Plato famously dismissed art as thrice removed from reality, holding that mimesis is a copy of a copy, a distraction from the more serious affairs of truth. Two millennia have done little to remove this stigma of dissembling deceit leveled at art. Metamorphosis provides an alternative view of reality, and of the access of art to that reality, that I will consider in the remarks that follow. On the opposite view of things from Plato, Heralclitus, addressing the question of reality — of what and how things are — declared “IIαvτα Pηεl ”, Everything Flows: the idea that reality is flow not form. On this view of elemental being, there are no discrete things, only a continuous process of transformations: the natural life of things is metamorphosis. Quite apart from philosophical conjectures, experience of flow is perceptual/literal — rivers flow, lava flows — and conceptual/figurative — time flows, ideas flow. Experience occurs at different theoretical and metaphorical levels: electrons flow, crowds flow. The idiom of everyday reality is that of discrete objects and forms, in which discourse about the world is measured in units of utility, the placement and use of objects as resources for the exercise of human interests. Artistic intuition and philosophical interest look through the convenience of the ordinary and equipmental, to the question of reality as such, to the world as it is, to things in themselves. Although science refines the process of function in terms of theoretical explanation, the language of mathematics and physics is divided in its view of the language of the universe. The standard view since Newton is that of the calculus, that regards motion as elemental — that between every motion is another motion. But there is a more recent and powerful view of science and mathematics, familiar in computers, photoelectric cells, as well as quantum theory — committed at a fundamental level to iteration — to a digital reality. In any event, the issue of reality seems an undecidable issue within science; moreover science itself is more under an agenda of empowerment than truth. The world of art, however, has no limitation to the instrumental utility of its images and discourse and is free to pursue perspectives on the truth of reality however it manifests itself in creative expression. Perspectives about the ultimate nature of reality are not the siguature domain of the arts, but there is merit to the idea that the fundamental metaphor of the arts is that of metamorphosis, that transformation is at the heart both of what art strives to express, and the process and discourse of that expression.
Document Object Identifier (DOI)
Kimmel, L. (2004). "Everything Flows": The Poetics of Transformation. Analecta Husserliana, 81, 1-16.