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May 24, 2014

Shopenhauer

In the essay On Authorship and Style Shopenhauer writes:

A book can never be anything more than the impression of its author's thoughts.

The destilling of ideas, of thinking through writing, creates an imprint of the process represented in the pages of letters in the book. The choice of words, however, is a bit odd: can never be anything more. A work of art is many times everything but the impression of its creator. I think the quote becomes much more interesting when we think of it the opposite way: A book can never be comparable to the thoughts of its author.

Further down in the text Shopenhauer writes something that points in that direction, that thoughts can never be fully written down:

A thought only really lives until it has reached the boundary line of
words; it then becomes petrified and dies immediately; yet it is as
everlasting as the fossilised animals and plants of former ages. Its
existence, which is really momentary, may be compared to a crystal the
instant it becomes crystallised.

This makes the text highly relevant for thinking about documentation of artistic research work. Isn't this precisely the issue at stake for us? That the artistic expression really only lives until it has reached the boundary line of words? Often we talk about it as if it is a matter of time before we solve this complex equation after which we shall manage to document every little aspect of our artistic practice in an efficient and meaningful way.

Clearly, this is not true. Rather, I believe, we must embrace the impossibility to document. Only then can we begin to write meaningful texts about that which is relevant and communicable. Only then can we record the relevant passages without having to risk that our description of it is a bleak rendering of the original. Perhaps we need to find a way to encapsulate that bit of information that escapes our documenting efforts in order for us to describe what it appears to be, thus evading the risk at destroying it in the process. Shopenhauer continues:

As soon as a thought has found words it no longer exists in us or is
serious in its deepest sense.

Now, to make this more complicated, we also have to remember that the "original though" must never be used as an excuse to not think through our matters. Unwillingness to document has to stem from being convinced that the thinking is fully thought through and not from laziness. The enigmatic nature of artistic practice is not an excuse to leave the research work half done.

Both Shopenhauer and Nietsche spoke elitistically about originality and genius. In doing so they also saw the academic world as a bad, as a factory replicating mediocre thinking and they claimed that the true genius has to turn away from the structures of academia. This is important to remember. A reminder that already 150 years ago was there an understanding that the rigid structures of institutions may harm the evolution of artistic and philosophical thinking. We have to claim our right to be artists and resist the demand to show ourselves useful. For us the academia is a space that is useful for us not a space for which we shall show ourselves useful. If we do our work proper we will be regardless.

Posted by henrikfr at May 24, 2014 07:13 PM

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