by Tricia Van Dyk
This post is part of an ongoing symposium interacting with Lambert Zuidervaart's book Religion, Truth, and Social Transformation: Essays in Reformational Philosophy. For more responses to the book, see our table of contents.
Lambert Zuidervaart opens his chapter “Fantastic Things: Critical Notes toward a Social Ontology of the Arts” by explaining that what follows is really only half a conversation. The whole conversation would link Martin Heidegger’s essay “The Origin of the Work of Art” to Herman Dooyeweerd’s discussion of art. Both were written, as Zuidervaart points out, around the same time. Examining Heidegger’s and Dooyeweerd’s discussions of art from each other’s perspectives would demonstrate what is illuminating and fruitful as well as what is obscuring and reductive about each conception, Zuidervaart suggests. In particular, he wishes “to find a path through Heidegger to a normative but de-mystified conception of artistic truth, and through Dooyeweerd to a social and ontological but de-personalized conception of artistic production” (111). This chapter, first articulated more than 20 years ago, is the Dooyeweerd half of the conversation; for the Heidegger half, readers would need to wait for the 2004 publication of Zuidervaart’s book Artistic Truth.
Thus this chapter could be seen as the foundation that Zuidervaart later builds on in his social ontology of art. In other words, he is working from (and toward) a full and specific understanding of art, but don’t look for that here. His personal life has given him a perhaps unusually comprehensive experience of art, but this chapter is not where he sets out that understanding systematically. Thus in this post, rather than looking for points of theoretical contention, I offer a brief meditation on the conditions of possibility, so to speak, for a normative, down-to-earth social ontology of art.
In this chapter, we find what happens when a deep experience of art meets an inadequate theory of art. The result is not an immediate systematic exposition of an adequate theory, but a place to begin from theoretically that does not betray or reduce what one has already experienced. Thus, Zuidervaart immediately recognizes a tension in Dooyeweerd’s conception of art by where it is placed in A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Rather than putting his treatment of art within his discussion of societal structures in Part II of the third volume of the New Critique, Dooyeweerd uses his account of art (which largely consists of an analysis of a marble statue of Hermes by Praxiteles) as a way to present some of his important categories (subject/object relation within the plastic horizon of experience, enkapsis). He does this by treating art as a thing-structure in Part I. Right away, then, Zuidervaart notices that Dooyeweerd is thinking of works of art more as natural things (like linden trees and rocks) than as part of a historically and socially constituted realm.
Thus, Zuidervaart immediately recognizes a tension in Dooyeweerd’s conception of art by where it is placed in A New Critique of Theoretical Thought.