Alamut, Bosch, Gaddis: Introduction to Epochal Art

This entry is part 1 of 8 in the series Recognitions

I

On the noon of the seventeenth day of Ramadan, 1164, Hassan II, the hereditary Imam of the Alamut State founded by the Order of Assassins under Hassan-i-Sabbah, immanentised the Eschaton. 

In a bravura display of apophatism, he declared quiyāma ―the Islamic Resurrection― with the abrogation of Sharia law; inviting the Nezāri potentates to gather ―with their backs to Mecca― and partake with him in a feast of pork and wine. In normal circumstances, this would have been haram, but Paradise is outside time and so without sin or law. In the state in which nothing is true and everything is permitted, Apocalypse Now coincides with Paradise Regained. The Imam’s worldbreaking banquet prefigures other tropes we may be more familiar with: Blake’s fearful symmetries, Nietzsche’s balls-to-the-wall transvaluation, Burroughs’ “disruption of reality” as “literal realization of art.” 

II 

The subject of this blogchain will be this paradisiacal liminality when captured in the amber of art. A commonality of cultures is they all have dragons: objets de vertu that congeal at moments and in ways that can insinuate complete epochal gestures. From Imam Hassan’s milleranian post-Islamic happening to Millenial work that is emerging as we speak, the epochal perspective/scale, brought to art, can furbish insights even parsimonious criticism cannot. Beyond a work’s aesthetic and surface historical merits, an epochal approach to art analysis will probe at its memetic and mimetic outer reaches―what it means because it rhymes. Its concern is resonance. 

Take, for instance, the central panel of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights ―its garden proper, the apple of the tryptich’s eye. In a way that echoes Hassan’s suspension of belief, it may be the greatest of the stranger apophatic moments in all Western painting, in that it comes at God from the front, from the back, and sideways. The Garden is to its picaresque epochal sentiment what Wittgenstein’s qualifying of Weininger with an ~ did for the latter’s name: used it as mirroring device. A mirror doesn’t merely reflect, it multiplies infinite and infinitesimally at once. The nictitating membrane of the world is drawn; its giveaway and gate a mise en abyme, meta. 

In this sense, the @boschbot account on Twitter may be doing more to further our appreciation of Bosch’s Garden than most recent scholarship on it has, by exposing and exploiting its extraordinary detail through a telescopic lens, in an approach that allows fellow observers to engage the work on a precritical, almost prefrontal level, all while opening up new and previously unseen dimensions to an artwork that had become something of a floating signifier through mediatic and memetic overexposure. As much as this enriches art by association, familiarity breeds indifference, the most unimaginative form of contempt. In opposition to this cultural assimilation, @boschbot plumbs the Garden’s enigmas and restores its mystery, that is to say, an element of its authority, in a true feat of auratic restoration. It is also a case of instinct ―knowing how to see― trumping expertise ―knowing what one’s looking at―, a kind of imposition of innate, originary lares over connate, conventional mores.

III

In 1955, William Gaddis published The Recognitions, which is, among other things, the greatest novel ever written on the art and act of painting. Structured as a triptych, it investigates the spectrum between the original and the mimetic, the djinn of imitation, the real and the fake, and the real in the fake, ad nauseaum. It is, as you may well imagine, another of our vertiginous epochal artifacts: the one to lend its name, and spirit, to our catoptric inquiry on artworks that have passed the Turing test of time across the ages.  

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About Mónica Belevan

Mónica Belevan is Peruvian-born philosopher and design theorist. A co-founder of design outfit Diacrítica, she is the author of "Díptico gnóstico" (Hueso húmero, 2019), "The Wreck of the Large Glass / Paleódromo" (Sublunary Editions, 2020) and "OUTSIDEININSIDEOUT" (Formato Público, 2021), the Peruvian exhibition catalogue for the 17th Venice Biennale. She is currently tracking emergent Covidian Kultur and aesthetics on LapsusLima and through this blogchain on epochal art for Ribbonfarm. She can be found on Twitter @lapsuslima

Comments

  1. OK. I am going to have to get used to some loose use of linguistic approximation here. Precritical as equivalent to prefrontal? Beyond a connection fixed by their “pre-“, those are some pretty antonymic associations (and not in an antinomic way).

    “Prestriate” strikes me as fitting the pattern more closely.

    I can’t even begin to get started on Apophatism, though on the other hand, that maybe means that you’re actually using it correctly, in some appropriately esoteric way.

    Correctness aside though, this is very vivid.

    • Josh, thank you for your incisive remarks. I understand your critique, and will try to expand what my terms mean once I’m able. That antonymic/not-antynomic tension you detected was put there on purpose, and I relish that you found it and it grated. Same for apophatic, though I don’t think that one should grate as much. In any case, you’re a very sharp reader.

      My approach to Covidian writing is currently “hard and loose,” and I hope to address and incorporate refinements as they come to me in time and as the blood starts to congeal.

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