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Political Transformations and the Practices of Cultural Negation in Contemporary Art Theory

Day, Gail Ann (1996) Political Transformations and the Practices of Cultural Negation in Contemporary Art Theory. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.


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This dissertation follows the theme of negation, negativity, and “practices of negation”, through a selection of writings on art in the post-war period, and, in particular, from the 1960s to the present. Although the term negation is widely used, most prominently with respect to the histories and analyses of art-historical categories like avant-gardism, neoavant-gardism, modernism, and postmodernism, very little attention has been paid to the concept itself, 01 to its role within art-historical methodology. The main art-theoretical texts which I select for examination are characterised by a suspicion of figures of identity, plenitude, or affirmation. I explore the borderlands between dialectical and nihilistic methodologies which these suspicions seem to provoke, and I argue that the attention to negativity has a particular importance for considerations of art because of its implications for the question of representation. Chapter 1 outlines the key accounts on avant-gardism and modernism, and looks at the impact of the Left Hegelian tradition on recent art theory. I argue that the claims that negativity has become compromised or ineffectual, lead, in fact, to a reassertion of negativity. The second section of this chapter tracks some of the methodological implications through a case study of the writings of T.J. Clark, and develops the question of negation as a fundamental problem of representation. Chapter 2 analyses the writings of the Italian architectural theorists/historians Manfredo Tafuri and Massimo Cacciari. These authors elaborate their arguments from German critical theory, and their attention to negativity is tracked into an account of “completed nihilism”. Chapter 3 starts from the association - advanced, in particular, by writers associated with the journal October - made between modernism/postmodernism and the rhetorical figures of symbol/allegory. I argue that allegorical negativity is not straightforwardly disjunctive, and, by reading it as a degenerative dialectic, the argument returns to representational debates.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > Fine Art, History of Art & Cultural Studies (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.411349
Depositing User: Digitisation Studio Leeds
Date Deposited: 26 Jul 2012 11:28
Last Modified: 07 Mar 2014 11:23
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/2654

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