Recently read a great article by Boris Groys on Kojève. Never read Kojève myself but I know that he taught Hegel to the surrealists, and I learned a lot about that from a very good book about surrealist objects by my old friend Steve Harris. In any case, Boris is always enlightening. But more than that, I always feel that he sees into my art, even though he’s not talking about it specifically. And what he sees is always at least a little disturbing. Kojève understood art as an expression of emptiness; he also knew about art as repetition, meaning repetition of an empty original. But what most came to me from this account were thoughts about fame and recognition. Does the enormous size of our still growing culture incline one to seek distinction, or to be satisfied with what Kojève calls mere animal life? Back in the day there wasn’t so much competition. But then opportunities were fewer. But then if you got a chance it was more likely to lead somewhere. Who knows if it’s harder to rise today? Certainly there’s more money at the top, but money just means animal life, and for Kojève genuine ambition is not for that. It’s one of the great modern fictions that ordinary life, free from ambition, is as good as art. I think Somerset Maugham, in his novel Of Human Bondage, was one of the best exponents of this charming dream. Kojève thought that the age of striving and ambition was over, and that all we have now is consumption. Look around and it doesn’t seem that way, but what he means is that striving to express emptiness, yet again, is hardly on the level of the highest achievements of the past.

Alexandre Kojève

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