From Geophilosophy to Geoaesthetics The Virtual and the Plane of Immanence versus Mirror-Travel and the Spiral Jetty

  • Simon O’Sullivan
Part of the Renewing Philosophy book series


In this chapter I want again to switch the ontological categories for thinking art away from a certain representational register. In particular, I want to explore other ways of thinking the ethical and ‘political’ effectivity of art, and specifically its ‘other worldliness’ (its resistance to the present milieu), away from a horizon of transcendence and a logic of the possible. I propose to do this in a slightly different manner to previous chapters, by adopting a double pronged and somewhat experimental approach. The chapter then involves two philosophical discussions or two philosophical encounters with Deleuze, and at the same time a nonphilosophical encounter with an art practice that mirrors the philosophy, and in some senses ‘grounds’ it. To a certain extent I might be accused of deliberately misreading Deleuze here insofar as I utilise his ideas on philosophy, rather than on sensation and affect, to think these practices. The chapter is then an experiment in taking Deleuze’s philosophical concepts into other milieus (and in allowing the latter to feed back on Deleuze). It is in this sense that the artistic ‘case studies’ are meant not as illustrations but as parallels to, and in some senses deviations from, the conceptual work. They also serve to demonstrate that art is a form of thought in and of itself.


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  1. 1.
    In Chapter 2 the virtual was configured as the realm of affect. Here, as a kind of corrective, I attend more to the virtual’s temporal aspect, which is to say I turn from Deleuze’s Spinozism to his Bergsonism.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Smithson’s Robert Smithson: Collected Writings (1996) (Ed. J. Flam) (Berkeley: University of California Press). For an overview of Smithson’s work see Hobbs, Robert Smithson: A Retrospective View (1983) (Duisberg: Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    For an account of sculpture’s movement beyond the gallery, as well as to its relationship to landscape and architecture (and to the variety of positions taken by artists in relation to these coordination points) see Rosalind Krauss’ seminal essay ‘Sculpture in the Expanded Field’, reprinted in The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology (1998) (Ed. D. Preziosi) (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 281–98. One might argue that in attending to the structural possibilities inherent in the expanded field, i.e. giving a relational account of various practices, Krauss loses sight of each work’s singularity. Her discussion of Smithson’s Spiral Jetty would be a case in point, indeed we might say that Krauss attends to the context of the jetty — but does not actually walk along the jetty itself (Krauss 1998, 295–6).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    In his essay ‘Specific Objects’, in Art in Theory 1900–1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (1992) (Ed. C. Harrison and P. Wood) (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 809–13, Judd identifies a new direction in art characterised by a turn to ‘three dimensionality’ and a concomitant break with anthropomorphic shapes, or indeed any form of illusionism or representation. Indeed, Judd gives us a concise description of representation, as it ‘appears’ within painting:Google Scholar
  5. Except for a complete and unvaried field of colour or marks, anything spaced in a rectangle and on a plane suggests something in and on something else, something in its surround, which suggests an object or figure in its space, in which there are clearer instances of a similar world — that’s the main purpose of painting. (Judd 1992, 811)Google Scholar
  6. As Smithson also remarks in his essay on ‘Donald Judd’, in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (1996), pp. 4–6:Google Scholar
  7. With Judd there is no confusion between the anthropomorphic and the abstract. This makes for an increased consciousness of structure, which retains a remote distance from the organic. The ‘unconscious’ has no place in his art. His crystalline state of mind is far removed from the organic floods of ‘action painting’. He translates his concepts into artifices of fact, without any illusionistic representations. (CW 5)Google Scholar
  8. In terms of Chapter 2 we might see Judd’s practice as involving a radical break with cliché. For Judd this meant also turning to materials that did not already contain art historical references, hence his interest in steel, plexiglass and the like. See also Robert Morris, ‘Notes on Sculpture: 1–3’, in Art in Theory 1900–1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (1992a) (Ed. C. Harrison and P. Wood) (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 813–22, and ‘Notes on Sculpture: 4’, in Art in Theory 1900–1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas (1992b) (Ed. C. Harrison and P. Wood) (Oxford: Blackwell), pp. 868–73.Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    For a more exhaustive survey of Smithson’s practice see Schapiro, Earthwards: Robert Smithson and Art after Babel (1997) (Berkeley: University of California Press), and more recently, Reynolds, Robert Smithson: Learning from New Jersey and Elsewhere (2004) (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), and Roberts, Mirror-Travel: Robert Smithson and History (2004) (New Haven: Yale University Press).Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    This is to simplify somewhat Adorno’s notion of criticism and his own use of the categories transcendent and immanent. In fact, for Adorno both of these forms of criticism have advantages — but also drawbacks: transcendent criticism allows a vantage point ‘outside’ of ideology and thus the possibility of a critique of the whole but in so doing locates itself at a kind of fictitious (and Utopian) Archimedean Point. It also tends towards escapism, and to sweeping (barbaric) generalisations. Immanent criticism, on the other hand, seeks to grasp the contradictions within concrete phenomena (i.e. culture). It works to reveal the contradictions between the objective idea and its pretension but as such it can overlook the general ideological character of society (it neglects to link the object back to the life processes that produced it). Ultimately, of course, it is a form of dialectical criticism, moving between the two ‘perspectives’, which Adorno advocates (see Adorno’s essay ‘Cultural Criticism and Society’, in Prisms (1981) (Trans. S. Weber and S. Weber) (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press), pp. 17–34, and especially pp. 23–33). It is worth pointing out here that the notion of criticism, as Adorno deploys it, is of a fundamentally different nature to the notion of philosophy, as Deleuze and Guattari understand it. The first is critique, almost by definition, the second, again by definition, is creative and affirmative. This is not to say that one must be oblivious to the history, the ‘life processes’, that for example produce Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy, but it is to say that Adorno’s critical operation presumes the always already ideological character of philosophy and thus can operate as a kind of trap for thought.Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    In a tantalising footnote Ernst Bloch is given as an example of a thinker of immanent utopias (HT 224, nl2).Google Scholar
  12. 8.
    It is the same operation, or inversion, that ideology performs as mapped out in the early Marx. For example, with religion: God, who is a product of man is then abstracted out and made into that which apparently produces man (transcendence is here precisely a product, albeit masked, of immanence). See Lucio Colletti’s ‘Introduction’ to Marx’s Early Writings (1975) (London: Penguin), pp. 7–56, and especially p. 48.Google Scholar
  13. 9.
    The term ‘anoriginal’ is taken from Andrew Benjamin’s work where it is used to give: ‘original complexity an ontological foundation’ (Benjamin, ‘Time, Question, Fold’ available at html). As Benjamin remarks:Google Scholar
  14. The point of such an undertaking is to indicate that the complexity in question does not involve an amalgam of simples that could ever be further reduced, but rather that there is complexity ab initio. In order to identify this other origin the term ‘anoriginal’ has been used. In sum, what it seeks to name is this complex possibility. (1997, 5)Google Scholar
  15. 10.
    See Deleuze’s discussion of the Stoics in The Logic of Sense (1990) (Trans. M. Lester and C. Stivale) (Ed. C. V. Boundas) (New York: Columbia University Press), where bodies and states of affairs (i.e. substance) are portrayed as just one element of a larger ‘ground’ that includes effects and incorporeal events (LS 6): ‘The highest term therefore is not being, but Something (aliquid) , insofar as it subsumes being and non-being, existence and inherence’ (LS 7).Google Scholar
  16. 11.
    This is precisely the argument set out in Henri Focillon’s The Life Forms of Art (1992) (Trans. C. Beecher Hogan and G. Kubler) (New York: Zone Books). Here the work of art is ‘an attempt to express something that is unique, it is an affirmation of something that is whole, complete, absolute. But it is likewise an integral part of a system of highly complex relationships’ (Focillon 1992, 31). Art emerges from this complexity but does not necessarily resemble these conditions. Furthermore art works back on these conditions, for example, in relation to space, Focillon points out: ‘A work of art is situated in space. But it will not do to say it simply exists in space: a work of art treats space according to its own needs, defines space and even creates such space as may be necessary to it’ (1992, 65).Google Scholar
  17. 12.
    This is to follow Henri Bergson’s account of memory and temporality (the celebrated cone). See MM 150–63.Google Scholar
  18. 13.
    Jacques Derrida has a more nuanced notion of the virtual — as it pertains to the object (and specifically the art object) — however, he remains within the ‘closed system’ of the actual inasmuch as the virtual is understood, inevitably, as virtual discourse, which reinstates an order of logocentrism (the latter ‘being’ the ‘closed system’ par excellence) on even the most mute of objects:Google Scholar
  19. That is to say, these silent works are in fact already talkative, full of virtual discourses, and from that point of view the silent work becomes an even more authoritarian discourse — it becomes the very place of a word that is all the more powerful because it is silent, and that carries within it, as does an aphorism, a discursive virtuality that is infinitely authoritarian, in a sense theologically authoritarian. (Derrida quoted in Brunette and Willis 1994, 13)Google Scholar
  20. 14.
    For Bergson’s major statement on this see MM 77–131.Google Scholar
  21. 15.
    As Deleuze remarks: ‘Intuition leads us to go beyond the state of experience toward the conditions of experience. But these conditions are neither general nor abstract. They are no broader than the conditioned: they are the conditions of real experience’ (B 27).Google Scholar
  22. 16.
    It is important to point out that Massumi’s understanding of the virtual, at least in his essay ‘The Autonomy of Affect’, in Deleuze: A Critical Reader (1996) (Ed. P. Patton) (Oxford: Basil Blackwell), pp. 217–39, is that it is the realm of affect. The ‘seeping edge’ then is the point at which that which is immanent to experience (affect) becomes conceptualised within experience (specifically with language) (Massumi 1996, 217–39). This is not however to contradict a more Bergsonian notion of the virtual as the relation between affect and its articulation is inevitably a temporal one.Google Scholar
  23. 17.
    Massumi pursued this line of argument in a recent paper, ‘Living Memory’, presented at the Life’s (Re)emergence: Philosophy, Culture, and Politics Conference (2003), Goldsmiths College, London.Google Scholar
  24. 18.
    Antonio Negri also attends to this ‘edge’ — which he names ‘kairos’ — where invention and innovation take place:Google Scholar
  25. From this perspective, what I call kairos is an exemplary temporal point, because Being is opening up in time; and at each instant that it opens up it must be invented — it must invent itself. Kairos is just this: the moment when the arrow of Being is shot, the moment of opening, the invention of Being on the edge of time. We live at each instant on this margin of Being that is endlessly being constructed. (Negri 2004b, 104)Google Scholar
  26. See also Negri’s Time for Revolution (2003) (Trans. M. Mandarini) (London: Continuum) where Negri remarks: ‘Kairos is the power to observe the fullness of temporality at the moment it opens itself onto the void of being, and of seizing this opening as innovation’ (2003, 158).Google Scholar
  27. 19.
    For an interesting contemporary take on Smithson’s notion of crystal objects see the exhibition catalogue, Bradley, Bretton-Meyer and Webster, My Head is on Fire but my Heart is Full of Love (2002) (Copenhagen: Charlottenborg). The exhibition itself contained some of Smithson’s objects, but also utilised Smithson’s writings in the organisation of the show, which itself brought together modern and contemporary art under a thematic of ‘psychedelic minimalism’.Google Scholar
  28. 20.
    See Deleuze’s book on Kant’s Critical Philosophy: The Doctrine of the Faculties (1984) (Trans. H. Tomlinson and B. Habberjam) (London: Athlone Press) for a discussion of this revolution in time (and encapsulated by Hamlet’s phrase ‘The time is out of joint’):Google Scholar
  29. As long as time remained on its hinges, it is subordinate to movement: it is the measure of movement, interval or number. This was the view of ancient philosophy. But time out of joint signifies the reversal of the movement-time relationship. It is now movement that is subordinate to time. Everything changes, including movement… this is the first great Kantian reversal. (K vii)Google Scholar
  30. 21.
    Ilya and Emilia Kabokov are particularly attuned to this ‘freezing’ that Judd’s sculptures perform. Here they are from ‘Donald Judd’, Artists’ Favourites: Act 1, Exhibition Handout (2004), London, ICA, 5 June–23 July.Google Scholar
  31. The first time we saw the work of Donald Judd was at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1990. Before that we did not know much about him. Once we encountered his pieces we were instantly impressed. They had a huge impact on us. The most astonishing thing about his works was that time seemed to disappear around it. All other art objects at the time were quite ordinary by comparison, while Judd’s sculptures were frozen in time or were even freezing time. The boxes appeared to be some strange, unexplainable anomaly. (2004, 11)Google Scholar
  32. 22.
    Here, for example, is Smithson writing about Science Fiction films as an important source material for artists:Google Scholar
  33. The movies give a ritual pattern to the lives of many artists, and this includes a kind of ‘low-budget mysticism’, which keeps them in perpetual trance. The ‘blood and guts’ of horror movies provides for their ‘organic needs’, while the ‘cold steel’ of Sci-Fi movies provide for their ‘inorganic needs’. Serious movies are too heavy on ‘values’, and so are dismissed by the more perceptive artists. Such artists have X-ray eyes, and can see through all of that cloddish rubbish that passes for ‘the deep and the profound’ these days. (CW16)Google Scholar
  34. 23.
    A case in point would be Smithson’s account of a crystallography of laughter:Google Scholar
  35. Let us now define the different types of Generalised Laughter, according to the six main crystal systems: the ordinary laugh is cubic or square (Isometric), the chuckle is a triangle or pyramid (Hexagonal), the titter is prismatic (Orthorhombric), the snicker is oblique (Monoclinic), the guffaw is asymmetric (Triclinic). To be sure this definition only scratches the surface, but I think it will do for the present. If we apply this ‘ha-ha-crystal’ concept to the monumental models being produced by some of the artists in the Park Place group, we might begin to understand the fourth-dimensional nature of their work. From here on in, we must not think of Laughter as a laughing matter, but rather as the ‘matter-of-laughs’. (CW 21)Google Scholar
  36. In a resonance with Deleuze, Smithson mentions Lewis Carroll and the ‘grin without the cat’ as an anthropomorphic example of this ‘laugh-matter’, or what we might call, following Smithson-Deleuze, this ‘matter-event’. Smithson’s point is that such a description is entirely suited to the ‘New Monuments’ of minimalism (CW 22).Google Scholar
  37. 24.
    We might compare this with what Deleuze says about time in Cinema 2: The Time Image (1989) (Trans. H. Tomlinson and H. Galeta) (London: Athlone Press), although here it is the crystal, rather than the mirror, that allows for ‘time travel’:Google Scholar
  38. Time has to split at the same time as it sets itself out or unrolls itself: it splits in two dissymmetrical jets, one of which makes all the present pass on, while the other preserves all the past. Time consists of this split, and it is this, it is time, that we see in the crystal. The crystal-image was not time, but we see time in the crystal. We see in the crystal the perpetual foundation of time, non-chronological time, Cronos and not Chronos. This is the powerful, non-organic Life which grips the world. The visionary, the seer, is the one who sees in the crystal, and what he sees is the gushing of time as dividing in two, as splitting. (C2 81)Google Scholar
  39. See also Massumi’s ‘Painting: the Voice of the Grain’, in Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger: Art Working 1985–1999 (2000) (Amsterdam: Palais des Beaux-Arts), pp. 9–32, for an interesting utilisation of the notion of the time-crystal in relation to contemporary art, and specifically the photocopied/painted surfaces of Bracha Lichtenberg Ettinger’s work:Google Scholar
  40. Lichtenberg Ettinger’s paintings function to preserve the evanescence of things: their always coming too early to be what they should become, and to late to remain what they would have been. Freeze-framing the too-early-and-too-late captures the image in what Deleuze would call a time-crystal. The time-crystal holds together, as accompanying facets, what in the linear unfolding of things are successive beats, the risings and fallings, in the rhythm of interweaving. (Massumi 2000, 11)Google Scholar
  41. 25.
    See my Chapter 3 for a discussion of the minor in relation to art practice.Google Scholar
  42. 26.
    It is to this notion of inorganic life that Deleuze returns in his last writings. In Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life (2001) (Trans. J. Rajchman) (New York: Zone Books) Deleuze gives us the example of young children — who might as yet have no, or next to no, individuality as such (they all resemble one another) — but who do have singularities: ‘a smile, a gesture, a funny face -not subjective qualities. Small children, through all their sufferings and weaknesses, are infused with an immanent life that is pure power and even bliss’ (/ 30). It is this life of immanence that runs parallel to any psychosocial notions of individuality: ‘the singular life immanent to a man who no longer has a name, though he can be mistaken for no other’ (I 29). For Deleuze this life, or ‘great health’, is the proper subject of literature and we might say of art also (see also Deluze’s Essays Critical and Clinical (1998) (Trans. D. W. Smith and M. A. Greco) (London: Verso), and Daniel W. Smith’s informative introductory essay, ‘Introduction: “A Life of Pure Immanence”: Deleuze’s “Critique et Clinique” Project’, pp. xi-lv.Google Scholar
  43. 27.
    For a different, more expanded take on the body without organs, understood as our bodies, but also the body of the earth and the non-organic flows that move across it and indeed constitute it, see Delanda, A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History (1991) (New York: Zone Books). Delanda offers a history/geology of the last one thousand years of the West in terms of these flows and their stratification:Google Scholar
  44. the flows of lava, biomas, genes, mêmes, norms, money (and other ‘stuff’) are the source of just about every stable structure that we cherish and value (or, on the contrary, that oppresses or enslaves us). We could define the BwO in terms of these unformed, destratified flows, as long as we keep in mind that what counts as destratified at any given time and in any given space is relative. (Delanda 1997, 260–1)Google Scholar
  45. 28.
    Smithson, in another essay, ‘A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art’, in Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (1996), pp. 138–42, also lays out a parallel project of ‘abstract cartography’. Again, there are many similarities between this project and the Deleuzoguattarian project, especially the rhi-zomatics mapped out in Chapter 1. In the essay Smithson notes that:Google Scholar
  46. From Theatrum Orbis Terrarum of Orrelius (1570) to the ‘paint’-clogged maps of Jasper Johns, the map has exercised a fascination over the minds of artists. A cartography of uninhabitable places seems to be developing — complete with decoy diagrams, abstract grid systems made of stone and tape (Carl Andre and Sol le Witt), and electronic ‘mosaic’ photomaps from NASA … Lewis Carroll refers to this abstract kind of cartography in his The Hunting of the Snark (where a map contains ‘nothing’) and in Sylvie and Bruno Concluded (where a map contains ‘everything’) (CW 92)Google Scholar
  47. 29.
    Smithson’s ‘theoretical’ resources here, as he himself remarks elsewhere, are Freud (notions of the ‘oceanic’) and the Freudian psychoanalyst Anton Ehrenzweig (notions of the unconscious as ‘de-differentiated’) (CW 102). See Ehrenzweig’s The Hidden Order of Art: A Study in the Psychology of Artistic Imagination (1993) (London: Weidenfeld). See also Lyotard’s preface to the French edition, ‘Beyond Representation’, reprinted in The Lyotard Reader (1989) (Trans. J. Culler) (Ed. A. Benjamin) (Oxford: Basil Blackwell), pp. 155–68.Google Scholar
  48. 30.
    For Smithson art does not nvolve a wild destratification, but what we might call the development and maintenance of a ‘strategic zone’, a space of experimentation between the strata and the outside (in fact a place in which one might encounter the outside). See Deleuze’s Foucault (1988b) (Trans. S. Hand) (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press), especially pp. 120–2.Google Scholar
  49. 31.
    Craig Owens makes a similar point in his essay The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism’, reprinted in The Art of Art History: A Critical Anthology (1998) (Ed. D. Preziosi) (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp. 315–28. Here he is discussing the Spiral Jetty in relation to allegory:Google Scholar
  50. The site-specific work often aspires to a prehistoric monumentality; Stonehenge and the Nazca lines are taken as prototypes. It’s ‘content’ is frequently mythical, as that of the Spirai Jetty, whose form was derived from a local myth of a whirlpool at the bottom of the Great Salt Lake; in this way Smithson exemplifies the tendency to engage in a reading of the site, in terms not only of its topographical specifics but also of its psychological resonances. (1998, 318)Google Scholar
  51. Although agreeing in kind with Owen’s notion of allegory in relation to Smithson, one might want to question whether reading is the right term for Smithson’s encounter with the site. Indeed, it would seem that Smithson’s response and attitude is precisely one of not reading.Google Scholar
  52. 32.
    The contemporary artist Moriko Mori makes a similar, albeit more poetic, point about the Spiral Jetty:Google Scholar
  53. Staged at the best possible location within a vast nature, the Spiral Jetty transcends time and space. It makes me feel the earth’s life force and its power of regeneration. I was awakened by something wild, something passionate that rose from deep inside. A door to the sacred world of another dimension. A dynamic installation within nature. Liberated from the natural law of life and death, which governs all living beings, as well as the continuous series of life and death, the external and the internal merged into one. (2004, 14)Google Scholar
  54. 33.
    One might note here other ‘prehistoric’ monuments, such as the Nazca lines, that are made not for humans (they cannot be seen from ‘on the ground’) but for ‘impossible beings’, beings from a hidden past or a yet-to-be future.Google Scholar
  55. 34.
    See J. G. Ballard’s essay ‘Robert Smithson as a Cargo Cultist’, in Robert Smithson: Dead Tree (2000) (Ed. B. Conley and J. Amrhein) (Brooklyn: Pierogi), p. 31.Google Scholar
  56. 35.
    For an account of the jetty’s re-emergence, and for a record of a trip there (with photographs of the now white jetty) see S. Husband’s ‘Ever Decreasing Orders’, Observer Magazine, 25 April 2004, 22–9).Google Scholar
  57. 36.
    As Smithson remarks in his essay ‘A Cinema Atopia’, Robert Smithson: The Collected Writings (1996), pp. 138–42, echoing Deleuze’s own thoughts: ‘One thing all film has in common is the power to take perception elsewhere’ (CW 138). In this essay Smithson outlines a form of geo-cinema in which ‘all films would be brought into equilibrium — a vast mud field of images forever motionless’ (CW 142). Smithson also outlines the construction of a literal geo-cinema, made in a cave or cavern, and made out of crude materials. This geo-cinema shows just one film — a record of its own construction.Google Scholar

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