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The Cosmic Address

Tom Trevatt
In an unpublished fragment of Robert Smithson's writings on Donald Judd from the late 1960s the former
reveals his antagonism to the latter's literal or interesting art! "or Smithson# art was not to be interesting#
whi$h alwa%s presupposed a human addressee# preserving the personal# anthropo$entri$ sense of authorit%#
but to be a $osmos# addressed to the universe rather than onl% the human! &ontra to Judd's humanism
whi$h re$entred the sub'e$t# Smithson held that his wor('s s$ientifi$ $on$erns enabled it to go past the
phenomenolog% embra$ed b% minimalism! I want to propose that Smithson's proposition of a $osmi$
address# $an give meaning to an art that does not rel% on human sub'e$tivit% as a final guarantor! )his
address# I suggest# pro$eeds via an ungrounding logi$ that disarti$ulates the $o*$onstitution of the world b%
thought that dominates our $ontemporar% $ondition as arti$ulated b% the Du$hampian $on$ept of the art $o*
effi$ient and given e+pression in# amongst other areas# the art histori$al period of the $ontemporar%! )he
$osmi$ address is a true atheism! ,n address that does not lo$ate a god position# but arti$ulates itself towards#
and within# a de$entered and dispersed immanen$e $onstituted b% what Re-a .egarestani $alls a universal
/% $laim would be that art after Du$hamp produ$es a manifest image of us as dominant that relies on the
m%th of human dominan$e over the ground that is in $ontradistin$tion from the s$ientifi$ image! ,s 0rassier
points out# the manifest image of man is a subtle theoreti$al $onstru$t# a dis$iplined and $riti$al 'refinement
or sophisti$ation' of the originar% framewor( in terms of whi$h man first en$ountered himself as being
$apable of $on$eptual thought# in $ontradistin$tion to animals that la$( this $apa$it% 10rassier 20034 56! )his
$apa$it% for $on$eptual thought that founded philosoph%# a$$ording to 0rassier# following Sellars# must be
integrated with the s$ientifi$ image su$h that the language of rational intention would $ome to enri$h
s$ientifi$ theor% so as to allow the latter to be dire$tl% wedded to human purposes1ibid!6! ,$$ording to me#
art# under the manifest image mobilises a $onservative $on$eption of the real as bifur$ated between sub'e$t
and ob'e$t allowing thought to ta(e a prioritised position in relation to the un$ogni-ed7un$ogni-able ob'e$t!
)his bifur$ation and preservation of the terms that art performs# provides the ground for a sub'e$t to refle$t
on the wor( as though thought was distin$t from it but able to determine that wor( as su$h# the audien$e is
invited to $o*produ$e meaning! I would $laim that the reason $ontemporar% art is so attra$tive to us is that it
allows us the $apa$it% to formulate sub'e$tivit% via refle$tion# that our own sub'e$tive position validates the
wor(! It provides an arena within whi$h we are in $ontrol# it legislates for an open interpretation b% its
viewer! ,rt# under the Du$hampian $ondition# a$ts ideologi$all% to produ$e forms of sub'e$tivit% that
reiterate the bifur$ation between $ulture and nature pre$isel% be$ause the human viewer is given dominan$e
over the wor(!
/% aim here is to understand the interpretation of art wor( as part of a universal $ontinuum that stret$hes
1 .egarestani# Re-a )he 8lobe of Revolution
through the organi$ and inorgani$# not as separated from or higher than that $ontinuum!
"ollowing "reud# 0rassier des$ribes the wa% a $ell membrane is formed to prote$t the $ell from e+ternal
stimuli# a primitive organi$ vesi$le 1that is# a small bladder# $ell# bubble or hollow stru$ture6 be$omes
$apable of filtering the $ontinuous and potentiall% lethal torrent of e+ternal stimuli b% sa$rifi$ing part of itself
in order to ere$t a prote$tive shield against e+$essive influ+es of e+$itation! In doing so# it effe$ts a definitive
separation between organi$ interiorit% and inorgani$ e+teriorit%! 10rassier 20034 2536! )his he des$ribes as a
traumati$ $ut# a separation of the organi$ from the inorgani$! )his negentropi$ pro$ess of self*organisation is
des$ribed b% 0rassier as a te$hnolog%# or techn! 9ere4 the $ontention is that the histor% of te$hnolog%
overlaps with the histor% of life understood as originar% s%nthesis of techn and physis! )here is no :natural;
realm subsisting in $ontradistin$tion to the domain of te$hnologi$al artifi$e be$ause matter < whether organi$
or inorgani$ < alread% possesses an intrinsi$ propensit% to self*organi-ation 10rassier 20034 22=6
)his &operni$an revolutionar% logi$ thin(s a de$entred relation between human and world# not the prioritised
relation of sub'e$tive dominan$e that sees human $apa$it% as the defining fa$tor governing relations as su$h!
I would argue that $ontemporar% art# a$ting through a >tolemai$ $ounter*revolutionar% mode# rehabilitates us
to the trauma of the $ut b% grounding us in a sub'e$tive distin$tion from the world# providing the suffi$ien$%
of the world as a ground on whi$h we $an stand! In $ontradistin$tion from this I would argue for an
understanding of thought as an eruption of sub'e$tivit% from the ob'e$tive# the $ut of the organi$ from the
inorgani$# whi$h e+presses an understanding of the real s%n$hronous with s$ien$e! ,s demanded b% 8abriel
&atren in his essa% ?utland @mpire# this s%n$hronous relation between# in his wor(# philosoph% and
s$ien$e# e+er$ises a spe$ulative absolutism that deepens the narcissistic wound infli$ted b% modern s$ien$e
155= ?utland @mpire# &atren# 8abriel# The Speculative Turn6! Aith the true*to*the*universe thought of the
de*$entred artwor(# the artwor( that understands it's relation to the human as $ontingent and not the primar%
site of meaning produ$tion# we $an witness a $ontinued deepening of that wound! If we have alwa%s returned
the artwor( into the 'truth of the human' through the rehabilitation of the traumati$ $ut# then &atren's
insisten$e on the fidelit% of thought to s$ien$e $an overturn the relian$e of art on thought! It is worth Buoting
&atren at length here!
The infinite process of theoretical knowledge does not advance by attempting to grasp an uncorrelated
absolute through a philosophical ruse capable of discontinuously leaping over the subjects shadow, but
instead through a continual deepening of scientific labour seeking to locally absolve it from its conjunctural
transcendental limitations, epand its categorical, critical, and methodological tools, and progressively
subsume its unreflected conditions and presuppositions! "ar from any humanist or idealist reduction of
scientific rationality, this reflection upon the transcendental locali#ation of the subject of science should
allow the latter to radicali#e the inhuman scope of knowledge by producing a differential surplus value of
un$conditionality and universality! %n other words, such a refleive torsion should permit the subject of
science to continuously go through the transcendental glass and force its progressive escape from the
transcendental anthropocentrism of pre$critical science& it is necessary to think the particular'empirical
and transcendental'locali#ation of the subject of science within the real in order for theoretical reason not
to be too human!( 15C2# ?utland @mpire# &atren# 8abriel# The Speculative Turn6
"ar from proposing we abandon the human# as some rea$tions to the e+panded field of philosoph% that
&atren's essa% nominativel% belongs# Spe$ulative Realism# suggests# this essa% pursues a logi$ of s$ientifi$
realism that des$ribes the universal absolute not as an infinite or alternative outside# but a $ontinuum of the
imminent real that ne$essaril% in$ludes and impli$ates the human! ,rt is %et to adeBuatel% address the
impli$ations of these demands from &atren! )he eradi$able desire for the new# the e+pansion of art into non*
art via representation# the figuration of the hero artist from the generi$ field# the e+oti$isation of the 'other'#
the romanti$ism of the alternative and the e+pe$tation of the bolt of inspiration from the blue are 'ust some
e+amples of the platitudes b% whi$h art progresses! Ahile &atren's ?utland @mpire attempts to overturn
these age worn $li$hes through a simple but effe$tive re*design of the lands$ape $onfronting us# there are
remnants of the old avant garde still lur(ing!
)he operation of refle+ive anal%sis that &atren proposes for the different transcendental conditions of
research 155C ?utland @mpire# &atren# 8abriel# The Speculative Turn6 that $an go be%ond
anthropo$entri$ism# the limitations pla$ed on the e+periments of s$ien$e b% the limits of the human#
impli$ates us in a spe$ulative mode of thought! , wound has been stit$hed up b% the Dantian $onservative
revolution# to perform a dehis$en$e we must anal%se the $onditions under whi$h thought is performed and
spe$ulate be%ond those $onditions! )his dehis$en$e# &atren suggests# will finall% ma(e philosoph% modernE
)hilosophy will finally be modern only if it can sublate the critical moment, crush the )tolemaic counter$
revolution and deepen the narcissistic wounds inflicted by modern science 155= ibid!6! "rom a philosoph%
s%n$hronous with s$ien$e# &atren proposes a spe$ulative absolutism that $an thin( be%ond the limits of the
$orrelation between human and world that has been trans$endentalised in post*Dantian thought! ,
&operni$an revolution must be $apable of thin(ing the absolute# whi$h in &atren's terms $omes to mean the
real# un*$orrelated to human a$$ess to it!
)hrough a de$entering logi$ of true*to*the*universe thought# $an we re*understand art's role as one not of the
produ$tion of the fantas% of human dominan$e# but the furthering of the wor( of the absoluteF ?r to put it
another wa%# to produ$e a $osmi$ address that situates itself as part of the nested regional $ut within and b%
the universal $ontinuum! ?r to put it still another wa%# $an art parta(e in a &operni$an revolution that shifts
the lo$us of meaning from the lo$al suffi$ien$% of thought to a dispersed and abstra$ted infiniteF )o do so#
art would be thrust into $osmi$ e+ile# a term $oined b% anal%ti$ philosopher Aillard Gan ?rman Huine to
des$ribe an impossible position outside of the limit of human a$$ess# but ta(en up b% Smithson as a positive
tas(! )his e+ile# or adheren$e to the $osmi$ logi$ of the inhuman# provides us with an as%mptoti$ orientation
out of the finitude of human interpretation# radi$all% evis$erating the anthropo$entri$ $ounter*revolutionar%
$o*relation between thought and art wor(! ,n% es$ape from the $ontemporar% reBuires an inhuman material
lure# rather than an avant gardist human hero to lead the wa%! )he tra'e$tor% is not mapped b% intelle$tion
alone# but b% a s%ntheti$ e$olog% of h%brid geo*networ(s that imminentl% organise! )hus# Smithson's spiral
wor(s dislo$ate a segment of the di--%ingl% infinite# be$oming# as )homas &row points out# the sign and
imprint of a perpetual tropism# alwa%s unfulfilled# towards the thing itself 1&osmi$ @+ile# &row6! )his
segmentation perpetuall% inde+es the infinite spiral from whi$h it is $ut# rendering the $ontinuum rather than
the dis$rete ob'e$t of appre$iation!
So while art under this telling of it might be $apable of thin(ing a$$ording to the s$ientifi$ real# that is# as
part of te$hnologi$al# negentropi$ self organisation < the e+pression of our genot%pe b% our phenot%pe < we
$annot do awa% with the idea of a minimal differen$e between art and life 1life here is the name we'll give to
all a$tivit% that $onstitutes the real that is not art6! Ahi$h is to sa%# we $annot trul% naturalise art! ,rt is the
e+tension of immanent self*organisation# but we $annot atta$h the $ategor% of art to natural pro$esses that
loo( e+tra*organised < trees don't ma(e art! ,rt is a value $ategor% that we drape over $ertain human
a$tivities# or rather the retro'e$t guarantor of those a$tivities that demar$ates a field! )here is ne$essaril% a
gap between art and life! @ven as art approa$hes life in an attempt to radi$all% demo$ratise itself# it must do
so with a notion of distan$e from life# afforded b% the nominal frame as art! )his approa$h is as%mptoti$#
that is# art will approa$h life but never full% rea$h it without a residual artness! /% $laim is that this
distin$tion# this spa$e# or spa$ing that art performs# is not inhabited b% interpretation alone# that to thin( art
a$$ording to the real# means that art must a$$ount for $onseBuen$es outside of the refle+ive relation to
sub'e$tivit%! )he supposition is that art $an# and does# have real affe$ts outside of the produ$tion of meaning
via interpretation# that while perhaps being returned to parta(e in the regime of interpretation# e+ist as
un$orrelated to thought! Ahi$h is to sa%# these affe$ts do not rel% on interpretation as su$h# e+isting in spite
of not because of the sub'e$tive e+perien$e of them!
)o be even more $lear# I am not suggesting that art is produ$ed b% all natural pro$esses# an inhuman
e+tension of 0eu%s' ever%one an artist# whi$h# if e+tended in this wa%# holding '$reativit%' as its
$ornerstone# $annot thin( art as an%thing different from natural patternsE birds building nests# trees turning
their leaves to the sun# $r%stals organising themselves! .o# art is pre$isel% a regime instigated b% human
thought! 1,s a side note * )o thin( art as an inhuman e+tension of 0eu%s' utopian politi$s is nothing more
than e$omimesis# or a form of 'umping into the void where all epistemologi$al boundaries are dismantled!
)his form of epistemologi$al dismantling is perhaps the aim of all art that see(s to ma(e a 'ump over the
sub'e$t# but I would argue# is not a suitable approa$h here as it misunderstands the $omple+ relationship
between representation and presentation6! 9ere# we are reminded of )hierr% de Duve's rereading of Dant
through Du$hamp! 9e renders the famous thesis and antithesis in the )hird &ritiBue as simpl%4
)hesis4 ,rt is not a $on$ept!
,ntithesis4 ,rt is a $on$ept!
De Duve positions formalism as upholding the thesis and $on$eptualism as upholding the antithesis! Jet# I
would want to simpl% reformulate this# not as a $lear distin$tion between the two# but that art is $apable of a
mu$h more subtle intertwining! Stated as4
,rt is both $on$ept and not a $on$ept# pre$isel% be$ause of its double status as entering the dis$ursive field of
art# whi$h is a $on$eptual stru$ture applied to non*$on$eptual ob'e$ts and b% being an ob'e$t that brings with
it material presen$es that $annot be a$$ounted for b% thought! So# individual instan$es of art arti$ulate
themselves through non*$on$eptual and $on$eptual means# but the general field of art itself e+ists as an
e+pression of thought! )hat is to sa%# the $ategor% of art is determined as su$h b% a series of de$isions made
b% and between humans within thought! 9owever# and here is the $ru+ of the argument# I want to argue that
thought is a material pro$ess! ,nd as su$h is $losed off from our $omplete a$$ess to it# it $annot as su$h be
trul% said to be full% $omprehended and is both a presen$ing of the material substrate of thought 1the
immediate presen$e without representational mediation6 and the pro$ess of mediated representation inherent
in thought! )o reiterate# thought as su$h is a material pro$ess that is not full% $omprehended b%
representation and to whi$h we are partiall% blind! )his is not to suggest that $ons$iousness is 'ust one
phenomena amongst others# $learl% there is something out of the ordinar% about thought# but that it's
pro$esses still remain be%ond our $omprehension of them! )he more we might $ome to (now about the
fun$tions of the brain# the less (nowledge and e+perien$e overlap! Ae $an know how our brains wor(# the
firing of s%napses# ele$tri$al impulses et$# but we $annot live it! )his is des$ribed b% fi$tion theor% writer R
S$ott 0a((er in his 0lind 0rain 9%pothesis! ,s 0a((er suggests4
Ahether or not the so*$alled :thalamo$orti$al s%stem; turns out to be the :seat of $ons$iousness#; one thing
is $lear4 the information that finds its wa% to $ons$iousness represents onl% a small fra$tion of the brain;s
overall information load! )his means that at an% given moment# the brain;s $ons$iousness s%stems possess a
(ind of 1fi+ed or d%nami$6 information hori#on! Ahat falls outside this information hori-on# we are in$lined
to either overloo( $ompletel% or attribute to the so*$alled :un$ons$ious;<a problemati$ intentional metaphor
if there ever was one!
)hus# informational pro$esses that fall outside of our brain's lo$al hori-on are not per$eived as part of the
thin(ing pro$ess# instead appear as if e nihilo over the hori-on! &onsider this long passage from 0a((er4
If our brains were somehow# impossibl%# wired to pro$ess themselves from the inside 1as the sub'e$t of
introspe$tion6 with the same fidelit% with whi$h the% pro$ess themselves from the outside 1as the ob'e$t of
neuros$ien$e6# then one might e+pe$t the generation of :a$tion; to be e+perien$ed as one more thing within
the great $ausal $ir$uit of the environment! Rather than e+perien$ing desires :motivating; those a$tions# our
brains would simpl% e+perien$e the translation of environmental inputs into behavioural outputs in toto!
)here would be no desire# onl% behaviour arising as another natural event! Rather than e+perien$ing norms
$onstraining those a$tions# our brains would e+perien$e the pro$essing of behavioural outputs against
ongoing environmental input! )here would be no :right or wrong#; no :$orre$tions#; onl% attenuations of
behaviour in response to real*time environmental feedba$(! Rather than e+perien$ing purposes guiding those
a$tions# our brains would e+perien$e the pro$essing of behavioural outputs against past environmental
feedba$(! )here would be no :point; to our a$tions# onl% behaviour reinfor$ed b% previous environmental
"ollowing this h%pothesis# these regional hori-ons within the brain pre$lude its $apa$it% to thin( its own
pro$esses! If the thalamo$orte+ e+ploits its own in$ompleteness# its own disabilit% to see the pro$esses
involved in ma(ing thought# it $an onl% pi$ture# as Ra% 0rassier suggests#
its realit%# thought then# does
not have a$$ess to the real# $an onl% abstra$tl% des$ribe the real# but is still part of the real itself! )hat is to
sa%# thought is no less real than what it thin(s# but $annot have dire$t a$$ess to its sub'e$t! ,nd# as 0a((er
suggests# $annot even have dire$t a$$ess to itself! )hought is in$luded in the ongoing negentropi$ pro$ess of
te$hnologi$al self*organisation des$ribed above# thought is immanent to# not distin$t from# material pro$ess
and is a wa% for the universe to (now itself! 9en$e# thought about art < $riti$ism# theor%# histor% et$ < is not
onl% insuffi$ient in regards its sub'e$t 1it approa$hes it as%mptoti$all% be$ause its materialit% pre$ludes dire$t
representation6# it is at the same time engaged in a pro$ess of $onstantl% 1insuffi$ientl%6 representing itself to
itself and presenting its own material presen$e outside of representation! Ahi$h is to sa%# both art and
thought about it e+ist within a $ontinuum of materialit% that entangles and is $ut from the entire $osmos!
So# while this form of thought is attempting to a$$ount for re$ent neuros$ientifi$ developments 1albeit from a
spe$ulative and theor%*fi$tionalised perspe$tive6 and how the% might be able to for$e our thin(ing about art
into $ertain tra'e$tories# the point is not to $reate aestheti$ representations of s$ientifi$ theories but to wor(
through the t%pes of stru$tures this thought $an produ$e! ,rt shouldn't fall ba$( on s$ien$e as a legislative
fun$tion# but must thin( stereos$opi$all% through the $onditions of address that s$ien$e ma(es and that that is
provided b% the belief s%stems that art puts into a$tion! )o do so would $on$urrentl% understand art as a part
of a $ontinuum of natural pro$esses and the $onfluen$e of $on$eptual properties whi$h themselves are nested
within the $ontinuum# and thus $an thin( through the stratified relation of parti$ular# regional# lo$al and
universal# global! )o thin( a$$ording to this fun$tion would allow parti$ular $laims b% images to impa$t and
infle$t the effi$a$% of the entire regime of art# whilst $on$urrentl% understand themselves as being entangled
within spe$ifi$ $onte+ts $oming to present their own mi$ro$osms that would be $ut from the entire $osmos#
mu$h li(e a Smithson spiral that perpetuall% tends towards itself in an as%mptoti$ approa$h# thus registering
the parti$ulate and the universe!
2 )his $omes from the answer to a Buestion during Ra% 0rassier's presentation at the /atter of &ontradi$tion4 Aar
,gainst the Sun $onferen$e in London /ar$h 1