32. “supreme principle”

The Supreme must be an entity in which the two are one; it will, therefore, be a Seeing that lives, not an object of vision like things existing in something other than themselves: what exists in an outside element is some mode of living-thing; it is not the Self-Living.

– Plotinus: ‘The Six Enneads’

Plotinus has given its fullest development to Neo-Platonism. We will follow his working out of the two fundamental ideas which, in his view, sum up all philosophy.

(1) The Process of Emanation from a Supreme Principle, the one source of all existing things, explains the physical and the metaphysical worlds. According as this principle gives out its energy, it exhausts itself; its determinations follow a descending scale, becoming less and less perfect. The following are the successive steps in the process:

The One

At the head of the intelligible world, far removed from the world of sense (Plato), reigns One Supreme Essence. To safeguard its transcendence, Piotinus states it to be absolutely indeterminate (apeiron). No quality marks or defines it; nothing can determine it, for all determination implies limitation (negative theodicy). The Supreme Being has no attribute, not even intellect or will: knowledge and volition suppose a duality of knower and thing known, of that which wills and that which is willed; and all duality is irreconcilable with the infinitely perfect. However, as this negative concept has for basis the Divine perfection, Plotinus has recourse to positive descriptions, the insufficiency of which, moreover, he fully recognises. By preference he describes the Supreme Being as the First (to prôton), the One, the Universal Cause, Goodness (Plato), Light. Immutable in itself, this First Unitary Being does not diffuse its substance into other beings, as the advocates of substantialist pantheism maintain; but it permeates them by its activity (dynamic pantheism); and what we call the proper, specific substantiality of things is simply the product of this activity. Furthermore, this outflow of the Divine activity into all other beings is not direct and immediate; it is effected through the agency of intermediary forces which emanate successively from one another. And as the effect is always less perfect than the cause, these activities are arranged in gradation according to their respective degrees of perfection, each one occupying a position which is lower the greater the number of intermediate steps by which it communicates with the Divine energy. What are these intermediaries into which the Divine energy flows, as it were, by cascades? Plotinus reduces them to three: Intelligence and the World-Soul in the suprasensible order; and, in the sensible order, Matter.

– Maurice De Wulf: ‘History of Medieval Philosophy’, 1909

Only blankness, complete awareness, distinterestedness; the “artist-as-artist” only, of one and rational mind, “vacant and spiritual, empty and marvelous,” in symmetries and regularities only; the changeless “human content,” the timeless “supreme principle,” the ageless “universal formula” of art, nothing else.

– Ad Reinhardt, ‘Timeless in Asia’, Art News, January 1960

41. “Nausea”

The Nausea is not inside me: I feel it out there in the wall, in the suspenders, everywhere around me. It makes itself one with the café, I am the one who is within it.

– Jean Paul Satre: ‘Nausea’, 1938

Kermode admires in Sartre’s “La Nausee” the tension between paradigmatic form and contingent reality; but it seems to me clear that the viscous “reality” of “La Nausee” is just as much a fiction as any lies constructed in “bad faith,” although the former may be a fictive version of the world derived from the less explicit, probably unconscious perceptions of “order.” Are our fictions ever checked or qualified by anything but other fictions?

– Leo Bersani: ‘Variations On a Paradigm’, New York Times, 11 June 1967

61. “Motion of non-events”

B. The situation is that of him who is helpless, cannot act, in the event cannot paint, since he is obliged to paint. The act is of him who, helpless, unable to act, acts, in the event paints, since he is obliged to paint.

D. Why is he obliged to paint?

B. I don’t know.

D. Why is he helpless to paint?

B. Because there is nothing to paint and nothing to paint with.

D. “And the result, you say, is art of a new order?” A friend of mine recounts the story of his college art history professor who introduced the work of Piet Mondrian by projecting a slide of the Dutch countryside near the Hague, where topography approaches zero. The implication, of course, is that Mondrian’s extreme rectolinephilia was a function of his environment – his paintings, in spite of their putative abstraction, are inevitably informed by History. I am by nature skeptical of this stripe of historical determinism. In fact, until I learned recently that Jackson Pollock grew up next door to a spaghetti factory, I tended to agree with Dr. Freud, who argued that what comes out is more than likely to be the opposite of what goes in. That is to say, I would not be surprised to learn little Piet spent his formative years in the Himalayas.

– Samuel Beckett: ‘Proust and Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit’, Calder and Boyars, 1965

See also, Vivian Mercier: ‘The Mathematical Limit’, The Nation, Vol. 188, 14 February 1959.

“Reinhardt made the slideshow all his own. He referred to his lectures as “non-happenings” – they were often send-ups of both the avant-garde “happenings” also taking place in New York at the time, and the traditional university art history lecture, affectionately known as “darkness at noon.” Reinhardt staged his presentations to thwart expectation and even exhaust his audience. (He once showed over 2,000 slides in one sitting at the Artists’ Club, in a talk that began at 10 pm.) “He’d sit with the tray in his lap, feeding the slides into the projector, improvising as he went along,” Dale McConathy described. “His commentary ranged between art history and a devilish parody of the travelogue.” Reinhardt’s seemingly infinite catalogue mirrored his interest in two influential postwar theories of art classification: André Malraux’s conception of a museum without walls, and George Kubler’s framing of objects and history in The Shape of Time.”

– Prudence Peiffer: ‘Ad Reinhardt: Slides’, The Brooklyn Rail, 16 January 2014

62. “Status in imagination”

The Imagination then I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary Imagination I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I Am. The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to re-create; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

– Samuel Taylor Coleridge: ‘Biographia Literaria’, 1817