Dialectical Passions: Negation in Postwar Art Theory by Gail Day

Dialectical Passions: Negation in Postwar Art Theory

Gail Day
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Representing a new generation of theorists who reaffirm the radical dimensions of art, Gail Day launches a bold critique of late-twentieth-century art theory and its often reductive analysis of cultural objects. Exploring core debates in discourses on art, from the New Left to theories of “critical postmodernism” and beyond, Day counters the belief that recent tendencies in art fail to be adequately critical and challenges the political inertia that results from these conclusions.

Publisher Description

Representing a new generation of theorists who reaffirm the radical dimensions of art, Gail Day launches a bold critique of late-twentieth-century art theory and its often reductive analysis of cultural objects. Exploring core debates in discourses on art, from the New Left to theories of “critical postmodernism” and beyond, Day counters the belief that recent tendencies in art fail to be adequately critical and challenges the political inertia that results from these conclusions.

Day organizes her defense around critics who have engaged substantively with emancipatory thought and social process: T. J. Clark, Manfredo Tafuri, Fredric Jameson, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, and Hal Foster, among others. She maps the tension between radical dialectics and left nihilism and assesses the interpretation and internalization of negation in art theory. Chapters confront the claim that exchange and equivalence have subsumed the use value of cultural objects& mdash;and with it critical distance; the meaning of symbol and allegory in 1980s art and its limited reading of the writings of Walter Benjamin and Paul de Man; and common conceptions of mediation, totality, and the politics of anticipation. A necessary unsettling of received wisdoms, “Dialectical Passions” sets a new course for emancipatory reflection in aesthetics, art, and architecture.

Review
Gail Day's Dialectical Passions is a uniquely important book. Day argues persuasively that the powerful negations that characterize the finest Marxist thinking about art architecture to come from the postwar New Left is characterized by real—and passionate—dialectical instability. It is largely this, in her view, that prevents it from being fully subsumed by the hegemonic forms of late capitalist culture. The negations practiced by these writers, most notably T. J. Clark and Manfredo Tafuri, have been uncompromisingly realistic and resolutely non-romantic. At the same time, she argues, they share with Marx a belief, however endangered it now is, in the necessity of a genuinely radical political alternative. Day's book makes evident the value of such thinking in resisting the fixed polarities and relentless pessimism of much present-day cultural theory and its increasingly empty critiques of capitalist commodification. — Alexander Potts, Max Loehr Collegiate Professor, Department of History of Art, University of Michigan A wonderfully enjoyable examination of some of the key figures, debates, and points of intrigue in art theory influenced by the New Left. — Matthew Flisfeder PUBLIC Vol 47

Author Biography

Gail Day is senior lecturer in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds.

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Dialectical Passions: Negation in Postwar Art Theory

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