Foucault News

News and resources on French thinker Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Smith, D.N. Surfaces: Painterly illusion, metaphysical depth, Paragraph, Volume 35, Issue 3, 2012, Pages 389-406

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This essay analyses the way in which the relation between surface and depth in modern painting is endowed with philosophical significance in the work of Michel Foucault, Maurice Merleau-Ponty and Michel Henry. Whereas Foucault considered the work of Magritte and Manet to undermine the notion of depth as such, by showing the movement of ‘similitude’, Merleau-Ponty and Henry saw post-impressionist painting as engendering an experience of depth that exceeds the Cartesian model of space as res extensa. The motif of painterly surface thus brings into debate two significant movements in French twentieth-century thought: structuralism and phenomenology; in each case, the engagement with painterly technique becomes a way of grasping broader questions regarding the relation between perceptual experience and linguistic meaning.

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