Poststructuralism and Baudrillard

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You are looking at Chuck Close. Close is a post-modern, American artist who exhibited during the 1970s. Technically, you are looking at Big Self Portrait (1968) – a painted self-portrait of the artist. The original version of the picture measures just less than nine square metres, and in it Close's eyelashes and pores are individually visible. Close worked in a technique that came to be known as ‘photorealism', in which artists produced astoundingly life-like paintings, that presented ‘reality' as closely as photographs could. Where the modernists had exalted the use of the material (creating ‘painterly' effects like those of Jackson Pollock; or using abstraction like Mark Rothko did, to emphasise experience) in the production of art, to highlight the experience of reality, the postmodernists shunned the material in an effort to demonstrate the tentative nature of reproduction. In this way, photorealism embodied the post-modern debate surrounding the nature of reality. In his introduction to literary theory, Michael Ryan (2007) explains how post-modernism arose out of philosophical disputes about the nature of reality, and the problems we experience with our interpretation of it. The debate was not a new one, Plato, Descartes, Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russell, and Jean-Paul Sartre had all considered the problem of metaphysics. Derrida's reaction to Husserl's claim for transcendental understanding, and his assertion that metaphysics imposes structure on a world "characterised by difference and contingency" (2007, 66) claims a postmodernist view of the world. But the brilliance of Derrida's argument is his assertion that the conventional nature of writing, or even language, which relies entirely on agreement and attribution of meaning, and thus contradicts any possibility of the existence of an ‘ideal', ‘true' or universally singular meaning. If meaning is constructed, the possibility that ‘objectivity' and ‘truth' are also constructed follows naturally. This is the claim that Jean-François Lyotard makes in The Postmodern Condition (1979). With an almost prophetic eye toward the post-colonial theory to emerge, Lyotard rejected the acceptance of totalizing narratives that justify historical events, concepts, or practices. These totalising narratives he refers to as ‘metanarratives'. He asserts that in an age of plurality we cannot accept the idea of the existence of one true knowledge, which informs the belief that society progresses towards a kind of utopian enlightenment. Like Foucault, Lyotard aligns knowledge with power, suggesting that if language is constructed, and power is implemented through language, then power is constructed by the same forces. The problem is that such constructed power must be legitimized. Once we realise that power is not a quality of the "thing in itself" (to borrow from Kant), for such a transcendental reality does not exist, the question of legitimacy arises. For Lyotard, reality actually consists of "micro-narratives" (2000, ) which fall outside of explanation or classification by rational theory (such as metaphysics). Lyotard presents a post-modern representation of society as composed of multiplicitous and fragmented language games, which are in turn used to create narratives of control, that exist to justify themselves, and dictate the moves of the players. If we were able to magnify Close's self portrait, we would see that the realistic effect of the nine square metre image is achieved by painting exceptionally small blocks of colour, something like pixels, of about 4cm squared each. Close's self-portrait is thus an illustration of how reality, a seemingly very real reality, is not only represented, but actually constructed from fragments that are controlled by the artist himself. Our interpretation of the picture as a photographic image is manipulated by close, and could not be further from the ‘truth' (however tentatively we might think of it): "Some people...
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