Archive for the ‘ Philosopher ’ Category


Dates: 1947-

Nationality: American

Noël Carroll is an American philosopher considered an authority for his aesthetic analysis of films. He works in general on philosophy of art, theory of media and also philosophy of history. He is at present a distinguished professor of philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center. As a journalist, he has also published a number of articles in the Chicago Reader, ARTforum, In These Times, Dance Magazine, Soho Weekly News and The Village Voice.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Noël Carroll’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 4 October 2010, 18:42 UTC, <>

Philosophical aesthetics in the twentieth century has shown a striking inability to come to terms with mass art. In the main, the phenomenon is generally ignored in philosophical treatises on art. Instead the examples upon which twentieth century philosophers of art construct their theories are primarily drawn from the realm of what is often called high art. Moreover, when philosophers or philosophically minded art theorists have focused on the topic of mass art, their finding are frequently dismissive and openly hostile. Often their energies are spent in the attempt to show that mass art is not genuine art, but something else, something called kitsch or pseudo-art. (Carroll 15)

Carroll, Noël. The Philosophy of Mass Art. Oxford University Press, Inc., New York, 1998.


Dates: 1940-

Nationality: French

Jacques Rancière is a French philosopher and Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Paris (St. Denis) who came to prominence when he co-authored Reading Capital (1968), with the Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser. In 2006, it was reported that Rancière’s aesthetic theory had become a point of reference in the visual arts, and Rancière has lectured at such art world events as the Frieze Art Fair.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Jacques Rancière’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 29 October 2010, 22:53 UTC, <>


The 66-year-old French philosopher Jacques Rancière is clearly the new go-to guy for hip art theorists. Artforum magazine’s ever-sagacious online “Diary” has referred to Rancière as the art world’s “darling du jour,” and in its recent issue, the magazine itself has described digital video artist Paul Chan as “Rancièrian” — as an aside, without further explanation, no less! For anyone looking for a primer, Rancière’s slim The Politics of Aesthetics has just been published in paperback.

Rancière has the undeniable virtue, for the esoterica-obsessed art world at least, of being something of an odd duck. A one-time fellow traveler of Marxist mandarin Louis Althusser, Rancière split with him after the May ’68 worker-student rebellion against the de Gaulle government, feeling that Althusser, a partisan of the Stalinized French Communist Party, left too little space in his theoretical edifice for spontaneous popular revolt. Against this background of disenchantment, Rancière set out to explore the relationships between philosophy and the worker, rethink ideas of history and try to construct a progressive theory of art.

The Politics of Aesthetics is a quick and dirty tour of a number of these themes. It features five short meditations on various conjunctions of art and politics, plus a lengthy interview with Rancière by his translator Gabriel Rockhill titled “The Janus-Face of Politicized Art,” an introduction by Rockhill and a concluding essay by the art world’s other favorite quirky philosopher, Slavoj Zizek. It is a short but serious book and, in keeping with French intellectual practice, sensuously impenetrable, coming equipped with a glossary of terms for the uninitiated.

Davis, Ben. “Ranciere, for Dummies.”<>


Dates: 1930-2004

Nationality: French

Jacques Derrida (July 15, 1930 – October 8, 2004) was a French philosopher born in Algeria, who is known as the founder of deconstruction. His voluminous work had a profound impact upon literary theory and continental philosophy. Derrida’s best known work is Of Grammatology.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Jacques Derrida’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 13 December 2010, 00:02 UTC, <>

According to Jacques Derrida, structure — the structure of language, for example — occupies an impossible and ideal position: it at once posits an absolute center that holds everything together and a meta-perspective that also holds everything together. For Derrida, then, structure is defined by a double law in which it is at once bound and unbound — such is the very possibility (or impossibility) of a structure’s existence. Which is to say, a structure can exist only in as much as it undoes itself. For Derrida, this double function is always already at work — and so Poststructuralism is born. This double logic, which Derrida calls “differance,” (a word which in French blurs the line between speech and writing) operates like an electric current; it is the alternating force which drives language, philosophy, and texts in general. This force stems from the relentless play between a positive and negative node, between the positing and undoing of a thing. Hence, just as an electric current only exists as movement, texts come to exist only from their “differance .” Therefore, there is no absolute and stable dictionary that fixes meaning in place. At the origin of meaning, Derrida tells us, is play. Hence, when Derrida reads, he seeks the play within a text, the particular ways that a text posits itself and is thereby already outside itself, playing elsewhere in unexpected fields, with unexpected texts. This is what he means by Deconstruction.



Dates: 1929-2007

Nationality: French

Jean Baudrillard (July 27, 1929 – March 6, 2007) was a French sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer. His work is frequently associated with postmodernism and post-structuralism. As he developed his work throughout the 1980s, he moved from economically-based theory to the consideration of mediation and mass communications. Although retaining his interest in Saussurean semiotics and the logic of symbolic exchange (as influenced by anthropologist Marcel Mauss) Baudrillard turned his attention to Marshall McLuhan, developing ideas about how the nature of social relations is determined by the forms of communication that a society employs. In so doing, Baudrillard progressed beyond both Saussure’s and Roland Barthes’ formal semiology to consider the implications of a historically-understood (and thus formless) version of structural semiology. The concept of Simulacra also involves a negation of the concept of reality as we usually understand it. Baudrillard argues that today there is no such thing as reality.

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Jean Baudrillard’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 November 2010, 22:22 UTC, <>

French theorist and contemporary critic of society and culture who has had a central role in French postmodern theory. As a prolific author who has written more than twenty books, Baudrillard’s reflections on art and aesthetics are an important, if not central, aspect of his work. Although his writings exhibit many twists, turns, and surprising developments as he moved from synthesizing Marxism and semiotics to a prototypical postmodern theory, interest in art remains a constant of his theoretical investigations and literary experiments.



Dates: 1926-1984

Nationality: French

Michel Foucault, born Paul-Michel Foucault (October 15, 1926 – June 25, 1984), was a French philosopher, sociologist, and historian. He held a chair at the Collège de France with the title “History of Systems of Thought,” and also taught at the University at Buffalo and the University of California, Berkeley.

Foucault is best known for his critical studies of social institutions, most notably psychiatry, medicine, the human sciences, and the prison system, as well as for his work on the history of human sexuality. His work on power, and the relationships among power, knowledge, and discourse has been widely discussed. In the 1960s Foucault was associated with Structuralism, a movement from which he distanced himself. Foucault also rejected the post-structuralist and postmodernist labels to which he was often later attributed, preferring to classify his thought as a critical history of modernity rooted in Kant. Foucault is particularly influenced by the work of Nietzsche; his “genealogy of knowledge” is a direct allusion to Nietzsche’s genealogy of morals. In a late interview he definitively stated: “I am a Nietzschean.”

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Michel Foucault’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 24 November 2010, 23:04 UTC, <>

Foucault’s aesthetic writings are preponderately situated in a rather narrow period of time – basically what he later called “those strange years, the ’60s.” It was the moment before ’68, when the loose group of historians, anthropologists, psychoanalysts, and philosophers that Americans now classify as “poststructuralist” or “postmodernist” was emerging. Not only do most of Foucault’s aesthetic writings date from this period, but they form a coherent group with a distinct relation to his archival research. In his “methodology” and in his “aesthetics” from this period there is much talk of impersonality, anonymity, faceless authorship. It was, after all, a time of Minimalism, Beckett, Robbe-Grillet, and Warhol, and Foucault tried to associate with such work the existence of a kind of “neutral space” – an “absence of oeuvre” that “affirms nothing.” He tried to show that the turn to this space was “archaeologically” significant, forming a sort of counterpoint to the importance given to language of the “linguistic model.” For it exposed something in language that was prior to linguistics or analytic logic and the ways in which words and images, saying and seeing are thought to be related to one another. The aim of Foucault’s own analysis of discourse was then at once to specify and attain this prior zone.

Foucault’s well-known reading of Magritte exemplifies this attempt. The logic of abstraction in Kandinsky and Klee, he said, is in fact not one of reduction and self-reference. Rather, Kandinsky undoes the relation between resemblance and affirming a subject, while Klee undoes the hierarchical relations of images to words in an “uncertain, reversible, floating space.” In taking up the problem posed by the two Bauhaus painters, Magritte may then be seen to point to a free zone before words and images, forms and contents, signifiers and signifieds are determined, a zone where at last painting might “affirm nothing.” Abstraction, in other words, leads to this free space before saying and seeing become “archivally” determined within some particular “discourse”; and Ceci n’est pas une pipe would then be Magritte’s paradoxical procedure to diagnose the existence of this space. Conversely an “archive” is what at a particular time and place so relates seeing and saying as to make something like “representation” or “affirmation” or the distinction between form and content possible. The aim of Foucault’s aesthetics was then in each case to attain what he described as the “anonymous murmur” of discourse, where what can be said and who can speak is up for grabs. As a kind of new archivist (as Deleuze called Foucault), he would thus join with the artist in trying to diagnose who or what, outside the prevailing “archive,” we might yet become. A strange asceticism and madness permeates this attempt. For, much as with the “neutral space” in the artwork, to attain the free anonymity of discourse was to undo one’s own discursive position in an act of depersonalization that Foucault took precisely to be characteristic of madness in his time, a matter of course of great concern and ongoing research for him. But it is at this point that the problems begin. Is it that the “absence of oeuvre” just is this zone “outside” a given archive in thought, and with it, “aesthetics”? Or is this zone rather something future historians will assign to us or our archive, the reason for our having been drawn to it a mystery? Foucault in fact entertains both hypotheses; and when after ’68 there was no further talk of such questions, one may infer that he silently adopted the second option.

Rajchman, John. “Out of the Ordinary.” ArtForum, December, 1998. <>


Dates: 1926-

Nationality: American

Since the early 1960s Dickie has made numerous important contributions to the philosophy of art. Among the most influential of his contributions are his attacks on key aspects of widely held aesthetic theories and his creation and critical development of the institutional theory of art. His critique of aesthetic theory addresses a number of theses about what is involved in people’s experiencing something’s aesthetic qualities (and associated theses about aesthetic objects), whereas his Institutional Theory provides an account of the concept of art that locates art’s essence within a special category of social practices attributed to a social group Dickie calls the artworld.

A widely held view among aesthetic theorists is that someone must in some way invoke a special mode of perception in himself or herself in order to experience something’s aesthetic qualities (or in order to experience something as an aesthetic object). Invoking this special mode of perception is commonly equated with adopting a special attitude toward what is being experienced, a disinterested attitude, for example. Speaking generally, Dickie shows that experiencing aesthetic qualities cannot require adopting a special attitude by providing counterexamples to the various attempts philosophers have made to show that there is a distinct kind of experience (properly classified as aesthetic experience) that people must have in order to experience something’s aesthetic qualities, and that having this kind of experience requires adopting a special attitude.

Early on in his attack on aesthetic attitude theorists, Dickie argued against the view that experiencing something’s aesthetic qualities required attending to it disinterestedly. He did this by providing examples to show that the difference between people who are experiencing something’s aesthetic qualities and people who are experiencing the same object without being aware of its aesthetic qualities merely is a function of which characteristics of the thing each person is paying attention to, regardless of the interests motivating his or her attention. Since the difference in what is experienced is explained by what is being attended to, not the mode of attention, it is not necessary to introduce notions like disinterested attention or other special modes of perception (identified in terms of the perceiver’s interests, purposes, or motives) in order to understand the experience of something’s aesthetic qualities.

Bailey, George W. S.. “Dickie, George.” Encyclopedia of Aesthetics. Ed. Michael Kelly. Oxford Art Online. 13 Mar. 2010 <>


Dates: 1925-1995

Nationality: French

Gilles Deleuze  (January 18, 1925 – November 4, 1995) was a French philosopher of the late 20th century. From the early 1960s until his death, Deleuze wrote many influential works on philosophy, literature, film, and fine art. His most popular books were the two volumes of Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus (1972) and A Thousand Plateaus (1980), both co-written with Félix Guattari. His books Difference and Repetition (1968) and The Logic of Sense (1969) led Michel Foucault to declare that “one day, perhaps, this century will be called Deleuzian.” (Deleuze, for his part, said Foucault’s comment was “a joke meant to make people who like us laugh, and make everyone else livid.”)

Wikipedia contributors, ‘Gilles Deleuze’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 25 November 2010, 19:13 UTC, <>

Kant had dissociated aesthetics into two halves: the theory of sensibility as the form of possible experience (the “Transcendental Aesthetic” of the Critique of Pure Reason), and the theory of art as a reflection on real experience (the “Critique of Aesthetic Judgment” in the Critique of Judgment). In Deleuze’s work, these two halves of aesthetics are reunited: if the most general aim of art is to “produce a sensation,” then the genetic principles of sensation are at the same time the principles of composition for works of art; conversely, it is works of art that are best capable of revealing these conditions of sensibility. Deleuze therefore writes on the arts not as a critic but as a philosopher, and his books and essays on the various arts—including the cinema (Cinema I and II), literature (Essays Critical and Clinical), and painting (Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation)—must be read as philosophical explorations of this transcendental domain of sensibility. The cinema, for instance, produces images that move, and that move in time, and it is these two aspects of film that Deleuze set out to analyze in The Movement-Image and The Time-Image: “What exactly does the cinema show us about space and time that the other arts don’t show?” Deleuze thus describes his two-volume Cinema as “a book of logic, a logic of the cinema” that sets out “to isolate certain cinematographic concepts,” concepts which are specific to the cinema, but which can only be formed philosophically. Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation likewise creates a series of philosophical concepts, each of which relates to a particular aspect of Bacon’s paintings, but which also find a place in “a general logic of sensation.” In general, Deleuze will locate the conditions of sensibility in an intensive conception of space and a virtual conception of time, which are necessarily actualized in a plurality of spaces and a complex rhythm of times (for instance, in the non-extended spaces and non-linear times of modern mathematics and physics).

For Deleuze, the task of art is to produce “signs” that will push us out of our habits of perception into the conditions of creation. When we perceive via the re-cognition of the properties of substances, we see with a stale eye pre-loaded with clichés; we order the world in what Deleuze calls “representation.” In this regard, Deleuze cites Francis Bacon: we’re after an artwork that produces an effect on the nervous system, not on the brain. What he means by this figure of speech is that in an art encounter we are forced to experience the “being of the sensible.” We get something that we cannot re-cognize, something that is “imperceptible”—it doesn’t fit the hylomorphic production model of perception in which sense data, the “matter” or hyle of sensation, is ordered by submission to conceptual form. Art however cannot be re-cognized, but can only be sensed; in other words, art splits perceptual processing, forbidding the move to conceptual ordering. This is exactly what Kant in the Third Critique called reflective judgment: when the concept is not immediately given in the presentation of art. With art we reach “sensation,” or the “being of the sensible,” the sentiendum.

Deleuze talks about this effect of sensation as the “transcendent exercise” of the faculty of sensibility; here we could refer to the third chapter of Difference and Repetition, where Deleuze lays out a non-Kantian “differential theory of the faculties.” In this remarkable theory, intensity is “difference in itself,” that which carries the faculties to their limits. The faculties are linked in order; here we see what Deleuze calls the privilege of sensibility as origin of knowledge—the “truth of empiricism.” In the differential theory of the faculties, sensibility, imagination, memory, and thought all “communicate a violence” from one to the other. With sensibility, pure difference in intensity is grasped immediately in the encounter as the sentiendum; with imagination, the disparity in the phantasm is that which can only be imagined. With memory, in turn, the memorandum is the dissimilar in the pure form of time, or the immemorial of transcendent memory. With thought, a fractured self is constrained to think “difference in itself” in Ideas. Thus the “free form of difference” moves each faculty and communicates its violence to the next. You have to be forced to think, starting with an art encounter in which intensity is transmitted in signs or sensation. Rather than a “common sense” in which all the faculties agree in recognizing the “same” object, we find in this communicated violence a “discordant harmony” (compare the Kantian sublime) that tears apart the subject (the notion of “cruelty” Deleuze picks up from Artaud).

Smith, Daniel and Protevi, John, “Gilles Deleuze”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>