Self-Knowledge in Late Modernity: Hegel, Culture and Contemporary Art Open Access

Harris, Michael David (2013)

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This thesis provides distinct understanding of the term "self-knowledge" in contemporary philosophy through utilizing a notion of gnothi seauton or "know thyself" as conceived by ancient Greeks. The twenty-first century features various ways of comprehending the self that, I assert, are theoretically dissatisfactory. Accounts of the self provided in neuroscience and psychoanalysis, for example, justifiably distrust Enlightenment ideas concerning the human subject, but in inappropriate ways. Therefore I analyze a canonical response to the Enlightenment's configuration of the self, Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. This text, in conjunction with the work of Ernst Cassirer and Georg Simmel, reveals self-knowledge to be the dialectic of praxis (activity) and theoria (contemplation) grounded in human desire. Only through communal recognition of material objects labored over and transformed by individuals can self-knowledge be realized. This means self-knowledge emanates from vibrant culture. Applying this conception of self-knowledge to the "late modern" period, however, provesdifficult. Siegfried Kracauer and theorists of the Frankfurt School persuasively argue that industrial and technological advancements in the twentieth century make self-expression and formation of particular communities implausible. In other words, the self is perpetually alienated from culture. I lastly turn to contemporary movements in visual art to verify if gnothi seauton is utterly loss in late modernity. The sculptures of Jeff Koons affirm the thesis of the Frankfurt School and art critic Clement Greenberg. Fortunately, the dynamic artworks of Thornton Dial suggest self-knowledge as grounded in culture is still viable in late modernity.

Table of Contents

Introduction 2

1. Late Modern Conceptions of Self 6

2. The Idealist Self of the German Enlightenment 13

I. Transcendental Idealism and its Context 14

II. Kant's Transcendental Self: A Circumscribed Cognition of Phenomena 15

III. Fichte's Spontaneous Self and Enlightenment Freedom 20 IV. Overcoming the Pure Self of Modernity 24

3. Self-Knowledge in Phenomenology of Spirit 27

I. The Preface: Vernunft and a New Self 29

II. The Cognitive and Dissatisfied Self of 'Consciousness' 32 III. "Self-Consciousness is Desire" 36

IV. The Master-Servant Dialectic: Uncovering the Labor of Self-Knowledge 41

4. The Basis of Culture and its Dilemma in Late Modernity 50

I. Culture's Definition and Position in Late Modernity 50

II. The Culture Driven Life: Cassirer on Self-Knowledge and Werke 55

III. Culture and Community:

Simmel on the Value of Cultural Expression by Self and Other 59

IV. The Isolated Self:

Kracauer and Dialectic of the Enlightenment on the Dilemma of Late Modern Culture 65

5. Avant Garde, Kitsch and Self-Knowledge through Art 70

I. Greenberg on the Challenge of Contemporary Art 70 II. Kitsch at its Best: The Attraction and Dissatisfaction of Jeff Koons' Artwork 74

III. Particularity, Freedom, and Knowledge in the Work of Thornton Dial 77

Bibliography 81

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