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Lyotard, Capitalism and the Sublime
… Right now the world is different from every other time there's ever been. And what if, just maybe, this is the first time money's ever become important for artists? And maybe for ever after this it will be. Maybe we're just at that point. Where money's an element in the composition. Maybe it's just hard luck; I was born at the wrong time. This is what I do.You're a conduit from art to money. It's getting closer and closer and closer. And if money becomes king, then it just does. But there's a point where you've got to take it on. Damien Hirst1 Sublimity is no longer in art, but in speculation on art. Jean-François Lyotard2

In my earlier discussion of Gene Ray’s critique of Hirst, I have highlighted the fact that his notion of the sublime is drawnfrom Lyotard’s essay “The Sublime and the Avant-Garde.” It is to this essay that I shall now turn, to throw further light on the contemporary conceptions of the sublime which animate Ray’s essay in particular, and discussions of sublimity around contemporary art in general. Lyotard has been the figure most associated with the revival of the notion of the sublime in contemporary philosophy, andalthough he has written somewhat prolifically on the notion3, it is this essay

Damien Hirst and Gordon Burns, "The Naked Hirst (Part 2)," Guardian 6 October 2001: 138. online ed. visited 12/01/05. 2 Jean-François Lyotard, "The Sublime and the Avant-Garde," trans. Lisa Liebmann, Geoffrey Bennington and Marian Hobson, The Inhuman (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991) 106. 3 Lyotard’s references tothe notion of the sublime are too many to be worth listing in full here, however, for particular relevance, see the essay “An Answer to the Question: What is Postmodernism?” for his earlier comments on sublimity (published in Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Theory and History of Literature; V.10 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1984) 71-82. Thediscussion of the sublime is pp.77-82) Although these remarks, due to the notoriety of the book, are perhaps even more cited (at the very least in the broader academic sphere) than those in “The Sublime and the Avant-Garde,” they are also much more brief, and “The Sublime and the AvantGarde” can be understood to elaborate on them. Also perhaps centrally significant in Lyotard’s corpus on the sublime isJean-François Lyotard, Lessons on the


which has become such a central text in recent discussions of the aesthetics of the sublime in contemporary art. This would seem to be partially because it is the essay in which Lyotard treats of the sublime most explicitly in relation to contemporary and modern art, and also because the essay, appearing in the art magazine Artforum, was Lyotard’sessay on the sublime which was aimed most centrally at intervening in the critical discourses around contemporary art. Ray in particular draws on Lyotard’s differentiation of the temporality of the sublime ‘event’ (an experience of the ‘now’) from the mere frisson of
Analytic of the Sublime (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994). In this, a detailed, if ‘strong’, reading of the section ofKant’s Third Critique dedicated to the sublime, Lyotard gives his lengthiest account of the sublime. Coming somewhat later in Lyotard’s career, and as a piece of abstract thinking, much less aimed at discourses on art, it has been less influential on these, and moves away somewhat from the concerns of the current essay. Also relevant, aside from the other essays in The Inhuman, the collection ofLyotard’s work in which “The Sublime and the AvantGarde” found its place, many of which also touch on the question of the sublime and modern/contemporary art, see Jean-François Lyotard, "Complexity and the Sublime," Postmodernism, eds. Lisa Appignanesi and Geoffrey Bennington, I.C.A. Documents; 4-5 (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1986) 19-26. In “Postscript to Terror and the Sublime,”...
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