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Spring 2024


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Zone 4

Art History, Media Studies

Tricks of the Light: Essays on Art and Spectacle

Jonathan Crary


272 pp

8 color illus.

92 black and white illus.

Published: 2023

6 x 9



ISBN: 9781942130857

Tricks of the Light brings together essays by critic and art historian Jonathan Crary, internationally known for his groundbreaking and widely admired studies of modern Western visual culture. This collection features a compelling selection of Crary’s responses to modern and contemporary art and to the transformations of twentieth-century media systems and urban/technological environments. These wide-ranging and provocative texts explore the work of painters, performance artists, writers, architects, and photographers, including Allan Kaprow, Eleanor Antin, Ed Ruscha, John Berger, Bridget Riley, J.G. Ballard, Rem Koolhaas, Gretchen Bender, Dennis Oppenheim, Paul Virilio, Robert Irwin, and Uta Barth. There are also reflections on filmmakers Fritz Lang, Stanley Kubrick, Jean-Luc-Godard, David Cronenberg, and others. The book is enhanced by several expansive essays on the unstable status of television, both amid its beginnings in the 1930s and then during its assimilation into new assemblages and networks in the 1980s and 90s. These assess its many-sided role in the reshaping of subjectivity, temporality, and the operation of power. Like all of Crary’s work, his writing here is grounded in the acuteness of his engagement with perceptual artifacts of many kinds and in his nuanced reading of historical processes and their cultural reverberations.

“Crary is the historian-philosopher of our spectacle-lives.” —Artforum

“An erudite collection… . Students of 20th-century art and media will appreciate Crary’s fine-grained analysis and prescient cultural insights.”

— Publishers Weekly

“The essays collected in this extraordinary book establish that Jonathan Crary’s unique project as an historian of modernity emerged from a specific set of encounters with contemporary art. Through these, Crary describes anew an epoch of unrelenting, dissolute flows—of data, of finance capital, of electronic images—as if he were both its visionary poet and fiercest critic. The poet imagines the lines of flight from a catastrophic present that are still possible and the critic musters the untimely insight necessary for this task.”

— George Baker, Professor of Modern and Contemporary Art and Theory, University of California, Los Angeles