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Alexander García Düttmann: For and Against the Contemporary
For and Against the Contemporary
(S. 9 – 22)

What is the Contemporary?

Alexander García Düttmann

For and Against the Contemporary
An Examination

PDF, 14 Seiten

"For and Against the Contemporary" is a polylogue in which the contemporary is understood as the untimely, and in which the concept is wrested from its present abuse in the art world.

– I remember


– Hold it! You are getting off to a false start. How can you begin a paper on the contemporary with the words “I remember”?


– You interrupt me. Does stubborn interruption belong to the condition of the contemporary? I remember Jacques Derrida


– Are you trying to justify your presence here by appealing to the past, by stating your allegiance to a philosopher whose name still resonates in the present, though perhaps no longer in the same way it once did? 


– You forget that Derrida was your contemporary in the past, as it were, before you knew it and could measure up to him, for in his last conversation with a journalist, he anticipated what you are suggesting now. Back in 2004, only a few months before he died, he seemed convinced that his writings had not yet been read,1 as if he were waiting for contemporaries to come, or as if one’s contemporaries could never be simply there, be contemporaneous with oneself, coincide with one’s biological lifetime, or as if, in order to be a contemporary, one had to become a contemporary in the first place, make an impossible date, by way of one’s own uncertain achievements, with future generations that might or might not keep this date. Derrida left a note for his son to read out at his funeral. It will not surprise you that in this note he greeted all those who had gathered to bid him farewell with a strange final address: “I love you and smile at you from wherever I might be.”2 At the same time, and this is what you should remember, Derrida also believed that two weeks or at most a month after his death nothing of his would be left, as if a belief in one’s contemporaries, present or yet to come, were the symptom of an idealism designed to ward off the fact that an achievement must be radically disinterested, and that the expectation of a reward in the guise of some form of contemporaneity already harbors a distorting interest. In the face of this “double feeling,” as Derrida put it, death appears as the agent of the contemporary. It acts on behalf of the contemporary, makes it work as it undoes it, prevents it from ever doing any work. Now tell me. When you say that Derrida’s name no longer resonates in the same way, are you opposing the contemporary to the outdated, to that which pertains to a past that is not relevant to the present anymore? Or are you relying on a distinction between different ways of being contemporary, between contemporaries who are not contemporaries in the same manner, who have a different understanding of what it means, and what it takes, to be contemporary? If, by definition, there must be at least two of us, but probably more, for us to be contemporaries, then there is a good chance of there also existing different ways of being contemporary …


– Let’s assume that there are different ways of being contemporary, that being contemporary entails as much a difference as it entails a virtual unity between the way in which I am a contemporary and the way you are. I imagine then that one such way will consist in rejecting any usage of the word that treats it as a synonym of those old-fashioned battle-horses, the “modern,” the “new,” even the “avant-garde.” Can the “modern,” the “new,” the “avant-garde” still belong to the vocabulary of the most contemporary of all contemporaries? A declared interest in the contemporary often amounts to a wordy invocation bereft of content, or a mere simulation of ideas. At the very tip where the present fades into the past quickly while the future remains unfathomable, or proves all too predictable, we encounter a passion which tries to grasp imminence. “It is happening, yes, so much so that it is not yet happening,” contemporaries say; or perhaps: “It is about to happen, no, it has happened already.” The contemporary thus is the figure of an emptiness that is mad about itself, mad at itself, a mad or drunken opening that desperately craves emptiness, constantly falling prey to the commonplace or producing a vague and incoherent discourse, constantly vomiting what it has just absorbed, or rejecting what it has almost assimilated. That’s why the contemporary can be so depressing, so sad.


– Last week I asked my friend Jean-Luc Nancy to send me an aphorism about the contemporary, and to do so in an e-mail, a very contemporary form of communication, though I suspect that for those who twitter it is already “so dated” that they will have stopped listening by the time I finish this sentence. Here is what Jean-Luc wrote to me early the next morning, like someone who wishes to be contemporaneous with the day that is just beginning, and share its uncertainty: “To be contemporary, is to share the same time. When time is suspended, as is the case today – that is to say, when ‘today’ ceases to be recognizable, one shares the uncertainty, the suspense. One exists in shared suspension. But one way or the other, one escapes from the flux of time. It is a form of eternity.”3 What if the contemporary were a Janus-faced figure? When it turns one of its two faces toward us, it appears as a figure of emptiness, secluded from time, endlessly or eternally circling inside the abyss into which the tip of the present collapses again and again, caught in an empty time that only mirrors eternity, sharing nothing except for an insatiable hunger fed by the revulsion that the passing of time inspires.


– At the end of Conversation Piece, a film Luchino Visconti made late in his life, one character says about her former lover, a dead young man who may have committed suicide, that he had not had time, that he had not given himself time enough to be taught the lesson of life. Supposedly, what one learns if one’s lifetime is not cut short, if one does not put an end to it prematurely, is that the living forget the dead, no matter how burning the memory may have been that once kept their trace. Perhaps there is a way of being contemporary that tries to avoid this lesson by abandoning itself so hopelessly to emptiness that emptiness turns into a passion, as you claim. So would the best way of being contemporary, of existing as a contemporary, consist in taking one’s eyes off anything that self-consciously presents itself as contemporary? In a preface added to the first edition of a novel that the Majorcan writer Llorenç Villalonga published in 1963, Desenllaç a Montlleó, I have found an allusion to “original minds”4 at the “margins of passing fashions.” These minds are said to be neither “antiquated” when they look back nor “precursory” when they overturn other minds. 


– Obviously the fact that, at one point, someone’s ideas were contemporaneous with someone else’s, and influenced them, does not mean that they remained influential and continue to determine contemporary thought. But assuming we can agree on what counts as such thought and what does not, is it enough to state that these ideas do not determine contemporary thought anymore in order to assert that they have lost their force and must be dismissed as meaningless to an understanding of the present? The fate of contemporary thought eager to advertize itself as contemporary, and of contemporary art keen on being seen, is that they must keep changing horses in midstream. Just don’t remind the thinker or the artist of their fate. They won’t like it. 


– Allow me to intervene. I wish to make a related point by asking whether sharing a room, or a space, with others, being there at the same time as they are, simultaneously, is enough to say that they are one’s contemporaries. If the contemporary is not just an indifferent concept, or a concept used indifferently to designate any possible juxtaposition of existences in the present time – if it is a value and not a fact, then surely it must involve some selection, some filtering, some choice, some elective affinity. It requires an eye capable of seeing differences. You have drawn our attention to the difference between ways of being contemporary. Since there are always many contemporaries, two at least, it is always possible and even likely that there will be differences between ways of being contemporary. But if we now turn our attention to what accounts for the unity of the contemporary, and allows a group of people existing in the same world at the same time to be identified as contemporaries, we find that once again we must resort to difference. From this perspective, I cannot be a contemporary without distinguishing myself from others who are presently alive, or who are more or less my age. Not all attempts at distinguishing myself can be equally valuable or valid. Also, what deserves to be called “contemporary” must be identified on a basis that abstract temporal and spatial simultaneity does not provide. It is inclusive only to the extent that it is exclusive, and that it is exclusive twice over: once with regard to things past and again with regard to things present. This is why the contemporary, so slippery and hard to pin down, is always at risk of solidifying into the most dogmatic and rigid of notions, a notion employed to inhibit and intimidate, sometimes even to bully the other. I have met a person who, each time she vindicates an interest in the contemporary, conceives of it in terms of a moment in an ongoing relay race. This is the moment when a handing over takes place that is also meant to be a sort of transformation: by changing hands, the baton, the object, mutates into something contemporary. “We no longer speak of X, we speak of Y now”, she says, and I am never quite sure whether she is reporting from the front, making it up as she goes along, or imposing words that stand in for thoughts. Walter Benjamin, a critic of the “homogeneous and empty time” of progress, sought a temporal force in the past that would hit the present as if it were coming from the future, even though many of his contemporaries seemed oblivious to the existence of such a force. He conceived of it as the intense experience of a time full of presentness, of a past filled with actuality, and called it “Jetztzeit,” “now time.”5 Only “now time” opens an access to the future from which the present is forever separated, for only the past can preserve the future’s revolutionary otherness. That the present is the site where an “instinct” must prove itself and sense the undercurrent of “now time” in the past, that it serves merely as a springboard to leap into a “now time” detected instinctively, that it is in the past that the present has to start looking for itself, for the actual or the contemporary, if it ever wants to encounter the future, means that nothing happens in the present, that the present is essentially an empty time. Doubtless “now time” is as devoid of content as the present. Yet what distinguishes it from the present is not a content but an intensity that the present lacks. In “now time,” content has turned into intensity, cannot be separated from it, into an intensity that imparts itself as an urgency. “Now time” is tense, time as tension, while the present is flat, time as emptiness. Perhaps “now time” is eternity at the tip of the present, the other face of the Janus-faced figure of the contemporary, an intensity that escapes the flux of time, the point at which the past communicates with the future, and where the present is left behind in a sudden “instinctive” leap. Benjamin compares this leap to the “leap of a tiger.” In his Animal Sketching, Alexander Calder notes that “animals think with their bodies to a greater extent than man does.”6 Perhaps the thinking of the present is a bodily awareness that captures the past. We don’t see it coming because it has come already, it has happened.


– Does it then not follow from Benjamin’s argument that there is an illusion which belongs to the present? The illusion or the fiction of the contemporary would consist in the belief that the future begins right now, in the present, and that the task of the living, of the ones who live now but not in “now time,” would be to concern themselves with the present as the time that bears the future, as the time in which the future is given. But why would that be so, exactly? Benjamin claims that past generations have made a “secret appointment” with future generations, with us. By making such a claim, he on the one hand confirms the impossibility of knowing the contemporary, of knowing what it could mean to speak of oneself and others as contemporaries, while on the other hand he hints at the essential secrecy or hiddenness of work undertaken in the present, just as Derrida does in his last interview, or as Nietzsche did, too, in his “untimely meditation” on Richard Wagner, in a meditation directed “against the times”7 for the sake of “future times.” Work undertaken in the present cannot but remain hidden, hidden to itself, precisely because it is being undertaken as we speak. To see the work undertaken in the present, as we speak, to see whether actually any work is being undertaken right now, something we cannot know in advance, we need to distance ourselves from the present, leap into the past, into “now time,” and return to the present as revolutionaries, from the future that this leap may disclose to us.


– In a nutshell, you take Benjamin to imply that contemporaries can never live a life that would be contemporaneous with itself, as it were, and that there is an anachronism that splits the contemporary. However, Nietzsche also reminds us in his Untimely Meditations, from which you quoted a moment ago, that interpretations of the past depend on the “highest powers of the present,”8 on the most vigorous of all contemporary efforts, and that only the one who knows about the present and thus proves to be an “architect of the future,” is able to listen to the “oracle” of the past. Let’s not forget that Benjamin himself invokes a special sense to attain “now time,” an “instinct” without which the leap into the past can never succeed, and that he regards this sense, or this “flair”, to be active in fashion.


– Anna Wintour says that she will quit Vogue when the anger becomes too much for her. My contemporaries are the ones who can make me angry. When I asked Min Hogg how one avoids confusion at a fashion show, she replied: “You must pick three or four dresses that catch your eye and then build your article around these dresses.”


– I remember Jacques Derrida telling me, in a private conversation, how irritated he felt when working on a text he had been commissioned to write for a series called “The Contemporaries.”


– Was the request not already a distinction?


– While you were all talking at the same time, interrupting each other, asking so many questions and going off into so many directions that I got confused, I looked up Derrida’s text and found the following phrase: “One writes only at the moment when one gives the contemporary the slip.”9 In French, Derrida uses the expression fausser compagnie, which, if we translate it literally, not idiomatically, means to twist or distort company, to break a promise, if you wish. Is making a promise not always a form of keeping others company and of keeping company with others? Whoever wants to undertake some work, to achieve something, to do some writing, for example, must betray his so-called contemporaries, Derrida seems to tell us, the contemporaries to whom one is not really committed since the time one shares with them is shared only in the abstract. Time cannot be shared otherwise, unless one distances oneself from the presence of the contemporaries and follows the trace of writing. You know that, for Derrida, writing is also and primarily a synonym for experience. Just as writing separates us from the present, experience, the endurance of otherness, begins where presence exposes itself to absence, and the present is interrupted. So the one who betrays his contemporaries, who refuses to include himself within the alleged unity of a temporal presence, follows the trace of writing, all the more so as, in the case with which Derrida is concerned here, he devotes himself to the very activity of writing and thereby allows himself to experience something, time for instance. What emerges at this point is that the hiddenness of work in the present is not simply due to the fact that we are too close to see it, or that, in a sense, it is too contemporary to be truly contemporary, but rather that it results from the displacing and disrupting effect that any experience must have, any experience that reveals itself to be at the origin of, say, a work of art, or that lies in the work’s creation, or that is even the experience which the work itself enables.


– In his Negative Dialectics, Adorno notes that “thoughtful people” and “artists” have often registered a feeling of coldness and distance, of “not being quite present”10 and of “not joining in the game,” as if “they were not entirely themselves but a kind of spectator.” He then asks whether it is not this aspect of human life that constitutes its “immortal part,” whether a detached comportment does not show itself to be more humane than different forms of involvement that deny the “inanity of existence,” at least under specific historical conditions. Such thoughts remind me of two conversations in Thomas Mann’s novel Lotte in Weimar. In this novel, the protagonist visits Weimar as an old woman. She wishes to see Goethe again, for there was a time when the poet was infatuated with her and used her as one of his real-life models in his writing. After her arrival, Doctor Riemer, a philologist who belongs to Goethe’s entourage, pays a courtesy call on Lotte. In the course of the long conversation that ensues, Riemer describes the great artist’s character and sees his art as the result of both “absolute love” and “absolute annihilation or indifference.”11 He also mentions a “coldness” entirely peculiar to “absolute art,” a “destructive equanimity.” Lotte later recognizes that, as the young Goethe wooed her, she and her husband could not avoid having a “secret inkling.”12 They felt that, no matter how much suffering the poet’s passion would cause, it was perhaps merely a “sort of game,” something on which one could not rely since it served “ends” situated “outside of the human sphere.” The novel comes to a close with a ghostly conversation between the old Lotte and the old Goethe that takes place in the darkness of a carriage. Here, a Goethe who may not be actually present, appearing only as an interlocutor in Lotte’s inner monologue, or dialogue, justifies his behavior by referring to the cosmic force of metamorphosis, to a “play of transformations”13 that he takes to be the fate of human existence.


– Pascal stresses the “coldness”14 of the Gospels, a “coldness” that he attributes to the disinterestedness with which they were written, the lack of affectation and resentment. Yet he also remarks that we never stick to the present15 and that therefore we do not live. We hide the present because it is a source of grievance, or because, when it causes us pleasure, it still fades away. 


– I see. But Derrida does not simply write that one gives the contemporary the slip when one writes. Rather, by writing that “one writes only at the moment when one gives the contemporary the slip,” he acknowledges that one can be deluded about writing and assume that one is writing when in truth one is not. This is the moment when one truly betrays the other, breaks one’s promise and ceases to keep him company, not because one turns away from him but because one turns toward him, as if the contemporary were a given.


– In the beginning I interrupted you and you wondered whether stubborn interruption does not belong to the condition of the contemporary. I can hear the uninterrupted ringing of a phone. In the film Conversation Piece, it resonates unnervingly in the Professor’s flat after it has been invaded by various members of the most vulgar of families, each one of whom is a specimen of a certain type of contemporary behavior in the mid-seventies. Let me channel the brutality or the violence of an interruption into a series of theses designed to interrupt the interruption of art and thought that seems to define an important dimension of contemporary culture today. I will leave it to you to accept or dismiss them, to relate to them as convincing intuitions or as naive, perhaps even offensive impositions. My theses are meant to illustrate the delusion to which you have just referred when clarifying further the point Derrida makes in relation to the contemporary. They are meant to specify the source of the sadness that befalls me each time the contemporary shows its empty face. My first thesis states that in the past twenty years or so the most pervasive and consistent usage of the adjective “contemporary” in the cultural realm has connected it with the noun “art,” and that the extraordinary attention devoted to “contemporary art” has been, on the level of the infrastructure, the predictable outcome of an accumulation of profits, and, on the level of the superstructure, the consequence of an impoverishment in conceptual imagination equal only to the poverty of much of the production itself. “Contemporary art” has shaped the emperor’s and the empresses’ new clothes, whether the royalties were artists, curators or academics driven by “theory.” My second thesis states that the world of “contemporary art,” and especially of the jargon that gives credentials to its installations and that in the past decade has given prominence to “archives,” “potentialities,” “participations” and “binaries,” is a world of make-believe, in which networking and lobbying, naivety and slyness, pseudo-activity and drivel prevail, with the aim only of protecting the machine against an interruption of its functioning, and of ensuring the survival of those who keep boosting the business. Contemporary works of art are frequently said to be “thought-provoking,” but the thoughts they allegedly provoke are rarely put into words and discussed, and never really lead to “thinking differently.” Also, contemporary works of art constantly seem to “raise questions” of great relevance but these questions tend to be of such a general nature when the critics make them explicit that they can hardly expect ever to meet with interesting answers. Contemporary works of art are regularly credited with “exploring themes” of this and that, of “community” and “access,” but the findings of these explorations are mostly rather predictable and, never mind the excitement, fit perfectly into conventional patterns. Is it not telling that such works so often elicit the most tired and tiresome “thematic” criticism? My third thesis states that an important element of the superstructure, or the ideology, of the world of “contemporary art,” one that accounts for some of its attractiveness in the eyes of many, is the semblance of radicalism brought about by the integration of politics into the machine, but only after an infantilization and trivialization has rendered politics, or “the political,” harmless, and evacuated any serious critical impulse from it. Here, politics resembles the toys with which, in The Third Generation, Fassbinder’s funny send-up of the German Autumn, a group of bourgeois Berlin ninnies, whose clownish terrorism serves the causes of capitalism, plays at the game of revolution. When the traitor in the group proposes to blow up the town hall of Schöneberg, a city district, the neurotic wife of a bank manager who has joined the group, exclaims with childish delight: “That’s genius! I want to do it, please let me do it alone!” 


– Can you provide an example for your theses?


– If you are willing to be patient, I suggest that we read and analyze a few sentences in “Art as social interstice,” one of the opening sections of Relational Aesthetics, a book which, from my perspective, has made a great impact on recent contemporary art and has continued to inform, implicitly or explicitly, knowingly or unknowingly, the ways in which such art is often discussed. After having announced, in the previous section, that the “idealistic and teleological version” of modernity is “dead,”16 and after having observed that art can be considered a “place that produces a specific sociability,” Nicolas Bourriaud, the author of this book, unexpectedly picks up a concept to be found in Marx. “Interstice” translates “metakosmion” or “intermundium,” a concept Marx borrows from Epicurus in Das Kapital to designate not so much a gap in which the gods are said to live a blissful life undisturbed by mundane matters, and devoid of all influence upon them, but a gap in which the nations of antiquity went about their trading before becoming producers of commodities, relating to these commodities as values and treating their own individual labor as homogeneous human labor. Bourriaud wishes to demonstrate that art, inasmuch as it is “relational” and fulfills a “complementary” function, generates “forms of conviviality capable of re-launching the modern emancipation plan,”17 and that such “conviviality” emerges in the “interstices” of capitalism. He writes: “Over and above its mercantile nature and its semantic value, the work of art represents a social interstice. This interstice term was used by Karl Marx to describe trading communities that elude the capitalist economic context by being removed from the law of profit: barter, merchandising, autarkic types of production, etc. The interstice is a place in human relations which fits more or less harmoniously and openly into the overall system, but suggests other trading possibilities than those in effect within this system. This is the precise nature of the contemporary art exhibition in the arena of representational commerce: it creates free areas, and time spans whose rhythm contrasts with those structuring everyday life, and it encourages an inter-human commerce that differs from the ‘communication zones’ that are imposed upon us.”18 The political emphasis that characterizes this short passage, if only because Marx is named, and because it alludes to an imposition resisted, is deflated by the depoliticizing effect of its actual content. After all, the interstices or “intermundia” of the “ancient world,” of which Marx speaks, are transferred here into capitalism where the freedom for which they allow is meant to unfold untouched, despite its immediate vicinity to power and domination, to antagonism and class struggle, to “imposed ‘communication zones’.” To be sure, Marx also conceives of the existence of Jews in the “pores of Polish society”19 as analogous to the existence of real “trading nations” in the interstices or “intermundia” of antiquity. Yet one wonders what example he would have given if he had revised Das Kapital after the end of the Second World War. When measured against the depoliticization triggered by Bourriaud’s attribution of harmony and openness to “human relations” that are said to form in the “interstices” of “contemporary art exhibitions,” the political invocation of a “modern emancipation plan,” which still resonates there where he distinguishes between free and imposed communication, appears to be utterly vacuous. If there is a question Bourriaud does not ask, and that his usage of the notion of an “interstice” is intended to suppress, then it must be the question of the immunity granted to “contemporary art exhibitions.” His uncritical celebration of “representational commerce” in current capitalism undermines the affirmative reference to Marx, revealing to the attentive reader, to the reader who is not entranced by catchwords, the shallowness of Bourriaud’s identification with the victims, with those upon whom “communication zones” have been “imposed,” whatever that may mean. The “inter-human commerce” which art exhibitions are said to encourage turns out to be just as reified, or commodified, or corrupted, as the “representational commerce” itself, for it is arbitrarily posited, “imposed” in the same manner as the repressive “communication zones.” By relating to the contemporary as something given, Bourriaud depoliticizes art’s political ambitions, or uncovers against his will the depoliticization at work in contemporary art.


– “Yet, naturally, all of this ends up being somewhat consoling, for out of the negativity quite another message emerges: that such a zone of freedom, and free critique, can be maintained by the instrumental system of capitalism.”20 That’s from Julian Stallabrass’s Very Short Introduction to Contemporary Art. 


– It is time to examine whether we have made any headway. The contemporary seems to be a rare animal that can rotate on its own neck and exhibit different faces, depending on whether we think of it as a given or an uncertain achievement, as an empty, abstract, deceptive present or a springboard into the past and the untimeliness of creation. But if the contemporary is indeed Janus-faced, even the sadness of an encounter with its emptiness, with the semblance of radicalism, must still relate to the excitement of leaping into “now time” or starting to write. Is the present not necessarily empty and therefore always a cause for sadness, also in the case when, in acquiring the sense, or developing the instinct, that is required to venture into the past’s “now time,” we begin to depart from it? In one of his last letters to a young poet, dating from 1904, Rilke distinguishes between two forms of sadness, or rather between two ways of being sad, low-spirited. Sadness that we are unable to bear, and that we carry around in a manner reminiscent of the contemporary that publicizes itself, recoils and becomes “unlived, spurned, lost life, of which [we] may die.”21 However, if it were possible for us “to see further than our knowledge reaches,” then, Rilke says, we would gain an awareness of sadness as a moment “when something new has entered into us, something unknown.” Our task would then consist in transforming the future. To the extent that the future releases itself, and makes us sad, before it actually occurs, it gives us the impression that we have nothing left except for the present, for a deadly life that must remain “unlived.” This is the impression we need to withstand, and transform the future into “our destiny,” into a future that will no longer merely happen to us, occur externally, but that will “step out of us to others.”22 Could we ever hope to leap into “now time,” into the past, had the new not entered our lives already, unrecognizable to knowledge? Although Giorgio Agamben does not quote Rilke in his essay “What is the Contemporary?”, it may not be too far-fetched to understand his answer to the question in this sense. The “life of the contemporary,” he claims, lies in an attentiveness to the “unlived,”23 to a “present where we have never been,” whether on account of its forbidding closeness or its traumatic import.


– No wonder Rilke is addressing his letter to a young poet! It is the sign of youth that it cannot draw on any of the concepts and slogans that circulate in the present if it wants to refer to itself, and that it can trust only its own polemical and critical powers, its own increased feeling of life. This is Nietzsche’s idea of youth at the end of his untimely meditation on history. It suggests that the young are more contemporary than those who live in the present. But that’s not what I had in mind. For it is still Rilke, not quite thirty years old when he writes his letter and nonetheless not a young poet anymore, who sends a young poet his thoughts about sadness. The moment when the future, which has not come yet, is transformed, so that it can no longer come from elsewhere, as it were, not simply, is the moment of the contemporary, the moment of metamorphosis, of youth, of a force or an intensity that cannot be opposed to maturity and old age, to petrification and senility, because such youth names the point at which youth turns into maturity, maturity into youth, the point at which youth, maturity and old age touch and prove indistinguishable. 


– I get it. We must choose between the contemporary that remains subject to change and falls prey to the passion of emptiness, and the contemporary that penetrates into the very heart of metamorphosis. But how do I foster a sense for “now time,” how do I begin to write? Do you remember?


– Well, give it the slip!



Notes

1 Jacques Derrida, Apprendre à vivre enfin. Entretien avec Jean Birnbaum (Paris: Galilée 2005), p. 35.


2 “Salut à Jacques Derrida”, Rue Descartes. Revue du Collège International de Philosophie, no. 48, 2005, p. 6.


3 Jean-Luc Nancy, in an e-mail sent to the author on 3 February, 2010.


4 Llorenç Villalonga, Desenllaç a Montlleó, with a preface by Paulina Crusat (Barcelona: Club Editor, 1963), p. 10.


5 Walter Benjamin, “Über den Begriff der Geschichte,” Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 1.2 (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974), p. 701.


6 Alexander Calder, Animal Sketching (Bridgeman: Pelham, NY, 1926 [reprint 2009]), p. 53.


7 Friedrich Nietzsche, “Vom Nutzen und Nachtheil der Historie,” Unzeitgemäße ­Be­-trachtungen (Kritische Studienausgabe, vol. 1, Munich: DTV and Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1988), p. 247.


8 Ibid., p. 293ff.


9 Jacques Derrida, “Circonfession,” in Jacques Derrida and Geoffrey Bennington, Jacques Derrida (Paris: Seuil, 1991), p. 63.


10 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialektik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1975), p. 356.


11 Thomas Mann, Lotte in Weimar (Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag, 1981), p. 80.


12 Ibid., p. 107.


13 Ibid., p. 406.


14 Blaise Pascal, Pensées, ed. M. Le Guern (Paris: Folio, 1977), p. 409.


15 Ibid., p. 81ff.


16 Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics (Dijon: Les presses du réel, 2002 [English translation]), p. 13.


17 Ibid., p. 16.


18 Ibid.


19 Karl Marx, Das Kapital, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Regnery’s Gateway Editions, 2000), p. 61.


20 Julian Stallabrass, A Very Short Introduction to Contemporary Art (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 4.


21 Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet (London and New York: W.W. ­Norton & Co., 2004), p. 48.


22 Ibid., p. 49.


23 Giorgio Agamben, Che cos’è il contemporaneo? (Roma: edizioni nottetempo, 2008), p. 22.

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Alexander García Düttmann

Alexander García Düttmann

ist Philosoph und Übersetzer zahlreicher philosophischer Werke. Er lehrt am Institut für Kunstgeschichte und Ästhetik der Universität der Künste in Berlin.

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Broschur, 176 Seiten

PDF, 176 Seiten

Although art always takes place in time, its manifestations – actual works of art – can be characterized by the specific and close connection they maintain between contemporaneity and timelessness. Their relation to time must be differentiated in a twofold manner: on the one hand, there is the relation to the time in which they are embedded, and, on the other, the relation to the time that they themselves create. In particular historical conditions a specific temporality of the artwork emerges. Both temporalities are superimposed on by one another, namely as a timelessness of artworks as such. The book assembles a variety of thinkers that confront one of the most crucial questions when dealing with the very definition, concept and operativity of art: How to link art to the concept of the contemporary?