The Dangers of Free Inquiry

Posted: June 16, 2017 in Uncategorized

Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-1768), one of the most important figures ever to have written about art, is considered by many to be the father of modern art history. This book is an intellectual biography of Winckelmann that discusses his magnum opus, History of the Art of Antiquity, in the context of his life and work in Germany and in Rome in the eighteenth century.

Alex Potts analyzes Winckelmann’s eloquent account of the aesthetic and imaginative Greek ideal in art, an account that focuses on the political and homoerotic sexual content that gave the antique ideal male nude its larger resonance. He shows how Winckelmann’s writing reflects the well-known preoccupations and values of Enlightenment culture as well as a darker aspect of Enlightenment ideals–such as the fantasy of a completely free sovereign subjectivity associated with Greek art.

  1. Nick Coleman says:

    The alt-right is such an intriguing phenomenon in society. The silent minority, or majority perhaps, depending on how much optimism you have about our seemingly crumbling nation. Misinterpreting Ms. Bond’s argument seems entirely appropriate for these individuals, both from a publicity standpoint and earnest belief in white superiority. Making headlines means everything to the alt-right, which is why an innocent piece likely becomes “S**t-lib Professor Hates all White Sculptures.”

    Comically, I had this happen to me about 3 months ago. I wrote an article about women joining the alt-right, and some journalists at Richard Spencer’s “” found my work. Here is a snippet of what they wrote about me:

    “Why bother to respond to this nu-male college freshman? Because, unwitting as he is, he has exposed a phenomenon that frightens the Left, which is why female s**t-lib reporters are now rushing to write articles discrediting the women of the Alt-Right.”

    Scary as they are, you come to realize that the alt-right is rather insigificant–who from their movement is going to march the streets, if hiding behind a computer-screen is the prequisite? It takes more than a few followers and greasy Mr. Spencer to effect lasting change.

    • That’s an interesting story. I would feel very uncomfortable having those persons find my work and write back to me. I suppose there are extreme right persons searching the internet day and night, looking for anyone they can troll. I saw something similar on a YouTube music seminar. You wouldn’t expect trolls somewhere such as that, but there it was. The instructor was getting so many offensive comments he had to shut down the lesson. It’s unfortunate there are persons such as this. I certainly don’t want to see an agency policing the internet. I just wish persons had the good sense and conscience not to pollute the public sphere of our day. Both sides of the political spectrum claim to believe in the principles of democracy and freedom of speech. However, I fear we are working with at least two very different definitions of freedom.

      • Garrick Quackenbush says:

        Yeah I agree that policing the internet would be very unfortunate, but I don’t even think it would be possible with the amount of content floating around nowadays. We can’t stop people from saying what they want to say, but you’re completely right that it comes down to personal good sense and conscience. I’ve never understood the desire to waste time trolling productive content.

        Your last sentence about multiple definitions of freedom is very interesting to me as well. Everybody interprets things differently and fights come from these disagreements, but the reality is that most people want the same thing. It’s just wild to me that things like money and sellout politics often take precedence in our country.

        • Last semester, I found myself having a conversation with students about what I thought it was most important to teach. I suppose that this was the result of students directing my own assignment back at me. My answer was the the internet may well be one of the most important issues of our day. While this certainly could entail a discussion of trolling practicing. It would also cover a large number of different topics. In keeping with things I have said with respect to technological infrastructure and the conditions of the possibility of human knowledge, the internet is the necessary preconditioning material assemblage which makes possible human consciousness as it now exists. Take away the internet and consciousness, as we now experience it, would no longer be possible. And yet most persons now no more about the internet – it’s actual history, physical layout, mode of operation, and ownership – than they know about their own bodies. What most persons take for matters of fact or really just unfounded metaphors. One of the best presentations I’ve ever seen at the U of U was given by Trevor Paglen, a practicing artist who happens to have a PhD in Geography from UC Berkeley. Paglens ongoing project – one that has require him to learn not only advanced photography techniques, but also scuba diving – is to map the internet, and bring to consciousness all the ignored topics I mentioned above. Paglen, for the record, was deeply influence by Peter Galison’s book on Einstein and the creation of time through technical means, the book I mentioned in class last Thursday. I know this because I asked Paglen about this after his presentation, and he confirmed my suspicions. In any case, you can read about this project in various locations. For now, you might want simply to glance at this article.

  2. Amber Wolff says:

    It’s so disappointing to think that someone who is genuinely interested in art and history and the implications of not doing proper research could have their work taken completely out of context. The internet is a scary place. It can contain vast amounts of knowledge but it is a great place for creepy evil people to hang out and send threats to people who make them feel threatened just by publishing some interesting and new opinions.

    • This scholar’s detractors, as you seem to have surmised, have absolutely no interest in understanding her. They are simply combing the internet, day and night, in search of something that will occasion them to take offensive are cry that history is being ‘blackwashed’. I posted this for the potential interest of students, in particular now as we are beginning (at the very end of the semester) to discuss German uses of Greek art. As far as the persons who detract from the work of our scholar, they are not even worth acknowledging directly.

  3. Anurag Tripathy says:

    I feel like the point of the internet as a global pedagogical space to disseminate information has become more of a way for people to validate their confirmation biases. People believe what they want to believe and in the case of this unfortunate historian, her dynamic representation of Greek art and history was grossly decontextualized to this degree. Though preconceived notions are not bad to have, they must be fluid and this is a key example of what happens when they are not fluid.

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