W. J. T. Mitchell: "Idolatry: Nietzsche, Blake, Poussin"



6 May 10



W. J. T. Mitchell
Idolatry: Nietzsche, Blake, Poussin
06.05.2010, 8 pm

W. J. T. Mitchell’s lecture at KW Institute for Contemporary Art aims at a diagnosis of the return of idolatry and its “evil twin,” iconoclasm, in contemporary global political culture, and especially in the contemporary tendency to conceive of war in religious, Manichean terms, as a struggle between Good and Evil.
Working through the transvaluations of the idolatry/iconoclasm complex in the philosophy of Nietzsche (Twilight of the Idols and Thus Spake Zarathustra) and the paintings of William Blake, the lecture stages a re-reading of Nicholas Poussin’s classic “scenes of idolatry” in The Adoration of the Golden Calf and The Plague at Ashdod. This reading is designed to overturn the canonical view of Poussin as a conventional moralizer whose pictures endorse the brutal iconoclasm mandated by the Second Commandment, and reveal him (as in Blake’s description of John Milton) as “a true poet, and of the devil’s party.”
The lecture concludes with a return to contemporary scenarios of ethnic cleansing in the war for possession of the “holy land” of Israel-Palestine.

The lecture is moderated by Jan Soeffner (Center for Literary and Cultural Research, Berlin).

William John Thomas Mitchell is professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago. Since 1978 he has been the editor of the journal Critical Inquiry. He is one of the most important voices in the discussion about the nature and function of images and his books are benchmarks of today's visual culture. In 1992 Mitchell coined the term “pictorial turn” in science, culture and theory to describe the noticeable prevalence of thinking via pictures and images.

Publications (selection):
Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago, 1994), What do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago, 2005), The late Derrida (Ed. Critical Inquiry 33:2 2007), What Do Pictures Want? (Chicago 2005), The Last Dinosaur Book: The Life and Times of a Cultural Icon (Chicago 1998).

The lecture marks the inauguration of W. J. T. Mitchell as a Honorary Member of the Center for Literary and Cultural Research, Berlin (ZfL) and is a cooperation of KW Institute for Contemporary Art, the ZfL and the The Collegium for the Advanced Study of Picture Act and Embodiment, Humboldt University Berlin.

The lecture will be held in English.
Admission is free.