Ishmael’s Critique of Pictures: Representation and Anti-Representation in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick

Free Public Lecture by Bernhard Siegert, Peter Wall Institute International Visting Research Scholar

In the so-called “Pictorial Chapters” of Moby-Dick, the narrator Ishmael discusses “monstrous,” “erroneous,” and “true pictures” of whales, while shifting the meaning of representation and the meaning of truth from modern European to a-modern and non-European notions. Unmoored in his existence, floating between North America and Oceania, Ishmael’s articulations not only antedate the “practical turn” in art history, but also outline a stunning critique of pictures, which founds representation in non-representational forms of mimesis, like attachment. Here, chains of operations connect human and non-human actors (like whales and whale bones), while the notion of a non-representable and undecipherable “inscrutable thing” points to the unfathomable ground of all representation. Linked together, the elements of this critique form the rudiments of a theory of art as cultural technique.

German media theorist and historian Bernhard Siegert is this year’s International Visiting Research Scholar at the Peter Wall Institute of Advanced Studies and the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory (AHVA) at UBC. He is Professor of Theory and History of Cultural Techniques at Bauhaus University Weimar, Germany, where he is also co-director of the International Research Center for Cultural Techniques and Media Philosophy (IKKM). He has been Senior Fellow at the IFK in Vienna, Max Kade Professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara, and LeBoff Distinguished Visiting Scholar at NYU. His books include Passage des Digitalen. Zeichenpraktiken der neuzeitlichen Wissenschaften 1500–1900 (Brinkmann & Bose, 2003); Passagiere und Papiere. Schreibakte auf der Schwelle zwischen Spanien und Amerika (Fink, 2006), andCultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real (Fordham, 2015).

Further info

Venue: Room 102, Lasserre Building, 6333 Memorial Road (UBC)

This event is:
Hosted by the Department of Art History, Visual Art and Theory (AHVA) and the Bachelor of Media Studies program at the University of British Columbia
Organized by T’ai Smith, Associate Professor (AHVA)
Sponsored by the Peter Wall Institute of Advanced Studies at UBC