«That which has disappeared ‹returns› »: On the Mediality of Grief. Josef Vojvodík

The terms «disappearing» and «returning» appear in Husserl’s work mainly in connection with his theory of image consciousness and memory. According to Husserl, images can function as «memory motors» that are capa­ble of resurrecting the «dead figures» from a «retentional grave». Viewed from this perspective, the image (art per se) is characterized by an unsettling ambivalence, by a peculiar proximity to both life and death. Visual works of art which present images of death already anticipate death and disappearance (of the Other) in order to – paradoxically – save from extinction, as it were, that which has mortified or disappeared. The Husserl student Wilhelm Szilasi defined the philosopher’s (and the artist’s) essential condition as that of melancholy in his book Macht und Ohnmacht des Geistes (Power and Powerlessness of the Mind) (1946). For the artist- melancholic, the image represents not only the exposed medium of reflection on death, but also the space in which he encounters death. The artist, writes Husserl in his letter to Hugo von Hofmannsthal (dated 12.1.1907), relates to the world «in a manner similar to the pheonomenologist»; he is «indifferent» to its existence. In this aesthetic and/or phenomenological reduction, both are aiming to «discharge the ground of the world of life.» What remains, then, «of my human existence?» asks Husserl. The starting point for my reflections on this subject are the «cubo-expressionist» painting The Hanged Man (1915) by the Czech painter Bohumil Kubišta, and the final lecture series by the Viennese art historian Max Dvořák on the Geschichte der italienischen Kunst im Zeitalter der Renaissance (History of Italian Art in the Renaissance Period) (1918).

BIO/BIB – Josef Vojvodík is a professor at the Institute for Czech Literature and Literary Studies in the Philosophy Faculty of the Charles University in Prague. He studied Comparative Literature, Slavic Studies, and Art History in Saarbrücken, and was awarded his doctorate at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich for his dissertation on Czech symbolism (Symbolismus im Spannungsfeld zwischen ästhetischer und eschatologischer Existenz: Motivische Semantik im lyrischen Werk von Otokar Březina [Symbolism in the Tension between Aesthetic and Eschatological Existence: Motivic Semantics in the Lyrical Work of Otokar Březina], Munich: Sagner Verlag 1998). In 2002 he returned to the Czech Republic and worked on his book Imagines corporis. Tělo v české moderně a avantgardě (Imagines corporis. The Body in Czech Modernism and Avant-Garde), which was publi- shed in 2006. Vojvodík’s other publications include Povrch, skrytost, ambivalence. Manýrismus, baroko a (česká) avantgarda (Surface, Concealment, Ambivalence. Mannerism, Baroque and the [Czech] Avant-Garde), Prague: Argo 2008, and the diction­ary of the Czech avant-garde – Heslář české avantgardy. Estetické koncepty a proměny uměleckých postupů v letech 1908-1958 – which he published in collaboration with Jan Wiendl in 2011.