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W.G. Sebald’s words and pictures: propositions for art history as a literary practice

Reifenstein, Tilo (2019) W.G. Sebald’s words and pictures: propositions for art history as a literary practice. In: Memory, Word and Image: W.G. Sebald's Artistic Legacies, 12-14 Dec 2019, Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

This paper embraces Sebald’s irreducible ‘writing with pictures’ as a proposition for art-historical practices. By exploring theoretical and philosophical approaches to writing’s epistemic capacity, the paper uses Sebald’s work to interrogate a history of art that often struggles to give up restraining the images it covets. The paper develops the characteristics of art-historical writing as a practice that necessarily not only negotiates the boundary of visual and verbal, but also manifests a literary fiction produced in the discursive framing of knowledge and meaning-making about artefacts, subjects, processes and their historic contexts.
In developing a methodological approach from Sebald’s word-picture combinations, we glimpse an art-historical practice that is necessarily already bound up in the liabilities of its subjects. Following Boris Groys’ suggestion that the writing of art history occurs in a literary space, which implies that the historian, too, is involved in artistic production and thus cannot approach the work (formally) under scrutiny from an external position, the paper reflects on the exigencies of writing about art. Recognising the limitations of what Derrida identified as teleological genre restriction and institutional pressures to preserve language as a transparent vehicle for ‘communication’, the paper advances a notion of art history as a literary pursuit that writes (with) pictures. Art history's recursive self-reflexivity—producing image-texts in order to trace the words and pictures of artists—is therefore used to reflect on the creative practice of art-history writing, as well as the assumed division between writing's own form, material and content.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Status: Unpublished
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BH Aesthetics
N Fine Arts > N Visual arts (General) For photography, see TR
P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > PT Germanic literature
School/Department: School of Art, Design & Computer Science
URI: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/4135

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