John Paul Ricco
Professor of Comparative Literature and Art History and Visual Culture
Bio & Research
Professor Ricco is an art historian and queer theorist, whose interdisciplinary research and writing draws connections between late-twentieth-century and contemporary art and architecture, continental philosophy, and issues of gender and sexuality, bodies and pleasures, pornography and eroticism. He is the author of two monographs: The Logic of the Lure (University of Chicago, 2003) and The Decision Between Us: art and ethics in the time of scenes (University of Chicago, 2014). He is currently completing the third volume in this trilogy on “the intimacy of the outside,” titled: The Outside not Beyond: pornographic faith and the economy of the eve. This is a project that seeks to advance an understanding of the ontological exteriority and essential anonymity of social attraction, encounter and departure, as the non-securable ground of freedom. It critically addresses representations of the stranger, foreigner, and anonymous passerby in politics and culture today. Ricco is the editor of an issue of the journal Parallax on the conceptual theme of “unbecoming,” and co-editor of an issue of Journal of Visual Culture on Jean-Luc Nancy. He has served as Chair of the Editorial Board of Art Journal, and has contributed to such journals as: Culture Machine, Scapegoat, and World Picture. He has recently published essays and interviews in: Porn Archives, (edited by Tim Dean, Duke University Press, 2014), Nancy and the Political (edited by Sanja Dejanovic, Edinburgh University Press, 2015), and Art and the Anthropocene (edited by Etienne Turpin and Heather Davis, Open Humanities Press, 2015). He is a 2015-16 Faculty Research Fellow at the Jackman Humanities Institute, working on a project on “The Collective Afterlife of Things.” His graduate teaching has included seminars on: Jean-Luc Nancy: Retreating the Aesthetic; Late Barthes: Neutral, Photography, Mourning; and Queer Ethics and Aesthetics.
Ricco’s first book, The Logic of the Lure (University of Chicago Press, 2003) is the first monograph in queer art history. In it, he combines a close reading of Maurice Blanchot’s philosophy of the outside, with discussions of contemporary queer art and the anonymity, imperceptibility, itinerancy and illicitness of cruising, in order to articulate an ethics and aesthetics of social-sexual promiscuity. Based upon his extensive and ongoing study of the work of Jean-Luc Nancy, Ricco’s recently published second monograph, The Decision Between Us: art and ethics in the time of scenes (University of Chicago Press, 2014), offers an extended theoretical mediation on the space of separation that is intimately shared and sustained in aesthetic and ethical social relations to everyday places and things. With his current monograph book project, The Outside Not Beyond: pornographic faith and the economy of the eve, he is completing the third in what he is conceiving as a trilogy of books on “the intimacy of the outside.” That is, from the outside of attraction that draws one out toward that which lies beyond oneself (Lure), to the space of decision as a socially shared sustaining in the outside that is argued to lie just between us (Decision), to the outside as the instant and point of departure and abandon, not transcendentally “beyond,” but here now, as that which conditions and exceeds the body (Outside).
A second current project is on “The Collective Afterlife of Things,” which is also the focus of his fellowship at the Jackman Humanities Institute, 2015-16. Based upon the conjecture of the “collective afterlife” recently put forth by the philosopher Samuel Scheffler, in which he argues that our ability to lead value-laden lives is more dependent upon our confidence in the long-term survival or afterlife of humanity, than our concern with our own survival of death or that of our friends and loved ones, my project asks: what do things tell us about societies and the social dimension of valuing things as mattering, not only based upon their histories, but upon their futures? In other words, their collective afterlives. Based upon this “futurity thesis” of ethical decision, action and responsibility, my project is further motivated by the following question: in what ways are aesthetic forms and experiences, including art as a thing that matters, both in terms of artistic practice and as artistic object/work/thing dependent upon a shared confidence in the future survival of humanity? I explore these questions, by extending and developing upon work that I have recently published on forms of inoperative aesthetic praxis that consist in collectively partaking in the decision to participate in the withdrawal, retreat, and disappearance of the work of art, including in the work’s material manifestation and configuration of things. Out of this I have developed the notion of the already-unmade, as the deconstruction of Duchamp’s readymade work of art. With this current project, I want to identify and examine a number of artistic, literary, and filmic examples, beyond those that I focused on in my recently published work.