Before carrying on with the topic from the previous post I’d like to pick up an earlier thread that also links the objective matter of abstract painting with the movement of the imagination. Somehow I suspect that quotes from Harold Bloom do not signify for many readers, but I have to include another, here speaking about Hart Crane:
“His greatest strength, his rhetorical originality, disconcerts because in this crucial regard he has as precursors only Marlowe and Shakespeare, who fulfilled the relation between classical rhetoric and memory by developing further Ovid’s vision of ceaseless metamorphosis…Great celebrants of desire, Marlowe and Shakespeare dissolve the synchronic, static elements of rhetoric into a flow through time.”
I am reminded of that great piece of 1951, Echo, already discussed in an earlier post. What Shep Steiner sees as an ear, in the top left corner, is also a face, and perhaps other things as well. Here figuration is suggestion and each possibility changes in response to others brought forward by adjoining marks.
Steiner is right that Finnegan’s Wake is an analogous work. The surface boils with emergent images, a seething of possibilities. The movement of the imagination and the movement of the hand become one. As far as I know Steiner’s description of this piece, and others of that period, is unique in the Pollock literature, though to be fair, other artists do the same thing. De Kooning, for one, was a metamorphic artist. In this respect Gotham News was an education for me.
Figures and figure parts are compounded and condensed, they melt into and emerge from each other. Criticism, whether formalist or other, often seems like a war between static positions. The failure to come to terms with the metamorphic is the failure of criticism to take up its proper mimetic relation to its object. Criticism must be metamorphic as well. Richard Shiff’s forthcoming book on De Kooning will be adequate to this problem, as are Steiner’s intensely close readings of Pollock, David Smith, Olitski, and others.