Caricature’s Refusal of Identity: Difference without Otherness

    • Cover Photo
    • Presentation speakers
      • Todd Burke Porterfield, New York University, USA


    From Johann Lavater’s invention of the science of physiognomy; to James Gillray, the first full-time practitioner of political caricature, about whom Napoleon said that he did more than all the armies of Europe to drive him from power; to the 1835 French laws that affirmed freedom of the word but suppressed freedom of the printed image because the image communicated directly to the soul: the Golden Age of Caricature’s article of faith was that caricature works. Today we might still believe that caricature is the last contemporary art that necessarily succeeds: causes riots, creates friction between countries, kills. From the very start, caricature, in its symbiotic relation to beauty has twinned with art history, both machines for the manufacture and attribution of identity. Art historians have rightly analyzed caricature’s fabrication and dissemination of stereotype, itself a term borrowed from the printer’s trade. However, we must not inadvertently reinforce stereotype’s power by always assuming that beholders and publics are necessarily imprinted with the same spiteful sentiment that may have animated pictorial production. Let us break the unvirtuous cycle. To that end this paper will examine James Gillray’s works that do not succumb to an essentialist notion of identity. Extending my analysis begun in my 2015 Oxford exhibition, Love Bites, I’ll analyze Gillray’s scenes of meetings of difference without otherness, of love and friendship, of kissing, hugging, slapping, swallowing, and screwing, not only in the context of their making, but also in dialogue with the writings of Elsa Cayat, a columnist and psychiatrist, the only woman killed in the Charlie Hebdo massacre of early 2015.