Pitying Rosalind Krauss

Posted: April 21, 2017 in Uncategorized

RogerKimball2 (1)

Roger Kimball
“Feeling Sorry for Rosalind Krauss”
The New Criterion
May, 1993


Billed as “a pointed protest against the official story of modernism,” the six, untitled chapters of The Optical Unconscious deal with the same knot of ideas that Professor Krauss mooted a few years ago in The Originality of the Avant-Garde and L’Amour Fou: Surrealism and Photography. Once again she is spooring after (as she put it in The Originality of the Avant-Garde) “a demythologizing criticism” that supposedly will “void the basic propositions of modernism” “by exposing their fictitious condition.” Max Ernst, Georges Bataille, Marcel Duchamp, Jackson Pollock, and other Krauss regulars are re-enlisted in the project of discrediting—or deconstructing —modernism. As before, they are strained through the forbidding argot of the two Jacques—Lacan and Derrida—Melanie Klein, Jean-François Lyotard, Fredric Jameson, Walter Benjamin, et al. “Phallicism,” the informe, “part-object,” the “paranoiac-schizoid scenario of early development,” “the mirror stage”: all our old friends have come back for an encore.

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Professor Krauss even uses many of the same decorations with which she festooned earlier volumes. Bataille’s photograph of a big toe, for example, which I like to think of as her mascot, reappears. As does her favorite doodle, a little graph known as a “Klein Group” or “L Schema” whose sides and diagonals sport arrows pointing to corners labeled with various opposing pairs: e.g., “ground” and “not ground,” “figure” and “not figure.” Professor Krauss seems to believe that this device, lifted from the pages of structuralist theory, illuminates any number of deep mysteries: the nature of modernism, to begin with, but also the essence of gender relations, self-consciousness, perception, vision, castration anxiety, and other pressing conundrums that, as it happens, she has trouble distinguishing from the nature of modernism. Altogether, the doodle is a handy thing to have around. One is not surprised that Professor Krauss reproduces it many times in her new book.

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