The Practice of Persuasion: Paradox and Power in Art History

The Practice of Persuasion: Paradox and Power in Art History

The Practice of Persuasion: Paradox and Power in Art History

The Practice of Persuasion: Paradox and Power in Art History

Synopsis

This sequel to The Practice of Theory stresses the continued need for self-reflective awareness in art historical writing. Offering a series of meditations on the discipline of art history in the context of contemporary critical theory, Moxey addresses such central issues as the status of the canon, the nature of aesthetic value, and the character of historical knowledge. The chapters are linked by a common interest in, even fascination with, the paradoxical power of narrative and the identity of the authorial voice. Moxey maintains that art history is a rhetoric of persuasion rather than a discourse of truth. Each chapter in The Practice of Persuasion attempts to demonstrate the paradoxes inherent in a genre that-while committed to representing the past-must inevitably bear the imprint of the present. In Moxey's view, art history as a discipline is often unable to recognize its status as a regime of truth that produces historically determined meanings and so continues to act as if based on a universal aesthetic foundation. His new book should enable art historians to engage with the past in a manner less determined by tradition and more responsive to contemporary values and aspirations.

Excerpt

The [dialogue] between past and present can be profitably seen in
terms of its disfiguring work: history writing is clearly disfigurative
in the primary sense, since it cannot leave the historical record in
the same condition in which it finds it, but it should also be disfigu
rative in the secondary sense if it is to take account of its own en
abling tropes, make itself aware of its projective or constructive fig
urai system, and, as the final turn recognize its own disfigurement
in the work of disfiguration.

—Peter de Bolla, [Disfiguring History]

The following chapters are first and foremost meditations on the discipline of art history in the context of contemporary theory. They address the status of the canon, the nature of aesthetic value, the character of historical knowledge, the relation of that knowledge to fiction and memory, and the discipline's unconscious indebtedness to a particular philosophy of history. Only when considered together do these chapters betray (rather than display) a common interest or a fascination with the paradoxical power of narrative. Each, in one way or another, claims to demonstrate how the meanings with which language is invested are inevitably unstable and unfixed. Yet meaning is as inescapable as it is necessary. The very inadequacy of language as a system of signification enables us to understand its rhetorical strength, its power of persuasion. With that recognition in mind, I have two principal objectives: to encourage greater acceptance of new kinds of interpretation produced from subject positions that have so far only rarely been acknowledged in art history's institutional practice and to foster greater experimentation in defining the parameters of its disciplinary business.

As many thinkers in the late twentieth century have argued, history writing thrives on ambivalence. The trope of paradox has . . .

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