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This review is taken from PN Review 6, Volume 5 Number 2, January - March 1979.

VISUAL POETICS? 20th Century Studies, ed. Stephen Bann, number 15/16: 'Visual Poetics'.

Writing about art. Even Plato tried to make it seem impossibly complicated, long before the commercial and academic pressures of present-day publishing. Perhaps it should be arting about write . . . after all, Marcel Duchamp (master of paradoxa rather than artist) once said that his Large Glass was not visible, but speakable ('ce n'est pas visible, c'est voyable'). So much for those who wander around the Tate Gallery muttering 'Unspeakable rubbish!' under their breath! Amusing perhaps, but the problem remains; Marcelin Pleynet has pointed out that, 'In fact, the crucial problem of the "grammateus" and the "zographon" haunts the revolutionary practice of modern painting.'

Paradoxes of this kind form the central topic of the latest issue of 20th Century Studies, devoted to the problem of 'Visual Poetics', the written criticism of the visual arts-which is at a critically low ebb in England at the moment. But, in fact, this is not a recent ailment: is it really necessary to recall the fate of Walter Benjamin, Max Raphael, Pierre Francastel and countless others at the hands of English art-historians and critics? All such work which is brushed aside by English academics, who nevertheless retain the vulgar marxism of Arnold Hauser as a sort of intellectual 'Aunt Sally', a deterrent to all those who would be rash enough to consider painting as a social process-meanwhile steering clear of the work of Marcelin Pleynet, Umberto Eco, Victor Burgin, etc.

The scope of this 20th Century Studies issue ...


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