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Monumental vision : a confrontation with the image of the Eternal Return

conference contribution
posted on 2011-01-01, 00:00 authored by Gavin Keeney
"Monumental Vision” is a nuanced summary of Nietzschean nihilism and the Eternal Return as rite of passage for free subjects and as condensed image of speculative intelligence proper. Utilizing Gerhard Richter’s “Sheet 692” from Atlas, a series of photographs of the mountains and lake at Sils Maria, Switzerland, as summary judgment of the limit imposed by this condition on all systems of representation, this form of vision discloses the chiasmus embedded in consciousness itself. In constantly revisiting Sils, the very location where Nietzsche “suffered” the vision of the Eternal Return, Richter has engaged repeatedly this origin for what has come into his work via Nietzsche – that is, an elective veil that refuses all compromises with transcendence until such is merged with immanence.

As situated amidst modernist “ideology as intellection”, and subsequent nascent forms of anti-modernism, the Eternal Return as image also signals the return of the Kantian “aesthetic-teleological” synthesis in non-discursive or purely visual agency. As an elective form of aesthetic vision, and as image of time insofar as it registers an overwhelming externality (Other) that nominally swallows and empowers the subject at once, this excoriating sense of universal praxis underwrites artistic and architectural production of the highest order, renegotiating concepts of the paradigmatic.

Utilizing Georg Simmel’s late work on Rembrandt (1916) and his encounter with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche (1907), the essay suggests that by the 1920s the avant-garde premises of modernism had already come under attack by an ahistorical and synoptic vision here denoted “monumental vision,” which also contains the imprint of eschatological time (invoking a schism present in rationality as such). The two readings of this image perpetrated by Karl Löwith in Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Eternal Recurrence of the Same (Nietzsches Philosophie der ewigen Wiederkehr des Gleichen, 1935), or the cosmological and the ethical, while considered irreconcilable by Löwith, have since the 1960s been recalibrated through the figure of the event to pose possible scenarios out of the stalemate of the confrontation between Self and Other (ipseity and alterity) buried within this image as limit. In this manner, the image of the Eternal Return stands at the boundary between two forms of time (or two worlds) and signals the irreducible confrontation present in speculative thought and the necessity of closure through an aesthetic vision that produces a unitary field for all creative acts.

Notably, Nietzsche’s startling vision from Zarathustra suggests that the limit imposed by the Eternal Return is also a mask for an austere condition within subjectivity closely resembling the conundrum of Fichte’s I facing I, or thought turned toward thought itself (absolute subjectivity as cipher for Being). In Alenka Zupančič’s reading, in The Shortest Shadow: Nietzsche’s Philosophy of the Two (2003), the Eternal Return effectively contains a secret formal function that grinds all “error” to dust – a highly suggestive interpretation that also neutralizes the schism introduced by Löwith between the cosmological and the ethical.



Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy. Conference (2011 : Melbourne, Vic.)


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E1.1 Full written paper - refereed

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ASCP 2011 : The time(s) of our lives : Proceedings of the Australasian Society for Continental Philosophy Conference 2011

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