Figuring death : the phantom of presence in art
Chapter 1; The dissemination of the rhetorical subject(ivity) Through an analysis of Hegel’s master/slave dialectic and de Man’s notion of prosopopeia I demonstrate how modernist discourses construct a figure [face] of/for the artist and cover up [entomb] the recalcitrance of his or her corporeal body to be the [ontological] site of meaning. Through Derrida’s notions of klang and force I investigate the ways in which the disintegration of material objects interrupt the whole process of facing the art work in this way. Derrida’s notion of hauntology is also utilised to argue that the selfidentical subject(ivity) is in fact a semiotically induced spectre. Chapter 2: Rothko, Death and Prosopopeia Again de Man’s figure of prosopopeia is explored to demonstrate how the artist Rothko is discursively posited as overcoming his own death. I argue that Rothko’s paintings ‘act’ as self-portraits and ‘figure’ his [enduring] presence. Through Derrida’s notion of the paragon [the frame] I also investigate how the propensity of the material to disintegrate ruptures the circularity of the discourse on Rothko and thereby undermines the transcendental moment proffered by his paintings. However, I also show, through an analysis of Derrida’s notion of the pharmakon, how discursive strategies keep raising the spectre of the transcendental artist to keep the fallacy of the self-identical subject(ivity) ‘alive’. Chapter 3: Michaux’s insomnia: The plenitude of the void I argue that the Mescaline drawings, made by Michaux in the 1950s, cannot be interpreted through a ‘standard’ modernist framework. In trying to construct an alternative interpretation for Michaux’s work I demonstrate how his drawings can be viewed as an attempt to articulate the excessive nature of corporeality and the impossibility of transcendence. Blanchot’s notion of insomnia is used to go beyond the polarities of the negative and the positive to the neutral and excessive zone of indeterminancy. Deleuze and Guattari’s notions of the tonal and nagual, becoming-animal and Bergson’s notions of extensity and duration are also utilised to [theoretically] access this zone of indeterminacy, as that of the insomnious subject(ivity). Conclusion: Face to de-face Firstly I reiterate the claims made in chapter 2, that modernism, as a circular discourse, constantly offers the ‘presence’ of Rothko as proof of his enduring transcendentality. As a contrast I use Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of faciality to argue that Michaux tried to de-face his art, but failed. I will therefore indicate the impossibility of totally de-facing the subject(ivity) within any discursive system where the name acts as primary signifier.