Grounds of Dispute: Art History, Cultural Politics and the Discursive Field

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For the purposes of analysis the timeframe is divided into two analytically distinct but overlapping periods: the first, spanning approximately - ; and the second, spanning approximately - In the work of the first generation of romantic poets, specifically Lord George Byron — and Percy Bysshe Shelley — , contemporary Italy and the Italian people are reconstituted in markedly positive and laudatory terms.

During the period — , claims to know and represent Italy and the Italians derive almost exclusively from fields dominated by the upper class. During this period habitus and field are poorly differentiated. As such, the habitus of field incumbents are more or less interchangeable. Upper-class identity is organised around consensus and conformity far more than it is oriented towards distinction achieved through differentiation. It is not until the mid-point of the 18 th century, when the social basis of fields steadily begins to diversify and the conditions under which the autonomisation of fields becomes possible, that the differentiation of discursive representations can take place.

As we shall see, the slow but steady diversification of the social composition of fields corresponds with the diversification of possible modes of knowing and representing Italy and the Italians characteristic of this period. Positive discursive accounts of Italy were refracted almost entirely through the prism of classicism. The education of the English upper class was organised around the accumulation of high levels of classical knowledge and learning. The setting of the classical curriculum in England can be traced back to St. The appeal of the classical authors centred on their perceived didactic value in practical matters, such as farming Hesiod and Virgil , warfare Livy, Frontinus, Aelian , mathematics Euclid , architecture Vitruvius , education Plutarch and moral and political behaviour Cato, Cicero, Augustus etc.

Ogilvie, Read as literary works, the classical authors were regarded as exemplary in the virtues of order, symmetry, balance and restraint Highet, The hegemony of upper-class representations of Italy as home to classical Roman and Renaissance civilization is an index of the comparatively lowly differentiated status of fields during this period.

The high-levels of classical learning consolidated in the upper-class habitus strongly shape the collective response to the crisis of legitimacy resulting in the regicide of Charles 1 st in Ayres, Regardless of political persuasion, members of the upper class mobilised and appropriated forms of classical Roman discourse as part of a collective attempt to consolidate their increased powers and status within the post-revolutionary political constitution.

Imaginative literature during the late 17 th and early 18 th centuries frequently explored and extended the analogy of the Roman Republic to the English Civil War. Similarly within the intellectual field, the legacy of imperial Rome provided a fertile terrain from which to extract valuable lessons from Posterity, the dominant conception of historiography throughout the 18 th century Leffler, ; Spadafora, Classical learning and knowledge oriented the upper class towards the civilizations of ancient Rome and the Renaissance respectively, but it was experience of these civilizations in situ which consolidated their status as the premier expression of cultural and moral refinement within the hierarchy of English taste proclivities.

By , the Tour of Italy was a defining practice in the formation of the upper-class habitus, integral to both the moral and aesthetic edification of the upper-class tourist Black, 3. Travel to Italy and exposure to classical and Renaissance culture profoundly shaped the cultural practices and taste dispositions of the English upper class. Displays of knowledge and attempts to emulate classical Roman and Renaissance styles and models across almost every sphere of the creative arts passed virtually unchallenged throughout the 18 th century. Upper-class evaluations of contemporary Italian civilization were almost entirely negative.

Only Italian opera and the picturesque natural scenery of the peninsula drew positive evaluations. This is evident from the travel narratives kept by upper-class tourists while abroad. In addition to this, travel narratives were a key site for the production of novel forms of discourse, which either fed back into and affirmed, altered, and or challenged pre-existing discursive accounts of Italy and the Italians.

The practice of swapping and reading travel narratives was popular among tourists, albeit one confined to an informal association of upper-class networks. However, as the number of upper-bourgeois writers and tourists began to increase from around onwards, the practice of writing travel narratives became subject to increasing commercialisation Turner 1. Particularly important for understanding the formation of the sub-field of travel narratives within the wider field of literature were the periodicals, The Monthly and Critical Reviews.

Established in and respectively, the consecrating power of these publications grew throughout the century as the number of travel narratives sent to them for review steadily increased. As such, upper-class travel practices were increasingly challenged and subject to derision by bourgeois authors and writers. The Tour of Italy was reframed as extravagant and unpatriotic, leading to vast sums of money being frittered away on foreign goods and services.

As the century progressed, upper-bourgeois travellers and writers came increasingly to imagine themselves, as opposed to their upper-class counterparts whom they regarded as effete carriers of cosmopolitan ideals, as the legitimate proponents of English national identity Black, , In adopting a splenetic persona and narrative style, Smollett was engaged simultaneously in a strategy of literary distinction aimed at increasing the marketability of his narrative, at the same time as marking out a dominant position within a predominantly bourgeois field. The emergence of a historically novel constellation of positive discursive representations of contemporary Italy and the Italian people is first formulated in the work of the romantic poets, Lord George Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley.

The romantic rendering of Italy was forged from the confluence of changes occurring to and within the field of cultural production within England throughout the final third of the 18th century. Of these changes, particularly important are: the decline of religious and aristocratic forms of patronage and the concurrent rise of commercial forms of printing and literature; the formation of a range of novel positions and position-takings taken up by an emergent class of professional bourgeois authors; and the perceived threat this was understood to pose to the nature and status of Art as understood from the restricted wings of the fields of literature and poetry.

From the mid-point of the 18 th century, the modes by which literary artefacts were produced, distributed and consumed were subject to increasing change. Historically, the production of cultural works was organised along the lines of religious and aristocratic forms of patronage. Herein, cultural producers were bound to their patrons and one another through local networks of direct and personal relations.

By the final third of the 18 th century, the production and consumption of cultural goods among the educated classes was increasingly mediated through networks of impersonal and instrumental relations. These emergent networks were organised around abstract economic values and the pursuit of commercial success Keen, Changes to the ways cultural goods were produced and consumed opened up new channels for upward social mobility Kelly, An emergent class of professional bourgeois authors motivated by the opportunity to accumulate large amounts of economic and symbolic capital e.

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The cultivation of reading habits facilitated by travelling libraries and rising levels of literacy comprised similarly important developments, feeding directly into the rising demand for novels and romances on the part of a crystallizing middle-class readership Williams, It was in the spaces opened up by commercial and subscription forms of publishing that the Gothic depiction of Italy began to take shape.

According to Punter , the emergence of the Gothic novel cannot be understood without reference to the genesis of the novel form itself. The Gothic novel was consecrated by, while working to consolidate, the emergent field of novelistic production. The Gothic rendering of Italy represents an important moment in the romantic depiction of Italy, refracting tensions in the relations between the emergent class of commercially-oriented bourgeois authors and aristocratic and conservative writers and poets. The Gothic novel opened up a discursive space in which a distinctively bourgeois response to the wider social, political and religious changes of the period was formulated Kelly, ; Demata, Specifically, in ways which capture the ambivalence of the bourgeois authors towards those above them e.

The use and appropriation of Italy and Italian themes on the part of a class of writers not possessed of the means to undertake the Tour of Italy forms part of a self-conscious attempt to emulate the cultural proclivities of their social superiors. That the Gothic novels were set in Southern Italy, largely unexplored and unknown to British tourists, provided authors with an unspoiled imaginative terrain on which to think through and consolidate the coordinates of an emergent bourgeois subjectivity Demata, The Gothic rendering of Italy was a necessary but not sufficient condition of possibility for the romantic treatment of Italy Le Tellier, This is so in a number of ways.

First, the majority of the romantic poets, including Byron and Shelley, had read and were influenced by the work of the Gothic novelists Marshall ; Churchill Second, the use of supernatural themes and motifs as devices for escaping the wider social and political anxieties of the period contributed to the wider evolution of romantic discourse. The status of poetry in particular, understood as the supreme art form and guarantor of the distinctiveness of a national culture and language, was perceived as under threat Valenza ; Williams, The romantic poets were vociferous in their attempts to reassert themselves and their art form as unique within, if not wholly distinct from, those engaged in the wider cultural division of labour.

Prominent poets such as Coleridge and Wordsworth vigorously asserted the difference between the calling of the poet and all other forms of professional career. Poets are not made; rather, they comprise constitutionally different types of human being altogether Valenza, The category of Artist forms part of the wider process of self-realization of creative producers who actively sought to represent and promote themselves in more distinctive and self-serving ways Inglis and Hughson, The vision of the romantic Artist as a unique and almost divinely gifted individual was a direct attempt to reclaim the identity and the status of Art from the mechanized and fragmented nature of work under the conditions of a rapidly industrialising capitalist society.

It is in this context that the category of the Artist comes to assume the figure of a driven but lonely and socially dislocated figure, marginalised from and opposed to the stuffy and conservative conventions of respectable bourgeois society Williams, In the poetic works of Byron and Shelley, pre-existing forms of discourse are revised, reconfigured and used to reconstruct Italy and the Italians in a range of novel and distinctly positive ways.

During their time at the Universities of Cambridge and Oxford respectively, the poets were exposed to a number of prominent literary circles. Entry into these literary circles brought Byron and Shelley into contact with a number of prominent Italian poets who had quit Italy for England. As both man and poet, the figure of Dante provided rich inspiration for Byron and Shelley as well as the subsequent generation of romantic poets, writers and painters Churchill, First, as a political dissident and fugitive forced to flee his native Florence, the self-sacrificing spirit in which Dante lived and worked appealed greatly to the romantic poets.

Here was a poet prepared to die in exile for his art. The depiction of Dante as both exile and poetic genius appealed greatly to Byron. Born with a club-foot, subject to troubled familial relations and forced exclusion from his natural aristocratic milieu, the figure of the exiled genius was one with whom Byron felt a powerful affinity. An appreciation of Italian literature, themes and poetic forms, is central to the poetic verse of Byron and Shelley and subsequent romantic depictions of Italy as evidenced in the work of the members of the Pisan Circle 4.

Rarely adhering to established poetic models, the romantic poets preferred instead to use and appropriate their materials by altering them in novel and expressive ways. Hybrid poetic forms, along with a renewed interest in epic poetry, poetic drama, lyric poetry and poetic narrative, grew and flourished under the romantics. Thematically, a central facet of romantic literature and poetry is an intense concern with Nature and natural phenomena more generally as a source of aesthetic beauty and moral and spiritual edification Berlin, Within the field of poetry, the turn towards natural phenomena as a source of emotional, as opposed to intellectual creative inspiration, forms the context in which poets such as John Dyer — , James Thomson — and Thomas Gray — broached the natural landscape as subject matter.

In the work of the pre- and romantic English poets, the lyric form is brought to bear on the English countryside and a range of natural phenomena. In Byron and Shelley, the lyric form, along with a range of Italian-inspired poetic styles and devices, are adapted and put to work on the Italian natural scene and Italian themes.

It is travel to Italy, and immersion within the natural beauty of the Italian countryside specifically, that are represented as spiritually and artistically transformative. Thus far we have established how and why the type of habitus and capitals acquired by Byron and Shelley shaped their respective trajectories through the cultural field and how in turn this enabled them to assume dominant positions within the field of poetry.

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Typically in ways which served to advance the dominant positions they had attained to and were subsequently able to consolidate in self-serving ways. Key here is the way both Byron and Shelley draw on, revise and re-appropriate, various negative discursive constructions of Italy, contemporary Italian culture and the Italian people, as vehicles for critically evaluating changes taking place in England at the time. Particularly as they relate to the nature and status of poetry and the romantic poet as the supreme expression of the Artist.

Drawing on and revising a range of pre-existing negative forms of discourse, Byron and Shelley re- construct Italy and the Italians through a range of positive and novel discursive forms. To increase their dramatic effect, the poets re- organise their framing of Italy around a series of arresting juxtapositions centring on different aspects of England, including: the natural scenery and landscape; history; social conventions and pre-industrial way of life; language; and temperate climate.

On the other, Italian society is free from the stifling and oppressive dictates of upper-class social norms and conventions. Italy is recast as host to a rich array of life-affirming sensory pleasures, the like of which are denied to the professional writers and poets back in England. The inspirational qualities of the Italian landscape are extended beyond its natural elements so as to incorporate the historical remnants of antiquity.

Reconceived in this way allows Byron and Shelley to assert the uniqueness of Poetry as the supreme art form and the Poet as the boldest expression of the creative Artist Thorpe, The conception of the Artist as a constitutionally different type of human being is interwoven into a range of discursive representations centring on the transformative capacities that exposure to Italy, the Italian natural scene and life-affirming culture are alleged to inspire.


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While both poets prized the relics and ruins as living testimony to ancient civilizations, they elaborate and extend their meaning in divergent ways. Whereas Gibbon saw in the ruins of ancient Rome testimony to the sic transit of fallen Empires, Byron elevates this sentiment to the plane of human existence. By contrast, Shelley felt positively inspired and comforted by the proximity of a ruinous past with which he felt a far greater spiritual affinity than the industrialising present of England Weinberg, Where Byron and Shelley diverge most notably is in their experience and representation of the contemporary Italians.

Byron conducted numerous sexual liaisons with Italian women while in Italy, kept the company of Italian high-society when in Venice, and actively shunned the company of English tourists to the peninsula who sought him out. It was via his love affair with the Italian countess, Teresa Guiccioli, that Byron was recruited into the revolutionary Carbonari Movement, a secret society devoted to liberating Italy from foreign suzerainty. Of the Italian people, Shelley was openly reproachful. In summary, the positive reconstruction of Italy and the Italians in the poetic works of Byron and Shelley marks a key moment in late 18th century and early 19 th century discursive representations of the peninsula and its people in England.

The associative ties Bryon and Shelley forge between the pre-industrial and life-affirming qualities of contemporary Italian life on the one hand, and notions of creative inspiration, sensory indulgence and artistic authenticity on the other, worked to enhance the perceived value of Italian travel within the field of Art throughout the 19 th century. Testimony to the transformative powers Italy and Italian culture were understood to possess, can be gleaned from even the most cursory glance of the list of writers, painters, poets, sculptors etc.

Rossetti, the Brownings, Ruskin, E. Forster and D. Lawrence, to name but the most prominent. This is not to suggest that discursive practices which positioned Italy and the Italians as inferior or lacking in various senses, ceased to exist or diversify — they did and in a variety of historically novel areas too. Rather, the point to emphasise here is that it was against the backdrop of a diverse range of positive, as opposed to negative, discursive constructions of Italy within 19 th century English culture were forged and took shape.

This article contends that the subject of cultural representation has been normatively overdetermined and insufficiently theorized. In privileging normativity over analytical acuity, scholarly analysis has neglected to acknowledge the generative effects negative discourses have for shaping their positive counterparts and the contexts in which they are formed. A further corollary of this situation is that attempts to account for the mechanisms driving continuity and change in the discursive construction of the cultural other have been significantly overlooked and under-theorized.

Drawing on the case of discursive representations of Italy and the Italians in England from to , this article has sought to demonstrate the merits of field theory as the basis for a more comprehensive and analytically differentiated account of cultural representation. The type of habitus and capitals intimately inform the discursive parameters of the categories through which the other is brought into view and constituted.

Whether or not agents are disposed towards representing the cultural other negatively and or positively is contingent on the variable conditions of fields. Arising at the point of intersection between a socially-marked habitus and field position, discursive representations of the other refract the relations of conflict and cohesion characteristic of the fields in which they are produced, the position of the producer therein, and the position of the field in the wider architecture of fields.

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Whether or not forms of discursive representation are reproduced, revised and or rejected, is contingent on the structure of fields and the structure of relations through which fields are conjoined. Critical normative forms of theoretical discourse comprise merely one way of constituting the terrain of cultural representation. As this article has demonstrated, field theory opens up a more analytically differentiated and historically-oriented vista from which to survey that terrain.

With this in mind, two avenues for future research into cultural representation seem particularly pressing. And secondly, how might a model of cultural representation based on field theory be used to recognise and problematize the analytical significance of positive discursive constructions of the other and otherness? In other words, if discourse brings into being and constitutes the other in relatively arbitrary ways, why have particular cultural others — in this case Italy and the Italians as they have been represented in England - been understood and represented in largely positive and laudatory ways?

Given that at the time of writing the European Union is preparing to leave Britain, the task of capturing the conditions under which the other comes to be positively understood and represented seems more pressing than ever. The work of Bryan Turner , , is the most notable exception to this general rule.

More recently, the work of Go a, has engaged with conceptions of the colonial other as part of a wider critical project aimed at interrogating sociological theoretical concepts and modes of reasoning through the framework of an emergent postcolonial social theory. The Pisan circle included Lord Byron, Leigh Hunt writer and poet and Edward Trelawney novelist and writer to name but the most prominent members. See Schoina for an in-depth treatment of the Pisan Circle and the influence both Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Shelley had for shaping the discursive accounts of Italy and the Italians associated with its members.

Byron and Shelley left England for Italy in and respectively, never to return. Research Article. Published in Volume 4 Issue 1: 19 Jul Download: View: Crucially, one capable of acknowledging the generative effects negative constructions of the other have for informing the contexts in which positive constructions arise and how the interplay of both negative and positive discursive constructions inform continuity and change in the discursive representation of the cultural other over time.

Drawing on secondary historical data relating to discursive representations of Italy and the Italians in England during the period to , the argument is made that both negative and positive discourses of Italy and the Italians arise out of and inform relations of conflict and cohesion conjoining agents at an intra-, as opposed to inter-, cultural level.

Continuity and Change Why do particular discursive representations of the cultural other persist over time and space, others are revised and change altogether, while others still are rejected and fall out of view? Cultural Transmission How and by what means are discursive representations of the other transmitted to and between actors?

Discursive Diversity How and under what conditions does the cultural other come to be understood and represented through a range of contradictory — negative and or positive - discursive representations? Discourse and Power Which came first the representation or the relations? Ahmad, A. Economic and Political Weekly , 27 3 , 98 — Orientalism and After, in P. Williams and L. London: Routledge. Alexander, J. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Berlin, I. The Roots of Romanticism.

London: Pimlico. Black, J Gloucestershire: Sutton Publishing Limited. Black, J. Italy and the Grand Tour. New Haven: Yale University Press. Culture, Politics and Society in Britain — Manchester: Manchester University Press. Bourdieu, P. The Forms of Capital, in J. Richardson ed. New York: Greenwood. The Logic of Practice. Cambridge: Polity. New York: Columbia University Press. Pascalian Meditations.

Oxford: Polity Press. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology.


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