Masterclass with Griselda Pollock

18 July 2018,
Institute of Advanced Studies, UWA
Postgraduate Students, Early Career Researchers, Academics, Professional Researchers



Aby Warburg and Bracha Ettinger: Or Pathosformel and Matrix as Theoretical Models in feminist art historical and contemporary art studies

A masterclass with Griselda Pollock, Professor of Social and Critical Histories of Art and Director of the Centre for Cultural Analysis, Theory and History (CentreCATH), University of Leeds.

Recent directions in my work as a postcolonial feminist art historian and cultural analyst have taken me back to the concepts of image-memory formulated by Aby Warburg during one of the high points of German-language art history at the beginning of the twentieth century and forwards to a psychoanalytically theorized intervention in contemporary aesthetics and trauma/memory studies formulated by artist Bracha Ettinger at its end and into our current century. In my next book Warburg and Ettinger meet Marilyn Monroe.

I have also been engaging in historiographical polemics about the problematic cultural memory of both ‘art history’ (Art Bulletin: ‘Whither Art History?’ and ‘feminism’ (differences: ‘Is Feminism a Bad Memory?’), positing feminism itself as a trauma. In a paradoxical way, these projects raise the question of fidelity as a mode of ethical learning in relation to radically changing political, socio-economic and cultural conditions. What can education mean today? What is the value of a historical discipline or a disciplinary training in historical analysis? How do we reconcile the moment of theoretical intensity in the humanities in the later 20th century with current forms of cultural consumption and intellectual fashion? What is it that art, past and contemporary, teaches us about the problem of any kind of memory at all? Do its changing forms demand ever-changing theoretical formulae for its analysis? In this masterclass, I want to explore the logic underlying these inquiries in relation to the parlous and compromised position of our discipline, feminisms and art in liquid modernity—Zygmunt Bauman’s critical concept for out times that has not yet been absorbed into art historical or cultural theory.


Professor Pollock has provided some suggested pre-readings for this masterclass. Registrants are encouraged to review at least two of these texts, which will be provided by the IAS upon registration for the class.

  • Griselda Pollock, ‘Whither Art History’, Art Bulletin 96:1 (2014), 9-23

Solicited by the AB as part of its reflections on the discipline, this article reveals my debt to Gayatri Spivak as well as posing the question of why art historical memory continues to be so selective in terms of what becomes general knowledge and what concepts are not incorporated. What is the politics of art historical memory?

  • Griselda Pollock, ‘Is Feminism a Trauma, a Bad Memory or a Virtual Future?’ differences: a feminist journal of cultural studies 27L2 (2016), 27-71

This is an article addressed to memories of feminism and feminist memory by interrogating current widespread usage of terms such as second and third wave feminism or generations of feminism. The argument is addressed to the effect of terms on our concept of and thus access to historical moments. It is also thinking about other models for understanding education and transmission of ideas in the presence of the new. Hannah Arendt and Bracha Ettinger are part of my thinking resources.

  • Griselda Pollock, ‘Thinking the feminine: Aesthetic Practice as Introduction to Bracha Ettinger and the Concepts of Matrix and Metramorphosis’, Theory, Culture and Society, 21: 1 (2004), 5-65

This will be very challenging for students because it is highly psychoanalytical to start off with, and deep in major debates in feminist theory about sexual different. The intention of suggesting it is to give an example of the relations between such levels of analytical thought and their source in a historically grounded artistic practice that necessitates art historical and theoretical reading. There is no expectation that it is easily graspable: but why is that?

  • Griselda Pollock, ‘Monroe’s Gestures between trauma and ecstasy, Nymph and Venus: reading the cinematic gesture “Marilyn Monroe” through Aby Warburg’, Nicholas Chare and Elizabeth Watkins (eds), Gesture and Film: Signalling New Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2018), 99-131.

Bridging art history and film studies, this text puts Warburg’s concept to work.