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New Left Review 6, November-December 2000

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.



Art in the Age of Covergence

From the time of Lessing’s Laokoon (1766) onwards, successive thinkers have sought to differentiate the arts from each other by establishing the specific claims and characteristics of each. At the very moment Reynolds was making a last attempt to synthesize Renaissance traditions of aesthetic criticism, Lessing was demarcating the frontiers between painting and poetry, in the first sustained bid to found judgements of works of art on their fidelity to the properties of their medium. In the twentieth century Lessing’s heirs, in repeating his gesture, were typically aiming at the culture industry. Rudolf Arnheim’s Nuovo Laocoone (1938) lamented the corruption of film by sound, while Clement Greenberg’s ‘Towards a Newer Laocoon’ (1940) explored the antagonisms between avant-garde and mass-produced kitsch. [1] Rudolf Arnheim, ‘A New Laocoön: Artistic Composites and the Talking Film’ (1938, originally in Italian), in Film as Art, Berkeley/Los Angeles 1960, pp. 199–230; Clement Greenberg, ‘Towards a Newer Laocoon’ (1940), in The Collected Essays and Criticism, vol. 1, Chicago 1986, pp. 23–38.

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Sven Lütticken, ‘From Media to Mythology’, NLR 6: £3

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