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May 3rd, 2019
Revolution of the Ordinary: Literary Studies After Wittgenstein, Austin, and Cavell
By (Duke University), (University of Notre Dame), (University of Washington), (Northeastern University ), (University of California, Irvine), (Johns Hopkins University), (University of Illinois, Chicago), (Boston University) and (Duke University)

Do we really need Wittgenstein? It depends. I think that literary scholars today really ought to have a workable understanding of Wittgenstein’s vision of language, for it provides a vital and distinctive alternative to other views on the same matters, views that are widely taught. For the same reason, I think literary scholars really ought to understand Wittgenstein’s critique of theory (or, if one prefers, of certain standard notions of what philosophy is). For a literary theorist it ought to be as unthinkable to know nothing about Wittgenstein as it has been to know nothing about Saussure, or Derrida, or Lacan, or Foucault, and so on through the pantheon of more recent theorists. I wrote Revolution of the Ordinary to make this possible.

January 8th, 2019
What Materialist Black Political History Actually Looks Like
By (University of Pennsylvania)

There is no singular, transhistorical “Black Liberation Struggle” or “Black Freedom Movement,” and there never has been. Black Americans have engaged in many different forms of political expression in many different domains, around many different issues, both those considered racial and not. They have engaged in race-solidaristic formations and in close concert with others, in class-based and multiclass alliances.

October 1st, 2018
Never Mind the Pollocks
By (Trinity University), (National Gallery of Art), (Humboldt Universität zu Berlin) and (University of Southern California)

It might seem idiosyncratic to scrutinize such tiny details in such a large painting: Cathedral’s surface area is eighteen square feet, each dot I have discussed smaller than a dime. Yet my purpose in calling attention to Pollock’s small-scale painterly decisions, the evidence of which he left plainly in sight, is to demonstrate his fastidious concern with the integrity of his surfaces. From the perspective of their studied particularity, limiting the use of “all-over” to describe stylistically the putative uniformity of Pollock’s canvases forecloses the possibility that “all-over” might just as well designate the intentional character of every mark. In Pollock’s automatism, everything matters, at least potentially.

November 1st, 2017
Modernism, Theatricality, and Objecthood

The imperative to establish an artistic medium means that the artist herself must somehow assume the authority to determine and declare how her work is to count for us, determine as just what medium of art it is to confront its specific possibilities of success and failure. In art, as well as in ordinary speech and gesture, possibilities of meaning and expression exist only insofar as there are answers to the criterial questions of what sort of thing is the subject of expression here, what speech, what action, what medium of expression.

November 1st, 2017
Authors and Authority
On Art, Objects, and Presence

How do we know what counts as true to art, of “art as such”? Take a parallel case: In the sixteenth century, arguments over what counts as Scripture raised the question of precisely what makes something Scripture. What can count as proof—for one cannot ask the author, and certainly not the Author? The key here is the experience of finding oneself in (absorbed by) what has a claim to be art—or in this case in what claims to be Scripture. “Art as such” gives this: art is thus never primarily representation.

November 1st, 2017
Missed Connections

Thinking in this way, we might recast Fried’s wonder about why modernist artists went to the cinema. Perhaps they were not (just) seeking refuge from the burdens of the seriousness of their work; perhaps they saw in the cinema a range of different ways of negotiating the same questions about the relation of artwork to beholder that they were themselves preoccupied with. On this view, cinema does not stand apart from Fried’s modernist history; it continues that history by other means.

November 1st, 2017
The Stakes of Modernist Acknowledgment
By (Université Sorbonne Nouvelle)

It is important to recognize, when reading his critique of literalist sensibility in “Art and Objecthood,” that his view of literalness and contingency is not that these should be abolished from artworks (as though that could ever be possible! Mallarmé reminds us that it’s not), but that the literal and contingent properties of a work should be acknowledged and incorporated into it, creating an intimate and non-arbitrary relation between a work’s literal conditions and its configuration, between its situation and its syntax. The problem is not literalness, but what one does with it.

November 1st, 2017
Art and Objecthood
Fried against Fried

It is just this split that Fried introduces into the world, and after which there is no going back because no matter how far back we go there is always the same doubling (this is part of the meaning of the Caravaggio book, which sees the problematic of absorption in a period notionally before modernism) and no outside (because even indifference is now only an attempt to overcome a prior scepticism, that is, an effort at absorption). All this is exactly that willed indifference that Fried evokes through Diderot in Absorption and Theatricality, in which painting must seek the “superior fiction” of not being beheld, just as the actor must ignore the audience in front of them (and this effect of will applies in Diderot—this is the important point—whether there is an actual audience or not).

January 25th, 2017
The New Cult of Consensus

The social bases of political conflict thus erased, consensus historians go on to suppress the significance of antislavery politics, even to the point of denying that politics played any role in whatsoever in the destruction of slavery. These crucial erasures are once again explained by reference of a broad political consensus—not the liberal consensus of Hofstadter and Hartz, but the smothering, all-consuming consensus in favor of “white male supremacy.” It’s still consensus history; it’s just a different consensus.

January 25th, 2017
The Origin of the Species
By (National Coordinator of the Labor Campaign for Single Payer)

The “white working class,” like the “black community,” is an abstraction that does not exist anywhere in the real world. The U.S. working class is broad and diverse. It’s not even all that white any more and certainly not all that male. Its conditions are determined by its position within a political economy but, like everyone else, the experience and consciousness of individual workers is formed by a whole series of contingent relationships and experiences. The recent use of the trope of the angry white working class attempts to extract white workers from these class dynamics and present them as a demonized and marginalized natural group.

January 25th, 2017
Three Texts by Allen Grossman
By (University of California, Irvine)

These three texts are a small part of a significant body of unpublished and uncollected work by the poet and critic Allen Grossman.

January 25th, 2017
Eulogy for Martin Luther King Jr.

The death of Martin Luther King leaves, in my imagination, no liberal position. Only a radical critique of learning and, if that is still worthwhile, of political life, is sufficient.

January 25th, 2017
An Introductory Lecture in The Humanities

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Iliad does not believe in you, the Aeneid does not regard you as real, the Divine Comedy does not understand you — and yet each demands of you that you believe in it, understand it, and regard it as real.

January 25th, 2017
The Scene of Instruction

“Where is it?” “In this mist.”

January 25th, 2017
Encountering “September Sky”
By (Johns Hopkins University)

Nonsite is pleased to announce the publication of Promesse du Bonheur, a collection of new poems by Michael Fried accompanied by more than thirty photographs by James Welling. The book is appearing under the double aegis of nonsite.org and David Zwirner Books, and is available through David Zwirner Books and Amazon. To mark its publication, we offer an essay by Fried analyzing one of the poems in the collection, “September Sky,” along with an abstract photograph by Welling which serves, in the book, as an introduction to the collection.

January 25th, 2017
Craft and Conquest
The 15th Venice Architecture Biennale, May 28-November 27, 2016
By (Tulane University)

Aravena’s entire Biennale, then, its emphasis on “natural” materials—the omnipresence of earthen brick and tile—its insistence on the collaboration among state and humanitarian actors, all lead to the quayside behind the Arsenale, to a Catalan vault through which a starchitect advances his brand and a global conglomerate advances its sales.

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