Against the will to silence : an intellectual history of the American art journal 'October' between 1976 and 1981
The thesis provides a critical staging of the major themes and associated texts appearing in the American art journal October between 1976 and 1981. October's project is defined here as the conceptualization of a particular notion of the contemporary avant-garde to politics, and the bringing of European theory into the purview of American art practice. Such a complex weaving together of representation and discourse is interpreted as the formation of a destabilizing dialectic, understood as a succession of critical interventions that respond with varying degrees of continuity and disjunction, to a single ongoing problematic. This dialectic is linked to the writings of October as the journal shifts its rhetorical locations in an attempt to break down the normative pictorial and discursive frames of reference. The resulting process of re-interpretation attempts the undoing of the modernist visual stereotype, a stereotype that functions under the dominant social metaphors of plenitude, autonomy and harmony, rather than the subsequent metaphors of fragmentation, instability and dispossession. The thesis gives particular emphasis to this idea in relation to the changing conditions of art's reception, the journal's major themes and related texts and the nature and operation of the publication's critical practice. The body of the thesis is divided into three interrelated case studies that act to stage this problematic. These studies form the matrix of the thesis and present a combination of theoretical discourse, interviews, and a synthesis and summary together with ideas for further research. The cultural locations considered as case studies are: the first essay published in October's first issue, Michel Foucault's 'Ceci n'est pas une pipe', the interplay of Foucault's narrative combined with Magritte's picture, is interpreted as a metaphor for the mediations of post-structural visual criticism itself as its practitioners seek to institute language into the visual sign. Secondly, the Peircean index understood as a de-disciplinary principle, this case study discusses two related issues central to October's re-construction of the object of criticism. The first being to provide the photographic with an art-theoretical rationale that might be used to disassemble the high modernist aesthetic and its modes of representation; the second being associated with the journal's critique of the nature of the sign. And finally, the Pictures exhibition, organised at Artist's Space N ew York, in the fall of 1977. The combination of ideas about originality and appropriation represented by this exhibition-and its associated theoretical texts-have become emblematic of the vocabulary of a certain post-modem theory exemplified by October. Each of the case studies provides insight into a particular aesthetic issue and acts to refine a theoretical explanation. In this way the thesis traces October's role in the transition from a culture of autonomous art to a culture of the textual.