International Journal of Education & the Arts

Volume 4 Number 2

March 18, 2003

The Aestheticization of Research in the
Thought of Maurice Blanchot

Gary Peters
University of the West of England

Increasingly familiar within the State University system, the thought of Maurice Blanchot is in danger of settling all-too-comfortably into a research culture that in fundamental ways is radically at odds with the peculiar trajectory of his singular writing. In the light of this, the current essay is intent on returning Blanchot to the “outside,” to an “exteriority” that is not critical of the hegemonic research culture, but Other—an Other mode of research. Trying to think of research affirmatively, in the absence of the negative dialectics more typical of the academic communicative community, both throws new light on Blanchot’s own aesthetic method while, importantly, offering a great deal to those intent on imagining models that better “fit” the experience of art practitioners engaged, whether formally or informally, in practice-based research. Driven by the interminable waywardness of “fascination” rather than the teleologies of knowledge and understanding, Blanchot proposes (albeit fleetingly) a non-methodological method of progressing that speaks from the experience of the artist and an aesthetic that is not only unengaged with the will-to-knowledge but, in fact renders such knowledge “truly impracticable.” Perverse as this may sound, the very thought of such an Other mode of research may yet prove to mark an important and necessary shift in what “counts” as research within an academic culture that must increasingly familiarize itself with the alterity of art…and then take it seriously (as research).


At a recent conference at the University of Plymouth, United Kingdom entitled The Enactment of Thinking: Creative Practice and Research Degrees, a series of papers considered the implications, difficulties and a priori of developing satisfactory models for practice-based Doctoral research projects within the visual arts. All of them made interesting contributions to the ongoing debate, but, significantly, and perhaps inevitably, every speaker brought what were very familiar, largely “philosophical,” discourses to bear on the subject. What is more, and this was both interesting and disappointing, there was little evidence of the new possibilities under discussion impacting on the structure of the presentations themselves, all of which remained firmly within precisely the intellectual traditions and institutional context responsible for constructing the very obstacles to innovation under discussion.

Here, on the “inside,” could be heard the dialogical voice of the academic communicative community engaged in the negative dialectic of critical enquiry typical of a State-funded University research culture. While, on the “outside,” an “outside” affirmed, in part at least, in the peculiar alterity of art, there sounds another voice –“sotto voce”—on another frequency perhaps, that speaks of a solitary quest to transform theory, practice and, as a consequence, the very meaning of research as an aesthetic rather than academic enterprise.

For the purpose of the following paper, this "other" voice will belong to the French writer Maurice Blanchot, but in reality it is the voice of all those who continue to reach out, no matter how tentatively, into an exteriority that, in demanding a particular kind of rigor and method, does indeed constitute a mode of research, albeit of different, even perverse kind. The hopelessness and pointlessness of this task in the face of the hegemonic research culture will, no doubt, be one of the attractions…the aforementioned perversity!

Why Maurice Blanchot?

Born in 1907, and writing since the 1930s, Blanchot has been a major presence within French intellectual culture since World War II. Unlike his contemporaries however—Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and his close friend Levinas—Blanchot's presence is as a body and mode of writing and emphatically not as a public figure within the University system. Indeed, it is precisely the famed absence of Blanchot from the collective gaze that has, no doubt, contributed to the fascination that continues to surround his work as it becomes increasingly familiar to readers outside of France. Admittedly, the current essay is itself partially the product of this fascination, although, it has to be said, the underlying intention here is to separate fascination from the triviality of a physical anonymity and situate it more correctly within the aesthetic of absence that engages Blanchot throughout his career. Indeed, as he affirms on many occasions, fascination is the very motor of his own production—it is fascination itself that is fascinating. But what is fascination?

Of whoever is fascinated it can be said that he (sic) doesn't perceive any real object, any real figure, for what he sees does not belong to the world of reality, but to the indeterminate milieu of fascination. This milieu is, so to speak, absolute. Distance is not excluded from it, but is immeasurable…(Blanchot, 1982, p. 32)

Whoever is fascinated doesn't see, properly speaking, what he sees.

Rather, it touches him in an immediate proximity; it ceaselessly draws him close, even though it leaves him absolutely at a distance. Fascination is fundamentally linked to neutral, impersonal presence…(p. 33)

It is Blanchot's writing, and not Blanchot the writer, that fascinates. It is a writing that has a peculiar almost suffocating "impersonal presence," one that brings the minutiae of thought, or of a certain relationship to thought, between knowledge and ignorance, thus creating proximity and distance. It does so in a manner which, as will be discussed below, is openly intent upon blocking the path to certainty in the name of a certitude that, when wedded to affirmation, rigor and patience, configures a method (rather than a methodology) of research which, it is hoped, might be recognized by at least some of those who are, as yet, unaware that they are indeed "researchers."

It is true that, what might be called, an "aesthetic dimension" has long been recognized as a vital component of all research, but unfortunately this "recognition" is largely the product of an extraordinarily crude and flimsy grasp of aesthetic production, one that links it unproblematically to under-theorized and experientially vague notions of "subjectivity," "creativity" and "the imagination," all assumed to be founding principles within art practice. This is where, and why, Blanchot is powerful and fascinating. He proposes (fleetingly, but substantially) a mode of research which, while growing out of a very rich and engaged aesthetic, has nothing whatsoever to do with the all-too-common celebrations of artistic autonomy, innovation and originality. On the contrary, here we witness, instead, a writing that is insistent in its sustained articulation of the neutrality of the work, a neutrality that, when confronted, manifests what Blanchot famously describes as the “worklessness” of the work, the space of an “essential solitude” which has nothing in common with romantic isolation but, rather, concerns the force of “death” in language itself.

These ideas, so typical of Blanchot, will be left hanging here largely because any of the increasing number of works on his thought will undoubtedly centre on these key themes, so it is these that should be consulted for clarification (not always possible with Blanchot!). The concerns of the current essay, although linked to the above, are nevertheless born out of recognition that Blanchot’s writing—somewhere between the literary and the philosophical—represents, if nothing else, an impressive body of research. It is the nature of this research that fascinates, in particular the way in which a lifelong project of affirmative reading (disengaged from the day-to-day negative dialectics of academic research culture, where “critique” continues to reign supreme) proves itself able to produce a body of work that is, perhaps, unique in its “non-systematic coherence” (Blanchot, 1993, p. 140) and rigorous waywardness. Here, Blanchot’s own aesthetic practice as a writer provides him with, what might be called, an aesthetics of research that is noteworthy in its attempt to remain outside of the increasingly sterile dialectic of knowledge and understanding animating the sciences and the humanities respectively. It is precisely the nature of this research aesthetic, the one undoubtedly responsible for Blanchot’s own work, which has been ignored in the secondary literature to date. This essay will, hopefully, begin (and only begin) to bring this dimension of his work into focus.

Affirming affirmation

Beginning with education, Blanchot proposes an educative mode that is fastidious in the manner in which it demarcates and maintains a certain distance from the "academic." This mode is not rooted in a body of counterclaims that would critique academia (although he is consistently critical of the “critical”) but is, rather, radically other, and thus fundamentally incapable of becoming integral to this dominant model. It emerges out of a shifting pattern of affirmations that together point towards, without necessarily revealing, an Other mode of teaching, learning and research.

This shifting pattern of affirmations must begin with affirmation itself—the affirmation of affirmation—a strategy Blanchot inherits from the anti-negative dialectics of Nietzsche and witnesses in the thought of Simone Weil, one where the answer precedes the question and certitude supplants certainty as the origin rather than the destination of thought. He writes:

We enter into thought…only by questioning. We go from question to question to the point where the question, pushed toward a limit, becomes response…Such a way of proceeding is foreign to Simone Weil…it would seem that she first responds to herself, as though for her the answer always comes first, preceding every question and even every possibility of questioning: there is an answer, then another, and then again another answer…Affirming is often for Simone Weil a way of questioning or a way of testing.

…by affirming and by holding firmly without wavering to the movement of affirmation…The kind of invisible effort by which she seeks to efface herself in favour of certitude is all that remains in her of a will as she advances from affirmation to affirmation…It is remarkable that all the while living with certitude in relations that exceed it, she can still maintain the distance this very certitude requires; a certitude that has no power over us and is without relation with us until we have renounced everything we hold to be certain. (Blanchot, 1993, p. 108)

The affirmation of affirmation, rather than the negation of the negation, promises a radically fragmentary mode of learning that renounces certainty in order to protect certitude. This is a questioning that, having renounced the desire for certainty, is not impatient to hurry to its own answers but allows the affirmative force of each different answer to repeatedly interrupt the achievement of closure.


Fragmentation, as Blanchot understands it, is not the suffering of an unrecoverable totality but is, rather, the consequence of the interruptive movement of affirmation itself; what might be called the logic of affirmation. Fragmentation is an achievement, not a burden, one that demands a pedagogical rigour—a "cold mastery"—vigilant in its refusal of, or resistance to, any integrative model that would aim or claim to remove certitude's divisive edge. For Blanchot such a mastery demands a strategy that is literally Kafkaesque in the manner in which the absence of knowledge, its remoteness, brings to every fragmentary moment an obscure import requiring time, patience and rigour to consider its significance—or not.

Kafka often showed that his genius was a prompt, ready one; he was capable of reaching the essential in a few swift strokes. But more and more he imposed upon himself a minuteness, a slow approach, a detailed precision…, without which a man exiled from reality is condemned to the errors of confusion and the approximations of the imaginary. The more one is lost outside, in the strangeness and insecurity of this loss, the more one must appeal to the spirit of rigour, scruple, exactitude, …he who belongs to the depths of the limitless and the remote, to the distress of the immeasurable, yes, that person is condemned to an excess of measure…(Blanchot, 1982, p. 82)

In this instance it is the extraordinary attraction of knowledge and certainty, their compelling allure, that requires a will that, as Nietzsche saw it, is strong enough not to will (Nietzsche, 1954, p. 511) while, at the same time, perspicacious enough to recognise and embody the peculiar anti-structure of this un-willingness—Nietzsche called it "wandering," Blanchot describes it as “turning,” the very movement of research. (Blanchot, 1993, pp. 3, 8, 25ff)

The centre allows finding and turning, but the centre is not to be found. Research would be, perhaps, that rash seeking determined always to reach the centre instead of being content to act in response to its point of reference.

A hasty conclusion all the same. It is true that the turning movement of research resembles the movement of a dog that, when its prey is motionless and menacing, believes it has captured its prey by encircling it, while in fact it remains solely under the fascination of the centre to whose attraction it submits.

Searching and error then would be akin. To err is to turn and return, to give oneself up to the magic of the detour. One who goes astray, who has left the protection of the centre, turns about, himself adrift and subject to the centre, and no longer guarded by it. (Blanchot, 1993, p. 26 and 1982, p. 238)

This is a counsel of patience born of unwillingness to rush blindly towards an unattainable centre, an unattainability and infinite remoteness that, for Blanchot, is always experienced as “fascination.” The peculiarity of fascination in this particular guise is that, as described above, it is the experience of being simultaneously cast adrift from, while nevertheless remaining subject to, an absent centre. This intimate exile or “proximity,” to use Levinas’ terminology, (Levinas, 1998, pp. 138-9) introduces a radical distance into each fragmentary moment of research that can only be negotiated by means of (to repeat) a “response to its [the moment’s] point of reference.” That is to say, each point of reference must be understood as an interruption that cuts across and obstructs the path to the centre, thereby re-directing the course of the research through a proliferation of diversions that, as the word suggests, both distracts and attracts, bringing delay, but also a certain aesthetic pleasure which, in turn, contributes to the delay.

To re-search is to search again for what has always already been found, and Blanchot makes a point of forging links between searching and finding (chercher and trouver) via the turning which is central to his particular understanding of the researcher's task.

To find, to search for, to turn, to go around: yes, these are words indicating movement, but always circular. It is as though the sense of searching, or research lay in its necessary inflection in turning. (Blanchot, 1993, p. 27)

Research eternally returns to the point of re-turning, that is its movement, it searches for the turning point, the "reference point" that both allows research to measure its undiminishing distance from the centre while also referring and deferring it, turning it back to retrace its path, thereby endlessly postponing its arrival. Research, then, is always at the point of beginning, at the point where the search must begin again in the face of, and from within, the unknown.

Research…relates to the unknown as unknown. This relation discloses the unknown, but by an uncovering that leaves it under cover; through this relation there is the "presence" of the unknown; in this "presence" the unknown is rendered present, but always as unknown. This relation must leave intact—untouched—what it conveys and not unveil what it discloses. This relation will not consist in an unveiling. The unknown will not be revealed, but indicated. (Blanchot, 1993, p. 300)

An Aesthetic Theory/Practice Model of Research

The hegemonic model of research and teaching practice is too firmly entrenched to be uprooted by the marginal figure of Blanchot speaking from outside of the university in a rhetorical mode that could never be persuasive within such a culture—there is too much at stake, too much to lose, and, more to the point, too much to consider. Having said that, the possibility, indeed, the necessity of considering alternative models of research does (uniquely, perhaps) exist within art education where the joint pressure of artistic desire and State-driven institutional demand has brought research to the fore as one answer to budgetary pressures, but also, more significantly, as a question—what, exactly, constitutes research within the context of art education? What is the relationship between word and image, between speaking, writing, making and seeing?

However, in spite of the extraordinary opportunity that has opened before it, art education is struggling to arrive at, articulate and agree upon, alternative modes of research that would, in different ways no doubt, genuinely satisfy both artistic desire and institutional demand. Although the dubious ideal of integrating theory and practice has (thankfully) largely fallen by the wayside, the recognition of an interdependence is now increasingly thought of in terms of dialogics and/or intertextuality with terms such as "mapping," "framing," "embodiment" and "enactment" being pushed to the fore (Danto, 1997; Hanrahan, 1998; Parsons, 1999). But this demand for an increasingly communicative community has, to date, proved itself to be overly concerned with the relationship between theory and practice rather than the particularity of speaking, writing, and seeing, leaving, as a consequence, this particularity untransformed. This, in turn, seriously undermines the effort to transform research itself.

The relationship between theory and practice, in becoming itself the subject of theorisation and artistic realisation, promises a new space where both theory and practice are, in their given incarnations, absent; where the work of both is suspended or interrupted by the neither/nor of an affirmation outside of binarity or dialectics. Instead, the response to this either/or—theory or practice—has been a both/and, a mode of "critical art practice" that thrives on the non-integrable, but nevertheless productive conjunction of words and things, facilitating a heightened state of self-knowledge emerging out of an aesthetic process of self-analysis, auto-critique, reflexive hermeneutical contextualisation and, ultimately, self-legitimation. In this way, the relational space between theory and practice becomes the site of an immanent process of "recognition" (Hegel, 1975, p. 31), which, in spite of the apparent turmoil, leaves both theory and practice, in their particularity, (to repeat) essentially untransformed. This might help explain the depressing familiarity of those unreconstructed theoretical "positions" which, not for the first time, are being marshalled to obscure the real obscurity of theory and practice which, in actuality, does not only concern the distance between, but also the distance within speaking/writing, doing and seeing.


The emergence of practice-based doctoral research brings with it the difficulty of assessing a body of work that, in many cases, wilfully occupies an aesthetic realm that is historically, and hopefully still, resistant to the epistemological demands of science and the conceptual/theoretical demands of the humanities. The recognition of this problem is implicit in the Arts and Humanities Research Board’s definition of research which puts a clear emphasis on processes rather than outcomes (AHRB, 2000); processes that are then broken down into "research questions," "research context," and "research methods" all of which are, of course, interdependent. Research methods will be the main focus at this juncture

It is very significant that Blanchot introduces Descartes on the first page of the main text of The Infinite Conversation. As one of the “dissidents” (Blanchot, 1993, p. 7) situated outside of the university system, Descartes personifies, and his “method” exemplifies, the existential rigour promoted throughout Blanchot’s own research. Once recognised, this offers some considerable insight into Blanchot’s own method of proceeding. He writes:

As for Descartes, if the Discourse on Method…describes the very movement of a research that joins thought and existence in a fundamental experience: this being the search for a mode of progressing, that is, a method; this method being the bearing, the mode of holding oneself and of advancing of one who questions. (Blanchot, 1993, pp. 3-4)

If one considers Descartes’ four rules of method it is immediately evident that they are all operative in Blanchot’s own “mode of progressing," albeit rendered dysfunctional as regards absolute certainty. These rules can be paraphrased as follows:

  • Be patient and avoid precipitancy.
  • Divide any problem into as many parts as is feasible.
  • Always begin with the simplest objects that are known and "ascend" to the most complex.
  • Completly survey the above material and process to ensure that nothing is left out. (Descartes, 1970, p. 20)

These rules, when considered together, represent an extraordinarily effective means of delay. While they "straighten the path to knowledge and truth" for Descartes, it is only those "who walk very slowly" who make progress and not those who "run and go astray." (p. 7) Indeed, Descartes himself acknowledges that it is the "brief duration of [his] life" that militates against absolute knowledge rather than any ontological barrier. That is to say, it is patience and method—a patient method—that, paradoxically, offers the only possibility of attaining truth, while being, at the same time, responsible for the infinite prolongation of the research process and the retreat or recoiling of truth into the distance that such patience allows to remain uncharted. Blanchot does not suffer this predicament; he accepts and, indeed, promotes it as the proper condition of research.

The concatenation of patience, fragmentation (division), simplification and surveyance, evident in both Descartes and Blanchot is understood by them as a method and not a methodology. As Blanchot rightly perceives, and admires, Descartes' method productively "joins thought and existence in a fundamental experience," that is to say, it both reflects and indicates the "progress" of an individual life rather than a universal predicament able to be interrogated by a science of method—a methodology. Descartes writes:

I shall be delighted to show in this Discourse what paths I have followed, and to represent my life as it were in a picture; in order that everybody may be able to judge of my methods for himself…

My design, then, is not to teach here the method everybody ought to follow in order to direct his reason rightly, but only to show how I tried to direct my own…. I offer this work only as a history, or, if you like, a fable, in which there may perhaps be found, besides some examples that may be imitated, many others that it will be well not to follow. (pp. 8-9, my emphases)

The situating of research within the particularity of a life, promoted vigorously by Sandra Harding in recent years (Harding, 1991) does, in fact, recall Kant's insistence, in the third Critique, that all aesthetic judgements, being "singular" (although demanding "universality"), cannot be taught as a methodology but only exemplified as a "manner" which provides self-legislated rules for others to imitate in their own self-legislation (Kant, 1973, para. 49). And, indeed, the manner in which Blanchot himself proceeds exemplifies this particular grasp of method, promoting, or embodying, as it does, an engagement which is not committed to any one recognisable theoretical (and, by default, methodological) position—phenomenology, structuralism, hermeneutics…etc, but is rather, in the most rigorous sense of the term, improvised around an experientially-rooted set of themes that are intensified over time through a combination of affirmation, concentration and repetition. This, in turn, leads to a mode of research that is radically unmethodological while, at the same time, being almost obsessively methodical, not only from work to work, but from moment to moment—the scrutiny of the instant necessary for such improvisation. Witnessed here, then, is the articulation, and configuration, of a fragmentary and pluralistic thought that restlessly moves through or along theoretical perspectives in search of an order to be provisionally affirmed (or not) rather than a truth to be confirmed.

Plural Pluralism

It should be remembered, however (returning to the crucial point), that the particular agility of the method advocated and adhered to by Blanchot, while clearly not concerned with the testing or application of particular theories, is, nevertheless, committed to the transformation of theoretical speculation in response to the radically different demand made by the artwork that both absents itself from such speculation as well as from itself as a "worklessness" that resists the all-too-familiar modes of analysis, interpretation and decoding. Within this context, theory cannot explain or "read" the worklessness of the artwork but, at the same time, it is indispensable as the method by which, intellectually or speculatively, the "distance" of the artwork is able to be marked and maintained. To do so, however, requires a lightness of touch that does not cling to any one particular theoretical perspective but is able to cast it adrift the moment it begins, inevitably, to impose its centre on the absence at the heart of the artwork. Consequently, the act of repeatedly shedding one's theoretical skin in the very name of theoretical speculation—and not anti-theory—produces an intellectual pluralism that, it should be emphasised, has nothing to do with relativity but, rather, remains committed to the absolute truth of the work that is, however, absent.

Pluralism here has a double nature signifying both horizontal, diachronic difference—understood as "wandering" or "nomadism"—and a vertical, synchronic difference understood, following Andrew Benjamin, as the plurality of the event.

It therefore follows that two distinct modes of being are in play and thus the difference in question is neither difference as variety nor even difference as diversity but difference as differential. What this involves is a singularity, an event, which is itself the site of two different and irreducible determinations; a present plurality. (Benjamin, 1993, p. 108)

In the same vein, Blanchot speaks of "two kinds of pluralism," the first wedded to the multiple and the experience of multiplicity, the second, a "strange pluralism … neither of plurality nor of unity …."(Blanchot, 1993, p. 155) This, one suspects, is the pluralism of the "image" for Blanchot, the "fascinating" median point between multiplicity and unity, where, in the present case, the imaginary dimension of theory—its rhetorical power—holds in suspension truth and falsity, knowledge and ignorance, presence and absence. An analogue of the artwork's self-differentiation, this is the way in which theory needs to be transformed if it is to make a productive contribution to practice-based fine art research projects, that is to say, it needs to suffer in the body of its own certitude, the effacement and erasure that accompany the fragmentary force of affirmation—the plural event of self-differentiation that theorisation itself enacts.

Research Outcomes

What, then, comes out of research as understood by Blanchot? What is disclosed, revealed or achieved, if anything? What finality of form could such an endlessly deferring mode of engagement take? One answer, of course, is Blanchot's own work, a work where the very concept of outcome seems particularly inappropriate, the academic embodiment of an impatience radically at odds with the sometimes infuriating delay of his writing and reading which seems at times to spin eternally within a sameness that is opened, in his sense spatially, by the peculiar neutrality of this incessant speaking. And it is undoubtedly true that the fascination with Blanchot's writing has much to do with its imaginary core that mediates between ignorance and knowledge without allowing such mediation to degenerate into commentary and/or critique. Indeed, the stated desire to render knowledge "impracticable" helps explain, perhaps, why Blanchot's work is so compelling and yet, at the same time, so unmemorable, and, consequently, so difficult to teach! Be that as it may, some final remarks will attempt to separate Blanchot's model of research from the body of his own work and imagine a situation within a fine art educational context where a transformation of theory and practice might be embarked upon.

An Other model of research, if it is to drive the formation of a research culture that is able to offer a credible alternative to research as we currently know it must, once and for all, face up to and accept the "madness" of art, its affirmative irresponsibility, its mute inscrutability, its obsessive exactitude, its productive ignorance and its rhetorical power; the very things, in fact, that have been under consideration here (and under suspicion since Plato). Yes, it is possible to analyse the waywardness of art, to contextualise it, to decode and debunk, indeed, to romanticise or mystify it, but none of these strategies, whether or not they form part of a research project, allow the aesthetic to in-form (or deform) research itself. To do so, might produce something Other, something like the following.


Returning now to the Enactment of Thinking conference with which this paper began, mention should be made of one presentation that was rather different than the others. Elizabeth Price, an artist/researcher (?), having successfully completed a practice-based Ph.D at the University of Leeds, United Kingdom, introduced and discussed her research project that, in essence, consisted of rolling packing tape into a ball—Boulder—and producing a "descriptive text"—Sidekick—which, with an increasingly insane exactitude worthy of Kafka or Beckett, annotated the "incremental progression" of this activity.

As the sphere became larger and its surface area increased, the process became slower because the tape had a gradually decreasing relative impact. Each roll added to the sphere, lessened the value of the next, and after a while the addition of a roll was impossible to detect. (Price, 2002)

Noteworthy here was not only the complete absence of pre-given, unreconstructed theoretical discourses engaged in their familiar analytical, textual, critical, contextual tasks, but also the compelling presence of a method that, in eschewing the methodological, enacted (to return to Blanchot on Descartes) "the very movement of a research that joins thought and existence in a fundamental experience: this being the search for a mode of progressing". It is noteworthy, and hopefully a sign for the future that this work was accepted as a Ph.D submission and, quite rightly, achieved success. Blanchot, no doubt, would approve. Here, at least, is one beginning.

A Concluding Beginning

More than anything else, Maurice Blanchot is concerned to endlessly return to this beginning as the still point in the infinite cycle of erring and error that he calls research. As a “means without ends” (Kant) and a “purposiveness without purpose” (Kant) research, in its incessant return, does, in Blanchot’s hands, pass through and carry with it something resembling a radicalised Kantian aesthetic where the development of judgement is liberated from the claims of knowledge and understanding (driving science and the humanities respectively) and located instead in the singularity and solitude of a life “searching for a mode of progressing.” This “fundamental experience,” so attracted to the promises of research in its familiar teleological guise, here grounds, against it own desire, a resistance to the allure of knowledge, albeit one that is peculiar (or perverse!) in its retention of a concept of research, no matter how unfamiliar. One might, in conclusion, call this an “aesthetic model” of research or (using Walter Benjamin’s vocabulary) the “aestheticization” of research; there are many reasons for doing so, below is just one, offered as another beginning.

This essay describes a mode of research that does not speak of, but speaks from the rigors of aesthetic practice. That is, it speaks from a mode of working that is fascinated by the “absence” of work in the work—its “worklessness.” This fundamental experience, well known to the artist, diverts research away from the dialectical (and polemical) field of objectivity and subjectivity into a different marginality than the one described by Sandra Harding in her own influential polemic against scientific research methods, one which still remains located very much within the very same hegemonic structure of objectivity (Hirsch & Olsen, 1995). With Blanchot, research is marginal because it traces an edge that is neither subjective nor objective; it is, rather, neutral. The “cold mastery” of the artist/researcher is, for Blanchot, devoid of subjectivism, objectivism and the different authority that is claimed by each. It is, instead, a mastery of fragmentation and interruption where each instant is affirmed in the absence of, and as a resistance to, the goals of knowledge or understanding and their compelling allure.

The aestheticization of research, as presented here, is not intended as a critique of research as we know it; it is, in fact, not even capable (or interested in) establishing a dialogical relationship with it—it is Other, as art is Other in its uselessness and madness, and none the worse for it. The “cold mastery” of the artist does not speak of knowledge, it denies it.

The master represents a region of space and time that is absolutely other….

The master is destined…not to smooth out the field of relations but to upset it, not to facilitate the paths of knowledge, but above all to render them not only more difficult, but truly impracticable. (Blanchot, 1982, pp. 5-6)


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About the Author

Dr. Gary Peters
University of the West of England
Bower Ashton Campus
Kennel Lodge Road
Bristol BS3 2JT

Tel: (direct line) 00 44 117 344 4706

Gary Peters lectures in aesthetics and visual culture at the University of the West of England, and has written widely on aesthetics and pedagogy. For many years a composer and musician working in the field of avant-garde music and jazz, he entered teaching via the Royal College of Art in London where he received his Ph.D. in the Cultural History Dept. His research interests range from romantic irony to death and dying in philosophy. He is currently working on a book entitled, Irony and Singularity: Aesthetic Education from Kant to Levinas. This will be published by Ashgate in 2004.

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