Philosophy as artistic research is a concept of philosophy in which poiesis,1 the process of letting something materially come into being (be-coming), is considered the core performance of philosophy. When Marx criticized pre-marxist philosophies that they have just interpreted the world, but not changed it, this claim is very much in line with arts-based-philosophy. Because if arts-based-philosophers are concerned with the genesis of, for instance, new social assemblages, this new species of philosophers is, like artists, interested in the material becoming of such new social forms in time and space. They want to stage them, at least the genesis of their becoming, by virtue of calling their future appearance into being, artistically, generatively, inventively.
Since such a staging of future be-comings never takes place in the future but here and now, the doing of aesthetics, operative in arts-based-philosophy, can be called a radical Empiricism (cf. for example Deleuze, 1994, p. 47 and James, 2012, pp. 30–31). It is no positivistic Empiricism which would analyze just already given empirical facts ready at hand, but an artistic Empiricism of virtual be-comings, which are on their way to happen, perhaps. One never knows beforehand whether the full empirical constitution of a virtual genesis will once indeed have taken place in the future or not.
The time zone of the dangerous perhaps
When Nietzsche claimed in Beyond Good and Evil – a text with the telling subtitle Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future – that the “new category of philosophers to arrive, those, whose taste and inclination are the reverse of their predecessors will be in every sense philosophers of the dangerous Perhaps” (Nietzsche, 1998, p. 6), he clearly indicates that a philosophy of the future is structurally confronted with the dangerous time zone of the per-haps. It is dangerous because, in this virtual dimension of time, the taking place of a future is actually at stake. This uncertainty is constitutive for anybody addressing the genesis of virtual be-comings, because any virtual “object” oscillates, ontologically, in a time zone between being and non-being.
Philosophy as artistic research precisely curates this in-between, this insecure and precarious time zone of the dangerous perhaps. One could call this the maieutic, that is to say, the generative character of arts-based-philosophy. In this respect, arts-based-philosophers perform an aesthetic inversion of the Socratic method. While Socrates was a midwife helping to determinate the truth value of propositions in respect to different claims brought up in dialogues, arts-based-philosophy virtually tests and experiments the genesis of future be-comings. Once, one will probably be able to see it happen, the future one is longing for – eventually, one will have been able to inhabit it, perhaps. Live in it, perhaps; intuit2 it, perhaps.3 It is obviously a precarious stage which emerges from doing aesthetics.
The promise of artist-philosophers: Nietzsche’s post-Socratic inversion of Platonism
To induce the arrival of arts-based-philosophy as an untimely form of performing philosophy, Nietzsche was forced to incubate the conceptual persona of the artist-philosopher––namely, somebody willing and able to actually perform philosophy as artistic research, thus taking care of the genesis of a new performative way of doing philosophy in alliance with the arts.
In this struggle, Plato’s philosophy – the philosophy of “the greatest enemy of art Europe has yet produced” (Nietzsche, 1989, p. 154) – plays a crucial role because it was Plato who historically invented the antagonistic relation between art and philosophy – a model which still prominently captures our European heads to-day (cf. Whitehead, 1979, p. 91; Whiel, 2012; Heidegger, 1991, pp. 200–2010; Böhler, 2017).
Plato’s life itself is a telling example of what is at stake in our reversal/inversion of Platonism. It is said that Plato, in his first career, was an artist, a playwright. Only after he had met Socrates did he decide to put an end to his artistic persona by burning all his art works in order to become a follower and disciple of Socrates. To become a Socratic philosopher, Plato obviously thought that he had to give up on his former existence as an artist. Both conceptual personae were apparently no longer able to live together in peace in his person. He had to choose. Either he was to become an artist or a Socratic philosopher. The relation between art and philosophy thus became antagonistic in Plato himself and through him. From now on, Socratic philosophers assumed in a Platonistic manner that one has to exclude – probably even displace – one’s artistic desires to materially generate artefacts for the sake of becoming a serious, real and decent Socratic philosopher. It was clearly no option in the context of Plato’s image of thought to be and become both – an artist and a philosopher: artist-philosophers, philosopher-artists, artistic researchers.
However, it is more than obvious that with Plato himself this distinction was never clear cut. This is because, even after having given up on his first career as an artist, the skills Plato had acquired in his first life survived in his second career as a Socratic philosopher in the midst of his philosophical oeuvre. There he still argues in the dramatic form of dialogues, creates fictional characters and gives us a clear and eloquent description of the material setting within which the discussion takes place: on the market square, outside the city walls of Athens, under a tree, etc. (cf. Puchner, 2010, p. 47). For sure, one rarely finds this dramatic style in the writing of Socratic philosophers today, probably because these days most of them do not look back on a first career in the arts. They became pure scientists who, unlike Plato, no longer perform a cross-over of philosophy and art but pure logic, refined and cleaned from any artistic or mythological aspect… What a mess!
Philosophy On Stage: A research forum for cross-disciplinary strategies between art and philosophy
While Plato assumed that he had to get rid of his existence as an artist in order to become a Socratic philosopher, Nietzsche, on the contrary, precisely assumed that he had to overcome the conceptual persona of a merely Socratic (scientific) philosopher in order to become an artist-philosopher. This is in fact one crucial aspect of Nietzsche’s famous reversal/inversion of Platonism. He had to, metonymically, replace the still ascetic figure of the Socratic (scientific) philosopher with his newly invented aesthetic concept of the artist-philosopher (cf. Böhler, 2017).
This is precisely the historical constellation which lies at the base of our artistic research festival Philosophy On Stage – which we, Granzer & Böhler, have invented over the past 20 years in the course of several research projects, sponsored by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).4 It is an attempt to actually experiment with new forms of cross-disciplinary strategies by way of which new alliances between art and philosophy are conceptually and artistically staged in performances, lecture-performances, interventions etc., to keep Nietzsche’s promise of a productive friendship between art and philosophy alive in contrast to the antagonistic model Plato had invented into the history of our European culture till to-day.5
A critical remark on platonistic traits in the discourse of artistic research today
In the discourse on artistic research it has been repeatedly argued that science, philosophy and the arts follow different rule systems. Such positions consequently claim that one should not mix up one with the other, but treat them as well-defined regimes with their own ‘inner’ systematic logic. A philosopher should respect the set of rules constitutive for the regime of philosophy, while an artist should respect the set of rules constitutive for the field of art. Even if one revolts against well-established rules, one has to create a paradigm shift in one’s respected field of work. In such a context, the fields of art, science and philosophy are obviously treated as if there would not exist any lines of flights, in which one discipline always already inhabits aspects of the other.
But is this not a simplified conception of the relation between the arts, philosophies and the sciences? Does somebody, who is doing art, indeed not think philosophically at all? And philosophers, are they really not practicing art at all while they philosophize?
For sure, there are different practices one performs if one is acting in the regime of art or in the regime of philosophy. But does it really make sense to treat these different regimes as if they were self-identical systems, existing separately in themselves? As if they would not have been differentiated in relation of one to another? As if their identity would not have been developed by virtue of a certain genealogy, which has given each of these disciplines a distinct, historically generated identity?
In opposition to such views, Philosophy On Stage claims that there have always been cross-disciplinary strategies in philosophy, in which philosophizing became a sort of art and art became a sort of philosophy. The history of European philosophy clearly proves this claim. Philosophers regularly developed performative practices while they were researching an idea. Without such performative practices – like thinking in the form of a dialog (Plato), writing in aphorisms which make philosophers dance (Nietzsche), developing a technique of text-montages which allow one to find and express one’s thoughts (Wittgenstein), researching an écriture féminine (Cixous, Ronell) or even don’t write at all, but teach orally at the market square (Socrates) or live in a box (Diogenes) – without such performative interventions philosophers would not have been able at all to express what they were searching to think. And artists like Shakespeare would probably have never become the cosmopolitan artists which they actually were if they had not philosophized in their art-pieces by asking, for instance, Hamlet’s famous question “To be or not to be?”, which usually is a typical problem coped with in the history of philosophy over thousands of years. Even the cellar regions of a body and the constellations of drives in a certain grouping of bodies have to be taken into account, if one does perform arts-based-philosophy. This is because the act of thinking, even the taking place of a transcendental reflection, is always a mode of situated knowledge, bodily performed within a sensible empirical situation.
Thus, claiming that the field of philosophy would be entirely different from the field of the arts is obviously a clouded, over-simplistic and confusing conceptualization of the factual proportion between A (art) and P (philosophy). One is never entirely a philosopher and not at all an artist, or entirely an artist and not at all a philosopher while doing art or philosophy, because their respected fields already inhabit bridging connections in which art and artistic practices show up in the midst of philosophy, and philosophy shows up in the midst of the arts.
Philosophy as Artistic Research: Philosophy On Stage
Like in Plato’s own philosophical opus, our research-festival Philosophy On Stage welcomes art to enter the realm of philosophy again. There, philosophers do not have to burn and destroy their artistic personae while doing philosophy. On the contrary, they are invited, even called to implement artistic practices into their philosophical research practice.
Even the conceptual persona of the Socratic philosopher does not have to be rejected entirely if one becomes an artist-philosopher. It can still live and survive within an artist-philosopher, but in the context of arts-based-philosophy it will be just one layer and way of performing philosophy among others. Artist-philosophers will still reflect, contemplate, analyze and argue the logical value of propositions. But they claim that the Socratic way of doing philosophy, which is the usual academic way of performing philosophy today, is just one way of doing philosophy. There are others, even more primordial and elementary ways of accessing be-coming, such as the generative approach of doing aesthetics, considered in the first part of this text.
In contrast to a platonic, antagonistic view of the relation between art and philosophy, our research festival Philosophy on Stage thus promotes a cross-disciplinary perspective on the regimes of philosophy and art. It attempts to deliver a research platform for artist-philosophers // philosopher-artists ready and willing to literally exist in-between the regimes of philosophy and arts. They are called to actually generate lines of flight, bridging both disciplines in a chiastic crossover of both regimes. Artist-philosophers and philosopher-artists are therefore ontologically bi: an in-between of art and philosophy. They are fully neither one nor the other, but something popping up in-between of both regimes, like a queer Hermes, bringing the news of a hybrid form of doing art and philosophy by virtue of actually performing untimely relations, alliances, concepts, artifacts between them, thereby necessarily disrupting the inherited antagonistic model of the Platonist conception of the relation between art and philosophy.
Image: Ariadne’s thread
Böhler, A. (2017) ‘Immanence: A Life…Friedrich Nietzsche’, Performance Philosophy Journal, Volume 3, Issue 3: Philosophy on Stage. The Concept of Immanence in Contemporary Art and Philosophy, 576–603.
Böhler, A. (2016) Polylog. Zeitschrift für interkulturelles Philosophieren, 35: Berührungen. Zum Verhältnis von Philosophie und Kunst, 7–33.
Böhler, A. and Valerie, S. (2017) ‘Corpus Delicti#2. Untimely Precursors’ in P. de Assis and P. Giudici (eds.) The Dark Precursor. Deleuze and Artistic Research. Vol. I: Sound and Writing (Leuven: Leuven University Press), pp. 193–213.
Böhler, A. and Manning, E. (2014) ‘Do we know what a body can do? #1’ in A. Böhler and K. Kruschkova and S. Valerie (eds.) Wissen wir, was ein Körper vermag? Rhizomatische Körper in Religion, Kunst, Philosophie (Bielefeld: transcript).
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James, W. (2012) Essays in Radical Empiricism (Auckland: The Floating Press).
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Nietzsche, F. (1989) ‘On the Genealogy of Morals’ in W. Kaufmann (ed.) On the Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo (New York: Vintage).
Puchner, M. (2010) Platonic Provocations in Theater and Philosophy (Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press).
Ramakrishna Kavi, M. (ed.) (1984) Natyashastra. With the Commentary of Abhinavagupta (Baroda: Oriental Institute).
Whiel, R. (2012) ‘Nietzsches Anti-Platonismus und Spinoza’ in V. Waibel (ed.) Affektenlehre und amor Dei intellectualis. Die Rezeption Spinozas im Deutschen Idealismus, in der Frühromantik und in der Gegenwart (Hamburg: Meiner), pp. 333–350.
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* This is a revised version of an article written for The Routledge Companion to Performance Philosophy.
Arno Boehler teaches at the University of Vienna, Department of Philosophy (faculty member) and at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. He is founder of the philosophy performance festival Philosophy On Stage and head of the residency program for arts-based philosophy and artistic research in South-India (baseCollective).
Together with Susanne Valerie Granzer he has developed new cross-disciplinary strategies between philosophy and the arts to give back to philosophy its materiality, corporeality, sensibility and vulnerability. In this context Boehler was principal investigator of three research projects funded by the Austrian Science Funds (FWF): „Artist-Philosophers. Philosophy as Arts-Based Research" (AR 275-G21); "Generating Bodies" (TRP12-G21) and "Materiality and Temporality of Performative Speech-Acts" (P17600-G06).
Böhler was visiting research fellow at the University of Bangalore, the University of Heidelberg, New York University, University of Princeton and visiting professor at the University of Applied Arts Vienna, the University of Arts Bremen, the University of Music and Performing Art Vienna and the University of Vienna, Department of Philosophy.
Further information: http://homepage.univie.ac.at/arno.boehler/php/
- 1. In Greek philosophy poiesis means “letting something come into being”.
- 2. Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge, intuition, is that kind of knowledge by way of which one intuits the staging of a single entity sub species aeternitatis. That is to say, the appearance of something in its relation to the eternal ontogenesis of Nature herself, which Spinoza equals with God.
- 3. This is precisely the reason why the Greek term ousia privileges the presentation of something in the present tense.
- 4. https://homepage.univie.ac.at/arno.boehler/php/?page_id=1244, date accessed 6 December 2018.
- 5. View the video recordings of the Research Festivals Philosophy on Stage #1–#4 online: https://homepage.univie.ac.at/arno.boehler/php/?page_id=841, date accessed 6 December 2018.