Dissertation Abstract




Burning For The Other: Semiotics Of A Levinasian Theological Aesthetics In Light Of Burning Man

Stevens, Richard


Degree:           Ph.D.

Year:             2003

Pages:            00406

Institution:      Graduate Theological Union; 0080

Advisor:          Don H. Compier


Source:           DAI, 64, no. 11A (2003): p. 4094


Three concepts are compared: (1) the human subject in Emmanuel Levinas' work Otherwise than Being or Beyond Essence, (2) the sign in Charles Peirce's semiotics, and (3) the  work of art in the ethical-aesthetic milieu of the annual Burning Man event in Nevada. This comparison reveals three common features. (1) All three exhibit the tripartite formal structure of Peirce's sign model. (2) Both the subject and the work of art are types of sign. (3) Both the work of art and the sign, as products of the subject's communicative function, share the ethical force the subject lends them in saying, using them and passing them on to, and for, others. This impulse, the defining element of the human according to Levinas, is a disposition toward "infinite responsibility for the Other." Integration of these findings generates the idea that art, as Levinasian "signifyingness," is basic to the ego's constitution, and therefore shares in its ethical programming.

On the basis of this idea, a critique can be introduced of its three sources. Peirce's semiotic view of the human subject as sign gains the ethical dimension Peirce sought for it. Levinas' aesthetics asserts primarily that art addresses reality's "shadow," where participants can become immersed in idolatry, in existing as mere things-among-things. He later recognizes art's positive side in an art for relationship. The dichotomy provokes a search for a formal description differentiating art's two aspects. Levinas' essays on Blanchot show how he finds substitutionary, ethical acts in art without denying art's shadow side. Finally Burning Man gains a theoretical basis that demonstrates that its gift-giving ethos and its art-making program are intrinsically joined in the responsibility of Levinas' "Saying" as "substitution." Art's positive side is best seen not as creation or revelation but as sacrifice. The Burning Man figure is an example of this sacrifice because of the human connection in responsibility for which it burns. All signs expend themselves in a similar way, and I as a human subject, as signifier, am constituted to do so as well.




(Emmanuel Levinas, Charles Sanders Peirce)

Accession No:     AAI3110192

Provider:        OCLC

Database:         Dissertations