Jeremy Wineberg's Reviews > The Optical Unconscious

The Optical Unconscious by Rosalind E. Krauss
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's review
Aug 16, 2008

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bookshelves: art, culture, nonfiction
Read in October, 2005

Krauss has such and interesting way of slicing up the last 100 years of art production that this book, along with Formless: a User's Guide, have seriously rerouted my understanding of the connections between artists, their work and the ideas they bat around.

This book deals with how the conscious is "shot through with unconscious conflict." One exapmle that stuch out for me was her discussion of Duchamp's spinning discs as a hypnotically erotic take on the optical illusion: "one encounters the body of the physiological optic's seeing fully emeshed in the temporal dimension of the nervous life, as it is also fully awash in optical illusion's 'false induction.' But it is here, as well, that one connects to this body as the site of libidinal pressure on the visual organ, so that the pulse of desire is simultaneously felt as the beat of repression."

She builds a string of associations from these rotating discs to the eye, the breast, sexual penetration: "And within the pulse, as it carries one from part-object to part-object, advancing and receding through the illusion of this three dimensional space, there is also a hint of the persecutory threat that the object poses for the viewer, a threat carried by the very metamorphic rhythm itself as its constant thrusting of the form into a state of dissolve brings on the experience of formlessness, seeming to overwhelm the once-bounded object with the condition of the informe."

I see this kind of interpretation as injecting a sense of life into these relics from early modernism, making them quite relevant to a culture that is now overwhelmed with such an erotic pulse and at the same time incredibly repressed.

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