Book Cover

The Decision Between Us: Art and Ethics in the Time of Scenes (University of Chicago Press, 2014). 

“Ricco’s The Decision Between Us is a beautifully executed book on the execution and extension of being-in-relation. Its articulation of sexuality theory, deconstructive philosophy, and queer art opens up different idioms to each other the way lovers open to each other—excitedly, productively, and yet always enigmatically, pointing beyond what seems present. Ricco is also a brilliant close reader. An enrapturing read.” Lauren Berlant, University of Chicago, author Cruel Optimism

“Reopening ground broken by Jean-Luc Nancy, The Decision Between Us traces the paradoxes of relational being across a range of artistic, literary, and philosophical ‘scenes.’ Through a series of startling juxtapositions, Ricco weaves together scenes of exposure, erasure, and unmaking to reveal the inseparability of aesthetics from ethics.  This is an original and challenging work by one of our most brilliant philosophers of visuality.” Tim Dean, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaing, author of Unlimited Intimacy: Reflections on the Subculture of Barebacking

“Through a compelling, lucid, and wonderfully suggestive reading of Nancy’s writings, we are exposed throughout The Decision Between Us to numerous scenes of seduction and abandoned existence, scenes at once erotic and funerary, intimate and desolate. An incisive contribution to the ways in which Nancy’s writings might be read today, the sense of sharing at the heart of the argument is both transformative and intensely ethical.” Philip Armstrong, Ohio State University, author of Reticulations: Jean-Luc Nancy and the Sense of the Political

“Ricco’s chapter on [Roland] Barthes, ‘Neutral Mourning,’ constitutes the most powerful pages in the book, and it deserves to be emphasized that he brilliantly brings us toward a stranger, more captivating Barthes of the (Blanchotian) neutral….Ricco’s reinterpretation of this masterpiece [Camera Lucida]…is nothing short of extraordinary; along with Geoffrey Batchen’s edited volume, Photography Degree Zero, it would not be overstating things to say that The Decision Between Us reinvigorates Barthes for photography studies in a way that remains unmatched in most of the field’s scholarship.” Jacques Khalip, New Formations

 “Ricco’s close investigation of the non-relation aspects of relationality—the manner in which we do not come together—is . . . a crucial intervention into the aesthetic and ethical impasse that is ever-present in discussions of art after the participatory turn. . . . Ricco shows that the promise of a truly relational practice lies in maintaining a shared space that we do not stand apart from or in judgment of, but that we enter into separately with each and every encounter.” Christa Noel Robbins, Art In America

 “Ricco’s book offers an insightful, at times brilliant, interpretive framework that challenges many of contemporary art’s current orthodoxies.” Tom McDonough, Critical Inquiry

 “Ricco’s engagement with Nancy’s writings on art and the body is detailed and wide-ranging. . . . Ricco’s overwhelming concern is to develop, through works of art, another thinking of relation beyond sameness and difference, to trace another space of sharing, and as such is of real value to the thinking of queer sociality to come.” Matthew Ellison and Tom Hastings, parallax

Description of the Book

The Decision Between Us combines an inventive reading of Jean-Luc Nancy with queer theoretical concerns to argue that while scenes of intimacy are spaces of sharing, they are also spaces of separation. John Paul Ricco shows that this tension informs our efforts to coexist ethically and politically, an experience of sharing and separation that informs any decision. Using this incongruous relation of intimate separation, Ricco goes on to propose that “decision” is as much an aesthetic as it is an ethical construct, and one that is always defined in terms of our relations to loss, absence, departure, and death.

Laying out this theory of “unbecoming community” in modern and contemporary art, literature, and philosophy, and calling our attention to such things as blank sheets of paper, images of unmade beds, and the spaces around bodies, The Decision Between Us opens in 1953, when Robert Rauschenberg famously erased a drawing by Willem de Kooning, and Roland Barthes published Writing Degree Zero, then moves to 1980 and the “neutral mourning” of Barthes’ Camera Lucida, and ends in the early 1990s with installations by Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Offering surprising new considerations of these and other seminal works of art and theory by Jean Genet, Marguerite Duras, and Catherine Breillat, The Decision Between Us is a highly original and unusually imaginative exploration of the spaces between us, arousing and evoking an infinite and profound sense of sharing in scenes of passionate, erotic pleasure as well as deep loss and mourning.


Logic of Lure

The Logic of the Lure (University of Chicago Press, 2003)

The attraction of a wink, a nod, a discarded snapshot—such feelings permeate our lives, yet we usually dismiss them as insubstantial or meaningless. With The Logic of the Lure, John Paul Ricco argues that it is precisely such fleeting, erotic, and even perverse experiences that will help us create a truly queer notion of ethics and aesthetics, one that recasts sociality and sexuality, place and finitude in ways suggested by the anonymity and itinerant lures of cruising. Shifting our attention from artworks to the work that art does, from subjectivity to becoming, and from static space to taking place, Ricco considers a variety of issues, including the work of Doug Ischar, Tom Burr, and Derek Jarman and the minor architecture of sex clubs, public restrooms, and alleyways.

“John Paul Ricco is rapidly establishing himself as a voice to reckon with in both contemporary art criticism and queer theory. The Logic of the Lure is an absolutely wonderful and original work that is bound to have a long-term impact in and outside of its field.” W. J. T. Mitchell

“This original and frequently dazzling work explores sites that might be defined as queer spaces, and in which we might think of a queer architecture being located. What results is an extremely fascinating effort to redefine notions of architectural space and identity, and to reimagine the spatial dimensions of subjectivity itself.” Leo Bersani

The Logic of the Lure is simultaneously a meditation on contemporary art, French philosophy, and recent debates in queer theory. But beyond this, it is a restrained yet forceful call to cultivate an erotics of the imperceptible and to attend to the minor architectures that always surround us. Ricco’s haunting writing is itself a bold enactment of non-representational ethics.” Eleanor Kaufman

“Ricco’s book is polymorphously theoretical, with Blanchot, Deleuze, Derrida and Foucault most in evidence. It is well written and this reviewer cannot recommend it highly enough.” Nicholas Chare

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