Appearance, Reality and Beyond

The objective content of an occasion of experience sorts itself out under two contrasted characters—Appearance and Reality. It is to be noticed that this is not the only dichotomy exhibited in experience. There are the physical and the mental poles, and there are the objects prehended and the subjective forms of the prehensions. In fact this final pair of opposites, Appearance and Reality, is not quite do fundamental metaphysically as the other two pairs. [...] Unfortunately the superior dominance in consciousness of the contrast ‚Appearane and Reality‘ has led metaphysicians from the Greeks onwards to make their start from the more superficial characteristic.

A.N. Whitehead, Appearance and Reality

[in:], Adventures Of Ideas, New York: Simon &  Schuster, 1933, p. 209.

Truth is a qualification which applies to Appearance alone. Reality is just itself, and it is nonsense to ask whether in be true or false. Truth is the confirmation of Appearance to Reality. […] A reflexion in a mirror is at once a truthful appearance and a deceptive appearance.

A.N. Whitehead, Civilisation: Truth,

[in:], Adventures Of Ideas, New York: Simon &  Schuster, 1933, p. 241.

The word "reality", it should be noted, is a euphemistic term. Why should we call the sense world, appearance, and the world discovered by thought, reality? In answer to this question we may point out the empirical fact that things get differentiated into those which are important and those which are unimportant, into those which are interesting and those which are uninteresting. Such distinctions are symptomatic of interest and expressive of temperament. Now the distinction between appearance and reality is just one of these impressive and significant human distinctions.

M.T. McClure, Appearance and Reality in Greek Philosophy,

[in:] Studies In The History Of Ideas, New York: Columbia University Press, 1918, p. 2.

The first task of historians of ideas is to use relicts from the past to reconstruct as historical objects the weak intentions that constitute the hermeneutic meanings of utterances made in the past.

M. Bevir, On Objectivity,

[in:] The Logic of The History Of Ideas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 78.



The attention of the International History of Ideas Club at Jagiellonian University in Krakow is focused — at the beginning of a new decade of 21st century — on the dispute between two notions of early modern times: Kultur and civilisation/civilization. This argument, which has arisen in the times of the Enlightenment, accompanies the adventures of the European Thought for almost two centuries: from circa 1750 to 1950. Over that period the British civilization and French civilisation have been presented in opposition to the German Kultur (Binoche 2005). It is only known that these two concepts have strongly intermingled with the political doctrines of Europe, particularly in times of some national ambitions. Due to the contribution of Arnold Joseph Tonybee and the eminent thinkers of the Frankfurt School, since the beginning of the 20th century the evident opposition between Kultur and civilization/civilisation was only to lose its importance. The end of World War II did not only break the dispute between the two concepts, but also contributed to a new understanding of the idea of culture, in particular one that we have recently considered under the name of the "cultural turn" (conceptualized in singular or in plural, e.g. as does Doris Bachmann-Medick in her bestseller entitled Cultural Turns; Bachmann-Medick, 2008).

As one of the last examples of the old perspective – anchored in an order of dispute between aforementioned notions – we can perceive the Alfred North Whitehead's concept of civilization which was drafted in the 1933 published study entitled Adventures of Ideas. A construction of previously Greek- described concept was founded on a pure and balanced architecture based on five main columns: i.e. truth, beauty, relation between truth and beauty, adventures and peace. In this architectonic perspective Whitehead unveils the points of conceptual grip pertaining to the term civilization. Necessary elements of that grid outline the continuum of western thought. He tries also to explain the main philosophical aspects of this concept, in which the problem of appearance and reality is being denuded. Since the time of Plato's cave allegory the stated problem couldn't escape the canon of mainstream motives of western thought. According to Whitehead, for a long time this dichotomy deceitfully attracted the philosophers' attention.

However, this aforementioned dichotomy still influences today's reflection which has a direct effect – it is noticeable between "linguistic turn" and "pictorial", "visual", "iconic turn". This new approach seems to be very fruitful and it yielded: P. M. S. Hacker's "Philosophy of Mind", "Visual Studies" and "Visual Culture", or – as it is observed by Bachmann-Medick and referred to German-language context – the turn and dynamic development of particular subject constellations rooted in actual visual sensitivity: "image anthropology" (Bild Anthropologie), "image and media studies" (Bild- Medienwissenschaft), "image cultural encounters studies" (transkulturelle Bildkulturwissenschaft) or "interdisciplinary general image studies" (interindisziplinäre Allgemeine Bildwissenschaft). This interdisciplinary approach is increasingly being opposed to linguistics, which dominated German thought under the name of general linguistics (Allgemeine Sprachwissenschaft). The conceptual variety is not a surprise for the tradition of thought, in which the notion of "Bild" has been adopted as a way of worldly perception (Welterfassung) and which Barbara Cassin qualifies as the untranslatable (intraduisible) ones (Cassin 2004). Concurrently, it is clear that in the global context the "iconic turn" shows the importance of the past 20th century's revolutions that brought Übersetzungskehere in relative terms, the famous translational turn with its Translational Studies aiming again at new understanding, (re)interpretation of culture and it's phenomena.

It seems that this dichotomy attracts the attention of a wider audience. The problem of relationship between appearance and reality has been dealt with — recently for example — by Raphaël Enthoven on the Arte television channel (France Culture broadcasting station journalist and Philosophie programme moderator on Arte) and Alexander Schnell (lecturer of Sorbonne and Erasmus Mundus Exchange Programme "EuroPhilosophie" Coordinator).

To express the same problem, that is of Being (Sein) and appearance (Schein), appearance (Scheinhaftigkeit) and reality (Wirklichkeit) or poetry (Dichtung) and truth (Wahrheit), a contemporary artist from Berlin Mischa Kuball choses a different way of facing this problem, which he called Plato's Mirror. In times of the spectacular spread of the social and political rather than philosophical aspects of the said problem, Kuball suggests setting the problem of the relationships between realities through exhibition and performance.

The dimension of shadow and illusion, the play of light and images awoken by Kuball was publically shown from September 2011 in Sydney and Wellington, and then in Cracow. It will take place after a decade since the painful caesura of contemporary history, which was set by the infamous September 11th, 2001 occurrence. Undoubtedly this day became a moment of turn in World recognition. September 11th‘s turn became the starting point for a hasty search for (re)construction rather than (de)construction of various metaphysical aspects of western thought. The new basis for western civilization has tried to elaborate, at the same time. Concurrently, the ideas of culture and civilization, as well as the ideas of appearance and reality are being pulled out of the shadows – directing their whole strength into the epicentre of mostly political discourse.

The International History of Ideas Club at Jagiellonian University in Krakow (in cooperation with the Goethe-Institut Krakau and Institut Français) would like to invite the reader to a round table discussion on "Appearance, reality and beyond" which will take place on December 8th in Cracow (it includes a wide contemporary context - historical, social, political and philosophical as well). On that occasion, with the support of the Goethe-Institut Krakau, in the Auditorium Maximum at Jagiellonian University the exhibition of Mischa Kuball's Plato's Mirror starts on December 7th.

The moment chosen by the organizers coincides with the Polish Presidency of the European Union, the end of the first decade of the 21st century, and the souvenir of the changed the course for world politics, the latter which is recognised as "anti-terrorist" and demanding the new concept of western civilization. In this context the questions arise out of themselves: "to what extend the contemporary conceptualization of the term ‘civilization' varies from the earlier ones?" and "is the appearance—reality dichotomy still actual or can it be already forgotten?"


Krakow, 23rd January, 2011                                                           Michel Henri Kowalewicz



Presentation excerpt of the Mischa Kuball‘s exhibition project Platon's mirror



Plato's allegory of the cave in the 7th book of The Republic is one of the most influential texts of European literature. In the allegory of the cave Plato draws a distinction between two forms of reality: the reality of the visible world and the (true) reality of ideas. This distinction between a "false" reality of apparition and a "true" reality, accessible only to the enlightened, not only had a huge influence on the philosophy of Christianity, but also on the entire philosophy of the Renaissance. Without Plato's allegory, neither the Gothic cathedrals with their light-symbolism nor the painting, sculpture, and architecture of the High Renaissance would have been possible.

Despite Nietzsche's wrathful rejection of Platonism as an infuriating denial of the visible and tangible world, the discussion of Plato's ideas remained a major task for the philosophy of the 20th Century (e.g. Karl Popper, Alain Badiou) – and a very successful basis for films (e.g. the Matrix trilogy). As an artist Mischa Kuball (*1959) engages with the phenomenon of light like nobody else and so at a certain point Plato's allegory had to become a major theme in his work. In very simple and highly effective installations utilising projectors, silver foil, photographs and videos, Kuball creates spaces that can be considered analogous to the situation in Plato's text about the cave. In photographs and videos Kuball translates the complex relationships between light source, reflection, silhouettes, and representation into seemingly endless transformations of reality into the reality of its reflection and vice versa. Kuball's engagement with the allegory of the cave takes place in an era in which the problem of reality is barely considered in philosophical, sociological or political terms. The current fascination with the ‘performativity' of everything real apparently makes redundant any question about what within reality might actually be real. Kuball questions whether the problem of reality can so easily be discarded by declaring reality as only socially constructed. He asks whether ratio and the intellect are still useful when it comes to comprehending a distinction between reality and apparition. In this sense, Kuball's work can not only be seen as an attempt at re-actualizing Plato, but moreover as an attempt to question anew the classic connection between the metaphor of light and the idea of Enlightenment.

*The original of this text was formulated by the author of the performance in the German and English

Published Date: 07.06.2012
Published by: Konrad Szocik

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