CORY REYNOLDS | DATE 4/7/2020
This week, Ridinghouse releases The Outwardness of Art: Selected Writings of Adrian Stokes, the first comprehensive selection of writings by the noted British art theorist known for his synthesis of aesthetics and psychoanalysis. The product of more than a decade of devout research by editor Thomas Evans, it is the first broad introduction in almost half a century. Below is an excerpt from Evans' Introduction.
OUTWARDNESS AND OTHERNESS
What is meant by "outwardness," in Stokes’s conception? The earliest inklings of the theme of outwardness are to be found in his first books, The Thread of Ariadne (1925) and Sunrise in the West (1926), as the opening essay in this collection shows. There it arises through the related term, Hegelian in origin, of "otherness":
Nothing that is significant, however much its content may point to "otherness," no sentiment evoked by the contemplation of matter, no sailor’s soul that cries the bitterness and ungovernable non-humanity of the sea, no unconsidered outburst, no poetry can be spared by prose embroidering subtlety, stringing interconnection, indeed, the more "otherness" and distinctness appreciated, the more indispensable are the meanings to prose, since that very intensity makes possible a correlative intensity of antithetical significance. (1)
In these highly speculative early books, this notion of otherness is tied to the dialectical motions of consciousness: that is to say, identity cannot come to rest within itself but is perpetually reconstituted by its negation of another entity, which it folds into consciousness to produce what Hegel calls a "reflection in otherness within itself," or "pure self-recognition in absolute otherness." (2) This is the meaning of the Hegelian phrase, frequently to be encountered in Stokes’s essays, of "identity in difference." "A This is posited," Hegel writes in The Phenomenology of Spirit (1807), "but it is rather an other that is posited, or the This is superseded: and this otherness, or the setting-aside of the first, is itself in turn set aside, and so has returned into the first." (3) In these formulations of subjecthood, later adapted and reprised by the British philosopher F.H. Bradley (through whom Stokes probably first encountered them) and grounding his assertion of the interdependence of opposites, Stokes found an articulation of the contradictory character of thought itself. As Hegel writes in the Preface to the Phenomenology, "having its otherness within itself, and being self-moving, is just what is involved in the simplicity of thinking itself." (4)
As this theme is developed, a transition ensues in Stokes’s thinking from the mid-1920s to the early 1930s – that is, from Sunrise in the West and The Thread of Ariadne to The Quattro Centro and Stones of Rimini – in which a broad, ontological conception of outwardness is now linked to aesthetics, specifically to carving in sculpture. By "carving," Stokes refers to art in which the stone is "revealed" rather than "forced into expression" (which is more or less what "modelling" does, he implies). The carving mode, according to Stokes, is especially able to express the fundamental otherness of the world, its indifference to the coercions of self-consciousness: "The essence of stone is its power to symbolize objectivity," he writes in Stones of Rimini. Stone can be coerced against this "essence," of course, and Stones of Rimini contains Stokes’s famous "classification of Quattro Cento sculpture in terms of technique" and the specialist meaning he had given to the term "Quattro Cento" in his preceding book The Quattro Cento:
Wherever you find relief forms, be they ornament or figure, arabesque or swag, wherever you find these shapes, whatever their position, turning to show to you their maximum, like flowers that thrust and open their faces to the sun, wherever that is the salient point about them, then that sculpture is Quattro Cento as I define it. (5)
Here, then, is Stokes’s aesthetic of "outwardness": an art that is turned outward to show to you its maximum, in a recognition, a mimesis and a celebration of the obdurate otherness of the world. The analogy with the opening of flowers, incidentally, evokes Stokes’s term "stone-blossom" as a sculptural effect associated with outwardness, although outwardness itself is not made contingent upon the mimesis of nature. At this juncture in Stokes’s writing, the celebratory tenor of this definition is foremost, stemming from his distinctly modernist and Nietzschean veneration of pagan vitality, of which the Tempio Malatestiano in Rimini, by his account, was the apotheosis.
With exhilarating focus, Stokes proceeds to undergird his subsequent treatments of sculpture, architecture and painting with this fixation, which also defines his praise of the "turned out" body in ballet, where "nothing is withdrawn, drawn inwards or hidden: everything is, artificially if you like, put outwards." Ballet, unlike expressionistic modern dance, is "classical," and the ideals of "classical" art (given, as always, its particular inflection) will later be recruited for the buttressing of this aesthetic. In [an] aforementioned section on Cézanne from Inside Out, for example, Stokes writes:
Classical art springs from a precise love and a passionate identification with what is other, insisting upon an order there, strong, enduring and final as being an other thing, untainted by the overt gesture, without the summary treatment, without the arričre pensée of "Thinking makes it so." (6)
THOMAS EVANS is the editor of Tolling Elves and other publications, director of Pedestrian Thought Theaters and the author of Furniture without Rest.
(1) Adrian Stokes, Sunrise in the West, Harper & Brothers, New York and London, 1927, p.94.
(2) G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller, Oxford University Press, 1977, Oxford, p.10.
(3) Ibid., p.64.
(4) Ibid., p.34.
(5) Adrian Stokes, Stones of Rimini, Faber & Faber, London, 1934, p.151.
(6) Adrian Stokes, Inside Out, in Critical Writings of Adrian Stokes, vol.2, Thames & Hudson, London, 1978, p.174.
Pbk, 6 x 8.5 in. / 592 pgs.
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