Sunday, June 14, 2009

Life as Art

Michel Foucault offers the following definition of the "aesthetics of existence": "Those intentional and voluntary actions by which men not only set themselves rules of conduct, but also seek to transform themselves, to change themselves in their singular being, and to make their life into an oeuvre that carries certain aesthetic values and meets certain stylistic criteria." Practice of life as an artistic endeavor is a very engaging concept. Every day in our lives consists of a multitude of little mundane actions and events. Turning them into tiny pieces of art, probably indiscernible to any one other than yourself, but nonetheless beautiful, is a great idea.

In her novel Temblor, Rosa Montero proposes the vision of life as a cruel interplay of blind unpredictable forces of pure chance. This Spanish writer is, of course, far from being the only thinker terrified by the seeming lack of control we as human beings have over our universe. Why else would Taleb's The Black Swan sell as well as it does even years after its original publication?

Foucault's idea of life as an oeuvre where we can choose the artistic style of our creation is one way to combat the feeling of impotence one might experience in view of life's apparent unpredictability.


Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: The Use of Pleasure.

Montero, Rosa. Temblor.

Taleb, Nassim. The Black Swan.


Anonymous said...

Foucault's concept of an "aesthetics of existence" is appealing, but it has so little emancipatory potential.

Clarissa said...

I think it has the potential to liberate us from a) drowning in triviality and b) fear of existence.

Of course, it can only be practiced as a complimentary system. Using it as the organizing principle of one's life wouldd be way too decadent even for my tastes. :-)

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I wonder what Foucault would have said had he knew about reality shows. Life becomes "art" in a reality show, with a medium and a public, with the triviality and all.

Clarissa said...

No, reality shows are not the same, I think. The participant is not the author of the production. The producers, the editors manipulate the story, while the participants don't have power over it.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, but the participants are so conscious of being constantly filmed, so they also have some form of agency in the production of their life as art.

I was writing this comment because I thought it was fun (though obvious) to connect Foucault's well-known ideas about observation and power with life as an aesthetic experience.

Clarissa said...

You are right in that for people who take part in these shows it's probably the only way to escape into a make-believe world. So, in that sense, it's definitely an empowering thing.

This is what cultural studies should analyze instead of the boring stuff they do currently.