Political transformations and the practices of cultural negation in contemporary art theory
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.