Disappearing Act

15 March 2009


French playwright and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is shown in his study in Paris, on November 28, 1948.

French playwright and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre is shown in his study in Paris, on November 28, 1948.

When Sartre refused the Nobel Prize for literature he asserted that an individual ought not to allow himself to be transformed into an institution. The gesture was futile, though I doubt that would have marked the episode in the mind of a philosopher of the futile. In any case, the institutionalization of the individual continues apace.

Karl Marx, theorist of the ideological superstructure in contradistinction to the economic base, has been used to justify state imposition of "socialist realism" as the only acceptable form of artistic expression, and we can see the reasons for this if the artist merely expresses the ideological superstructure of oppressive and alienating institutions.

Karl Marx, theorist of the ideological superstructure in contradistinction to the economic base, has been used to justify state imposition of "socialist realism" as the only acceptable form of artistic expression, and we can see the reasons for this if the artist merely expresses the ideological superstructure of oppressive and alienating institutions.

The analysis of the work of art that has resulted in the dissolution of the same, and a turn away from the monolithic conception of a work of art, with all the ontological difficulties involved in that conception of artistic production, could be applied in turn to an analysis of the figure of art, the artist himself—the individual as institution. Is this not the famous (or notorious, if not tendentious) “disappearance of the artist” or the “disappearance of the writer”? The institutionalized individual is all too much like Hegel’s concrete universal, and who today has the hardihood for Hegelianism?

And what are we to make of Heidegger? Was he a mere apologist for the Nazis, as Hegel was taken to be an apologist for Prussianism? Can the philosopher be salvaged from the ruin of the man, as one book recently put it?

And what are we to make of Heidegger? Was he a mere apologist for the Nazis, as Hegel was taken to be an apologist for Prussianism? Can the philosopher be salvaged from the ruin of the man, as one book recently put it?

The Heideggerian philosophy of technology (which I have yet to fully exploit in relation to social technology, though I have plans in that direction) maintains that the ready-to-hand tool “disappears” in its use, becoming a mere extension of the agent who uses the tool. Is the disappearing creative artist a mere tool of the world, disappearing upon the fulfillment of an aesthetic function? Is the artist, then, a mere epiphenomenon of the ideological superstructure?

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One Response to “Disappearing Act”

  1. Emanuel said

    Hey! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay. I’m absolutely enjoying your blog
    and look forward to new posts.

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