|PORTRAIT: Robert S. Corrington|
Corrington begins with Schopenhauer's aesthetics, stating that only the genius, a romantic higher faculty, can wrestle with eternal Forms and capture them in an artistic expression which reveals something finally ultimate or extraordinary. Put succinctly, "The encounter with art requires a special kind of consciousness that transcends our everyday instrumental forms of interacting with the environment." A certain type of perception is under discussion here, one which occurs in a way that elevates subject and object at the same instant. As Corrington explains,
From here the discussion turns toward the larger question of relating the social role of art to the process of individuation. "Does art have a quasi-religious role to play in shaping communal values or is it a potential replacement of religion?" Art is said to "reawaken the sensual," to "desublimate" tribal longings which potentially may crush meaningful "identity bonds" within the community. On Corrington's view, religions are "innately tribal" where art, on the other hand, "struggles toward the universal through the depth-dimension of the human process. "Altruism easily extends to kinship and to reciprocal forms." Art goes "beyond the interest of the tribe," beyond the god or goddess of the tribe, and toward that which is most encompassing and sustaining.The subject and the object elevate each other at the same instant. The work of art holds forth its Platonic Forms and makes them available to the attending consciousness, which in its place turns its back on the Will and lets the Forms caress it and momentarily lift it outside of the rush of temporality and the crush of space. The encounter with a genuine work of art, that is, one created by a genius, stops time and space however briefly, from consuming their children. In that sense art and its assimilation is anti-entropic. In the “timeless” time of art one is freed from the pain and suffering of the Will to Life. And with the coming-into-presence of the Forms the basic architectonic of nature announces itself.
Corrington at this point seems to be walking a fine line, and acknowledges that Kant, at least in his ethics (but also within the Kantian "religion within the limits of reason alone"), struggled to create a universal logical foundation for ethics that transcended religion. But this sort of universality was grounded in human reason, rather than within the internal forces of a nature that is not noumenal (cut off from human access and relegated to an "as-if") but phenomenal - directly evident to the human through non-cognitive faculty as the human, being fully natural, is at one with these forces, indeed is, at least in part, created by them. It is the "naturalness" of the universality in question which Corrington finds useful, not the rational per se (the "concept"). It is in the sensate notion or tendency of the concept that the aesthetic finds its home. The reader must be careful here: indeed Corrington is drawing on Kant, but we see, again, the influence of German idealism. Interestingly, Corrington seems to be drawing on the likes of Schelling and Hegel, but also the American tradition, mostly in Peirce (who was influenced by German idealism and romanticism in the same way). Corrington writes, and I quote at length to make the point,
I intend to show that religion surpasses itself, and thereby becomes deeply ethical, when it sublates itself into the aesthetic. The telos, if you will, of religion is to become the liberating sphere of art and the aesthetic. This radicalizes Kant’s project but has some of its warrant in Kant himself, as we shall see...Peirce has his own ranking of the normative disciplines and makes aesthetics foundational for ethics on the grounds that aesthetics concerns the summum bonum, that which is admirable per se. It is given to perception in a direct way and provides the norm for all other realms of value. The current perspective (aesthetic naturalism) follows Peirce here and places aesthetics at the foundation of the normative disciples.
The claim is that religion, given its ordinal complexity, is prone to tribalization, moreso than the aesthetic which is its foundation, as aesthetics is the foundation of ethics as well. Expanding upon the Schellingean thesis that art is to crown theology, Corrington links "god-ing" with aesthetic fulfillment, to a sublime that "lives on the other side of all religious revelations with their limiting and limited tribal content." The encounter with art and the sublime is the culminating point of any individuating process - whether personal or communal.
From this point Corrington moves forward to what exactly points toward the religio-sublime in artworks. He develops a new concept which he calls "radiance" (claritas). The radiance of the aesthetic lifts out of the "normal" or "ordinary" sphere of life the unity of harmonious parts which is self-standing (a Form). This "standing-forth" of radiance and clarity calls attention in such a way that our "everyday trafficking" with objects becomes an engagement with the aesthetic object as such (identified as such, as an "artful" object, one which is radiant). But here we must ask: why are some objects likely to bear radiance and others not? Why do some objects "break out" from the ordinary into the extraordinary?
In Corrington's work the role of radiance was had by "sacred folds." Here we see that it is the "radiance" of sacred folds which calls the attention of human query. Other factors are at work as well. In addition to radiance there must be "a gestalt of grace," a calling to a "higher order arrangement of the Forms of the work of art into a vibrating totality that is a harmony of contrasts." And thus, "Beauty is what emerges from this rich field of struggle." It is the beauty which "speaks to all aesthetic agents," even if there is at first puzzlement or discord over its meaning.
In the end, the argument of the book is that "the sublime is a reality in itself rather than a mere subjective state that befalls human consciousness." Religion, being tribal, must give way toward the aesthetic, or an aesthetic "religion" whose universality derives not from finite human reason but from an Absolute outside, an encompassing of which the human is merely a part. It is not that this encompassing is God. Though the involution of the potencies of the encompassing, through their shock to that which is finite, may feel religious, it is better to say that this is an "artful" or aesthetic experience, not one of a specific tribal divinity.
I see this book as an important step in the Corringtonian naturalism that has been in development for well over three decades. At this juncture Corrington has taken the "ecstatic" character of his naturalism and firmly implanted it within the domain of aesthetics, rather than religion. But this is not to say that theology no longer has a place for him. Instead, art is the crowning achievement of his theology. It is the domain of a universality common to all beings, one that extends beyond the pretenses of human reason and seeks to point toward those conditions of origin which sustain and encompass the living and the dead, the material and the spiritual. I think that those who read Corrington will find this book informative and enjoyable, specifically because it takes those themes found in his previous books (ordinal phenomenology, psychoanalysis, but also "sacred folds," the Encompassing, art, the idea of community, and so on) and elaborates upon them in such a way that one can practically transform the role of art as it stands with respect to religion and the community.
From this point forward I think that "Corrington 3" will be creating even more original theses within the domains of aesthetics and theology in ways that further conjoin his previous interests in semiotics and psychoanalysis, phenomenology and pragmatism, and American and continental philosophy. It would be interesting to see Corrington appropriate contemporary "speculative" philosophers in the continental tradition especially, those who do use aesthetics as a prominent arena of research within their own work, considering that Corrington himself is emblematic of contemporary speculative philosophy within the tradition of philosophical naturalism - a naturalism that now has crowned itself with aesthetics.