One medium through another: displacement and criticism in October

Bowman, Matthew (2020) One medium through another: displacement and criticism in October. In: Poetic Translations, 18 December 2020, University of Southampton. (Unpublished)

Full text not available from this repository.


From its outset, the October journal positioned its art criticism as an explicit repudiation of Clement Greenberg’s influential account of medium specificity and modernism. This led to the journal focusing its energies towards developing a comprehension of postmodernism in which the “purity” of medium specificity would play no part—thereby suggesting that medium specificity itself would likewise no longer serve as a criterion for advanced art practice.

However, phrased in this way, it becomes conceivable that the terms “purity” and “medium specificity” should not be collapsed too readily into one another. Could a “impure” medium specificity, for example, be envisaged? October’s early publications such as Rosalind Krauss on the index and the expanded field as well as Craig Owens revisiting of the previously maligned concept of allegory are interpretable as attempts to rethink medium specificity as constitutively impure rather than as arguments contra medium specificity as such. In the long run, if the medium is constitutively impure, then this will be a latent factor of Greenberg’s own criticism and indicates that no sharp contrast between modernism and postmodernism on that basis is possible.

This paper will contend that October’s formative period of art criticism rethinks, instead of rejects, medium specificity. In doing so, it is argued that October does not do this according to a model of interdisciplinarity or intermedia, but rather depends on ongoing processes of displacement and translation. Finally, this paper will propose that one of the mediums displaced in and through another is art criticism itself, that the emphasis upon textuality in art practice since the 1960s discloses a transformation in their relationship in which criticism will no longer be a secondary commentary upon an artwork that precedes it. On the contrary, art and criticism becomes translations of each other. In this respect, translation/displacement is neither linear nor does it travel only in a single direction. Nor does it conclude in a synthesis that often seems the implicit telos of various models of interdisciplinarity. Instead, translation here is akin to the incessant plurality and pluralizing definitive of Jean-Luc Nancy’s writings on art, a plurality in which the act of writing itself is necessarily imbricated.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Clement Greenberg, the October journal, aesthetics, art, fine art
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
E History America > E151 United States (General)
N Fine Arts > NX Arts in general
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Business & Applied Social Science > Department of Arts & Humanities
Depositing User: Matthew Bowman
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2020 10:07
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2020 10:07

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item