The Ambivalence of the Undead – Entropy, Duality and the Sublime as Perspectives on Contemporary Painting

Cooke, Nigel. 2004. The Ambivalence of the Undead – Entropy, Duality and the Sublime as Perspectives on Contemporary Painting. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

It is well known that painting has died many deaths in the course of modernist history. But whilst Painting dies, paintings keep getting made.

My thesis examines this question: Is the fact that paintings have the power to allegorize their own historical death a new ‘fact’ of painting’s ‘essence’?

Introduction – Painting’s Perverse Body

Painting’s death is investigated to see how painting’s essence was first determined, then abandoned. These narratives are found to run counter to a notion of the essential. Instead, they become narratives of style.

Chapter 1 – Multilateral Displacement – Communication and Representation

A non-linear model of representation from the established context of modernist linearity is extracted in a close reading of visual concepts in Bataillean Surrealism. This elaborates a notion of death as a style into a constructive representational logic. This determines a non-terminal, death-aware idea of representation.

Chapter 2 – Visual Entropy and the Contagion of Death

Bataille’s economics of death are expanded in connection with the logic of entropy within living systems. The close relationship between these ideas and the biomechanics of nature uncovers a visual-logical model manifest in the phenomena of insect mimesis. The ‘reciprocal topography’ between the organism and its context is understood as asystem of information exchange embodying Bataillean non-linearity in (something like) visual entropy.

Chapter 3 – Sublime Mimesis

This chapter investigates the American landscape painters of the 18th century and the relationship between the desiring author-painter and the ‘sublime’ objective vista.

The anxiety recorded in the style changes of these paintings is read as reactions to an unrepresentable ‘terrifying (sublime) beauty’ in nature. Painting becomes not a sovereign site on the fringe of the world, but as one crystallisation stage in the matrix of information exchanges in nature. This implies a concordant relocation of the sublime.

Conclusion – Painting as Anoriginal Illustration

Painting comes to be seen as Anoriginal illustration – it describes the ‘primary text’ of the natural world by always ‘coming after’ and being reassuringly communicative in its resolution. On the other hand, and at the same time, painting is evidence of all that threatens such resolution. Painting’s essence then becomes anoriginal illustration, the mirror that reflects the energetic interdependency of reassurance and anxiety in its oscillating, multi-temporal basic (dead) nature.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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Georges Bataille, 18th Century American landscape painting, contemporary painting, art history

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Date Deposited:

08 Jun 2020 11:34

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 12:37


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