Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Reading Steinberg's "The Philosophical Brothel."

Still surprised by the filters used by modern/modernist intellectuals to interpret the preoccupations of themselves and their compatriots. As with Eliot, the theme is not "form" but a fear of the power of representation and of what will be represented if representation is allowed its full weight. And it is allowed that weight here as in Eliot's poetry. That's the greatness and the terror. The painting first and foremost is if not a castration scene then a description of the terror that the act or worse may be in the offing, with the painter/viewer as the victim. Talk of form and formalism was an absurd cover, as absurd as any talk of "advancement" in the arts; and even those who eschew formalist arguments to this day argue from pretensions of progress.

The importance of Les Demoiselles D'Avignon is less that it marks the beginning of Cubism than that it marks the high point. The work after it slides downhill -first gradually, later quickly- away from representation towards formalism, the "meaning" of ideas, and the logic of intention.
...the three central figures address the observer with unsparing directness. Neither active nor passive, they are simply alerted, responding to an alerting attentiveness on our side.
5 lines later
The Picture is a tidal wave of female aggression, one either experiences the Demoiselles as an onslaught, or shuts it off.
It's less that all these terms are mutually exclusive than that Steinberg is still coming to terms with them.

The sharpest melon slice in the history of art.
[Below, published a couple of days later 1/29/10, and forgotten. It makes more sense to join them.]

More, because I'm still reading, and it's apropos: the intellectual's unawareness, méconnaissance, of sexuality, their own and others. He spends a lot of time arguing that the central figure in the painting is in an ambiguous position: upright signaling recumbence. And he worries that he may be wrong.

Recumbency, passivity and objecthood. Posing, presentation and gender roles. Googling the phrase "her arms framing her face" got 8 hits. "Her arms frame her face" got 547. And on... The aggression was new, recumbence and mockery, in 1906.

Also of course, earlier, recumbence and boredom, Manet, and for Picasso, Duchamp.

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