Gareth Polmeer (Royal College of Art)
‘Impermanence and the Image of Trees: Hegel, Dialectic and the Experience of Nature’
Chair: Dr Martin Brady
In the preface to the 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit Hegel uses the image of a growing plant to illustrate ‘the whole’ in which the positive and negative form dialectical, reciprocal ‘moments of an organic unity’. This image encapsulates the ‘immanent movement’ of Hegel’s speculative philosophy, and is reflected in the discussion of the ‘inner necessity’ of the work of art in his aesthetics. Throughout the preface to the Phenomenology Hegel speaks of ‘transition’, ‘rhythm’, ‘sequence’ and ‘process’. He elsewhere alludes to the image of trees, and what he terms the ‘movement of the Concept’ is associated with the formation of a plant. It is in this image, furthermore that one of Hegel's central ideas, 'sublation' (preservation/negation or the unity of opposites) can be seen to be active.
Connecting Hegel's terms for logical sequence to the dialectical structure of the work of art, I discuss a selection of Austrian and German experimental films of trees, relating their formal techniques, systematic development and use of scores to themes of image, music, nature and time in Hegel’s philosophy. I focus on what Hegel terms the ‘organic shape' of reason and the historical connections of tree metaphors, discussing the contemporary import of Hegel’s speculative philosophy to questions of ‘second nature’ and film aesthetics in twentieth century German thought. I outline ways that Hegel's philosophy offers critical contemporary perspectives for theory and the aesthetic, the related distinctions between the understanding and reason, and of how the image ‘points beyond itself’ in the transience of time.
Part of the Research Seminars series 2015-16 in the Department of German.