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One of the many significant elements that Rosalind Krauss incorporates in her theo-
ry of installation and ‘post-medium’ art, is an emphasis on the phenomenological
aspect of art—Merleau-Ponty’s in particular—a philosophy that expounds the way
subjects perceive the world around them in a manner that is ‘pre-objective’. This
form of awareness about the world and the objects existing within it is based on a
phenomenological process profoundly influenced by the milieu of a being who is
correlated with the phenomenal world; it posits a worldview in which conscious is
not guided by a set preconceptions that determine an object or event that one en-
counters. As Levinas succinctly puts it, phenomenology is (but not necessarily limit-
ed to) a divorce between philosophy and reason, a tie that remained unabridged
since the dawn of Western philosophy that began with Plato and continued into the
20th century with Heidegger’s ontological philosophy of being as a dominant philo-
sophic discourse1. The emphasis on the body as an origin of being that is constituted
out of a unique totality between it and the world, challenges (1) the Platonic sub-
sumption of particulars under universals, (2) the Newtonian three-dimensional spa-
tiality that underlies Empiricism, and (3) the assumed Cartesian duality of res Cogi-
tans and res Extentia—where the former maintains priority over the later, perpetuat-
ing a residue of solipsism to loom in the works of Descartes' successors. These three
remnants of thought that are latently manifested within the art discourse, will be re-
ferred to as ‘specters’, or as Levinas puts it, “the totalitarianism[s] or imperialism[s]
of the Same” that haunt the conditions of the discursive field in which art is pro-
duced and encountered. For Levinas, a liberation of art from these monistic rules
that dominate the field within which it comes to existence, also correlates with a lib-
eration of humanity—an excessive substance that cannot be satiated by knowledge
and can only be yielded through an act of encounter.

As Danto puts it, “The history of art is the history of the suppression of art”2. Here
however, ‘suppression’ will not only be deemed as a political one, but also as a fun-
damentally philosophical and ontological; unlike political suppression, the emphasis
on philosophical suppression—which consists of monisms that include ontological
and metaphysical pre-assumptions about particulars and universals, mind and

body, and the necessary homogeneous three-dimensional Newtonian spatiality—
continue to haunt art discourse even long after its philosophical authority had been
dismantled, overturned, beheaded, or deceased. These specters of philosophy will
also manifest themselves in the conditions of modernity and post-modernity, which
ultimately, either suppress or homogenize the ontological, phenomenological, and
political essence of art. Here, it is worth borrowing the notion of ‘specter’ from Der-
rida's work Spectres of Marx:

It is necessary to speak of the ghost, indeed to the ghost and with it from the moment
that no ethics, no politics, whether revolutionary or not, seems possible and think-
able...without the principle of some responsibility, beyond all living present, within
that which disjoins the living present, before the ghosts of those who are not yet born or
who are already dead, be they victims of wars, political or other kinds of violence, na-
tionalist, racist, colonialist, sexist, or other kinds of exterminations, victims of the op-
pres​sions of capitalist imperialism or any of the forms of totalitarian​ism.3 (Empha-
sis my own)

In outlining a sort of ethics that accounts responsibility not only towards victims
who have already been victimized, but also towards those victims who have yet to
be, Derrida also makes an important point about the prevalence of specters in all
sphere's of human life—whether it is the political, philosophical, or aesthetic life.
Specters impose a kernel around which human discourse dwells; they are the con-
stituents that construct an ontology and metaphysics through which art and politics
are defined and given their meaning and potential. The aim of this essay will
demonstrate how these specters haunt the field in which art comes into existence,
and demonstrate how Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology can bring agency as a pre-
requisite for the formation of an event qua creation and apprehension of artwork.
Through an exposition of Merleau-Ponty’s “Cezanne’s Doubt” and Rosalind
Krauss's theory of installation and 'post-medium' art, the phenomenological signifi-
cance of their theories will be explicated, along with a claim that posits the signifi-
cance of embodied perception and creation as a potential ground for emancipating
works of art and their subjects from constraining conventions—an act which ulti-
mately, promises a lead way to action and autonomy. The political implications will
attempted to be bridged through the philosophy of Levinas—who although express-
es a few contentions with Marelu-Ponty’s phenomenology, is nevertheless indis-
pensable in demonstrating the parallelism between the phenomenological encounter

between two human ‘faces’ in the political realm, and the encounter that occurs be-
tween a beholder and a work of art—that which is also as an inseparable part of the
artist who created it. These encounters with art and beings as “faces” are inherently
an insatiable excess that escape subsumption by the formerly mentioned ‘specters’
and ‘totalitarianisms’ of philosophy, and leave humanity as an uncategorizable

The first ‘spectre’ to be expounded is that of Platonism. Here we may allude to the
exposition that Rosalind Krauss pursues based on the idea of a medium: a multiplic-
ity of fields and boundaries that reify particular works of art. In her Post-Medium
Condition, Krauss explicates how an art medium as such, serves as nothing but an
“unworked physical support”, which ultimately, frequently leads to a formalism
that consists of “objectification or reification” that subsumes works of art based on
their physical properties4. The continuing modes of abstraction that had developed
most predominantly in painting—where the canvas no longer even needs paint, or
the unconventional usage of the canvas space in the works of Picasso and Pollock,
but also in the literary works of Joyce, compositions of Schoenberg, and the "New
Wave" film directors like Godard and Truffaut—all whom attacked the very founda-
tions of the medium in which they carried out their artistic practice5. This general
resistance towards subsumption of works of art under a medium can be explicated
in Merleau-Ponty's emphasis on how artist’s action that initially manifests itself in a
work of art which has not yet been formulated and categorized into an art medium
as such. When Picasso revealed his Les Demoiselles d'Avignon to the public in 1907—
which today is considered to be one of the first proto-Cubist paintings—at the time,
the painting did not have the category ‘Cubism’ immediately ascribed to it. Only
subsequently were Picasso’s works formalized and defined into a genre of painting
referred to as ‘Cubism’ known today. The manner in which a medium emerges out
of a set of practices and manifestations; or how a genre of painting gains a category
after autonomous artistic events that an artist like Picasso first realizes in the world,
provides the grounds necessary for the genre of cubism to emerge as a category,
which is succinctly explicated by Merleau-Ponty:

[T]he artist launches his work just as a man once launched the first word, not knowing
whether it will be anything more than a shout, whether it can detach itself from the
flow of individual life in which it was born and give the independent existence of an

identifiable meaning to the future of the same individual life, or to the monads coexist-
ing with it, or to the open community of future monads6.

This so called ‘launching’ of a word is precisely what is deemed by Merleau-Ponty

as pre-objective manifestation of an act; in Levinas terms, this act can be deemed as
an infinity of an ’Other’ (autrui) that has not yet been subsumed to the totality of the
‘Same’ (eidos). . Although it is far from explicating Krauss’s notions of ‘site and
medium specificity’, ‘institutional critique’, and ‘post-medium’; this quote neverthe-
less captures the general theme of what is at stake in what can be generalized as a
remnant of Platonism that subsumes particulars under universals or the Other into
the Same. It is precisely under these specters of Platonism that can be observed in
what Marx described as a process of the market exchange that subsumes things to a
commodity form, but also prescribes a medium to artworks and homogenizes ob-
jects based on their means of exchange, abstracted categories, and distribution—all
which can be seen as a reduction of particulars into Platonic forms and universals.
Krauss’s exposition of Broodthaers’ and Kosuth’s work of art can be deemed as an
attempt to challenge this homogenization and commodification of works of art as
they become labeled under a totalized medium. As as revolt against these multiplici-
ty of subsumptions that prevail in modernity, modernism, attempts escape the ef-
fects of the market exchange which subsume and reify products of labor to their ex-
change value—including works of art, through a subversion of its ‘material sup-
port’, a medium through which reification and commodification itself occurs7. By
accounting every work of art as a ready-made, one not only escapes the ability of the
market to homogenize particular objects through the process of market exchange
and commodification, but also denying the reduction and subsumption of works to
a homogenizing medium as such8. As Greenberg, Clark and Krauss all argue, the
move that Pollock had made by creating his drip paintings on canvases placed on
the floor prior to hanging them on the wall, is precisely the move the attempts “to
transform the whole project of art from making objects, in their increasingly reified
form, to articulating the vectors that connect (art) objects to subjects.”9 The ultimate
aim of this process is to escape homogenization by producing specific artworks “and
[an] experience of their own necessity”.10 By choosing to paint on the floor, Pollock
sought to express a pre-objective phenomenological impulse that escaped the preor-
dained and reified standards that dictate how a painting must be delivered and pre-
sented to its viewer. It is precisely in this pre-structured process of delivery that a
work of art gets deprived from its phenomenological significance.

To follow our encounter of three main specters, we proceed to that of Newtonism.
The basis of this resistance is drawn in Marleau-Ponty’s explication of a theory of
embodiment that consists of experiences, desires, gestures, speech and the arts, serv-
ing as grounds for the constitution of meaning11. The foundation of this thought is
the particular notion of spatiality and temporality in which one’s milieu is grounded
in. It is a phenomenology of our lived being-in-the-world in which the depth of our
spatial experiences is not understood according to the pre-assumed and linear three-
dimensional empirical understanding of spatiality, but lived in a phenomenological
“primordial depth” as the “most existential dimension“12. This form of spatiality is
what Merleau-Ponty refers to as the lived perspective, in which perception is not geo-
metrical, nor a mimetic photographic one13. In his essay “Eye and Mind”, Merleau-
Ponty demonstrated how when one looks at a painting, one’s “gaze wanders within
it as in the halos of Being. Rather than seeing it, I see according to, or with it.”14 In this
essay, Merleau-Ponty emphasizes on how a painter approaches a work of painting
through a very particular manner of apprehending the things that one surrounds
oneself; it is a “carnal presence” that becomes reflected in the milieus of the artist’s
body schemas. A work of art expresses precisely this experience of the artist, which
is an experience that is offered to the eyes of the beholder through the experience of
their own body. An artwork therefore can be seen as not only conforming with the
lived experience of the beholder, but—and this is the crucial point—the artwork it-
self offers the beholder an experience to be lived through.

The way in which the notion of action is drawn out of Merleau-Ponty’s “Cézzanne's
Doubt” can be interpreted as a theory of artistic creation in which the self is integrat-
ed with the world15. In this process, the mind plays a role other than the one within
the mind-body Cartesian split; instead of being mere receptors for light, rays, colors,
and lines that the mind then conceptualizes, the “mind goes out through the eyes to
wander among objects”16; by quoting Andre Marchand, Merleau-Ponty states, “I
think that the painter must be penetrated by the universe and not want to penetrate
it”17. Indeed, this is deemed as response to Descartes’ metaphysical epistemology
manifested in his ‘First Philosophy’ doctrine where the world outside awaits its ap-
prehension by the mind18. Perhaps, one of the most interesting tensions that can be
explicated in Merleau-Ponty’s position of defying the empirical three-dimensional
space in favor of a lived spatiality, is its immediate confrontation that is poses with
Donald Judd’s theory of ‘Specific Objects’. In his theory of 'Specific Objects', Judd at-
tempts to dissolve the distinctness of medium that exists between a sculpture and a

painting by homogenizing them into particular and specific objects—by reducing
them to “three dimensional works” whose spatiality pre-assumes a Newtonian
three-dimensional empirical space. Krauss also mentions precisely this paradoxical
nature of Judd’s ‘Specific Objects’ theory, which explicates a reduction that ultimate-
ly is not specific, but general.19 Merleau-Ponty would reject Judd’s homogenization of
sculpture and painting precisely on the grounds that it pre-assumes a three-dimen-
sional space. Instead, the flatness of a painting is precisely that grounds a field in
which a lived perspective can emerge through the pre-objective spatiality experienced
by the beholder. By reducing both sculpture and painting and objects to homoge-
nized coordinates within the three-dimensional perspective, one deprives the
ground for a lived experience, and arguably, puts constrains on the ontological pos-
sibility of action and autonomy of works of art that manifest themselves as lived ex-
periences of the creator and the beholder.

This is precisely what can be drawn from Cezanne’s departure from Impressionism
which attempted to capture “the very way in which objects strike our eyes and at-
tack our senses”20. Although this approach nevertheless works in the realm of ap-
pearances if taken in the context of Plato’s critique of art, it is no longer an appear-
ance of an appearance that is twice removed from reality—a gap between which
only philosophy can provide a bridge21—rather, in a way, appearance becomes only
once removed from reality while also challenges its status of removal within the Pla-
tonic reality-appearance dichotomy. In resolving the brute dichotomies between
what Sartre would call subjectivism and objectivism, which embodies the dualistic
splits between mind and body, subject and world, individual and collective, imagi-
nation and perception, etc.; Merleau-Ponty demonstrates how Cézanne sought to
overcome these dichotomous splits through an attempt of pursuing reality while not
abandoning the immediate perception of nature22. Here, the underlying process of
how reality is constituted is redefined in which chaos and order are no longer brute
dichotomies, rather instead, the “birth of order” occurs through “spontaneous orga-
nization”23. Here it can be seen how this phenomenological outlook also serves as a
ground for a theory of agency and action. Even the strict relation between cause and
effect becomes redefined in Cézanne who goes beyond the effect by re-integrating
the effect into the cause24; similar to how Merleau-Ponty re-integrates the body and
the mind as a form of embodied knowledge; but also world and the subject, collec-
tive and the individual.

Although Cézanne manifests a form of naturalism in which “man [is] added to na-
ture”25 in which the imitation process is naturalized while also alienating oneself
from his humanity through a form of de-anthropomorphisation in the proclamation
that “a face should be painted as an object”; it also entailed deeply human traits,
where Cézanne‘s embodied experience played a crucial role in the study of appear-
ances as apposed to being merely and incarnation of imagined scenes and dreams26.
Since our lived experiences are carried out amidst man-made objects, Merleau-Ponty
claims that Cézanne realized how human action and experience become mediated
through the the usage of these tools; as Heidegger in his Question Concerning Technol-
ogy refers to as an “enframing” process of technology that mediates our being and
experience with the world. But as Merleau-Ponty expounds, Cézanne sought to step
away from humanity, precisely for the sake of revealing the latent base of “inhuman
nature upon which man has installed himself” by providing an outlet through
which this inhumanity can be revealed27. This in general, can be easily interpreted
as a critical discourse of modernity and post-modernity, one that a cultural critic like
Adorno and Jameson might pursue, but it can also be traced back to the tensions
that existed in antiquity: as Nietzsche described in his Birth of Tragedy, the preva-
lence of Socratism and Platonism in Greek arts in which the realm of Apollonian or-
der, rationality, dreams and imaginations—excluded the opposite Dionysian artistic
drives that manifest themselves in bodily pleasures, suffering, intoxication and dis-
solution. As Camus states by paraphrasing Nietzsche: “We have art in order to not
die of truth”28. If the manifestation behind practices of modern art figures can be ex-
plicated, then it is precisely in the words of Camus above: these artists implicitly
wagged a fight against modernity’s Socratic realism that perpetuates death. If Cez-
zanne’s pseudo-anti-human artistic impulse (and to some degree Pollock’s love-hate
flirtation with psychoanalytic themes) can be explicated, then this impulse can be
deemed as not necessarily directed against humanity, but as a manifestation of a
semi-paranoid revolt against the three specters that haunted them, at which, these
artists threw their shouts but abstained from making them explicit. Here, we may
once again refer to the Merleau-Ponty’s quote mentioned above: “[T]he artist
launches his work…not knowing whether it will be anything more than a shout…”6.

As Krauss seeks to circumvent the institutionalization and commodification of art,

Merleau-Ponty as well declares that institutions turn painting into an enclosed ster-
ile, sanitary “historicity of death”29. To circumvent this process, Merleau-Ponty
urges a return the subject-matter of painting to the base of living work and a re-

nouncement of entrenched structured and often bureaucratic art institutions. Since
the relationship between politics and art are closely correlated, it is impossible to
separate these two and account them solely on their own terms; just as the problem-
atic that arises in the Cartesian separation of mind and body, the same problem ap-
pertains to the attempt of separating philosophy from art, and vice versa30. It is pre-
cisely in the incapacity to apprehend art purely analytically that allows art to em-
body agency within the realm of “political metaphysics”31 and its potential to weave
“political history of the world...[that takes] place on a different level of causation”
and historical process32. For art to embody this form of potential, it must avoid its
surrender to philosophy, and consider the ambiguity that lies between reason and
unreason. In certain theories of history, such as Marxism, art does not play a consti-
tutive base for determining historical change, but rather, posits art as a product of
the already pre-established superstructure (which is precisely what socialist realism
attempts to challenge and overcome).33 This dichotomy can be assimilated to the
one found in Sartre’s existentialist philosophy, where the free for-itself subject is in
opposition with the determined in-itself subject; in Marx, an exact dichotomy is pre-
sented as an opposition between “the humanism of proletarian action...[and] the ob-
jective market forces of capital production and exchange”34. For Merleau-Ponty,
what allows the creation of a “historical event” that gives agency to human inter-
changes in time, is a form of art that reflects the experiences of artists and

The painter can do no more than construct an image to come to life for other people.
When it does, the work of art will have united these separate lives; it will no longer ex-
ist on only one of them like a stubborn dream of persistent delirium, nor will it exist
only in space as a colored piece of canvas. It will dwell undivided in several minds,
with a claim on every possible mind like a perennial acquisition36.

Perhaps, what is the ultimate take-away from Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and

its conjunction with Krauss’s aesthetic theory, is an emphasis on the possibility of re-
affirming human action and being-among-others amidst the hegemonic process of
modernity that homogenize, neutralize, and sterilize subjectivity, while similarly
also reifying and subsuming works of art under the categories of a medium or a
style. What this ultimately amounts to, is a suppression of human agency by a deter-

minacy of dictating reifying and objectifying laws according to which society can be
structured through the specters of Newtonian three-dimensional space, and the
Cartesian split between mind and body.

As demonstrated, the essay did no go in depth into an analysis of Platonism, New-

tonism and Cartesiansim, precisely because of the nature of the subject-matter:
specters which haunt modernity, postmodernity, and the ground on which the polit-
ical, phenomenological and ontological potential of art is determined and confined.
As was attempted to be demonstrated in the essay, Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology
is the basis on which the hegemony of these specters can be brought up to the sur-
face from their latent slumber, and through Levinas, its ethical and political dimen-
sion expounded.

1. Emmanuel Levinas, edited by Adriaan T. Perperzak, Simon Critchley, and Robert

Bernasconi; Emmanuel Levinas: Basic Philosophical Writings (Indiana: Indiana University
Press, 1996), p.5
2. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, p.4
3. Derrida, Specters of Marx (New YorkL: Routledge, 1994), p. xviii
4. Rosalind Krauss, Voyage on The North Sea (Thames & Hudson, 1999), pp. 6-7
5. James Monaco, The New Wave: Truffaut, Godard, Chabrol, Rohmer, Rivette. p. 108
6. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 69 (emphasis in original)
7. Krauss, p. 15
8. Krauss, p. 21
9. Krauss, p. 26
10. r.
11. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 9
12. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 12
13. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader,
14. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 126
15. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 13
16. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 128
17. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 129
18. Rene Descartes, Meditations, “First Objection”, pp. 102-3
19. Krauss, p. 10

20. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 61
21. Thierry De Duve, Kant after Duchamp (Cambridge, MIT Press, Mass., 1996), p.5
22. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 63
23. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 63
24. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 71
25. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 69
26. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 61
27. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, pp. 66-67
28. Albert Camus, trans. Justin O’Brien; The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays (New York:
Vintage Books, 1991), p.94
29. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, pp. 23-4
30. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, p.5
31. Ibid
32. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, p.3
33. Danto, The Philosophical Disenfranchisement of Art, p.18
34. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 26
35. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 24
36. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader, p. 70