Work in Progress: Damien Hirst and the Sublime -
drafts of writing

Luke White

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The files included here, in PDF format, are work which was very much in progress. Because of this, I'd be grateful if you could please check with me before quoting them in any way.

The dissertation is now finished. It should be available online through 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.

You might also be interested in the book I have co-edited and contributed to, entitled The Sublime Now.

"Hirst and the Contemporary Sublime"


This essay was very much a starting point for my project. In it, I contrast two art-critical essays which have attempted to use the notion of the sublime to discuss and appraise the work of Damien Hirst (one by Loura Woxley-Brooks, the other by Gene Ray). This is an attempt to sketch out something of the way that the notion of the 'sublime' might be at work in the cultural field around Damien Hirst's work.


"Lyotard, Capitalism and the Sublime"


In this, a rather exploratory, speculative and loosely structured piece of writing, I develop an anlysis of some of the problems which come up as a result of my reading of the attempts by Brooks and Ray to use the notion of the sublime, through a more detailed examination of the arguments of Jean-François Lyotard's essay, "The Sublime and the Avant-Garde," which I take to be a central articulation of the contemporary notion of the sublime, as it is applied to contemporary art. The essay focuses on some paradoxes in Lyotard's essay with regard to his problematic attempts to separate a temporal logic of the sublime (a logic of the avant-garde) from a logic of capitalism and innovation. I attempt to draw these paradoxes out through a comparison between Lytotard and Gilder. I also discuss the historical development of notions of the sublime in relation to the developing institutions of capitalism, and attempt to find figures of the Lytoardian sublime in the paintings of Brueghel and Piranesi, in the Gothic novel, and in representations of London in Pope and Wordsworth. My aim in the piece is to read Lyotard against himself. Although I attempt a certain critique of Lyotard's art history and of some of the implications this has on his cultural politics, this is a piece of writing which is fundamentally sympathetic to Lyotard, and to his dense, rich, aporetic mode of thinking.


"Damien Hirst: Impossible Desires, Sublime Designs"


This is a paper I gave on my work to a postgraduate research seminar group at Middlesex University. The paper makes a certain summary of some of my cencerns, and also served as an experiment in a mode af 'art-critical' writing (as opposed to a more 'historical' mode I've taken up elsewhere). Taking my cue from the title of a Damien Hirst drawing, I attempt to explore the 'sublime' as an impossible desire in Damien Hirst's work, and attempt to trace a series of connections between his works which the term 'sublime' might name, and to link the notion of the sublime to the various 'impossible desires' that are repeatedly interwoven in them. I attempt to use these links to weave a narrative of the long-term (modern?) artistic project with which the notion of the sublime is entangled, and to tie together a number of different notions of the sublime with Freudian conceptions of the oceanic and the death drive, and I trace the influence of this on a resurgence of the notion of the sublime in late-twentieth-century thought.


"Colley Cibber: Not a Romantic Artist"


I attempt to draw some curious parallels between Hirst and the eighteenth-century actor, playwright, theatrical manager and entrepreneur, autobiographer and all-round celebrity Colley Cibber. Cibber, who has gone down in history as Pope's Dunce of the Dunciad, I argue, was in fact, a rather fascinating character, living atthe time of the birth of a commodifying culture, and one whose exeggerated performances of self might help us understand something about the conditions of self-representation and artistic production which underly the work of Damien Hirst.




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