being reduced to a bodily essence in abject fluids

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Blue Apple

Senior Member
Persian (Iran)
Does the bold section mean "Mulvey in reviewing Sherman’s later works says that this is very difficult, so that it may result in 1. the whole artwork losing its meaning or 2. the appearance of bodily materials and fluids (vaginal discharges) in the artwork, which these bodily materials and fluids are themselves fetishes"?



Context:

The phallic model of sexual difference situates the man in the guise of ‘having’ the phallus by dint of the fact that he possesses a penis, although, as I have said, the two are not equivalent. For the woman to accede to phallic power she can turn herself into the phallus, she can ‘be’ it, so that the heterosexual man can find the signifier of his desire in the body of the woman, and she gains pleasure from her ability to seduce. However, this economy excludes a position for the woman on her own terms, and while numerous women artists have attempted to interrogate fetishism in order to find a space for female subjectivity in its realm, Mulvey’s point about Sherman’s later works raises the difficulty of doing this without the risk of falling out of signification or being reduced to a bodily essence in abject fluids which in turn are re-fetishised (Art and Psychoanalysis by Maria Walsh).
 
  • Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    This is a fairly standard kind of text in a specialized field of art criticism.

    It is however difficult for even native speakers of English to unpack if they aren't familiar with the terms and the field of criticism.

    Basically this text is rehearsing the idea that it is difficult for a women to express her own sense of self as long as she understands her own value to be the effect she has on men. The woman is an object in relation to the man, not her own subject.

    When an art critic says an artist interrogates an idea or concept, it means that artist engages with and plays with the idea in order to raise questions about the idea. In the case of Cindy Sherman, she is well known for taking photos of herself dressed as various celebrities and female stereotypes.

    The text seems to be saying that this a risky move because these photos might make us look at the artists like she is just an object, and miss the point that she is asserting her own subject status by making art in which she appears as an object.
     

    Blue Apple

    Senior Member
    Persian (Iran)
    This is a fairly standard kind of text in a specialized field of art criticism.

    It is however difficult for even native speakers of English to unpack if they aren't familiar with the terms and the field of criticism.

    Basically this text is rehearsing the idea that it is difficult for a women to express her own sense of self as long as she understands her own value to be the effect she has on men. The woman is an object in relation to the man, not her own subject.

    When an art critic says an artist interrogates an idea or concept, it means that artist engages with and plays with the idea in order to raise questions about the idea. In the case of Cindy Sherman, she is well known for taking photos of herself dressed as various celebrities and female stereotypes.

    The text seems to be saying that this a risky move because these photos might make us look at the artists like she is just an object, and miss the point that she is asserting her own subject status by making art in which she appears as an object.
    Thank you Ponyprof. So, you think "being reduced to a bodily essence in abject fluids" means "being reduced to an object rather than a subject". I understand it. But, could you please help me a bit more about the literal meaning of "a bodily essence in abject fluids"? Does it mean "a body (object) composed of disgusting fluids like blood, spit, and vaginal discharges"?
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I suppose so. A lot of these terms are common to this kind of theory, and not used in general conversation. One of the characteristics of this kind of theory is to talk in big generalities using key terms specific to this genre. Abject is an even bigger loss of self than being an object. You'd really need to look the works in question to see if the description matches them. Does the artist show bodily fluids?

    At a certain point we get beyond just what do the words mean in English, and onto the question of how does this particular kind of theory interpret the world and what key terms does it use.

    When I first discovered post modern psychoanalytic cultural theory, a long time ago now :), I found it puzzling until I went back to the start and read Freud ( who is surprisingly accessible) and then Lacan, who is really just commenting on Freud. Then the kind of text that your struggling with here became easier to understand, even a bit predictable.

    But I still don't think I can provide a total introduction to the field here! If you need to seriously engage with these kinds of texts, you might find some kind of "introduction to post modern theory" either a textbook or online that can give you an overview of the field.
     

    grassy

    Senior Member
    Polish
    @Ponyprof

    Sorry, but the interpretation of art and its relation to culture is not rocket science. If most educated people can't understand a text like this, then there's something wrong with the text, not with the people.
     

    Blue Apple

    Senior Member
    Persian (Iran)
    I suppose so. A lot of these terms are common to this kind of theory, and not used in general conversation. One of the characteristics of this kind of theory is to talk in big generalities using key terms specific to this genre. Abject is an even bigger loss of self than being an object. You'd really need to look the works in question to see if the description matches them. Does the artist show bodily fluids?

    At a certain point we get beyond just what do the words mean in English, and onto the question of how does this particular kind of theory interpret the world and what key terms does it use.

    When I first discovered post modern psychoanalytic cultural theory, a long time ago now :), I found it puzzling until I went back to the start and read Freud ( who is surprisingly accessible) and then Lacan, who is really just commenting on Freud. Then the kind of text that your struggling with here became easier to understand, even a bit predictable.

    But I still don't think I can provide a total introduction to the field here! If you need to seriously engage with these kinds of texts, you might find some kind of "introduction to post modern theory" either a textbook or online that can give you an overview of the field.
    Thank you so much for your time, guidance, and advice :)
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    @Ponyprof

    Sorry, but the interpretation of art and its relation to culture is not rocket science. If most educated people can't understand a text like this, then there's something wrong with the text, not with the people.
    I dunno. I can read, understand, and evaluate a text like this because of my specialized training. I cannot read medical, scientific, or technical articles except to superficially read the introduction and discussion sections. I can not engage with these kinds of articles or evaluate the evidence. I also didn't study statistics so the evidence sections of most social science papers are opaque to me even when i find the research topic and conclusions simple, even simplistic.

    So I don't agree with the notion that writing about art and literature should somehow always be in plain language and avoid specialist concepts. We don't require that of any other academic discipline.

    That's quite different from whether I think this text in particular is doing anything very interesting or compelling within its own field. I don't have enough of the text to make a judgement.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I've had to read a great deal of art criticism in my time, but I've not often been caused to read anything as turgidly illiterate as this.

    Could this writer not find a better way of saying "the heterosexual man can find the signifier of his desire in the body of the woman"? I think it means that heterosexual men find that women excite their lust, something which hardly needs saying.
     

    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    I've had to read a great deal of art criticism in my time, but I've not often been caused to read anything as turgidly illiterate as this.

    Could this writer not find a better way of saying "the heterosexual man can find the signifier of his desire in the body of the woman"? I think it means that heterosexual men find that women excite their lust, something which hardly needs saying.
    Yes and no to whether this can be translated into plain English.

    "Signifier" is a "key term" that comes out of semiotic theory which has a particular analysis of how sign and signifier work together. One of the main points is that the relationship between sign and signifier is mobile and unmotivated.

    "Desire" is also a key term in this kind of discussion. It is broader than pure lust and again is understood to be mobile, and can attach to different things. If we think about how Freud sees libido as the driving life energy and how he sees sublimated desire creating our personality you can see how it is larger than just lust. Lust is just one aspect of desire. And lust itself may be created from many complicated emotions.

    I think one of the jobs this text is doing is asserting that there is no essential structural difference between "normal heterosexual desire" and fetishes or gay desire. I actually tend to agree with this.

    There isn't a category of "normal" sex and then a category of "fetish" or unnatural sex. The process by which a man comes to see, say, large breasts as erotic in the USA is the same process by which someone might come to see items of clothing or unusual practices as erotic. It's just that big breasts are socially accepted and some other things are not. We can look at different cultures over time and see a wide variety of practices that are "normal" in that culture but unusual to us.

    So I think this theory is indeed being very specific in its terms in order to say something that seems counter intuitive.

    Also honestly this isn't primarily art criticism. It is psychoanalytic post modern theory applied to art.
     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    [...]
    So I think this theory is indeed being very specific in its terms in order to say something that seems counter intuitive.
    I'm saying that I think most of this could be said more clearly and literately, and that if this was done, the piece wouldn't be difficult to understand.
     
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    Ponyprof

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    Possibly. I do think one could simplify the grammar and sentence structure without getting rid of the key terms.
     

    Roxxxannne

    Senior Member
    English (northeastern US)
    Possibly. I do think one could simplify the grammar and sentence structure without getting rid of the key terms.
    I agree. Simpler sentences would be a big help.

    Some of the words she uses are actual technical terms, similar in their technicality to 'past perfect' or 'second aorist' or 'voiceless labiovelar fricative' in linguistic/grammatical contexts. The problem is that she's using what we think of as 'regular' vocabulary -- 'bodily,' 'abject,' and 'fluids' -- in, apparently, a specialized sense, and we can't tell whether she's being metaphorical/technical or literal.

    This is not that much different from mathematicians who have coined metaphorical terms like 'train tracks,' 'switches,' and 'neighborhoods.' If they're writing for topologists (the branch that talks about these things), they might not define the terms (although they might refer the reader to the article where the terms are defined). But if the words are not standard terms known to their audience, they will definitely define them.
     
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