Non-Fiction Books:

Techne Theory

A New Language for Art


Paperback / softback

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Techne Theory by Henry Staten

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Techne Theory begins by deconstructing the distinction between art and craft, both of which were known to the ancient Greeks as techne, and then uses the techne-standpoint to cut through the humanist-structuralist impasse on the question of artistic agency. Understood as techne, artmaking, like all other cultural accomplishments, is a form of work performed by an artisan equipped with know-how that encodes the discoveries of many previous generations of artisans. This kind of know-how has been demeaned at least since Kant as `merely mechanical' in nature, but Techne Theory shows how it is properly understood as a flexible ensemble of elements embodying a techno-socially evolved work-cunning that is far from mechanical. All technai, from the humblest to the most sophisticated, require the intuitive touch of a trained artisan; yet this individual touch depends entirely on apprenticeship in a techne; or, in short, genius minus techne equals zero. Through the framework of "reverse engineering", the techne interpreter attempts to read in reverse from the achieved work to re-construct the design and production process by which the work was originally put together. Staten moves through visual art, literature, and occasionally music, to develop a working model of techne criticism that enables combinations of agency and structure, concept and practice, form and content, possibility and actuality. Techne Theory affirms an important critique of Romantic conceptions of art and their associated and restrictive humanist politics, and proposes instead a wholly original conception of individual artistic agency defined through socio-materialist terms.

Author Biography

Henry Staten is Byron W. and Alice L. Lockwood Professor in the Humanities, English, University of Washington, USA. His acclaimed first book, Wittgenstein and Derrida (1984) was one of the first philosophical commentaries on deconstruction. Since then his work has ranged widely across literature and philosophy from the Greeks through modernism.
Release date NZ
February 21st, 2019
Country of Publication
United Kingdom
Bloomsbury Academic
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