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The Still Life of Objects – Heidegger, Schapiro, and Derrida reconsidered

Zurück zum Heft: Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft Band 60. Heft 1
EUR 14,90

Kerstin Thomas revaluates the famous dispute between Martin Heidegger, Meyer Schapiro, and Jacques Derrida, concerning a painting of shoes by Vincent Van Gogh. The starting point for this dispute was the description and analysis of things and artworks developed in his essay, “The Origin of the Work of Art”. In discussing Heidegger’s account, the art historian Meyer Schapiro’s main point of critique concerned Heidegger’s claim that the artwork reveals the truth of equipment in depicting shoes of a peasant woman and thereby showing her world. Schapiro sees a striking paradox in Heidegger’s claim for truth, based on a specific object in a specific artwork while at the same time following a rather metaphysical idea of the artwork. Kerstin Thomas proposes an interpretation, which exceeds the common confrontation of philosophy versus art history by focussing on the respective notion of facticity at stake in the theoretical accounts of both thinkers. Schapiro accuses Heidegger of a lack of concreteness, which he sees as the basis for every truth claim on objects. Thomas understands Schapiro’s objections as motivated by this demand for a facticity, which not only includes the work of art, but also investigator in his concrete historical perspective. Truth claims under such conditions of facticity are always relative to historical knowledge, and open to critical intervention and therefore necessarily contingent. Following Thomas, Schapiro’s critique shows that despite his intention of giving the work of art back its autonomy, Heidegger could be accused of achieving quite the opposite: through the abstraction of the concrete, the factual, and the given to the type, he actually sets the self and the realm of knowledge of the creator as absolute and not the object of his knowledge. Instead, she argues for a revaluation of Schapiro’s position with recognition of the arbitrariness of the artwork, by introducing the notion of factuality as formulated by Quentin Meillassoux. Understood as exchange between artist and object in its concrete material quality as well as with the beholder, the truth of painting could only be shown as radically contingent. Thomas argues that the critical intervention of Derrida who discusses both positions anew is exactly motivated by a recognition of the contingent character of object, artwork and interpretation. His deconstructive analysis can be understood as recognition of the dynamic character of things and hence this could be shown with Meillassoux to be exactly its character of facticity – or factuality.