Theology of Prepositions by Stanisław Dróżdż
The world cannot be cognized if perceived as a detailed list of particular items. Even the most carefully prepared glossary including all the things possible to mistake is not able to indicate the ways towards the world because the world is not a set of ready-made objects but a constellation of relations. The object plays a great role in the world and for the world but the world exceeds the object. Before the object begins its existence, the relations outline the area where it may appear. The object always enters certain ‘over’ and ‘under’, certain ‘close’ and ‘far away’, certain ‘here’ and ‘there’. The preposition, adverb and pronoun precede the noun. That is a philosophical grammar of the works by Stanisław Dróżdż.
Wittgenstein points out that the students of Physics are better prepared to discuss philosophical questions than the students of Mathematics. It results from the fact that Physics is the domain of open ambiguity whereas Mathematics mires in ‘the conviction about its righteous tradition’. If it is like this, we can make three statements: (a) ‘open ambiguity’ of Physics is nothing more than the recognition of the ‘bond’ between the objects not existing in the ‘clear’ state as completely individual, independent beings, (b) the attitude which should be adopted while examining ‘open ambiguity’ is based on humility (the noun inclines naturally towards possession which is the basis for every pride) and (c) the explorers of pronouns outshine the explorers of nouns (while getting deeply into the relationships we cognize a lambent nature of the world).
Thereby the world becomes de-reificated. In the culture where the object defines the ambition of philosophers who likewise Husserl desire to come back to the thing and establishes the trajectory of social and economic life (years ago Locke proved that possession is the tower of our system’s strength) our retreat from the noun is of particular value. It reveals that the reality cannot be perceived only in the categories of res extensa because the object does not occur in a pure state. When it occurs something is next to it and it is impossible to invent an object without this bond. The object is always ‘bound’.
It is necessary then to consider this ‘bond’, which is of specific character being not only topographical but also ontological. If the object is always located spatially among the other objects it happens only because this bond refers not exclusively to space but also provides pre-requisites for the occurrence of the object: the object is ‘incomplete’ and it cannot exist without another object so the relation precedes it and heralds it. That is why, the network of relations provides the object with its appropriate character; only then does an item become a real object, the binding object likewise ‘a binding statement’ or ‘a binding agreement.’
Only ‘a binding object’ being also ‘a bound object’ can be presented in the light of our reality. It is like an enormous sea creature which is unavailable to us as long as concealed in the depths of the waters. However, this is that darkness which is the core of its existence and in order to see the silhouette of this creature, it is necessary to tie it with a rope. Herman Melville in his novel Moby Dick focused on describing the process of this binding being creative, uncovering as well as deadly in its nature. The object which has been ‘bound’ and taken to the surface loses its mystery, it is useful (the list of the ways in which the substances out of the whale’s body were applied in the 19th century is really long). The usefulness excludes every possible mystery but in order to make a given thing useful it should be retrieved from its state of being ‘bound’ and ‘bind’ it only to us and our human practical purposes and needs. The works by Dróżdż can be perceived as analysis and critics of this ‘binding’ the thing to the human. We can quote the words of Anna Grzegorczyk, who says that it is not about – as Morawski put it – ‘study which explains what art really is but it is about thinking through art about existence and its ecstatic pursuit from Welt, which is the human world, towards Erde which is the existence beyond us, the pursuit which will be never completely fulfilled’.
Nietzsche, in the 125th aphorism of Joyful Knowledge, presented us the meditation on ‘binding’ as the way of our existence. The death of God announced at the beginning of the short text opens a list of questions being in fact a dramatic appeal for considering ‘the state of being bound’ as an indispensable condition for existence. ‘Aren’t we constantly falling? Backwards, forwards and in all directions? Is there still any above and below?’ That is only a beginning of the interrogation finalized in the aphorism 129 which claims indispensability of ‘binding’. Even for God: ‘The God himself cannot exist without wise people’, as Luter stated and it was right…’ ‘Un-binding’ a human being from the world replaced by ‘binding’ constitutes dark heritage of anthropocentric humanism.
‘Binding’, which even God cannot do without, is the domain of prepositions. Therefore, it is necessary to start studies on ‘under’, ‘over’ and ‘on’, ‘before’ and ‘after’. Even in this very sentence we can observe how deeply and unnoticeably we got entangled in this ‘binding’: we start studies on ‘on’. The preposition pervades deeply into the nature of thinking. It is impossible to study without an immediate immersion in the relation: it is necessary to lean over ‘over’ as though before ‘over’ there was another ‘over’ but, in fact, again I used the preposition ‘before’. It is impossible to think beyond the preposition because it is the preposition which indicates the humility of thinking – we do not begin with the noun but we are approaching it, coming up to it. I am ‘before’ and ‘after’ myself..
This aforementioned noun will appear at the end of ‘approaching’ process but this term is more similar in its character to the uncertainty and meanders of the police investigation procedure rather than to epistemological certainty. This is an investigation without a final result, full of unexpected, surprising and misleading indirect proofs and traces. ‘Binding’ is the investigation into the object, whereas the object itself remains a kind of shade, hardly looming on the horizon of our thinking, it is hardly an indirect proof. We come to the object only in the sense of its investigation but not in the sense of its possessing or solving its riddle.
Therefore the object is not defined by a visible outline; it does not have an acute shape. It does not reach the status of the noun but is defined by the language of uncertainty. It is not the noun but hardly the question mark which occupies the center of the ‘binding.’ The pronoun is the first outline of the answer to the question. It is true that the relations are the world for the object which, at the same time, the object disappears in them losing its acuteness and decisiveness of its existence. When we look closer at this ‘binding’, what remains is only a sense of object. We are even not sure whether the words we are reading are a question, a response or only the accumulation of subsequent relations.
‘What is before “before”?’ Our reading will be underlain by uncertainty. Should we understand these three words as the outline of the principle that the object entangled in ‘binding’ is not subject to an informative mode but only to an interrogative one, even if there is no question mark at the end? Does it mean that what we are talking about is a question and omitting an appropriate punctuation mark underlines only that there is no other way of talking about the world? Or maybe we are approaching this problem from a different side: perhaps what we are facing is an anemic informative mode on the basis of which we can claim that our cognition allows us only to the state of enormous ambiguity which does not endows the objects with their identity but hardly with the supposition of this identity. It is not this or that object but hardly certain ‘something’ which will appear suddenly somewhere near, in a subsequent work, ‘something’ which could well be ‘nothing’.
Before ‘before’ there is only another ‘before’ likewise after ‘after’ we will only find another ‘after’. The object is only its own preview constituted by prepositions. Interestingly, even when the situation seems to enforce the appearance of a certain thing implied by the notations ‘what before after’ and ‘what after before’ (in fact before ‘after’ there must be something or otherwise ‘before’ would not be ‘before’ and ‘after’ would lost its sense), even then there occurs ‘nothing’. Dróżdż’s before’ and ‘after’ develop the concept of the well-known installation ‘in-between’ and likewise this famous project they refer to the idea of ‘binding’ the object which in spite of any temptation cannot be defined as the ‘fundamental’ one because the object which is bound does not have its own foundation but floats on the surfaces or falls down on the horizon of the existence. Simultaneously, however, these works make a step further ‘before’ and ‘after’ and intensify the ‘binding’ of the object which does not only rest ‘between’ but also runs ahead (before) or recedes (after). It does not belong only to ‘now’ but also to ‘yesterday’ (for instance before two days) and tomorrow (in two days’ time).
The object is then topographically unstable; although we want, we cannot fully define its position and no navigation system will help us to do so. If we want to register its existence we must do it on several levels: ‘this’ and ‘here’ seem to be precise but their existential predicate is not necessarily so exact. ’It is’ exists on another line, in another verse, on another existential level. The object runs ahead and recedes. It is somehow ‘here’ and somehow not ‘here’. In fact it only partly ‘is’, it pours out of its existence or does not fill its existence to full capacity. ‘It is in order to’ make us aware that it partly ‘does not exist.’ Thereby it exceeds its instrumental character: it exists ‘in order to’ indicate that it is not ‘in order to’ fulfill a particular function, that the sense of its structure does not exhaust itself in any purpose defined by a human being.
In a brief artist’s formula the object is not about ‘being’ but about ‘passing away’ and constituting over and over a new version of itself – it (is) ‘not’ this and ‘not’ that. We are never satisfied with an object because it is never satisfied with itself: it strives and struggles for something in the act of perseverare conatur defined by Spinoza (‘away’) but the purpose of these efforts recedes in time and space, the object ‘passes away’ not only due to the principle of omnipresent coming to existence referred to by Heraclitus but ‘passes by’ itself without managing to reach itself, overtaking itself or going backwards, running ‘ahead’ or lagging ‘behind’. ‘No’ which is further ahead (and in fact we cannot say that it is ‘in the end’) is not a negation but an affirmative statement about the way a given object exists: it is and it is not at the same time. It is/it is not. It is not ‘on’ or ‘on’ a given subject or ‘up’ or ‘up-to-date.’ Perhaps, it is only ‘for’ a while: ‘in’ the beginning and ‘in’ the end.
That is why such concepts as ‘the beginning’ and ‘the ending’ are on the one hand almighty but on the other hand – powerless. They are almighty because if the object is inaccessible and if it remains ‘bound’, only its edge remains available to us and this ‘edge’ is simultaneously ‘the beginning’ and ‘the ending’. They are also powerless because in the way of thinking adopted by us they are a strong form of the object’s presence: ‘the beginning’ is a promise, its first entrance, initiation of its appearance, whereas ‘the ending’ is its crowning, final completion and confirmation, whereas the works by Dróżdż are based on the investigation of a continuously escaping object which does not have any ‘beginning’ or ‘ending’.
‘In the beginning’ there is a word. However, basically the entire reasoning of Dróżdż leads to the conclusion that the word which is ‘in the beginning’ feels somehow uncomfortable in this role and refers to itself with a distance. Firstly, it occurs because it knows that being an object and a sign it is already a ‘bound’ object and in this entanglement of circumstances it is really difficult to find ‘a beginning’. The notation ‘the word itself’ is always insidious; it does tell the untruth. In the world created by Dróżdż, the loneliness is only apparent, it is a loneliness in the net. Secondly, the object may come to existence only as a certain phantom, a distant and unclear outline which means that it finishes as early as in the very beginning. Therefore ‘in the beginning’ it is ‘beyond’ the beginning, although a more profound analysis will reveal that in the world of ‘bound’ object there is no ‘beyond’ because everything remains within a bond. There is only what is beyond ‘beyond’. This is the theology outlined in the thesis developed by Nietzsche who claims that God needs a human being. The supreme form of existence is not anymore a pure spirit existing beyond the world or a spiritualization of the certainty which resolves every problem. In the theology of prepositions proposed to us by Stanisław Dróżdż God released from the state of being ‘bound’ to the almighty and spiritless certainty becomes an embodied proof of the state of being ‘bound’. It is not ‘beyond’, it is ‘before’ and ‘after’, ‘on’ and ‘under’.
Although – as it has been already claimed – the object in the works by Dróżdż ‘passes away’ and in spite of this entire dynamics cumulated in these verbs, there is no chaos or noise which – as it was accurately commented by Schelling – ‘takes its satisfaction from unusual poses and acts, in a bold fire, in a rapid, superficial and extreme opposites’. Conversely, the structures we can see in these works are pervaded by the calmness and peacefulness resulting from the fact that the artist does not want to build his world on the basis of opposites. Obviously, the opposites occur (such as ‘before’ and ‘after’) in his texts but they are not dialectical in their character and they do not bring any tension to the entire composition. Any attempts of interpreting these works on the basis of the opposites will be only superficial. The reality which the artist introduced us into is not based on the perfectionism of a given principle (e.g. on the conviction that the world is the result of a continuous conflict) but, conversely, on the imperfection of everyday occurrences of the objects. There is no special ‘principle’ because the reality is richer than all the arche which could be here only convenient simplifications. What remain is s here is the conviction presented by Greimas who claimed that any attempts to order the daily life are pointless in the context of our existence based on continuous searching for what is unexpected and what escapes our perception. Nevertheless, as it was stated in Greimas’s writings ‘the imperfection occurs only as a stepping-stone which throws us from the meaninglessness towards the sense’.
I refer to the following works:
L. Wittgenstein, The Movement of Thought. The Diaries 1930-1932, 1936-1937, translated by S. Reszke. Publishing House Spacja: Warsaw 2002.
Anna Grzegorczyk, ‘Afterword’ to Algirdas Greimas On Imperfection, translated by A. Grzegorczyk. Polish Scientific Publishers UAM: Poznań 1993.
F. Nietzsche, The Gay Science, translated by L. Staff. Mortkowicz: Warsaw 1910.
F. Schelling, The Philosophy of Art, translated by K. Krzemieniowa. Polish Scientific Publishers PWN: Warsaw 1983
©2007 Tadeusz Sławek
This text was published in: Stanisław Dróżdż, The Language Is a Game [exhibition catalogue], Muzalewska Gallery, Poznan, 2007.