The following text is from the book Art and Psychoanalysis by Maria Walsh. Does any one have any information about "the disembodied nature of the spectator"? I have not ever heard of it.


Krauss and Bois curated an exhibition in 1997 called L’informe: Mode d’emploi, which grouped artworks into these four vectors. They saw this show as being counter to the fashion for bodily fluids and other objects of disgust that were raging in so-called abject art. While Krauss and Bois could be seen as repressing the fleshy body yet again, as well as being accused of dressing up Modernism in the latest trend, the point of their alternative to the dominant trajectory of abject art is to continue the critique of the disembodied nature of the spectator that began with enlightenment modernity in the late seventeenth century and became elevated in the height of Modernism’s idolisation of pure objectivity. So in a positive sense they can be seen as inserting the operation of abjection back into art history rather than illustrating abjection by reifying it in bodily substances and essences, the latter of which dangerously harks back to a naturalistic conception of the body outside history and social change.

  • I think that the "arty" tag was a typo; if so, please delete the tag. :-) Feb 20 '20 at 12:04
  • Maybe a reference to Abject art is useful... Feb 20 '20 at 13:05
  • It may mean that the "traditional" art consider the spectator as a passive observer of the artwork: he is "pure mind" that see and understand the artwork as "representation" but he has no "body" that interact with the artwork as a piece of matter... maybe (I'm not well versed into the vagueness of post-modernism). Feb 20 '20 at 13:10
  • In philosophical aesthetics there is no theory I know of that uses 'the disembodied nature of the spectator' as a label. The phrase appears to be one of Walsh's own coining. This isn't to say that the phrase is not properly descriptive, but of what I don't know. The Kantian idea of aesthetic contemplation as involving a detachment from desire, a disinterestedness from pratical concerns, comes to mind. Perhaps Walsh is thinking of this - and very much else.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Feb 20 '20 at 15:10

There are quite a few philosophers who objected that enlightenment thought the modern human either as animal rationale or homo faber, generally as a being whose particularly human traits have to be contrasted with their "natural" or "bodily" needs and existence. Nietzsche called this the Appolonian as contrasted to the Dionysian type.

If you think of Descartes' ego or the Kantian one, they are essentially disembodied. Plessner conceptualized this as excentric positionality, ie. the subject of self-consciousness being positioned not in the physical or lived (phenomenal) body, but into nothingness, a spectator of its own life from nowhere. Understanding human subjectivity as only involving this ego which stands opposite (as a spectator) to its own body as well as the rest of the world in a subject-object relation is a direct outcome of Cartesian substance dualism of mind and body (Plessner did not follow it, btw).

There are authors like William James, Max Scheler, Helmuth Plessner, or Maurice Merleau-Ponty who argued for a reintroduction of the body as integral to our subjectivity and existence in general. This was a strong influence on what is infamously called "feminist philosophy" as well.

What Walsh and many others, especially those with a background in modern psychoanalysis, argue for is an integration of all aspects of being human into what Scheler called the "Allhuman", ie. not (only) a mechanical, rational, fully "understood" object of natural sciences which can be manipulated and worked at will, but a understanding of the human subject as also involving this feeling, feral, unfathomable being full of unconscious needs and desires.

  • Hi Philip. So, do you say: 1. Enlightenment and Modernism critiqued the disembodied nature of the spectator. Krauss and Bois also continued this criticism.​ or ​ 2. Enlightenment and Modernism believed in the disembodied nature of the spectator. However, Krauss and Bois and many others critiqued this idea?
    – user127733
    Feb 22 '20 at 13:03
  • @user127733 The second option. The enlightenment championed mind/ratio vs. body/physis and this tradition survived up to Husserl
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 22 '20 at 13:55
  • But, the rest of the sentence says "Modernism’s idolisation of pure objectivity" that is in contrast with this interpretation.
    – user127733
    Feb 25 '20 at 6:07
  • @user127733 No, it is not. Only a pure, disembodied subject which is completely separate from the object and can free itself from all bodily input (feelings, intuition, etc.) can provide pure objectivity.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Feb 25 '20 at 6:28

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