The article deals with the question of the possibility of a new interpretation of Picasso’s picture entitled Crucifixion, which was created in the context of the art paradigm shift in the 1930s when the master focused his attention on the return to painting as a reference framework of myth and religion. But this return was only a turning point towards a modern understanding of the world and art from other sources. It should be noted that the problem of pictorial turn nowadays has a strong impact on postmodern theology, which encompasses various cultural traditions, and also quite opposite philosophical attitudes. The article shows, thus, the inner relationship and connection between painting art and the search for transgression in the language that was the idea of Bataille. In the first part of this article, the author tries to show the consequences of Bataille’s thinking of transgression; the second part has attempted to articulate the problems of interpretation of Picasso’s canvas Crucifixion, and the concluding remarks is an attempt to review the emphasis on the relationship with pictorial turn and transformations in the notion of contemporary art concerning the body as a sovereign event of the freedom and sacrifice.
Keywords: apocalypse, body transgression, Picasso, Bataille, crucifixion, pictorial turn
Can we imagine any other world without a picture? German art historian and theorist of the iconic turn Hans Belting has declared Pablo Picasso as an absolute artist. In this statement, he reveals something truly uncanny. First of all, it is a painter who in his entire works constantly transgresses the boundaries of styles and movements. No doubt, Picasso pushes the boundaries between the concept of classical paintings and those belonging to the modern art. The absolute artist cannot, therefore, be the same as the total artist. Why? The reason can be certain in that whereby the difference emerges from the concept of absolute which cannot be reduced to the synthesis of the separated fields. Anyway, we can argue almost the same in an attempt to understand the avant-garde conception of total artwork in the synthesis of all the senses, media, and form. Picasso in his painting has overturned the whole metaphysical history of the image, and from there changed his attitude towards the world. Without that matter, the picture doesn’t exist as such. Moreover, there is no fixed meaning (Belting, 2001). The creative-destructive treatment that Picasso has changed in own direction, it can be signified the attempt to abandon all that blind spots of the new cult intensely present in the modern immanence of the life of art. Thereby, he began decisively to develop quite a distinctive path of the emergence of the artwork from the inner ability of transformation the form and content which are inherent to the new worldview. Hence, the essence of the avant-garde idea simply goes into life “from above” or “from below”.
Aside from becoming the world’s aesthetic landscape of techno-scientifical forms of life, as Giorgio Agamben in the book entitled The Man Without Content describes the destiny of destroying art in aesthetics after modernism, Picasso is violently defending the unassailability of the world of life. Dionysian art, hence, is represented by the holly profanation of corporeality (Agamben, 1999). We can carefully detect the cracks in the project of the upcoming age of painting. Whatever, Picasso as the artist of the absolute, without the reduction in the content of modern worlds such as society, politics, and culture, has essentially shaped the idea of the picture overall. Therefore, it doesn’t deal with the referential painting that something might display and represent in the outside world. On the contrary, what emerges from the great foundation to experience of mythical-religious millennial thrust in the image of the world has entered in the modern space of creative experience.
The purity of this absoluteness doesn’t mean, however, that his art is beyond the subject and the language of metaphysics. In the next consideration, my intention will be to show that Picasso in the 1930s, with a picture that formally belonged to the “genre” of symbolic-representational painting, opened the problem of the reversal of the notion of the relationship between language and image, metaphysics of text and the everlasting trace of a pure body. The picture is, of course, very well known as La Crucifié (The Crucifixion). But, the problem of its interpretation lies in the question whether there could be still pictorial iconography by the Christian religion of salvation, if it don’t swiftly otherwise the fate that the means of classical art should be created and destroyed the uniqueness of the historical insight into the very history of the image as the sensitive display of ideas and divine beauty. It might be not, therefore, the illusion of return that depicts the premodern classical art which by the myth and religion is determined by the limits of its openness. Quite the reverse, when he strives to make the “quiet partnership” with a Georges Bataille, Picasso in the 1930s will open the question of the possibility of art as the radical path of transgression. The first transgression we can determine as rhetorical, and the second as visual (Paić, 2011b, pp. 429-471). However, the language and image transgressions require a turn to comprehend the life. Therefore, the experiment, the holy fire of chaos and the differences, is shaping the fundamental ideas of the a-theological path to the centre of life. In a drastically turn, which will reach out the culmination in Heidegger’s and Benjamin’s writings related to the understanding of the essence of art in modern times, there could be traced to the paths how Picasso paintings allow openness of the world which couldn’t be determined to start from the gap between the most devastating danger of modern era—the politicization of art and aestheticization of politics. Anyway, that might be the reason why this image formally belongs to the cycle of the mythical-religious turn in the neoclassical “style” to the purity of the form and the heterogeneity of content brought to the idea of absolute art. Of course, the image that precedes the time of the disappearance of the divine and human from the post human world determines dramatic and traumatic deconstruction of the relationship among holiness, sacrifice, and body. In the age of dehumanization, the picture like that becomes the last attempt to save the dignity of the art along the way. What enables such a decomposition of the world is represented by the absolute freedom of art. It should be also a fundamental axiom of the modern art. Without the idea of autonomy, it doesn’t have these possibilities of openness towards the art to come. But, the same we can say to image and idea of the human as the creator and a producer of art contents. Mainly, that’s the reason why Picasso has taken the title of the paradigmatic painter of modernity in all visible manifestations, starting from abstraction to figuration, from the conceptual play to the body’s performance in the picture itself. Carl Einstein, an associate of Bataille’s magazine Documents in the same tone as Bataille and in the trace of Nietzsche and his thinking of self-affirmation of life as art, wrote explicitly that Picasso separates itself and from himself according to live in the condition of the permanent transformation.
The essence of that changing one can find in the graphics, copper etching and paintings that is marked the Picasso’s revival of the primordial in the mythical and the divine beyond the institutionalized big story connected and linked with Western history (of Christianity). Nietzsche’s definition of a myth as a performance of ecstatic life only destroying that rational brings the body to the experience of sublime. How does this happen and what are the implications to the notion of the body in modern times regarding Picasso’s transformations?
In the first part of this discussion, I’ll try to show the consequences of Bataille’s thinking of transgression; the second part goes to articulate the problems of interpretation of Picasso’s canvas Crucifixion; and concluding remarks is my attempt to review the emphasis on relationship with pictorial turn and transformations in the notion of contemporary art concerning the body as a sovereign event of the freedom and sacrifice.
The Transgression: Eye and Language
In the spring of 1930, the entire volume of extremely important magazine for the history of ideas of the 20th century, Documents of Georges Bataille, famous philosopher, anthropologist, writer, one of the most important thinkers of that matter which will be named by the late 1960s the deconstructive turn of Western metaphysics, was dedicated to Picasso’s work. No one before him had paid so much tribute. As Lisa Florman argued in the book Myth and Transformation: Picasso’s Classical Prints of the 1930s, and especially in the article “Picasso’s Art Mantique and Documents”, that was not just a delightful event performed for the greatest painter of modernism (Florman, 2000; Florman, 2007, pp. 1-14). It was to account to “dissident” of surrealism by Georges Bataille with Breton’s understanding of avant-garde art in the turn of the modern world. In this clash of appropriation, Picasso had an aura of the artist that enables multidimensionality of interpreting the problem of the relationship between rationality and unconscious, spiritual and corporeal. Instead, surrealist hypothesis articulated the attempt to overcome the duality of mind and body in imaginary as politics of the social revolution of the world; Bataille as well as Artaud, just in another way, opened the question of the radical ecstatic corporeality. On the other side to Hegel’s dialectic as a myth of modernity in which everything is prevalent to a higher degree in the absolute spirit, the alternatives exist in the quite another form, pleasure and joy of the creation. The concept of art, hence, was no longer immersed in running events and homogeneity of the modern age. On the contrary, it might include the ancient and upcoming event, but almost in the way of timelessness. Thus, the concept of the temporality of artwork should be very connecting to the philosophical speculation which is performed by Gilles Deleuze in his most distinctive book entitled Difference and Repetition (Deleuze, 1994). The time of standing in constant transformations has been derived from the immaterial life of someone’s life, while the ontological structure of time in its irreducible difference has the feature of repetition in the circle of the eternal creation of the new. Picasso says about that what follows: “There is no past or future in art. If the work cannot live forever in the present, there is no reason to exist at all”.
Bataille’s essay in the journal Documents with Piccaso’s “vision” strongly emphasized opposition to any reduction of its painting on rationality and ideological purity, as it is custom at construed regarding analytical cubism and its basic postulates in geometric forms and dehumanizing contents of human presence. After all, this opposition is not merely the grace of an atheistic thinker of corporeality in the divine dichotomies as a sacrifice and profane like the symbolic exchange of abstract goods in modern society. What Bataille really wants to do might be a reversal of the surrealist manner and the order in the attack on the fetish of reason. And, so, the growth of the entire Western metaphysics will start from the poisonous core of blasphemed corporeality. The homage to Picasso has been double-bind. On the one hand, it is as an artist of the turn of the language, and, secondly, as an exemplary case of evidence against Breton and his official version of surrealism. Understanding what will be certainly referred to the painting as “returning to classical masters” in Picasso during the 1930s indeed means to open the next question: How and why this painting so passionately dealt with leaving the cubist idea of “conceptual painting” in attempt to overturn myth and religion into a fervent radical engagement early in the field of signs beyond all existing meanings? We couldn’t grasp Picasso’s Guernica as the cut-off in relation to the cubism, as Girls of Avignon cannot be reduced to interpretation which would be familiar to Picasso’s self-understanding of the human degeneration by the Western perspective. The mask inherited from ancient African civilization in the 20th-century art becomes something pretty much more than the discovery of the Other. It determined the way of other and different traditions and its mission from the very beginning of the footsteps of European art history. The same should be the case taking the Artaud’s account which is performed in close connection with the idea of art in the West after his return from the spiritual journey to Mexico (Artaud, 2003; Paić, 2011a, pp. 273-313). What remains of art up to the ancient call of life would be sacred and sacrificing of the body to what surpasses the differences of spirit (logos, ratio) and matter (the body within the corpus).
However, it signified the pretext to something beyond this conceptual dispute with Picasso within the tradition of modernism. We can do it in the following way. The simultaneity and synesthesia of the spiritual experience of bodily perversity in what goes beyond the distinction of sacred and profane have already happened in the case of the image of Crucifixion, but in mystical contact between the thinker-writer and the painter, as they have been Bataille and Picasso. The effects were, therefore, strongly interlinked. But it already wasn’t Bataille’s idea of “solar economy” to directly trace of Nietzsche and interlinked with the sociology of Marcel Mauss. An exposition that develops the criticism of Breton’s surrealism and basically seeks to put his thoughts directly into the body of Picasso’s painting, unconcealed slides on the surface of something uncanny existing in the area of prohibition. The sovereignty of sacrifice, beyond the sunshine of the idea, occurs in the fissure of the “Real”. In the living body of ecstatic suffering, there is a true image (Bataille, 1930, p. 1973; Bataille, 1985, p. 57). Picasso depicts the greatest exaggeration in the 20th-century painting of iconography of Christianity as a legitimate canon of “the very thing”. Hence, it could be at the same time the greatest exaggeration of modernism that has even declared religion as a path of destruction of the history, but not the tradition incorporated in the avant-garde, rather of the abominable graveyard, but of the cause of its own liberation from the false gods of life. Analyzing the painting of Diego Velásquez, Ortega y Gasset wrote that modern autonomy of art has been born in the core of baroque in the demand for a pure image, only to comprehend for painters, as Mallarmé’s poetry is addressed only to poets, and Bohr’s quantum physics is merely devoted to the minority of the best-educated physicists (Gasset, 2002, pp. 376-377). The excess which is going on right here may be called ontological scandal. But the reason can be only as follows. The scandal didn’t exist in that the body appeared in the nakedness and empty of all spiritual determination in the works of modern art from Baudelaire to Artaud and other radical proclaimers of rebellion within the pale of metaphysics. The essence of art and the scandal as a basic aim of contemporary art since the beginning of avant-garde streamed in the late 19th century as the event transcending the boundaries of the prohibition of what is “sacred” regardless of the justification for its action in the history.
When the body in the astonishment of the sovereign right to pleasure undermines all the remnants of holiness, it only has been taken the form of new holiness. And since the sacred cannot only be preserved from itself in the existential purity of spirituality, it requires a double strategy of engagement. The first is what Sören Kierkegaard has radically carried out in the existential experience of freedom. He understood that the sacrifice of Isaac might not be only the madness of fundamentalist faith. On the contrary, it represents the power of surpassing the ethical law. With the transcendental act of faith, the ethics become the pure field of teleological suspension. The sacredness that is shifting to the existential experience of dealing with the sacrifice of the Other represents the experience of borderline situations. And it’s going on in the ethical decisions between two different things as either-or. The third doesn’t exist. Another way of dealing with holiness must be sacrificing one’s own life for quite a different purpose and in the honor of the irreducible otherness of the Other. Sure, it sounds very modern at all. Nobody wants to sacrifice sons and daughters to overthrow the thirst of bloodthirsty of Moloch’s historical advances. Rather, the existential project of managing its own life at the time of the dehumanization of the world as a technical machinery of survival extradited to the sacrifice of what is now taking over the secret powers of metaphysics. Of course, it could be a sovereign disposition of human’s own body, with its contingent and singular subjectivity. But, Bataille is moving through both solutions and the necessity to bring them to the ultimate limits of excess. The body as a sacrifice of the Other and the body as sacrificing itself for the aim of other and different history are just two faces of the same coin. Either-or in the semiotics of holiness and sacrifice signify two necessary logic of understanding the Being. One cannot avoid acting by suspending its power by proclaiming the ruling of the other power. We must confirm that something lies beyond the metaphysical madness of history. Bataille has found that thought in the core of Nietzsche’s reflections. In the 20th century, he gave it probably the most radical space for active fulfilment. That has become, for Bataille, the keynote idea of living as an artistic event of sovereign pleasure and suffering. No doubt, the thought of transgression has its junctions in the network of life (Bataille, 1992; Jenks, 2003, pp. 1-14).
The event, therefore, is acting as an excessive case of internal and external deconstruction of the entire metaphysics in all aspects and manifestations. What makes Bataille in mind and in the text might be the same thing that Picasso tried to accomplish in the 1930s. The two are here and there just as the medium of the identity and difference. One should incorporate in the language, and the other is inhabited in the image. But what connects them to the crossing of boundaries and penetrates beyond the heart of the radically exempted body is holiness and sovereignty of the eye. We cannot imagine the body that wouldn’t obligate to looking into the world, as they imagined naive theories that were current in the time before the Renaissance. It always talks about the perspectivism of truth. As is well known, that was utterly clear to Nietzsche. In his analysis of the logic of sufficient reason as the fundamental principle of positivism and rationalism, and particularly with the theory of correlation of thought and reality from medieval theology and its adequatio intellectus ad rem, the new notion of art comes to daylight. Forget the illusion of absolute truth and its spiritual forms! What should be meant by that? Nothing more than Bataille tried to fulfil. The figure with which it opens the possibility of insight into the essence of the event, but it always comes to donations arrive in the battle against time without jam foot rendering, is something that comes from the a-theological subjectivity of an eye. It doesn’t show us the world as it might be in its “realism” and even, in turn, provides not only these possibilities of illusion, deception, and delusion. The world should be truly viewed and thought heard and felt, touched and absorbed itself as a whole of all senses. But one of the senses has really primacy in the history of the body as well as the history of philosophy, religion, and the arts. The eye synthesizes cognitive activity because seeing the world means to find that it appears under sign of gift and appropriation. It is not possible to enter the complex differences between Bataille’s notion of the concept of an event (événement) and what Heidegger means by introducing that concept in the midst of 1930s. Then, namely, reports already mentioned in The Origin of the Work of Art, and posthumously published in the series of lectures and seminars dedicated to the concept of an event (Ereignis) (Heidegger, 2003; 2009).
It would be quite sufficient for that purpose to suggest that the difference between Bataille and Heidegger has arisen that for the former it was about the new anthropology of holiness and sacrifice as the upcoming community. Beyond the capitalist political economy, based on the idea of the exchange of material goods in the market as the logic of the subject and his unconditional benefits, gathered an archaic way of living together in the community. Its sovereignty stems from the idea of the eternal return of the same in the circle of a big chain of Being, and not from the excitement to the linear uprightness of the new in the modern sense of that word (Nancy, 1991a). According to Heidegger, however, the openness of Being is derived from the event of arché. Neither Being nor time is “no” more. Their sovereignty has been derived from the idea of the eternal return of the same, but not from projecting in the frenzy of newness. In any case, the term event is a condition for understanding Bataille’s transgression of the life as art. The eye is therefore never innocent in its openness as a flash of a moment in the time. It has already been extradited to the world and its traumatic events of the relationship between Being, beings and essence of the human. This relationship assumes an essential feature of inscrutability on any external and conditional terms. Beyond the principle of causality and teleology (cause and purpose) lies the world of spiritual experience. It is organized on completely different assumptions of rationalism, theology, and positive sciences. The eye for Bataille is understood from the spiritual or “inner experience” with origins in mystics of Spanish Baroque (Bataille, 1988). In such a dramatic way, he envisioned the ecstasies of the body and the religious vision beyond the enlightening story of “rational or natural theology”. The mystical visions of Christ and his presence in the relationship between the spiritual and material world are witnessed in the visions of St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Ávilla. But what is particularly important might be that the term “spiritual eye” in the tradition of this metaphysical thought of corporeality is materialized in the painting from El Greco to Salvador Dalí (Stoichita, 1997). We don’t think, therefore, that Picasso didn’t painted Crucifixion in 1930 only in internal dialogue with Bataille’s thoughtful experiments of the transgression of language and painting. In modernism, the tradition has been often quite invisible. But, it works just really subversive. Particularly it could be clear when its impact cannot be revealed only through the phenomenon of recognition the symbolic exchange of motives, forms, and functions concerning the image.
What, then, signifies Bataille’s concept of transgression? If we want to answer this question, it might be necessary to clear it out with some other puzzling and excessive essence of his thinking. It is thought that instead of logos and ontology, its justification should be found in the medium of speech. From the depths of the Gnostic secret sciences, the thought of the curse and holiness of what has been in the shadow of Plato remained since the very beginning, although it was only in the history of art which was worthy of the works and of the everyday reality. That is the thought of the curse and holiness of the image as a body. Hence, the eye appears to the “highest” organ not only of the knowledge but also of the inner experience of spirituality; nevertheless, it is directed towards the material world. The Sun and the flesh, as in Rimbaud’s poem, appear in their openness only when the eye is open, when it shines in its flash and when eye pupils like cosmic spheres, which make it possible to do what connects the experience of the divine with bodily experience. The extrinsic contact of the sphere in the elevation occurs through the eye. Let us remember that they make surrealist artists in the spirit of the historical avant-garde of the first half of the 20th century. Bombarding the ocular nerve, the natural eye transforms itself into the technical eye of apparatus by the invention of the CinemaScope (Crary, 2001). At 1929, it begins a unique, unavoidable event of absolute shock in the contemporary art. In relation to it, all the other events of shock and provocation might be infantile play pieces of the moody’s play of life. In the film realized by Salvador Dalí and Louis Buńuel, the An Andalusian Dog appears in that monstrous scene with the razor and cutting the cornea of the eye. Bataille dedicates to the eye, the greatest possible attention. As we can see, the eye in the early avant-garde is considered in the 1920s as a sublime object. In films and in pictures, vision alone has no longer the function of representing a real society as in Velasquez and Spanish Baroque. And so, because the empty and monstrous materialized eye is happening, the art of the film reverses the aesthetics of the indifferent observer of the vanished beauty; we are facing the gates of myth and religion in a long, psychoanalytic environment, medicine, engineering and visual technology. The glittering world passes through the mucus of an open field of exalted vision.
The eye represents a super-sensitive organ of thinking. The vision of Being in the world in its historical-epochal states of Being (devenir) is going through its pupils and eyelids. The essence, therefore, might be seen from the perspective of Nietzsche. This should be almost similar to contributions of Pierre Klossowski and Gilles Deleuze. If we can say just like that, then the dedication of intuition and painting as a vision of the world from the point of view of the sovereign power of perception must be understood from something that is paradoxical in its performance. Namely, the picture is not just about Bataille’s surface and the substrate on which the signs are carved as traces. It is the view and vision that the world creates by not displaying it and not putting it as it is or what it should be: about shooting the world from its own perspective. It does do it just by making it is poetically pictured in a singular event of art as life. Everything that follows has already been seen once a long time ago. But what has always been “seen” represents the reason for the possibility that mythology and religion could once again appear, but now outside the institutional history of holiness and sacred discourse. Instead of changing metaphysics of idealism and rationalism as a turning point in essentially the theology of redemption in Christianity, Bataille moves on the path of transgression as the path of subversion and heresy. The body is now obsessed in the primordial ecstatic dimension of the gift of the Sun and its eclipses. So, the solar economy might be not based on the idea of the value that is spent on the passage of life in a modern society of greed and perversion of holiness (Baudrillard, 1991). Quite contrary, it is “rootedness” in the face of gift which is giving without repentance. And precisely, the sacrifice of life as pure corporeality is represented by the greatest spiritual challenge in the modern era of planetary technology. It no longer has its own signifier neither holiness nor victims. For this reason, it is alive from the substitution of both cases, but in the constant production of pseudo-synthesis.
Obviously, there is still a set of misunderstandings and misleading directions in the discovery of Bataille’s transgression. As is evident from the origin of the word, the term refers to cross over, traverse… But it is such a shift of what can be called the border, which includes the account of a radical transgression of the rules established by the existence of the Father/Law in terms of the ethical validity of community relations. What determines the action of transgression is, paradoxically, precisely the necessity of the existence of the law as a limiting case in its operation. Hence, all other explanations of metaphysics in the history of the West have been made. Not only transgression violating or attempting to take the law in terms of religious iconoclasm of God’s presence in the Old Testament brought to its challenge, and even abolition. Bataille’s thought, as well as the entire French tradition of contemporary thinking, has represented a path of existentialist interpretation of Hegel. Bataille itself has started to attend lectures with the remarkable ancestors of Alexandre Kojève, who collected his famous lectures in the book entitled Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. With Lacan, Klossovski, and many other thinkers in the history of ideas of the 20th century, he attended those lectures with almost exactly sublime experience to reach out the highest level of “sacred knowledge” (Kojève, 1969). Bringing the limits of the permissible ones to decide on the existence of a community law doesn’t just mean to cross the ethical scope of the ban. The thought of transgression presupposes two of their atheistic and anti-metaphysic perspectives. One area might be that of nature, and another the area of culture. The prohibition of the first in the other signified the paradox of “nature” as an actor in the sense of sovereignty of culture.
Perhaps the best solution has been offered by Claude Lévy-Strauss according to those assumptions (Derrida, 1979, pp. 179-180). The taboo incest is represented as a universal feature of the possibility that humanities at all might develop the idea of humanity. In all ancient communities, this taboo has established a boundary between animal and human. But its real function in preserving the community might be to fall into the vantage of what nature makes of a contingent event of cruelty and innocence. It is nothing but an outright principle of determinism of the urgent structure of life in animals. The power of nature must be suspended and neutralized in attempt to become law in another way of its action. The symbolic power of culture, therefore, is effective as the sovereignty of the sacrifice of the Other, so that “nature” in its irrationality may function as a ranking of the supreme signifier. Bataille is obviously the predecessor of post-structuralism in almost all its essential aspects. Specifically, the notion of heterology and heterogeneity of the struggle is to be distinguished. The place of difference arises from the “profane holiness” of what has been the beginning of Western history in the name of simulacrum and curse for its disturbing otherness. Beginning with Nietzsche’s idea of the will to power as the eternal return of the same, the inability to apply the objective truth, the aesthetic rendering of all values, the revival of the idea of corporeality instead of the reign of ideas leads to the radical assumption of the death of God and to the gnostic-hermetic cosmogony. Whatever, the transgression could not lie at the centre of this thinking of the difference in an attempt to testify only to the necessity of two worlds, both spiritual and material, as well as the tide of time between modern and primitive society. Its origin might be revealed in the genealogy of the history of the cracking itself between the universal prohibition as a taboo incest and culture that rests on the forbidding of that as its sublimation. The most significant contribution to the interpretation of Bataille’s idea of the necessity of a prohibition is to allow Michel Foucault to surpass the boundaries in the strictly metaphysical sense.
Already in the first sentences of “A Preface to Transgression”, Foucault gave the answer to the question of transgression and sacrifice of the body as a place of pleasure and suffering. If sexuality never enjoyed so much attention as it gets in our time, then it might be clear that in the Western culture and only there, sexuality rises to the discourse of liberation and the discourse of the denaturalization of sexuality itself. The release of the prohibition and the taboo signified the same thing as the hidden secret of sexuality. If sexuality, however, must be able to exist in the form of pleasure, nature as a law in the form of symbolic proscription must die. The symbolic death of nature in Lacan’s psychoanalysis represented the condition of the possibility to the reign of the Father/Law as the “other nature” of things. Here, on the contrary, we are faced with something which we already named as the rhetorical transgression in Bataille’s economy of desire. The language takes the strength of liberation power as uncanny nature of the prohibition and the taboo. There are many proves that literature of the modern age takes place here as a drama of the subject’s confession. From St. Augustine’s Confessions through Abelard and Heloise, the subject very allusive and metaphorically signified the traumas and suffering caused by the un-natural proscription and taboos of the community that is based on the idea of divine love. Foucault shows, however, that Western culture is historically legalized by the discourse of Christianity. It couldn’t be therefore any surprise if the tradition of mysticism and spirituality of the body goes through the forms of discourse such as “cracking”, “penetrating”, and “ecstasy”. These phenomena are only possible and real in the contrasting the pure divine love (Foucault, 1977, pp. 29-30). But it is still not quite clear whether we are faced with transgression and the passing of any possible boundary between the worlds or, by the way, a different setting between them. Bataille in his main work entitled Eroticism answered on that question in the following way: “Transgression doesn’t deny the taboo (forbidden), but overcoming it and finishes it” (Bataille, 1957, p. 63).
Now, it seems much clearer what becomes the sense of the overall picture in the relationship between language and the eye. In the magazine Documents, texts published in the homage to Picasso, and most of all the Bataille’s “Soleil pourri”, as well as the essay of Carl Einstein about the mythology and of myth of Mythra and the sacrifice of the bull, that life could go on with its sovereign power for everlasting changes, pointing out to the question of the relationship between art and the sacral as the place of the divine. It was not an aesthetic question about the decadent art of modernity. But it is, however, crucial for the deconstruction of all modern art and avant-garde movement in political and religious asking why they forever might lose its vitality. The transgression signified the way through the ring itself. As it has been in the ancient and modern societies, even more so, because it is based on the perversion of value that capitalism takes for its credo of exploiting nature and faith in the technical progress, the question of artificial arises as a singular event. Anyway, it is not an image carved on the walls of the cave or set in temples and cathedrals in the state of silence, because it no longer tells anything to the audience. In addition, it is neither a picture that hangs on the walls of a gallery like a peculiar aesthetic sign of “beauty” without reference to the cruelty of life itself. Now the image itself has lost its “eye”.
There goes a finite time to make it dignified return as the sacrificed bull to Mythra shrines and the astral body to the Sun. Going through the circles of fiery body ecstasy in a mythical-religious ceremony gives the event of contemporary art what it only remains to save the honor and dignity of the world before the indifference of the technical circuit. This event represents a sovereign transgression of the body in sacrifice. Until today, we can say that it could be the only thing which comes from art itself, and not from the frame of something that was in the service of the myth, religion, and science. Pablo Picasso knew intuitively how cubism in its analytical and synthetic form of “conceptual painting” has been completed. The cold zone of indifference, the shyness of the function, and the purity of the form, the dehumanized technical “nature” of the world as a machine, required the last possible transgression—the path of the picture to the eye as an ecstasy of the vision of the coming universe. And that is represented the one around which is passing through uncanny traumas of life, with tears and the terrific pain as the dark side of the pleasure.
The Problems of Interpreting a Picture
Georges Bataille has argued about Picasso’s Crucifixion: “In the ecstatic vision, at the border of death on the cross and the blind life of the lama sabaktani, the object was finally extinguished as a catastrophe in the chaos of light and shadow” (Bataille, 1985, p. 134).
In a lively debate regarding the relationship between Bataille’s magazine Documents and the formation of Picasso’s paintings with the theme of Christ’s sacrifice, which was started to keep the dramatic turn at the end of the 20th century during the reign of postmodernism and the end of the reference with painting (Miller, 2007), it intrudes into the eyes just a little bit astonishing. Almost all relevant interpreters in the field of art history specializing in surrealism and contemporary art, including Rosalind Krauss, have agreed that this image is overcoming at least because it makes the two “transgressions” within Picasso’s work:
- It raises the question of the narrative of the painting in the age of mythological-religious revelation with the witnessed cycle of Vollard’s Collection in which the master turns to the themes of symbolic art history;
- It shows an internal affinity with the fundamental ideas of avant-garde art, such as the autonomy of work and the sovereignty of the body that supersedes the spiritual background of the painting.
Anyway, Picasso’s turn towards neoclassical painting has marked the transition in the 1930s. The iconocentrism, however, didn’t stop the purification of the image from the deposit of a historical memory that ruled the language in the form of discursive iconology. As surrealism was, from the outset, saturated with this hybrid mixture of myths, narratives, politics, and religions as subversive events of the termination of tradition, as well as its program established by Breton’s manifestos essentially consisted of a compound of what would mark theoretical insights into the essence of modern times: Marxism and psychoanalysis. But the change of capitalist society and the work of the unconscious have no more than the external penetration of the force which to date still seeks art in this embrace of criticism of the ideology and the hysteria of the subject. When this Picasso’s picture came up in the public, it had to fall into space in between two fires. The first one was that Walter Benjamin recognized in the fatal vulgarity of Stalin’s prolet-kult as the politicization of aesthetics, and on the other hand in the Nazi-Kunst as the aestheticisation of politics. The second fire was, of course, that which is developed within the straight line of the avant-garde art with its different sects and heresies, separations, and redirects. In the case of French surrealism by the end of the 1920s, it is precisely the decisive breakthrough event when Artaud and Bataille move their ways, bold and truly uncompromising with the current turmoil in the way of the notion of contemporary art.
Picasso’s picture in material view is represented as quite common “picture”: oil on the wood, 51.5 x 66.5 cm. But everything else seems more than extreme. This could be equally related to the unusual “attraction” and simultaneous “defiance” of the image, almost at the intersection of not only the aesthetic experiences of the observer, but also of the relation to the iconographic tradition that will ironically and deconstructively aspire to adopt the 1930s and Picasso’s “angry enemy” on the same battlefield of painting—Salvador Dalí. Some reveal of Picasso’s iconocentrism in the 1930s leads to conclude that this might be a real challenge for contemporary reinterpretations of his entire opus. In so much more than it is at the same time “anti-modern” and “neo-classical”, hence it represents some sort of deviation from the usual approach to painting from the position of the scattered subject of art. Moreover, that is not far from the truth when the image of the word right there is trying to understand precisely Bataille’s notion. So, the transgression should be just in the foreground. Basically, the name signed to the image has metaphysical connotations. No doubt that name is derived and evaluated by the religious tradition of Christianity. But the monotheistic faith invoked to sacrificed and resurrection of Christ must be authorized by the unconscious power of the language. So, the appointment wouldn’t belong to the “case”. The sacrament of the divine who offers the incarnate “nature” of human to awaken what goes beyond Being and comes from ethical compassion with the sufferings of the Other, belongs to the truth of one faith. Though it historically has been only one of these sects and heresies within the turbulent movement of Judaism, moving to the kingdom of appropriating the idea of sacrifice God as a person of human, it possesses the character of an absolute requirement.
The symbol of crucified Christ signifies nothing but the entire history of art after the mythical Greek’s period. And it gave a name for the concept of the image (icon) which, admittedly, is a reversal of the Greek eikon (the reflection, mimesis) focuses on something unmoving for further development of the picture at all. We can talk about, of course, of the transition from a living picture to the representation of Christ in its reflection on Veronica’s veil or, in other words, the portrayal of objects by his holly dedication. The image that emerges in early Christianity carries the primordial meaning of the sacrifice of Son of God. This must never be distracted. When the sacrifice of the body incarnation might be shown in the image set up in the space of dramatization of the events of Christ’s life and death, then it might be the case of crossing the “end of art”. The representation of what is depicted in the painting is no longer living the image of the immanence of the image and its corporeality, but a simulacrum, a resemblance, a duplication, an artificial presence without the original that is trying to revive by remembering the event of crucifixion.
What could be the real meaning of Crucifixion? Does it mean that we should reconsider just another picture of the sacral theme of sacrifice and redemption within the modern approach to religious relationships in art? The transgression inherent to Bataille, quite contrary, should be evaluated as crossing boundaries bound by an unbalanced banning that has its sources in the archetypal matrices of the history of blood kinship of humankind. Therefore, the eroticism, sacrifice, and holiness are connected and linked. In addition, the eroticism signified a transgression of a natural law which symbolically represented a culture, a departure from the polysemy/polygamy of mankind into monogamous marriages and its exploits. The sacrifice signified a return gift of blood to the gift of life that is happening along the way. As Jean-Luc Nancy exactly portrayed, it is always a mimetic as well as a true concept of art. Nature might be sacrificed in the form of the beginning (virgins and first-born child) and the end of the purpose of Being (Nancy, 1991b, pp. 20-38). My assumption is therefore as follows. The transgression must necessarily come to the idea of apocalypse as the ultimate truth of life. In the direction beyond the existing boundary of the ethical-aesthetic event, a human drama has taken its place. The sacredness that stands at the end of the idea of transgression signifies entry into the sublime. After the soul in its mad appearance (mantike episteme), it is transformed into the uncanny voice of strangeness, something that is not domesticated and therefore carries might become overtones occult and terrifying, which is followed by the start of the feast. Therefore, Picasso’s Crucifixion is precisely that conjunction of transgression and body apocalypse as a picture of screaming the life power in the primordial wonder of existence.
Christ’s sacrifice, hence, appeared as an a-theologized event, and it wants to be universal as such. Those sources are certainly recognized in the mythological Zoroastrian insights that talk about the emergence of the world and its constant transformation in advance. The idea of Crucifixion in this regard is nothing but the transgression of the entire metaphysical heritage that we have taken over, but not as a creative gift of the future, rather as a scattered burden of the past. The reason why the past is always “better than the present” lays in it which at present doesn’t have a vision of art as a sacrifice. The path to the sublime as the dark side of beauty cannot go through the worship of machines or through the cold rationality of cubism. What is missing at that time is precisely the mystical power of physical exaltation in its ecstasy. Instead of that, we are witnessed that everything might be united with eroticism and holiness. Let’s finally describe what we really see in the picture. For that aim we can help us with a striking description performed by Alfred Bar:
There is a nail on the ladder, a miniature figure on a horseshoe spear, soldiers in the foreground are gambling on the drum for Christ’s cloak—these motifs are recognizable. Extreme left and right are empty T-crosses for two robbers whose bodies lie in the foreground on the left. An irregular oval shape in the upper left corner may be spotted with octomy, enlarged to huge proportions and isolated as one of the objects in traditional painting with the symbols of Passion. (Barr, 1946/1980, p. 67)
It might be clear that the canvas tells us about the fundamental “deployment” of iconographic motifs. The expert dedicated to the secrets of Gospel will easily find out that Picasso is too free in his interpretation of the role of robbers who, after breaking the leg, are no longer even mentioned. But it is not just a passive intervention in the form. Someone inspired by modern sonnet writer as it was the case in Pound’s Cantos can decide to change the rhythm and structure of the verses in troubadour poetry of Francois Villon. The problems of the interpretations we have warned may not be so chaos-deployed iconography. In the likeness of Longin, it swears the time of Christ’s crackdown has not yet matched the apocalypse of the image. What does that mean? It was stopped before the moment of body death and final exhalation. In the Gospels, this spear in the body of Christ has been present only after his death. And in this picture we are trying to describe and interpret, no nail wounds have yet emerged. However, Picasso doesn’t conceal the ontology of the image as a victim of the entire tradition of Christianity. Instead of such an approach, there is a conscious and clear breakdown of all that such images, from Mantegna and Grünewald to the epigones. But what, at all, that really means for the corpus of masterpieces of European painting? However, this is a sign of a sequence of signs of heterodoxy as in Bataille’s texts on eroticism and religion. Between the theology of salvation and the physical experience of the pain, one of the dramatic “performances” takes place. The order that Picasso creates with this oil on board is represented as a chaotic order of the upcoming tragedies of the Being itself. In this case, the notion of tragedy must be understood in its non-verbal meaning as a drama of modern incorporate existence. What makes Picasso in his heterodox arrangement of the scenes from the last moments of Christ’s body life in Golgotha? Farce or “postmodern” chaos without a deeper meaning except “sacred” as a sign of the aesthetic neoclassical painting of the era at the end of the avant-garde idea of changing society through art? Forget about these malicious and completely misguided judgments of the orthodox dogmas on both sides of Benjamin’s notion that divides modern art as a politicization of art and aestheticism of politics. All that exists just outside the inner voice of this image, which continues to give a headache to those who make that Picasso with the Vollard’s Collection of copper etching has lost the power of orientation in its own distinctive modernism.
It is something much more important than anything that has been said previously. This painting is the paradigmatic framework of Picasso’s internal transformation, with which it finally comes the time that art itself deals with its own age of nihilism. And does this make it necessary to overcome in a deeper sense of the dialectical all-pervading of the Christian-Gnostic tradition? They finally led to the enactment of mimetic-representational painting as a classic time of beauty and sublime. The exit from self-deprecated iconography marks the way to the very centre of chaos as such. Let us remember the eye watching this drama of Being in the picture which will no longer anything else saying about the painter as a mere observer of something that can be really the picture itself. Instead, it creates space-time of image creation as an event. With it, painting no longer shows historical reference to dead signifier icon. It is radically faced with its own interpretation of the world-by-line drama of life. Cruelty is, therefore, a transgressive step in comprehending our times created by the entropy. And it’s just missed what one tried to do to expose Georges Bataille—the sovereignty of the sacrifice of the human body in the act of absolute freedom on the side of the subject. In order to have the image as an event or a drama without a dialogue box of speech, it was necessary to double the sacrifice. First, it is based on the idea of art as an imitation of nature (mimesis), and secondly, it already
presupposes the existence of a dual or something that is pictured just as a figure and thus carries the features of indirect presence (representation).
The entire cycle of Vollard’s Collection deals with mythological transformations of beings. The figures of a bull, Sun, and scenes of sacrifice, eroticism, dreams and chaotic corporeality mean the ability to modernity perceived as a mythical time to revive the primordial drama of the body. But the sacrifice as such as well transgression and the apocalypse of the image itself might be included in the chaos and heterodoxy of Picasso’s Crucifixion. Why? It is because this picture is affected by the drama of the present, by its time in the notions of incompleteness of history, and it has the attempt to overcome the loss of religious experience with the absolute image that must penetrate the skin of all so that its scream of the ecstatic shadow of color will revitalize the world that has not yet been completed as a work of art. The world should be the one who is born in a monstrous pain crucified and where nothing has been ever decided. The Christ who should be the main figure of this neo-classical image is sacrificed to the image of the modern world, not an iconographic figure of the dead art history.
If we leave historical-art commentaries in the history of this painting within modern parody or deconstruction of devotion from the medieval representations of Christ and the Virgin Mary to baroque and naive painting in the 20th century, we are showing the proportions of its highly mannerist dance on the edges of a “damn tradition”. I think, without any constraint, to all of that different chambers and palaces within the imagery of deadly ghosts in Europe. By the same token, the devotion and carnivals of the world in it are the complement to each other. The other side of the legitimate version of the governing paradigm of painting from the Middle Ages was precisely this tragicomic revolt of motifs and ornaments of Christ’s crucifixion. Maybe it will not place the use of these bold analogies. But it surely will in the truly interesting similarity in the notion of time of the apocalyptic images between messianism of Angelus Novus painted by Paul Klee and Picasso’s transgression of Crucifixion. The tragedy of the infantile gold-yellow angel that has been pictured by Paul Klee and the child Christ, who are drawn to the cross by Pablo Picasso, is close to at least one. Klee is closing outside modernist current in research opportunities of pre-picturing state of speech and colour, while Picasso is painting settling scores with the geometry to construct of the de-divinized uncanny technical world. In both cases, we have the excessive destruction of the canon. And in addition, in both cases, we have all of what combines avant-garde and decadence into the art of the 20th century—the child’s innocence and cruelty of the historical drama of highlight of a performance in which Christ is being crucified. The body apocalypse assumes the sacrifice of everything that belongs to the spirit as logos of history. And when a modern artist is acting in this or that way, it is revealed as the ship of fools from which a monstrous void is drawn and not an inspiration for the future unless the emptiness is released from its own trauma that the image must be a language to bring the ladder to the sky and would have reached the unpresentable.
There is a significant difference between the traditional painting of Christ’s crucified victim and this with which Picasso opens the topic of sacrifice in contemporary art. In any case, we are now faced with the essential difference between classical and modern art, and between the aesthetics of contemplation and the aesthetics of the dramatic event of the Being. In the first case, the image of the dying Christ on the cross is the essence of the metaphysical image from the Middle Ages to the beginning of modernity. In the other, however, the case instead of referential painting doesn’t follow the logic of abstraction or non-objective art. Instead of avant-garde interventions in the order of history’s sense, that’s the place where we are faced with a turn of the metaphysical image in its essence. The sublime turnaround from the static point of the depth of the picture to the openness of events is almost overwrought with iconographic dispersed figures from the Gospel. The adherence of classical art to the observation of the victim might be elevated to the object. Without that, the sacrifice in the art cannot have any further legitimation. Therefore, contemporary art, on the contrary, is devoted to the dynamism and participation of an active observer. But, far away from being the pure voyeur, or mythomaniac and religious fanatic behind the features of Being, it could be rather an equal participant in the chaos of events beyond good and evil. The ecstatic body dimensions not sacrificed to the Sun or to the secularized substitution is indicated by the instability of the whole order of meaning. We are tempted to include right here the concept emerged in the digital aesthetics and contemporary art, such as interactivity (of an observer). The visions of the time behind the technically produced actuality lead to the paradoxical return of painting into modern times in its inherent event on the traces of the classic sources of mimetic-representational images (Osborne, 1995, pp. 160-195). Who decides what Picasso wouldn’t too shock with its Crucifixion and certainly not to disturb the persistence of the powerful signifier? In its place, it comes to the concepts which Bataille has introduced to the discussion in his anthropology of victimization. These are the sovereignty of absolute freedom (of art) and the heterogeneity of historical time as the cut-off of metaphysically understood Christianity in a straightforward time.
In the interpretation of Picasso’s Crucifixion, it might be particularly noteworthy to refer to Bataille’s text “L’Apocalypse de Saint-Sever”, which he published in 1929 in the Documents magazine (Bataille, 1929, pp. 74-84; Kaufmann, 1969, pp. 553-561). In this text, Bataille addresses the problem of early Christianity and its art devoted to the Apocalypse. That seems to be primarily true in the case of the Spanish experience permeated with Christian faith, and immediate threat by Mauri’s war campaigns, so it is interesting how once again it has established and to the great extent that painting perfectly represented the true “metaphysics of the soul” of Spanish culture from the very beginning. All those exist in close connection with something that is not at all apparent in the new act of justification the image as a representation of the exalted reality arising from the religious experience of the world. Namely, the apocalypse cannot be derived from what is theologically present in the images dedicated to the theme of crucifixion. The paradox is indeed quite close to the experience of madness. How can Picasso “merely” connect the act of diminishing the human super-humanity in the skewed view of the body of Christ trained on the cross with the revelation of the new world’s emergence as a divine presence in the coming time? His Crucifixion is an atheistic picture of the contingency of drama history whose beginning and end cannot be determined by means of causes and purposes (télos). Instead of that, everything is disturbed. A sign of chaos and the rise of history take place in life. Who wants to continue to argue how Picasso is accepted “neo-classical” painting as the new credo might know all that matter of facts. Anyway, the contemporary art can only conditionally rely on the debris of referentiality. As in philosophy performed by Adorno and Benjamin, the fragment means more than stylistic figures of writing, as well as the case of Picasso’s graphics in Vollard’s Collection. Anyway, it has the same meaning in Crucifixion. Myths and religions are no longer exactly that what art determines its reason for existence. Every single word of “classicism” should be removed as a passion for the past without any connection with the present. With Romanticism, the aesthetics of the sublime find the relationship between irony and kitsch, as the paradox could be complete. And in the period of early historical avant-garde form has become the universal function of the artwork as a process of creating a new one. Classically, therefore, it only appears as a coincidence of the past with the future and it should be because of the turn of the picture.
Now the body of the ecstatic dimension of time is sacrificed to art itself as an event of causelessness, a pure contingency of becoming. The mythical-religious event was a cult ritual of repetition of nature in the form of the movement of the Sun and in the form of the transformation of life on Earth. The rhythm of the world corresponds to the sovereignty of archaic holiness. With the flash, the thing in the natural and human environment makes it more productive. And what makes this spiritual view truly tragic should be the repetition of sacrifice as a path of survival of the community. Bataille freed that forbidden from the prohibition of universal taboos. Through the rhetorical and visual transgression of the veil of Being, it can speak up the thing itself (to autó, das Ding selbst). This image opens out of the world thanks to the experience of the eye as an inner experience of holiness. However, language is reduced to the creation of a new world, not to the description of the present. Its materiality is entering into the body of ecstasy itself. That’s the reason why the speech is a complete picture of the big drama of the transformation the Being. In the case of Picasso’s Crucifixion, it was distorted the deployment of the form of discourse that historically rendered the truth about the salvation of mankind by a religious turn and the deployment of the form of the picture that no longer starts from the indifferent observer of the external subject. Only the eye of subjectivity becomes its own object and its own visual language of chaotic saying the world, but not the “world”. That’s also the reason why we are so unexpectedly uncommon with this picture. In front of it, we cannot fall into religious ecstasy. Neither we can even pray or to fall on the knee. Rather we can, on the contrary, sympathize with something weirdly close to the suffering of the body that stumbles the time of what has just come to the end with the horror of evil and horror in the present world. What might be upcoming isn’t absent in the image. Although invisible, that’s where it is. Its apocalyptic might be opened with the sacrificed and pierced the body of Christ. In torture of existence, in the heart of the Being that goes beyond the transformations of time, the averted time passes. The iconic structure of the image poses the real problem to us, but we think that all scattered, aesthetically and heterogeneous should be linked in a meaningful order as if after this subsequent act of the reflection, the picture took on the stability of meaning. What a fatal illusion!
But, what then if Picasso deliberately sacrificed the iconic-narrative self-sacrifice of the body’s sacrifice to put the problem that affects art more than the tragedy of life in an unreasonable time in which everything is reduced to the technical things and its functions? Couldn’t this picture be mysterious because in it the chaos of events in the history of the world no longer has any resignation connected with salvation? Apocalypse and transgression are not out of the picture. From it, we have an opportunity to be confronted with an artificially created emptiness of art, because it exudes the monstrous curse of the “new”. Yes, a picture is what puts the iconicity in the centre without self-conscience, the ecstasy of the body without the last court of some inattentive spirituality. Its coarseness and cruelty, some kind of childish unfinishedness in the performance and chaotic heterogeneity of the motif, capture the reality in the trap. Images cannot be drawn without consequences. It no longer serves the eye as a matter of concern for existence. The scenes with Golgotha scream in some of the hellish rhythms of changing the tonality of colour from crimson to red to yellow and azure blue. The skull and grotesque faces of the face, like the ancient Aztec sacrifices, appear to even more contribute to the macabre tone of the apocalypse as human comedy. All is “primitive” and everything seems to be here very “non-European”. No, it could be by no means surprising when we know how much the ancient African mask meant to the composition of the image entitled The Girls of Avignon in 1907 (Les Demoiselles d’Avignon). Finally, the reversal of the primordial (arché) might have consequences in the very logic of the visibility of Europe from the antiquity through Rome and the Middle Ages to the Renaissance perspective. What we call the chaos can only be conditional taking in the account beyond the ranks and organization that governs the mind. As Artaud after returning from the holy land Tarahumara located in the pre-Columbian cultures of Mexico has experienced as a “mystical enlightenment” and completely abandoned the notion of art which is of old established leading in the metaphysical environment of the West in the imitation of nature (mimesis), Picasso from the outset was also faced with “the second arché”. It is no longer the Spanish Baroque and Italian Renaissance, the meeting place for the “spiritual eye” and the geometric perspective. Now it comes to something uncanny what I would name the encounter with the second arché, pretty dark and mysterious. There is no doubt since there emerged a quite different concept of the art and image.
The “primitivism” as the creative principle and the spiritual experience is derived from uncanny sources of life. That’s why Picasso looks for the archetypical symbols of the universal beauty of the world. In this quest, the sanctified place of holiness and divinity become a hybrid of the recognition of similarity in the art of Indians in Mexico, the medieval mystics from the Apocalypse Saint-Severe manuscript/cooper etching about 1050 to the modern obsession with the body as a sovereign space of the freedom. The sacrifice belongs to the picture. But, the picture, however, opens the time of transgression just as Bataille compares the look of “Picasso” with Picasso in the “Soleil pourri” experiment. Everyone is looking at the source of light without which there is no picture or saying about it ever since Sacrifice. This image modern art and its rational foundation for the autonomy of the work are sacrificed. It loses its Being becoming a sign of its own gaps. Picasso has done the transgressive excess of the greatest possible reach. It has long since the reign of nature and reality ruled, what is called mimesis. And then every possible representation of nature as fiction and reality as an illusion has vanished. The sacrificial Christ represents the apocalyptic ecstasy of the body without the centre in the space of human reason. It might be an image of the absolute painting. In it, the sacrifice of the world repeats the view as a transition to the side of the zone of chaos, into the blinding place where there is no flash of light. The habit of a prey scream with an eye that suffers and enjoys its first and the last blinking replenishes the remaining shadows of things. In the labyrinth of a-theological thinking, the image is no longer a metaphor for the language power of displaying and representing the open world. Picasso’s Crucifixion so far doesn’t belong to “sacred pictures” of the metaphysical tradition of sacrifice God in the form of an animal or human. It is better to say that transgression becomes apocalyptic desire to transition to a state of eternal chaos of creation. The observer must be astonished at such scenes. There is two-sided silence: before the power of language and after the power of the image. So, the chaos really implies the impossibility of telling about iconography that would restore faith to the order without the risk of breaking down all the values so far along.
Between the Bataille’s transgressive aesthetics of freedom and Picasso’s turn to the idea of the 1930s painting with Crucifixion and the Vollard’s Collection of graphics, there is the sacrifice and it is ultimately the only real problem of the contemporary art. Anyway, we should see that in the era of planetary technology which unconditionally requires the sacrifice of body-to-community everything becomes more or less worthless. Let us not forget the essential difference between the archaic community and the modern subjectivity of the capitalist society. It rests first on the sacrifice of the soul to the community in the form of sacrifice of the body. That event has represented a mystery. It passed to go through the dramatic circle of the transformation of its own life. On the contrary, there is a lonely individual in the own existence as the economy of selfishness and greed. The two opposite approaches to sacrifice shows that the archaic era should be the directness of the mystery of the public divide of the common body. But, modern society, however, is completely differently organized. It is subjective by its own act of withdrawal from nature. The more it seems to be an interrupted
bond with those archaic, there is the growing need for the metaphysical source of the soul of the world (anima mundi) as the trigger of the devastating-creative energy of life. The image that opens the question of the end of the autonomy of modern art and the beginning of the sovereignty of contemporary art, about the transition of a fixed act to a contingent transformation event, might be precisely the title in a word that best illustrates the historical-epochal finishing of art as such. What is, at least, the last secret of the meaning the picture entitled Crucifixion?
In ancient times, the common human being was celebrated in the festivity of the sacrificial nature of the gods of the Sun. There was something left of that in the idea of art even in modern times. Perhaps this might be what Bataille is trying to bring to aesthetics, starting with the aura of the world’s plague of the polytheistic religions. Picasso’s Crucifixion belongs to all its passionate orientation of the ecstatic painter of the body of human pleasure and suffering to what we found in the trace of Bataille in the concept of the transgression. We didn’t embark on the psychoanalytic frameworks in the interpretation of this term performed by Lacan because it would be beyond the essential intent of the image. This isn’t about any unconscious projection of dreams or the issue of castration as a threat to the symbolic order of culture to what remains of the wild nature of humanity. The Crucifixion did not represent a symbol of the body that desires to acknowledge its power to divide the community. Quite contrary, it stands out of the binary oppositions of the language as logos and images as unconscious visualization of the reality. Something else should be found right here. Picasso was, in fact, very close to the dissidents of surrealism like Bataille and Artaud, not the mainstream of a surrealistic program that sought to connect Marx and Freud in the logic of the creative revolution of history. His painting doesn’t seek the solution of his turn on the path of consciousness through the dark chamber of language to the light as the truth of the Being. To indulge in such suspicious adventures of interpretation of Crucifixion would have to fall short even before the matter began to collapse. Everything in this picture is deployed and planed: from composition to the motif, from the surface to plan. The validity of iconography and the persistence of the emblem are by no means void. Talk about “sacrilege” would be unbelievable if it doesn’t show what “disturbing” image is “served” if not the revelation of dabbling in the essence of the art. Every single age brings some dark shadows. They just hide the contours of its face right. Behind them there are flowing the dark river of memories. With all that has been done, it is already from the moment of entry-into-the-world perceived with deep pain and pleasure in the transformations of becoming. Myth and religion have not disappeared from the traumatic core of world cultures. Indeed, they are no longer ruling the principles of artistic creation. The more the awareness of the dehumanization of the world in planetary technology, the more return is to what is determined by the mystery of the sacrifice of body-to-community. The soul might not be crucified. It only suffers in a different mood from the body of the singular Being.
In the “open emptiness”, about which spoke Vasily Kandinsky in the treatise entitled Concerning the Spiritual in Art, when art cannot replace that which belonged to a mythical-religious world, there is nothing else other than science and technology as the last foundation, or justification of life. That’s the reason why Picasso’s Crucifixion is disturbed even more now than at the moment of its emergence. It requires an interactive view of the observer in the dazzling glow of “rotten Sun”. This could be a step towards what the painting has always wanted. But, without “open emptiness”, it was not possible in the world to make history as scarification of the body and gained a higher sense of compassion with the pain of crucified Christ from indifference towards the Other, and not from the direction toward him. Now, when we have reason to be content with the nothingness of the aesthetic drive, we have no other way of justification for art than just indifference to beauty. Picasso’s Crucifixion, as it might be usual in the art world, raises more attention to the theory of pictorial repetition than what this image with its “roughness” and “primitiveness” perhaps really deserves. Anyway, maybe it would be the price that we must pay for the disappearance of beauty. Certainly, it is not anywhere in “there” and in “otherness”.
On the hill of the skull, we are still unsuccessfully searching for the sublime, thinking that there will just be a trace of the art that rises above the measure of human time. We don’t see what is performed on the small picture, oil on wood painted by 1930, because the absolute painter of the modern age seen before all in its openness and splendor that sacrifice from the spectacle to the mystery is represented as a collective act of community in whole responsibility and that is not reduced only for Longin and his obedient Roman soldiers. In the astonishment and irrationality of the world that falls into nothingness, there are still only the apocalypse and transgressive bodies as remnants of the ecstatic joy to the eyes. Without it, the art has no subject, and painting permanently loses the only possible perspective. To look directly into the “rotten sun” without fear of blindfolding means giving the image more dignity than any forever gone religion and its ritual festivities. It is not a painting in the service of the divine, but a divine revelation in the chaos of life whereby the image becomes more than life. That’s the greatness of Picasso’s Crucifixion—the apocalypse of the body in red, yellow, and blue.
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Žarko Paić is a Professor at the University of Zagreb, where he teaches courses in Aesthetics and Media Theory. He publishes frequently in philosophy, social sciences, and art theory. His publications include Theorizing Images, eds. with Krešimir Purgar (2016), and Technosphere Vol. 1-5 (2018-2019), White Holes and the Visualization of the Body, (2019), Neoliberalism, Oligarchy and Politics of the Event – At the Ege of Chaos (2020), Aesthetics and the Iconoclasm of Contemporary Art - Pictures Without a World (2021).