In the Café Flaubert

Mary Anne Francis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Developing my long-held contention that an artist might write art-theory differently from non-artist theorists, this paper offers an instantiation of one possible approach. First and foremost, it proposes that an artist's art-theory might utilise their understanding of aesthetic form and functioning to conceive of writing as another ‘art-form’, now taking place in words and referencing the structures associated with that medium. With a nod to Plato’s dialogues, the text adopts the format of a fictional conversation offered as reportage, which takes place between the artist-writer and a philosopher - an expert on the subject of ‘truth-regimes’. The artist consults him in order to progress a project. What ensues puts the artist-writer's preference for a ‘realist’ approach to writing (representation as ‘reflection’) into play with the academic's overview of this and other 'truth regimes'. Introduced to Richard Rorty’s pragmatism and hence the idea of ‘truth’ as ‘use-value’, the artist is initially bewildered, only later realising that it takes her project in a new direction. Given that the text’s departure from the form of conventional art-theory is embodied (not just represented), the issues that it raises are implicit, but include: the (dis)advantages of fictional-dialogue as 'theory'. (On the one hand both the reader and the writer imaginatively inhabit different points of view more readily than happens with non-fictional prose. On the other hand, fictional dialogue may indulge unreliable spokespersons for particular theoretical positions.) Another point for debate concerns the recourse to the Renaissance pedagogic concept of 'teaching through delight'. (While aesthetic pleasure-in-the-text is a spur for both the writer and the reader, the sensuous dimensions of dramatic embodiment may offer a distraction from more substantial issues.) As much as this text is an instance of ‘a writing-as-an-art-form as theory’, it also proposes, reciprocally, that 'theory' may be found outside non-fictional, non-aesthetic academic discourse. When this is the oblique logic of the writing's form, it is also explicitly elaborated in the article, as Dürer’s woodcut The Draughtsman and the Lute is seen to comprise observations about the conditions of representation that re-appear in the ‘picture’ that is the fictional discussion in the Café Flaubert.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)133-149
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Writing in Creative Practice
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008

Bibliographical note

In the editorial, Julia Lockheart and John Wood write: ‘Mary Ann Francis highlights a collaboration of sorts with a philosopher, ‘In The Café
Flaubert’ (pp. 133–149). Here her own creative practice changes drasti- cally through this meeting. The style and beauty of this dialogue is also an exemplar for how some artists and designers might like to conduct their

And reviewing JWCP 1.2 for ADM subject centre, Claire Scanlon writes:
‘Arguably however, only Mary Anne Francis’ In the Café Flaubert managed to fully rise to the challenge by parenthesising the meta-critical within the abstract thus leaving the body of the article to artfully play out a Socratic dialogue between the authorial artist and a fictional (?) professor on the subject of ‘truth regimes’ in the arch mise-en-scene of the eponymously named café. Delightful.’


  • an artist's writing, situational fiction, conversational theory, image-text, Richard Rorty's pragmatism


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