Poetic Art and the Lacanian Real

The open lecture last night at EGS by Alenka Zupancic stirred up quite a lot of fruitful debate and dialogue. The lecture looked at art and its relation to the real through a commentary on Schiller’s essay, On the Employment of The Chorus in Tragedy. The lecture really felt as a philosophy in practice with a number of EGS professors, artists, and students weighing in. A sort of working theoretical laboratory for collaborative development.

Alenka courageously lectured on a project in development relating to poetry and art, in part because our first two open lectures were given by a poet and a writer. It was an invitation for applying Lacanian formulas to art, particularly contemporary art. Below I share notes, thoughts, but I’ll start by some primary points of tension:

Can the Lacanian real, as that which interrupts the natural flow of the art work by a material re-doubling, more of which will be described below, still apply to digital art, relational aesthetics, and is the idea of an interruption that gives the audience/participant access to the real impossible?

Or does art now lack a linkage to this formula that Schiller identified, and which Lacanian psychoanalytics reproduces?

Schiller and the Real

Schiller’s primary argument is that poetic art holds the capacity to give access to a real over other forms because it re-doubles the thing of its concern in relation to itself. For poetic art to relate to the real it must elevate its relation to the chorus (or audience).

In the treatise, Schiller makes a plea for the re-introduction of the chorus in dramatic theater. In the modern variation, the chorus interrupts natural life. When we return to the theater to reality, we are compressed within its narrow bounds. The chorus creates an objective distance to the natural world. A purely realist art will not satisfy as a resemblance.

For Schiller, realist art lacks the ability to access the real. Artists can use no element of reality precisely as they find it because none of its elements coincide with objective reality. When art uses reality it exists in difference to itself. So the very incorporation of realist art affirms an anti realist position. Schiller argues that we can never portray things as they are – ends up in heavy presence that does not make it more real. In theater it is the peak of illusion.

Realism = illusionism.

This capacity for realism falling into illusion is exemplified in CGI feature films. We do not get to the real without sacrificing its ideality. The idealized gesture is simply the reverse side of realism. Both fantasy and realism end up in the semblance, and remain in the imaginary, and fail to access the real of the artistic moment.

In poetic art, nature itself is never present to the senses. For Schiller, “an artist must be ideal in all parts if it is to have a reality that is in tune with nature.” Schiller’s thesis is that art mediates between the ideal and the real, and the chorus functions as a cut that can help create access to the real – not that the chorus creates a ‘should be real’ – rather, it cuts and interrupts reality itself.

DuChamp achieved this in the urinal found object art by taking what is at stake in the material corporeal object of the urinal and exposing its nothingness. This material object functions the same way that the chorus did in Greek tragedy.

Since the ideal is the only means to get to the symbolic – the question is how? What is specific about poetic language?

Poetic art has to produce the real that it combines – to create the real from within a proper space. Poetry works by means of its own doubling – by positing a thing in relation to itself. Poetic art redoubles the real. If the chorus (audience/participant of the poem) is taken away, the tragic will appear forced and over-strained. By elevating the bar between the chorus and the poetic, it elevates the potential to access the real.

Poetry then becomes the best art form because it helps to separate the audience from its own feelings. As Lacan commented, the Chorus as Lacan remarks in Seminar on Ehtics (Antigone) that the chorus feels for us.

The biggest point of debate occurred around the notion that the chorus in art (material object/audience in poetry) as offering an interruption in the ideal/real experience of the art object, and its impossibility with being capable as such in more contemporary, particularly postmodern art. Brecht, for example, argued that the film image was always too late, that it contained a certain ‘already’ interruptedness before it is constituted as an art object. The Deleuzian strain of

An Ethics of Poetic Art

The ethical implications of the poetic art is elevated on the taxonomy of art because it is able to re-double the real. This elevated potential of poetry is due in part because poetry enables a disposition between the reader in a fundamentally different way than other arts.

Schiller argues that poetry is able to separate the reader from her own feelings and enter a new space, a new ground able to access the truth of the poem without a passive interaction with the poet. Importantly, this does not work as an interpassivity – it works as Alenka referred to it as an inter-passion, a mode of relationship in which the poet and participant/reader is able to directly interrupt the flow of the form. This multi-dimensionality to the role of the audience and its capacity creates cut in the real of the process.

While this argument is still developing, it offers a type of framework for applying Schiller’s structure to art’s ability to create a ground, or more accurately a place for access to the real, which becomes a matter of ethics. This is of immense interest for my own emerging research and thesis.

One thought on “Poetic Art and the Lacanian Real

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