmation. On the other hand, it illuminates some undesirable traits of classical predicate logic. A revised formulation of the paradox is then dealt with in a way that implies a modest revision of Nicod's criterion.
ABSTRACT The ?symmetry assumption? in public-choice theory?the idea that people act just as selfishly in the political sphere as they do in the economic sphere?is a good theory that runs afoul of much of the evidence. The public-choice theorists in this symposium, Munger and Mueller, have thus retreated from claiming that public choice explains most political behavior, with Munger positing it as an ideal type that, in principle, might explain no behavior at all. For example, Berman suggests that even politicians (...) who say and do ?anything? to be elected or re-elected may well do so in order to acquire the power they think they need if they are to enact policies that will serve the public good. The normative project of ?constitutional political economy? into which the original, empirical version of public choice seems to have evolved may or may not tell us how to structure institutions to prevent greedy actors from using politics as a means to their personal aggrandizement. But that project cannot, even hypothetically, produce the public-choice ?findings? of widespread self-interestedness in politics that my book found were nonexistent. (shrink)
Time and communication are important aspects of the medical consultation. Physician behavior in real-life pediatric consultations in relation to ethical practice, such as informed consent (provision of information, understanding), respect for integrity and patient autonomy (decision-making), has not been subjected to thorough empirical investigation. Such investigations are important tools in developing sound ethical praxis.
Abstract Why are political decisions often unfortunate? In replying to this question public?choice theorists fail to distinguish individual conditions from systemic ones. Instead, they make sweeping claims about the egoism of man and the failure of politics. But the real problem is that we often experience government failures despite the best, the most benign motives on the part of, citizens, politicians, and bureaucrats. Better than the theory of man's innate self?interest is the theory of the unintended consequences arising from the (...) inherent shortcomings of the political system. To wish well but to do evil?that is the dilemma of politics. (shrink)
Rawls's political constructivism in Political Liberalism maintains that the two principles of justice will be accepted and endorsed by persons who are both reasonable and rational. A Theory of Justice explains the motivation to endorse the political conception on the basis of a Kantian moral psychology. Both Leif Wenar and Brian Barry argue that despite Rawls's claims to the contrary, the later work still supposes a Kantian moral psychology. If so, political constructivism fails to account for stability in society (...) among a plurality of reasonable conceptions of good. This paper draws on Rawls's distinction in Political Liberalism between the political and nonpolitical moral sell characterizing each citizens' moral identity in claiming that the two parts of the sell correlate to two sets of motivation, political and moral motivation. This account explains resolution of conflict in the agent in favor of the political conception without invoking a Kantian moral psychology. (shrink)
Although Professor Lewin is not testing existing views that, for people in politics, 'egoism rules' on deep theoretical grounds, he strongly argues that empirical facts do not support such views and thus opens a new chapter in the debate on ...