Term Paper: Arts in "The Berlin Key

Pages: 4 (1448 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Art  (general)  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] " Menard is, to some extent, a parody of those writers obsessed with "originality" and with various imaginary bugbears that have been posited in literary criticism, such as the "anxiety of influence," which holds that artists create out of a sense that previous artists have already done the work that they themselves wish to do. But Borges instead locates meaning not in the text itself, but in the social context. Menard's goal is not to write something like Cervantes: he wants to undergo precisely the same mental thought processes that would enable him to write as Cervantes, or identically to him. The fact that Menard succeeds leads Borges' narrator into raptures of critical explication of the short passages in which Menard has succeeded, to demonstrate that so many things which Cervantes expressed straightforwardly are now statements of profound irony and disquiet in the modern writer. By this token, suddenly a literary text (considered as a work of art) now becomes a means for expressing and understanding the larger social context of the text itself. Menard's achievement comes from belatedness, but his work of art is wholly conceptual. Its physical presence is just there to signal a multiplicity of interpretation -- like the quantum state, it is both Menard's work and Cervantes' work at the same time, as surely as it is Borges' work, and the work of the critic or viewer, in order to determine the limits of appropriate interpretation. But the object is no longer there to suggest one single correct interpretation: instead, the object becomes a reminder at once of past works of art, and those works' prior meaning within earlier historical social contexts. By signposting the question of the artwork's past, Menard's Quixote calls into question the change in social meanings (and in physical artifacts) over time.

Hadley + Maxwell's wood sculptures perform the same function, but in a different way. Hadley + Maxwell have used the word "improperties" to discuss what they are doing in these sculptures, and one can see the justice of this particular portmanteau: the sculptures seem "improper" because their faces have been sheared off with a band-saw, which also makes them less than desirable as "property." Of course this broaches the question of the relation of property to art, which is precisely why Hadley + Maxwell -- presumably conscious of the visual pun -- deliberately "de-face" so many of these sculptures. This combines an instinctive sense of improper treatment -- the wood sculpture appears damaged -- with the viewer's imagined revisiting of the improper act of creation. But the varying different ways in which they interact with the viewer coalesce in a work like "Headhunter." Here, what seems to be a Renaissance putto hoists up a severed head that looks lke any number of African wood masks which so obsessed earlier twentieth century painters like Picasso: however a huge plane-saw has removed the putto's left knee, most of his right leg and thorax, his right hand, and his face, and the front of the plinth on which he stands. The shape of what remains of the standing figures face has the same basic shape as the severed head, so we are asked to decide whether the figure is holding up a version of his own head, or holding up the severed head of an enemy triumphally. "Defacement" becomes here a visual pun, and the consciously archaic style of sculpture (and indeed consciously archaic medium in which to sculpt) gives the surface impression that this is a much older work of art that has been knowingly vandalized. The questions about representations of Africans, then, are dissolved as the viewer wonders whether this is a commentary on, rather than an expression of, racist depictions. But the viewer's experience is spent mostly wondering about not what is present in the sculpture, but what is absent. In a sense, viewer and artist alike are collaborating to imagine the work before its defacement -- this imaginary prior state of the work is, in a sense, the text that is shared in dialogue between artist and viewer. The difference between this work and the way in which an artistic "text" is held in common in Ranciere is thus further aestheticized, because the "text" itself does not exists, and must be imaginatively… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Arts in "The Berlin Key.  (2011, May 4).  Retrieved June 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/arts-berlin-key/8357975

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"Arts in "The Berlin Key."  Essaytown.com.  May 4, 2011.  Accessed June 19, 2019.