The Time Age
The Space Age came and went, and almost no one noticed its passing.
Since Sputnik, it was assumed that we had entered a new era called “the Space Age”. But the Space Age actually began with the perspective artists and their disclosure of the third dimension, with the Copernican Revolution, and the Age of Discovery.
Sputnik did not signal the beginning of the Space Age, but the end of it. We are now in the Time Age — the irruption of time into space with the attendant disintegration and liquifaction of space. That is the meaning of Einstein and Picasso. To persist in calling this “the Space Age” is a mistake, due to the inertia of the old consciousness.
I was reading an article on the Russian artist Kazimir Malevich (1879 – 1935) in The Guardian this evening. I had never heard of the man before now or of his apparently famous painting Black Square. There seems, at first view, nothing the least impressive or revolutionary about it. Jean Gebser mentions nothing about Malevich or his famous painting. So, why was it thought to be revolutionary and even as “the liberation of art”?
Malevich called his style of composition “Suprematism”. Another article on Malevich by The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones mentions that Black Square brought art to the state of “absolute zero”, which is exactly what it seems. Malevich associated his symbol of the black square with “the funeral of the sun”, so it is, in other words, a deliberate work of total nihilism, the artistic equivalent of Nietzsche’s “stare into the abyss”. Bizarrely, Malevich attracted a cult-like following in Russia and Europe owing almost solely to the impact of this one painting, which seems almost an anti-art.
No doubt, this return to “absolute zero” in the rejection of all hitherto accepted artistic conventions is what gives the painting its “revolutionary” appeal — the return to a kind of ground zero or “tabula rasa” of infinite possibility. Therein lies its emancipatory theme. The liberation of art lies in the destruction of all accepted artistic conventions. It’s a piece of anti-history like much other futurist art. The Black Square is a painting of the Void, the Abyss. But of the Void and the Abyss as pregnant with unrealised promise and possibility. The old order is destroyed. The new, however, awaits its evocation “in the silence of the beginnings of time”, as Rosenstock-Huessy once put it. That’s the mood that Black Square seeks to convey in the midst of World War and on the eve of the Russian Revolution.
The Black Square is this visible emblem of “the silence of the beginning of time”.
But as I mused on that, it also occurred to me that what has really been annihilated here is the horizontal plane in which traditional and conventional art has typically been conceived, presented, and viewed. In the horizontal plane, you are on the same level as the art object. All art throughout history has been conceived within the horizontal or lateral plane.
This new art dispenses with the horizontal plane, and in that sense it is anti-historical. You are actually looking at the art object from the vertical plane, sub specie aeternitatis rather than from a “point-of-view”. This vertical view sub specie aeternitatis is what John David Ebert noted also as the peculiar style of the American artist Jackson Pollock, who painted as if he were looking down on the earth (that he painted like “Sputnik” is even mentioned in the video clip).
(It might also be noted that it is not Mark Rothko nor Jackson Pollock “who wipes the slate clean”, in effect, as John David Ebert states. It is apparently Kazimir Malevich who is apparently the first to wipe the slate clean with his Black Square).
Now, this is interesting because of some incidental statements about Kazimir Malevich’s early life — that he was obsessed with birds and later with aeroplane flying, so that his “suprematist compositions” have been compared to looking down upon the earth or at aeroplanes in flight,
“Later, in some of his suprematist compositions, the abstract shapes were so arranged as to evoke light aeroplanes, seen from above, twisting and turning in white space.” (Frances Spalding, The Guardian)
It should be noted that this is not an attempt to adopt a new “point-of-view”, which would locate perception once again in some space, but to transcend and overcome space and the limitations of the point-of-view in a kind of “all-at-onceness” of perception that is truly “universal” or “sub specie aeternitatis“. The vertical dimension and orientation is not so much about space, but time.
And time, as Jean Gebser and Rosenstock-Huessy have insisted, is the theme of “the new mutation” or metanoia.
It is quite interesting to speculate on what relation there might be between Malevich and Sputnik. In any case, Russia appears to have incubated what is now called “the overview effect“. (There is even a fascinating brief film documentary — about 20 minutes — on the overview effect that you can view here). But it’s important to note that one of the profound experiences reported by those who experience this “overview effect” is seeing simultaneously the sunrise and the sunset from space. This simultaneity of times is the one of the effects produced by Picasso’s art, as discussed by Jean Gebser in his Ever-Present Origin.
The overview effect is less about space than it is about time. To see sunrise and sunset simultaneously is magical, in the sense that it is a coincidentia oppositorum of time past and time future. The liquefaction of spaces is what is most impressive about the experience, as the Wikipedia article notes,
From space, astronauts claim, national boundaries vanish, the conflicts that divide people become less important, and the need to create a planetary society with the united will to protect this “pale blue dot” becomes both obvious and imperative.
This “overview effect” coincides with the view sub specie aeternitatis, and may be said to be the same as Gebser’s “aperspectival” mode of perception. This “overview effect” has the same significance for the emerging “Time Age” as Petrarch’s ascent of Mount Ventoux had for the Renaissance and the Age of Space.
It really is about time.