Modes of Abstraction and Styles of Writing

Robert Wallace has shown me that I was mistaken about Stella’s work, as in fact many are. Though at first sight the Moby Dick works seem attractively chaotic, it would be wrong to assume that they have a fundamental arbitrariness, like some of his earlier series. I’ve touched before on how they mimic the structure of Melville’s book, or an aspect of that structure, but I think that topic deserves further consideration. To bring different works into association by repeating elements is a very, very interesting way to make a literary type of abstraction—probably because it is an abstract method, meaning one that stays with the capacities of the material. But the richness of meaning of the works is developed by repeating forms in association with themes of the book, or so Wallace explains. Stella neither affirms nor denies, and why should he? But then consider how the pieces were made: the maquettes, all the stages of construction, the travel back and forth from the factory, the assembling and disassembling—there is plenty of time to think about what it means when a shape is repeated, and plenty of time to dip into the book for particulars. The mental space in which things can happen is enormous, even if Stella stuck pretty close to the finalized maquettes. Yet, even if this is true, and even if the arrangements are not arbitrary, action still prevails over reflection—and making is thinking.

Frank Stella, The Pequod meets the Albatross (C-33, 2X) 1990

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