Friday, November 19, 2010

Art and that

I’m enjoying our Thursday seminars reading Laws II. Yesterday we got to this bit: 668c4–8

Δεῖ δὴ καθ' ἕκαστόν γε, ὡς ἔοικε, γιγνώσκειν τῶν ποιημάτων ὅτι ποτ' ἐστὶν τὸν μέλλοντα ἐν αὐτῷ μὴ ἁμαρτήσεσθαι· μὴ γὰρ γιγνώσκων τὴν οὐσίαν, τί ποτε βούλεται καὶ ὅτου ποτ' ἐστὶν εἰκὼν ὄντως, σχολῇ τήν γε ὀρθότητα τῆς βουλήσεως ἢ καὶ ἁμαρτίαν αὐτοῦ διαγνώσεται.

Saunders translates:
So it looks as if a man who is not to go wrong about a given composition must appreciate what it is, because failure to understand its nature–what it is trying to do and what in fact it is a representation of–will mean that he gets virtually no conception of whether the author has achieved his aim correctly or not.
This is supposed to help us to understand the correct way to judge the creations of mousikē and who the good judge of those creations would be. My question is about what the metaphysical commitments of this comment are. In particular, I want to know about the ousia of 668c6. This seems to be the ousia of the artistic product and the Athenian has in mind here products of imitative (eikastikai) arts. So it will be a painting (of something), or a statue (of something), or a dramatic performance (of something)...

First question: is the phrase ... τί ποτε βούλεται καὶ ὅτου ποτ' ἐστὶν εἰκὼν ὄντως (‘what it is trying to do and what in fact it is a representation of’) supposed to be a gloss on this ousia? If so, then the ousia of this painting will be what the painting is ‘trying to do and what in fact it is a representation of...'

Second question: if so, then:

Is the Athenian saying the following the ousia of this is ‘human’ or ‘Lisa del Giocondo’? Is either really plausible?  I suppose if someone pointed to it and asked me 'What is this?' I might say 'A woman' or 'Lisa'.  But I might also say 'a painting'.  Yes, I might agree that it is a painting of someone but I see no reason not to think that its ousia is 'painting'.

And is the ousia of this ‘a lark’ or ‘a lark’s song’?

Add to this the Platonic idea that even things that are not the product of human eikastic crafts are also, in a sense, imitations of some perfect, intelligible, spooky sort of thing and  things get really weird... Boy, no wonder Aristotle got so stroppy and started Cat. 1 as he did.  He even says that the figure in the picture (to gegrammenon [sc. zōōn])is only homonymously a human, not just that we would be a bit batty to say that the ousia of the picture itself is 'human'.


Dhananjay said...

My feeling now (I've changed my mind since the seminar!) is that understanding (A) "what it is trying to be" and (B) "what it in fact is a representation of" are necessary and sufficient conditions for understanding its ousia, but that (A) and (B) are not simply a gloss on ousia. If that's right, and since we probably want the ousia of something to be general, something like "being a representation of a human being" seems like a reasonable guess for the ousia of La Gioconda.

There's also the further question of whether and how (A) and (B) differ from each other. One suggestion yesterday was that (A) is subjective while (B) is objective (so (A) is "what was intended by the maker to be the content of the representation" and (B) is "what the representation actually represents"). (A) and (B) would, then, only come apart in deficient cases.

RJR said...

What would be the ousia of a picture of you? Would it be a photograph of a philosopher, or a photograph of a moustache? [= polite reminder]