The first issue of this journal, as well as Glass Bead‘s project at large, is directed towards rethinking art as a mode of rational thought. This engagement stems from a shared discontent with art’s ongoing exclusion from reason, its positioning at the peripheries of knowledge, and its resulting political inconsequentiality. Our project starts from the assumption that any claim concerning the efficacy of art—its capacity, beyond either its representational function or its affectivity, to make changes in the way we think of the world and act on it—first demands a renewed understanding of reason itself.
It might come as a surprise to our readers that while it is an art journal, Glass Bead offers no critical reviews, no art-historical texts on specific works, artists, or exhibitions. None of the discursive practices that commonly surround and legitimize art are present in this journal. This absence is determined by Glass Bead’s methodological decision not to address art from a pre-constituted identity, but rather to dynamically define its role through the exploration of other forms of reasoning (science, philosophy, politics, etc.).
While it foregrounds transits between disciplines, Glass Bead is not an interdisciplinary journal. In all its scholarly enthusiasm and benevolence, interdisciplinarity has now become some kind of empty motto. Starting from already constituted disciplinary identities, interdisciplinarity seeks connections whose broader impact on the forms of knowledge they connect are consequently silenced. As such, it appears unable to move beyond the implicit equivalence posited between the things it connects. By emphasizing direct, local connections, it proves particularly inadequate for addressing the hierarchal organization of the global structure of knowledge on which it rests.
Whereas interdisciplinarity seeks connections between fields of knowledge whose identity it ultimately leaves intact, our point of departure is rather that of a fully plastic and generic space of thought—a continuum of heterogeneous reasoning gestures, binding abstractions, and concrete determinations in a game of ends and means. From this point of view, a discipline can be understood as the particular and local instantiation of a group of conventionally constrained gestures operating within this continuum. It is only by recognizing the constitutive dynamics and differences between these diverse groups of gestures (i.e., the way each discipline unfolds its structural specificity through the generic space of thought) that artistic practices can hope to navigate this space and to have any traction on the global structure of reason.
It is this project of intrinsic navigation that Glass Bead wishes to take on.
A Renewed Abstraction
Such an attempt is necessarily twofold. To rethink art’s position within reason and its efficacy within the world demands an enlarged conception of what abstraction is and can do. This task first requires that we clearly distinguish abstraction as we intend it here from its common understanding within the context of art theory as a defined aesthetic (e.g., formalist abstraction, abstract expressionism). Neither a genre nor a specific domain of practice, abstraction must be understood as the generically constitutive activity through which humans come to define and transform themselves and the world.1
This widened approach to abstraction then calls for a renewed exploration of the function of art within the wider sphere of rational activity. Today, art’s complex relation to abstraction can be schematically characterized by a general inclination towards a dynamics of retreat and seclusion. On a social and political level, there is a widespread tendency to oppose the systemic movements of the global economy by engaging with local particularities and seceding from these global movements of abstraction. In a society increasingly saturated with capitalistic vectors of abstraction, artistic and curatorial practices have attempted to safeguard aesthetics as an intuitively accessible common space surpassing all boundaries and overflowing all determinations. This immediacy also works on an epistemic level, where artistic production is seen as an alternative to the disembodied objectivities and overarching universals that modernity is criticized for having produced. Such a stand promotes a conception of art which, by way of a direct sensible relation to forms and materials, promises to rebind our knowledge with the alleged spontaneity of experience.
What these contemporary threads have in common is the idea that we can avoid the labor of abstraction by intuitively accessing the indeterminate expressive potential of the artwork. They are based on the shared belief that art, in its contemporary form and self-proclaimed epistemological and social immunity, can somehow be the guarantor of liberation from abstraction. Doing so, these threads implicitly promote a conception of freedom as that which is only achievable through the paradoxical coupling of flight and refuge. On the contrary, Glass Bead’s contention is that, in regards to abstraction, there can be no escape, no respite, no sanctuary2. No spontaneous knowledge can be reclaimed nor immediate social order be retrieved. To affirm the contrary is to fall prey to the yearning for an irreducible real, the inexhaustible search and delayed promise of a lost kernel of freedom. Obsessed with its own agency, contemporary art tends to embrace this myth, therefore misapprehending the very space of its operations and further intensifying its epistemic and political inefficacy.