Matthew MacKisack

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Matthew MacKisack's MPhil/PhD Art research project

Cancelling Phantasmata: the Fate and Function of the Inner Image

This thesis traces the roles and valences of incommunicable, perception-like thought - what I call an 'inner image' - in art's reception.

Recent artistic practice and its contextualisations are beholden to a critique of interiority that programmatically outlaws anything like the phantasmata that were central to pre-modern thought or the mental imagery of modern psychology and philosophy of mind. I argue that in the context of these prohibitions an inner image – as both experienced in engagement and facilitated in practice - has a critical-utopian function: critical in its evasion of communicative rationality and naturalized externality, utopian in its non-realization and incongruity with the immediate.

The argument proceeds by conducting close readings of a wide range of art historical situations in which the notion of such an image is problematized: G E Lessing's Laokoon essay; the plays of Villiers de L'Isle-Adam; Roland Barthes's Camera Lucida; the relations between text and materiality in the work of Marcel Broodthaers and Robert Barry. An instructive contrast is provided by examining the role of 'inner images' in scientific practice, specifically their utilisation in recent nueroscientific attempts via brain-imaging to communicate with humans in a vegetative state.

Findings are framed by a critique of positivistic thought, and its relation to the utopian, derived from the Frankfurt School body of theory. It is shown that the excision from the art encounter of inner images - as a taboo on that which is not sensuously realized, which retains a halo of indeterminacy, which does not yet exist - resigns the subject to circumstance. An inner image is then the expression of the subject’s capacity as a subject to resist circumstance, if only by turning away.