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In the Café Flaubert

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Developing my long-held contention that an artist might write art-theory differently from non-artist theorists, this paper offers an instantiation of one possible approach. First and foremost, it proposes that an artist's art-theory might utilize their understanding of aesthetic form and functioning to conceive of writing as another art-form, now taking place in words and referencing the structures associated with that medium.

With a nod to Plato's dialogues, the text adopts the format of a fictional conversation offered as reportage, which takes place between the artist-writer and a philosopher an expert on the subject of truth regimes. The artist consults him in order to progress a project. What ensues puts the artist-writer's preference for a realist approach to writing (representation as reflection) into play with the academic's overview of this and other truth regimes. Introduced to Richard Rorty's pragmatism and hence the idea of truth as use-value, the artist is initially bewildered, only later realizing that it takes her project in a new direction.

Given that the text's departure from the form of conventional art-theory is embodied (not just represented), the issues that it raises are implicit, but include: the (dis)advantages of fictional dialogue as theory. (On the one hand both the reader and the writer imaginatively inhabit different points of view more readily than happens with non-fictional prose. On the other hand, fictional dialogue may indulge unreliable spokespersons for particular theoretical positions.) Another point for debate concerns the recourse to the Renaissance pedagogic concept of teaching through delight. (While aesthetic pleasure-in-the-text is a spur for both the writer and the reader, the sensuous dimensions of dramatic embodiment may offer a distraction from more substantial issues.)

As much as this text is an instance of a writing-as-an-art-form as theory, it also proposes, reciprocally, that theory may be found outside non-fictional, non-aesthetic academic discourse. When this is the oblique logic of the writing's form, it is also explicitly elaborated in the article, as Drer's woodcut The Draughtsman and the Lute is seen to comprise observations about the conditions of representation that re-appear in the picture that is the fictional discussion in the Caf Flaubert.
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Keywords: Richard Rorty's pragmatism; an artist's writing; conversational theory; image-text; situational fiction

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Brighton and Chelsea College of Art & Design.

Publication date: 09 June 2008

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  • The Journal of Writing in Creative Practice is the official organ of the Writing Purposefully in Art and Design (Writing PAD) network. It offers art and design institutions an arena in which to explore and develop the notion of thinking through writing as a parallel to visual discourse in art and design practice. The journal aims to extend the debates to all national and international higher educational art and design institutions.
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