Hole Philosophy

“For holes appear to be immaterial: every hole has a material “host” (the stuff around it, such as the edible part of a donut) and it may have a material “guest” (such as the liquid filling a cavity), but the hole itself does not seem to be made of matter. Indeed, holes seem to be made of nothing, if anything is. And this gives rise to a number of conundrums.” – Roberto Casati and Achille Varzi, “Holes”. 1

Conundrums and questions as discussed by Casati and Varzi:

  • The difficulty in explaining how holes are perceived due to its immateriality.
  • The identity criteria for holes (again because of the immateriality) and we can’t rely on the host as we predict the host can change, which doesn’t technically effect the hole itself.
  • The mereology of holes. Are my clay sculptures a perforation of multiple holes or is it one hole that comes in disconnected parts? Like a bikini, or the letter “i”, perhaps my objects are just a single disconnected hole.
  • The relevancy of the hole itself.

This may lead philosophers to favour an ontological approach over realism, some theories being:

  • One may hold that holes do not exist at all, arguing that all truths putatively about holes boil down to truths about holed objects (Jackson 1977: 132). Can every hole-referring noun-phrase be de-nominalized?
  • Holes do exist, but they are nothing over and above the regions of spacetime at which they are found (Wake et al. 2007). The spinning donut and ring theorywould it be spinning in both directions?
  • Holes are ordinary material beings: they are neither more nor less than superficial parts of what, on the naive view, are their material hosts. (Lewis & Lewis 1970) Does expanding the surround expand the hole?
  • Holes are “negative” parts of their material hosts (Hoffman & Richards 1985) – eg: a donut being the mereological sum of a positive pie together with the negative bit in the middle. Making a hole = adding a part, and changing an object to get rid of a hole = remove a part.
  • Treat holes as “disturbances” of some sort (Karmo 1977). In the same sense in which a knot may be found in a rope or a wrinkle in a carpet.
  • Holes are not the particulars they seem to be (Meadows 2013)
  • “Perhaps holes are genuine absences, understood as localized states of the world and, therefore, though not things or natural properties or relations of things, they can serve as truth-makers for negative existentials or false-makers for positive existentials” (Martin 1996). 2
    I really like this quote in terms “genuine absences” and the synergy of positive and negative relationships with holes, spaces and the surround.

The ontology of holes forces the inevitable epistemological categorization of these holes and their surroundings. It is not human nature to simply let an object exist in its present state without asking philosophical or logic-based questions. There is a need to understand why and how it exists? What purpose does it serve? What is both the history of this object and its place in the future? How can I make sense of this in a way that I feel comfortable with its existence? Rosland Krauss states, “And we are comforted by this perception of sameness, this strategy for reducing anything foreign in either time or space, to what we already know and are.” 3 She goes on to define sculpture as anything that can be connected to a certain historical event or process in time. Justified through logic and knowledge. 4  As much as artists will attempt to break or alter this notion, perhaps by stating they “create without thinking”, this is simply not true. If there is no logic to explain what is seen or experienced then it stands to reason that it doesn’t even exist. There are still institutional requirements to define art with logical reasoning. Yet this doesn’t mean artists can’t apply an ‘inverse logic or pure negativity through a combination of exclusions’. 5

Rosalind Krauss discusses sculpture expanding from “what we bump into” in regards to the negative condition, non-architectural forms and then bringing it back into the positive through reasoning. 6

Examples of artists using the negative condition, non-architecture and non-landscape in their sculptures (ironically mapped through ‘logical’ mathematical theories such as the Klein group or Piaget group), 7 allowing for postmodern logical ruptures that combine the practices of individual artists and the question of the medium (in relation to sculptural definitions): 8

1. Roberto Casati and Achille Varzi, “Holes,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Stanford University, May 23, 2019), https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/holes/.
2. Ibid.
3. Rosalind Krauss, “Sculpture in the Expanded Field,” October 8 (1979): p. 30, https://doi.org/10.2307/778224.
4. Ibid, 34.
5. Ibid, 36.
6. Ibid, 36-37.
7. Ibid.
8. Ibid, 42.

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