Unconsolable Contemporary

Observing Gerhard Richter

Book Pages: 176 Illustrations: Published: November 2017

Author: Paul Rabinow

Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Art and Visual Culture, Sociology > Social Theory

In Unconsolable Contemporary Paul Rabinow continues his explorations of "a philosophic anthropology of the contemporary." Defining the contemporary as a moving ratio in which the modern becomes historical, Rabinow shows how an anthropological ethos of the contemporary can be realized by drawing on the work of art historians, cultural critics, social theorists, and others, thereby inventing a methodology he calls anthropological assemblage. He focuses on the work and persona of German painter Gerhard Richter, demonstrating how reflecting on Richter's work provides rich insights into the practices and stylization of what, following Aby Warburg, one might call "the afterlife of the modern." Rabinow opens with analyses of Richter's recent Birkenau exhibit: both the artwork and its critical framing. He then chronicles Richter's experiments in image-making as well as his subtle inclusion of art historical and critical discourses about the modern. This, Rabinow contends, enables Richter to signal his awareness of the stakes of such theorizing while refusing the positioning of his work by modernist critical theorists. In this innovative work, Rabinow elucidates the ways meaning is created within the contemporary.


"Recommended." — C. Hendrickson, Choice

"Sometimes the keenest observations on an overly familiar phenomenon come from outside the family. So it is with Paul Rabinow's lively, risky intervention in the clan of prestigious art theorists and critics who have created the reception of Gerhard Richter, one of the most famous artists in the world today. Rabinow contests the prevailing clichés that underwrite Richter's canonization, employing an anthropological perspective to untangle the artist's experiments with form in the twilit afterlife of modernism." — W. J. T. Mitchell, author of Image Science: Iconology, Visual Culture, and Media Aesthetics

"The virtual meeting of Gerhard Richter and Paul Rabinow opens up utterly new scholarly and discursive vistas into the nature of the contemporary. Offering a highly sophisticated and innovative anthropological framework to discuss the work of a prominent contemporary artist, Rabinow's innovative and exquisite book makes a compelling and necessary attempt to productively tie the arts and art criticism with the human sciences." — Amir Eshel, author of Futurity: Contemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Paul Rabinow is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley, and is the author and editor of numerous books, including Designs for an Anthropology of the Contemporary, also published by Duke University Press, and, most recently, Modes of Uncertainty: Anthropological Cases.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction. Form and Birkenau  1
1. Object: The Contemporary  15
2. Constellations: Writing and Imaging Strife  33
3. Assembling: Abet and Facilitate  65
4. Composition: Techne and Pathos  95
5. Contemporary Consolations: Unconsoled  125
6. Restive Endings  141
Notes  147
Bibliography  159
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-7001-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6996-7