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The Infinite Image

Art, Time and the Aesthetic Dimension in Antiquity

In the ancient civilizations of the Near East and Mediterranean, images were used as a way to create reality and reach out to the infinite. Reviving the fascination that gripped the avant-garde and the surrealists when confronted with the arts of the ancient Near East, The Infinite Image presents a radical new reading of Mesopotamian art as an aesthetic realm defined by objects that transcend time in order to carry traces of the past into the present.
Zainab Bahrani’s book opens in the early twentieth century, when artists and intellectuals like Alberto Giacometti, Henry Moore, and Georges Bataille were captivated by the ancient sculptures they encountered in European museums—before the question of the aesthetic in ancient art was rejected by rationalist scientific archaeology later in the century. She then travels back through the writings of Derrida, Hegel, Kant, and Plato to Mesopotamia, using these thinkers to argue that ancient images formed an aesthetic dimension that was both historical and evolving. She also addresses issues of the politics of cultural heritage important to Near Eastern art in the context of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and current instabilities in the Middle East. With over one hundred illustrations, The Infinite Image will be necessary reading for anyone interested in the questions at the center of contemporary history and the anthropology of art.

240 pages | 80 color plates, 30 halftones | 7 1/2 x 9 4/5 | © 2014

Ancient Studies

Art: Ancient and Classical Art

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“This is a vibrant account of ancient Mesopotamian art, new, contemporary, compelling.  It is informed by the long history of the influence of Sumerian visual culture from its collection by Greek satraps in the Hellenistic age to its significance for modern artists, archaeologists, and art historians in mapping out an aesthetic of antiquity in the twentieth century. The book is beautifully written and lavishly illustrated.”

Jas Elsner, Corpus Christi College Oxford and the University of Chicago

“Zainab Bahrani’s The Infinite Image is at once a massively important contribution to the study of ancient Mesopotamian art and a brilliant intervention into the history and theory of art and aesthetics. It decisively overturns the deeply entrenched clichès that regard art as a uniquely western European invention. But it also mobilizes a rich array of textual sources to reconstruct the whole discourse around images and their cultural lives in the ancient world, a discourse that will strike many readers as having an uncanny timeliness in the era of the pictorial turn. Magnificently illustrated with images from the ancient, classical, and modern worlds, this book will be essential reading for scholars of art history, visual culture, aesthetics, and iconology.”

W. J. T. Mitchell, author of Seeing Through Race

Table of Contents

Introduction: Images into the Infinite
Ancient Art: The Aesthetic Dimension
What Is/Was an Image?
In the Time of Lapis Lazuli
The Double: Difference and Repetition
Realms of Art
The Monumental Force of the Law
The Speaking Image
Twilight of the Idols
Photo Acknowledgements

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