Carving out the absence within

negative rilievo as a strategy of concept-building




rilievo, worklessness, Adorno, Blanchot, negativity


This article explores the technique of rilievo (Italian for “relief”) employed in Renaissance painting to form a three-dimensional object, usually a figure, which stands out from the background. Transferred to philosophical and literary writing, rilievo is used to shape the two-dimensional medium of the text and carve out a concept that stands in a negative relation with the empirical world. Writing, like the work of art, includes what it appropriates from the empirical world, presents it in a new form, and affirms the existence of what is not visible in the material alone. Relying on Theodor W. Adorno’s dialectical understanding of the artwork’s self-negation and Maurice Blanchot’s writing of desubjectivation, I argue that, unlike the additive process of shaping a figure or a concept, negative rilievo is the process of recovering constitutive absence.


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Academic articles