The Wall

I want to be clear that the inhuman does not mean geometry, which in fact is all too human. The concept is not idealist and has nothing to do with ideas of “purity,” such as pure abstraction or pure form, and it does not represent a desire for transcendence of any kind. I admit it derives from the poem by Wallace Stevens quoted a couple of posts back. As it happens, it was his last poem, written on his death bed. The “foreign song,” “without human meaning, without human feeling,” is clearly death itself. Not to be portentous about it, but in the arts death is the most productive of all limits. In art the real, organic death has no place, death is always a trope. If in reality death is a fall into darkness, in art it is a kind of mirror or reflecting wall. All energies directed toward it return as waves in the thick medium of things on this side. It might be called the surface of the new.

Back in my teaching days I ran an MFA seminar to consider the notion that in art death is a trope of the artist’s own formation. The paradigms were Pollock’s early drip pictures with titles from the beautiful death poem in The Tempest, Full Fathom Five and Sea Change.

Jackson Pollock, Full Fathom Five 1947

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