The Aesthetic of the Singular

Gilles Deleuze, in his quest to release the simulacrum from the chains of Platonism, seeks to develops an aesthetic appropriate to it. One in which the structure of the relationship between the subject and its object escapes the sameness and repetition of conceptuality, emphasising instead the “disparity” and “difference” of the singular. 

In order to do this, what he calls the current “agonizing dualism” of aesthetics needs to be resolved. This dualism has developed in the evolution of the term, from Kant’s First Critique, The Critique of Pure Reason, to the Third, The Critique of Judgment. The former privileges cognition, conceptual understanding, while the latter privileges the affect that something has on us, i.e. how it makes us feel. In order to bring about a resolution between the two, Deleuze looks for a place where they communicate. He finds it in our a priori sense of time and space, “the inner and outer forms of intuition,” which regulate both.

In the transcendental aesthetic of the First Critique the relationship between us and our sensibility of what is before us, is theorised as an object-concept relationship. In which the matter of the object is waiting to be made into something by the active agency of the conceptual category that is imposed on it. Deleuze likens this to a “process of molding.” Here the sense of time and space are the intuitions necessary for our development of this cognitive understanding. They are the medium through which we have the object, prior to the development of conceptual understanding.

In the Third Critique, which discusses the aesthetic of the beautiful and the sublime, the thing is there in its appearance in a way that does not allow conceptual understanding to regulate it, it affects us prior to cognition. The feelings of the beautiful and the sublime are conveyed and expressed through the mediums of time and space, which establish affective relationships between objects, the object and ourselves and within the viewing subject, in the connection between the active I and the passive Self. 

We can go further and say that the affect of beauty is found to be beyond all conceptualisations, we cannot account for it conceptually, yet we demand its universal agreement. Similarly the “attribution of time and space to phenomena” (S, 11*) of the First Critique is beyond the cognitive, as it comes before it . Thus both the “Transcendental Aesthetic” of the First Critique and the “Analytic of the Beautiful” in the Third, are united in that they both  “give an account of non-cognitive, or pre-cognitive, sensible experience.” (ibid)

The outcome of this is that all acts of sensible intuition have a pre-cognitive stage, which is neither arbitrary nor conceptual. In acknowledging feelings as the basis of experience there is what Steven Shaviro calls a “creative construction,” immanent to the subject, in which experience is ordered and organised. Experience of the world, and of the artwork, is therefore understood as singular, i.e. not subject to a preordained structure. Therefore “the conditions of real experience and the structures of the work of art are reunited” (TLS, 261)

*Steven Shaviro: “The “Wrenching Duality” of Aesthetics: Kant, Deleuze, and the “Theory of the Sensible.” November 10, 2007

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