Thus, the 'failing of the stable relationship between the perceptible and the intelligibIe' might perfectly well be construed as the unlimited character of the powers of representation. In order to interpret it in the sense of the 'unrepresentable" and posit certain events as unrepresentable, a double subreption has to be made - one involving the concept of the event, the other the concept of art. This double subreption is what is presented in Lyotard's construction of a coincidence between something unthinkable at the heart of the event and something unpresentable at the heart of art. Heidegger and 'The Jews' create a paraIlel between the immemorial fate of the Jewish people and the anti-representative modern destiny of art. Both similarly attest to an original poverty of mind. This is only set in motion when moved by an original terror, an initial shock that transforms it into a hostage of the Other, that unmasterable other which, in the individual psyche, is simply caIled the primary process. The unconscious affect, which not only penetrates the mind but literally opens it, is the stranger in the house, always forgotten, and whose mind must even forget this forgetting in order to be able to pose as master of itself. In the Western tradition, thus Other has supposedly assumed the name of the Jew, the name of the people that is witness to forgetfulness, witness to the original condition of thinking which is the hostage of the Other. It follows that the extermination of the Jews is inscribed in the project of self-mastery of Western thought, in, its will to have done with the witness of the Other, the witness of what is unthinkable at the heart of thought. This condition is supposedly comparable to the modern duty of art. The construction of this duty in Lyotard causes two heterogeneous logic to overlap: an intrinsic logic of the possibilities and impossíbilities specific to a regime of art and an ethical logic of denunciation of the very phenomenon of representation.
In Lyotard, this overlap is created by the simple identífication of the divide between two regimes in art with the distinction between an aesthetic of the beautiful and an aesthetic of the sublime. 'With the aesthetic of the sublime: Lyotard writes in The Inhuman, 'what is at stake in the arts is their making they witness to the fact that there are things which are indeterminate.' Art supposedly makes itseIf the witness to the 'it happens' which always occurs before its nature, its quid can be grasped; wítness to the fact that there is something unpresentable at the heart of thought which wishes to give itself the material form. The fate of the avant-garde is to attest to this unpresentability that seizes hold of thought, to inscribe the shock of the material, and testify to the original gap.
How is the idea of sublime art constructed? Lyotard refers to Kant's analysis of the powerlessness of the imagination which, faced with certain spectacles, feels carried off beyond its domain led to see in the sublime spectacle - what is called sublime a negative presentation of the ideas of reason that elevate us above the phenomenal order of nature. These ideas manifest their sublimity by the powerlessness of the imagination to create a positive presentation of them. Kant compares this negative presentation with the sublimíty of the Mosaic command thou shalt not make graven images'. The problem is that he does not derive from it any idea of a sublime art attesting to the gap between Idea and material presentation. The idea of the sublime in Kant is not the idea of a kind of art. It is an idea that draws us outside the domain of art, transferring us from the sphere of aesthetic play to that of the ideas of reason and practical freedom.
The problem of 'sublime art' is thus posed in simple terms: one cannot have sublimity both in the form of the commandment prohibiting the image and in the form of an image witnessíng to the prohibition. To resolve the problem, the sublime character of the commandment prohibiting the image must be identified wíth the principIe of a non-representative art. But in order to do that, Kant's extra-artistic sublime has to be identified with a sublime that is defined within art. This is what Lyotard does when he identifies Kant's moral sublime with the poetic sublime analysed by Burke.
What, for Burke, did the sublimity of the portrait of Satan in Paradise Lost consist in? In the fact that it brought together 'images of a tower, an archangel, the sun rising through mists, or in an eclipse, the ruin of monarchs, and the revolutíons of kingdoms'. This accumulation of images creates a sense of the sublime by virtue of its multiplicity and disorder - that is, through the under-determination of the 'images' proposed by the words. There ís, Burke noted, an affective power to words that is communicated directly to the mind, short-circuiting material presentation in images. The counter-proof of trust is provided when pictorial visualisation transforms the poem's sublime 'images' into grotesque imagery. Such sublimity is therefore defined on the basis of the very principles of representation and, in particular, the specific properties of the 'visíbility of speech'. Now, in Lyotard this under-determination - this loose relationship between the visible and the sayable - is taken to a limit where it becomes the Kantian indeterminacy of the relationship between idea and material presentation. The colIage of these two 'sublimes' makes it possible to construct the idea of sublime art conceived as a negative presentation, testimony to the Other that haunts thought. But this indetermination is, in reality, an over-determination: what arrives in the pIace of representation is, in fact, the inscription of its initial condition, the trace of the Other that haunts it displayed.
This is the price for an alignment of two sets of testimony, of two 'duties to witness'. Sublime art ís what resists the imperialism of thought forgetful of the Other, just as the Jewish people is the one that remembers the forgetting, which puts on the basis of its thought and existence this founding relationship to the Other. The extermination is the end-point of the process of a dialectical reason 'concerned to cancel from its core any alterity, to exude it and, when it is a people, to exterminate it. Sublime art is then the contemporary witness of this planned death and its implementation. It attests to the unthinkability of the initial shock and the unthinkable project of eliminatíng this unthinkability. It does it by testifying to the naked horror of the camps, hut to the original terror of the mind which the terror of the camps wishes to erase. It bears witness not by representing heaps of bodies but through the orange-coloured a flash of lightning that traverses the monochrome of a canvas by Barnett Newman, or any other procedure whereby painting carries out an exploration of its materiaIs when they are diverted from the task of representation.
But Lyotard's schema does quite the opposite of what it claims to do. It argues for some original unthinkable phenomenon resistant to any dialectical assimilation. But it itself becomes the principle of a complete rationalisation. In effect, it makes it possible to identify the existence of a people with an original determination of thought and to identify the professed unthinkability of the extermination with a tendency constituive of Western reason. Lyotard radicalises Adorno's dialectic of reason by rooting it in the laws of the unconscious and transformíng the 'impossíbility' of art after Auschwítz into an art of the unpresentable. But this perfectíng is ultimately a perfecting of the dialectic. What is assigning a people the task of representing a moment of thought, and identifying the extermination of this person with a law of the psychic apparatus, is not a hyperbolic version of the Hegelian operation that makes the moments of the development of spirit - and forms of art - correspond to the concrete hístorícal figures of a people or a civilisation?
It will be said that this attribution ís a way of disrupting the machine. lt involves haltíng the dialectic of thought at the point where it is in the process of plungíng in. On the one hand, however, the plunge has already been taken. The event has occurred and this having happened is what authorises the discourse of the unthinkable-unrepresentable. On the other hand, we can query the genealogy of this sublime art, anti-dialectical witness to the unpresentable. I have said that Lyotard's sublime was the product of a singular montage between a concept of art and a concept of what exceeds art. But this montage, which confers on sublime art the task of witnessing to what cannot be represented, is itself highly determinate. It is precisely the Hegelian concept of the sublime, as the extreme moment of symbolic art. In Hegel's conceptualization of it, the peculiarity of symbolic art is that it is unable to find a mode of material presentation for its idea. The idea of divinity that inspires Egyptian art cannot hit upon an adequate image in the stone of the pyramids or colossal statues. This failing of positive presentation becomes a success of negative presentation in the sublime art, which conceíves the non-figurable infinity and alterity of the divinity and, in the words of the Jewish 'sacred poem', states this unrepresentability, this distance of divine infiníty from any finite presentation. In short, the concept of art summoned to disrupt the The Hegelian machine is none other than the Hegelian concept of the sublime.
In Hegel's theorization, there is not one moment of symbolic. art but two. There is the symbolic art prior to representation. And there is the new symbolic moment that arrives at the end, after the representative era in art, at the end of the Romantic dissociation between content and form. At this extreme point, the interiority that art wishes to express no longer has any form of determinate presentation. The sublime then returns, but in a strictly negative for it is no longer the simple impossibility of a substantial thought findíng adequate material for It is the empty infantilization of the relationshíp between the pure will to art and the thíngs which can be anything - in which ít asserts itself and contemplates its reflection. The polemical functíon of this Hegelian analysis is clear: it aims to reject the notion that another art might be a box out of the dissolution of the determinate relationship between idea and material presentation. For Hegel, such dissolution can only signify the end of art, a state beyond art. The peculiarity of Lyotard's operation is to reínterpret this 'beyond" to transform the bad infinity of an art reduced to reproducing solely íts signature into a fidelity to an original debt. But sublime unrepresentability then confirms Hegel's identification between a moment of art, a moment of thought, and the spírit of a people. The unrepresentable paradoxically becomes the ultimate form in which three speculative postulates are preserved: the idea of a correspondence between the form and the content of art; the idea of a total intelligibílíty of the forms of human experience. including the most extreme; and, finally, the idea of a correspondence between the explanatory reason of events and the formative reason of art.
I shall conclude briefly with my opening question. Some things are unrepresentable as a function of the conditions to which a subject of representation must submit it is to be part of a determínate regime of art, a specífic regime of the relations between exhibition and signification. Corneille's Oedipe provided us with an example of maximum constraint, a determinate set of conditions defining the properties that subjects of the representation must possess to permit an adequate submission of the visible to the sayable; a certain type of intelligibility concentrated in the connectíon of actions and a well-adjusted dívision of proximity and distance between the representation and those to whom it is addressed. Thís set of conditions excIusively defines the representative regime in art, the regime of harmony between poiesis and aesthesis disrupted by the The Oedipal pathos of knowledge. If there are things which are unrepresentable, they can be located in this regime. In our regime - the aesthetic regime in art this notion has no determinable content, other than the pure notion of discrepancy with the representative regime. It expresses the absence of a stable relationship between exhibition and signification. But this maladjustment tends towards more representation, not less: more possibilities for constructing equívalences, for rendering what is absent present, and for making a particular adjustment of the relationship between sense and non-sense coincide wíth a particular adjustment of the relationship between presentation and revocation.
Anti-representative art is constitutively an art without unrepresentable things. There are no longer any inherent límits to representation, to its possibilíties. This boundlessness also means that there is no longer a language or for which is appropriate to a subject, whatever it might be. This lack of appropriateness runs counter both to credence in a language peculiar to art and to the affirmation of the írreducible singularity of certain events. The assertion of unrepresentability claims that some things can only be represented in a certain type of form, by a type of language appropriate to their exceptionality. Stricto sensu, the thís idea is vacuous. It simply expresses a wish: the paradoxical desire that, in the very regime which abolishes the representative suitability of ferrous to subjects, appropriate forms respecting the singularity of the exception still exist. Since this desire is contradictory in principIe, it can only be realised in an exaggeration which, in order to ensure the fallacious equation between anti-representative art and an art of the unrepresentable places a whole regime of art under the sign of holy terror. I have tried to show that this exaggeration itself merely perfects the system of rationalisation it claims to denounce. The ethical requirement that there should be an art appropriate to exceptional experience dictates exaggeration of the forms of dialectical intelligibility against which the rights of the unrepresentable are supposedly being upheld. In order to assert an unrepresentabílity in the art that is commensurate with an unthinkabílity of the event, the latter must itself have been rendered entirely thinkable, entirely necessary according to thought. The logic of the unrepresentable can only be sustained by a hyperbole that ends up destroying it.
Jacques Rancière/The Future of the Image/Part 1: The Future af the Image/THE SPECULAtIVE HYPERBOLE OF THE UNREPRESENTABLE
edit in Grammarly by Dejan Stojkovski