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Dialectical Passions

Dialectical Passions: Negation in Postwar Art Theory

Gail Day
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    Dialectical Passions
    Book Description:

    Representing a new generation of theorists reaffirming the radical dimensions of art, Gail Day launches a bold critique of late twentieth-century art theory and its often reductive analysis of cultural objects. Exploring core debates in discourses on art, from the New Left to theories of "critical postmodernism" and beyond, Day counters the belief that recent tendencies in art fail to be adequately critical. She also challenges the political inertia that results from these conclusions.

    Day organizes her defense around critics who have engaged substantively with emancipatory thought and social process: T. J. Clark, Manfredo Tafuri, Fredric Jameson, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, and Hal Foster, among others. She maps the tension between radical dialectics and left nihilism and assesses the interpretation and internalization of negation in art theory.

    Chapters confront the claim that exchange and equivalence have subsumed the use value of cultural objects-and with it critical distance- and interrogate the proposition of completed nihilism and the metropolis put forward in the politics of Italian operaismo. Day covers the debates on symbol and allegory waged within the context of 1980s art and their relation to the writings of Walter Benjamin and Paul de Man. She also examines common conceptions of mediation, totality, negation, and the politics of anticipation. A necessary unsettling of received wisdoms, Dialectical Passions recasts emancipatory reflection in aesthetics, art, and architecture.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52062-1
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-24)

    Amid reflections on the rituals, commodity kitsch, and everyday banalities of modern Japanese life, Chris Marker, in his film Sans Soleil, turns his attention to a Left-wing demonstration. The camera alights briefly on a middle-aged man (see figure 0.1). The scene is shot at a rally to commemorate the birthday of a victim of a protest at the same site in the nineteen-sixties, when peasants fought to prevent an airport being built on their land. The repetitions and echoes between “then” and “now” make the occasion “unreal,” part of the “world of appearances.” The man—who we take to be...

  6. Chapter 1 T. J. Clark and the Pain of the Unattainable Beyond
    (pp. 25-69)

    Since the publication in 1973 of his first two books, Image of the People and The Absolute Bourgeois, T. J. Clark has been identified as among the most significant art historians of the postwar period. As testified to by numerous courses and readers in art history, these two works—the book on Courbet especially—are seen as a turning point in the discipline, initiating the second wave of “the social history of art,” and providing a point of departure for the more broadly conceived “new art history.”² The method advocated by Clark in the opening chapter of Image of the...

  7. Chapter 2 Looking the Negative in the Face: Manfredo Tafuri and the Venice School of Architecture
    (pp. 70-131)

    With damage to a lagoon’s ecosystem caused by nearby petrochemical plants and the disturbing frequency of acqua alta, Venice’s environmental problems are familiar to its visitors and taken to be a pressing issue for world heritage. In 1999, the then mayor of Venice commissioned Oliviero Toscani—the figure famous for initiating Benetton’s controversial advertising strategy—to produce a poster campaign intended to discourage a certain kind of tourism. It was argued that the mass of day-trippers—those who stay in the city for just half a day, en route to an even briefer stop in Padua—were draining, rather than...

  8. Chapter 3 Absolute Dialectical Unrest, Or, the Dizziness of a Perpetually Self-Engendered Disorder
    (pp. 132-181)

    At the beginning of the nineteen-eighties, theorists in art detected a new “allegorical impulse.”² Taking their distance from what they perceived to be modernism’s “symbolic” practices, these writers set out to reverse a longstanding hierarchy in which the values associated with the symbol (essence, aesthetic immediacy, and organic plenitude) were privileged over those of allegory (mediacy and mechanical re-presentation). In the visual arts—and especially among writers closely identified with the journal October—this revived interest in the allegorical mode fused the critique of Clement Greenberg with a growing interest in poststructuralist thought. It also drew on the interest in...

  9. Chapter 4 The Immobilizations of Social Abstraction
    (pp. 182-229)

    In his defining essay “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” written in the mid-nineteen-eighties, Fredric Jameson argued that critical distance “has very precisely been abolished in the new space of postmodernism.”³ Writing around the same time, Hal Foster noted how social difference becomes irrevocably problematized in the wake of “bourgeois divestiture.” His conclusion is especially sweeping: if difference can be “fabricated in the interests of social control,” he observed, “so too can resistance.”⁴ He reiterated the problem in another article:

    the real radicality is always capital’s, for it not only effects the new symbolic forms by which we...

  10. Afterword: Abstract and Transitive Possibilities
    (pp. 230-246)

    The Moscow rush hour. A collective of Russian artists linger at a busy street crossing in Barrikadnaya, an area in the city’s northwest. Cars and lorries are in motion; artists and commuting workers wait. At the last moment—as the lights change, signaling the traffic to halt and the assembled pedestrians to proceed—the Radek Community unfurl their red banner “Another world is possible” and accompany the throng across the junction (see figure 5.1). ¹ From the allegory of the crossroads to the confrontations of traffic and people, stasis and movement, possibility and impossibility, the group’s deceptively simple action does...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 247-300)
  12. Index
    (pp. 301-308)