“This is, after all, what ‘critique’ means: separation. When Rousseau wrote his Lettre sur les spectacles, this separation was emblematized by the apparently innocuous description of an ancient statue, that by Johann Joachim Winckelmann of the Torso of the Belvedere. The break inaugurated by his description lay in its account of the statue as deprived of all that which, in representational logic, makes it possible to define bodily expressions and anticipate the effects of their viewing. The statue has no mouth enabling it to deliver messages, no face to express emotions, no limbs to command or carry out action.
Even so, Winckelmann considered it to be a statue of Hercules no less, the hero of the Twelve Labours. But for him it is the statue of an idle Hercules, sitting among the Gods at the end of his labours. At its core, what this description expresses is an identity of opposites: in it activity and passivity merge together, forming an equivalence whose sole expression lies in the muscles of the torso that ripple with the same indifference as ocean waves. This mutilated statue of an idle hero, unable to propose anything to imitate, was, according to Winckelmann, the epitome of Greek beauty, and so also of Greek liberty. His description sums up thus the paradoxical efficacy of art. No longer predicated on the addition of a feature to expression and movement — such as an enigmatic power of the image — this efficacy is, on the contrary, based on an indifference and radical subtraction or withdrawal. This very same paradox is conceptualized by Schiller in terms of aesthetic ‘free play’ and ‘free appearance’, phe nomena that he regarded as having been epitomized not in a headless statue but in a torso-less head – that of the Juno Ludovisi. This head, he thought, is characterized by a radical indifference, a radical absence of care, will or designs. (…) Continue reading