My Work on Academia.edu
Kung Fu with Braudel
An occasional blog, related to my research on martial arts cinema
Dr Luke White
Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture and Fine Art
Luke White is Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture, at Middlesex University, teaching in the Fine Art and Communication Arts areas.
Areas of general interest include: contemporary and post-war art, design, film and visual culture; aesthetics and theories of the sublime; commodification and consumer cultures; theories of the popular; Hong Kong cinema and martial arts cinema; the yBas; public art and urban space; landscape; eighteenth-century and early modern art, literature, thought and culture, especially in Britain; Marxian thought and histories and theories of capitalism.
My research centres on the intersections of contemporary art and the broader cultural industries of which it is now so clearly a part. I am fascinated by the question of the longer histories of such an intersection, and by the nature of culture within capitalist societies.
My PhD (awarded 2009) focused on Damien Hirst and the legacies of the sublime in contemporary art and culture. It proposed that the eighteenth-century poetics and aesthetics of the sublime were intertwined with the commercial imperatives of increasingly commodified cultural production. I argue that such a commodification of the sublime is not merely a contingency which befalls it, but is at the heart of its development. Hirst is a contemporary artist in whom we find a series of unsettling reiterations of this eighteenth-century commodified sublime. Reading such echoes – and looking for a way to understand the relation between current cultural production and the longer histories of modernity – the work ranges across a diverse series of loci, including the work of Jean-François Lyotard, Alexander Pope, Bruegel the elder, Mary Shelley, Emile Zola, Wordsworth, John Singleton Copley, Berthold Brecht, Jaws and Jeff Koons. It considers the history of representations of sharks, the figure of the Dunce in eighteenth century literature and the meat markets of London and Paris.
Further information on and resources from this project are avaible at: http://www.lukewhite.me.uk/diss_main.htm
My current research explores Hong Kong martial arts cinema genres, primarily of the late 1960s and early 1970s. I am interested in these examples of popular and populist cinema, and in the forms of resistance and revolt that they might harbour. These are read within the context of countercultural and postcolonial discontent (in the intersection between the Cultural Revolution and '1968'), and of the entry of such films into global circuits of consumption. They open an exploration of a number of broader stakes, including: the question of the possibly resistant functions of popular culture; the forms of cultural (counter-)memory and practice that this might harbour; the post-colonial experience; problems of violence, non-violence and social change.
Some (fairly occasional) musings on this project are available at: http://kungfuwithbraudel.blogspot.co.uk/
Lau Kar-leung with Walter Benjamin: Storytelling, Authenticity, Film Performance and Martial Arts Pedagogy
Journal article in JOMEC 5 (June2014)
This recent article considers how we might understand the politics of corporeal identification that stands at the heart of the pleasures of kung fu cinema, and how might this be built on the forms of pedagogy – the ‘embodied knowledge’ – of the martial arts themselves. Might the forms of visual-corporeal communication at the heart of ‘kung fu’ (as cinema and physical practice), harbour emancipatory impulses, even if – or paradoxically because – they are rooted in a ‘premodern’ past? In order to argue that this is indeed the case, this essay examines the work of Lau Kar-leung, one of kung fu cinema’s most innovative auteurs during the 1960s and ’70s. Lau’s films, made in the wake of the countercultural and anticolonial turmoil of 1960s and ’70s Hong Kong, are posited as part of a culture of resistance with their protagonists (also ostensibly his own martial arts ancestors) in revolt against Manchurian occupation and semicolonial domination by the West, connecting to a history of the Chinese martial arts as involved in resistance from below.
I analyse these through Walter Benjamin’s thought about aura and authenticity. Though the famous Artwork essay primarily posits ‘authenticity’ and ‘aura’ as retrograde, some of his other late essays open up ways of thinking the auratic body of the kung fu performer in a more positive light. I draw on Benjamin’s ‘The Storyteller’, examining parallels between the forms of embodied memory and experience (Erfahrung) transmitted in storytelling and the oral pedagogies of Chinese martial arts in order to argue that ‘Kung fu’ culture thus entails a storytelling mode that, in the context of (post)modern, (post)colonial, globalisation, presents a counterforce to the abstraction, atomisation and instrumentalisation that characterise capitalist social relations.
Flogging a Dead Hirst?
Journal of Visual Culture, Spring 2013
"Flogging a Dead Hirst?" examines the critical responses to Damian Hirst's recent blockbuster retrospective at Tate Modern. A renewed urgency and intensity seem to mark the attacks on Hirst in these. Does this signal (or even create) a revival in the critical "currency" of Hirst's work? And how might the nature of this cultural "currency" be something very different from the contemporaneity of the yBa phenomenon in the early 1990s? Answering these questions involves looking at the relation between Hirst's career and the various forms of Neoliberalism which it has spanned, and probing the methodological investments of art criticism, art history and "visual culture".
The Art of the Sublime
Online Tate Publication
The Tate have collected the research produced through the auspices of their "Sublime Object" project in a new web publication (released in Jan 2013), entitled "The Art of the Sublime". This includes my essay, "Damien Hirst's Shark: Nature, Capitalism and the Sublime" (originally published in Tate Papers, 14).
The larger site is up at http://www.tate.org.uk/art/research-publications/the-sublime
The Sublime Now
The Sublime Now is a collection of essays I co-edited with Claire Pajaczkowska, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing in 2009. This includes an essay by me on Damien Hirst’s For the Love of God, as well as a co-authored essay on the Sublime in the work of Cornelia Parker.