Skip navigation
Paperback | $45.00 Trade | £31.95 | ISBN: 9780262611053 | 365 pp. | 7 x 9 in | July 1994

The Optical Unconscious


The Optical Unconscious is a pointed protest against the official story of modernism and against the critical tradition that attempted to define modern art according to certain sacred commandments and self-fulfilling truths. Rosalind Krauss tells the story of the optical unconscious, an unruly, disruptive force that persistently haunted the field of modernism from the 1920s to the 1950s and continues to disrupt it today. From Max Ernst's collage novels and Marcel Duchamp's hypnotic Rotoreliefs to Jackson Pollock's drip pictures and Eva Hesse's luminous sculptures, she finds artists who offered readymade images of obsessional fantasy in place of modernism's intentionality and unexamined compulsions.

About the Author

Rosalind E. Krauss, editor and cofounder of October magazine, is University Professor at Columbia University. She is the author of The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths, The Optical Unconscious, Bachelors, and Perpetual Inventory, all published by the MIT Press.


"This is critical theory grounded in the viscera and in the libido. A minimum of academic jargon, a satisfying helping of lovely description, a surprising amount of good dirty sex, not to mention an all-star cast of characters - Greenberg, Pollock, Woolf, Warhol, Deleuze, Sartre, Artaud, Madonna, and Jung productively inhabit these pages - which add up to nothing less than a persuasive rewriting of 20th-century culture."
Voice Literary Supplement

"Original, fascinating, personal, often brilliant, combative."
Arthur C. Danto, Artforum