Jonathan Crary

  • Police officers patrolling the streets of Tarnac, France, November 11, 2008. Photo: Thierry Zoccolan/Getty Images.


    Every year Artforum invites a spectrum of scholars, critics, and writers to reflect on the year’s outstanding titles.


    Once upon a time in Paris, there was a short-lived meeting place in the form of a journal called Tiqqun, which, in two volumes, published anonymous philosophical writings that combined resonances of Agamben, Benjamin, Foucault, Heidegger, and Schmitt. Then there was no more Tiqqun, or Tiqqun went on hiatus. Its dissolution, according to rumors, had something to do with 9/11 and disagreements over the way to proceed in its wake. Sometime after this, an anonymous video,




    The financial crisis of fall 2008 is one symptom of a transition in the nature and form of global order. The most important question this transition raises is what new possibilities it is opening up; but before asking that, one has to understand also what the transition is closing down. Two of the best books I have read in the past year, Giovanni Arrighi’s Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century (Verso) and Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Picador),

  • J. M. W. Turner, Peace—Burial at Sea, 1842, oil on canvas, 34 1/4 x 34 1/8".

    J. M. W. Turner

    IN RECENT DECADES, the occasion of a major Turner exhibition has invariably elicited outpourings of admiring, even marveling commentary on the artist’s work, and the response to the current traveling retrospective—soon to open at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York—has thus far proved no exception.* But beyond the consensus that Turner must be ranked among the greats of post-Renaissance European art (regardless of what criteria such an estimation might be based on), no one seems to know quite what to do with his immense, intractable body of work, so seemingly incommensurable

  • the best books of the year

    Twelve scholars, critics, and artists choose the year's outstanding titles.


    A book like Alastair Wright’s Matisse and the Subject of Modernism (Princeton University Press) is enough to rekindle my faith in the future of art history as a discipline. (Here I could also mention two other such rare pearls from 2005: Maria Gough’s The Artist as Producer: Russian Constructivism in Revolution [University of California Press] and Christina Kiaer’s Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism [MIT Press]). The first amazing trait of Wright’s book is that it manages

  • Ridley Scott, Blade Runner, 1982, still from a color film in 35 mm, 117 minutes.

    1982: Blade Runner

    BLADE RUNNER WAS A PRODUCT deeply of its time, but its singularity has sustained our attraction far beyond that moment. Much of the avalanche of commentary the film provoked in the decade of its release is increasingly irrelevant to its status now and longer term. Few viewers today will be preoccupied with how vividly it supposedly maps out the “unmappable” shape of the de-centered city or, now that the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union itself have vanished, how acutely it delineates the contours of late capitalism in the bipolar days of the cold war. Likewise, the movie’s retrospective links to



    IN HIS 1957 ESSAY “Hard-Sell Cinema,” Manny Farber talks about “the business-man-artist”: someone who “has the drive, patience, conceit, and daring to become a successful non-conforming artist without having the talent or idealism for rebellious creation.” Farber names Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz in jazz, Larry Rivers and Franz Kline in painting, Salinger, Bellow, and Cheever in the novel, Paddy Chayefsky, Delbert Mann, and Elia Kazan in movies. It's one of many pieces in Negative Space where you get the idea Farber was in a bad mood pretty much from the beginning of the '50s to the


    IT IS MY PLEASURE TO INTRODUCE Jonathan Crary, a quiet intelligence who comes with many accomplishments, Guggenheim fellow, a member of the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton, a founding editor of Zone, teacher first of visual art at the University of California at San Diego and now of art history at Columbia, before all that a photographer, though credentials say little about his thoughts, which return repeatedly to parse other things—more generally speaking, the odd physical politics of knowledge itself. Orders of things catch the intelligence and Crary responds, or would it be better to say, he reacts?
    Techniques of the Observer, his first book, took modern knowledge to be physical, an effect of sensation. It did not however try to make knowledge itself sensational, no, the quiet intelligence prefers to hammer Goethe into afterimages, truth into flight. He shows what knowledge has felt like, not just what it feels like, shows that feelings change, and shows feelings to have objective attachments.
    Crary is the historian-philosopher of our spectacle-lives. He writes in two directions mainly. One of them toward a present: out of the prehistory of the Debordian spectacle, where capital was accumulated to the point where it became images and attention was identified, turned, surreptitiously tunneled. And then he writes another way, toward a future: moving quickly to catch a different spectacle, call it cyberspaced, where images will have to lose their surfaces and acquire dimensions if they are to have any authority or magnetism or life at all. (The same will be true for us.)
    In any case, the quiet intelligence writes about the politics outside words as well as names. These are arguments based upon the assumption that those politics exist in durée and that they will continue and that we might be able to feel them too in our eyes and minds and bones.

    For all the claims that our contemporary technological culture constitutes a decisive exceeding of modernity, it is striking how much critical writing on virtual reality, cyberspace, and interactive computer networks is riddled with enduring myths of modernization. In particular, there continues to be a powerful and reciprocal relation between discourses on technology and themes of universality and emancipation, and this is especially so in work that seeks to dramatize how epochal cultural shifts are driven by technological “revolutions.” Even analyses of the most local and subjective technological

  • Martin Puryear’s Sculpture

    WHILE ASPECTS OF MARTIN PURYEAR’S sculpture seem traditional, even conservative, his work is part of important developments in contemporary art. He maintains the stance of both an artisan and a carver who pares down his material to a formal core, but the work he produces demands to be confronted outside of conventional sculptural terms. A no-nonsense craftsman’s esthetic is applied to the creation of ambiguous, multivalent objects that resist analytic categorization. His art is an experience of an extraordinary refinement bordering on a kind of mannerism, yet it generates a confluence of meanings

  • Dennis Oppenheim’s Delirious Operations

    HOW INCONGRUOUS THAT DENNIS OPPENHEIM still wears the “conceptual” label when his work has always been at odds with such a designation. Not that this label means much any more, but it seems important to stress at the outset that Oppenheim’s enterprise seems fundamentally about the very dissolution of concepts, about an insistence that abstract systems be treated as physical material to be manipulated. It deals with the corporeality of all human experience (including thought), with events that take place on surfaces and in territories. This is not to say that thought is not an issue in his work.

  • Richard Nonas: Boundary Works

    RICHARD NONAS’ WORK USES MINIMAL forms and working procedures for the realization of goals radically different from those of the artists who developed that formal language in the mid-’60s. Unlike other post-Minimalists, Nonas did not feel compelled to jettison an established vocabulary and, in reaction, to forge an entirely new one. The choice of remaining partially within a Minimalist mode held out to him the prospect of achieving a more disquieting and subversive overturning of the original meanings of its terms. His work thus involves an undermining of expectations, an erosion of certainties