Writing, scholarship, art: reading art history in Teju Cole and Carol Mavor
Hayden White suggested that historians’ deficiency to recognise the analogous nature of their writerly work to that of poets ‘is a result of a certain lack of linguistic self-consciousness’ (1978, 95). The historians in question seemingly believe they use a special language of scholarship that avoids the abyssal connections to the fictional and the teeming interpretability of literary or poetic artefacts. Art history has attempted its own reckoning with more writerly texts, usually in special anthologies or thematic volumes that merely gather the material or approach the matter from a meta level with a historiographic angle. Notable in all framings is the special status afforded to the material. There is considerable handwringing that the texts belong to one or the other peculiar—and definitely categorically distinct and pure—class of ‘the essay’ or ‘art writing’ or ‘creative writing’ or ‘literary non-fiction’. Relatedly, the material is regularly described in terms of ‘affect’ yet ostensibly without awareness what such a re-inscription of the derogation of the senses, which such a categorisation entails, might imply for the notion of scholarship. Notable, too, is that historiographic scholarship of such writing often positions itself exactly in the space of language neutrality White lamented; though at times, the scholar permits the frisson of an apparently autobiographical section. (NB: Consider rewriting abstract reflecting on the personal rejection of a related project at a post-doc interview in Derby 2019.) ‘Writing, scholarship, art’ reads art history in Teju Cole’s and Carol Mavor’s work and aims to perform a scholarly enquiry that does not regard itself to be external to the material, literary, pictural, typographic and so on practice it considers.