Figures of Radical Absence : Blanks and Voids in Theory, Literature, and the Arts

What is there to see in invisible artworks, empty books, or blank screens? How do formal absences generate meaning? Constructing an argument by way of montage, this book is an annotated inventory of textual, visual, and conceptual figures of absence. Spanning different media, it reveals a creative tradition that uses absence not as a negative aesthetic category, but as a productive state of radical indeterminacy with its own politics and poetics.

Although post-structuralism highlighted the importance of what is offstage, lost, forgotten, hidden or discarded, silent or silenced, the poetics and politics of absence (much like its ethics and aesthetics) have rarely been discussed across media and disciplines. This book proposes the concept of ‘radical absence’ to describe a certain tradition of resistance to ontology, predication, and representation, contesting their reliance on a metaphysics of presence. Apophatic speech, empty signifiers, and figural voids are some of the figures through which radical absence becomes apparent with unprecedented intensity in twentieth-century theory, literature, film, and the arts. Phantasmatic and outrageous, such figures play with creative strategies of dematerialization, irony, and other forms of discursive undoing. Therefore, absence becomes more than a simple theme; it reflects back on the medium and the meaning-making conditions under which it operates. Elusive and imprecise as an object of study, absence requires more subtle and flexible epistemological frameworks than have been available to date. This monograph proposes we think of it not only as a counter-concept for presence, but also – and perhaps more productively – as infinite spacing, deferral, fragmentation, and displacement.


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