Grids, writes art historian Rosalind Krauss, are ubiquitous in modern art. In them, a strictness of form and a sense of order reigns. Where grids lock down the pictorial surface–as is the case with painters like Jasper Johns, Piet Mondrian, Agnes Martin, or Robert Ryman–the world of representation is shut out. The visuality is utterly fortified, and abstains from both narrative and discourse. The consequence of this is not perforce an opposition between modern art and literature. To be sure, prose (from the Latin prorsus) has prescribed itself rectilinearity. Yet poetry, with its verse, is no stranger to inflection, and rhetoric, again, has devised its own techniques for resolving the tight cohesion of words to things. Lecture and seminar discuss examples of such syntax, guided by one key figure, which can be considered the analog of the grid in literature: to wit, the ornament.
Under the direction of the German philosopher Christoph Menke and in collaboration with Chus Martínez, the seminar What is Thinking? Or a Taste that Hates Itself is a series of twelve two-part sessions focusing on the relationship between art and philosophy, between thinking and perceiving. It is an attempt to address the questions and the methods of philosophy for those who are curious but not necessarily close to the field. Each session is divided into a public lecture every Monday evening in the Ständehaus, followed by a more intimate discussion seminar on Tuesday mornings in the Zwehrenturm of the Fridericianum.
In September 1959, the philosopher Theodor Adorno gave a lecture on the occasion of documenta 2. A few days earlier, he had mentioned in a letter to Max Horkheimer his interest in visiting the exhibition, in seeing what culture—art—could do after the greatest collapse that the country and the world had ever experienced. This lecture, "The Idea of New Music” (Die Idee der neuen Musik), is of key significance to dOCUMENTA (13). It is read and commented upon by Albrecht Wellmer at the opening of the exhibition and by Carla Harryman at the end, as the inspiration and source for a reflection on the importance of deeds, like art, and thoughts, like philosophy, that are less driven by aims and results, than guided by values.
The What is Thinking? seminar is a rigorous meditation on language, on meaning, on the limits and possibilities of skepticism, on imagination as the ground for social democracy, and on art and experience. It aims to contribute to an understanding of the importance of an art exhibition with the history and tradition of documenta, as a crucial space for the community to respond to questions of ethical and aesthetic significance.
Ethel Matala de Mazza is the Professor for New German Literature at Humboldt-Universität Berlin. Her research interests are literary history of the 17th to 20 century literary theory and history of the political imaginary, interactions between law and literature and cultural theory and anthropology. She has been preparing a book titled Poetik des Kleinen. Verhandlungen der Moderne zwischen Operette und Feuilleton.