After Transgression: Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigms of Contemporary Art

Reeves-Evison, Theodore. 2015. After Transgression: Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigms of Contemporary Art. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis investigates the relationship between ethics and aesthetics by analysing several artworks produced over the last fifty years. It argues that ethics and aesthetics relate to one another in historically specific ways, and that artworks represent a privileged point of access for seeing how this relationship forms and changes. I show that within this period it is possible to discern the rise and fall of a paradigmatic bond between ethics and aesthetics articulated around the concept of transgression. The paradigm of transgression has, I argue, suffered a historical decline in a range of contexts. The theoretical resources used to navigate through this decline are drawn from the work of Jacques Lacan and Félix Guattari, among others. Lacan’s work in particular is marked by a shift away from transgression that parallels the move within art. After focusing on figures such as Sade and Antigone in the early 1960s, a decade later Lacan turns to the work of James Joyce in order to reformulate the psychoanalytic concept of the symptom as ‘sinthome’. This concept shifts the ethical accent away from transgression towards creativity, and can be pushed in new directions by drawing on the work of Guattari. More than just a curious symmetry, the shift away from transgression in both art and theory occurs in response to a larger set of social changes in the function of language and prohibition. I conclude that the historical decline of such Symbolic forms makes a new relationship between ethics and aesthetics possible. The marriage between the two, I argue, can be brokered through their mutual participation in the production of subjectivity. The argument culminates by suggesting directions, in the form of the concepts of ‘repair’ and ‘fabulation’, along which this new ethico-aesthetic paradigm might develop.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


Ethics and Aesthetics. Transgression. Repair. Fiction. Fabulation. Jacques Lacan. Felix Guattari. Contemporary Art.

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Centre for Cultural Studies (1998-2017)


30 November 2015

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

22 Dec 2015 11:05

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:36


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