Robert Guay
State University of New York at Binghamton
Nietzsche, I once read, used to have nightmares about not being able to speak. My son has nightmares about tornadoes. I have nightmares about issues that can only be resolved by appeal to Hegel’s speculative logic. Stephen Snyder might indeed present us with several such issues, but fortunately his presentation is complex enough that I should be able to distract you by focusing on other things. First, let me review what I take to me the structure of Snyder’s argument. Snyder’s argument, as I understand it, is (1) Danto offers an (essentialist) “definition” of art, where “definition” of course means something like “ontological account.” (2) That definition is borrowed (“directly”) from Hegel. (3) Because it is borrowed from Hegel, Danto’s definition is inherently problematic. (3a) The problem with the definition is that it is the same as Hegel’s. (3b) The problem with the definition is that it is different from Hegel’s. This diagnosis is no dialectical kettle logic, however. Snyder’s claim, rather, is that Hegel’s account comes with difficulties that could only be resolved through some grand “metaphysical” gesture. So Danto, in effect, offers us the cream cheese without the bagel. It’s not clear where Snyder thinks that this leaves us: we could metaphysicalize Danto or get rid of embodied meaning or do something else entirely. The distinctive part of Snyder’s account is accordingly the diagnosis: Danto’s definition of art is troubled because he adopts elements of Hegel’s account without the systematic context, leaving him without the resources to solve its inherent problems. I can therefore grant myself leave to skip over some Hegel and Danto, and focus on the problematic. As far as I can tell, Snyder identifies two problems – alternately called “oppositions”(5) or “contradictions”(1) or “dualisms”(4) or possibly “antinomies”(8) – within the Hegel/Danto complex of art theory. The first is that of Particular and Universal. According to Snyder, the Hegel-Danto theory requires the artwork to be a weird kind of thing, namely: “a particular universal, an impossible object”(1)..
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