Tag: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel


Empathy, or Einfühlung, is something you must guard yourself against. When the empathic other looks at you with feeling, just close your eyes. Sympathy is fine: the kind where your eyebrows fan out in public and the distance between two bodies is registered as a space of difference.

Empathy, by turn, should be sensed for what it keeps discrete, a process of sensory acquisition. Meaning literally, that when standing in front of an object (the object of empathy is an object like Hegel’s slave), I hold my body in a certain way, with my weight distributed frontally forward. This kind of kinaesthetic poise is completely deliberate, and designed to empower the eye, which assumes the telescopic, nearly telepathic power of antennae.

Process: the empathetic subject empties outward, discharging a burst of energy that shines up the spine, rattles through the antennae and, materializing light as a carrier of sight, cuts right through sympathy’s sovereign space of difference to penetrate the object of study. The act of empathy is phenomenological down to the ground. For instance, see Le Corbusier’s drawing of a stick person made mobile through the discursive extra-agency of a detachable eye:


Architecture is at the centre of the nineteenth century German aesthetician’s account of Einfühlung, because the scene of judgment (the scene of acquisition) is here not circumscribed by a frontal perspective. The empathic subject first learnt how to smuggle his emotions, intentions, agendas and designs into the object by wandering freely around interior space. Walking through close-packed rooms, or up and down stairs, the proximity of walls induces a kind of myopia that channels a surfeit of vision back in to the body’s skin, muscles and nerves. The empathic body is supplied its charge from this excess of vision, so that when it eventually stops stationary in front of object x, it has accrued the energy it needs to collapse a distance and smash through the object’s defences.

Domestic abuse is often not physical, and the alibi of ‘emotional support’ should be checked against the aesthete’s divisive fashioning of Einfühlung as an imagining will, or Vorstellungswille.

* Click on the image to enlarge.



Some objects are intended as material supports to real-time processes that occur in and around them, processes like condensation, heating, tree-growth and asphyxiation (rope). Scaffolding, for instance, presents an architectural function, and is not normally considered a permanent fixture (unless you live on the base of Mount Etna, where the ground remains shaky). In fact, one tends to look right through scaffolding, as if it wasn’t quite there. Why is this? Our vision, I would argue, takes process and makes it a precedent over form. Painting, cement blocks, rainfall and wolf whistles are activities that accrue and bleach over the spectacle of scaffolding’s quietness at night. These real-time processes infect the molecular structure in front of us, so that the empty ladders and rungs, after working hours, seem peculiarly out of place against the stalwart building they are there to support. Earlier, I asked the question: What kind of material and formal properties might adequate to Hegel’s outlining of a Synthesis that suspends the moments of its negations; of a Being and Becoming entwined in Stasis?[1] My response would be that a formal structure specifically designed to act as a material substratum to some kind of real-time process (whether it be a sauce-pan or a length of rope in the hands of an Alexander McQueen), is always ineluctably written over by that process, so that a cold pan starts to quiver from a ghostly heat, and its silvery lining appears starched white. Empty form is a carrier for you or me. We relate to the sensuous world by projecting our self-consciousness into things. When we promote forms to ‘thingness’, they are from that time on really nothing but ourselves taken outside of ourselves. I am interested in finding ways of obliterating this kind of solipsistic world-negotiation, by wondering how a real-time process like condensation can actually countermand and take on the subject’s ability to transform form into a mirror. In other words, I want a situation in which condensation takes on the role of you/me, in giving the saucepan its thingness, its static becoming. How can a real-time process have the power to relegate the viewer to a witness, forcing her to stand outside the ring of an object (not a thing’s) own life force? And why is this different to asking whether a falling tree makes a sound in the woods, if no one is there to hear it? Because, I am interested in a situation where the subject is coerced into recognising and reckoning with the force of process, to the point where subject-hood is irrevocably undone. Skeptically, one may reply that, once you begin to depend substantially upon a real-time process to forward a directional agenda – the obliteration of you/me – that process is reified in turn, and becomes another component of the subject’s recruiting of the world. In my next post, I want look at how one artist, Hans Haacke, attempted to use a real-time process to smash through the subject’s relentless insurgency of form, with a work entitled ‘Condensation Cube’, from 1963.

[1] In the Phenomenology of Spirit [1807], Hegel presents a world-view (weltanschauung) in which Spirit precedes Nature. This is a world where objects remain senseless until we have made sense of them, where objects depend upon us for their subsistence. In this situation an object’s being and becoming refers to the internal self-movement of spirit only we can give life to by admixing its senseless matter with our own material concepts. My question is whether real-time processes could take back the sovereign role of animating static matter with the life force of a becoming, by exposing the origin of our ‘spirit’ in the abstract thought of non-being.


Through tracing the unique ontology of the art object as it persists now, I hope to address such aporetic questions as: What is the value of aesthetic value today? What kind of universally normative conditions can still be asserted as a priori for the situation of aesthetic engagement, when the self-critical artist increasingly seeks to engineer specific conditions for the reception of her work? Could (the labour of) spectatorship be shifted from the sphere of reception to the sphere of production whilst maintaining the aesthetic distance of non-participation? How can we restore the haptic to visuality – thus grounding an appearance long ephemerized through mechanical reproduction and smart phones – whilst refraining from actually touching what is there in front of us? Could the epistemological categories of Kant’s 3rd Critique be reworked and relativized to account for the specific social subject, by engaging recent developments in the field of queer phenomenology? Can the ‘aura’ be salvaged by moving away from a conception of the object as a moment in the life of the sovereign subject, to a situation whereby the subject is countenanced as a moment in the processual life of the object, (in line with Adorno’s theory of reconciliation)? What kind of material and formal properties might adequate to Hegel’s outlining of a Synthesis that suspends the moments of its negations; of a Being and Becoming entwined in Stasis?

Mineral life obliterates scale. Is mineral life therefore powerful enough to smash through the subject’s sovereign gaze, and if so, how can we put this natural force to use?