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Johanna Drucker: A review of TJ Clark’s Farewell to an Idea

7 May 2015

Los Angeles Review of Books

‘Recognizing Complicity’ by Johanna Drucker

May 3rd, 2015

The following essay is part of the Los Angeles Review of Books special series “No Crisis”: a look at the state of critical thinking and writing — literary interpretation, art history, and cultural studies — in the 21st century. Click here for the full series. 

T. J. CLARK begins the first long essay in this book with a measured but keen sense of drama, reporting two major historical events while gesturing to pressing issues offstage: On October 16, 1793 (or 25 Vendémiaire Year 2), “a hastily completed painting by Jacques-Louis David, of Marat, the martyred hero of the revolution […] was released into the public realm.” At midday on that same day, “Marie-Antoinette was guillotined. Michelet tells us that her death, so long demanded by Hébert and the Paris wards (the so-called sections), in the event went off quietly. People’s minds were on other things […].” In an immediate engagement with the portrait of the dead Marat in his bath, we can easily forget  intimately its production is bound to those “other things” — ongoing upheaval and revolutionary struggles — and yield to a reductive iconographic reading of the image through its overt references to a deposed Christ. But universalizing Marat’s depiction in David’s work misses the import of its identity as a modern work, situated in and formulated in response to a specific set of conditions and circumstances. continued

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