Challenging prevailing theories regarding the birth of the subject,
Catherine M. Soussloff argues that the modern subject did not
emerge from psychoanalysis or existential philosophy but rather in
the theory and practice of portraiture in early-twentieth-century
Vienna. Soussloff traces the development in Vienna of an ethics of
representation that emphasized subjects as socially and
historically constructed selves who could only be understood--and
understand themselves--in relation to others, including the
portrait painters and the viewers. In this beautifully illustrated
book, she demonstrates both how portrait painters began to focus on
the interior lives of their subjects and how the discipline of art
history developed around the genre of portraiture.
Soussloff combines a historically grounded examination of art
and art historical thinking in Vienna with subsequent theories of
portraiture and a careful historiography of philosophical and
psychoanalytic approaches to human consciousness from Hegel to
Sartre and from Freud to Lacan. She chronicles the emergence of a
social theory of art among the art historians of the Vienna School,
demonstrates how the Expressionist painter Oskar Kokoschka depicted
the Jewish subject, and explores the development of pictorialist
photography. Reflecting on the implications of the visualized,
modern subject for textual and linguistic analyses of subjectivity,
Soussloff concludes that the Viennese art historians,
photographers, and painters will henceforth have to be recognized
as precursors to such better-known theorists of the subject as
Sartre, Foucault, and Lacan.
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