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Towards an Analysis of The Logomachy of Zos
 
 


XIV

I am absolutely enthralled with the way Spare play's with concepts of Identity. Here are some quotations concerning identity and art:

'One function of Art is to make something more like or unlike itself than it appears."

"Things more excellent than themselves are expressed through Art when our selves are expressed in them."

The immediate question that comes to mind, looking at these quotes, is how a thing can be different from itself. Here are a few interesting possible answers. First, a thing can be different from itself by appearing other than it is, as the first quotation suggests. This is the obvious phenomenon of deception. Art, then, can function as a depicting of a thing as it actually is rather than as it appears. One thinks of portraiture where the goal was not only, if at all, to depict a person as they appeared physically, but rather also to depict their character, role, personality, and soul if you will. A portrait was to capture who they were, not just how they appeared. This often involved the inclusion of insignias of status, symbols of societal roles, but also expressions and postures which suggested character to say nothing of that extra aura, the visual sense of what the person would have been like in person. Sadly, rarely was the artist privy to enough freedom to paint his/her patron as they actually were although some, like Van Eyck, manage quite a bit of subversion anyway. Art, then, despite its nature as primarily a tool of illusion, can function as the unmasker.
Alternately, a thing can be other than it is in what might be called a psycho-analytic sense. Consider neurotic transference of which, accord to Freud and Lacan at least, we are all guilty insofar as society itself depends upon it. In transference a fundamental urge is rechanneled towards a previously unrelated object. As babies we want the fulfillment of our basic desires, as we grow we learn to subvert and redirect these basic demands into more complex manifestations. Rather than immediate attention we find ourselves working for gold stars in school, for example. What we want is for everyone to pay attention to us but what we end up with is a piece of plastic, paint and glue, i.e. a gold star. The star has nothing to do with attention, and yet it stands in for the other desire. From this perspective, the entire social structure ends up being a chain of more and more complex forms of postponing the immediate demand/desire. Rather than raping, fighting, killing, eating we become lawyers and care about shiny cars, or we become scientists and car about atoms, or we become philosophers and care about unanswerable questions etc. In this sense, every object of our desire is something which it is not, both at the same time. The thing which identifies it as an object of desire is also the characteristic which it precisely doesn't have. A shiny car and power or self-worth, and even power and self-worth are a few steps removed from fundamental drives in most formulations, actually have nothing to do with each other. Having a car is not having power. The car both is and isn't what it is. This isn't just a reformulation of the first mode, namely deception. The car isn't pretending to be power, or we aren't deceiving ourselves into thinking that it is, rather the car becomes a symbol by which it is both Power and Car and yet fully neither of these. I am focusing on the concept of desire here because of Spare's interest in constituitive desire. The car as an object for us is constituted by our desire for it, and so art can serve to uncover this defining/creating desire and also subvert it. In art the car becomes more like Power and less like an object, or it can become more like an object and thus show how wildly disconnected it is from Power. Finally, the desire itself can surface, and Car and Power alike can dissolve before the vision of the more primordial urge of which, and for which, the desire for either power and car are simply redirections and stand-ins.
Finally, a thing can be other than it is in the way that we are other than we are. There is a dramatic slippage, a disconnect, between what-we-have-been, who-we-take-ourselves-to-be, and who-we-wish-(or-attempt)-to-be. We are always Other than who we were. We are always not yet who we try to be. Finally we never actually know who we are in this mythical "now" moment which is always really "just having been" or "just about to be" thus making the Now-me the actual disconnect between the then-me and soon-to-be-me. Art might capture this very disconnect, the fracture in the heart of every subject and ego, and in so capturing it also present something "more excellent than it".

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