Francis Barker: The Tremulous Private Body 

In the seventeenth century there was a profound change in the conditions and representation of the body. Reflecting on a wide range of works, including the Jacobean drama, Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress, rembrandt’s painting, the philosophy of descartes, milton’s areopagitica and Samuel Pepys’ diary, Francis Barkers essay maps a transformation of the spectacular corporeality of the dramatic stage and the scaffold of public execution in the course of which a sexually embarrassing body is redefined, privatized and pushed away from discourse into a furtive half-life beyond the text. The new regime separates the body from the soul and divides the body into two components: the absent body whose desires and appetites are denied, and the positive body which is eventually reinscribed as an object of rational knowledge, prepared for productive and disciplined labour. Built into the argument is an evocation of the way in which this process defines not only the new body, but equally the conditions of modern subjectivity and subjection. The self-gendered subject is constructed comes to define the orders of discourse and of representation which typify the bourgeois epoch. Drawing on the theoretical work of foucault, Derrida, and lacan, and the Marxism of Louis Althusser, the tremulous private body engages the central theme of post-structuralism- discourse, sexuality, textuality and power- but is not a post structuralist work and rejected many of the positions characteristic of post-structuralism, particularly its tendency to depoliticize discourse.
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William Hogarth: The Analysis of Beauty 

Born three hundred years ago in Smithfield, London, William Hogarth established himself as a central figure in eighteenth-century English culture through his paintings, engravings, and outspoken art criticism. In this new edition of Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty—a unique work combining theory with practical advice on painting—Ronald Paulson includes the complete text of the original work; an introduction that places the Analysis in the tradition of aesthetic treatises and Hogarth’s own “moral” works; extensive annotation of the text and accompanying illustrations; and illuminating manuscript passages that Hogarth omitted from the final printed version.

In the development of English aesthetics, the Analysis of Beautytakes a position of high significance. Hogarth’s stature in his own time suggests the importance of his attempt to systematize and theorize his own artistic practice. What he proposes is an aesthetics of the middle range, subordinating both the Beautiful and the Sublime to the everyday world of human choice and contingency—essentially the world of Hogarth’s own modern moral subjects, his engraved works.
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James Elkins: The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing 

At first it appears that nothing could be easier than seeing. We just focus our eyes and take in whatever is before us. This ability seems detached, efficient and rational – as if the eyes were competent machines telling us everything about the world without distorting it in any way. But those ideas are just illusions, James Elkins argues, and he suggests that seeing is undependable, inconsistent and cauthg up in the threads of the unconscious. Blindness is not the opposite of vision, but its constant companion, and even the foundation of seeing itself. Using drawings, paintings, diagrams and photographs to illustrate his points, Elkins raises intriguing questions and offers astonishing perceptions about the nature of vision.
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Kirkus Reviews
Optometry and Vision Science Journal

Further Writings by the Author: 

How to Use Your Eyes (PDF)
Why Art Cannot be Taught: A Handbook for Students (PDF)
The Three Configurations of Practice Based PHDs (PDF)

Additional Resources: 

Author’s Website
Lecture: What is Research (video)
Lecture: On the Strange Place of Religion in Contemporary Art (video)
Panel: Art History in a Post Secular Age (video)

Simon Critchley: Memory Theatre 

A French philosopher dies during a savage summer heat wave. Boxes carrying his unpublished miscellany mysteriously appear in Simon Critchley’s office. Rooting through piles of papers, Critchley discovers a brilliant text on the ancient art of memory and a cache of astrological charts predicting the deaths of various philosophers. Among them is a chart for Critchley himself, laying out in great detail the course of his life and eventual demise. Becoming obsessed with the details of his fate, Critchley receives the missing, final box, which contains a maquette of Giulio Camillo’s sixteenth-century Venetian memory theatre, a space supposed to contain the sum of all knowledge. That’s when the hallucinations begin –

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Reviews: 

The Guardian

New York Times
NPR

Additional Resources: 

Author’s Website
Interviews
Simon Critchley and Cornel West in Conversation (video)
Lecture: To Philosophize is to Die (video)
Lecture: Tragedy’s Philosophy (video)

Ad Reinhardt: Art as Art: Selected Writings of Ad Reinhardt


Ad Reinhardt is probably best known for his black paintings, which aroused as much controversy as admiration in the American art world when they were first exhibited in the 1950s. Although his ideas about art and life were often at odds with those of his contemporaries, they prefigured the ascendance of minimalism. Reinhardt's interest in the Orient and in religion, his strong convictions about the value of abstraction, and his disgust with the commercialism of the art world are as fresh and valid today as they were when he first expressed them.

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Additional Resources:
Rob Storr on Ad Reinhardt
Oral History Interview with Ad Reinhardt, 1964 (transcript)

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy: The Dance of Shiva: On Indian Art and Culture

Ananda Coomaraswamy, late curator of Indian art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, was unexcelled in his knowledge of the arts of the Orient, and unmatched in his understanding of Indian culture, language, religion, and philosophy. In this excellent reprint of a rare volume of essays, he reveals the essence of the Indian experience, rooted in "a constant intuition" of the unity and harmony of all life. Everything has its place, every being its function and all play a part in the divine concert led by Natarājā (Śiva), Lord of Dancers.
In a series of 14 stimulating and provocative essays, Coomaraswamy unfolds the vast metaphysic of India: the magnificent revelation of its art; its conception of the universe; social organization; attitudes toward feminism; problems of family; romantic love, and marriage. His sweeping commentary considers the "intellectual fraternity" of mankind; the venerable past as it survives side by side with emerging modern India; and the individual, autonomy, and repudiation of "the will to govern."
Enhancing the text are 27 black-and-white photographs — mostly of masterpieces of painting and sculpture from the second century B.C. to the eighteenth century, and including the glorious "Cosmic Dance of N taraja." This handsome volume offers rich insight into the art, philosophy, and culture of a fascinating forty-centuries-old civilization.

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Further Readings by the Author Available as PDF:
The Essential Ananda Coomaraswamy
Introduction to Indian Art
Buddha and the Gospel of Buddhism
The Aims of Indian Art (text only)

Additional Resources
A Tale of a Curator and a Collector: The Ross-Coomaraswamy Bond (Asia Society Lecture)

Agnes Martin: Writings

Now in its third printing, this collection of letters, journals, and lectures is the standard collection of writings by the artist. "I suggest that people who like to be alone, who walk alone, will perhaps be serious workers in the art field."–Agnes Martin.

An Excerpt from Beauty is the Mystery of Life:

All artwork is about beauty; all positive work represents it and
celebrates it. All negative art protests the lack of beauty in
our lives. When a beautiful rose dies, beauty does not die
because it is not really in the rose. Beauty is an awareness in
the mind. It is a mental and emotional response that we make. We
respond to life as though it were perfect. When we go into a
forest we do not see the fallen rotting trees. We are inspired
by a multitude of uprising trees. We even hear a silence when it
is not really silent. When we see a newborn baby we say it is
beautiful – perfect.
The goal of life is happiness and to respond to life as though
it were perfect is the way to happiness. It is also the way to
positive artwork.
It is not in the role of an artist to worry about life – to feel
responsible for creating a better world. This is a very serious
distraction. All your conditioning has been directed toward
intellectual living. This is useless in artwork. All human
knowledge is useless in artwork. Concepts, relationships,
categories, classifications, deductions are distractions of mind
that we wish to hold free for inspiration.

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Additional Reading:
Beauty is the Mystery of Life (text)
Perfection is in the mind: An Interview with Agnes Martin (transcript)
Agnes Martin speaks about Emotion and Art- The Guggenheim (transcript)

Video:
Agnes Martin: Tate Shots
Interview with Agnes Martin (1997)
Tate Lecture: Agnes Martin: Innocence the Hardway

Maggie Nelson: The Art of Cruelty: A Reckoning

Writing in the tradition of Susan Sontag and Elaine Scarry, Maggie Nelson has emerged as one of our foremost cultural critics with this landmark work about representations of cruelty and violence in art. From Sylvia Plath’s poetry to Francis Bacon’s paintings, from the Saw franchise to Yoko Ono’s performance art, Nelson’s nuanced exploration across the artistic landscape ultimately offers a model of how one might balance strong ethical convictions with an equally strong appreciation for work that tests the limits of taste, taboo, and permissibility.

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Reviews:
New York Times
NPR
JHU Muse
Slate

Additional Resources:
Writing as Performance: Interview with Maggie Nelson
Two Poems by Maggie Nelson

Jean Baudrillard: America


For those looking for a bleak, lyrical and biting summer read.

Where the others spend their time in libraries, I spend mine in the deserts and on the roads." Jean Baudrillard's travel diary of his time in America was first published in 1986 and has been reissued with a new introduction by Geoff Dyer. Written while Reagan was president, Baudrillard's provocative account of this "obsessional society" remains relevant. From the "steepling gentleness" of New York's skyscrapers to the "limitless horizontality" of Los Angeles, he explores this New World, where the carpets have an "orgasmic elasticity" and the people are "like shadows that have escaped from Plato's cave". The crowded cities are "electrifying" and "cinematic", but in the deserts Baudrillard finds a serene emptiness. For all its strangeness, America is "an amazing place". The book is sometimes Delphic ("Americans believe in facts, but not in facticity"), frequently brilliant ("there is nothing more mysterious than a TV set left on in an empty room"), but always original, memorable and even funny: "Americans may have no identity, but they do have wonderful teeth."
PD Smith

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PDF (Text Only)

Further Reading:
Selected Writings (PDF)
The System of Objects (PDF)
A Marginal System: Collecting (PDF/Excerpt)
The Conspiracy of Art (PDF)

Pierre Bourdieu: Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste

No judgement of taste is innocent. In a word, we are all snobs. Pierre Bourdieu brilliantly illuminates this situation of the middle class in the modern world. France's leading sociologist focusses here on the French bourgeoisie, its tastes and preferences. Distinction is at once a vast ethnography of contemporary France and a dissection of the bourgeois mind.
In the course of everyday life people constantly choose between what they find aesthetically pleasing and what they consider tacky, merely trendy, or ugly. Bourdieu bases his study on surveys that took into account the multitude of social factors that play a part in a Frenchperson's choice of clothing, furniture, leisure activities, dinner menus for guests, and many other matters of taste. What emerges from his analysis is that social snobbery is everywhere in the bourgeois world. The different aesthetic choices people make are all distinctions-that is, choices made in opposition to those made by other classes. Taste is not pure. Bourdieu finds a world of social meaning in the decision to order bouillabaisse, in our contemporary cult of thinness, in the "California sports" such as jogging and cross-country skiing. The social world, he argues, functions simultaneously as a system of power relations and as a symbolic system in which minute distinctions of taste become the basis for social judgement.
The topic of Bourdieu's book is a fascinating one: the strategies of social pretension are always curiously engaging. But the book is more than fascinating. It is a major contribution to current debates on the theory of culture and a challenge to the major theoretical schools in contemporary sociology.

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Further Readings Available as PDF
Language and Symbolic Power
The Logic of Practice
The Forms of Capital
Social Space and Symbolic Power

Additional Resources:
Routledge Profile of Pierre Bourdieu
Documentary: Sociology is a Martial Art (2002)