[return to main home page] | [more on Damien Hirst and the Sublime]
About me: I'm currently teaching and have completed my PhD in 'Visual Culture' at Middlesex University. I originally trained (to MA level) in Fine Art, but over the years became more and more fascinated by the 'theoretical' discourses around art practice, so this is what I do now. I'm centrally interested in contemporary art and its role within a larger cultural sphere; I see the task of my work as attempting to understand the way that contemporary art practices have their place both within this broader sphere of 'visual culture' - in relation to television, film, advertising, the media, and so on - and also within the various intersecting histories of this visual culture.
email - firstname.lastname@example.org
Flat 49, Rowe House,
recent / current work:
1. Damien Hirst and the Legacy of the Sublime in Contemporary Art and Culture.
In 2009 I was awarded a PhD for my dissertation which - to attempt to put it in a nutshell - attempts to track the strange 'after echoes', both in the high art and broader visual culture of the present day, of the idea of 'the sublime' that grew up in the eighteenth century. The work focuses on Damien Hirst as a contemporary artist who straddles the borderlines between fine art and popular culture. As an iconic presence not just in the art world but in the media too, he may be highly symptomatic of our times.
The word 'sublime' is now either a rather vague term for excellence, or an obscure philosophical category, but in the eighteenth century it was one of the central words which were used to articulate the experience of art and nature; in fact it has often been understood by academics as having been central to major changes in the ways that art was made and nature was appreciated at this time. My hypothesis is that these changes which were ushered in through the notion of the sublime are still a major shaping-force in our own culture. Furthermore, although the notion of the 'sublime', as an evaluative term, has generally been used to promote the superiority of high art over commercialised culture (high art is 'sublime', popular culture merely ridiculous), the 'legacy' of the notion of the sublime is felt today as much in low as in high culture. Broadly speaking, my dissertation attempts to trace the exchanges between the sublimes of high and low culture from the eighteenth century to the present.
(For more detailed information on this project, and for resources on the sublime, click here)
I am currently working on transforming my dissertation into a book, so watch this space for developments. Because I am seeking publication, I have decided not to place the whole dissertation on the web. However, it should soon be available in electronic form via the the British Library's "EThOS" service. If you have problems getting it from there, email me and I will be pleased to send you a link to download a PDF directly from me.
2. The Sublime Now
I have also been editing a book on the sublime in contemporary art and culture, with Claire Pajaczkowska, entitled The Sublime Now. The blurb on the back runs:
The sublime has been considered an archaic conept, the relevance of which was limited to eighteenth century discourses on art, literary criticism and aesthetics. But it is becoming obvious that contemporary culture requires of us a response that is emotional, critical, powerful and meaningful, and recently the issue of the sublime has fopund its way back to the academic agenda. This book asks a series of critical questions about this resurgence: What is the legacy of the discourse of the sublime for us today? In what ways has it acquired an added urgency on our new millenium? To what extent is this concept a useful or a dangerous tool for the understanding of contemporary culture and history? How does the Sublime follow wht Post-Modern? To what uses can and should it be put? Why the sublime now?
The editors have collected writings from a range of contemporary thinkers who bring the concept of the sublime into their discussions of contemporary cultures. Spanning philosophy, religion, ecology, politics, literature, avant-garde art, popular cinema, comic books, humour and digital cultures, these essays consider the relevance of the sublime now. The authors make provocative readings of the original writings of the sublime, from Longinus, Burke Kant and Nietzsche, to Freud, Lyotard, derrida, Kristeva and others, whilst bringing these writings to bear on today's cultural issues.
The book is arranged into sections on:
- Nature, Ecology and the Sublime;
- The Sublime after Kant;
- Capitalism, Terror and the Sublime;
- Baroque and Beyond (Art, Sex and the Sublime); and
- The Cinematic Sublime.
There are essays by Jane Bennett, Esther Leslie, Eu Jin Chua, Bettina Reiber, Cornelia Klinger, Jan Rosiek, Gene Ray, me (!), Gudrun Filipska & William McDonald, Griselda Pollock, Claire Pajaczkowska, Sherryl Vint & Mark Bould; and Laura Mulvey.
The book is available from Cambridge Scholars Publishing and on Amazon.
3. Imagining Capital
One of the aspects which became a central underlying theme in my dissertation, and which I am currently pursuing further, was the investigation of the representational logics of capitalism and its spectral, phantasmagorical phenomenality, tracing how people imagine and have imagined capital, and its effect on the cultural imaginary. This task seems to me to be of increasing importance at our present moment (as I write in mid-late 2009), a moment of economic instability and crisis, in which the strangeness of capital's representations and its terrifying, vertiginous qualities emerge more clearly from the veil that falls over it when it can be taken for granted – the unease created by its formlessness and its dissolution of reality in the protean, violently dynamic, liquid states which Marx recognised in the Communist Manifesto (encapsulating this in his famous phrase, "all that is solid melts into air"), but which Shakespeare and others recognised centuries earlier. My dissertation, written during the boom before the bust, was in part motivated by a perplexity in front of the phenomenon of seemingly ungrounded value, and the effects that such a capitalist production of value has on the social world around us. If this aspect of capitalism makes itself increasingly manifest now, it was also manifest in the literary and artistic record of other "bubbles" and crises. My continuing work, then, sets out to understand the way that this is being registered in contemporary art and culture, and also to map out histories of such representations. In my dissertation, for example, I looked at Pope's Dunciad as an attempt to grasp this; Swift's satires, too, have the economic instabilities of the "bubbles" of the early eighteenth century in mind - and hence Gulliver's travels, for example, are in the strange, upside-down world of the South Seas, where objects are continually inflating and deflating.
Thinking the phenomenality of capital requires a reading of Marx, but this supplemented with Simmel, anthropological accounts of exchange, the early Baudrillard perhaps, Antoni Negri's critique of the Labour Theory of Value, and the writings of Jean-Joseph Goux, amongst others. It involves in particular an encounter with Benjamin's accounts of the dream-space of the Arcades (which of course, directly abbutted the stock exchange), and also Derrida's proposal of the "hauntological" which seems the best way to think capital, rather than through more directly "ontological" questions of what it "is." (Even Marx, then, is too much concerned with the ontology of capital to take seriously the phantasmagorical quality which he recognised in capital. He was too concerned to chase away the ghosts to show what capital "was" to realise that the ghostliness itself is of the essence, and to seriously think the "hauntedness" of capital...)
This project takes up the recognition in my earlier work that contemporary, globalised capitalism involved a certain uncanny return of early-modern forms of capitalism, which like our own moment are dominated not by industrial capital (as was the case in the "classic" nineteenth-century are capitalism usually taken as model by Marxist and liberal thinkers alike) but by finance capital, and characterised by a hyper-liquidity that also throws human relations and experiences into a state of drastic flux and uncertainty, and exacerbates the violence of capitalist accumulation. The historiography of my project involves thinking the complex, revenant, non-linear histories of capital, and its traumatised and traumatising temporality. I take the task of reimagining capitalism as of great importance, as a necessary (though obviously not sufficient) part of the task of opposing it. Though Marx himself wrote that what is important is not to understand the world but to change it, nonetheless understanding is an essential precursor to action. Opposition to capitalism that misunderstands its nature – or at least, that is, its current manifestation – is doomed to failure. Our current neoliberal, neoimperial and globalised capitalism needs to be understood and imagined differently to the capitalism which dominated at the time of the industrial revolution.
4. A project for the future - Fernand Braudel and kung fu movies
I am currently in the early stages of formulating a new project. Its shape is still rather blurry, but it will (I think) be something to do with kung fu movies and cultural memory in the long durée, and investigate popular culture as holding traces of revolutionary and insurgent impulses of the past. For me, this is a way of rethinking a tradition of revolt in context of our contemporary globalised capitalism, which has shifted from the 'classic' industrial capitalism of the nineteenth century, with its characteristic modes and traditions of labour and revolutionary organisation. If these have now become to some extent anachronistic (have they?), then what other (perhaps longer) traditions might cultures of resistance tap? Might popular-cultural forms - such as the kung fu movie with its concerns with injustice, rebellion, force, and with its echoes of a complex history of Chinese rebellion - offer something here? What are the limits of the 'revolutionary imagination' offered by such products, which are, in any case cultural commodities? The project will take up some of the concerns which I developed in my writing about Damien Hirst regarding the relation between the past and the present, and how one writes the winding, complex, and nachträglich histories of capitalism and its cultures.
Once the project starts to take on a more coherent form, I will add a link to this website with further materials on it...
[return to main home page] | [more on Damien Hirst and the Sublime]