Monthly Archives: December 2014

Familiar Queries: The Purpose of the Order

A graduate student reader of Communiqués (working, as he writes, on the “aesthetics of group theory” in a mathematics program at a European university) appreciated a previous post addressing a certain “familiar query” regarding the Order. He wishes to contribute a document pertaining to a different query:

What is the purpose of the Order?

The Order exists to collect, study, develop, and transmit practices of sustained attention, which practices members of the Order mobilize in the furtherance of their collective aim: to realize the relations of persons and objects in this world.”

What does it mean to “realize the relations of persons and objects in this world?”

Our correspondent passes on to us a passage from an obscure but extraordinary treatise on aesthetics by the great Moldavian poet-philosopher Benjamin Fondane: False Treatise of Aesthetics: an Essay on the Crisis of Reality, written in 1938.  Since the book does not yet exist in English, we quote the passage below in abridged translation.

It is possible that reality must not be named except in the brief instant that it is lived and seized in the act of participation-inspiration. To call it “reality” at just any moment is to suppose it indifferent just as the intelligence that investigates it is indifferent; it is only however in rare instants that latent reality becomes manifest reality. […] At the moment it takes place, poetic experience is not a substitute for the object it encounters, no more than it is the object itself; it is participation in the object. But for this reason, “object” becomes a word devoid of sense. And it is no different if one replaces it with the word “thing.” The role of poetic experience is precisely to undo this division of reality into objects, into things, into partitions and arêtes, it is completely the opposite of an atomism. […] Reality gives to poetic experience, through participation-inspiration, what it refuses to intelligence and to knowledge; it yields to poetry a state, whereas it offers to intelligence only relations, scattered amid the discontinuous text of categories. But we must not insist on grasping the poetic act too closely, for fear that, defined, it might fade and vanish; it can only be an act of seizing the real insofar as it refuses to be a “knowledge.”

Beyond the Delphic closing comments of our correspondent (who feels, to summarize, that “realizing” a relation is a matter of accession to a reality that is “other than relation”), we have some additional comments of our own.

It seems that what Fondane calls “poetic experience” is no more about poems than it is about experiences in the ordinary sense. It is a transfiguration of both the poetic and the experiential, in which each finds its fullest realization in the other. In fact, we would submit, it amounts to another way of saying “the realization of the relations of persons and objects.”

In available action-transcripts by volées in late interwar Europe, when Fondane was writing, one often finds the word “poetic” used in a very broad sense that encompasses the more specific tasks and attitudes of the Order. Influenced by prevailing philosophical-aesthetic trends, persons associated with the Order at that time unhesitatingly substituted, for words like “practice,” “action,” and “attention,” precisely the phrase “poetic experience.” If one no longer does so today, this does not mean, of course, that the Birds of the past have nothing to say to us.

It should also be added that Fondane’s words bear some relevance to the question of why the Order tends to use works of art in its practices. What becomes of the “work of art” in his account? Further reflection on this question is invited.