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Showing posts from April, 2013

Picasso and Nancy: One Eye Toward the Other

1. Pablo Picasso, French Can-Can (1901). How else to talk about this painting, but in flashes and fragments? And yet strangely it is not an image for the glimpse, even the erotic glimpse of the cabaret, insofar as the glimpse is a determinate visual moment. No fixed fragments, no articulation, only glissando, glisser, maybe a gleam, always dissolving.

2. '- What we have to do is exchange ideas, views, ways of looking at things, rather than questions and answers...painting should circulate from your eye to mine; it should touch our eyes together, carry one eye toward the other.
- Let's assume that that's possible'
(Jean-Luc Nancy, Multiple Arts, p. 160)

3. Nancy suggests that painting presents presentation. What is present in a painting is visuality itself, we become aware of seeing, and of what an act of seeing is, and how objects phenomenalise themselves in the gaze.

4. The gaze appears frustrated here. There is no ground: no rational space but just swirls, daubs, ed…

Literary History

I've recently been talking with someone who works on contemporary literature. She can even - if it takes her fancy - talk with writers on whom she might write. Actual, living writers! The idea of meeting Felicia Hemans, Lord Byron or William Wordsworth perhaps rather dismays me, and my work tends to lead me to rather more sepulchral purposes: such as giving a talk on Hemans in the Dublin church where she is buried.

Nevertheless, our conversations (myself and my friend, not the ghostly dialogue I established with Felicia Hemans at St. Ann's) have made me think about questions of literary history. Although I was trained as a poststructuralist, to all intents and purposes I am a literary historian now. At the very least, I spend my life reading, analysing and teaching the dead.


I don't think this is a question I can fully resolve to my satisfaction. A blur of incompatible theorists (Gadamer, Derrida, Adorno, Heidegger, Foucault) make competing claims. I think it goes som…

40 Monograph Challenge #9: Land, Nation and Culture, 1740-1840

Something of a cheat this week, since this isn't actually a monograph: it's an edited collection. However, it has a very, very impressive selection of contributors and a pretty strong methodological unity (see below), so here it is.

Title: Land, Nation and Culture, 1740-1840: Thinking the Republic of Taste, eds. Peter de Bolla, Nigel Leask and David Simpson (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005)

Methodology/Critical Context: Although this is an edited collection, it is dedicated to the eighteenth-century scholar John Barrell. As such, it frequently takes its direction from his work (e.g. Dark Side of the Landscape) and nearly all the essays share a broad cultural materialist methodology, indebted to Barrell, Michel Foucault, Raymond Williams and - as the introduction makes clear - committed to a liberating multi-disciplinarity. In short, it's typical in its orientation as a recent work of astute historicism, particularly interested in questions of power, class and nation (w…

40 Monograph Challenge #8: Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature

I have been sliding behind on this monograph reading a little, partly because the end of term always falls apart and partly because I've been in Ireland recently, organising a conference and other things. I should be on #10, but I'm sure I can scrape it back!

Title: Onno Oerlemans, Romanticism and the Materiality of Nature (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002)

Methodology: A philosophically inclined ecocriticism
Critical Context: Romantic eco-criticism (Bate, Buell, Kroeber, Fry), philosophies of nature
Thesis: Argues for a green Romantic empiricism - an attitude towards nature which is open to its difference and separateness to the human, especially focused on tropes of materiality, particularity and 'unreadability'

In a Nutshell: The introduction - and most of the opening movements of each chapter - are very philosophical. Oerlemans wants to avoid arguing nature cannot help but slide behind its representation in ideology (a 'there is no nature' positions as…

Notes on Emotion

1. I'm not sure I have a proper theory of emotion. As I work on it only tangentially, maybe this is okay - although it sometimes worries me.

I think (I think I think) emotions are fundamentally tonal or accentual. In the same way that a phrase may be spoken or sung differently, or a figure or object may be drawn and coloured differently, the propositional element of consciousness may be shaded and inflected. This may be a single thought or perception, lit like a narrow bar of sunlight falling across grass, or it may be far more indistinct and complex, suffusing an hour, a day, perhaps conceivably even a life - closer to the sense one gets of a certain unique texture running through a single performance of a play or a concerto.

But why? When the same note is drawn from a violin rather than a viola, when a lover rather than a stranger talks to you, what is at stake in tone is material: it is to do with wood or flesh, with physical tension or softness, with spacings and vibrations. I a…