٠ Kant’s classes clash ٠

The title references Pierre Bourdieu’s critique of Kant’s famous essay on aesthetics – The Critique of Judgement. Bourdieu’s take on Kant’s distinction between ‘taste’ (available to all animals) and ‘beauty’ (exclusive to the humankind) implies a marxist notion of the separation of classes. For him, Kant’s praise of beauty and of ‘pure taste’ is a praise of the bourgeoisie:

‘Pure’ taste and the aesthetics which provides its theory are founded on a refusal of ‘impure’ taste and of aisthesis (sensation), the simple, primitive form of pleasure reduced to a pleasure of the senses, as in what Kant calls ‘the taste of the tongue, the palate and the throat’, a surrender to immediate sensation which in another order looks like imprudence. At the risk of seeming to indulge in the ‘facile effects’ which ‘pure taste’ stigmatizes, it could be shown that the whole language of aesthetics is contained in a fundamental refusal of the facile, in all the meanings which bourgeois ethics and aesthetics give to the word; that ‘pure taste’, purely negative in its essence, is based on the disgust that is often called ‘visceral’ ( it ‘makes one sick’ or ‘makes one vomit’) for everything that is ‘facile’-facile music, or a facile stylistic effect, but also ‘easy virtue’ or an ‘easy lay’. The refusal of what is easy in the sense of simple, and therefore shallow, and ‘cheap’, because it is easily decoded and culturally ‘undemanding’, naturally leads to the refusal of what is facile in the ethical or aesthetic sense, of everything which offers pleasures that are too immediately accessible and so discredited as ‘childish’ or ‘primitive’ (as opposed to the deferred pleasures of legitimate art). […]

Aristotle taught that different things differentiate themselves by what makes them similar, i.e., a common character; in Kant’s text, disgust discovers with horror the common animality on which and against which moral distinction is constructed: ‘We regard as coarse and low the habits of thought of those who have no feeling for beautiful nature… and who devote themselves to the mere enjoyments of sense found in eating and drinking’. […]

For it is a familiar enough fact that men wholly absorbed by their senses have much greater perceptive powers than those who, occupied with thoughts as wel l as with the senses, are to a degree turned away from the sensuous. We recognize here the ideological mechanism which works by describing the terms of the opposition one establishes between the social classes as stages in an evolution (here, the progress from nature to culture).

BOURDIEU, P. (1996) Distinction: A social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Cambridge: Harvard University Press

YinkaShonibare_2© Yinka Shonibare, Immanuel Kant, Life-size fiberglass mannequin, Dutch wax printed cotton, mixed media, 2008

Immanuel Kant, sculpted after the Age of Enlightenment philosopher and presented with amputated legs — a fictional disability suggesting that intelligence can be a hindrance when it creates a damaging thirst for conquest.

03large© Joachim Koester, The Kant Walk #1, 2003-2004

01large© Joachim Koester, The Kant Walk #3, 2003-2004

“Throughout his life, Kant never left his native Königsberg (former capital of Prussia, later renamed Kaliningrad), nor did he keep a diary or describe his habits in the letters he wrote. And although he was sociable as a young man, one might even venture to say gregarious, as a mature man he became rather reclusive and hypochondriacal.

All we know about him are his walks. Walks Kant invariably took unaccompanied and which helped him to focus his thoughts. Knowing where the two homes in which Kant lived are located, Koester was able to recreate those strolls the philosopher went on with such punctuality that his neighbours used to tell the time by them.” excerpt of text by Jose Manuel Costa

f_02© Laurent Millet, Calmez-Vous Mr. Kant, 2009, from the series Les Derniers Jours d’Emmanuel Kant/The Last Days of Immanuel Kant

f_11© Laurent Millet, Vous y etes Presque Mr. Kant, 2009, from the series Les Derniers Jours d’Emmanuel Kant/The Last Days of Immanuel Kant

f_05© Laurent Millet, Pas Si Vite Mr. Kant, 2009, from the series Les Derniers Jours d’Emmanuel Kant/The Last Days of Immanuel Kant

The title of the exhibition is taken from Thomas de Quincey’s novella of the same name, in which the narrator describes the declining health and diminished perceptual faculties of the eminent philosopher, rendering Kant less capable of interpreting the world around him. Millet takes Kant’s waning powers as the inspiration for his own explorations of phenomenological doubt. For all of their pleasurable optical revelations, Millet’s constructions are hardly the effects of a naïve dabbler, but rather make knowing and winking reference to a wide-range of Modernist art and scientific discoveries. From Tatlin’s Constructivist reliefs to molecular models: against this matrix of signs, Millet’s work evinces a critical doubt and wonder at our ability to understand and perceive the world around us in any objective fashion.

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