At the conclusion of my previous blog, I asked about the implications of understanding the expression of aesthetic experience as a form of definition; understood in its Greek form, orismos, which Martin Heidegger translates as ‘limitation’. For Heidegger, the value of this concept of definition is that it speaks of what we actually experience when we encounter bodies. This is because it is guided by what is seen (i.e. it is phenomenological), rather than by what is thought.
Defining orismos as ‘limitation’ indicates that the body we perceive in aisthesis is there as complete. This understanding of definition is opposed to logic’s traditional understanding of the term, which looks to define a thing in terms of genus and specific difference; for example, to be human is to be an animal (genus) with rationality (specific difference). Heidegger calls this process of definition a ‘mere thought technique’, a symptom of decline that covers over what we actually perceive in looking.
Early phenomenological research discovered that perception proceeds from the invisible to the visible – from the everyday unseen to what is bodily there. In our simple and immediate perception of bodies, they are given to us as complete, this is despite the fact that we never see anything in its totality. Heidegger gives the example of looking at a chair;
‘I always see … one particular side and one aspect. I see, for example, the upper part of the seat but not the lower surface. And yet, when I see the chair in this way or see only the legs, I do not think that the chair has its leg sawed off’ (HCT, 43)
If we circle round an object, such as a chair, what we can see of it changes constantly; we do not then assemble each of these views in our mind, to give ourselves the whole object. Instead the chair is understood from the first as complete; subsequent contents of perception, i.e. the infinite variety of views of the chair, may change, but what is immediately perceived, the chair itself, remains constant in its completeness.
Thus aisthesis, the simple, single-level perception of the whole body, is the foundation on which further acts of meaning, such as assertions about a body’s size, weight, colour etc, are made. Heidegger finds support for this phenomenological understanding of the body in Aristotle’s writings on definition as ‘limit’, orismos. This is an understanding founded upon the immediate experience of what is seen, when we open our eyes to what is there, we experience the body in its limitedness, we experience it as complete, beyond the limit of which there is nothing.
The body, as a subject for art, has disappeared into a kind of abstract ineffability; Baselitz’s work can be seen as an attempt to reassert its materiality. Heidegger’s Aristotelian based phenomenological understanding of the body, as complete, opens the door to unexpected thinking on how we might understand the body, not least the human body, in terms of its corporeality and materiality. This will be the subject of my next blog.