Marks in the Sand: Abstraction, Aesthetics, and the Definition of the Human

Research Seminar

  • Datum: 05.03.2019
  • Uhrzeit: 11:00
  • Vortragende: Rebecca Zorach
Marks in the Sand: Abstraction, Aesthetics, and the Definition of the Human
The starting point of this talk is the motif of the geometrical figure found traced in the sand, a story that Vitruvius relates of the Socratic philosopher Aristippus: "being shipwrecked and cast ashore on the coast of the Rhodians, he observed geometrical figures drawn thereon, and cried out to his companions: 'Let us be of good cheer, for I see the traces of man.'"

For Vitruvius, this exemplum gave evidence for the idea that knowledge can be preserved when all else is lost. Kant cited this anecdote as a way of establishing a division between art and nature. Montesquieu put it to more political uses. An illustration of the story was used as the frontispiece of several eighteenth-century texts on geometry. This talk will address the permutations of this story found in the works of these Enlightenment writers and others—in the context not only of the European Republic of Letters but also the early modern colonial encounter and modern literary criticism. Alongside questions of the definition of the human, they implicate a series of abstractions revolving around mathematics, money, religion, and loss.

Scientific Organization: David Zagoury

Rebecca Zorach teaches and writes on early modern European art, contemporary activist art, and art of the 1960s and 1970s. Particular interests include print media, feminist and queer theory, theory of representation, the Black Arts Movement, and the multiple intersections of art and politics. She is the author of Blood, Milk, Ink, Gold: Abundance and Excess in the French Renaissance (Chicago 2005) and The Passionate Triangle (Chicago 2011) of the forthcoming Art for People's Sake: Artists, Community, and Black Chicago 1965–75 (Duke 2019).

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