By Their Epithets Shall Ye Know Them
In response to Paul Claudel’s dictum—‘fear of the adjective is the beginning of style’—a defence of adjectival extravagance, mobilizing Nabokov and Mann, Joseph Roth and Herta Müller, to showcase the literary power of the epithet, and its ability to alchemize the noun.
While galleries and museums maximize footfall with an eye on the bottom line, the artwork is often claimed as a haven from the giddy pace of experience. What are the temporalities of the contemporary art world, and how might they be affected by the coronavirus crisis?
Neo-Backwardness In Bolsonaro’s Brazil
Brazil's foremost cultural theorist considers parallels between the rise of Bolsonaro and the 1964 military coup. Is capital once again advancing its modernization programme with the support of the country’s most backward-looking elements? Paradoxes of politics and culture, from Machado to the present, via tropicalismo and Glauber Rocha.
For Fredric Jameson, allegory exposes the contradictions that ideology obscures: capturing the multiplicities of modernity and forging an interpretive mechanism for the cultural critic. From transforming the text to terraforming the planet, insights into the method of a leading Marxist theorist gleaned from his most recent—and most playful—work.
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.
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?
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?
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 . . .” read more
The Grand Hotel Abyss
“A considerable part of the leading German intelligentsia, including Adorno, have taken up residence in the ‘Grand Hotel Abyss. . . a beautiful hotel, equipped with every comfort. . . And the daily contemplation of the abyss, between excellent meals or artistic entertainments, can only heighten the enjoyment . . .” 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. However, it is often neglected that, at a pedestrian, journalistic level, it has never been too difficult to identify and inventory postmodern(ist) works . . .” 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, 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 . . .” read more
Surrealism’s Feminine Side
“What is surrealism? As this anthology superbly documents, 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, . . .” read more
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 . . .” 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 . . .” 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. . . .” 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, . . .” 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 . . .” read more
Radical Art at documenta X
“documenta X was an extraordinary event. From June to September last year, the exhibition mounted a fearless challenge to today’s general premise and practice of art, and indeed to the entire art and culture industry. The tenth documenta awaits—and deserves—a sea-change in the predominantly negative responses it . . .” read more
The Brick and the Balloon: Architecture, Idealism and Land Speculation
“I want to think aloud today about a fundamental theoretical problem—the relationship between urbanism and architecture—which, alongside its own intrinsic interest and urgency, raises a number of theoretical issues of significance to me, although not necessarily to all of you. But I need to ask for some provisional . . .” read more
Sensation: Young British Artists from the Saatchi Collection
“Children, it seems, find it hard to understand the ontological status of stuffed animals: ‘is it alive or is it dead?’ Mortality is of course one of art’s traditional Big Subjects, coolly invoked and illustrated in Damien Hirst’s famous work The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of . . .” read more
Cinematic Ethnology: Siegfried Kracauer’s 'The White Collar Masses'
“In the Introduction to his last, posthumously published book History: The Last Things Before the Last (1969), Siegfried Kracauer formulates a summa of his intellectual existence. The discovery of the hidden connection between his interest in history and his interest in the photographic media reveals to him 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 . . .” read more
Multiculturalism, or, the Cultural Logic of Multinational Capitalism
“Those who still remember the good old days of Socialist Realism, are well aware of the key role played by the notion of the ‘typical’: truly progressive literature should depict ‘typical heroes in typical situations.’ Writers who presented a bleak picture of Soviet reality were not simply accused . . .” read more
Against Voluptuous Bodies: Of Satiation Without Happiness
“In their nlr article, ‘Spectres of the Aesthetic’, Dave Beech and John Roberts critique what they call ‘the new aestheticism’, identifying my book The Fate of Art as providing the philosophical articulation of a movement which they suggest includes the writings of Andrew Bowie, Terry Eagleton, Fredric . . .” read more
Confessions of a 'New Aeshete': A Response to the 'New Philistines'
“Pausing to allow the waves of sound of the last movement of Mahler’s Third Symphony to ebb away, I return to the delights of my glass of Californian Chardonnay and reflect on the way Dimitri Mitropoulos’s interpretation of the symphony steers the vital course between long-term structure, sudden . . .” read more
Sebastiao Salgado and Fine Art Photojournalism
“Black-and-white photographs of a vast pit, its sides cut into a giant’s stairway and scaled by crude ladders, its surface covered with figures, most bearing large sacks; scanning the space between foreground and distant background, the effect is dizzying—there must be thousands of these figures. The pictures are . . .” 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. 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 . . .” read more