Beuys’ Chair and the Violence of the Other: Toward a Theory of Aesth-ethics
Keywords:Beuys, violence, hospitality, phenomenology, aesthetics, ethics,
Most rare are those works of art that, in a simple visual gesture, succeed in formulating a dilemma that occupies culture as a whole. Such is the artwork of Joseph Beuys entitled Fat Chair. The work—viewed mainly from a phenomenological perspective—is comprised of two elements holding a tension: a chair on the one hand, and a lump of fat placed on top of it on the other. The tension between these elements, so the article argues, manifests the tension between two types of violence: following Benjamin, these are termed “the violence of the Father” and “the violence of the Other” (or in Hebrew, “the Violence of ha-Rav”). The violence of the Father refers mainly to the violence of culture: the violence of the concept and the category from the side of the object, and the violence of the law/name of the Father from the side of the subject. The violence of the Other, transgressing distinctions between good and evil and subject and object, is the violence of the pre-cultural and the primordial, before law and language. This primal violence cannot appear in its full presence, either in culture in general or in art in particular; it can only appear as a leftover and a spectre. Beuys' artwork manifests this aporetic appearance in a paradigmatic manner, and in this sense, it could serve as a paradigm for the possibility of hospitality in art. In fact, the article opens the way for an argument of a larger scale, according to which art, and not the social sphere—as Levinas maintains—should be viewed as the sphere of the hospitality of the entirely Other. The study of such hospitality in art should therefore be termed “Aesth-ethics.”
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