A subject re-viewed: An aesthetic construction of the self in Kierkegaard, critical theory and the visual art

Plate, S. Brent (1994) A subject re-viewed: An aesthetic construction of the self in Kierkegaard, critical theory and the visual art. MTh(R) thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

This essay examines the role language and images play in the construction of subjectivity. Apart from many theories of subjectivity (especially psychoanalytic) which base the development of the subject almost solely in language, I argue that there are other media (i.e., images) which contribute to the formation of the subject. Using Kierkegaard's concept of the aesthetic as narrative thread, I weave together the thought of several recent theorists (Kristeva, Lacan, Baudrillard, and Derrida) and several paintings (by Rembrandt, Kandinsky, Dali, and Magritte) to illuminate the role images may play in understanding the pre-linguistic self. By paralleling Kierkegaard, critical theory, and the visual arts, visuality is shown to be a key function of the self. This conception gives not only a chronological, or developmental, view of the subject, but also provides a topographical mapping where vision stands aside speech as diverse constitutive elements of the fully-functioning subject. By shifting critical emphasis away from 'language' to the broader notion of 'media of communication,' images are separated from the domain of language. In this scheme, language and images are considered as distinct media which supplement ("add to and replace") one another. The 'media of communication' view of the subject is analogous to Kierkegaard's three stages, or "modes," of existence (the aesthetic, ethical, and religious). Just as each medium of communication supplements another, the aesthetic and ethical (and religious) modes of existence similarly supplement and overlap each other. The human subject, then, is constructed by words and images, and exists in aesthetic and ethical modes, among others. In the end, these various media and modes play off of each other, giving way to a 'subject in process.' Subjectivity becomes a movement with no fixed or final place for ultimate meaning, no teleological progression toward a final salvation. This movement of the subject is what I am labelling, following Kierkegaard's religious category, 'faith.' Such a non-traditional notion sees faith not as an attainable object, but relates it to the psychoanalytic concept of desire and the poststructural view of writing (ecriture). Faith is the movement of the subject which resists structures, singular media, or modes, and takes risks. As a conclusion to the examination of the aesthetic stage, I make a brief foray into Kierkegaard's ethical stage and take the literary trope of irony into consideration, especially as it relates to the discrepancy between the form of communication and the meaning. Here there is a move to examine the function of language in subjectivity. A question arises; in terms of this essay, if the aesthetic is "pre-lingual" (and image separate from the word) how can one theorize the images of the aesthetic using language? Irony comes into play and in this play a different view of language surfaces. Furthermore, the subject is seen as an ironic subject split between form and content. Finally, repetition is the doubly-reflective movement out of these stages, propelling the subject to more movement.

Item Type: Thesis (MTh(R))
Qualification Level: Masters
Keywords: Philosophy, Aesthetics
Date of Award: 1994
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1994-71495
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 10 May 2019 14:30
Last Modified: 10 May 2019 14:30
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71495

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