Brain of the Earth's Body: Art, Museums, and the Phantasms of Modernity

Brain of the Earth's Body: Art, Museums, and the Phantasms of Modernity

Brain of the Earth's Body: Art, Museums, and the Phantasms of Modernity

Brain of the Earth's Body: Art, Museums, and the Phantasms of Modernity

Synopsis

What begins as a meditation on "the museum" by one of the world's leading art historians becomes, in this book, a far-reaching critical examination of how art history and museums have guided and controlled not only the way we look at art but the ways in which we understand modernity itself. Originally delivered as the 2001 Slade Lectures in the Fine Arts at Oxford University, the book makes its deeply complex argument remarkably accessible and powerfully clear. Concentrating on a period from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twentieth, Donald Preziosi presents case studies of major institutions that, he argues, have defined--and are still defining--the possible limits of museological and art historical theory and practice. These include Sir John Soane's Museum in London, preserved in its 1837 state; the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851; and four museums founded by Europeans in Egypt in the late nineteenth century, which divided up that country's history into "ethnically marked" aesthetic hierarchies and genealogies that accorded with Europe's construction of itself as the present of the world's past, and the "brain of the earth's body." Through this epistemological and institutional archaeology, Preziosi unearths the outlines of the more radical Enlightenment project that academic art history, professional museology, and art criticism have rendered marginal or invisible. Finally, he sketches a new theory about art, artifice, and visual signification in the cracks and around the margins of the "secular theologisms" of the globalized imperial capital called modernity. Addressed equally to the theoretical and philosophical foundations of art history,museology, history, and anthropology, this book goes to the heart of recent debates about race, ethnicity, nationality, colonialism, and multiculturalisms--and to the very foundations of modernity and modern modes of knowledge produ

Excerpt

Brain of the Earth’s Body is a series of essays based on the Slade Lectures in the Fine Arts I delivered at Oxford University during Hilary Term, 2001, while a visiting fellow of All Souls College during 2000–2001. The essays are substantially the same as the eight weekly spoken lectures (with the addition of notes where appropriate), and they represent an ongoing meditation on the evolution and current state of the interwoven discourses of art history, aesthetics, ethics, and museology. They divide roughly into two parts, the first four laying theoretical, historical, and methodological foundations for the subsequent “case study” investigations of a number of museums and exhibitionary institutions in Britain and Egypt.

Since their inauguration by John Ruskin in 1870 (in the same auditorium in the Oxford Museum of Natural History where my talks were delivered), the Slade Lectures commonly have not included audience discussion and questions; during 2001, however, by audience request and owing in part to the somewhat controversial nature of the talks, a unique special seminar was added to the final lecture so that some of the many issues raised during the series could be addressed and discussed. As well as reflecting this exchange with the audience, several of the essays echo earlier articles and lectures and build on them in the light of discussions, commentaries, and debates with many colleagues and students in Europe and North America.

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