Cover: Arts of Impoverishment: Beckett, Rothko, Resnais, from Harvard University PressCover: Arts of Impoverishment in PAPERBACK

Arts of Impoverishment

Beckett, Rothko, Resnais

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Product Details


$50.00 • £40.95 • €45.00

ISBN 9780674048768

Publication Date: 12/01/1993


256 pages

5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

5 color illustration, 1 line illustration


In Arts of Impoverishment, Leo Bersani and Ulysse Dutoit demonstrate how three artists—Beckett the writer, Rothko the painter, and Resnais the filmmaker—dare to fail, dare to turn away from ‘living’ and its consolations to confront the unliving, the uncreated, the unnamable. These artists do not just depict the void but void their very works of form and meaning, deconstructing their own media: Resnais by stalling movement, Rothko by blocking vision, and Beckett by obstructing any reading that attempts to save language from silence… Each of these artists, in different ways, bores holes into his own creation, unforming forms, unwording words, unmoving movies. Their works therefore resist what Bersani, in the title of his previous book, describes as ‘the culture of redemption’: a culture in which art is called upon to cure life’s ills, absolve its sins, correct its errors, and sublimate its passions… [Arts of Impoverishment] is one of the boldest critical statements of recent years. The book proposes no less than a redefinition of the work of art, at a time when critics, fearing charges of elitism, have become reluctant to distinguish works of art from any other form of cultural activity. The role of art, the authors argue, is not to comfort or redeem us or improve our politics, but to overwhelm us: to transport us to the limits of perception where being is created and dissolved… There is something so intoxicating about Bersani and Dutoit’s aesthetic of austerity that dearth begins to seem more sumptuous than plenty. The quest for impoverishment is perhaps the most heroic way to fail to fail.—Maud Ellmann, Essays in Criticism

This brilliant and thought-provoking interdisciplinary work by literary critic Leo Bersani and film scholar Ulysse Dutoit examines the frontiers between the work of art, whether literary, pictorial, or cinematographic, and the rest of the real world.French Review

Bersani and Dutoit are taking The Culture of Redemption into the territory of a positive aesthetics. This new book is an extremely important event, one that will be followed fervently be the admirers of their work.—Rosalind Krauss

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