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CRITICAL REFLECTIONS

WHEN, ABOUT A DECADE AGO now, I started to make my way from academic philosophy to art writing, the book of the time that most impressed me was Richard Shiff’s Cézanne and the End of Impressionism (1984). Cézanne’s paintings have been so much discussed, Shiff argued, that we cannot really see them apart from the commentary on them. And since the way commentary is understood depends upon the interests of the interpreter, the interpretation of writing on paintings inevitably becomes “an end in itself.”

In posing this philosophical problem, Shiff, an epistemologist of art history, was a true disciple of Nietzsche. “There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing,’” Nietzsche wrote; “the more eyes, different eyes, we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our ‘concept’ of this thing, our ‘objectivity,’ be.” The more such “eyes” Cézanne’s commentators provide, the

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