Scapeland: Writing the Landscape from Diderot’s Salons
to the Postmodern Museum is a comparative, interdisciplinary study tracing theories of the sublime and a history of spectatorship from Diderot’s eighteenth-century French
Salons, through art criticism by Baudelaire and Breton, to Jean-François Lyotard’s postmodern exhibition
Les Immatériaux. In the
Salons, an exploration of the painted landscape becomes an encounter with both the limits of representation and the infinite possibilities of fiction. Baudelaire and Breton explore similar limits in their work, set against the backdrop of the modern city. For them, as for Diderot, the attempt to render visual objects in narrative language leads to the development of new literary forms and concerns. Lyotard’s concept of the “postmodern museum” frames the sublime encounter, once again, in terms that expressly evoke Diderot’s verbal rendering of painted spaces as a personal
promenade. According to Lyotard, Diderot “ouvre, par écrit, les surfaces des tableaux comme les portes d’une exposition.. . . [il] abolit . . . l’opposition de la nature et de la culture, de la réalité de l’image, du volume et de la surface.” Reading the literary production of these four writers alongside their art criticism,
Scapeland considers narrative responses to art as imaginative assertions of human presence against the impersonal world of objects.