Philosophy of the Arts



In the past, I have dubbed the type of representation through modal ellipsis, that we saw in the coffee cup scene from Robert Bresson’s L’argent, ‘intimation’. The point about intimation is that it makes events intimate by representing them incompletely, i.e. not in all the sense modalities that an audience expects. There was visual representing in the scene: we saw the coffee cup and the spilled coffee caused by the slap; we heard the slap, but didn’t see it. L'Argent
Standardly, intimation means suggestion, but that meaning does not capture what I am referring to here. I ‘woke up’ a connotation present within the word itself: that of “making intimate”.

Why would a representation through modal ellipsis make events more intimate than straightforward depiction might? Zooming in on the slapping and the resultant tears seems to be the traditional approach to bringing a slapping into view. However, more often than not, this has the debilitating effect of informing the audience of what events are happening, without particularly engaging, or implicating the audience with these events. This engaging, I submit, forms part of the effects of intimation.
Making events intimate, engaging the audience, why would one want that in the first place? My analysis suggests that intimation induces the beholder’s imagination to come up with his own memories of similar aspects of events and to incorporate, one way or the other, these into what is represented. Experiences of slaps, of humiliation, of indignity, disrespect, whatever: as long as one’s personal history with these fits the events depicted, and brings them to live.

Why discuss intimation in the context of aesthetic properties?

I introduced the example of intimation in the discussion about aesthetic properties, because it is one of the ways in which an aesthetic property rather is an expressive property than a merely perceptual, intrinsic, or objective one that can be pointed at. It is also an example of an aesthetic event (rather than ‘property’) that involves a reference to the personal contribution of the beholder–next to a reference to what cultures deem worthy of attention through direct inspection (which answers to Marcia Eaton’s approach).

Norms of correctness

The example of the coffee cup, however, also illustrates that the personal contribution on behalf of the audience does not commit a philosophical aesthetics to a subjectivist relativist position. One who were to conclude that in the eyes of the director, Robert Bresson, the slapping apparently was not as important as the spilled coffee, would simply have misunderstood the scene.
Put differently, intimation too answers to norms of correctness–which is not saying that the exact expressive quality that is being intimated is an objective property!

Intimation and supervenience

Intimation, also, seems a case in point against the relevance and applicability of the notion of supervenience. What would be the relation between the basic properties of coffee spilling over a shaking coffee cup, and the intimated nature of the slapping as a major event in the lives of these two people? Surely, no other spilling coffee cup is going to relate exactly these meanings.
So supervenientists would have to identify more and more elements of the scene as its basic properties having no other stopping point for this expansion than a thought like: “now we have identified enough basic properties to explain why audiences feel that this event is important in the lives of these two people”.
This, however, ‘begs the question’. We would want the basic properties to be identifiable on their own terms lest they don’t explain what supervenes on them, but merely repeat that. (I suspect that supervenience is often used in this question-begging manner).
The term ‘intimation’ suggests that we need a psychologically more complex theory to account for the nature of expressive properties. [Whether that account be expandable to aesthetic properties in general, is another matter.]

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