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Rankings: A Pre-History
A forerunner to contemporary listification in eighteenth-century tabulations of painters, playwrights, poets and composers. Rise and fall of Enlightenment metrics of aesthetic evaluation, squeezed between the dyadic arrangements of classical comparatio and Romantic conceits of off-the-scale artistic genius.
Memory and Icons
Fate of the photographic icon of war in the age of embedded journalism and the digital camera: why so few images of the conquest of Iraq are recollected, and so many of the fall of the Twin Towers pre-selected? The importance of counter-narratives for fixing meaning to shots of fighting or suffering, and the latent possibilities of the democratization of image-production today.
The World As Gallery
First global art movement or mere identity of a New York set? Potpourri of avant-garde practices or formalist tautology? A survey of Conceptual Art’s crystallization, among international neo-avant-gardes and the artistic networks of global centres, between an abstract global imaginary and its concrete contestations.
The shift of artistic and activist practice towards the performance of personae. Sven Lütticken tracks the fraying limits of subjecthood through post-war action painting, Marcel Mariën’s surrealist-Blanquist parti imaginaire, the 1960s Dutch neo-avant-garde, the Invisible Committee, Rojava and artistic experiments with the political party-form.
The Three-Headed Horse
Echoes and parallels between the work of Eisenstein, Picasso and Orozco in the late 1930s. The recurring spectres of war, conquest and destruction stalking the world from Moscow to Guadalajara to Guernica, travelling back and forth between film, wall and canvas.
Art of the Industrial Trace
Looking down at man-made landscapes from an airplane window: entry-point to an allegorical materialism, mapping art onto its double in production? The role of the indexical in earthworks, crop art and aerial photography, and the limits it places on allegory.
Scars and Faultlines
The art of Doris Salcedo as test-case for the complex interaction of aesthetics and commerce. For works aiming to commemorate lives lost in Colombia’s civil wars, what are the consequences—economic, ethical, critical—of integration into the circuits of both memory and market?
The Ideology of Universalism
Contending visions of universality, from Kantian common sense to the doctrine of human rights. Can a constellation of singularities emerge within the standardization envisaged by globalized production? Prompts from Musil, Gursky and the carpet-weavers of Kuyan-Bulak.
Brecht’s Relevance: Highs and Lows
In what ways does Brecht’s drama—and the world-transforming impulse behind his strategies of defamiliarization—speak to times and places other than his own? Ups and downs of his resonance in Brazil and beyond, shadowing the movements of history’s leading edge.
Culture and Society, Then and Now
The idea of culture in Raymond Williams’s classic work, and discrepant readings of it, fifty years on. Gestation amid CP debates on the English tradition, hidden affinities with the Frankfurt School, and counterposition to the verities of today’s liberal multiculturalism.
Attending to Abstract Things
From the philosophe De Brosses in the eighteenth century to the abstract expressionist Barnett Newman and the conceptualist Sol LeWitt in the twentieth—via Hegel, Creuzer and Marx—the fates of the fetish and the commodity, in critical thought and art.
Idolatry and its Discontents
Amid rhetorical dust-storms over purported Islamist threats to Western values, Sven Lütticken finds antecedents for contemporary struggles over the image in Judaic and Protestant bans on idolatry. Multiple meanings of the veil and varying forms of iconoclasm, under the aegis of the spectacle.
Suspense and . . . Surprise
Media projections of the ‘war on terror’ as manipulations of shock and time, purveyed through a perpetual present of 24-hour coverage and on-line news. Lessons from Hitchcock, Conrad and Benjamin on the poetics of suspense and possibilities for a rehistoricization of the attentat.
The Feathers of the Eagle
Lifting, swiping, zapping: popular expressions that have been aesthetic tactics since Dada. Sven Lütticken recasts the history of such practices of appropriation—not excluding those of Warhol or Debord, sometimes misplaced—as so many exercises in mythology. Anticipated by Flaubert, theorized by Barthes, staged by Broodthaers, is time running out for such creative misuses of past or present, as ‘intellectual property rights’ tighten?
Managing the Avant-Garde
In the age of franchise museums and mega-shows, what role for the artist? Borrowings from the revolutionary avant-garde in the practices of present-day creator-impresarios, seamlessly fusing the realms of commerce and culture—and the refusenik stance of Kabakov’s conceptual counter-projects.
After the Gods
Mythology as the ‘condition and subject of all art’ in the varying conceptions of the early German Romantics and neoclassicism: from Schelling and Schlegel to Winckelmann and Goethe, meditations on Laocoon and anticipations of the Gesamtkunstwerk—issuing into the uncanny mythopoeias of modernity in Melville’s Confidence Man and the White Whale.
On Variousness; and On Persuasion
The resources culture may appropriately furnish for a critique of society, not always unpolitical, defended against Francis Mulhern’s case in Metaculture and its sequels. Does criticism persuade by attraction of example, or by force of proposition?
Reflections on Fredric Jameson’s narratology of modernity, and current attempts to reinstate it as a master category of the time, requiring no suspect prefixes. The political dialectic behind such impulses of restoration, and the artistic practices which prepared them.
What is Cultural Criticism?
Meanings of culture, the place of politics and role of intellectuals in the practice of criticism, as conceived since Arnold. Replying to Stefan Collini in NLR 18, Francis Mulhern asks how far the arts of a conversible portraiture bear on a critical agenda.
Threads from the history of Mexican surrealism: the Blue House in Coyoacán and Breton’s protegée as avant-garde antidotes or postmodern devotional objects. The components of the Kahlo cult and its basis in the artist’s own practice of self-fabulation and masquerade, concealment and display.
After the dilapidation of urban modernism, what kinds of city and what forms of architecture await us? The author of The Seeds of Time considers their flowers in the dizzying work of Rem Koolhaas, the mega-developments of the Pearl River Delta and the conceptualization of ‘Junkspace’. Breaking back into history with a battering-ram of the postmodern?
Replying to critics of his ‘Conjectures on World Literature’ (NLR 1), Franco Moretti considers the objections to a world-systems theory of the relations between centre and periphery in the sphere of the novel or poetry, and proposes some new hypotheses about the morphology of forms and the politics of comparative literary studies.
Defending Cultural Criticism
Is cultural criticism condemned to the gestures of an anti-political disdain, whether Right or Left in origin? Replying to Francis Mulhern in NLR 16, Stefan Collini argues to the contrary that it signifies an indispensable moment of committed reflection.
Secrecy and Publicity
Can the legacies of the classical avant-gardes be renewed as effective strategies in postmodern conditions, or are they condemned to mere pastiche? After Bataille, Warhol and Smithson, the possibilities of counter-media, and uncertainties of counter-publics.
Replying to Stefan Collini in NLR 7, Francis Mulhern extends his critique of the pretensions of culture to general social authority, to the Marxist versions of Kulturkritik in the Frankfurt School. What defines the difference between politics and culture as practices?
The Aesthetic Revolution and its Outcomes
Schiller’s conception of play, foundation at once of the art of the beautiful and the art of living, as the original scene of Western aesthetics, generating a set of recurrent emplotments of the relations between life and art, from the Juno Ludovisi to Jeff Koons.
Between the Cultures of Capital
T. J. Clark’s landmark study, Farewell to an Idea, takes the art of modernism to be a convulsive attempt to imagine modernity in forms other than the triumph of capitalism. Malcolm Bull suggests it might be better conceived as a fold in the overlap between two contrasting cultures of capitalism, classical and commodity, of which only one is left today.
In coolly proclaiming itself to be essentially the application of technique to matter, to what further consequences did modern art discover it was committing itself? Christopher Prendergast traces the ‘frightful clockwork of the world-structure’ in the games of Mallarmé, puppets of Flaubert and Kleist, musings of Mann, and the hurdy-gurdy of Cézanne overheard by T. J. Clark.
Between the elite traditions of Kulturkritik and the populist enthusiasms of Cultural Studies, nominal antagonists, Francis Mulhern’s Culture/Metaculture discerns a covert bond—a common hostility to politics proper, as the antonym of culture. Stefan Collini queries his way of resolving the tension between these two.
From Media to Mythology
From Lessing to Greenberg, criticism of the arts was founded on the distinctions made between them. Does technology today irreversibly ruin these? Sven Lütticken asks what a radical practice that accepted convergence between artistic media would look like.
MoMA 2000: The Capitulation
Time was when New York’s Museum of Modern Art plumed itself as an uncompromising guardian of Modernism. The arrival of its ‘themed’ re-hang—mimicked now at London’s Tate Modern—reduces a hundred years of defiguration to a stroll through an aesthetic department store.
Origins of the Present Crisis
Postmodernism is typically seen as a recent sequel to modernism. T. J. Clark queries Perry Anderson’s account of the break between them, and concludes that there is more continuity of conditions than meets the eye. It may be too soon to judge whether modernism has passed.
The Crisis of Contemporary Culture
St Catherine’s, the college to which I have just migrated, got its name by a mistake.footnote1 The college began life in the nineteenth century as a society for matriculating students too poor to gain entry to the University, which is not least of the reasons why I am honoured to . . . read more
Subcultures and Society
In their Foreword to Political Shakespeare footnote1 Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield give a brief account of ‘cultural materialism’: a mode of critical analysis which examines both ‘high’ and ‘popular’ texts, insists on their implication in history, denies that they have any transcendent meanings, and takes its stand on openly . . . read more
Words Words Words: A Reply to Tony Pinkney
‘Modernism’ and the ‘Avant-garde’ are not synonymous terms’. Tony Pinkney is absolutely right in saying so, in stressing the relevance of Bürger’s book (which, alas, had not been published at the time I wrote my article), and in pointing to the terminological ‘slide’ in the opening sentences of ‘The Spell . . . read more
The Moment of Truth
Literary genres have temporal boundaries, and the current definition of modern tragedy is an evident if vague acknowledgment of this fact. But they have spatial boundaries too, which may be at times even more revealing—historically revealing—than temporal ones.footnote* Such is the case with modern tragedy, whose own geography has the . . . read more
The Language of African Literature
The language of African literature cannot be discussed meaningfully outside the context of those social forces which have made it both an issue demanding our attention, and a problem calling for a resolution.footnote* On the one hand is, let us call a spade a spade, imperialism in its colonial and . . . read more
The Dialectic of Fear
The fear of bourgeois civilization is summed up in two names: Frankenstein and Dracula.footnote* The monster and the vampire are born together one night in 1816 in the drawing room of the Villa Chapuis near Geneva, out of a society game among friends to while away a rainy summer. Born . . . read more
On Bertolt Brecht
In the realm of aesthetics, the way a thing is expressed is of a qualitatively different order from what it would be in science. No one will deny that even in science a statement can be made in a clear or confused, an elegant or a laboured manner, etc., and . . . read more
Introduction to Lukacs
The aesthetic debates within German Marxism are now acknowledged to constitute one of the most remarkable sequences in European cultural history this century. Few episodes either in the general history of Marxist theory or in the course of aesthetic discussion as a whole can match the depth and range of . . . read more
Image of the People
Each of Timothy Clark’s two books merits a separate study. Both are important works, especially fascinating for a French reader. But I shall confine myself here to Image of the People,footnote1 since its field is narrower than that of The Absolute Bourgeois,footnote2 and for that very reason it is all . . . read more
When we published the Jakobson-Tynyanov theses last year (nlr 37), we wished to draw attention to the confrontation of vanguard art and aesthetics with revolutionary politics and theory in the Soviet Union during the decade after the Bolshevik Revolution. El Lissitsky’s polemic on the future of the book is another . . . read more
Magritte and the Bowler Hat
Why did Magritte populate his surrealist images with bowler hats? Peter Wollen takes us from the oneirics of the Belgian painter to the antics of Tintin and Chaplin, the purism of Le Corbusier, memories of Beckett, fantasies of Bond and Kundera. Emblem of working men and city toffs, cabaret girls and Orange parades—what icons have matched it for multiple meanings?
Conjectures on World Literature
Nearly two hundred years ago, Goethe announced the imminence of a world literature. Here Franco Moretti offers a set of hypotheses for tracking the birth and fate of the novel in the peripheries of Europe, in Latin America, Arab lands, Turkey, China, Japan, West Africa. For the first time, the prospect of a morphology of global letters?
Chris Ofili and the Limits of Hybridity
Aside from a typically cheeky demand to be presented with the cheque up-front, there was little surprise in Chris Ofili’s 1998 Turner Prize victory. His solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, London, had been a huge success, pulling in large crowds and excellent reviews. His lush, psychedelic, highly decorative paintings . . . read more
Surrealism’s Feminine Side
What is surrealism? As this anthology superbly documents,footnote* it is not a ‘French literary school from the 1920s’, but a vast and ambitious poetic, cultural and political revolutionary movement, a subversive protest, in the name of desire and imagination, against bourgeois civilization. International in its scope, historically open-ended, its aim . . . read more
Europa and Utopia: How Cultural History Deals with the Paradox of Modernity
In the light of Luisa Passerini’s new book on the cultural and political discourse on Europe in Britain in the 1930s,footnote* it is tempting to draw a number of parallels between that decade and our own. The inter-war years, Passerini shows, were a period of much speculation and adventurous thinking . . . read more
Centennial Politics: On Jameson on Brecht on Method
Brecht can be supremely useful to us—if we wish to think through and do something about the present catastrophic state of the world; and what is useful is his method. This is Fredric Jameson’s thesis in his pathbreaking book.footnote* It is, I think, the most significant contribution to come out . . . read more
Raiding the Dressing-Up Box
This month, at the Paris fashion shows, designer Alexander McQueen’s collection for the house of Givenchy featured an austere black Victorian crinoline, whose heavy satin folds and ruched white petticoats parted at the front to reveal leather biker trousers worn underneath. Very ‘now’, this Victorian-biker look; so postmodern, this raiding . . . read more
From the Naked to the Nude
The representation of the unadorned human body by artists—the transformation of the naked into the nude—was reckoned among the highest goals of European art from the Renaissance until well into the present century. But preconceptions of what such images should look like have changed radically during that period. Nowadays, the . . . read more
Art, Class and Cleavage
Attention all socialists and left-thinking people of the Earth. And all you left-sided, critical (down to your last unpierced body part) poststructuralist radicals. Punks and drum-and-bass heads too, listen: Ben Watson has a message for you. Art, Class and Cleavage proposes a negative dialectics intoxicated with the excesses of the . . . read more
The Multiple Identities of Walter Benjamin
In the August issue of Biography, a popular us magazine, the editor-in-chief prefaces some musing on that month’s star profiles, General George C. Marshall and Tina Turner, with an outline of the magazine’s core philosophy: ‘No two life stories are even remotely the same, even the ones that begin in . . . read more
Captured by the Screen
With every chapter, Gargantua serves up a concentrated dose of commodity images, most of these glossy and seen on a screen.footnote* Under Stallabrass’s direction, the commonplace artefacts of our daily lives impose themselves like actors in a technological drama. The computer screen perched on desk or lap, captures our gaze . . . read more
What appear to be a sequence of old snapshots in faded colour have been framed and hung on the gallery wall. They look as if they had been dug from some forgotten trunk in a family home, yet they show only backgrounds—walls, garden lawns, a deserted tea-table, an empty pram. . . . read more
Scavenging by Night
How art confronts industrial capitalism and its directors, the bourgeoisie, has troubled the modern Western world ever since Théophile Gautier acted as cheerleader on the first night of Victor Hugo’s Ernani in 1830, causing a riot. Then, the fight was between the Romantics and the classicists, but from that day . . . read more
The Ideology of the Aesthetic
In Ingmar Bergman’s film of The Magic Flute, the camera, throughout the overture, traverses the faces of an audience divided by age, sex, ethnicity and style, but united in its common rapture. It is a compelling image of the power of the ‘aesthetic’ to realize—despite everything that tends to human . . . read more
The Place of Theory
Readers not yet familiar with Fredric Jameson’s corpus will find this collection of his theoretical essays a useful introduction to the major themes and methods that have dominated his work for two decades.footnote* From the groundbreaking programmatic text, ‘Metacommentary’ (1971), to his more recent writings on postmodernism (represented here by . . . read more
From the Collective to the Collection: Curating Post-Communist Germany
Who still has souvenirs of Autumn 1989 stored away in the cupboard? To mark the tenth year of post-communism, curator Bernd Roder of the Prenzlauer Berg Museum in Berlin recently put out such a call for donations. His planned exhibition, The Time Is High, sets out to punctuate the timeline . . . read more
The Grand Hotel Abyss
Germany’s first experiment in parliamentary democracy ushered a mélange of social forces onto the stage of history footnote* . Forged in the crucible of the successive epochal defeats of the imperial military order and the revolutionary Left, the Weimar Republic achieved notoriety for being an ineffectual bulwark against the onslaught . . . read more
Postmodernism and Post-Socialist Society: Cultural Politics in China After the 'New Era'
Enthusiasts for Chinese postmodernism are nowadays put on the defensive by those who dismiss the issue as a Chinese problematic, or resist postmodernism in general.footnote* However, it is often neglected that, at a pedestrian, journalistic level, it has never been too difficult to identify and inventory postmodern(ist) works in arts . . . read more
Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the US Big City
Sometime during 1996, at the very latest, Latinos surpassed Blacks as the second largest ethno-racial group in New York City. (They long have been the largest census group in the Bronx.) There were no street celebrations in El Barrio or Washington Heights, nor did the mayor hold a press conference . . . read more
Embracing the Enterprise Culture: Art Insitutions since the 1980s
Such statements were a common feature of the Reagan era, designed to place business before the public consciousness as an enlightened patron of the arts. They are indicative of a wider phenomenon that characterized the decade of the 1980s under successive Reagan and Thatcher governments—the unprecedented intervention of business in . . . read more