Aesthetics of Matters of Fact

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From Latour, Bruno. "The Aesthetics of Matters of Concern." 97 - Spinoza Lectures: Second Lecture on Empiricism. October 21, 2008).

I want to say that [Jeff Wall's Adrian Walter, Artist, Drawing From a Specimen in the Laboratory in the Dept. of Anatomy at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver (1992)] summarizes the whole aesthetics of matters of fact as it has emerged around the 16th century in a close and complex association between artists, scientists, theologians and their various patrons. One could objects to this point: how could matters of fact depend on any sort of aesthetic? Matters of fact are matters of fact and if there is something that escapes any staging, any artificial trick, any mediation it is exactly that: the God-dammit solid matter of fact beyond any human intention: "It is there whether you like it or not"! (And here it would do a lot of good to brang on the lectern with a gesture of fist). But the splendid beauty - not to say the subtle irony - of Jeff Wall's print tells the exactly opposite story: there is nothing more amazingly artificial, more carefully staged, more historically coded than meeting a matter of fact face-to-face. (p.18)

No doubt, matters of fact are the result of a specific style, they do not stand for reason, they do not stand for even empiricism, if by this label we mean what is given in experience. And they certainly do not stand for the sciences, as if those had nothing else to do but to bridge the gap between words and world. What I will argue tonight is that the other mystery to ponder, the one to make us seize our chin in our hand and imitate Rodin's pose for a very long time, is not how we can convince the world to jump into representation, (or a human limb to somersault into a piece of paper much like a lion through a circle of fire) but how come we have, for three centuries, discounted what is given to us through experience and replaced it instead with something never experience that philosophers have nonetheless the never to call "empirical" and "matters of actual". (21)

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Marsha: Interestingly in this article, Latour goes on to say that an aesthetics of matters of fact cannot possibly be a description of what scientists do. This is because it could never capture all their movements as they go about their business, their experience.