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Table of contents :
Cover
Art, History, and Postwar Fiction
Copyright
Dedication
Acknowledgements
Permission
Contents
List of Figures
Introduction: Reviewing Postwar Fiction
HISTORICIZING POSTWAR FICTION
HISTORY BETWEEN ART AND FICTION
MODERNISM’S ART HISTORY
1: Pig Vomit: Beckett’s Art Historical Necessities
THE ACT OF AN OBSESSIONAL NEUROTIC: BECKETT’S STUDY OF ART
‘UN AMATEUR (ÉCLAIRÉ)’: BECKETT THE ART CRITIC
‘THE HORROR-WORN EYES LINGER ABJECT’: ART IN THE TRILOGY
2: Canvas in the Cold War: William Gaddis and the Context of Art
ART AND OBJECTHOOD AS PAINTINGS AND SHIRTS
COLD WAR AS CONTEXT, FORGERY AS REPRODUCTION
THE RECOGNITION OF FICTION
3: The Moment of History: John Berger’s Modernism After Realism
THE FAILURE OF REALISM
A PAINTER OF OUR TIME AND NEW LEFT LITERATURE
THE MOMENT OF CUBISM: G.
4: Art’s Swindle: W. G. Sebald and History After Trauma
MYTH, HISTORY, AND NEGATIVE TRUTHS: SEBALD’S EARLY CRITICISM
THE ‘HISTORY OF LOOKING’ AND LOOKING AT HISTORY
AUSTERLITZ AGAINST TRAUMA
Conclusion: The Perspective of the Present
Bibliography
Author Index
Recommend Papers

Art, History, and Postwar Fiction
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OUP CORRECTED PROOF – FINAL, 28/08/18, SPi

OX F O R D E N G L I S H M O N O G R A P H S General Editors PAULINA KEW ES   LA URA MA RCUS   P E T E R M c C U L L O U GH HE ATHE R O ’ DON OG H UE  S EA MUS PE R R Y   L L O Y D P R A T T FION A S T A FFORD

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Art, History, and Postwar Fiction KEVIN BRAZIL

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3 Great Clarendon Street, Oxford, OX2 6DP, United Kingdom Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries © Kevin Brazil 2018 The moral rights of the author have been asserted First Edition published in 2018 Impression: 1 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by licence or under terms agreed with the appropriate reprographics rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Data available Library of Congress Control Number: 2018948213 ISBN 978–0–19–882445–9 Printed and bound by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon, CR0 4YY Links to third party websites are provided by Oxford in good faith and for information only. Oxford disclaims any responsibility for the materials contained in any third party website referenced in this work.

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This book is for my parents

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Acknowledgements This book began life as a DPhil thesis under the sage supervision of Laura Marcus, without whom, in more ways than one, what follows would not have been possible. I am grateful for the valuable readings and advice offered at various stages by Rebecca Beasley, Michael Whitworth, Jean-Michel Rabaté, David James, Sianne Ngai, Andrew Dean, Alys Moody, Jarad Zimbler, Peter Riley, Katie Fleishman, and Alexis Brown, all of whom improved what follows no end. For guidance through authors’ archives I would like to thank Mark Nixon of the Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading; Joel Minor of the Olin Library, Washington University, St Louis; and Pat Fox of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to present early drafts of chapters at a number of conferences, and would like to thank their respective organizers for their invitations: Peter Fifield for the Samuel Beckett Debts and Legacies Seminar, University of Oxford; David James and Urmila Seshagiri for Modernist Reformations and Reactivations at the 15th Modernist Studies Association Conference at Sussex University; Elleke Boehmer for Planned Violence at King’s College, London; Egzi Aranyosi and Priyasha Mukhopadhyay for the Unconventional Archives Workshop at Ertegun House, Oxford; Clare Bucknell and Mary Wellesley for Periodization: Pleasures and Pitfalls, at All Souls College, Oxford; and Alexandra Kingston-Reese for a panel on Reading the Novel with Art at the Modern Language Association Annual Convention, 2017. At Oxford University Press, Eleanor Collins and Catherine Owens provided exemplary editorial advice and efficiency. I would like to acknowledge the financial support provided by an Arts and Humanities Research Council Studentship and a 1379 Old Members Scholarship from New College, Oxford. I am grateful to the School for Criticism and Theory, Cornell University, and the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst for providing funding for further research visits that sharpened this book’s evidence and arguments. The Department of English at the University of Southampton provided further financial support that helped bring this book to completion, as well as providing the most collegial of environments in which to complete it. My greatest debt is not financial—it is to my parents, to whom this book is dedicated.

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Permissions Excerpts from Samuel Beckett’s manuscript of The Unnamable and an image from the same are reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Samuel Beckett c/o Rosica Colin Limited, London. Extracts from William Gaddis’s archive are reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of William Gaddis and the Wylie Agency, New York. Extracts from the letters of John Berger and Fredric Warburg from the Random House Group Archive are reproduced by kind permission of The Random House Group Ltd. Parts of Chapter  1 appeared in slightly different form in ‘Beckett, Painting, and the Question of “the Human” ’, published in the Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 36, No. 3 (Spring 2013), pp. 81–99. They are reproduced here by kind permission of Indiana University Press.

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Contents List of Figures

Introduction: Reviewing Postwar Fiction

xi 1

1. Pig Vomit: Beckett’s Art Historical Necessities

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2. Canvas in the Cold War: William Gaddis and the Context of Art

63

3. The Moment of History: John Berger’s Modernism After Realism

97

4. Art’s Swindle: W. G. Sebald and History After Trauma Conclusion: The Perspective of the Present Bibliography Author Index

129 166 173 193

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List of Figures 1.1. Drawing by Samuel Beckett in the manuscript of L’Innommable, Notebook 2, page 41. © The Estate of Samuel Beckett. Image by permission of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin 1.2. L. Debricon, ‘La Sensation’, in Descartes: choix de textes avec étude du système philosophique et notices biographique et bibliographique; 16 gravures et portrait par L. Debricon; préface de Labescat (Paris: Louis Michaud, n.d.), 200. © The British Library Board 2.1. Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled, ca. 1955, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/DACS, London/ VAGA, New York, 2017

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Introduction Reviewing Postwar Fiction In 1957 Jasper Johns covered a book with red and yellow encaustic paint and stuck it to a blue wooden frame. An object became a work of art, a book became Book (1957). That book was Lost Worlds by Anne Terry White, a popular history of archaeological adventures. The pages Johns painted describe the moment when Carter and Carnarvon, on the threshold of their discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb, begin to feel ‘strangely suspended in time and space’, and suddenly not ‘the unbelievable tomb, but the actual world of the twentieth century seemed unreal to these enchanted explorers’.1 Buried under layers of paint, these words are invisible to the naked eye: like the tomb in the desert, exposed and disguised, they are hidden in plain sight. Some tantalizing and carefully chosen fragments of text can be glimpsed, if you look hard enough: ‘first sight’, ‘swathed’, ‘folds’, and down at the bottom, ‘that is what he found’. Yet there is nothing to be found at first sight in this Book, where seeing and saying are in opposition. Paint disguises words, yet knowledge of the book they came from is necessary to grasp Book’s ironic attitude towards the resistance between text and image upon which its formal effects depend. By painting over a book called Lost Worlds, Johns signals an awareness of past explorations of the relationship between text and image, and ­incorporates an archaeology of this past into his own historically self-conscious investigation of the differences between artistic media. In Book the past is an inescapable part of the object presented for consideration: the relationship between art and literature in the ‘actual world’ of Johns’s twentieth-century present. 1  Anne Terry White, Lost Worlds: Adventures in Archaeology (London; Toronto; Wellington; Sydney, 1943), 119; James Coddington and Suzanne Siano, ‘Infrared Imaging of TwentiethCentury Works of Art’, in Tradition and Innovation: Advances in Conservation, ed. by Ashok Roy and Perry Smith (London, 2000), 39–44. I am grateful to Katherine Hinds, Curator of the Margulies Collection, Miami, and James Coddington, Chief Curator of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, for this information about Johns’s Book.

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Art, History, and Postwar Fiction

That relationship is the subject of another book: this one. Art, History, and Postwar Fiction explores the ways in which novelists since 1945 have viewed, commented upon, and often vociferously complained about visual art. It argues that as well as offering a surprisingly vital means for reflecting on the aesthetic implications of political developments like McCarthyism, the rise of the New Left, or the memorialization of the Holocaust, engaging with art provided novelists with new ways of conceptualizing the novel’s relationship to history. The sense that not only the novel but culture and society more broadly had become unmoored from history was pervasive in the postwar decades. This was most influentially expressed in Fredric Jameson’s detection of a ‘waning of our historicity’ in the representations produced in Western late capitalism, and a scepticism about ­historical change was central to many theorizations of postmodernism.2 Yet postmodernism never became the dominant cultural logic of the postwar decades: it quickly passed from emergent to residual over the course of a decade or so. In showing the ways in which visual art, especially modernist painting, enabled postwar novelists to imagine diverse ways of relating their work to history, this book argues that attention to one of the oldest topics in aesthetic theory, interactions between artistic forms, also offers the literary critic new ways to think about an equally perennial question: the relationship of literature to history. Pursuing this argument concentrates the scope of this book primarily on the work of four writers, each of whom develops out of their engagements with art a distinctive way of figuring the relationship of the novel to history: Samuel Beckett, William Gaddis, John Berger, and W. G. Sebald. If the scope of these chapters is focused, and that focus is part of an argument for sustained and close attention to manuscripts, composition, and literary form in studying the relationship between text and image, the scope of the arguments they collectively inform expands outwards into broader considerations of the comparative study of literature and visual culture. You don’t need to take as obvious an example as Johns’s Book to show that an artwork’s relationship to the history of art is often central to its meaning—often its primary, even exclusive theme for the critics and novelists who view it. But the history of art is not the same as the history of literature, and as a consequence of what was once quaintly called the ‘new art history’, it would be more accurate to speak of an artwork’s relationship to a range of institutionally formed and contested histories of

2  Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London, 1991), 20.

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Introduction

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art.3 In studying literary engagements with art in the postwar decades, this book proceeds from the argument that the histories of art are multiple, non-simultaneous, and often generatively out of sync with the formal and institutional histories of literature. It is the difference between art and fiction, and the differences between art history and literary history, that make art important to the study of postwar fiction. Novelists’ responses to works of art are neither passive reflections of their content (whatever ‘content’ might mean), nor of their institutionally codified histories; rather, they are a form of interpretative work, whose outcome can be traced in the form and style of a novelist’s prose. In focusing as much on the ways in which fiction is made through an engagement with art as on the final published work, this book provides a hermeneutics of poeisis which tracks the moments in which writers produced their own  interpretations of works of art, and used these simultaneously as ­interpretations of their writing and the form of the novel. In doing so, this book offers a different way to approach the self-reflexivity and selfreferentiality that has long been seen as one of the characteristic traits of the postwar novel: as a process of productive self-interpretation through a different medium rather than a metafictional closure where ‘forms of fiction serve as the material upon which further forms can be imposed’, or as a terminal self-consciousness that leaves writer and reader alike ‘lost in the funhouse’.4 By drawing attention to the historicizing ways in which ­writers interpreted art as part of the production of their own work, this book foregrounds the ways in which postwar writers historicized themselves and the novel more broadly. It therefore revises our understanding of the postwar novel as characterized by a waning of historicity, arguing instead for an understanding of modern and contemporary historicity as complex, plural, and articulated by visual and verbal forms, and it shows the different modes of thinking about the relationship of the novel to history developed from the aftermath of the Second World War to the beginning of the twenty-first century. History emerges as a central concern of these writers’ engagements with art not only because of their shared if diffuse sense of a waning of ­historicity, or because a reflection upon the art of the past, whether by Vermeer or Pisanello, reveals historical difference in a fairly obvious way. Visual modernism of the postwar period was theorized, institutionalized, and practised according to a historical periodization that was very different 3  For an overview, see John Harris, The New Art History: A Critical Introduction (London, 2001). 4 William H. Gass, Fiction and the Figures of Life (New York, 1970), 25; John Barth, Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice (London, 1969).

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Art, History, and Postwar Fiction

to that of literary modernism, or rather, the version of literary modernism these writers had themselves periodized in order to relate themselves to it. Whether in Beckett’s perfect-tense description of T. S. Eliot’s poetry as ‘the new thing that has happened’, Gaddis’s transformation through satire of modernist style into a commodity, or Sebald’s doctoral research on Döblin, these novelists, like many others of the period, saw themselves as coming after, if not exactly fully escaping from, the moment of literary modernism. But when faced with French tachisme, American Abstract Expressionism, or postwar British sculpture, or with the hugely influential criticism of Clement Greenberg, it was as clear then as it is now that visual modernism extended well into the 1950s and 1960s. It is a testament to Greenberg’s influence that the art historians who have provided the most developed justifications for the extension of visual modernism backwards as well as forwards in time, T. J. Clark and Michael Fried, have both positioned themselves as inheritors of different strands of Greenberg’s criticism.5 This striking difference between what modernism means across literature and art opened up for these writers a necessarily more complex and differentiated understanding of the periodicity and historicity of their own work. Furthermore, this extension of modernism was enabled in theory and practice by a distinctive historicist modernism, according to which certain forms were the product of a logical historical development and which expressed that sense of historical continuity as their primary meaning. To paraphrase a famous claim made by Michael Baxandall, if ‘[a] fifteenth-century painting is the deposit of a social relationship’, then a postwar modernist painting is the deposit of a historical theory.6 Modernism thus has an important place in this book, and the arguments it makes concerning modernism’s relationship to postwar and contemporary fiction and about periodicity more generally are part of a broader series of debates about the historicity of modernism and its relationship to the present. The geographical and historical expansion of the scope of modernist studies has brought to the fore the question of the periodization of modernism as the cultural response to modernity. One response to the theoretical difficulties this entails has been to reject the periodization of modernism and modernity altogether, whether because it is merely a tool of institutional legitimization, according to Eric Hayot, or inherently 5  T. J. Clark, ‘Clement Greenberg’s Theory of Art’, Critical Inquiry, 9/1 (1982), 139–56; Michael Fried, ‘How Modernism Works: A Response to T. J. Clark’, Critical Inquiry, 9/1 (1982), 217–34; T. J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes From a History of Modernism (New Haven; London, 1999); Michael Fried, ‘An Introduction to My Art Criticism’, in Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago; London, 1998), 1–76. 6  Michael Baxandall, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style, 2nd edn (Oxford, 1988), 1.

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Introduction

5

ethically dubious, according to Susan Stanford Friedman.7 Another response would be to complicate our understanding of the concept of a period and the practice of periodization, a practice which, as David James and Urmila Seshagiri have pointed out, is undertaken by novelists as well as critics and thus cannot be ignored without sandpapering over a significant feature of postwar and contemporary writing.8 Attending to the difference between visual and literary modernisms and their postwar critical constructions is one way to achieve this complexity. It breaks apart the view of modernism as taking place within a single historical period without the concept of periodicity being discarded altogether; related developments in different forms can be seen as taking place on different timescales and according to different rhythms; and it is this lack of fit that makes the questions of periodicity and historicity more rather than less pressing for the literary critic. The problem of the uneven development of cultural formations (since that is what modernist art and modernist literature ultimately are) was suggestively raised in Marx’s Grundrisse, which speculates on ‘[t]he uneven development of material production relative to e.g. artistic development. In general, the concept of progress is not to be conceived in the usual abstractness. Modern art etc [italics original]’. Furthermore, ‘this is the case with the relation between different kinds of art within the realm of the arts . . . The difficulty consists only in the general formulations of these contractions’.9 That, it might be observed, has proved to be no small difficulty. These speculations have been elaborated by subsequent Marxist theorists, as in Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar’s notions of dif­ ferentiated and relatively autonomous temporalities interacting in a conjecture, or Raymond Williams’s model of emergent, dominant, and residual formations.10 But this issue also has a long genealogy within the discipline of art history, intersecting with Marxist theory in the writings of Ernst Bloch. Bloch’s concept of Ungleichzeitigkeit, or the ‘non-synchronous’, attempted to address the issue of the differential development of culture raised by Marx in the context of twentieth-century modernity.11 But this concept, as Frederic J. Schwarz has written, was lifted ‘out of a debate 7  Eric Hayot, On Literary Worlds (New York, 2012); Susan Stanford Friedman, Planetary Modernisms: Provocations on Modernity Across Time (New York, 2015). 8  David James and Urmila Seshagiri, ‘Metamodernism: Narratives of Continuity and Revolution’, PMLA, 129/1 (2014), 87–100. 9  Karl Marx, Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy (Rough Draft), trans. by Martin Nicolaus (London, 1973), 109; 110. 10  Raymond Williams, Marxism and Literature (Oxford, 1977), 121–8; Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar, Reading Capital, trans. by Ben Brewster (London, 1997), 91–118. 11  Ernst Bloch, ‘Nonsynchronism and the Obligation to Its Dialectics’, trans. by Mark Ritter, New German Critique, 11, 1977, 22–38.

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among art historians and theorists of culture about periodicity and the nature of ­historical time’, specifically the response of Wilhelm Pinder to the historicism of Aloïs Riegl, Max Dvorák, and Heinrich Wölfflin.12 Reflecting upon the use of different styles within the same historical moment, Pinder concluded that ‘[t]here is no simple “present” because every historical “moment” is experienced by people with their own different senses of ­historical duration’, and that different cultural artefacts must be analysed through the concept of ‘the non-simultaneity of the simultaneous’, a concept which retains a notion of a historical period but allows for a more complex sense of its internal differentiation.13 Like his more well-known contemporaries Georg Simmel and Walter Benjamin, Pinder was theorizing the experience of time, but his objects of analysis, as Erwin Panofsky pointed out, were cultural artefacts.14 It is from the nonsimultaneity of styles that the non-simultaneity of history is inferred, and not the other way around. This overlap between the problematics of Marxism and art history is one example of the ways in which both fields have complex and rich ­theorizations of the relationship between form and historicity. These overlaps provide the grounds for understanding that the uneven development of modernism across media does not reflect but in a concrete sense is a manifestation of the differentiated temporality of modernity. Of course, this insight has long been central to accounts of modernism within individual disciplinary confines, whether those offered by T. J. Clark in art history, or Michael Levenson in literary studies.15 The aim of this book is to use comparison not to generate a more unified understanding of modernism—usually the goal of comparisons between the arts—but a more disaggregated one. For the writers discussed in this book, the striking difference between what modernism meant across the arts in the postwar decades opened up a more multifaceted understanding of modernism and of the historicity of their present. The argument that visual-verbal comparison opens up differentiated understandings of history for novelists and critics alike underpins this book’s methodological claims for how to undertake comparative work on literature and art, how to relate modernism to the contemporary, and how to bring together literary studies and art history in the study of postwar culture. By showing that an engagement with visual art was a means by which postwar novelists produced their own 12  Frederic J. Schwartz, ‘Ernst Bloch and Wilhelm Pinder: Out of Sync’, Grey Room, 3 (Spring 2001), 55; 57. 13  Quoted in Schwartz, ‘Ernst Bloch and Wilhelm Pinder: Out of Sync’, 62. 14 Erwin Panofsky, ‘Reflections on Historical Time’, Critical Inquiry, 30/4 (2004), 697–8. 15 Clark, Farewell To An Idea; Michael Levenson, Modernism (New Haven, 2011).

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Introduction

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understandings of the relationship of their work to history, it follows that this engagement can be used retrospectively to understand postwar fiction in history. In history, and as history, for how to historicize postwar literature has emerged as a pressing debate in recent literary scholarship. As many critics are now asking: when exactly does literary history begin? H I S TO R I C I Z I N G P O S T WA R F I C T I O N Will Postwar be nothing but ‘events’, newly created one moment from the next? No links? Is it the end of history?16

Moving chronologically from the end of the Second World War to the turn of the millennium, this book concerns itself with what Amy Hungerford has influentially defined as ‘the period formerly known as contemporary’.17 On the one hand her argument is disarmingly simple. With the passing of time, and of the authors of that time, the decades since the war are now ‘history, not memory’, and that distance—or rather the methodological adoption of such a distance—is ‘an advantage when it comes to the business of historicizing’.18 On the other hand, distinguishing a past constructed through the adoption of historicizing distance from the contemporary makes any definition of the postwar as a period d ­ ependent upon a definition of the contemporary. What ‘the contemporary’ means has been the subject of a wave of recent reflection in work by Giorgio Agamben, Terry Smith, Lauren Berlant, Robert Eaglestone, and particularly Peter Osborne, who has provided the richest account of what it means to think the contemporary, offering a suggestive model for literary studies.19 Osborne draws a distinction between the postwar and the contemporary from the opposite perspective to Hungerford. He wants to preserve the ‘increasingly complex temporalexistential, social, and p ­ olitical meanings’ of the contemporary against its reduction to ‘a simple label or periodizing category’. The ‘distinctive conceptual grammar of con-temporaneity’, he writes, expresses ‘a coming together of different but equally “present” temporalities or “times”, a temporal unity in disjunction, or a disjunctive unity of present times’, and ‘[t]his 16  Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow (New York, 1973), 56. 17 Amy Hungerford, ‘On the Period Formerly Known as Contemporary’, American Literary History, 20/1–2 (2008), 418. 18  Hungerford, ‘On the Period Formerly Known as Contemporary’, 416. 19  Giorgio Agamben, ‘What Is the Contemporary?’, in What Is an Apparatus? And Other Essays, trans. by David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella (Stanford, 2009), 39–54; Terry Smith, ‘Contemporary Art and Contemporaneity’, Critical Inquiry, 32/4 (2006), 681–707; Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham; London, 2011); Robert Eaglestone, ‘Contemporary Fiction in the Academy: Towards a Manifesto’, Textual Practice, 27/7 (2013), 1089–102; Peter Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art (London, 2013).

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problematically ­disjunctive conjunction is covered over by straightforward, historicist uses of “contemporary” as a periodizing term [italics original]’.20 As Giorgio Agamben has pointed out, there is nothing particularly ‘contemporary’ about this definition of the contemporary as a disjunctive relationship towards one’s present: it goes back to Nietzsche’s critique of nineteenth-century historicism.21 For Osborne, it is in fact the historicizing gaze which produces the difference between the time of the contemporary and the time of the historicized past. Hungerford and Osborne end up neatly symmetrical: what the philosopher of contemporary art wants to avoid, the historian of postwar literature wants to embrace. This embrace of the historicizing gaze has underpinned much recent revisionary work on postwar fiction. Steven Belletto, Julia Jordan, and Alex Houen have found common ground between British and American literature in their concerns with chance and potentiality, discerning ­aesthetic and thematic concerns as responses to Cold War politics and postwar disciplinary transformations in game theory, economics, and existential philosophy.22 Like these critics, when historicizing the relationship between logical positivism and postwar fiction, Michael LeMahieu has uncovered its impact on a group of writers—John Barth, Saul Bellow, and Iris Murdoch—that cuts across boundaries between national cultures and so-called experimental and conventional authors, forming the kind of unexpected but suddenly convincing constellation that makes such revisionary work so important. In contrast, when Mark McGurl, Stephen Schryer, and Michael Trask have historicized the institutional role of the university and its discourses of professionalism in defining postwar American literature, they show just how distinctly American this development was. As McGurl admits, professionalized ‘[c]reative writing is, in sum, as American as baseball, apple pie, and homicide’. Less convincing is his claim that the spread of the writing programme throughout the world is not an instance of ‘Americanization’ but part of the overall process of ‘reflexive modernity’.23 One central insight of postwar art history has been that the American institutionalization of forms of modernism and modernization elided in their constitution the national political contexts from which they emerged, and this elision was witnessed in action by the writers 20 Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All, 17. 21  Agamben, ‘What Is the Contemporary?’, 40–1; Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’, in Untimely Meditations, trans. by R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge, 1997), 57–124. 22 Steven Belletto, No Accident, Comrade: Chance and Design in Cold War American Narratives (New York, 2011); Julia Jordan, Chance and the Modern British Novel (London, 2011); Alex Houen, Powers of Possibility: Experimental American Writing since the 1960s (Oxford, 2011). 23 Mark McGurl, The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing (Cambridge, MA; London, 2009), 364–5.

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discussed in this book.24 For both novelist and critic, engaging with postwar art involves entering a transnational field shaped by national and political commitments in a way which enables writing beyond the confines of a single nation while remaining sharply aware of the slippage between the trajectory of one national culture and the wider development of modernity. Just as influential for the impetus towards revisionary work on postwar literature and recent theoretical attention to the contemporary has been the perceived waning of postmodernism as the postwar era’s dominant cultural logic, with David James and Lisa Siraganian making strong cases for the continuing relevance of modernism to postwar and contemporary fiction.25 When Laura Marcus and Peter Nicholls compiled one of the first literary histories of England spanning the twentieth century as a whole, they observed that ‘the notion of the Postmodern, in apparent violation of its own terms, has not proven to be an efficient periodizing concept that clearly situates us in a context distinct from modernity; rather, it affirms a continuing and troubled relation to a modernity we cannot evade’.26 On the other side of the Atlantic, both postmodernism and postmodernity are absent from Werner Sollors and Greil Marcus’s A  New Literary History of America.27 As Jason Gladstone and Daniel Worden reflected in response to that volume, postmodernism now seems understood either as ‘a symptom for the postwar condition’ or ‘one aesthetic among many’.28 Intentionally or not, this is a direct refutation of Jameson’s central claim: ‘I cannot stress too greatly the radical distinction between a view for which the postmodern is one (optional) style among many others available and one which seeks to grasp it as the cultural dominant of the logic of late capitalism’.29 ‘Late capitalism’ was always the weakest link in Jameson’s thesis, never quite recovering from Bill Warren’s retort: ‘late for what?’30 But Jameson’s account of postmodernism was as much motivated by the need for ­periodization as by the need to schematize a cultural dominant to follow realism and modernism: it was, after all, 24  Serge Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, trans. by Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago; London, 1983). 25  David James, Modernist Futures: Innovation and Inheritance in the Contemporary Novel (Cambridge, 2012); Lisa Siraganian, Modernism’s Other Work: The Art Object’s Political Life (New York, 2012). 26 Laura Marcus and Peter Nicholls, ‘Introduction’, in The Cambridge History of Twentieth-Century English Literature, ed. by Laura Marcus and Peter Nicholls (Cambridge, 2004), 4. 27  Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, eds., A New Literary History of America (Cambridge, MA; London, 2009). 28 Jason Gladstone and Daniel Worden, ‘Introduction: Postmodernism, Then’, Twentieth-Century Literature, 57/3–4 (2011), 292. 29 Jameson, Postmodernism, 45–6. 30  Quoted in Fred Halliday, ‘The Ends of Cold War’, New Left Review, I, 180, 1990, 18.

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‘a periodizing hypothesis, and that at a moment in which the very conception of historical periodization has come to seem most problematical indeed’.31 It is on the problems of periodization and historicization that Jameson and his successors converge. David J. Alworth has observed that for all that such revisionary work on postwar literature rejects Jameson’s claim that postmodernism is the cultural logic of the period, it adheres closely to a different claim of his work: his imperative to ‘Always historicize!’.32 Like a number of other critics, he worries that if scholarship on postwar literature succumbs to a routine historicism, it will fail to respond to calls for surface, enchanted, or distant readings, or even simply more temporally wide-ranging methodologies in which we ‘historicize differently’, as Sianne Ngai has written.33 These critics have caught a postwar strain of what Jennifer Fleissner has diagnosed as the ‘Historicism Blues’. She points out that across the discipline of literary studies historicism has been cathected with a complex of anxieties concerning the political salience, moral purpose, and seeming theoretical stasis of criticism since the 1990s. Fleissner doesn’t have a cure; instead she suggests the couch. For her, the inescapable urge towards historicization and the anxieties it generates show the ‘constitutive elusiveness of the history that is its aim’, and turns to Nietzsche, Freud, and Dominick LaCapra to prompt critics to theorize more fully what is assumed and produced by the act of historical explanation.34 It is important to point out that the historicism under discussion in these debates, and that targeted by a strand of critique running from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick to Rita Felski, is not historicism tout court but rather New Historicism.35 As the name for a methodology of interpretation, historicism signifies a diverse range of approaches. It can be a philosophy of language in which linguistic meaning is contextual, as in Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics or Cambridge School historiography; it can be a Hegelian belief in a teleologically unfolding process of development according to 31 Jameson, Postmodernism, 3. 32  David J. Alworth, ‘Hip to Post45’, Contemporary Literature, 54/3 (2013), 630. 33  Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus, ‘Surface Reading: An Introduction’, Representations, 108/1 (2009), 1–21; Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, MA; London, 2012), 14; other attempts to historicize postwar literature differently include Michaela Bronstein, ‘Ng˜ug˜ı’s Use of Conrad: A Case for Literary Transhistory’, Modern Language Quarterly, 75/3 (2014), 411–37; Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, After 1945: Latency as Origin of the Present (Stanford, 2013); David J. Alworth, Site Reading: Fiction, Art, Social Form (Princeton, 2016). 34  Jennifer Fleissner, ‘Historicism Blues’, American Literary History, 25/4 (2013), 707. 35  Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, ‘Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading, Or, You’re So Paranoid, You Probably Think This Essay Is About You’, in Touching Feeling: Affect, Pedagogy, Performativity (Durham; London, 2003), 123–51; Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago, 2015).

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a unifying principle; or it can be an evaluative approach to the diversity of individual cultures, as in Herder’s anthropology or contemporary identity politics. New Historicism involves a rather different set of assumptions, largely descending from Foucault’s archaeologies.36 It is the continuous and therefore contingent relationship between literature and the totality of culture considered as a text that has triggered anxieties about the reduction of literature to its contexts, and it is the belief that power ­circulates on the surface of the text yet still requires the act of critical ­exposure that has led to fatigue with the hermeneutics of suspicion and calls for modes of enchanted or surface reading—with the metaphor of ­surface ironically describing two contrasting approaches, as Felski has pointed out.37 Although methodological debates about historicism have been taking place across the discipline of literary studies, they have a particular salience for critics working on postwar literature. If only because it is being done for the first time, thinking about your relationship to the most recent past is a different task than engaging with a past already assumed as separate from the present. That assumed separation is the condition for the dramatic finale of much literary scholarship on earlier eras: the revelation that we remain Victorians, still share Enlightenment print culture, are socially networked like early modern intellectuals, and so on in the upending of naïve presentist assumptions. Historicizing the recent past, in contrast, cuts a line through a present in which we think we still belong. Part of Eric Hayot’s critique of periodization is that it is ‘the untheorized ground of the possibility of literary scholarship’.38 For Joshua Kates, periodization in contemporary literary studies homogenizes its temporal objects, pointing instead to Althusser’s elaboration of a theory of periodization governed by a ‘differentiation at once temporal and object oriented’, with different classes of events answering to various structures of time.39 Yet the reasons the postwar period might now be so generatively unsettling for assumptions about periodicity and historicism have been theorized by both Hannah Arendt and Theodor  W.  Adorno. Countering the homogenization of historical time and the assumption that periodizing claims are merely pragmatic acts for the convenience of scholarship, impulses they developed out of a shared engagement with Walter Benjamin while rejecting Benjamin’s complete historical relativism in the service of politico-theological redemption, Arendt and Adorno both identified a temporal relationship called the 36  Catherine Gallagher and Stephen Greenblatt, Practicing New Historicism (Chicago, 2000), 1–19. 37 Felski, The Limits of Critique, 52–6. 38 Hayot, On Literary Worlds, 154. 39  Joshua Kates, ‘Against the Period’, Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies, 25/2 (2012), 137; 143.

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‘vantage point’ of the ‘most recent’: a unique and ever-shifting alignment between the present and the past from which it has just departed.40 This was their formulation of the historiographical problem given metaphorical expression by Hegel’s famous claim that ‘the owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of dusk’, arguing that we ascend to knowledge of history, the apprehension by the ideal of the real, only when an event has come to an end.41 What we call ‘the postwar’ is now simply this ‘most recent’ past, and in this book I argue two things: that some of the novelists of this recent past used an engagement with art to develop their own ways of thinking about the relationship of literature to history, and that studying these engagements can offer the critic a way to navigate between the reductive understandings of historicism and formalism that tend to emerge in response to the eternally recurring question of the relationship of literary criticism to historical explanation. By carefully tracing acts of commentary and composition, and by approaching these as mediating interpretations rather than continuities or reflections, this book avoids the affective anxieties generated by New Historicism’s arbitrary use of a single text as a metonymic encapsulation of a historical period. By approaching literary form as having its own historical developments, often out of sync with political history, and by seeing writers’ uses of forms as acts of self-­historicization, I argue that not all objects of historicist analysis are the same: productively, challengingly, and generatively so. In doing so, this shows there are better ways to attend to literary form as a justifiable reaction against an overtly contextualizing historicism than becoming naïve and uncritical readers enchanted by the surface of our texts. And simply by the fact of not focusing only on literature, but by working comparatively across fiction and visual art, this book shows up the frequent lack of interdisciplinarity in debates about historicism or a putative postwar studies and uses such comparisons to show what a more interdisciplinary analysis of the period looks like. Worries that the study of postwar literature is suffering, as Nietzsche wrote of his own time, from a ‘surfeit of history’ are misplaced. After all, Nietzsche’s counsel was that ‘the unhistorical and the historical are necessary in equal measure for the health of an individual, of a people, and of a culture [italics original]’—and, one might add, a discipline.42

40 Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 2nd edn (Chicago; London, 1998), 5; Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. by Robert Hullot-Kentor (London, 1997), 359. 41  Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, trans. by T. M. Knox (Oxford, 1942), 13. 42  Nietzsche, ‘On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life’, 63.

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H I S TO RY B E T W E E N A RT A N D F I C T I O N When Susan Sontag offered in ‘Against Interpretation’ (1966) one of the first attempts to define a new postwar sensibility by detecting a ‘flight from interpretation’ into formalism across the art of Frank Stella and Jasper Johns and the fiction of Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs, she was doing more than fulfilling her self-appointed role as her era’s most sensitive cultural antenna (or perhaps its hippest cultural consumer).43 In basing her claim for a new historical period on a comparison between the arts, she was relying on an art historical assumption that dates all the way back to Vasari, and forward through Vico and Hegel into the works of Riegl, Wöllflin, and Panofsky, that laid the foundations for the field as a professionalized academic practice.44 Vasari developed ‘a historical point of view’, according to Panofsky, in proposing the periodization of the history of art, and that each period be evaluated according to the criteria of its own time, on the basis of a connection between different art forms in the same historical epoch.45 This assumption is almost always latent in acts of comparison between art and literature—as Jacques Lacan once quipped, ‘­everybody is a Hegelian without knowing it’—but self-consciousness about it surfaced in the more astute comparisons between art and literature during the postwar decades.46 In trying to show that ‘the post-war years gave birth to a period of artistic achievement quite distinct to modernism’ that nevertheless could not be reduced to postmodernism, Christopher Butler compared techniques across the arts because it is in technique ‘that the close analogies between the arts can be appreciated and an implied Zeitgeist discerned’.47 In studies of postwar poetry, when Charles Altieri wanted to discuss John Ashbery’s ‘contemporaneity’ with his time, he turned to ‘Ashbery’s relationship to the experiments in visual art that first set themselves the task of constructing a postmodern sensibility’, although as he subsequently reflected, the ‘postmodern’ too unreflectively replaced what was primarily an attempt to use comparison to theorize a writer’s contemporaneity with his time.48 43  Susan Sontag, Essays of the 1960s & 1970s (New York, 2013), 16; 733–44. 44  See Michael Ann Holly, Panofsky and the Foundations of Art History (Ithaca, 1985). 45  Erwin Panofsky, ‘The First Page of Giorgio Vasari’s “Libro”’, in Meaning in the Visual Arts (Garden City, NY, 1955), 205. 46  Jacques Lacan, The Seminar of Jacques Lacan: Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in the Technique of Psychoanalysis, trans. by Sylvana Tomaselli (Cambridge, 1988), 73. 47  Christopher Butler, After the Wake: An Essay on the Contemporary Avant-Garde (Oxford, 1980), 160; x. 48  Charles Altieri, Postmodernisms Now: Essays on Contemporaneity in the Arts (University Park, PA, 1998), 55; 7.

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Art, History, and Postwar Fiction

Altieri’s unease about how postmodernism too quickly suffocated other attempts to use comparison to theorize the relationship between literature and history was not widely shared. Reflecting on the theory and practice of the 1960s and 1970s, on Robert Smithson as much as Paul de Man, Craig Owens defined postmodernism in terms of its ‘allegorical impulse’. Postmodern allegory proposes a ‘reciprocity . . . between the visual and the verbal: words are often treated as purely visual phenomena, while visual images are offered as a script to be deciphered’. This reciprocity stems from the belief that all representations are contingent, fragmentary, and incomplete—all melancholy ruins—and this carries with it ‘a conviction of the remoteness of the past, and a desire to redeem it for the present’.49 But that history only gets recovered as a signifier, and the desire to redeem the past produces the lack it cannot fulfil. A postmodernist allegorical blurring of the difference between visual and verbal representation has been explored in the work of writers such as Angela Carter, Alasdair Gray, and Salman Rushdie.50 Relating art and fiction through allegory extends to these ­writers’ ambivalent rejection of history as a meaningful frame for their writing: as Amy J. Elias has written of the ‘postmodernist metahistorical romance’ more broadly, history is their sublime object of representation at the same time as it is a reality they want to deny.51 Linda Hutcheon has argued that parody is a major form of ‘inter-art discourse’ in postmodernism. However, the contrast she draws between the Russian Formalist emphasis on the ‘historical role of parody’ in marking formal change and her own ­definition of parody as ‘imitation with critical difference’ produces a contradiction in an argument that attempts to make parody a defining form of inter-art discourse relating literature and visual art in the twentieth century.52 As with Owens’s allegorical impulse, attempts to make postmodernism a stylistic and periodizing category fray under the pressure of the history that postmodernism seeks to escape. For all its paradoxes, postmodernism was a cause with which many novelists explicitly allied their engagements with the visual arts. While postwar feminism was never identical with postmodernism, writers such as Angela Carter and Kathy Acker did see themselves as practising a ‘conjuncture of 49  Craig Owens, ‘The Allegorical Impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism’, October, 12 (1980), 74; 68. 50  Katie Garner, ‘Blending the Pre-Raphaelist with the Surreal in Angela Carter’s Shadow Dance (1966) and Love (1971)’, in Angela Carter: New Critical Readings, ed. by Sonya Andermahr and Lawrence Phillips (London, 2012), 147–64; Robert Crawford and Thom Nairn, eds., The Arts of Alasdair Gray (Edinburgh, 1991); Ana Cristina Mendes, ed., Salman Rushdie and Visual Culture: Celebrating Impurity, Disrupting Borders (London, 2012). 51 Amy J. Elias, Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction (Baltimore, 2001), xiv. 52  Linda Hutcheon, A Theory of Parody: The Teachings of Twentieth-Century Art Forms (London, 1985), 2; 36.

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feminism and postmodernism’, a practice of transgression in order to liberate desire.53 This conjuncture equated social transgression with transgressing the boundaries between different art forms and saw more use in rejecting the legacy of art historical modernism rather than engaging in the kind of revisionary project advocated by Griselda Pollock—who distances herself from Carter’s dismissal of Picasso—of differencing the canon of modernism and rethinking its relationship to the present.54 Although the focus of the chapters that follow is on writers who engaged with the legacy of modernist art in order to rethink their relationship to history, and who saw the visual as resistant to language rather than easily transgressed, a number of comparisons developed throughout this book spotlight moments when such approaches were not taken, and what in contrast was gained or lost. Gertrude Stein’s engagement with Cubism was an ambivalent model for both Beckett and Gaddis, yet her investment in modernist issues such as the tension between convention and representation was denied by a later generation of writers who came to see her as a harbinger of poststructuralism. Berger and Doris Lessing were equally committed to the cause of postwar social realism as an initial reaction against modernism, but while Berger went back to Cubist painting to develop a revolutionary historiography of deferral and delay, Lessing soon drifted out of any engagement with art into explorations of a post-­historical and increasingly post-human future. Kathy Acker’s work shows the most sophisticated literary engagement with postmodern art and theory: as she said of her own practice of appropriation: ‘[w]hen I did Don Quixote, what I really wanted to do was a Sherri Levine painting. I’m fascinated by Sherri’s work’.55 Like Gaddis, Acker saw stylistic authenticity as almost irredeemably threated by postwar consumer capitalism, but if for Gaddis that was a wound which art helped him salt, for Acker it enabled a l­ iberation from the historical straitjacket of style and the release of the timeless libidinal energies of the body. Yet as Gaddis’s prefiguration of what Michael Fried termed the problem of art and objecthood shows, the rejection of history in favour of immanent bodily desire mystifies the body’s own h ­ istorical formation and contingent relationships to sites of spectatorship and display. 53  Kathy Acker, ‘Kathy Acker Interviewed by Rebecca Deaton’, Textual Practice, 6/2 (1992), 275; Angela Carter, ‘Angela Carter’, in Novelists in Interview, ed. by John Haffenden (London, 1985), 76–96. 54 Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference (London, 2003), 218; Griselda Pollock, ‘Feminism and Modernism’, in Framing Feminism: Art and the Women’s Movement 1970–85, ed. by Griselda Pollock and Rozsika Parker (London, 1987), 79–124; Griselda Pollock, Differencing the Canon: Feminist Desire and the Writing of Art’s Histories (London, 1999). 55  Ellen G. Friedman and Kathy Acker, ‘A Conversation with Kathy Acker’, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, 9/3 (1989), 12.

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Art, History, and Postwar Fiction

The impact of photography on postwar fiction was decisively shaped by suspicion of its role in facilitating what was increasingly critiqued as the ‘society of the spectacle’; or as Sontag wrote in her influential On Photography (1979): ‘the narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images’.56 This tempered an earlier generation’s enthusiastic and r­ etrospectively somewhat uncritical embrace of what Julian Murphet has termed the shifting media ecology of the early twentieth century.57 For writers like Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, and Michael Ondaatje, photography was often more of interest in its relationship to questions of documentation, memory, and autobiography rather than its status as a putative ‘art’, or in offering access, as André Bazin argued, to an ontological confirmation of reality.58 Strange as this may seem, the view that the significance of photography as a technology and cultural form is lost when it is reduced to the fine art practice of, say, Ansel Adams or Diane Arbus has been a major strand of photography theory and art history, and there is much to commend in separating inquiries into the history of art from those into photography, not to mention media history more broadly.59 Indeed, Friedrich Kittler’s histories are a refreshingly strange picture of what the history of art looks like when all history is the history of media.60 Nevertheless, this use of photography as an ‘anti-art’ is discussed in this book’s chapter on Sebald, and the opposition in his work between photography and painting is his own characteristically muted engagement with this broader issue of photography’s relationship to art and aesthetic theory as well as to the novel. No book aiming to work across a historical period, unless it were to model itself on Borges’s Book of Sand, can ever be fully comprehensive, and to borrow again from Borges, these are the paths this study has not taken. But the paths it does take in the following chapters do link up with the work of these other novelists and their critics, as well as tracing a 56 Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle, trans. by Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York, 1994); Sontag, Essays, 654. 57  Julian Murphet, Multimedia Modernism: Literature and the Anglo-American AvantGarde (Cambridge, 2009). 58 Sara Blair, Harlem Crossroads: Black Writers and the Photograph in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, 2007); Lee-Von Kim, ‘Scenes of Af/filiation: Family Photographs in Postcolonial Life Writing’, Life Writing, 12/4 (2015), 401–15; André Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, Film Quarterly, 13/4 (1960), 4–9. 59  Rosalind E. Krauss, ‘Photography’s Discursive Spaces’, in The Originality of the AvantGarde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, MA, 1985), 131–50; Douglas Crimp, ‘The Museum’s Old/The Library’s New Subject’, in The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography (Cambridge MA, 1989), 3–11; Allan Sekula, Photography Against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works 1973–1983 (Halifax, 1984). 60 Friedrich Kittler, Optical Media: Berlin Lectures 1999, trans. by Anthony Enns (Cambridge, 2010).

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coherent journey of their own in identifying the different ways in which postwar novelists used an engagement with art to relate their work to history. For Samuel Beckett in the aftermath of the Second World War, the necessary development of visual modernism offered an example of how artistic forms could develop in ways not determined by the political necessities proclaimed by Marxist humanism, and of how the forms of his postwar novels could express his sense of historical changes in understandings of space, humanism, and embodiment. For William Gaddis, the issues of art and objecthood raised by Abstract Expressionist painting brought into sharp relief the ways in which the meaning of all novels, not only his own, threated to become context-dependent during the Cold War. For John Berger, the failure of postwar social realism forced a reconsideration of the revolutionary potential of Cubism and the capacity of art to escape the historical contexts of its production through modes of anticipatory and retrospective activation. And for W. G. Sebald, the different models photography and painting offered for writing enabled the development of a literary form that could memorialize the traumatic impact of the Holocaust without that trauma becoming the form of that literary memorialization. In conclusion, this book turns to the ways in which contemporary writers are using the work of these novelists as reference points in their own attempts to use art to engage the contemporary, inscribing them into their individual intellectual histories, as well as into the literary history that is the focus of this book. M O D E R N I S M ’ S A RT H I S TO RY For all that this is a work of literary history, it is informed throughout by art history. These are two fields which have had rather little to say to each other in the study of postwar culture when compared to studies of the Victorian or modernist periods, for example, and the exceptions that prove the rule, such as David J. Alworth’s use of the concept of site specificity to rethink the novel’s relationship to the social, show what can be gained from engaging with the highly elaborated aesthetic concepts developed by art critics in the postwar decades.61 Criticism, theory, and historiography were frequently intertwined in the writings of critics such as Clement Greenberg, Harold Rosenberg, Michael Fried, and Rosalind E. Krauss, or in the writings of artists such as Robert Morris, Adrian Piper, Robert Smithson, and the Art-Language group. The postwar historiography of modernist art is both a developing context for the ­writers under 61 Alworth, Site Reading: Fiction, Art, Social Form.

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discussion in subsequent chapters as well as the source for one of their assumptions—that a painting’s form can express a theory of h ­ istory— and it informs this book’s own claim for the particular importance of modernist painting to these writers. As such, one aspect of its tangled development requires a short exposition: why did this critical discourse come to view the meaning and value of painting as lying in its expression of a theory of history? What critical contortions had to happen for this to be a description of viewing a painting by Frank Stella? One part of what we were seeing was a kind of history, telescoped and assessed; and the other part was the registration of feelings generated by that historical condition. I never doubted the absoluteness of that history. It was out there, manifest in a whole progression of works of art, an objective fact to be analyzed. It had nothing to do with belief, or privately held fantasies about the past. Insofar as modernism was tied to the objective datum of that history, it had, I thought, nothing to do with ‘sensibility’.62

This description of what Rosalind E. Krauss claims a whole generation of critics saw in a whole generation of postwar artists achieves its effect through an act of defamiliarization. Visual modernism, seemingly characterized by its gradual expunging of the figuration that would represent history—Napoleon, a steam engine, a washerwoman—reveals in this expulsion a process of historical evolution that is illuminated by the form of each modernist work worthy of the name. Postwar art criticism developed what I call a peculiarly historicist modernism: a modernism which developed according to a necessary and ­teleological logic and whose individual manifestations—specific paintings and sculptures—were self-reflexive expressions of this theory of historical continuity through change. Although historicist versions of modernism were central to the criticism of figures like T. S. Eliot, in the postwar period this ‘[p]rofoundly historicist’ view of modernism, as Krauss has written, developed primarily out of Clement Greenberg’s criticism.63 Greenberg’s theory of modernism has been most frequently criticized for its awkward appropriation of Kant’s critique of judgement; that is, when it is not being slated for calcifying an American avant-garde into a sterile abstraction, participating in the bureaucratization of the senses, or facilitating American cultural imperialism in Europe.64 All of this is true, albeit to an extent, for 62 Rosalind E. Krauss, Perpetual Inventory (Cambridge, MA; London, 2010), 126. 63 Rosalind E. Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, MA; London, 1985), 1. 64  Diarmuid Costello, ‘Greenberg’s Kant and the Fate of Aesthetics in Contemporary Art Theory’, Journal of Aesthetics and Art History, 65/2 (2007), 217–28; Caroline A. Jones, Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg’s Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses (Chicago; London, 2006); Charles Harrison, Essays on Art & Language (Cambridge, MA; London,

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if essays like ‘Modernist Painting’ (1960) did all they were accused of one really would have to admire the power possessed by their author. This is not to claim that the criticism of Greenberg and his successors influenced the writers in this book, even if it was known to all of them in degrees of different mediation. Instead I argue that many of the concerns of postwar art history were foregrounded in their own ways by postwar writers: Beckett’s historicist explanation of form, Gaddis’s concern with the difference between art and objecthood, Berger’s rethinking of the belatedness of the avant-garde, Sebald’s use of visual readymades. If one aim of this book is to bring literary history into a closer relationship with the postwar art history of modernism, we first need a sense of what that art history is. If Greenberg’s writings are the beginning of that history, then that beginning is more prolific and diverse than is often recognized, with his art criticism embedded within discussions of literature, philosophy, Jewish identity, and a political journey, as he infamously wrote, where an ‘antiStalinism which started out more or less as Trotskyism turned into art for art’s sake’.65 Yet the continuities between these two positions lie behind his argument that visual form expressed historical continuity, and what Donald Kuspit called Greenberg’s historical determinism was noticed from his earliest critics onwards.66 ‘A superior consciousness of history— more precisely, the appearance of a new criticism of society, an historical criticism’ is what made ‘avant-garde culture’ possible.67 As T. J. Clark has written of this salvo from ‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch’ (1939), for ‘avant-garde culture’ we can read modernism, and for ‘historical criticism’ we can read ­ istorical Marxism.68 The following year Greenberg wrote that this superior h consciousness was expressed in modernism’s form, above all its development of abstraction. There is ‘nothing in the nature of abstract art which compels it to be so’; rather, its ‘imperative comes from history, from the age in conjunction with a particular moment reached in a particular ­tradition of art’.69 Tenuous as it is, this justification of abstraction is derived from a dynamic conjunction between the spheres of political economy, theorized along the lines of a fairly vulgar Marxism, and the sphere of artistic production. Twenty years later in ‘Modernist Painting’ (1960), the 1991), 1–28; Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, 101–64. 65 Quoted in Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4: Modernism with a Vengeance 1957–1969, ed. by John O’Brian (Chicago, 1993), 19. 66  Donal Kuspit, Clement Greenberg: Art Critic (Madison, 1979), 6. 67 Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 1: Perceptions and Judgments 1939–1944, ed. by John O’Brian (Chicago, 1986), 7. 68  Clark, ‘Clement Greenberg’s Theory of Art’, 139–56. 69 Greenberg, Perceptions and Judgments, 37.

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essence of modernism lies ‘in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence’, and ‘[i]t quickly emerged that the unique and proper area of competence of each art coincided with all that was unique in the nature of its medium’.70 Between these two positions a reduction occurs: a theory of historical determinism devised to explain changes in modes of production and cultural forms is compressed into explaining visual form and visual form alone. Modernism’s imperative no longer comes from history as a teleological process guided by a unifying principle, but from the history of a medium. Hence the curiously intense way in which a drip or a smudge expresses historical continuity—it is the only thing for Greenberg in modernity that can. The problem with this, as Michael Fried pointed out, was that once the nature or ‘essence’ of a medium was revealed, the historical process that was modernism could only enter an endgame where it cancelled itself out: if a modernist painting’s essence is the acknowledgement of its literal support, then as Greenberg was forced to admit, a tacked-up piece of canvas is conceivably a painting.71 Fried’s move to maintain modernism as a ­historical process was not less historicism but more. Both ‘Art and Objecthood’ (1967) and ‘Three American Painters’ (1965) were attempts to ‘historicize the concept of essence’ by turning to Cavell and Wittgenstein: modernist art thus revealed not only the historicity of social life but, more grandly, the historicity of ontological essence deflated to convention.72 The priority that historicist explanations of visual modernism acquired through Fried’s revision of Greenberg can be seen as one motivation for Krauss’s subsequent attempt to develop a self-professedly anti-historicist theory of modernism, defining it as a delimited set of possibilities generated out of structural oppositions between signifier and signified, figure and ground, or the look and the gaze, using the same structuralist tools to replay within American art history Claude Lévi-Strauss’s critique of Jean-Paul Sartre’s historicism two decades before.73 Much of the revisionist art histories of modernism of the 1980s can be seen as continuing this use of poststructuralist theory to dismantle Greenberg’s historicist theory of modernism—it was Lacan against the historicists, to appropriate Joan Copjec—although such work never quite seemed clear whether it was seeking predecessors in 70 Greenberg, Modernism with a Vengeance, 86. 71 Michael Fried, ‘Art and Objecthood’, in Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago; London, 1998), 151–2. 72  Fried, ‘An Introduction to My Art Criticism’, 38. 73 Rosalind E. Krauss, The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge, MA, 1993), 1–32; Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Savage Mind (London, 1972), 245–70.

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modernism for a properly postmodern present or re-conceptualizing the nature of modernism itself.74 Testifying to the slippery nature of the term, visual postmodernism was also theorized and criticized as a historicism, but this historicism was meant in a more specifically stylistic sense, an eclectic pastiche and parody of previous styles. Paradoxically, the accusation levelled by Jürgen Habermas against postmodern architecture, or by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh against Anselm Kiefer, was that to reduce style to mere signifiers of the historical past abandoned the motivated connection between history and style, and the sense of the historicity of form that was still seen, however strained, in postwar iterations of modernism.75 A more lasting disciplinary formation born out of the waning of modernist art history was visual studies, although if W. J. T. Mitchell is correct in arguing that visual studies began with Berger’s Ways of Seeing, it might be more accurate to say that visual studies arose out of the literary engagements with the legacy of modernism that are the subject of this book. One argument for the ­capacious terrain encompassed by visual culture is Mitchell’s claim that ‘the history of culture is in part the story of a protracted struggle for the dominance between pictorial and linguistic signs’.76 Visual studies has looked away from art in order to tell its version of that story, but this book argues that novelists’ engagements and struggles with art have been their way of developing narratives about history and the relationship of their work to it. So for all that this book is not about the postwar novel’s relationship to visual culture as a set of objects—television, CCTV, social media—it does pick up and extend the historicizing bent of visual studies as a discipline to make a methodological claim that comparative work on art and literature as well as on text and image should be informed by the differing histories of visual and verbal forms, and be aware of how these differences can be at the centre of literary responses to art. This emphasis on the difference between the visual and the verbal even in their interaction has been a second signal contribution of visual studies. Although claims for a ‘pictorial’ or ‘iconic turn’ themselves enact a periodizing move through declaring shifts in the relationship between visual and verbal—performing what they claim to be analysing—this book does draw on such work to push back against the

74  Joan Copjec, Read My Desire: Lacan Against the Historicists (Cambridge, MA, 1994). 75  Jürgen Habermas, ‘Modern and Postmodern Architecture’, in The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticism and the Historian’s Debate, trans. by Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge, 1989), 3–21; Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, ‘Figures of Authority, Ciphers of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European Painting’, October, 16, 1981, 39–68. 76 W. J. T. Mitchell, Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago; London, 1986), 43.

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‘linguistic turn’ as a totalizing context for the study of postwar literature.77 It is this difference between the visual and the verbal, its resistance to writing rather than its solicitation of allegorical reciprocity, that makes art an object of fascination to the writers in the following chapters. In returning to claims for the difference of ‘the visual’—no matter how qualified, nuanced, and focused on the dry technocracies of academic disciplines and journals as against what Greenberg saw as ‘the whole of what is truly alive in our culture’—visual studies and art history have returned to what was for decades dismissed as a central plank of a mystifying modernist ideology. One accusation central to these attacks was that modernist ideologues from Pater onwards turned historically contingent differences between artistic media into transcendental laws; in contrast, the chapters that follow document a range of engagements where the ­historicity of even the most abstract visual forms was acknowledged and embraced to think through the historicity of literary works. If a second accusation was that such attempts to demarcate different aesthetic media grounded their claims in an illusory separation between sensory ­modalities— as happens with Greenberg and Fried—the contingencies of corporeality, spectatorship, and perspective probed by these writers show that the visual can be figured as resistant to language without that resistance ignoring the basic phenomenological insight of the unity of sense perception or denying the situatedness of all viewing. Both these elements—a historicist rather than transcendental reading of visual form and the failure of the body to ground differences between aesthetic media—were central to Beckett’s engagement with visual art, and both in turn were part of a negotiation of the politics of aesthetics after the Second World War and of Beckett’s response to a previous generation’s modernism. That response has often been figured as a belated exhaustion of modernist aesthetics and techniques, and for this reason Beckett has long been seen as one the most important figures bridging modernism and postwar writing. This was equally true in his belated and exhausting embrace of his own version of a historicist modernism in order not to fantasize about an art cut free from the determinations of history, but to give that autonomy its own historical justification.

77  W. J. T. Mitchell, ‘The Pictorial Turn’, in Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago; London, 1994), 11–34; Keith Moxey, ‘Visual Studies and the Iconic Turn’, Journal of Visual Culture, 7/2 (2008), 131–46; Richard Rorty, The Linguistic Turn: Recent Essays in Philosophical Method (Chicago, 1967).

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1 Pig Vomit Beckett’s Art Historical Necessities In a 1981 conversation with the artist Avigdor Arikha, Samuel Beckett claimed that ‘[l]iterature and painting are like oil and water . . . like fire and water they are separated by a zone of evaporation’.1 These two similes condense into material terms the core assumptions underlying Beckett’s lifelong reflections on the relationship of visual art to his work. The first expresses the belief that in spite of repeated attempts to explain his writing in terms of painting, the two media are irreconcilably different, and it is this failure of one medium to translate into another that makes the attempt part of Beckett’s art of failing and going on. The zone the second simile posits as separating literature and painting harks back to an allusion in Beckett’s first work of fiction, Dream of Fair to Middling Women (1932), to ‘the profound antagonism latent in the neutral space that between victims of real needs is as irreducible as the zone of evaporation between damp and incandescence (We stole that one. Guess where)’.2 The answer? Proust’s Du côte de chez Swann (1913), and its description of what comes between consciousness and an external object as a ‘zone d’évaporation . . . qui m’empêchait de jamais toucher directement sa matière’ ‘(a zone of e­ vaporation . . . that prevented me from ever touching its substance directly)’.3 Proust’s ‘empêchement’, which Beckett elsewhere equated with a ‘rupture of the lines of communication’ that has left a ‘no man’s land’ between subject and object, became a key concept in Beckett’s postwar writings on art.4 In 1949 he wrote that Bram van Velde’s attempted refusal of figurative painting paralleled his turn in the Trilogy into ‘the only terrain accessible to the poet . . . the no man’s land he projects 1  Quoted in Anne Atik, How It Was: A Memoir of Samuel Beckett (London, 2001), 112. 2  Samuel Beckett, Dream of Fair to Middling Women (London, 1993), 191–2. 3  Marcel Proust, À la recherche du temps perdu, 4 vols. (Paris, 1987), i, 83; Marcel Proust, Remembrance of Things Past: Volume I, trans. by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin (London, 1981), 90. 4  Samuel Beckett, Disjecta: Miscellaneous Writings and a Dramatic Fragment (London, 1983), 70.

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round himself, rather as the flame projects its zone of evaporation’.5 Across decades, Beckett equated the zone between literature and painting with the zone between subject and object, with the resistance between artistic media replaying the resistance of the world to our consciousness. Beckett’s hostility towards the adaptation of his works from one ­medium to another, and his use of titles like Words and Music (1961), Film (1963), and Play (1965), suggest that the commitment to medium specificity underlying these reflections was central to his work. Philosophical ­interpretations of Beckett’s work have emphasized its tendency to focus on the distinct features of artistic media: Gilles Deleuze’s view that it exhausts the langues of the name, the voice, and the image; Alain Badiou’s argument that it aims to show ‘those functions to which writing can and should restrict itself ’; Theodor Adorno’s claim that it exemplifies ‘the tendency of modern art to make its own categories thematic through self-reflection’.6 Each of these thinkers saw Beckett’s thematizing of the medium as expressing one of modernism’s defining features. It was also, as we have seen in the Introduction, central to the historicist modernism theorized by Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. Like these critics, Beckett saw visual modernism as driven by a logic of internal formal evolution. In 1948 he wrote that ‘[t]he history of painting is the history of its relation to its object, a relation evolving, necessarily, first in terms of extension, then of penetration’, a history wherein ‘the instinctive shudder of painting from its limits is a shudder towards the confines of those limits’.7 In Beckett’s art criticism of the 1940s, this view of modernist form as determined by a necessary search for the limits of its medium was opposed to a different kind of necessity: Marxist humanism’s claim that all artistic forms were necessarily determined by a historical process ending in the ‘recognition of man by man’.8 Beckett’s encounter with Nazism in 1937 left him allergic to claims for historical necessity. As Mark Nixon notes, he recorded in his diary that the expressions ‘ “historical necessity” and “Germanic destiny” start the vomit moving upwards’.9 But a vomit, like a shudder, is also a necessary 5  2 March 1949, Samuel Beckett, The Letters of Samuel Beckett Volume 2: 1941–1956, ed. by Gordon Craig and others (Cambridge, 2011), 131. 6 Gilles Deleuze, ‘The Exhausted’, in Essays Clinical and Critical, trans. by Daniel W. Smith and Michael A. Greco (London, 1998), 152–74; Alain Badiou, On Beckett, ed. by Alberto Toscano and Nina Power (Manchester, 2003), 3; Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. by Robert Hullot-Kentor (London, 1997), 340. 7  Samuel Beckett, ‘The New Object’, Modernism/Modernity, 18/4 (2011), 878–9. 8  Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Humanism and Terror: The Communist Problem, trans. by John O’Neill (Brunswick, NJ, 2000), 116–17. 9  Quoted in Mark Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s German Diaries 1936–1937 (London, 2011), 87; 15 January 1937, Samuel Beckett, ‘German Diaries’, 1937, Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading.

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process: necessary but involuntary, purposeful yet without intention. It is one of the many reflexes, tics, and spasms that animate Beckett’s bodies, and which this chapter aims to show come to replace painting as a figure for a formal act expressive only ‘of its impossibility, of its obligation’.10 But it was only through an engagement with what Beckett saw as modernist painting’s foregrounding of medium specificity, the separation of the senses, and the problem of anthropomorphism that the compulsive body could come to occupy this position in his work. However, unlike Greenberg and Fried, Beckett did not see modernism’s evolution culminating in abstraction, since that made painting’s ‘lack of all relation’ to self and world the foundation of a new certainty.11 Instead, when asked why painting should refuse both figuration and abstraction and attempt to depict the ‘empêchement’ between subject and object, Beckett replied that the form of expression he was seeking could only be the product of an ‘unintelligible, unchallengeable need to splash colour on it [a canvas], even if that means vomiting one’s whole being’.12 Beckett’s writings on art thus oppose two kinds of art historical necessity: form’s necessary determination by history, and the necessity of form’s exhaustion of the limits of its medium in order to express a failed relation between subject and object, self and world. This wriggling between historical determinism and formal autonomy articulates what Steven Connor calls Beckett’s ‘finitive modernism’, one which recognizes that if ‘the assertion of a given historical essence is one evasion of this finite (because indefinite) freedom from determination, the identification with an absolute freedom, or illimitability, is another’.13 Beckett’s engagement with art was crucial for developing his sense of how the novel, as well as art, could manifest this ‘finitive modernism’ and the tensions it involves between the necessities of history and the necessities of form. Peter Boxall has written that Beckett’s work can seem ‘difficult to place historically . . . to be sealed into an historical and geographic cylinder’, a tendency cemented by his reception first as an existentialist humanist and second as a harbinger of the timeless aporias of deconstruction.14 In contrast, this chapter argues that Beckett’s art criticism of the 1940s engages and responds to specific postwar debates about Marxist humanism and the politics of aesthetics, and to the extent that this criticism explains the trilogy of Molloy (1951), Malone Dies (1951), and The Unnamable (1953), the same can be said of his fiction. Beckett’s study of the history of art during 10  Disjecta, 145. 11  9 March 1949, Letters 2, 140. 12  9 March 1949, Letters 2, 141. 13  Steven Connor, Beckett, Modernism, and the Material Imagination (Cambridge, 2014), 10. 14  Peter Boxall, Since Beckett: Contemporary Writing in the Wake of Modernism (London, 2009), 3.

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the 1930s and 1940s also enabled him to situate his work in relationship to a broader history of Renaissance humanism, a worldview Beckett saw as manifested in the symbolic form of single-point perspective. Tracing Beckett’s engagement with art provides us with a double lens on the relationship between his fiction and history. First, it enables us to precisely historicize his fiction in relation to debates about the politics of aesthetics in the 1940s. Second, because those debates were dominated by the demand that form should be determined by historical necessity, we can see in Beckett’s figuring of form as the product of necessary yet involuntary bodily acts an attempt to oppose the necessities of history with the necessity of form. The turn to the body was also a rejection of criticism, since it substituted theoretical explanations of form’s relationship to history with a figuring of form as the debased product of corporeal compulsions. By following Beckett’s mutating concerns with art historical necessities, we can see the Trilogy, especially The Unnamable, as thematizing in fiction what Beckett saw to be the key concerns of modernist painting. And we can see how his writings on art were a failure necessary for the writing of his Trilogy—but what could be a more Beckettian form of art criticism than that? T H E A C T O F A N O B S E S S I O N A L N E U ROT I C : B E C K E T T ’ S S T U D Y O F A RT In the diary Beckett kept on a six-month tour of Germany in 1936 and 1937, his notes on art became so extensive that towards the end of his travels he dismissed what he called his absurd diary with its lists of pictures as the act of an obsessional neurotic.15 As Mark Nixon has written, ‘[a]ny reader glancing at the German diaries could be forgiven for thinking that they were written by an art critic, and not a creative writer’.16 This is equally true for Beckett’s correspondence of the 1930s, especially with the poet and art historian Thomas MacGreevy. This neurotic listing of pictures was not wholly without motivation. Beckett had applied for a position at the National Gallery in London in 1933 and his aspirations towards a career as  an art historian are recorded in ‘Lightning Calculation’, a fragment written in London around September 1934.17 One Quigley, sharing Beckett’s address in S.W. 10, is working on an art historical monograph on 15  2 February 1937, Beckett, ‘German Diaries’. 16  Mark Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s German Diaries 1936–1937, 132. 17  Samuel Beckett, ‘Lightning Calculation’, 1934, UoR MS2902, Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading.

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The Pathetic Fallacy from Avercamp to Campendonk; unable to bring himself to enter the National Gallery to carry out his research, like many a scholar since he prevaricates instead with tea and biscuits. Neither Quigley nor Beckett completed this survey of the emotional expressivity of landscape from sixteenth-century Holland to Blaue Reiter modernism. Yet the notes Beckett took on his countless visits to museums across Europe and the views expressed in his correspondence enable us to piece together the distinctive set of judgements and interpretations that characterized Beckett’s view of the history of art. Beckett rejected the primacy accorded to the narrative painting of the Italian humanist tradition and its formal and philosophical centring of humankind in a world of coherent and knowable time and space. Instead he largely focused on Dutch landscape and genre, paintings he defined as still and unsaid because they could not be translated into narrative through ekphrasis, or because they presented the natural landscape as alien to and independent of humanity. This was the argument about the pathetic fallacy latent in Quigley’s monograph, and it continued into Beckett’s equally selective judgement of modernist painting, where Cézanne’s work was seen as realizing painting’s capacity as medium to express the independence of the natural world from the human subject. Over and against what he called in his diary the impeccable tedium of French painting between 1900 and 1910—Fauvism and Cubism—Beckett turned to German Expressionism for the way in which, as he saw it, painters like Franz Marc raised the possibility of a visual form that would express (or fail to express) the no-man’s land between subject that object that would become the focus of his postwar art criticism.18 As James Knowlson has written, Beckett’s study of art history began in the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin, where ‘he was weaned on the Gallery’s eclectic collection of Old Masters and developed an abiding passion for seventeenth-century Dutch painting’.19 This preference can be seen in the names that appear most frequently in his obsessional lists: Hendrick Avercamp, Adriaen Brouwer, Aelbert Cuyp, Adam Elsheimer, Dirck Hals, Frans Hals, Meindert Hobbema, Salomon van Ruysdael, Jacob van Ruisdael, Hercules Seghers, Gerard ter Borch, Jan van Goyen, and Jan Vermeer. His knowledge of their lives and works was drawn in part from R. H. Wilenski’s An Introduction to Dutch Art (1929), which he read in 1933.20 Beckett’s notes were mostly directed to these painters’ landscape and genre pieces, and although often brief, they reveal something of what 18  22 November 1936, Beckett, ‘German Diaries’. 19  James Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (London, 1996), 57. 20 Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s German Diaries 1936–1937, 133.

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Beckett saw in these paintings. In a visit to the Hamburger Kunsthalle in 1936, Beckett pinpointed the historical novelty of how fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Flemish and Dutch artists treated landscape. Comparing the work of Albrecht Altdorfer and Adam Elsheimer, he wrote in his diary that Altdorfer was a revelation since the sacred subjects were a pretext for landscape, unlike in Elsheimer’s work. In Altdorfer’s religious paintings, literary narratives like the Flight into Egypt are the pretext for the presenting landscape as a setting for a story, unlike in Elsheimer’s night landscapes, which merely show, as Beckett noted, water, moon, shepherds, fire, and a glade.21 Instead of drawing out the narrative Altdorfer presents, Beckett lists the elements in Elsheimer’s static scene. The merely generic and descriptive titles of the paintings recorded by Beckett on other visits to the Hamburger Kunsthalle give a sense of these paintings’ lack of narrative incident: Hugellandschaft, Winterlandschaft, Hirtenlandschaft, or simply Landschaft.22 This emancipation from narrative defined sixteenth- and seventeenthcentury Dutch landscape. In the words of Wolfgang Stechow, once landscape painting ‘had shed—with what after all are few exceptions—its bonds with religion, mythology, and allegory, it was landscape and little else’.23 These were part of the larger category of genre pieces, first defined by Denis Diderot: ‘One calls genre painters, without distinction, those who busy themselves with flowers, fruits, animals, woods, forests, mountains, as well as those who borrow their scenes from common and domestic life’.24 Depictions of common people and objects made such paintings resistant to discursive narrativization and the communication of a moral— what flower ever undertook the biblical flight into Egypt?—and therefore they occupied the lowest place in the neoclassical hierarchy of genres. Beckett described other works in similar terms. In his diary he praised Giorgione’s Self-Portrait (c.1510) in Brunswick for its profound reticence, and its quality of what he called the unsaid.25 He also used the concepts of stillness and the unsaid to praise the more modern work of Willem Grimm and Karl Ballmer, an equation which associated the lack of narrative in a still image with its inability to be translated into words or speech.26 That the representation of movement in a visual image is the condition for its 21  18 December 1936, Beckett, ‘German Diaries’. 22  13 November 1936, Beckett, ‘German Diaries’. 23  Wolfgang Stechow, Dutch Landscape Painting of the Seventeenth Century (London, 1966), 11. 24  Quoted in Christopher Comer and Wolfgang Stechow, ‘The History of the Term Genre’, Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin, 33 (1975), 89. 25  6 December 1936, Beckett, ‘German Diaries’. 26  26 November 1936, Beckett, ‘German Diaries’.

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translation into verbal narrative through ekphrasis has been central to European art theory since Vasari’s Lives (1550–68), which Beckett owned, and was further emphasized in Lessing’s Laocöon, which Beckett referenced in a discussion of Joyce in Munich around this time.27 In Beckett’s own time, both Aby Warburg’s theory of the Pathosformel and Freud’s i­nterpretation of ‘The Moses of Michelangelo’ (1914) were based on the association between the portrayal of frozen movement and the capacity of an image to be translated into a verbal narrative.28 Beckett’s interpretations work within these longstanding frameworks whilst reversing their terms of value: what is praised is the still image, the unsaid that resists translation through ekphrasis. These oppositions were made clear in a note on the optical relations in Vermeer’s Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window (1657–9) in Dresden.29 This painting presents an asymmetry between optical relations and verbal narrative: the letter the woman reads is hidden, leaving the viewer with nothing to do other than to trace the relations of seeing and invisibility around which the painting is constructed. What Beckett’s interest in Dutch genre shows is an interest in visual images that resist translation into words, that emphasize the difference between painting and literature, and thus generate different ways of writing about the visual than narrative ekphrasis. As Beckett wrote to MacGreevy after his trip to Germany: ‘I used never to be happy with a picture till it was literature, but now that need is gone’.30 Only being happy with a picture if we can turn it into literature, Svetlana Alpers has argued, is a legacy of the fact that the interpretative practices of academic art history were developed in response to Italian humanist painting, a mode of picturing defined by ‘its susceptibility to such narrative evocations—to the rhetorical device known by the name of ekphrasis’.31 Although more recent discussions of ekphrasis have attempted to expand its meaning to include ‘the verbal representation of visual representation’, or even ‘a fundamental tendency in all linguistic expression’, Alpers has argued that ekphrasis has always meant a specifically narrative translation 27  Dirk Van Hulle and Mark Nixon, Samuel Beckett’s Library (2013), 219; 26 March 1937, Beckett, ‘German Diaries’. 28 Aby Warburg, ‘Dürer and Italian Antiquity’, in The Renewal of Pagan Antiquity: Contributions to the Cultural History of the Italian Renaissance (Los Angeles, CA, 1999), 729–30; Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Volume XIII (1913–1914): Totem and Taboo and Other Works, trans. by James Strachey (London, 1955). 29  5 February 1937, Beckett, ‘German Diaries’. 30  28 November 1936, Samuel Beckett, The Letters of Samuel Beckett Volume 1: 1929–1940, ed. by Lois More Overbeck and Martha Dow Fehsenfeld (Cambridge, 2009), 388. 31  Svetlana Alpers, ‘Describe or Narrate? A Problem in Realistic Representation’, New Literary History, 8/1 (1976), 17.

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of a visual image into verbal representation.32 The contrast between narrative pictures susceptible to ekphrasis and the ‘descriptive’ art of Dutch genre, with its detailed rendering of individual objects without an implied narrative or central perspective, brings out deep-seated assumptions about how we think pictures should mean: ‘Time and again the hierarchy of mind over sense and of educated viewers over ignorant ones has been summoned to round out the argument for narration with a blast at an art that delights the eyes’.33 Beckett had little interest in the narrative art influenced by the Italian Renaissance, writing to MacGreevy of his ‘impatience with the immensely competent bullies and browbeaters and highwaymen and naggers, the Rembrandts & Halses and Titians and Rubenses, the Tarquins of art’, wondering if it is ‘a pettiness to move away from the art that takes me by the scruff of the neck’, suggesting an aversion to the demands of a narrative that controls the viewer’s interpretation. He was just as d ­ ismissive of Panofsky’s narrative-based approach to pictorial interpretation, dismissing it as ‘notre iconographie de quatre sous’ (‘our three-penny iconography’).34 Beckett’s preference for genre over narrative painting again saw him reversing the values of academic art history, privileging in his responses to art sense over mind, ignorance over education, and direct appeal to the fleshy eye over the unfolding of a narrative. This was a distinctively modernist reading of art history. Wilenski—and indeed Proust—saw Dutch painting, especially Vermeer, as the ‘heralds of the Modern Movement of our day’, and Roland Barthes explains why: ‘To paint so lovingly these meaningless surfaces, and to paint nothing else—that is already a “modern” esthetic of silence [sic]’.35 This preference for genre painting’s aesthetic of silence shows that Beckett’s judgements on the history of art were part of his own modernist aesthetic of the ‘unsaid’. If a painting is to narrate a story, it needs a space in which to narrate that story, and as Michael Baxandall has shown, the development of Albertian perspective was driven by the need for a coherent space in which to present Christian narratives.36 Reciprocally, pictures structured according to singlepoint perspective relate their objects in potential narratives. As Rosalind E. Krauss has written: 32 W. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation (Chicago, IL, 1994), 152; 153. 33  Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing: Dutch Art in the Seventeenth Century (Chicago, IL, 1983), xxi. 34 Beckett, Disjecta, 118. 35 R. H. Wilenski, An Introduction to Dutch Art (London, 1929), xix; Roland Barthes, ‘The World as Object’, in Critical Essays (Evanston, IL, 1972), 3. 36  Michael Baxandall, Giotto and the Orators: Humanist Observers of Painting in Italy and the Discovery of Pictorial Composition, 1350–1450 (Oxford, 1971).

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Perspective is the visual correlate of causality—that one thing follows the next in space according to a rule. In that sense, despite differences in ­historical development, it can be likened to the literary tradition of the omniscient narrator and conventional plot . . . perspectival space carr[ies] with it the meaning of narrative: a succession of events leading up to and away from this moment; and within that temporal succession—given as a spatial analogue— [is] secreted the ‘meaning’ of both that space and those events.37

It was precisely because of the way single-point perspective organized time and space into rational relationships of cause and effect, independent of yet always in theory knowable to a disembodied spectator, that Panofsky saw it as the symbolic form of modernity and the humanist subject, or what Foucault called the regime of ‘Classical representation’.38 Beckett’s view of perspectival space, and his view of its associations with narrative and humanism, is best shown by a letter written some ten years after viewing Antonello da Messina’s Saint Sebastian (1477–9) in Germany. Recalling the painting’s ‘[p]ure space by dint of mathematics, tiling, flagstones rather, black and white, with long Mantegna style foreshortenings’—a technique emphasizing single-point perspective—Beckett saw ‘the whole thing invaded, eaten into by the human [mangé par le humain]. In front of such a work, such a victory over the reality of disorder, over the pettiness of heart and mind, it is hard not to go and hang yourself ’. The bleeding and eroticized body of Saint Sebastian is realized within the ordered space of perspective; yet if this is what realizes the humanist subject, it shows ‘the illusion of the human and the fully realized’.39 This is an illusion as absurd as the compatibility of ‘distinguished conation and utilitarian splendour’, of will and reason, that characterized for Beckett a rumoured ­reconciliation of André Breton and Jean-Paul Sartre in 1948, evidence of how, as is common in his postwar criticism, his engagement with art enabled him to place his critique of humanist politics in a longer historical and aesthetic context.40 Beckett’s study of modern art in the 1930s was shaped by many of the same ‘neurotic obsessions’. Cézanne was the central figure in his historicist modernism. He completed a process of formal evolution in the medium of painting where its inability to represent the passing of time, which for Beckett defined human subjectivity, became the source of a new ability to provide a non-anthropomorphic view of the world, and Cézanne’s work also showed how these changes in visual form were related to technological modernity. In 1934 Beckett wrote of the ‘relief [of ] the Mont Ste. Victoire 37 Krauss, Perpetual Inventory, 123. 38  Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form (New York, 1991); Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (London, 2002), 3–18. 39  27 July 1948, Beckett, Letters 2, 86. 40  27 July 1948, Beckett, Letters 2, 86.

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after all the anthropomorphised landscape—van Goyen, Avercamp, the Ruysdaels, Hobbema, even Claude, Wilson & Chrome Yellow Esq., or paranthropomorphised by Watteau . . . after all the landscape “promoted” to the emotions of the hiker, postulated as concerned with the hiker (what an impertinence, worse than Aesop & the animals)’. ‘Cézanne’, he declared, ‘seems to have been the first to see landscape & state it as material of a strictly peculiar order, incommensurable with all human expressions whatsoever’. He did so because he understood ‘the dynamic intrusion to be himself & so landscape to be something by definition unapproachably alien, unintelligible arrangement of atoms, not so much ruffled by the kind attentions of the Reliability Joneses’. The definition of subjectivity as  a ‘dynamic intrusion’ into the material world shows how, as in his ­interpretation of Old Masters, Beckett’s criticism focused on time and movement, what he called the ‘discrepancy between that which cannot stay still for its phases & that which can’: subject and object, self and world. This was overcome by Cézanne working with what was specific to painting in contrast to photography and cinema, unlike the ‘Impressionists darting about & whining that the scene wouldn’t rest easy!’ and the ‘snapshot puerilities of Manet & Cie’.41 By presenting a static landscape rendered in atomistic dabs of paint that was in no way a vehicle for the emotions of a human subject living in time, Cézanne showed there was no ‘possibility of relationship, friendly or unfriendly, with the unintelligible . . . precisely the absence of a rapport that was all right for Rosa or Ruysdael’, artists of the past.42 This seemingly paradoxical expression of the absence of relation— the task Beckett set himself and which became the rock on which his postwar attempts at theorizing foundered—was through Cézanne historicized as a departure from the art and techniques of previous centuries. His work was ‘the one bright spot in a mechanistic age—the deanthropomophizations of the artist’.43 If visual forms expressed the historicity of our understanding of nature, they also expressed the historicity of our understanding of ourselves, and the fact that Cézanne had begun to dehumanize the self is one reason why the revival of humanism after the war would be the target of Beckett’s intense criticism. Beckett’s interest in German Expressionism during the 1930s was also driven by what he saw as its attempts to depict the lack of relation between subject and object, rather than what he later described as the absurd idea of a painting liberated from the object as in the abstraction of Kandinsky. That shirks the more difficult task of representing the conditions because 41  8 September 1934, Beckett, Letters 1, 222–3. 42  16 September 1934, Beckett, Letters 1, 227. 43  8 September 1934, Beckett, Letters 1, 223.

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of which the object evades representation, those concerning time and the human body Cézanne was grappling with. While viewing extensive ­examples of work by Karl Schmitt-Rotluff, Oskar Kokoschka, Emil Nolde, and Edvard Munch, Beckett acquired a copy of Franz Marc’s Briefe, Aufzeichnungen und Aphorismen (1920) and took a page of notes on Marc’s attempt to outline a theory of a non-anthropomorphic aesthetics.44 Marc saw animals and objects as infused with their own vital attributes which painters like Picasso obscured by projecting their own subjective ideas onto the world. Beckett had little time for the ‘velleities of vitalism’, seeing it as just another form of anthropomorphism, but what he recognized was that this was Marc’s attempt to articulate the task of painting how objects relate to one another independent of the perceiving subject.45 As Matthew Feldman notes, Beckett identified Marc’s attempt to paint the alienation between subject and object with the ‘no man’s land’ of his 1934 essay on ‘Recent Irish Poetry’ that had opened up because of a modernist ‘rupture of the lines of communication’.46 If these notes on Expressionism relate to Beckett’s literary criticism, they also relate to his readings in philosophy during the 1930s, which as Feldman has shown were also focused on subject–object relations, and the relationship between perception, movement, and time. If these ‘“years of learning” during the 1930s culminate with philosophically complex recriminations against the utility of knowledge’, as Feldman argues, this engagement with Expressionism shows that Beckett was increasingly seeing modern art as realizing these concerns in forms closer to his own writing.47 Beckett’s postwar art criticism attempted to explain more fully his historicist theory of visual modernism; his correspondence attempted to relate this theory to this fiction. But both criticism and fiction would occur in a very different historical situation than the 1930s, one whose difference Beckett used his criticism to directly address. ‘ U N A M AT E U R ( É C L A I R É ) ’ : B E C K E T T T H E A RT C R I T I C Beckett wrote three pieces of art criticism in the 1940s, his only significant contributions to the genre: ‘La peinture des van Velde ou le monde et le pantalon’ (1946), ‘The New Object/Peintres de l’empêchement’, (1948), 44  19 November 1936, Beckett, ‘German Diaries’. 45  8 September 1934, Beckett, Letters 1, 222. 46  Matthew Feldman, Beckett’s Books (London, 2006), 16; Beckett, Disjecta, 70. 47 Feldman, Beckett’s Books, 117.

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and the co-authored ‘Three Dialogues: Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit’ (1949).48 They were part of a wider move towards publishing in French periodicals, with Beckett’s writing and translations appearing in in Les Temps Modernes and Fontaine as well as the briefly revived Transition. While these publications were in part driven by financial hardship, they were also a strategic and ultimately successful entry into what Anna Boschetti has analysed as the field of intellectual journals in post-Liberation France, journals which were conduits for the literary politics that Andrew Gibson has argued are a necessary context for interpreting Beckett’s postwar writing.49 The period between 1945 and 1949 saw many of Beckett’s major works written in what he later called a ‘frenzy of writing’, and his art criticism has rightly been seen as offering a critical accompaniment to those works.50 Situating this criticism within the field of French periodicals shows the extent to which Beckett’s criticism participated in debates surrounding the politics of aesthetics and attacked with particular vehemence the resurgence of a Marxist humanism, and the ways in which his established concerns with temporality, anthropomorphism, and the historicity of modernism were related to these new political positions. It also shows Beckett’s criticism embroiled in debates beyond France, his interpretation of visual modernism now swept up in transatlantic Cold War cultural politics, so that Beckett’s critique of Marxism left him awkwardly positioned in French debates in relation to the American recoding of abstract painting as the antithesis of socialist politics. It is difficult to say which position Beckett disagreed with more. His dismissal of the practice of art criticism in ‘Three Dialogues’ should be seen as motivated by a rejection of this political and aesthetic polarization—a move which itself is a significant form of self-historicization—as well as by the realization that modernist painting was never going to provide an instance of ‘the expression that there is nothing to express . . . together with the obligation to express’. Although the turn away from art that ends the ‘Three Dialogues’ might seem an admission that The Unnamable realized what couldn’t be theorized, ‘Three Dialogues’ was written simultaneously with its opening section, with the reasons for Beckett’s rejection of art directly part of the genesis of that novel. 48  Samuel Beckett, ‘La peinture des van Velde ou le monde et le pantalon’, Cahiers d’art, 20–1 (1946), 349–59; Samuel Beckett, ‘Peintres de l’empêchement’, Derrière le Miroir, 11–12 (1948), 3–7.; Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit, ‘Three Dialogues: Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit’, Transition Forty-Nine, 5 (1949), 97–103. 49  Anna Boschetti, The Intellectual Enterprise: Sartre and Les Temps Modernes, trans. by Richard McCleary (Evanston, IL, 1988); Andrew Gibson, ‘French Beckett and French Literary Politics 1945–52’, in The Edinburgh Companion to Samuel Beckett and the Arts, ed. by S. E. Gontarski (Edinburgh, 2014), 103–17. 50  Quoted in Knowlson, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, 353.

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What kind of an art critic was Beckett? ‘Les peinture de van Veldes ou le monde et le pantalon’, written in January 1945, opens with an i­ nordinate amount of anxiety about this question. His essay is not ‘criticism, strictly speaking’ (‘la critique proprement dite’), the best of which is as subtle as ‘hysterectomies with a trowel’ (‘hystérectomies à la truelle’), nor does it invoke the art historical authority once sought by Quigley—that profession is excoriated for its botched restorations and attributions.51 His is the position of an ‘(enlightened) amateur’ (‘amateur (éclairé)’); or rather a ‘pig’ who doesn’t seek improvement, who ‘only thinks of his pleasure’, who ‘demands nothing but his pleasure’ (or to ejaculate), but for whom ‘the impossible is there to prevent it’. (‘Il ne veut pas s’instruire, le cochon, ni devenir meilleur. Il ne pense qu’à son plaisir . . . Il ne demande qu’à jouir. L’impossible est fait pour l’en empêcher’) (120). Jean Michel-Rabaté has perceptively pointed out that this desire to think like a pig, to transvalue enlightened aesthetic experience to debased sexual pleasure (to move from Kant to de Sade), and the figuration of the impossible as the limit of aesthetic experience bears close comparison with Georges Bataille’s concept of sovereignty, where ‘the act of thinking turns into bodily production whether by laughter or excretion’.52 Yet the presence of Beckett’s key concept of ‘empêchment’ as the reason why art can only solicit base pleasure shows how this impossibility develops out of Beckett’s own sense that the resistance of painting to language figures the resistance between subject and object. The modernist genealogy of Beckett’s ‘empêchment’ can illuminate in turn why the transgressive informe (formlessness) of Bataille’s base materialism, its endless production of difference and heteronomy, can end up looking like the necessary underside of modernist autonomy.53 In the context of what Beckett called the ‘2nd post-liberation number’ of the Cahiers d’Art, this wallowing in the pig-like pleasure of art and claiming the impossibility of extracting a lesson from painting contrasts sharply with the presentation by the editor, Christian Zevros, of a selection of texts from Lenin and Stalin, which he promises will reveal a vision of ‘the future human condition’ (‘la future condition humaine’).54 This vision of a human condition is what Beckett’s critical pig attacks. According to Beckett, Bram and Geer van Velde’s painting reveals the impossibility of any concept of a human condition. For every painter, ‘the thing is impossible’ (‘la chose est impossible’), and ‘it is from the 51 Beckett, Disjecta, 118. All further references in the main body of the text. 52  Jean-Michel Rabaté, Think Pig!: Beckett at the Limit of the Human (New York, 2016), 21. 53  Rosalind E. Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois, Formless: A User’s Guide (New York, 1997). 54  31 October 1945, Beckett, Letters 2, 24; Christian Zevros, ed., ‘Des problèmes de la création littéraire et artistique d’après quelques textes de Lénine et de Staline’, Cahiers d’art, 20–1 (1946), 341–2.

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representation of this impossibility that modern painting has drawn a fair proportion of its best effects’ (‘C’est d’ailleurs de la représentations de cette impossibilité que la peinture moderne a tiré une bonne partie de ses meilleurs effets’) (129). The particular impossibility the van Veldes try to represent is time. Building on his claims about Cézanne, Beckett defines the entire history of visual representation in terms of a problematic of time: ‘For what have the representative arts always thirsted? To want to stop time by representing it’ (‘A quoi les arts représentatifs se sontils acharnés, depuis toujours? A vouloir arrêter le temps, en le représentant’) (126). It is impossible to perceive and thus represent any object due to the inescapable condition of time, and the two painters bifurcate in their attempt to represent either ‘the thing immobile in the void’ (‘[l]a chose immobile dans le vide’), on the one hand, or the passing of time, on the other. In failing to do so they reveal the dilemma facing painting: ‘How to represent change?’ (‘Comment représenter le changement?’) (129). Unsurprisingly, Beckett pronounces they fail to do so, but just as in Paulus Potter’s painting of urinating sheep, their failure reminds us that our inability to represent our condition of being in time is a revelation less of a human condition than a reminder of our base animality. Thus the turn Beckett makes in conclusion: ‘To finish, let us speak of something else, let us speak of the “human” ’ (‘Pour finir parlons d’autre chose, parlons de l’“humain” ’) (131). This is a word, Beckett notes, that has suddenly reappeared in postwar aesthetic debates—exemplified by the journal in which his essay was published—and he is excoriatingly cynical about its presence, calling it ‘a word, and no doubt a concept also, that is reserved for the time of great massacres’ (‘un vocable, et sans doute un concept aussi, qu’on réserve pour les temps des grand massacres’) (131). For Beckett, this return of humanism threatens to destroy all art and thought for the next fifty years; that either should have anything to do with the human is ‘appalling’ (‘épouvantable’). Beckett was entirely correct in his diagnosis that humanism had returned with a vengeance to postwar French criticism. Yet as early as October 1945, the Surrealist Pierre Naville was complaining of the term’s nebulosity: ‘Today, unfortunately, the term humanism is used to designate philosophical schools of thought, not according to two meanings, but according to three, four, five, or six. Nowadays, everybody is a humanist’.55 Stefanos Geroulanos describes this postwar period as witnessing a ‘short-lived humanist reconciliation’, prompting a sequence of critiques by Maurice Blanchot, Martin Heidegger, and Jean Hyppolite, culminating in the theoretical 55  Quoted in Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism, trans. by John Kulka (New Haven, CT; London, 2007), 62.

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anti-humanism of Althusser and Lacan in the 1960s.56 One motivation for Althusser’s re-reading of Marx was the fact that, as Naville also perceived, in the immediate post-Liberation era, ‘[e]ven certain Marxists, who pride themselves on being classical rationalists, are [now] humanists in a diluted sort of way, stripped of the liberal ideas of the previous century’.57 This stemmed from the overwhelming prestige and moral authority that the Parti Communiste Français enjoyed as a result of its leading role in the Resistance, with the P.C.F. winning the largest share of votes in the Assembly elections on 21 October 1945 and 10 November 1946, a dominance lasting until the Communists were expelled from government on 5 May 1947.58 This new Marxist humanism was also prompted by a resurgence of interest in Marx’s early writings, especially the ‘1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts’, which claimed: ‘Communism as completed naturalism is humanism and as completed humanism is naturalism’.59 As Mark Poster has pointed out, French editions of this text ‘did not appear until 1937 and even then it was ignored until after the Liberation . . . [thus] for political and textual reasons, which were interconnected, no real reading of Marx was possible in France until after the Second World War’.60 Another significant philosophical influence on thinkers such as Sartre and Merleau-Ponty was what Vincent Descombes has called the humanist interpretation of Hegel developed by Alexandre Kojève during the 1930s. Kojève’s replacement of the Spirit with Man in his ‘anthropological version of Hegelian philosophy [italics original]’ ultimately requires ‘[t]he identity of subject and object . . . [and that] man (subject) would encounter nothing outside of himself (in the object) to impede the realisation of his projects’. This was an inverted theology: ‘Humanist atheism reclaims them [divine attributes] for the human subject, who in this way becomes the true God. It is precisely this substitution, whereby everywhere the word “Man” is written to replace the word “God”, which defines humanism [italics original]’.61 Judith Butler has argued that the ‘effort at anthropogenesis elaborated by Kojève finds existential transcription in the Sartrian contention that all human desire is a function of the desire to become God. But for Sartre,

56  Stefanos Geroulanos, An Atheism That Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought (Stanford, CA, 2010), 210. 57  Quoted in Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism, 62. 58  Jean-Pierre Rioux, The Fourth Republic, 1944–1958 (Cambridge, 1987), 54. 59  Karl Marx, Karl Marx: Selected Writings, ed. by David McLellan, 2nd edn (Oxford, 2000), 97. 60  Mark Poster, Existential Marxism in Postwar France: From Sartre to Althusser (Princeton, NJ, 1977), 42. 61 Vincent Descombes, Modern French Philosophy, trans. by L.  Scott-Fox and J. M. Harding (Cambridge, 1980), 27; 28; 29.

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this desire is bound to fail’.62 At the time, however, Sartre stressed that this refusal ‘to grant man an eternally established nature’ did not result in the quietism decried by his critics on the left; rather, ‘existentialism is no mournful delectation but a humanist philosophy of action, effort, combat, and solidarity [italics original]’.63 In his October 1945 lecture ‘Existentialism Is a Humanism’, Sartre stressed the transcendental subjectivity of the universal human condition: ‘[s]ince man is this transcendence, and grasps objects only in relation to such transcendence, he himself is the core and focus of this transcendence’.64 Subject and object were reconciled by the former’s engaged projects within a teleological ­historical process. Beckett encountered Sartre’s humanist philosophy of art in the criticism of Francis Ponge, which he translated for an issue of Transition Forty-Nine in 1949. In his ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’ lecture and elsewhere, Sartre had praised Ponge’s ‘Notes Premières de l’Homme’, publishing it in the inaugural issue of Les Temps Modernes in 1945, in which Ponge prophesied a humanized deification of man: ‘We must return the idea of God to the idea of man. And simply live’ (‘Il faut réintégrer l’idée de Dieu à l’idée de l’homme. Et simplement vivre’). In a phrase quoted by Sartre in his lecture, Ponge declared: ‘Man is the future of man’ (‘L’homme est l’avenir de l’homme’).65 In the article translated by Beckett, ‘Braque ou l’art ­moderne comme événement et plaisir’, originally published in Action in January 1947, Ponge drew on Marx’s ‘Theses on Feuerbach’ to define the role of the artist as (in Beckett’s first and only translation of Marx) ‘one who in no wise explains the world, but changes it [italics original]’. For Ponge, by not simply representing objects in the world but by creating new forms of viewing them, Braque ‘presents you with the future. The future of nature, the future of man’. Braque’s objects ‘draw us forth from our night, forth from obsolete man (and its so-called humanism), to reveal to us, Man, the order to come’.66 Ponge was clear on the politics of his aesthetics, and of the positions defining the critical field in which Beckett was writing, declaring himself the ‘disciple and friend’ of the ‘political realists’ of the P.C.F.67 Beckett’s comments on translating Ponge are revealing. 62 Judith Butler, Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France (New York, 1987), 95. 63  Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘A More Precise Characterization of Existentialism’, in The Writings of Jean-Paul Sartre, 2 vols. (Evanston, IL, 1974), i, 157; 160. 64 Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism, 52. 65  Francis Ponge, ‘Notes Premièrs de l’Homme’, Les Temps Modernes, 1/1 (1945), 73; 77. My translation. 66  Francis Ponge, ‘Braque, or Modern Art as Event and Pleasure’, trans. by Samuel Beckett, Transition Forty-Nine, 5 (1949), 45–6. 67  Ponge, ‘Braque, or Modern Art as Event and Pleasure’, 43.

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Ponge on Braque It is revolting. ‘Braque is now over 60 and the world is beginning to fit into his groove’!!. What oft was thought. For someone who is a pupil of the realists in politics he is pretty unsteady on his feet. He has a struggle to get out of that groove of his, making great play with ‘muffled’ verbs and parentheses. What a relief to know that we are back for good and all from the fête galante, and pitched, naked once more, in front of the dead fish (and the lumps of coal).68

The difference between the two writers is clear, as is Beckett’s understanding of Ponge’s politics. This is underlined by the contemptuous reference to the ‘dead fish’, an allusion to André Fougeron’s Parisiennes aux Marché (1948), the scandal surrounding which was reported in the ‘Documents’ section of Transition Forty-Nine that Beckett was also translating. According to Serge Guilbaut, the rotting fish that Fougeron used to symbolize the food shortages affecting postwar Paris became a reference point in what became known as ‘La Bataille réalisme-abstraction’ in the immediate postwar years.69 These are the debates Beckett’s criticism is participating  in, contrasting his anti-humanist art of failure against Ponge and Fougeron’s demand for a committed Marxist realism. In his fiction Beckett had already contrasted unsteady feet with triumphalist Marxism. In ‘The End’, written in early 1946, as the narrator lies begging on a street corner, pissing, shitting, and scratching himself, he witnesses a ‘strange scene’, a man bellowing: ‘Union . . . brothers . . . Marx . . . capital . . . bread and butter . . . love’. He is dismissed with a quip that parodies the Marxist humanism of Ponge: ‘He must have been a religious fanatic, I could find no other explanation. Perhaps he was an escaped lunatic. He had a nice face, a little on the red side’.70 Beckett’s second essay on the van Veldes saw his argument for modern art’s necessary representation of its own impossibility, rather than art’s necessary determination by the historical emergence of the true human subject after capitalism, caught up in a more international battle about the politics of aesthetics. ‘Peintres de l’empêchement’, written in French and translated by Beckett himself, was commissioned to accompany an ­exhibition of the van Veldes’ paintings in Samuel Kootz Gallery in New York in March 1948, where it appeared titled ‘The New Object’. The French version appeared the following June in Derrière le miroir, the house journal of Galerie Maeght. Galerie Maeght had arranged the New York exhibition as part of an exchange with Kootz, who in return provided 68  1 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 122. 69 Serge Guilbaut, Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris, and Montreal, 1945–1964 (Cambridge, MA; London, 1990), 44. 70  Samuel Beckett, The Expelled/The Calmative/The End/First Love, ed. by Christopher Ricks (London, 2009), 52.

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paintings for the first exhibition of Abstract Expressionism in France at  Galerie Maeght, proudly supported, as the catalogue declared, by the ‘United States Information Services’. Guilbaut has written how this exchange programme, coming in the wake of France’s controversial acceptance of the Marshall Plan, was widely perceived by French art critics as ‘part of a wide-ranging and all but unstoppable cultural offensive against France’, with Galerie Maeght being an especially prominent advocate for the embrace of American cultural sponsorship.71 Harold Rosenberg wrote the essay corresponding to Beckett’s in which he declared that the work of Robert Motherwell, Adolph Gottlieb, and others was the ‘fruit of an individual’ (‘le fruit d’individus’) who aspires to ease the ‘future of exchange among men’ (‘future d’échange entre hommes’); an art that did not make modern painting ‘a tributary of a philosophical conscience or a social ideal’ (‘tributaire d’une conscience philosophique ou d’un idéal social’), and which did so in ‘the international language of twentieth-century painting, a language which does not belong to one country, race, or cultivated spirit (although associated above all with Paris)’ (‘le langage international de la peinture du XXe siècle, langage qui n’est pas celui d’un pays, d’une race ou d’un esprit cultivé (bien qu’associé par dessus tout avec Paris))’.72 Rosenberg’s recruitment of modernist abstraction as an expression of individuality in opposition to ideology, a universal language rather than a vehicle of national interests, partook in a pervasive strategy of Cold War cultural politics, where previously established claims for aesthetic a­ utonomy, which were often complex strategies for negotiating heteronomy, were pressed into the service of a genuine belief in liberalism, and a more disingenuous policy of covert cultural intervention. Beckett’s essay opens as if directly rebutting Rosenberg: ‘We are now freely informed . . . that the Paris school, whatever that means, is finished, whatever that means’.73 In contrast, he proposes with no small irony that the van Veldes show that the Paris School has a ‘promising future before it’ because ‘the same mourning carries them away from each other, the mourning of the object’ (‘le même deuil les mène loin l’un de l’autre, le deuil de l’objet’). Peter Fifield has observed that in the English typescript Beckett had called this a ‘search’ (‘recherche’) for the object, only to change it to ‘mourning’ (‘deuil’) when translating it back to French,

71 Guilbaut, How New York Stole the Idea of Modern Art: Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, 151; 237–8, n. 174. 72  Harold Rosenberg, ‘Présentation de Six Peintres Américains’, in Introduction A La Peinture Moderne Américaine (Paris, 1947), n.p. 73  Beckett, ‘The New Object’, 878.

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giving the term a particular significance.74 Declaring that the task of painting is to carry out an endless work of mourning for an impossible object undercuts with equal bite both Rosenberg’s claim that abstraction could be the foundation for a future art of individual expression (and free exchange), and Ponge’s claims that a Communist future would see the reconciliation of subject and object. Beckett’s argument as to why the object of painting could only be mourned was supported by his version of a historicist modernism: an argument that there was a necessity to the forms of modern painting that could be placed against the necessity that form be determined by a teleology of political history, whether liberal or Marxist. Taking up his key concept of ‘empêchment’, Beckett argued that ‘the object of representation is at all times in resistance to representation’. ‘The history of painting is the history of its relation to its object’, and it has been an ‘evolving’ process leading to the discovery of this resistance and a new task for the medium of painting: ‘to represent the conditions of that elusion’.75 Beckett’s historicist modernism ends here, rather than in abstraction, because it is not based on the discovery of medium specificity. The conditions because of which the object is in resistance to representation lie in the subject and object, the ‘eye mist’ and the ‘object mist’; however, because Beckett’s ‘empêchment’ aligns this difference with modernist painting’s development towards forms wherein the object does not speak ‘for itself ’, exploring differences between media is a means to explore the resistance of the object to the subject.76 The historical determinism of Beckett’s account of modernist painting was what struck a reviewer in the New York Sun, who in comparing it to Heine’s similarly lamenting review of the Salon of 1831 also showed up its lack of originality. Beckett was a poor ‘historian’, the reviewer wrote, since his tendentious pronouncements on the discovery of the essence of modern painting were made ‘before the breath had left it’. As the review points out, Beckett was offering a historicist argument of his own: ‘claiming the rights of the succession and the p ­ erquisites that go with it for his two young friends’— and, implicitly, himself.77 Beckett’s imbrication in the transatlantic Cold War cultural politics of modernism was a consequence of diplomatic machinations over which he had little control; his attack on the necessities demanded by a specifically French Marxist humanism was much more intentional. Too intentional and too obvious in the case of Beckett’s first effort at writing for the stage, 74  Peter Fifield, ‘Introduction to Samuel Beckett, “The New Object” ’, Modernism/ modernity, 18/4 (2011), 874. 75  Beckett, ‘The New Object’, 879. 76  Beckett, ‘The New Object’, 879. 77  Henry McBride, ‘Paris, Dead or Alive’, The New York Sun, 12 March 1948.

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Eleutheria, written in 1948. In the play, Dr Piouk is so effusive in his love for humanity that Madame Krapp wonders: ‘You wouldn’t be a Communist?’ In contrast, the play ends with Victor Krapp ‘turning his emaciated back on humanity [italics original]’, enacting what the Spectator calls Victor’s ‘negative anthropology’.78 The stakes of the positions taken in this play, where characters named after shitting and vomiting mock the demands of Marxist humanism, can be illustrated by comparison with the art criticism of Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In 1948 Beckett had only encountered MerleauPonty’s political writings, commenting on the publication of the second part of Humanism and Terror’s attack on Koestler’s Darkness at Noon that ‘the boys are very cross with Koestler’.79 Yet Humanism and Terror (1947) can be seen as developing a politics out of the claim in Phenomenology of Perception (1945) that the perceiving subject exists ‘only in so far as he is ­historically situated’.80 That historical situation was the unfolding ‘recognition of man by man’, a process truly experienced only by the proletariat, which is ‘the sole authentic intersubjectivity because it alone lives simultaneously the separation and unity of individuals’.81 In Phenomenology of Perception, Cézanne’s painting expresses this unfolding historical process of recognition by showing the unity of sense perception with its environment, its depiction of a ‘subject-object dialogue’ between self and world.82 In ‘Cézanne’s Doubt’ (1945), Merleau-Ponty admits that at first glance, ‘the inhuman character of his paintings’ could be seen to ‘only represent a flight from the human world, the alienation of his humanity’. But this doubt was overcome because Cézanne revived ‘the classical definition of art: man added to nature’, with Merleau-Ponty approvingly citing Cézanne’s claim that ‘landscape thinks itself in me . . . and I am its consciousness’.83 Against this explanation of Cézanne’s style of painting in terms of a historical process of reconciliation between self and world, Beckett’s Cézanne, as we have seen, discovered a subject ‘more hermetic & more alone & his neighbour a coagulum as alien as a protoplast or God’, the body becoming an unformed coagulum rather than the ground for a new form of physiognomic perception, as for Merleau-Ponty.84 Merleau-Ponty’s Cézanne was a prophet of the future reconciliation of subject and object, his revolutionary forms determined by an underlying historical process essential to 78  Samuel Beckett, Eleutheria, trans. by Barbara Wright (London, 1996), 43; 170; 147. 79  15 December 1946, Beckett, Letters 2, 49. 80  Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (London, 2002), 200, n. 18. 81 Merleau-Ponty, Humanism and Terror, 111–12; 116–17. 82 Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 152–3. 83  Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Sense and Non-Sense, trans. by Hubert L Dreyfus and Patricia Allen Dreyfus (Evanston, IL, 1964), 10–11; 17. 84  8 September 1934, Beckett, Letters 1, 223.

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Marxist humanism. Beckett’s Cézanne was a prophet of a different modernity, one in which the formal development of modernist painting had revealed an irrevocable breakdown in the lines of communication between subject and object. If this had a politics, it could only be negative in the Spectator’s sense of defining ‘the human race’ by ‘what it isn’t’, or as Molloy puts it, the ‘relentless definition of man, as though he were no better than God, in terms of what he is not’.85 But it was also negative in the sense that the politics of Beckett’s 1940s work were a conscious negation of a specific inflection of Marxist humanism as encountered in visual art and its criticism; this politics of negation being one of Beckett’s art historical necessities. The ‘Three Dialogues’ between Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit that saw Beckett speak less about Bram van Velde than ‘what I am pleased to fancy he is, fancy he does’ also took part in this negation of humanist politics.86 Beckett’s quip that ‘the realization that art has always been bourgeois, though it may dull our pain before the achievements of the socially progressive, is finally of little interest’ might not seem especially targeted or original (144). There is more continuity with Beckett’s previous criticism in the claim that an art of failure would depart from an association between expressive form and humanity in all previous art: ‘[a]mong those whom we call great artists, I can think of none whose concern was not predominately with his expressive possibilities, those of his vehicle, those of humanity. The assumption underlying all painting is that the domain of the maker is the domain of the feasible’ (142). The claim that van Velde’s art moves beyond the ‘misapprehension . . . that its function was to express’ is also a claim for moving beyond a humanism of a subject ultimately aiming at the reconciliation of self and world (143). The beginning of this project was shown not by a political treatise, but by visual form: the singlepoint perspective of ‘the Italian painters’ who ‘never stirred from the field of possible, however much they enlarged it’ (139). One ‘domain of the feasible’ was perspectival space because it orders all space and time in relation to a disembodied viewer, and attacks on this domain, which is also the domain of narrative, provide one way in which the concerns of Beckett’s criticism appeared in the forms of the fictions he was writing. Another domain appeared elsewhere in the same issue of Transition in which ‘Three Dialogues’ appeared: the socialist realism of André Fougeron’s Parisiennes aux Marché, the debates launched by its ‘dead fish’, already noted by Beckett in March 1949 being the subject of the issue’s survey of the French political scene for its English-speaking readers.87 Or more specifically, as 85 Beckett, Eleutheria, 147; Samuel Beckett, Molloy, ed. by Shane Weller (2009), 37–8. 86 Beckett, Disjecta, 144. Further citations in the main body of the text. 87 ‘Documents’, Transition Forty-Nine, 5 (1949), 110–26.

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the advertisements for The Hudson Review and Partisan Review make clear, its American audience, a fact recognized by Beckett when he predicted that a 1949 issue of the magazine would ‘impress the better informed Yanks’.88 Like Beckett’s essay for Kootz Gallery, ‘Three Dialogues’ was aimed at the New York visual avant-garde, a world Duthuit had become familiar with through his participation in a Life ‘Roundtable on Modern Art’ with critics such as Greenberg in October 1948.89 Duthuit and Beckett’s American readers were presented with a Paris divided into two opposed camps: Ponge, Fougeron, and the P.C.F. on the one hand, and Beckett, the van Veldes, and anti-humanist failure on the other. Yet just as it would be wrong to over-interpret Beckett’s intention to get  caught up in transatlantic cultural politics, it would be wrong to over-interpret the ‘Three Dialogues’ as a conclusive statement on the preoccupations driving Beckett’s postwar trilogy. Chronology provides one caution. ‘Three Dialogues’ was composed through an exchange of letters with Duthuit in June 1949: after Molloy and Malone Dies were completed, but during the composition of The Unnamable, the first draft of which was only completed in January 1950. Beckett did not originally intended to follow Molloy and Malone Dies with a concluding novel. Before beginning his exchange with Duthuit, Beckett wrote to George Reavey that Malone Dies was ‘the last I hope of the series Murphy, Watt, Mercier & Camier, Molloy, not to mention the 4 Nouvelles and Eleuthéria’.90 As Shane Weller points out, the unanticipated nature of The Unnamable is shown by a revision made by Beckett when translating Molloy with Patrick Bowles. The second paragraph of the published French text reads: ‘Cette fois-ci, puis encore une je pense, puis c’en sera fini je pense, de ce monde-là aussi. C’est le sens de l’avant dernier’. In the published English translation, this expands to include The Unnamable: ‘This time, then once more I think, then perhaps a last time, then I think it’ll be over, with that world too. Premonition of the last but one but one’ [emphasis added to indicate addition].91 ‘Three Dialogues’ is a reflection upon a series of works in progress, not the ‘acceptable conclusion’ Beckett worries he might have made (145). It has a prospective rather than retrospective relationship to The Unnamable. Close study of Beckett’s correspondence and manuscripts shows that the impetus provided by Duthuit to write a dialogue on painting was crucial to Beckett’s decision to begin writing The Unnamable; it might not be too strong to say it was the impetus to write Beckett’s most important work of fiction. 88  1 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 123. 89  ‘A Life Roundtable on Modern Art’, Life, 11 October 1948, 56–79. 90  27 May 1948, Letters 2, 80. 91 Beckett, Molloy, xix, n. 9; 4.

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Beckett began writing The Unnamable on 29 March 1949, three weeks after two long responses to letters from Duthuit, which ‘[push] me out into too many currents for me to worry about how I swim’, and which prompted Beckett to think again about the question of relation that had been central to his postwar criticism.92 As we have seen, Beckett’s attempt in ‘Three Dialogues’ to theorize a form of art which expressed only its own obligation to express—its own necessity—was in part a reaction against the claims of contemporaries from Sartre to Ponge that art should provide forms effecting the unity between subject and object that would be produced by history as a process of human self-realization. But it was also part of Beckett’s sense that the forms of modernist painting posed their own questions about the relationships between media, the senses, and between consciousness and the world. In order to show the relationship between ‘Three Dialogues’ and Beckett’s fiction, we need to view it as part of the composition process of The Unnamable as well as a critical commentary upon it. Closely attending to the genesis of The Unnamable shows that for all that thinking about the necessity of form in relation to painting prompted the novel’s composition, giving up on art brought about its conclusion. ‘ T H E H O R RO R - WO R N E Y E S L I N G E R A B J E C T ’ : A RT I N T H E T R I LO G Y The creatures of Beckett’s Trilogy are condemned to tell stories. Whether scrawling on a page or murmuring in the dark, Molloy, Moran, Malone, Mahood, and the unnameable are tormented by their inability to write or speak without a fiction coming into being; it is being, after all, that they want to escape. They also want to escape from seeing: the Trilogy is one long journey towards a voice speaking in the dark. But as Malone writes: ‘it is hard to leave everything. The horror-worn eyes linger abject on all they have beseeched so long, in a last prayer, the true prayer at last, the one that asks for nothing’.93 These horror-worn eyes seem to exist in a world without history; or it may seem, as Adorno argued about Endgame (1957), that this absence is how history is registered.94 But as Beckett’s criticism shows, the search for an eye that asks for nothing was situated within a long history of modernity and a short history of postwar anti-humanist politics, 92  Samuel Beckett, ‘L’Innommable Notebooks’, 1950, Notebook 1, 1, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, box 3 (folder 10); box 4 (folder 1); 2 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 129. 93  Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies, ed. by Peter Boxall (London, 2010), 107. Further citations will be in the main body of the text. 94  Theodor W. Adorno, ‘Trying to Understand Endgame’, trans. by Michael T. Jones, New German Critique, 26 (1982), 119–50.

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where the refusal of subject–object reconciliation (a refusal that could nevertheless only fail) took in part the form of a resistance of image to text: the failure to say what you see standing in for a larger breakdown of communication. As well as repeatedly staging the resistance between sight and sound, the novels of the Trilogy turn away from space organized by Albertian perspective into a closed spaced of rooms, and they frustrate the structures of linear and causal narrative produced by such a space. Yet The Unnamable goes beyond the impasse of ‘Three Dialogues’, which recognizes the contradiction in making ‘of this submission, this admission, this fidelity to failure, a new occasion, a new term of relation, and of the act which, unable to act, obliged to act, he makes, an expressive act, even if only of itself, of its impossibility, of its obligation’ (145). The form of this self-contradictory art of failure, which in 1945 Beckett claimed to see in the work of the van Veldes only to rescind his own judgement by 1949, is that of an act which expresses only its own necessity, an act given metaphorical expression as acts of involuntary bodily production like vomiting, ejaculating, and crying. The Trilogy turns to bodily compulsions to get beyond the impasse of ‘Three Dialogues’, but the composition of The Unnamable shows that Beckett’s fantasy of separating sight from sound risked being an inflection of the same rationality that placed the incorporeal spectator at the centre of the world. The corporeal nature of sight binds it to the body, yet this is a prison rather than the source of any future reconciliation of the self with the world. If composing The Unnamable saw Beckett turn from art historical to bodily necessities, and to turn to theorizing speech rather than painting as a compulsive corporeal act that only expresses ‘its own impossibility, its own obligation’, he retained from his engagement with art a refusal to make the voice a new source of determination or freedom, with the compulsive voice unable to rid itself of the ‘tears’ and ‘gleams’ of the images it no longer sees.95 Watt shows that Beckett’s ‘neurotic obsessions’ with space and perspective in painting were shaping the concerns and structure of his fiction well before his encounter with Duthuit’s thoughts on perspective in the 1940s through partially translating his book The Fauvist Painters (1949). One of the more abstract references to these obsessions is the painting Watt encounters in Erskine’s room: A circle, obviously described by a compass, and broken at its lowest point, occupied the middle foreground, of this picture. Was it receding? Watt had that impression. In the eastern background appeared a point, or dot. The circumference was black. The point was blue, but blue! The rest was white.96 95  Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable, ed. by Steven Connor (London, 2009), 130. 96  Samuel Beckett, Watt, ed. by Chris Ackerley (London, 2009), 109. Further citations will be in the main body of the text.

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Watt’s pondering shows that the painting might not be so abstract after all: ‘How the effect of perspective was obtained Watt did not know. But it was obtained. By what means the illusion of movement in space, and it almost seemed in time, was given, Watt could not say’ (109). Even these non-figurative shapes resolve into an illusionary relationship in space and time because of the difference between figure and ground, and thus these objects related through perspective become subject to ‘some force of merely mechanical mutual attraction, or the playthings of chance’ (110). But perspective’s laws of ‘mechanism’ and ‘chance’, seemingly opposed, are two sides of the same coin—either everything is determined, or nothing is—a paradox elsewhere associated for Beckett with Geulincx’s Occasionalist mechanism and Pascal’s probability.97 The space and time produced by single-point perspective is equated with the epistemic regime of Cartesian modernity and the religious regime of Pascalian doubt, transforming it into a synecdoche for modernity as a whole. At the thought that the circle and its centre are ordered in perspective’s ‘boundless space, in endless time’, Watt’s ‘eyes filled with tears he could not stem, and they flowed down his fluted cheeks unchecked, in a steady flow, refreshing him greatly’ (110). Faced with the prospect of infinite space and endless time, Watt reacts with tears, a corporeal act neither automatic nor willed, and which reminds us of the embodied nature of the vision encountering the painting. Watt’s understanding of perspective as a form of representation that articulates causal relationships in boundless space and endless time links Beckett’s interrogation of perspective in art to the narrative structures of his novels and their setting within enclosed rooms. Watt concludes his meditations on Erskine’s painting by pondering its relation to the room it is in: whether it is ‘a fixed and stable member of the edifice . . . or was it simply a manner of paradigm . . . [or] a term in a series’ (111). The painting could be part of the room, a representation of the room, or part of Watt’s narrative of serial permutations. Or it could be all three, a way of relating what is narrated to how it is narrated. This relationship between perspective, rooms, and narrative can be illuminated by comparison with Maurice Blanchot’s Aminadab (1942), written around the same time as Watt and part of Blanchot’s investigation into the nature of the novel.98 Aminadab follows a character called Thomas moving through a series of rooms in a house, with one initial room containing paintings of rooms later available for Thomas to enter, and a later room containing the studio where these paintings were produced. The novel figures narrative as a journey through 97 David Tucker, Samuel Beckett and Arnold Geulincx: Tracing ‘a Literary Fantasia’ (London, 2012); Anthony Cordingley, ‘Beckett’s Ignorance: Miracles/Memory, Pascal/ Proust’, Journal of Modern Literature, 33/4 (2010), 129–52. 98  Maurice Blanchot, ‘The Pure Novel’, in The Blanchot Reader, ed. by Maurice Holland (Oxford, 1995), 38–42.

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a sequence of closed rooms, and as Michel Foucault has argued, the pictures show that the visual image is the negative of the ‘space of literature’ Blanchot theorized as the essence of writing, in the same way the myth of Orpheus was a myth of how the demand of writing is to turn away from appearance.99 For Foucault, Aminadab shows that fiction consists not in showing the invisible, but in showing the extent to which the invisibility of the visible is invisible. Thus it bears a profound relation to space; understood in this way, space is to fiction what the negative is to reflection (whereas dialectical negation is always tied to the fable of time). No doubt this is the role that houses, hallways, doors, and rooms play in almost all of Blanchot’s narratives: placeless places, beckoning thresholds, forbidden spaces that are nevertheless exposed to the winds . . .100

The enclosed space of literature is the negative of the infinite space of visual perspective, and its form of logical, causal relations: it shows us how little we can know about what we see. The relationship between Beckett’s rooms and narrative can be understood in the same way. Perspective, pointof-view, and focalization are metaphors used by theorists of narrative precisely because of the kinds of relation they imply: they describe the relation of aspects of the discourse (who is narrating) to events in the story (when and where the narrator is situated). Understanding that Beckett’s closed rooms are attempts to subvert perspective’s infinite space as well as its logic of cause and effect accounts for the long-recognized ways in which Beckett’s work subverts the conventions of fictional narrative. Concepts of aporia and indeterminacy have been marshalled for arguments concluding that in Beckett’s trilogy, in Wolfgang Iser’s succinct formulation, we are presented with ‘narration narrating its own invalidation’.101 While there is little need to descend once more into the ‘verbal labyrinth’ of Beckett’s Trilogy so patiently mapped out by Leslie Hill, there is a need to show that some of the discontinuities of this labyrinth are produced by the opposition between closed rooms and open landscape, between writing in the dark and seeing in space.102 Molloy opens with Molloy stating: ‘I am in my mother’s room’.103 The association between writing in a closed room, rather than in the boundless space and endless time of Watt’s painted 99  Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, trans. by Ann Smock (Lincoln, NE; London, 1982), 171–6. 100 Michel Foucault, ‘Maurice Blanchot: The Thought from Outside’, in Foucault/ Blanchot, trans. by Brian Massumi (New York, 1987), 24. 101 Wolfgang Iser, ‘Erasing Narration: Samuel Beckett’s Malone Dies and Texts for Nothing’, Partial Answers: Journal of Literature and the History of Ideas, 4/2 (2006), 1–18. 102  Leslie Hill, Beckett’s Fiction: In Different Words (Cambridge, 1990). 103  Samuel Beckett, Molloy, ed. by Shane Weller (2009), 3. Further citations will be in the main body of the text.

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space, is established from the outset. Writing for Molloy threatens the loss of visibility: ‘A little more and you’ll go blind’ (4). At the same time, he can only relate the story of A and C because he has seen them from an ‘observation post’: visibility is the condition for his narrative authority (10). But what, he asks himself, ‘do I mean by seeing and seeing again?’. What are the logics of time and space according to which he can say: ‘A and C I never saw again?’ (12). What they are not, at least, is the narrative logic set up by Molloy opening with Molloy writing in a room. This opening scene of writing, narrated in the first person, takes place at an unspecified time in the future as regards the events narrated. But the discourse ends with Molloy stranded in the forest, an event narrated in the third person. There is no resolvable temporal relationship between beginning and end, and Molloy’s first-person narration cannot be related in time to what he relates. In this, as Steven Connor observes, Molloy ‘disobeys the principal rule of first person narration, which is that the life of the narrated character can be projected forward until it joins with the life of the narrator’; that is, projected forward to the moment where Molloy is writing in his mother’s room.104 Indeed, Molloy cannot be ‘projected’ into a coherent space and time—coherent in the sense of being able to be visually diagrammed—a failure that shows how writing can figure a resistance between text and image by short-circuiting the optical metaphors through which we conceptualize narrative form. Moran’s story also begins with writing in a dark room, and what is written in that room undermines the causal relationships of open space as ‘disposed to lead the eyes gently to the camp, as in a painting by an old master’ (160). Like Molloy, Moran also claims to eschew vision: ‘Some apply the eye, I the ear, to key holes’ (128–9). The only visual image he obtains of Molloy is an inner vision, where he obscurely appears ‘without being black, of a dark colour’ (118). Yet Moran shares what Molloy calls his ‘visual needs’ (84). Molloy can only see with one eye, but with it he sees the world ‘in a way inordinately formal, though I was far from being an aesthete, or an artist’ (49). Vision can only grasp the world through mistakenly formalizing it, as in Antonello’s imprisoning of Saint Sebastian in a world of pure space, but this is not the world produced by the writers Molloy and Moran. After journeying through space and failing to find Molloy, Moran returns to write in his room and break the frame narrative convention of the latter half of the novel. The discourse ends with Moran claiming to write: ‘It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining’ (184). The first two sentences are those which opened his story. Once again, beginning and end cannot be 104  Steven Connor, Samuel Beckett: Repetition, Theory and Text (Oxford, 1988), 55.

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connected in a spatio-temporal relationship of cause and effect. Instead of writing being the representation of logical cause and effect relationships related to a narrator through a ‘perspective’, Molloy presents writing as that which cannot be expressed in terms of relationships it exposes to be essentially visual modes of thinking. If Molloy refused to be an ‘aesthete, or an artist’, for the eponymous writer of Malone Dies, ‘[a]esthetics are therefore on my side, at least a certain kind of aesthetics’.105 One element of Malone’s aesthetics, John Bolin has argued, is his use of diary writing to create ‘multiple fictional frames’ and to deploy the technique of ‘composition en abyme’ drawn from that master of mise-en-abyme narratives, André Gide.106 The narrative setting of Malone in his room frames those he writes about, the Lamberts and Saposcat. Malone’s room contains a different kind of frame: the window frame out of which he gazes, his ‘porthole’ (64). He uses the metaphor of the window to express his relationship to the world of the story he is telling about Macmann: ‘the others are there too, or at their windows, like me, but on their feet’ (104). His window is a frame looking onto a world and a frame shared with a world; it is ‘whatever I want it to be, up to a point’ (64). But it is also a ‘window that sometimes looks as if it were painted on a wall, like Tiepolo’s ceiling at Würzbug, what a tourist I must have been’ (62–3). Malone here borrows one of Beckett’s own memories from his time in Germany in the 1930s, but this allusion has its own significance for Malone’s aesthetics of framing. Tiepolo’s ceiling was a work of trompe l’oeil giving the illusion of infinitely receding height: Malone’s frame, and its use as a metaphor to express the relationship between different narrative worlds, is likened to an illusion, a mere trick of the eye. One optical metaphor serves to disprove another, or at least emphasize its mere metaphoricity: that different levels of narrative can be conceptualized as framing one another. At the conclusion of the novel, the difference between the worlds of framed narratives is disproved in the most violent way, with Lemeul raising his hatchet, hammer, and stick in attack, causing Malone’s writing to peter out: ‘never anything / there / any more’ (119). Malone’s analogy between looking out of his porthole and looking into a world he has created recalls another metaphorical use of the frame: that of Dürer’s window. Dürer’s theoretical writings, about which Beckett had taken notes in the 1930s, included an infamous representation of singlepoint perspective as analogous to looking through a window frame onto a naked female body. If this unwittingly (or perhaps all too wittingly) figured the perspectival gaze in sexual terms, it can also serve to highlight 105  Beckett, Malone Dies, 6. Further citations will be in the main body of the text. 106  John Bolin, Samuel Beckett and the Modern Novel (Cambridge, 2013), 126.

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Malone’s peculiar fantasy of a gaze preceding sexualization and the object relations it requires. Malone longs for the grey of his room, ‘a grey going murky and dim, thickening is perhaps the word, until all things are blotted out except the window which seems in a manner of speaking to be my umbilicus, so that I say to myself, When it too goes out I shall know more or less where I am’ (50). Malone wants to regress to an embryonic stage before vision structures a sexual relation between male subject and female object, where sight is in contrast what conjoins subject and object. Vision is imagined as a corporeal connection that is ambiguously nourishing and necessary, a prelude to Malone actually being born and discovering where he is. But Malone ‘shall never get born and therefore never get dead’; he is an ‘old foetus’ who will drop right into the ‘charnel-house’ (52). In a perversion of reproduction he will self-generate his own ‘little creature’ and ‘eat it’ (53). Malone attempts to rethink sight as a corporeally nourishing relationship between self and other as a prelude to a form of rebirth, and thinking in terms of vision as not instituting a sexualized subject–object separation takes him back to a pre-Oedipal body. But this body is not to be the site of a new form of relation: it is a body that has never been properly born, which cannot found a new cycle of procreation. Returning vision to the body does not lead to the birth of a new way of seeing or relation. Instead, in a connection that shows how turning away from painting involves turning towards the body, it leads to a body described to Duthuit in 1949 as what both realist and abstract painting avoid: the body of ‘the impossible that we are, impossible living creatures, impossibly alive, of whom neither the time of the body, nor the investment by space are . . . to be retained’.107 The first draft of Malone Dies was completed on 30 May 1948.108 With his planned series complete, Beckett turned to drama, first writing Eleutheria and then Waiting for Godot, completed in January 1949. It was during this time that he began a correspondence with Duthuit that by August 1948 was already groping towards the conceptualization of necessity that would appear in ‘Three Dialogues’: ‘Not to have to express oneself, nor to get involved with whatever kind of maximum, in one’s numberless, valueless, achievementless world; that is a game worth trying, all the same, a necessity worth trying and one which will never work, if that works’.109 However, when in March 1949 Duthuit wrote to prompt Beckett into writing for a third time about Bram van Velde’s work, Beckett’s view of his 107  26 May 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 156. 108  Samuel Beckett, ‘Watt Notebooks’, 1948, Notebook 7, 219, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, box 6 (folders 5–7); box 7 (folders 1–4). 109  12 August 1948, Beckett, Letters 2, 103.

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work had changed. He now admitted they were ‘a long way apart from each other’: his painting did not share the ‘one and the same stuckness’ with Beckett’s writing; it did not show ‘fidelity to the prison-house’ as Beckett claimed it did in ‘Peintres de l’empêchement’.110 Now Beckett wrote that although van Velde shows awareness of the ‘criterion of worthwhile modern poetry, awareness of the vanished object’ that explores ‘the only terrain accessible to the point . . . the no man’s land that he projects round himself, rather as the flame projects its zone of evaporation’, his painting, with its periodic emergences of hands, eyes, and body parts, depicts the struggle to escape this zone rather than the exhaustion caused by embracing its resistance. This refusal to give up object relations is described as ‘the artist rubbing himself, more and more wheedlingly as you say, against his furniture, out of terror of being abandoned by it. To which, as an alternative, we find ourselves faced with the pure manstuprations [masturbations] of Orphic and abstract art. What if we simply stopped altogether having erections? As in life. Enough sperm about the place’.111 As in Malone Dies, whose narrator suffers an obsession with touching his ‘chattels personal’ and ‘furniture’ (21–2), visual representation is described here in terms of sexualized bodily acts. Realism’s attachment to its furniture and abstraction’s imagined self-sufficiency both stem from the compulsions of an erection that can only produce art as a waster bodily discharge. An erection is nothing if not an act expressive only of ‘its own impossibility, its own obligation’, and Beckett’s question is rhetorical since he sees no escape from this impossible compulsion. A poem Beckett writes in which Demosthenes buggers Cicero might seem like scatological doggerel, but according to the logic of the erection as a metaphor for the obligation to express, we can see it suggesting that this necessity might at least lead to a project of intellectual exhaustion: ‘The intellectual stock / From his most heroic cock / Flowed soupily out / (Flowed soupily out)’.112 Beckett thus turns to compulsive bodily acts as exemplifying a form of expression that expresses nothing but its necessity, a form he now admits to Duthuit cannot be realized in painting. In doing so, he concludes by admitting he has begun to ‘write about me’. His letter ends with Beckett describing himself ‘in front of a blank page’ where he can ‘see a little better what has to be done, and by what means. It will be a boundary work, a passage work, in which as a result the old rubbish can still be some use, while the dying is going on. A long slow fading’.113 From a rejection of 110  2 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 129; 130. 111  2 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 131. 112  2 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 131. 113  2 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 132.

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painting and a turn to corporeal metaphors for describing the art he is trying to achieve, Beckett suddenly shifts to proposing a new ‘work’ of his own, a ‘long slow fading’ drawing on his old ‘rubbish’—a proposal that sounds like what would come to be the opening of The Unnamable. Duthuit’s reply was to try once more to get Beckett ‘to write something about Bram’, but Beckett again fell into describing a possible work of his own.114 After tortuously attempting to offer a theoretical definition of ‘expression in the absence of relations of whatever kind’, Beckett admits the paradox that to do so would be to make a new form of ‘relation with this impossibility, this lack’. Here Beckett moves beyond his earlier claim that in painting ‘the thing is impossible’, that modernist painting involves probing the limits of its medium to represent this impossibility, and beyond seeing this process as an explanation for his writing.115 In ‘Three Dialogues’, modernist painting is paradoxically described as that which represents its own impossibility; the definition of an act which can express a lack of relation being an ‘act which, unable to act, obliged to act, he makes, an expressive act, even if only of itself, of its impossibility, of its obligation’ (145). If in ‘Three Dialogues’ the inability to get beyond this paradox is compared to a scene of muteness before an abstract image— ‘what is the coloured plane, that was not here before’ (145)—in this letter Beckett comes up with a different scene. Asking himself ‘why the canvas does not stay blank’—why and how such an art takes any form at all—he can only ‘invoke this unintelligible, unchallengeable need to splash colour on it, even if that means vomiting one’s whole being’.116 This description of an art which refuses to make its own failure a new term of occasion as a compulsive act of vomiting, rather than a coloured plane that cannot be described in language and which ‘seems to have nothing to do with art’ (145)—a rather conventional description of abstraction—does something different than ‘Three Dialogues’: it suggests that the appropriate analogies for the necessity of Beckett’s literary form might be found in the body, rather than in modernist painting’s mute images. That these are Beckett’s own concerns are admitted at the end of this letter: ‘bear in mind I who hardly ever talk about myself talk about little else’.117 Two weeks after this letter, on 29 March 1949, Beckett began composing The Unnamable across two notebooks that make up the first autograph draft. The first draft of the opening paragraph, although longer than the published version, contains both the opening questions ‘Où maintenant, 114  Quoted in Beckett, Letters 2, 143. 115  9 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 140. 116  9 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 141. 117  9 March 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 2.

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Qui maintenant?’, added on the inside flyleaf of the first notebook, and the closing declaration: ‘Cependant je suis obligé de parler. Je ne me tairai jamais. Jamais’.118 Aside from the opening, the first draft is remarkably close to the published French text, with only minor revisions in a second draft. Therefore the early months of composition can be accurately dated and quite closely correlated with the composition of ‘Three Dialogues’ and Beckett’s correspondence with Duthuit. The opening sections of The Unnamable composed in April and May 1949 show questions about the separation of seeing and saying, and the corporealization of vision, informing the novel’s themes. The Unnamable opens with a speaker sitting in the dark where ‘tears stream down my cheeks from my unblinking eyes’.119 He is compelled to see, just as he suffers the ‘compulsion’ to speak (12), but he only knows ‘my eyes are open because of the tears that pour from them unceasingly’ (14): the compulsion of embodied sight is revealed by the discharges that make it possible. This is a circumscribed seeing: ‘I only see what appears immediately in front of me, I only see what appears close beside me, what I best see I see ill’ (7). This ill seeing is embodied seeing, the opposite of sight driven by what Beckett in ‘Three Dialogues’ calls the ‘possessiveness’ of abstraction and representation alike, yet embodied sight is to be suffered: his eyes ‘must be as red as live coals’ (11). While The Unnamable opens with at least some certainties about what its titular creature sees, it is less certain about what he says: his voice ‘issues from me, it fills me, it clamours against my walls, it is not mine’ (18). In the manuscript, this continues ‘[comment?] je ne peux pas l’arrêter, [comment?] je ne peux pas l’empêcher, de me déchirer, de me secouer, de m’assiéger’ (‘Notebook 1’, 36). This was translated as: ‘I can’t stop it, I can’t prevent it, from tearing me, racking me, assailing me’ (18). Slightly lost in translation is the significance of ‘empêcher’, a key concept in Beckett’s thinking on visual art since Proust—the van Veldes were, in Beckett’s fantasy, ‘peintres de l’empêchment’. This passage was written before 20 May 1949 (‘Notebook 1’, 41) and Beckett’s correspondence shows he was thinking about the concept of ‘empêchment’ at this time. On 26 May 1949, Beckett responded to a letter from Duthuit discussing Beckett’s previous art criticism saying that the only thing ‘worth keeping’ from them was ‘the painting/preventedness motif [le motif peinture empêchment] immediately retracted, smartened up, its hair parted as neatly as a young arse [italics 118 Beckett, ‘L’Innommable Notebooks’, Notebook 1, 1, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, box 3 (folder 10); box 4 (folder 1). Further citations, of notebook and page number, will be in the main body of the text, followed by the corresponding page number in the published English edition. 119 Beckett, The Unnamable, 3. Further citations will be in the main body of the text.

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original]’.120 If Beckett was reaffirming that visual art could not escape the necessity of painting what prevented sight from actually seeing, the voice in The Unnamable was being figured as something that could not be prevented. By virtue of the voice being ‘not mine’, unlike the sight which is assuredly his due to the tears it causes, the voice has a necessity which opens up a different mode of relation in the novel. That voice, rather than sight, was to assume prominence in The Unnamable at this early stage is suggested by Beckett’s next letter to Duthuit on 1 June 1949, where he informed him: ‘I wrote the last page of the book I am working on, whereas I am only on my 30th. I am not proud of myself. But the outcome is already so little in doubt, whatever the writhings that lie between me and it, of which I have only the vaguest ideas’.121 This ‘ending’ is pasted into the back of the draft’s first notebook, a passage opening ‘Ma voix, la voix, mais voilà ce que je l’entends avoir bien’, and ending ‘pour bien d’entendre, avant de mourir d’être mort.’ (‘Notebook 1’, inserted flyleaf 1v; inside back cover). This recalls Beckett’s statement that this book would be about a ‘dying going on’, but the confidence expressed about this ending vanished the next day, as it was crossed out and a new section continuing the main draft in the notebook dated ‘2.6.49’ opens with the discovery of a new task for the voice: ‘Curieuse idée, d’ailleurs, et fort sujette à caution, que celle d’une tâche à accomplir, pour avant de pouvoir être tranquille. Curieuse tâche que d’avoir parler de moi soi’ (‘Notebook 1’, 44). In English, this reads: ‘Strange notion in any case, and eminently open to suspicion, that of a task to be performed, before one can be at rest. Strange task, which consists of speaking of oneself ’ (22). The grammatical slip in the manuscript, using ‘moi’ instead of ‘soi’, suggests the significance of the discovery of ‘ma voix’, and the passage continues: ‘N’ayant que ma voix, que la voix, il peut sembler naturel, une fois avalée l’idée d’obligation, que j’y voie une chose quelconque à dire’ (‘Notebook 1’, 44); ‘Possessed of nothing but my voice, the voice, it may seem natural, once the idea of obligation has been swallowed, that I should interpret it as an obligation to say something. But is it possible?’ (22). Ambiguity as to the source of voice—it ‘issues from me’ but it is ‘not mine’; it is ‘my voice, the voice’—makes speaking of oneself always speaking not about oneself. This question asks whether the voice, rather than painting, might better be able to carry out the obligation Beckett declares in ‘Three Dialogues’ that Bram van Velde avoids: ‘the obligation to express’. The shared terms in which painting and the voice are described in ‘Three Dialogues’ and the drafts for The Unnamable compound the sense that reflection upon the former was being abandoned in favour of writing 120  26 May 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 155.   121  1 June 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 162.

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about the latter. When writing to Duthuit a week later on 9 June 1949 to finalize the text of ‘Three Dialogues’, Beckett admitted that he now believed there could never exist ‘a painting that is poor, undisguisedly useless, incapable of any image whatever, a painting whose necessity does not seek to justify itself ’.122 A painting whose necessity seeks to justify itself is the opposite of the kind of art demanded at the end of ‘Three Dialogues’: art as an act which expresses only ‘its own impossibility, its own obligation’. What such an act might be like was figured by acts of bodily compulsion. In response to Duthuit’s suggestion that painting could offer a ‘window on the future’—expressing some form of historical necessity—Beckett wrote he almost responded by vomiting ‘bile mixed with leucocytes’.123 In response to Duthuit’s argument that abstract painting provided a truth about time and space evaded in realism, Beckett argued both are united in the search for some form of a ‘maximum’, and that faced with having to choose, he would rather ‘die of starvation’.124 Alys Moody has argued that in ‘Three Dialogues’ Beckett uses ‘the figure of starvation in the promotion of a new art without an object’; it also figures the kind of necessity that such an art as an act would have—impossible and ­obligatory.125 As Moody argues of Beckett’s work more broadly, the compulsions of an impossible body now come to figure a certain kind of autonomy for aesthetic form, and they develop out of a conviction of the historical necessity of modernist visual form. The attempt to starve the unnameable creature of sight, however, would not be so simple, and the relationship between the eye and the voice becomes, after these opening sections, one of the main themes of the novel. When Worm appears, he is a creature of sound, breath, and movement, in contrast to a still gaze. His head grows out of his ear, while ‘they’ observe him through their ‘little hole’ (70). But Worm grows a ‘great black and white eye, moist, it’s to weep with’ (74–5), an eye which is ‘hard of hearing’ (76). A remarkable drawing in the manuscript during this section about Worm illustrates the novel’s understanding of embodied sight, s­ eparated from sound. Page 40 of the second manuscript notebook opens ‘toujours été le cachot’, corresponding to the passage in English where Worm contemplates his imprisonment: ‘They’ll clap me in a dungeon, I’m in a dungeon, I’ve always been in a dungeon’. In the dungeon, his ‘open eyes’ return, and his voice fails: ‘it’s the voice stopping, it’s the voice failing to carry me, what can it matter, perhaps it’s important, the result is the same’. At this point in the manuscript, four 122  9 June 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 166. 123  1 June 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 162. 124  26 May 1949, Beckett, Letters 2, 156. 125  Alys Moody, ‘Tasteless Beckett: Towards an Aesthetics of Hunger’, Symploke, 19/1–2 (2011), 56.

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Fig. 1.1. Drawing by Samuel Beckett in the manuscript of L’Innommable, Notebook 2, page 41. © The Estate of Samuel Beckett. Image by permission of the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin

crossed-out lines indicate an impasse in composition, the scored-through lines ending in a little drawing of a body in a circle. On the facing page appears the only major drawing in the manuscript, a drawing of a homunculus trapped inside the head of a creature whose face only has eyes and whose body ends in long ­tentacles (Fig. 1.1). The failing of the voice, leading to an impasse in c­ omposition, leads to a visual image of sight as a form of imprisonment, sight itself as an art of confinement, rather than the painting of artists like the van Veldes. The text after the drawing describes this confinement: ‘They shut me up here, now they’re trying to get me out, to shut me up somewhere else, or to let me go, they are capable of putting me out just to see what I’d do’ (85). And Worm is indeed released from his prison, with the voice restoring the text’s compositional flow—for now. The homunculus drawing connects the figuring of autonomous sight not only with the concerns of Beckett’s art criticism, but also with a representative of the longer history of modernity in which this art criticism is situated: René Descartes. The allusion is not textual, but pictorial.

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Descartes’s mind–body dualism notoriously led to the positing of a homunculus inside the brain, located at the pineal gland. Beckett owned an illustrated anthology of Descartes’s writings entitled Descartes: choix de textes.126 It contained a drawing which showed the physiology produced by Cartesian dualism: the eyes receive rays from an object through the cornea that are refracted onto the retina, which then transports and emits them to the pineal gland sitting inside the brain (Fig. 1.2). That Descartes is a presence behind this image of embodied vision as a form of confinement is further suggested by a note on the inside cover of the first notebook drawn from Thomas Reid’s Inquiry into the Human Mind (1764): ‘A man that disbelieves his own existence, is surely as unfit to be reasoned with, as a man that believes he is made of glass’ (‘Notebook 1’, back inside cover).127 This image was used in the first of Descartes’s Meditations (1641), where he worries his founding doubt about his own existence likens him to ‘madmen’ who believe ‘their heads are made from earthenware, or that they are pumpkins, or made of glass’.128 Reid uses this image to dismiss Cartesian scepticism and the dualism it involves, and it seems Beckett was drawn to it for the same reasons while writing The Unnamable. The man made of glass is both the subject of modern rational scepticism—an incorporeal creature of light and vision—and the irrational, transparent, and therefore imprisoned object of that vision. Beckett’s remark that another representative of rational optimism, Leibniz, is ‘a great cod, but full of splendid little pictures’, and his diagram of Freud’s map of the mind in his notes on the New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (1933), suggest that such acts of pictorialization were part of Beckett’s response to psychological and philosophical thought.129 Following Anthony Uhlmann’s tracing of Beckett’s use of the ‘­philosophical image’, this might be called Beckett’s use of the ‘philosophical picture’.130 Philosophy could be pictured just like pictures could be philosophized, the way that Renaissance perspective and Cézanne’s landscapes revealed a historical change in understandings of the relationship between body, space, and time. However, Beckett’s homunculus and The Unnamable 126  René Descartes, Descartes: choix de textes avec étude du système philosophique et notices biographique et bibliographique; 16 gravures et portrait par L. Debricon; préface de Labescat (Paris, n.d). 127  Thomas Reid, An Inquiry into the Human Mind: On the Principles of Common Sense, ed. by Derek  R.  Brookes (Edinburgh, 1997), 16. My thanks to Dirk van Hulle for this information. 128  René Descartes, The Philosophical Writing of Descartes: Volume II, trans. by John Cottingham (Cambridge, 1984), 13. 129  5 December 1933, Beckett, Letters 1, 172; Everett Frost and Jane Maxwell, ‘Catalogue of “Notes Diverse Holo[graph]”’, Samuel Beckett Today/Aujourd’hui, 16 (2006), 160. 130  Anthony Uhlmann, Samuel Beckett and the Philosophical Image (Cambridge, 2006).

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Fig. 1.2.  L. Debricon, ‘La Sensation’, in Descartes: choix de textes avec étude du système philosophique et notices biographique et bibliographique; 16 gravures et portrait par L. Debricon; préface de Labescat (Paris: Louis Michaud, n.d.), 200. © The British Library Board

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more broadly revise Beckett’s version of the history of art that previously privileged the ‘still’ image that could not be translated into words, and that saw the fidgeting body as an intrusion into an ideally static world. But this assumes that sight and sound can be separated. However, as Beckett’s pictorial allusions show, this is just one final mutated form of a modern mind–body dualism. The manuscript of The Unnamable shows the novel works through the impasse reached in ‘Three Dialogues’ by recognizing that the impossibility of Beckett’s ideas about visual art and the paradoxes about the body and the senses produced by his art historical necessities could become the subject matter of his fiction. Once Worm disappears, sight is once more opposed to sound: ‘Perhaps it would be better to be blind, the blind hear better’; though on the other hand, ‘there’s great fun to be had with an eye’ (89). This oscillation between pure sound and pure sight continues throughout the rest of the text. It is ‘curious how this eye invites inspection, demands sympathy, solicits attention, implores assistance’, yet at the same time this is ‘[b]alls, all balls, I don’t believe in the eye either’. It would be a ‘merciful coincidence, when you think what it would be, a world without spectator, and vice versa, brr! No spectator then, and better still no spectacle, good riddance’ (91–2). Towards the end of the text, there is a marked change in the form of the prose. After a sequence of extended sentences, the last almost six pages long, wherein the voice is ‘in words, made of words, others’ words’ (104), there follows a marked change of rhythm, where ‘[s]omething has changed nevertheless’ (108). Sprawling sentences are replaced by short imperative resolutions: ‘Assume . . . Situate . . . Carry . . . Evoke . . . Overcome, that goes without saying, the fatal leaning towards expressiveness’ (107–8). If these sentences feature something that has changed to avoid expressiveness, that would express, in ‘B’s’ words, that there is nothing to express; it is a change manifested in the sonic realm of rhythm, and this in turn suggests that vision too might be restored: ‘Open up, open up, you’ll be alright, you’ll see’ (109). But this escape from expression is not to be: ‘nothing, I see nothing, well that is a disappointment, I was hoping for something better than that, is that what it is to be unable to lose yourself ’ (110). The Unnamable does not end its attempt to free the ear from the eye in a banal ‘aporia, pure and simple’ (1). The visual cannot be expelled because it is ‘thinking, it’s vision, shreds of old visions, that’s all you can see’ (124). One of the voice’s final recollections is a memory of ‘all the words they taught me’: ‘they were on lists, with images opposite, I must have forgotten them, I must have mixed them up, these nameless images, these imageless names’ (127). As the novel winds to a close, connections and separations between images and names are something learned, rather than given; ­historical, rather than a timeless condition. The voice has one final image

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of this separation and mixture in a ‘rock’: ‘it’s an image, those are words, it’s a body, it’s not I’ (130). The paratactic syntax of the phrase lists what is to come in Beckett’s future writing, and like in much of that future work, the form of the prose is doing the expressive work. Image, words, body, and self are related in parataxis, a form of relation which presents concepts as necessarily related whilst refusing to state the terms of those relations. If one culmination of Beckett’s engagement with art was the conclusion that seeing and saying can neither be united nor separated, and that this was not an absolute truth but a finitely historical condition, these insights are present in the turn to the voice at the end of The Unnamable. Or as the voice ruefully admits: it turns out, after all, that ‘we must have eyeballs’ (124). The Unnamable was not the end of Beckett’s expression of the relationship between sight and sound in prose which increasingly turns, as Daniel Albright has written, into ‘image pieces that don’t assemble into anything intelligible’.131 But it did mark the end of Beckett’s need to situate this process in relation to the history of art and the formal necessities he saw it governed by. Instead, technological media like film and television would be used to explore questions of medium specificity and the changing historicity of the body. The way in which Beckett’s engagement with visual art never quite escaped from modernism’s impossible attempt to separate seeing and saying is shown by an edition of Fizzles/Foirades produced by Jasper Johns in 1976, an artist’s book for which Beckett only supplied the text, taking no further part in its production.132 The engravings chosen by Johns bear little illustrative relationship to Beckett’s work. They are almost all drawn from one earlier painting, Untitled (1972), itself part of a series of works that ironically refer back to earlier phases of visual modernism that turn to pure vision alone: Monet’s Water Lilies and Pollock’s Abstract Expressionism. A second group of prints show separated body parts accompanied by the different names for each body part in French and English. The prints draw on some of Johns’s main themes: the limitation of vision in never being able to obtain a full image of ourselves without reflection; the way in which we divide our senses into disparate body parts yet experience a unity of the senses; and the relationship of these understandings of the body to visual modernism’s separation of text and image. Johns’s illustrations are a reading of the Fizzles which show the same themes in Beckett’s text, themes which are quoted from earlier works: the first fizzle mourns the impossibility of the voice The Unnamable fails to find; the second remembers Murphy’s legs; the third recalls the ravenous eye that roamed across the Trilogy. Johns’s work turns to strategies of 131  David Albright, Beckett and Aesthetics (Cambridge, 2000), 135. 132  Samuel Beckett, Foirades/Fizzles ([London], 1976).

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q­ uotation and parody to point towards, but never quite move beyond, the impasse of a historicist modernism that equated autonomy of media and the senses with interpretative and social autonomy. If the latter half of this equation only received attention during the 1940s in Beckett’s engagement with art, it was central throughout the work of a very different writer who nevertheless saw in the consequences of the same analogy a lesson for the social autonomy of the novel in the age of the Cold War: William Gaddis.

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2 Canvas in the Cold War William Gaddis and the Context of Art William Gaddis’s last novel Agapē Agape (2002) begins with a dying writer launching into one final monologue: ‘No but you see I’ve got to explain all this because I don’t, we don’t know how much time there is left and I have to work on the, to finish this work of mine’.1 This work was a project Gaddis himself had pursued intermittently for almost forty years, ‘The Secret History of the Player Piano’, which he described in the 1960s as ‘a satirical celebration of the conquest of technology and of the place of art and the artist in a technological democracy’.2 Lying in his sickbed, the narrator realizes he will never be able to complete this history, and rues the life he has spent writing fiction. If a fiction is only ever a fake, ‘what Plato calls the lie in words that’s only sort of an imitation’, what to make of a life devoted to its creation (58–9)? His history abandoned, the monologue ends with the narrator looking back to ‘my first book . . . the only reality where the work that’s become my enemy got done’ (92). As Hal Foster has written, ‘as the dying man works to get his estate into order, he identifies with Lear, but he is a High Modernist Lear maddened by a neglectful world gone to the mass cultural dogs’.3 Modernism’s attempts to justify its imitations haunt his monologue: ‘Pound’s cry for the new’ (61), Beckett’s claim that Finnegans Wake was ‘not about something Madam it is something’, The Unnamable’s realization that it ‘can’t go on and I’m, I am the other. I am the other’ (19–20). Although the novel’s style was most influenced by Thomas Bernhard, these references to Beckett, informed by Gaddis’s reading of Beckett’s biography in 1997, sketch out a modernist lineage for this dying writer. In an observation true for Gaddis’s oeuvre as a whole, Foster writes that ‘Agapē Agape exists on the threshold between the 1  William Gaddis, Agapē Agape (London, 2002), 1. Further citations in the main body of the text. 2 William Gaddis, The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings, ed. by Joseph Tabbi (Harmondsworth, 2002). 3  Hal Foster, ‘Long Live Aporia!’, London Review of Books, 25/14 (2003), 13.

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collage technique of many Modernists and some other mode or archive that is not yet adequately theorized’.4 It is telling that an art critic like Foster was such a perceptive reader of Agapē Agape, for few postwar novelists have been as concerned as Gaddis with the ambivalent legacy of modernist art in the United States. From Abstract Expressionism in The Recognitions (1955) and the Rothko-like paintings decorating corporate offices in JR (1975), to the sculptures of Richard Serra inspiring the legal conundrums of A Frolic of His Own (1994), Gaddis has chronicled the American version of what T. J. Clark has called ‘the bad dream of modernism’: its commodification of culture and subjectivity and its smooth and willing assimilation into the institutions of neoliberal finance capitalism.5 Yet at the same time, as Agapē Agape shows, Gaddis never quite gave up the belief that exposing this complicity could be the act of a critical modernism. Don DeLillo’s view of Gaddis as ‘belonging to the great line of modernist writers who want to get ­everything down, who think of the novel as a kind of warehouse or museum’, with a ‘recycling’ style that ‘takes tired voices, jargon, self-interest, and makes literary capital out of them’, pinpoints how Gaddis’s style takes the collage technique of modernism and uses it to create an archive of modernism itself.6 DeLillo identifies how Gaddis’s archival poetics replicate on a formal level the historical process his novels describe: modernism becoming tired and quotable jargon, a form of cultural and financial capital, yet he also points to the complicity of this poetics with the bad dream of modernism The Recognitions critiques and aspires to at one and the same time. Gaddis’s belated relationship to literary modernism has also been noted by Cynthia Ozick, who observed that in The Recognitions Gaddis suffered from the ‘Modernist Dream . . . coming on the scene when it was already too late to be ambitious in that huge way with a vast modernist novel’.7 What then to make of the modernist dreams of Pollock, Rothko, and Serra that Gaddis’s novels present not as belated, but as the most present symptoms of the fate of art in the United States’ postwar ‘technological democracy’? If Gaddis now seems better understood situated less at the origins of American postmodernism than within a ‘long modernist era’, as Lisa Siraganian has argued, Gaddis’s distinctive engagement with the legacy of modernist art must occupy centre stage in elucidating his relationship to that era, as well as to the broader history of the postwar novel’s engagement with visual art.8 4  Foster, ‘Long Live Aporia!’, 15. 5 Clark, Farewell to an Idea, 3. 6  Don DeLillo, ‘On William Gaddis’, Conjunctions, 41 (2003), 390–1. 7  Cynthia Ozick and Tom Teicholz, ‘Cynthia Ozick, The Art of Fiction No. 95’, The Paris Review, 102 (1987), 165. 8 Siraganian, Modernism’s Other Work, 4.

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If The Recognitions marks its belatedness in relationship to literary modernism in its satirical parodies of the styles of Joyce, James, and Barnes, it at the same time presents visual modernism in the form of Abstract Expressionism as raising issues surrounding art, objecthood, and context that are fundamental to understanding the Cold War politics of the novel’s historical present. Gaddis’s novel takes as it starting point the differential periodization of modernism across the twentieth century and draws on postwar visual modernism to model how The Recognitions relates to a present defined by Cold War paranoia. For Gaddis, Abstract Expressionist painting raised the question of whether an artwork could only be distinguished from an ordinary object by virtue of its context or by an artist’s act of choice—why is it not just a cloth spattered in painting? This situation where the autonomy of aesthetic meaning threatens to become wholly context-dependent exemplified the relationship of the novel to his h ­ istorical present under the twin pressures of the Cold War and the mass media of a technological democracy. In the same way that an Abstract Expressionist painting could in the view of Harold Rosenberg signify the individualism produced by liberal democracy and globalized free trade (as early as 1948!), so too might a novel’s meaning be wholly determined by the systems of Cold War politics and mass media capitalism. Gaddis’s satirical engagement with Abstract Expressionism leads to a means of relating the novel to history. If the meaning of a novel threatens to become wholly determined by its context, then only by making that novel in part about its relationship to that context can this substitution of aesthetic autonomy with contextdependency be acknowledged, exposed, and critiqued. In a similar manner, only a novel which admits its status as an inauthentic ‘forgery’ by commenting on its own fictionality and through the structure of its plotting can suggest there is a meaningful difference between originality and forgery, the kind of difference assumed to be meaningless in the work of a writer like Kathy Acker, who drew this contrasting lesson from her own engagement with postmodern art. Tony Tanner has argued that the ‘notion that the ordinary individual and the artist alike may be living their lives within an intricate system of patterns or fictions, and the related search for some recognition of non-fictional reality, form a recurrent American theme which no one has explored at greater length than William Gaddis in his novel The Recognitions’.9 Tanner was more insightful than he knew: in his notes Gaddis wrote ‘The Recognitions as a title I like perfectly because it implies the impossibility of escape from a (the) pattern’.10 9  Tony Tanner, City of Words: American Fiction 1950–1970 (New York, 1971), 393. 10  Gaddis’s extensive archive is housed in numbered folders and boxes, in collection MSS049, at the Olin Library, Washington University, St Louis. It mostly consists of

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The issues surrounding authenticity and forgery raised by Gaddis’s engagement with visual art from van Eyck to Pollock inform and historicize the novel’s use of intricate plots and failed recognitions. Through the structure of its plotting, the novel performs a shift in the use of multiple narrative perspectives and recognition scenes as formal devices to represent epiphanies in the consciousness of individual characters towards their use for generating complex plots whose intricacies would come to allegorize the complexity of the social systems of postwar American life in the works of writers like William Burroughs, Don DeLillo, and Thomas Pynchon. The recognition scene as epiphany was one of modernist fiction’s characteristic traits, and Gaddis’s study of literary modernism, a study which only compounded his sense that it was past—or at least institutionalized into something different by his professors at Harvard and colleagues at The New Yorker—was a central element in the early c­ omposition of The Recognitions. A RT A N D O B J E C T H O O D A S PA I N T I N G S A N D S H I RT S T.  S.  Eliot’s lecture on ‘The Frontiers of Criticism’ to an audience of 14,000 people at the University of Minnesota in 1956 has long been taken as characteristic of the dissolution of literary modernism’s revolutionary energies into what Dwight MacDonald called the ‘tepid ooze of Midcult’.11 Alternatively, as Donal Harris has more recently argued, the popularity of Eliot across academia and mass magazines during the 1940s and 1950s reveals a network of mutually sustaining relationships between modernism, mass media, the academy, and discourses of United States nationalism that caution against assumptions of how revolutionary modernist poetry was seen by mid-century readers.12 This was preceded by the ­incorporation of modernist literature into academic syllabi well before the vast expansion of university teaching of English that accompanied the GI Bill of 1944.13 Gaddis’s study of English at Harvard in the 1940s saw him encounter an institutionalized version of literary modernism that compounded his non-paginated loose sheets of typescript. References will be to the folder and box numbers and, where possible, page numbers. William Gaddis, ‘Reading Notes’, 85, MSS049 32/206, Olin Library, Washington University, St Louis. 11  Dwight Macdonald, ‘Masscult & Midcult’, in Against the American Grain (London, 1963), 54. 12  Donal Harris, ‘Understanding Eliot: Mass Media and Literary Modernism in the American Century’, Modern Language Quarterly, 78/4 (2015), 491–514. 13 Gerald Graff, Professing Literature: An Institutional History (Chicago, IL, 1987), 195–208.

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sense of it being something that had passed; his plan to pay homage to Eliot by parodying every line of Four Quartets (1943) in The Recognitions is one indication of the ambivalent relationship to modernism shared by the novel and its characters alike, where what was perceived as a literary movement defined by the expression of an alienated subjectivity through a unique style had been transformed into a homogenizing upper-middle-class sensibility informing Partisan Review and Madison Avenue. While the visual modernism of Abstract Expressionism, in contrast, appears as wholly contemporaneous to The Recognitions’ Greenwich Village denizens and Left Bank exiles, it too is seen as raising questions about aesthetic autonomy and institutional contexts, albeit for very different reasons. The novel’s intricately conflicting accounts of a ‘painting’ by the artist Max pose a question about Abstract Expressionist painting that would later become central to the theories of modernism developed by Clement Greenberg and Michael Fried. If a modernist artwork defines itself by a reduction to its medium, what makes it a painting and not a coloured piece of canvas? What is the difference between art and objecthood? The Recognitions refuses an answer to this endgame of modernist aesthetics, one which has appeared repeatedly since Duchamp’s urinal. It also disproves Duchamp’s claim that the postwar US art simply repeated the questions raised by abstraction and Dada—a claim similarly queried by Pierre Bourdieu—by showing the very different status these questions have in the context of the Cold War considered as the very limit and ­definition of a context.14 Gaddis never graduated from Harvard: he left to work as a fact checker at The New Yorker in 1945 after being suspended for drunken behaviour and never returned. Despite this, his letters and notebooks document his enrolment in English courses taught by scholars like Theodor Spencer, at that time contributing to Joyce’s academic canonization through editing Stephen Hero, and his reading of writers as diverse as Kafka, Woolf, Stein, Mansfield, and Gide (although he never read Ulysses, contrary to what many early critics of The Recognitions claimed).15 Although he began to write the novel while travelling through Mexico and Panama in 1947–8, and would continue to do so across Spain and Paris before completing it back in Long Island in 1952, he continued his reflection on the legacy of literary modernism on his travels. A harshly critical 1947 essay on Gertrude Stein by Katherine Anne Porter in Harper’s Magazine, attacking Stein’s 14  Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art: Genesis and Structure of the Literary Field, trans. by Susan Emmanuel (Cambridge, 1992), 160–1. 15  William Gaddis, ‘Spain Notebook’, 1950, 138, MSS049 55/249.1, William Gaddis Collection, Olin Library, Washington University, St Louis.

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self-promotion and support of the Pétain regime—her enjoyment of ‘both the wars’—prompted a short correspondence between Gaddis and Porter.16 Porter’s attack on Stein for her support of Pétain was in stark contrast to her decision a few months later, as part of the judging committee, to award Ezra Pound the Bollingen Prize, evidence of the inconsistencies and ­contradictions involved in the institutionalization and critique of modernism in the immediate postwar years. Porter had argued that Stein’s style was evidence of a suspension of aesthetic as well as moral judgement: ‘Everything being equal, unimportant in itself, important because it happened to her and because she was writing about it’. This same ­interpretation of Stein’s style was shared by Clement Greenberg in an essay on ‘The Crisis of the Easel Picture’ published in Partisan Review the following year: she was ‘the parallel in literature’ to ‘a mode of painting, now practiced by some of our most “advanced” artists, that threatens the identity of the easel picture . . . the “decentralized”, “polyphonic”, all-over picture which with a surface knit together of a multiplicity of identical or similar elements, repeats itself without strong variation from one end of the canvas to the other and dispenses, apparently, with beginning, middle, and ending’.17 A decade earlier, Beckett had argued Stein’s ‘nominalistic irony’ had revealed the ‘arbitrary materialism of the word surface’, and he too connected her eschewal of syntactical and narrative logic with the influence of postCubist abstraction.18 These different readings show that Stein’s prose was being received both before and after the war as an instance of modernist fiction’s aspiration to formal autonomy through imitating the techniques of abstract painting. Conversely, the ability of Greenberg to compare Pollock’s style to Stein’s was evidence of Pollock’s modernism: its ability to turn ‘uniformity’, a seemingly ‘antiaesthetic’ notion, into an expression of ‘sheer texture, sheer sensation [that] seems to answer something deepseated in contemporary sensibility’.19 Gaddis’s response to Stein was ambiguous. He confessed to Porter a long obsession with Stein, ‘[b]ecause she has worried me’, having ‘read and been and excited and consternated’ by her work. Gaddis agreed with Porter that Stein’s style involved a complete suspension of judgement. For Porter this was simply a moral failure, but for Gaddis it was an aesthetic practice of ‘monumental thoroughness’. Even if it eventually led to the ‘nihilism’ of colluding with Pétain, it ‘must have been a fantastically big 16  Katherine Anne Porter, ‘Gertrude Stein: Three Views’, in The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings of Katharine Anne Porter (New York, 1970), 268. 17  Clement Greenberg, The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 2: Arrogant Purpose, 1945–1949 (Chicago, IL; London, 1986), 222. 18  9 July 1937, Beckett, Letters 1, 518; 520. 19 Greenberg, Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 2, 224.

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talent’. ‘Her absolute denial of responsibility—and this is what always troubled me the most—made so much possible’. For Gaddis, Stein represented a limit case of modernist autonomy, where her denial of social responsibility was a condition for making ‘so much possible’. However, while Stein’s aesthetic practice of suspending judgement as to the importance of subject matter could be separated at least partially from her support for Pétain, her ultimate lesson was that such a conception of modernist autonomy was no longer possible: ‘in our time if we do not understand and recognize the responsibility of freedom we are lost’.20 Although Gaddis never directly connects Stein’s style to abstract painting in the manner of Beckett and Greenberg, Greenberg’s view that an ‘all-over picture’, where no decision is made as to the relative importance of any surface element, causes a crisis in the easel picture by calling into question its separation from its context of display would be shared in the novel’s treatment of Max’s picture. If all painted elements are equally important, why stop at the arbitrary border of a piece of canvas? Gaddis’s ambivalent attitude towards Stein is written into The Recognitions. The letter Agnes Deigh sends to Doctor Weisgall, apologizing for the false accusation of sexual assault that leads to Agnes’s breakdown, is written in a parody of Stein’s style, signalled with an allusion: ‘The book I am going to write will be called Flowers of Friendship’.21 While Agnes initially represents the corruption of the New York literary world, with her omnipresent Mickey Mouse watch a sign of her embrace of mass culture, her mimicry of Stein’s style opens up a possible moment of redemption. Adopting Stein’s technique of writing in the third person—‘Do you understand her, doctor?’—enables her to allude to a past of horrific sexual abuse, ‘[r]aped across three state lines’, explaining why a imagined scene of abuse caused her to break down (760). Here, the complexity of Stein’s mode of expression is given an ethical purpose, one which passes unnoticed by Agnes’s doctors: ‘for those lines written in frantic haste took time to interpret’ (763). This observation also warns the reader not to pass over the ambivalences in the novel’s quotations and détournments of modernist styles. The notebooks Gaddis kept while travelling record his study of modernist fiction, a study in which Katherine Mansfield emerged as the most influential theorist. Gaddis took notes from Mansfield’s Novels and Novelists (1930) that reveal her as a source for his treatment of character, the theme and formal device of recognition, and one of the many sources 20  21 January 1948, The Letters of William Gaddis, ed. by Steven Moore (Champaign, IL; London; Dublin, 2013), 84–5. 21  William Gaddis, The Recognitions (Harmondsworth, 1993), 757. Further citations will be in the main body of the text.

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for the title The Recognitions itself. Gaddis transcribed one of Mansfield’s most penetrating critiques of the stream-of-consciousness technique, a critique which David Trotter takes as marking a ‘significant disagreement’ between Mansfield and other modernist novelists.22 From Mansfield’s review of Dorothy Richardson’s Interim (1919) Gaddis copied: ‘(In certain modern authors) the whole arc of writing consists in the power with which they are able to register that faint shock of recognition. Glancing through life they make the discovery that there are certain experiences which are . . . peculiarly theirs . . . instead of attempting to relate their “­experiences” to life or to see them against any kind of background’.23 Richardson’s heroine Miriam receives ‘as usual, shock after shock of inward recognition . . . produced by such things as well-browned mutton, gas jets, varnished wallpapers . . . [which] leaves us feeling, as before, that everything being of equal importance to her, it is impossible that everything should not be of equal unimportance’.24 Mansfield is criticizing Interim’s undifferentiated narrative attention towards incident, thought, and object, a style producing a flowing temporality associated with cinematic recording and dreaming where anything can enter the narrative frame and e­ verything is of equal importance. This recalls Gaddis’s agreement with Porter’s critique of Stein, for whom ‘everything being equal, [was] unimportant in itself ’. Gaddis’s notes suggest Stein and Richardson’s drive towards undifferentiated narrative attention was contrasted with that of Mansfield and Conrad. Gaddis also transcribed the entirety of the ‘Preface’ to The Nigger of the Narcissus (1897), underlining that the goal of the novelist was to ‘make you see’, to ‘snatch in a moment of courage, from the remorseless rush of time, a passing phase of life’, and to hold up ‘the rescued fragment before all eyes in the light of a sincere mood’. In the margin to this description of one purpose of fiction—to produce a moment of recognition in the reader, rather than portray inward recognition in a character—Gaddis wrote: ‘Mansfield’.25 The opposition which emerges is between Stein and Richardson’s narratives of undifferentiated attention and flow, and Mansfield’s and Conrad’s narratives where the plot is shaped around a pivotal ‘moment’ of ‘recognition’, rescued from the flow of time, and intended to be experienced by the reader. 22  David Trotter, ‘The Modernist Novel’, in The Cambridge Companion to Modernism, ed. by Michael Levenson, 2nd edn (Cambridge, 2011), 90. 23 William Gaddis, ‘Commonplace Book “Panama”’, 1948, 12, MSS049 54/274, William Gaddis Collection, Olin Library, Washington University, St Louis; Katherine Mansfield, Novels & Novelists (London, 1930), 137–8. 24 Mansfield, Novels & Novelists, 140. 25 William Gaddis, ‘Record Notebook on The Recognitions’, 1948, 35–9, MSS049 54/248, William Gaddis Collection, Olin Library, Washington University, St Louis.

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Mansfield’s concern with ‘recognition’ in fiction is more complex than it at first seems, for her review of Richardson is also a comment on her own writing. ‘A Dill Pickle’ (1917) opens with Vera recognizing a past lover in the ‘ “special” way’ he peels his orange, and imagining that ‘[h]e must have felt that shock of recognition in her’.26 Yet the story fails to live up to the expectation that the reader will gain access to the complex of associations that made up this moment, alternating between the disastrous meeting between Vera and her lover, and her memories of the past. It undercuts narrative expectations, placing the recognition scene that traditionally concludes a plot at the opening of the story. Short as it is, the story plays self-reflexively with an expected association between narrative and psychological recognition in fiction. As with the inexplicable feeling that is the subject of ‘Bliss’, or the ellipses that conclude ‘Prelude’, Mansfield’s stories turn around expected yet frustrated scenes of narrative recognition in order to present, as in ‘Prelude’, a ‘false self ’.27 Gaddis took from his reading of Mansfield this association between the failure to include moments of narrative recognition and the exposure of a false or forged self. As with Stein, Gaddis’s reading of Mansfield is archived into The Recognitions, with a quote from Mansfield about the soul being ‘set before its Maker, hatless, dishevelled and gay’ referenced three times, each time ironically ­plagiarized and misunderstood (125; 304; 716). It was a symptom of the highly gendered construction of the mid-century modernist canon that rather than responding to such textual allusions, The Recognitions was long dogged with the shadow of Joyce’s influence, no doubt in part due to a jacket blurb by Stuart Gilbert calling the novel the American Ulysses, a novel Gaddis had never in fact read. Gaddis’s archive reveals the far more diverse and complicated lines of modernist influence that shaped his work’s turn away from the depiction of psychological depth, lines of influence that fed into the postwar novel more broadly. Begun in 1947 yet only completed in 1954, the long gestation of The Recognitions led to a quirk of literary history where Gaddis had appeared in two novels before he had published his own. In Chandler Brossard’s Who Walk in Darkness (1952), Harry Lees is nostalgic for the 1920s and writing an ‘exposé’ of the present that is also about the end of the Renaissance.28 Gaddis was also the source for Harold Sand in Jack Kerouac’s The Subterraneans (1958), written in three days in 1953. Sand is ‘a young novelist looking like Leslie Howard who’d just had a manuscript accepted 26  Katherine Mansfield, The Collected Fiction of Katherine Mansfield, 1916–1922, ed. by Gerri Kimber and Vincent O’ Sullivan (Edinburgh, 2012), 98. 27  The Collected Fiction of Katherine Mansfield, 1916–1922, 91. 28  Chandler Brossard, Who Walk in Darkness (London, 1952), 25; 74.

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and so acquired a strange grace in my eyes’, always ‘chattering about every tom dick and harry in art’.29 Aloof, erudite, and bookish, Sand is an outsider to the subterraneans of the Beat generation, a characterization that enables The Recognitions to be positioned in part as a reaction to the aesthetic values underlying Beat writing. This can be illustrated by their contrasting reactions to Abstract Expressionism. In 1957 Kerouac declared that one of the ‘Essentials of Spontaneous Prose’ was that ‘[t]he object is set before the mind . . . as in sketching’, and ‘this sketching language is undisturbed flow from the mind of personal-secret idea words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on subject of image’.30 In a letter the same year Kerouac placed the spontaneous sketch at the origins of Beat writing, telling Ed White ‘you started a whole new movement of American literature (­spontaneous prose & poetry) when (1951) in that Chinese restaurant on 125th street one night you told me to start sketching in the streets . . . how in Dickens did you know I wd. become a painter somehow’.31 The ‘­spontaneous brush stroke’ is equated to a literary poetics of non-revision summed up in the command to ‘[n]ever afterthink to “improve” or defray impressions’, a poetics fetishized by the preservation of the original scroll of On the Road.32 Spontaneity was the aesthetic value shared by Beat writing and ‘[a]rtists of genius, like Jackson Pollock, [who] have painted things never seen before. Anybody who’s seen his immense Samapattis of colour has no right to criticize his “crazy method” of splashing and throwing and dancing around’.33 The manuscript scroll and the drip painting: twin totems of the authentic artistic genius. T. J. Clark has argued that one reason for the resonance of Pollock’s work in this period lay in how its style provided ‘a relatively stable set of signifiers’ for ‘previously dis-organized aspects of self-representation— the wordless, the somatic, the wild, the self-risking, spontaneous, uncontrolled, “existential,” the “beyond” or “before” the conscious activities of mind’.34 Kerouac certainly proves this true, where splashes of paint signify spontaneity, authenticity, and originality by being records of an ­inaccessible moment of inspiration. Gaddis’s work does so too, but negatively, his poetics of parody, quotation, and forgery submitting the very 29  Jack Kerouac, Pic; The Subterraneans (London, 1973), 208; 217. 30  Jack Kerouac, ‘Essentials of Spontaneous Prose’, in Good Blonde & Others, ed. by Donald Allen (San Francisco, CA, 1993), 69. 31  28 April 1957, Jack Kerouac, Selected Letters 1957–1969, ed. by Ann Charters (New York, 1999), 30. 32  Kerouac, ‘Essentials of Spontaneous Prose’, 70. 33  Jack Kerouac, ‘Are Writers Made or Born?’, in Good Blonde & Others, ed. by Donald Allen (San Francisco, CA, 1993), 77. 34 T.  J.  Clark, ‘Jackson Pollock’s Abstraction’, in Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris and Montreal 1945–1964 (Cambridge, MA; London, 1990), 180.

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status of dripped paint as a signifier to probing scepticism. Pollock is referenced at the end of the novel, when the action returns to Paris in 1950 to catalogue the intellectual fashions of the American expatriates at the existentialist Café Flore: ‘Anyone could have seen it was Partisan Review she was reading’; ‘a passably dressed man had compounded a new philosophy’; and a voice asks: ‘And you know how he paints them? He climbs up a ladder with a piece of string soaked in ink, and he drops it from the ceiling onto a canvas on the floor’ (938; 939; 940). While not absolutely exact description, Pollock’s use of a ladder in creating his drip paintings had been widely advertised in print media from 1948 onwards.35 When asked in 1982 whether The Recognitions was intended as an ‘attack on modernism in art’, Gaddis responded: ‘That was not my purpose . . . [but] abstract expressionism . . . seems part of the disorder’.36 Gaddis’s knowledge of debates surrounding the meaning of Pollock’s technique was informed, as his Parisian allusions suggest, by his reading of Partisan Review: his editor at Harcourt Brace, Catherine Carver, was one of the journal’s editors, a role reprised in the novel by Don Bildow. Were one to correlate the dates, the issue being read at the Flore included one of a series of articles by William Barrett declaring ‘The End of Literature’ in Paris due to the French capitulation to ‘[c]ommunism and communist ideology’.37 Pollock’s appearance in the chatter of Americans in Paris ironizes a critical rhetoric, like that of Rosenberg, that framed Abstract Expressionist style as signifying American liberalism in opposition to decadent European Communism, showing how the stability of Abstract Expressionism’s signification was secured by its mediation by mass media and nationalist politics. But a painting appearing earlier in the novel calls into question the ability of that style to signify at all. Appropriately enough, this painting doesn’t have a single name. Herschel calls it ‘L’Ame d’un Chantier’ and Maude translates it as ‘[t]he soul of a singer’, but a more accurate translation would be ‘The Soul of a Building Site’ or ‘The Soul of a Mess’ (131). The painting, whose presentation is the reason for the first Greenwich Village party, is first described in an omniscient narrative voice: No one was looking at it. The unframed canvas was tan. Across the middle a few bright spots of red lead had been spattered. The spots in the lower lefthand corner were rust, above them long streaks of green paint, and to the 35  Peter Kalb R., ‘Picturing Pollock: Photography’s Challenge to the Historiography of Abstract Expressionism’, Journal of Art Historiography, 7 (2012), 1–17. 36  Tom LeClair, ‘An Interview with William Gaddis’, in Paper Empire: William Gaddis and the World System, ed. by Joseph Tabbi and Rone Shavers (Tuscaloosa, AL, 2007), 20. 37  William Barrett, ‘The End of Literature’, Partisan Review, XVI/9 (1949), 949.

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upper right a large smudge of what appeared to be black grease. It looked as though the back of an honest workman’s shirt had been mounted for ­exhibition, that the sleeves, collar, and tails might be found among the rubble in the fireplace (176).

Later, at the second Greenwich Village party, Anselm offers his own account of the painting: ‘Christ, don’t you know Max by now? Like that shirt he cut up and framed, he called it a painting, “The Workman’s Soul”?’ (623). Lisa Siraganian rightly points out that we cannot tell ‘whether this “honoured” painting actually is an honest workman’s shirt, a dishonest workman’s shirt, a painting of a workman’s shirt, or a painting designed to counterfeit a workman’s shirt’. But in suggesting that it could allude to either ‘a Pollock, a Kline, a De Kooning, or slightly anachronistically, an early work of Pop art such as Rauschenberg’s Bed (1955)’, she elides a distinction between two radically different forms of postwar American art, and in so doing elides what is at stake in the ambiguous presentation of Marx’s painting in relationship to the novel’s engagement with visual art as a whole.38 This distinction is expressed by the contradictory descriptions of Max’s ‘canvas’ as ‘unframed’ by the omniscient narration and ‘framed’ by Anselm. If the canvas really is ‘unframed’, so that it is a workman’s shirt, then it stands in silent judgement over the party: Above them all the Worker’s Soul hung silent, refusing comment; though the red lead recalled bridges built by horny hands, sexually unlike any that fluttered glasses beneath it now, the spots of rust a heavy male back straining between girders, generically different from any weaving here. For all its spatters of brightness, that canvas looked very tired, hanging foreign and forlorn over the sad garden (185).

In order to provide a critique of Greenwich Village superficiality, the ‘canvas’ really does need to be a worker’s shirt designated and ‘framed’ as a work of art by Max’s act of choice, the kind of art work defined by the acts of appropriation and recontextualization that Thierry de Duve has argued originates with Duchamp’s readymade.39 On the other hand, if the canvas is a Pollock-style painting which merely looks like the expression of a ‘worker’s soul’, this critical perspective is lost, and Max is simply a cynic exploiting a simulacrum of labour for the profit of exchange. However: the twist of the screw is that if the canvas as art work is to offer a critical perspective on the Village party-goers, its ability to do so lies not in any property it possesses in itself; rather, its critical meaning derives from Max’s act of ‘framing’ and recontextualizing a found object in a specific 38 Siraganian, Modernism’s Other Work, 119. 39  Thierry de Duve, Kant After Duchamp (Cambridge, MA; London, 1996), 92–3.

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site. If it is a painting created by Max, its style plagiarizes the signification of labour in the service of profit—the autonomous art work as the worst kind of commodity. If it is a recontextualized shirt turned into a critical art work by Max’s act of choice, a different kind of mystification takes place. Max succeeds in not only selling his ‘shirt’, but also other abstract paintings that Anselm claims plagiarize close-up photographs of Constable canvases (an idea stolen from an anonymous voice at the party). The act of recontextualizing an object as ‘art’ in service of critique appears as an act of autonomous authorial choice, but in fact depends on the recognition of the object as a commodity: its purchase as a commodity is what makes the act of recontextualization an act of aesthetic production. Max’s canvas points up a limitation of the institutional theory of art upon which appropriation depends, which is also the major limitation of Duchamp’s readymades: if institutions determine what is art, what determines how institutions gain that power of determination? All The Recognitions suggests is that neither the aesthetic autonomy claimed by Abstract Expressionism nor the ironic appropriations of an artist like Rauschenberg can provide an answer to that question. Both options available to the art work in the economy of New York art in the late 1940s are forgeries of what art could be, and the fact that the conflicting perspectives cannot be resolved in terms of the narrative information supplied suggests they cannot be resolved in the social world that the novel depicts. The novel’s treatment of Max’s shirt anticipates to an uncanny degree Michael Fried’s later sense that Greenberg’s theory of modernism, if not the Abstract Expressionist practice based on it, raised the question of the difference between art and objecthood that it could not answer on its own terms. As early as 1948 Greenberg had written that Pollock’s ‘all-over’ style had precipitated the ‘crisis’ of the easel picture: dispensing with ‘beginning, middle, or end’, it produced an ‘ambiguity’ as to why representation ended within the confines of a canvas rather than continuing out into a larger physical environment.40 Rather than being solved, this ambiguity as to what a painting is was accentuated by the crystallization of Greenberg’s definition of ‘Modernist Painting’ in 1960 as a practice based on selfcriticism and medium specificity. In that essay, Greenberg claimed that in the case of painting, ‘Modernism has found that these limits can be pushed back indefinitely before a picture stops being a picture and turns into an arbitrary object’.41 However, only two years later Greenberg admitted that by his own logic, if the ‘essence’ of pictorial art was ‘flatness and the delimitation of flatness . . . then a stretched or tacked up canvas exists as a 40 Fried, ‘Art and Objecthood’, 148–72; Greenberg, Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 2, 221. 41 Greenberg, Modernism with a Vengeance, 90.

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picture—though not necessarily a successful one’.42 Fried’s attempt to avoid the implication that modernist painting ends up erasing itself into objecthood was to adopt Stanley Cavell’s notion of acknowledgement and argue that modernism involved not the reduction to a medium, but the production of art works that acknowledge the historically changing conventions that constitute art in different media. Objects, in contrast, always only appear as ‘objects in a situation—one that, by definition, includes the beholder’; or quoting Robert Morris, an object situated ‘under varying conditions of light and spatial context’.43 Art defines itself through its own acknowledgement of its conventions; objects are defined by their beholders and contexts. ‘Art and Objecthood’, Rosalind E. Krauss has written, drove a ‘theoretical wedge into ’60s discourse on art, somehow dividing that period into a before and after’; it also drove a wedge of discourse into art that similarly divided a period into a before and after.44 Since modernist art was at base ‘a criticism of itself ’, criticism had become necessary to art: ‘Criticism that shares the basic premises of modernist painting finds itself compelled to play a role in its development closely akin to, and only somewhat less important than, that of new paintings themselves’.45 In attempting to preserve aesthetic autonomy when threated by minimalism’s context-dependency, Fried’s essay blurred the difference between work and criticism, between ‘art’ as something beheld and between art as the product of a linguistic statement, and for this reason it was, perversely, seen as a point of origin for conceptual art.46 With this ‘intolerably arrogant conception of the critic’s job’, who decides where art ends and objecthood begins: artist, or critic?47 What about the novelist? In this case, the novelist chose not to decide. By presenting a ‘canvas’ where it is impossible to determine whether it is an abstract painting or a worker’s shirt, an autonomous art work or a recontextualized object, The Recognitions foregrounds the limitations of both these definitions of art. Believing it to be an abstract painting, Otto’s view of Max’s canvas pushes to a reductio ad absurdum the concept of medium specificity as the ground for aesthetic autonomy: ‘Of course, a painter is limited by his materials, isn’t he? I mean there are pigments you can’t just mix together in certain mediums and expect them to bind. I mean of course they break up . . . Inherent vice, I believe they call it’ (181–2). Basil Valentine also sees 42 Greenberg, Modernism with a Vengeance, 131–2. 43  Fried, ‘Art and Objecthood’, 153. 44  Rosalind  E.  Krauss, ‘Theories of Art after Minimalism and Pop’, in Discussions in Contemporary Culture: Number 1, ed. by Hal Foster (Seattle, WA, 1987), 59. 45  Michael Fried, ‘Three American Painters’, in Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews (Chicago, IL; London, 1998), 219–20. 46 Harrison, Essays on Art & Language, 29–62. 47  Fried, ‘Three American Painters’, 220.

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‘[i]nherent vice’ as the essence of painting, an essence revealed by the market: ‘no one will insure against inherent vice’ (234). At a certain level, a medium is simply an assemblage of matter, and all paint decays without restoration. This ‘inherent’ quality of the medium is what enables Valentine’s forgeries, since it enables fakes to be disguised as restorations. At the same time as Gaddis was writing The Recognitions, Robert Rauschenberg was exploring the inherent vice of the medium specificity claimed by modernist painting in a number of works. A set of pure white and black paintings, White Paintings (1950–1) and Untitled (1951), present themselves as merely paint and canvas, but they simply repeat the reductions of Malevich’s White on White (1915) and Black Square (1915), works whose material disintegration exposes the inherent vice of attempts to ground abstraction in either the transcendence of materiality, or a return to its mere facticity. Inherent vice also appears in Untitled (ca. 1951), where black paint is layered over newsprint so it cracks over time, and Dirt Painting (for John Cage) (ca. 1953) is simply dirt: the medium as decaying matter. In Untitled (Gold Painting) (ca. 1953), the canvas is ­covered in peeling gold leaf and fabric on newspaper: as for Basil Valentine, the inherent vice of the medium grounds not aesthetic autonomy but forgery’s ability to turn painting into a commodity. If one strand of Rauschenberg’s interrogation of Abstract Expressionism’s claims for aesthetic autonomy illuminates that undertaken in The Recog­ nitions, another shows the stark differences between Gaddis’s novel and much subsequent American art of the 1950s. The same year The Recognitions was published, Rauschenberg produced a combine called Untitled (ca. 1955) that is strikingly similar to Max’s ‘canvas’: a canvas shirt spattered with green and rust-coloured painting, layered with newsprint and kitsch reproductions of Old Masters (Fig. 2.1). But whereas in The Recognitions, Max’s production of works of art by recontextualizing found objects is presented as a Faustian pact where social critique is purchased at the cost of mystifying the commodification that makes this possible by pretending that it is Max’s act of choice alone that makes the object an art work, Rauschenberg’s practice embraced this mystified status of the artist’s role. As his 1962 telegram declared: ‘This is a Portrait of Iris Clert if I Say So’. As Charles Harrison has archly observed of this telegram, ‘the idea that a work of art achieves its identity as such through the stipulating power of the individual artist is a weak form of the critique of the fetishization of the artist as author’.48 That Iris Clert was a gallerist, and this act involved producing a commodity, only compounds the weakness of this critique. Of course, the bad dream of modernism that haunts Gaddis’s The Recognitions is that this critique is meant to be weak, that a weak critique of the art 48 Harrison, Essays on Art & Language, 93.

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Fig. 2.1.  Robert Rauschenberg, Untitled, ca. 1955, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/DACS, London/VAGA, New York, 2017

market is what drives its repeated innovations—that modernist artists have always been like Max. The importance of The Recognition’s interrogation of these issues in visual modernism was retrospectively confirmed by A Frolic of His Own, which returns to the ways in which site-specific art seems to shift the source of aesthetic autonomy from the medium to the artist’s act of choice—in this case, the choice of a site—only to mystify the social

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systems in which such an act is possible. Based on the actual controversy surrounding Richard’s Serra’s Tilted Arc sculpture, the novel shows that the ‘site-specificity’ and context-dependency claimed by Serra as the grounds of the uniqueness of his art work were contingent by-products of a legal system that he could not a­ cknowledge. When in the case of Serra’s sculpture the law ruled that the sculpture should be relocated, Serra claimed the work no longer existed.49 Better to produce nothing at all than works forced to acknowledge the problems with modernist conceptions of both site-specificity and aesthetic autonomy. The stakes of Gaddis’s attempt to show the limitations of appropriation can be shown by comparison with the work of Kathy Acker. Acker positioned her practice as continuing one of the two contrasting legacies of visual modernism similarly identified in The Recognitions. ‘The artist’, she wrote, ‘doesn’t need to find the limits of his or her medium, to “make it new”’; however, if Pound’s demand to ‘MAKE IT NEW’ also included the critique of authorship and property through appropriation, then she belonged to that tradition.50 While that tradition did include writers like William Burroughs, Acker’s main model was then-contemporary visual art. ‘When I did Don Quixote’, she explained, ‘what I really wanted to do was a Sherri Levine painting. I’m fascinated by Sherrie’s work’. Levine’s work involved ‘pure plagiarism’—the practice pursued for its own sake, rather than to explore questions of identity or gender.51 As opposed to ‘where you copy something with theoretical justification behind what you’re doing,’, the pure plagiarism Acker was interested in made literary production solely an act of choice: the choice of which text to copy.52 This obviously can have significant theoretical implications—in the case of Don Quixote, the rewriting of canonical male texts to tell stories of female desire—but for Acker, appropriation must first and foremost be understood as the act of choice, the ability to realize desire in choice being the definition of the freedom coursing through all of Acker’s work. Michael Clune has argued that in its attempt to pursue this freedom to its limit, Acker’s later work turns to visions of ‘a radically free market, “the anarchy of private enterprise”, where universal values and undistorted forms of exchange are founded within rather than without the body, and where free 49 Martha Buskirk and Clara Weyergraf-Serra, eds., The Destruction of Tilted Arc: Documents (Cambridge, MA; London, 1991). 50  Kathy Acker, ‘A Few Notes on Two of My Books’, Review of Contemporary Fiction, 9/3 (1989), 34; 36. 51  Ellen G. Friedman and Kathy Acker, ‘A Conversation with Kathy Acker’, Review of Contemporary Fiction, 9/3 (1989), 12. 52 Larry McCafferty and Kathy Acker, ‘An Interview with Kathy Acker’, Mississippe Review, 20/1/2 (1991), 91.

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individuals encounter no limit but the economic’.53 Acker’s interest in plagiarism not as a theoretical investigation but as a pure expression of desire through choice is consonant with this understanding of freedom: the ‘choice’ involved in appropriation is the ‘choice’ involved in economic exchange. Acker’s understanding of writing, as Walter Benn Michaels has argued, is thus post-historical: as in the act of plagiarism, style and form index not historical change but individual choice within a natural system of economic exchange.54 Plagiarism and appropriation are models for a literature which seeks to escape history. What then is Gaddis’s novel: a painting or a shirt? A Pollock or a Rauschenberg? Does its value lie in its ability to ‘refuse comment’ on the context in which it is produced, or does its criticality lie in its satirical dependency upon a context with which the novel is complicit? By identifying this bifurcation within postwar visual modernism, The Recognitions is able to suggest that the novel should be neither. Neither aesthetic autonomy nor context-dependent critique offer convincing alternatives to the seductions of forgery and complicity with commodification that tempt the novel’s artists and writers, Wyatt, Otto, and Max. However, the form and poetics of the novel itself constitute a way out of this double-bind that at the same time figures how the novel is to be related to history. Just as how A Frolic of His Own draws from the texts of the legal system in which it is produced—situating itself within the system it is critiquing in order to effect that critique—Gaddis’s composition of The Recognitions involved an exposure of the ways in which the novel’s historical context had determined its scope to pose questions about aesthetic autonomy and contextdependency: the novel is as much about its historical context as it is about the difficulties of artistic production in that context. In exposing its own context, the novel presents a different cause for the threatening of modernist notions of aesthetic autonomy and the seductions and obsessions of forgery: the Cold War. C O L D WA R A S C O N T E X T, F O RG E RY A S  R E P RO D U C T I O N ‘The book is a novel about forgery’. Of all the people to whom a notoriously reclusive Gaddis could offer this simple description of The Recognitions shortly before it was published, why J. Robert Oppenheimer, inventor of 53 Michael Clune, ‘Blood Money: Sovereignty and Exchange in Kathy Acker’, Contemporary Literature, 45/3 (2004), 494. 54  Walter Benn Michaels, The Shape of the Signifier: 1967 to the End of History (Princeton, NJ, 2004), 66–8; 176–82.

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the atomic bomb and recent victim of a bout of anti-Communist paranoia in which his national security clearance was publicly revoked? ‘But for having read your recent address at Columbia’s anniversary . . . I was so stricken by the succinctness, and the use of language, with which you stated the problems which it has taken me seven years to assemble and almost a thousand pages to present’.55 The novel had been summed up by Oppenheimer’s view that the ‘radical, formal experimentation’ of the arts and sciences in the first half of the century had led to something unexpectedly ‘new in the world’, the ‘massive dissolution and corruption of authority, in belief, in ritual, and in temporal order. Yet this is the world we have come to live in . . . To assail the changes that have unmoored us from the past is futile, and in a deep sense, it is wicked. We need to recognize the change and learn what resources we have’.56 The Recognitions, then, is a novel about the legacy of modernism in the Cold War. The novel’s concern with forgery, its status, as Gaddis later wrote, as ‘itself . . . a kind of forgery’, is the way in which it responded to Oppenheimer’s demand.57 Oppenheimer’s persecution had been caused by a Cold War obsession with authenticity, the fear of being unable to tell what is real and what is fake, what is fiction and what is reality: an obsession allegorized into the terrain of art by The Recognitions. Yet Gaddis’s experience of government propaganda and FBI investigation led to his own distinct understanding of the Cold War as a historical context: first, the Cold War as a ­interpretative regime in which it was impossible to ‘mean out of context’ and thus one reason why claims for the autonomy of Abstract Expressionism had come to seem dubious; and second, the Cold War as the latest stage in the development of a ‘technological democracy’ aimed at the substitution of artistic risk and failure through technological reproduction and programming. If Abstract Expressionism raised the question as to what extent the meaning of a work of art is determined by its context, Gaddis’s experience of the Cold War served to define the historical context he wrote into his novel. The intention to write about the Cold War was present from the novel’s inception. In Mexico in 1947, Gaddis wrote to his mother: ‘I have the idea—which as you know I have had for some time—that war comes soon. And Blague must be done before that, concerning itself with Armageddon &c [italics original]’.58 When Blague was abandoned and The Recognitions begun, his attitude towards the Truman Doctrine darkened: ‘America I have such pity at, such fury at . . . Barren ignorance is most horrible when 55  4 January 1955, Gaddis, Letters, 218. 56  J. Robert Oppenheimer, The Open Mind (New York, 1955), 135; 141. 57  18 September 1978, Gaddis, Letters, 338. 58  15 April 1947, Gaddis, Letters, 69.

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it is in power—the picture of the American soldier abroad will never cease to make me shudder. And the prospect of another war, wanting to fight the good fight and not finding it in my country’s side, worst of all’.59 When Gaddis returned to America, the Cold War intruded in a more direct manner upon his writing. From October 1951 to mid-1952 Gaddis worked for the New York Office of the US State Department’s Office of International Information and Current Affairs, working for the Voice of America radio service and writing articles for the magazine America Illustrated, which appeared in Russian and Farsi. One article, which he later admitted was a piece of ‘propaganda’, praised a 1951 stage adaptation of Melville’s Billy Budd.60 For the adaptors of the play, Melville’s story of ‘good, evil, and the way the world takes such absolutes was ­material enough for two veterans of a war, a depression, and the moving cold front . . . This is a morality play and we do not apologize for its being such’.61 Gaddis was not the only propagandist turning to Melville at the start of the Cold War. William V. Spanos has argued that the rediscovery of Melville inaugurated by F. O. Matthiessen’s American Renaissance (1941) saw ‘the harnessing of Moby-Dick as such to the global Cold War scenario, the scenario that privileged Ishmaelite America as the symbolic agent of the “free-world” in its self-ordained effort to resist Ahabian communist aggression’.62 Geraldine Murphy has written that for the ‘anti-Stalinist modernists’ associated with Partisan Review and Commentary in the late 1940s and early 1950s, ‘Billy Budd became their object lesson in the danger of innocence’.63 In Lionel Trilling’s novel The Middle of the Journey (1947), differing interpretations of Billy Budd expose, as Trilling claimed in 1975, ‘the clandestine negation of the political life which Stalinist Communism had fostered among the intellectuals of the West’.64 Gaddis also participated in this reinterpretation of Melville, but his recognition that this was Government-sponsored ‘propaganda’ shows a more sceptical and selfaware grasp of the ways in which historical events were determining the act of literary interpretation. The composition of The Recognitions became subject to the power of Cold War paranoia to determine the interpretation of texts. In 1952, due to repeated suspicions that it harboured Communist sympathizers, the 59  29 January 1948, Letters, 87. 60  [April–May?] 1954, Letters, 215. 61  Louis O. Coxe and Robert Chapman, Billy Budd: A Play in Three Acts. Based on a Novel by Herman Melville (Princeton, NJ, 1951), 57–8. 62 William V. Spanos, The Errant Art of Moby-Dick: The Canon, the Cold War, and the Struggle for American Studies (Durham, NC; London, 1995), 33. 63  Geraldine Murphy, ‘The Politics of Reading Billy Budd’, American Literary History, 1/2 (1989), 377. 64  Lionel Trilling, The Middle of the Journey (Oxford, 1981), xx–xi.

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New York Voice of America office was investigated by the FBI.65 Gaddis was interviewed by FBI agents, and the Bureau maintained a file on him until the end of the 1980s. The declassified file, obtained by Gaddis for his archive, reveals the extent of his experience of Cold War domestic surveillance. After Gaddis started working for the Voice of American in August 1951, J. Edgar Hoover personally authorized an investigation and interview of Gaddis as part of the House Un-American Activities Committee investigation into the law that established ‘information’ programmes like Voice of America, Public Law 402.66 Gaddis blamed the ‘Voice of America business’ on Joseph McCarthy ‘and the way things can be twisted’. Anxiety about the twisting of meaning was how the Cold War impacted his writing, as shown by a letter to his mother whose self-conscious enactment of interpretative paranoia justifies a lengthy quotation: As taking things out of their original context (as, as far as this goes, and, as far as, like an idiot, I told the State Dept ‘Special Investigator’ cops could quite easily be done with my work to support their side (I mean this work I’m now on, the Dale Carnegie business for instance; not what I wrote for the State last winter)) is a common and obviously effective ‘trick’, and that’s what propaganda is, you know. I mean falsifying to the extent of not telling the whole story (the way women lie). What advertising is, and that’s what’s risible at this point, that we’re being eaten out from the inside by advertising like no other nation in history (‘selling’) and from the outside by this bullying voice on the radio now. Good God, maybe Martin Dworkin’s a top-Communist, maybe Bill Haygood is, (this I suppose should be burned, you know how I mean it but those lines ‘out of context’:—Now Mr Gaddis, you do respect your Mother?/Yes sir./ And I would assume that you usually tell her the truth about things which concern you and your affairs?/ Yes sir./ Is it true that you wrote her a personal letter dated 19 february 1953, in which you mentioned the possibility of two men whom you knew and worked with in the State Department being ‘topCommunists’/Yes sir, but I . . . /And did you use it in reference to these two men who had been your close associates? But I . . . But I . . . But I . . .67

Aside from some crude misogyny, this letter enacts the same uncertainty about meaning and context as that shown by the treatment of Max’s ‘canvas’. The trick of the FBI’s ‘Special Investigator’ cops is to recontextualize 65 Nicholas J. Cull, The Cold War and the United States Information Agency: American Propaganda and Public Diplomacy, 1945–1989 (Cambridge, 2008), 67–80. 66  William Gaddis, ‘Gaddis F.B.I. File’, MSS049, 142/523, Olin Library, Washington University, St Louis. 67  Edith Gaddis, 19 February 1953, Gaddis, Letters, 203.

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statements in order to produce the meanings they require, and as Gaddis admits, this could quite easily be done with sections of The Recognitions he was writing at the time. However, these sections about the ‘Carnegie business’ themselves involve lines taken ‘out of context’ from Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936), quoted as they are read by Mr Pivner, a character lying somewhere between the sociological signposts of David Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd (1950) and William H. Whyte’s The Organization Man (1956). In the context of a scene describing Pivner’s lonely apartment and failed dreams, the meaning of such lines is viciously ironized: ‘Let me repeat: the principles taught in this book will work only when they come from the heart. I am not advocating a bag of tricks. I am talking about a new way of life’ (498). Even more recursively, Carnegie’s writing technique also involves recontextualizing material: ‘The carefully selected quotations were impressive, and from as many sources as the success stories’ (499). Across the spheres of law, art, the market, and literature, the Cold War here names not only a historical period, but an interpretative practice where it becomes almost impossible to ‘mean out of context’. This effect of the Cold War as a totalizing context has been aptly described by Donald E. Pease as coming from its ability to be ‘the explanation [italics original]’, to appear ‘persuasive without having undergone the work of persuasion’.68 In The Recognitions, the ‘Cold War’ simply is this contextual determination of meaning. Pivner’s failure to even suspect that he is being fed lines lifted out of context—his failure to be the kind of Cold War paranoiac that would become a fixture of the postwar American novel—is the reason for his susceptibility to nationalist propaganda; as the narrative voice observes, to question Carnegie’s writing would be to question ‘that conspiracy of self-preservation known as patriotism’ (501). It would also be to question that conspiracy known as capitalism, with Pivner being an equally trusting reader of the advertisements of Rootsicoola soda and Necrostyle medication. Pivner also ‘automatically’ reads advertisements for guides to art forgeries: the ‘Paint It Yourself Collection [italics original]’ (563) and ‘THE GHOST ARTISTS . . . We Paint It You Sign It Why Not Give an Exhibition?’ (741). If Pivner’s character shows a life where all forms of self-expression and creativity have been colonized by consumer capitalism, the fact that forgery is part of this colonization means that Wyatt’s forgeries, conceived as a form of resistance to a corrupt modern art world, are also subsumed into the logic of consumerism. Wyatt is less different from Pivner than he thinks: while his problem might not be a lack of 68 Donald  E.  Pease, ‘Moby Dick and the Cold War’, in The American Renaissance Reconsidered, ed. by Walter Benn Michaels and Donald Pease (Baltimore, MD; London, 1985), 113–14.

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paranoia, his attempted return to artistic values of the past as a form of critique of his present fails due to his wholly ahistorical view of art. Wyatt’s art is tainted by the suspicion of forgery from his very first drawing: to draw a robin usurps the role of the Protestant God, ‘the only true creator’ (34). Valentine’s Faustian seduction of Wyatt succeeds because of Wyatt’s faith in the ability of his forgeries to be perfect reproductions, in the ability of a mimesis of a mimesis to transcend history, and the impossibly polarized field of Cold War artistic production represented by Max’s canvas. In contrast, Valentine’s historical sense undermines Wyatt’s theory of forgery: ‘Most forgeries last only a few generations, because they’re so carefully done in the taste of the period, a forged Rembrandt, for instance, confirms everything that that period sees in Rembrandt’ (230). Valentine is clear on the difference between an original and a fake. ‘Forgery is calumny’, he accuses Wyatt, ‘[e]very piece you do is calumny on the artist you forge’ (250). The ellipses in Wyatt’s response signify what he cannot call his ‘work’: ‘No it’s . . . the recognitions go much deeper, much further back, and I . . . this . . . the X-ray tests, and ultraviolet and infra-red, the experts with their photomicrography and . . . macrophotography, do you think that’s all there is to it?’ His work attempts to ‘look with memories that . . . go beyond themselves, that go back to . . . where mine goes’ (250). Wyatt opposes his forgeries to the copies produced by technological reproduction: ‘This . . . these reproductions . . . they have no right to try to spread one painting out like this, these cheap fakes is what they are, being scattered everywhere’ (250). Ironically, however, Wyatt uses these very reproductions to produce his own painted forgeries. Shortly after Wyatt’s debate with Valentine, we see in his studio that ‘[l]ittered about the room were details of paintings, magnified reproductions of details from Bouts, van der Weyden, van der Goes; and some photographs of such high magnification that few experts could have told whose work they represented, details of brush work’ (271). Right to the end, Wyatt sees the test of his forgeries as deceiving ‘X-ray pictures’, ‘a Leitz mirror condenser’ and ‘a micro extraction apparatus’, not realizing these are the technologies which provide his knowledge of what pigments and oils he should use (874). Among the many ironic misrecognitions that lead to Wyatt’s failure first as a modern artist and then as a forger is his inability to recognize his dependence on the technological reproductions he claims are destroying art. Valentine’s debate with Wyatt reveals an important distinction: a historicist approach to art enables Valentine to tell the difference between an original and a fake. It takes the wilfully inauthentic figure of Valentine to suggest that the crises of inauthenticity suffered by characters throughout the novel stem from a flawed conception of artistic creation as pure originality, one which ignores the historicity of concepts such as originality and authenticity themselves.

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Paradoxically, Wyatt’s belief that forgery can return him to the aesthetic values of the past involves ignoring history, encapsulated in the novel by technological change, his fate underlining Oppenheimer’s belief that ‘[t]o assail the changes that have unmoored us from the past is futile, and in a deep sense, it is wicked’. Wyatt’s seemingly antiquarian forgeries engage with a wider question of aesthetic modernity: what is the status of painting after the invention of the technical reproduction of images? And if Wyatt is an allegory of writer: what is the status of fiction’s claim to reproduce reality in the postwar explosion of technical images that permeates The Recognitions? If Wyatt has no sense of how technology and Cold War ­politics have transformed the meaning of aesthetic values like autonomy, originality, and authenticity, another character does: Benny’s friend who has ‘written a whole history of the player piano. A whole history. It took me two years, its got everything in it’ (579). This is Gaddis in disguise, the project an early version of that which still obsessed the narrator of Agapē Agape: the history of the player piano as an investigation into ‘the place of art and the artist in technological democracy’. Gaddis told Katherine Anne Porter in 1948 that he had begun work on the player piano project at the same time as The Recognitions, suggesting there was a close kinship between these two projects, and that the novel was exploring in the realm of visual art what the uncompleted history of the player piano was exploring in relation to music, a history which outlined the ways in which the Cold War as a phase in technological democracy impacted on artistic production.69 In the notes Gaddis compiled for the history of the player piano while writing The Recognitions, the player piano’s rise and fall is an allegory of art’s transition from the industrial to the digital age. In a summary written when The Recognitions was completed, the player piano is credited with introducing ‘(1) punched-roll programming of “information”, which is the basis of modern automation communications and control systems, and (2) the possibility of “creative participation” in artistic endeavor’. But the real secret history of the player piano is that it represents a wider onset of the ‘application of systems designed to accomplish tangible and predetermined ends, to such intangible goals as those of the arts, which are determined only in their accomplishment’. From the retrospective view of the 1950s, ‘mechanization itself was not that era’s real contribution to our modern technology, but rather the related but more pervasive principle of organization and programming manifest today in the anxious concern with patterns in automation and cybernetics, mathematics and physics, sociology, game theory, and, finally, genetics’.70 With this thesis of the goal 69  May 1948, Gaddis, Letters, 107.

70  The Rush for Second Place, 142; 143.

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of modernity as the management of risk, and the distinctive Cold War disciplines of game theory and cybernetics the tools of that management, Gaddis anticipates the influential theories of postindustrial society developed by Ulrich Beck, Anthony Giddens, and Niklas Luhmann, themselves products of a shift of focus in theorizations of modernity away from mechanization to the production and management of information.71 Unlike these sociologists, however, Gaddis’s interest in the history of the player piano lies in what happens when the drive towards the management of risk is applied to ‘the areas of the arts where truth and error are ­interdependent possibilities in the search for unpredetermined perfection’. Instead of a sociological dissertation, Gaddis declares that ‘only satire can project the pathos of a society at the peak of its development seeking . . . to demonstrate that the illusion of intimacy and proficiency is but the first step toward alienation’.72 The Recognitions was that satire, and an early extract from the player piano project published in 1951 as ‘Stop Player: Joke No. 4’ illustrates the ideas developed in fiction, rather than in a historical survey. ‘Roused by the steam whistle, democracy’s claims devoured technology’s promise, banishing failure to inherent vice where in painting it remains today’.73 Painting becomes the art form which can register most fully the effects of technological modernity precisely because it has become an obsolete ‘failure’: inherently imperfect, risk cannot be eliminated from even the most mechanical of painting techniques—such as Wyatt’s forgeries. Gaddis’s interest in painting’s failure is a socio-historical version of Beckett’s aesthetic valorization of Bram van Velde’s art of failure: for both writers, the belief of painting’s pending obsolescence makes it a model for their fiction. Gaddis’s research notes on the player piano project are clear on this relationship between painting and The Recognitions, and on the Cold War as the historical context changing the status of a foundational trope of visual modernism, predictions of painting’s obsolescence going back to Baudelaire and Manet. Anticipating the kind of comparison made by Herbert Marcuse in One Dimensional Man (1964), his notes saw the ‘[c]oalescence of US/ USSR in Soviet NAM’s dialectical materialism; total organization (technology and collective society)’. Cold War rhetoric only disguised the similarities between the US and the USSR. Both societies were engaged in the ‘obliteration of arts’ through ‘[b]oredom and entertainment; USSR theory to practice; US practice to theory’. Both societies were intent on the 71 Ulrich Beck, Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity (London, 1992); Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge, 1990); Niklas Luhmann, Risk: A Sociological Theory (Berlin; New York, 1993). 72 Gaddis, The Rush for Second Place, 144; 143. 73 Gaddis, The Rush for Second Place, 9.

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‘[e]limination of the artist—and forgery /// Elimination of failure’, adding: ‘(then what of painting?)’. The dialectical approach of Agapē Agape is muted yet discernible in these notes: ‘Art the parent of technology; ie boredom parent of entertainment (Schopenhauer)’, both aimed at ‘[r]uling out failure’. In conclusion he noted ‘mention THE RECOGNITIONS’.74 In this sketch for a history of the relationship between art and technology that defined the Cold War as an era where the substitution of artistic risk with technological reproduction was part of a broader strategy of social control, Gaddis planned to present The Recognitions as a depiction of that era. The novel’s exploration of the failure of painting is a means to show exactly what is working to eliminate artistic risk. Wyatt, however, lacks the historical perspective of Benny’s friend, author of this history of the piano player: he fails to recognize his own striving for a perfect reproduction of images from the past, and his desire to return to a pre-modern regime of artistic production involves his own attempt at eliminating the risk of failure that for Gaddis is a form of resistance against Cold War rationalization. When told by Ellery the advertising executive that his forgery skills would be perfect for his new campaign for Mother of God pain relief, Wyatt’s inability to admit the similarities between his work and that of the production of advertising images is shown by his sudden disappearance from the narrative. Ellery and the television producer are ushering in ‘The Age of Publicity’, whose psychoanalytic strategy is ‘sublimation, see? This is the whoring of the arts and we’re the pimps, see?’ (736). The recurring advertisements for Necrostyle products reveal the goal of postwar capitalism as the control of sexual and biological risk: ‘Necrostyle, in the vanguard of modern civilized living . . . Necrostyle, the wafer-shaped sleeping pill, no chewing no aftertaste. Zap, the wonder-wakener. Cuff, its on the cuff. And Pubies, the newest . . . [italics original]’ (737–8). Advertising and television have become the new avant-garde, where 1949’s biggest television hit is a live feed of a suicide attempt. Wyatt is not set up as a noble failure in the novel, a counterpart to the duplicity of Max. Rather, the significance of Wyatt’s plot is to show that his failure to recognize his dependency upon technologically reproduced images and his denial of the historicity of art leave him using the same strategies of forgery as Dale Carnegie and Necrostyle’s ad men. If the Cold War as an interpretative regime and phase in the history of technology is aimed at the elimination of painting, what then of writing? Basil Valentine is already planning to use the story of Wyatt’s forgeries for a ‘novel’ he plans to write (252), and he provides information to a ‘Willie’, 74 William Gaddis, ‘ “PP Out” (1950s); Notes on “Player” ’, MSS049 119/419, Olin Library, Washington University, St Louis.

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via a friend, about the Clementine Recognitions for a ‘novel’ Willie is writing. The last time ‘Willie’ appears, he is working for Ellery’s television production company as a script writer. Willie the novelist participates in those systems of forgery that Wyatt resists. By including a character in the novel who is in the process of turning the events of the novel into something that sounds an awful lot like that novel, The Recognitions self-reflexively draws attention to its own fictionality, its status as a different kind of object from the paintings it discusses even while taking them as models for the predicament of the novel in Cold War modernity. The ability for a novel to acknowledge and thematize its own fictionality and process of composition is presented as what paintings as art objects lack—at least these paintings. However, it is carefully never made certain whether Willie is actually the author of The Recognitions, the novel hovering on the border of the kind of explicit metafictional self-reference caused by including the author of a fiction in that fiction present in the work of John Barth, for example. Instead, The Recognitions points to its own fictionality with a different literary technique, one proclaimed with much less subtlety than the fleeting appearances of Willie: the technique of the recognition scene. THE RECOGNITION OF FICTION In building up a portrait of a world where it has become impossible to distinguish an original from a fake, to establish either aesthetic autonomy or context-dependency, The Recognitions weaves together numerous plots structured around failed moments of recognition. Wyatt’s failure to recognize the implications of his dependency upon photographic images; Otto’s failure to recognize his play’s plagiarism of Faulkner; Sinisterra’s failure to recognize Otto when handing over forged money; Revered Gwyon’s failure to recognize that his Christian faith copies pre-Christian rituals: the list of plots climaxing in characters falling ever further into confusion could be extended as long as this very long novel itself. The form of the novel’s plotting serves to limit the knowledge of its characters at the moment it expands that of its reader; or rather, of what Wolfgang Iser called the ‘implied reader’ of a fictional text, implied because of the fact that plot patterns are structured to facilitate hermeneutic discovery of meaning. The Recognitions ironizes the literary technique of recognition, or anagnorisis, by contrasting its function for a character and a reader, and historicizes its formal innovations in relation to a modernist poetics of recognition and in relation to a longer history of modernity as the increasing subjectivization of knowledge. By making the function of a failed recognition scene the revelation not of knowledge shared by protagonist

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and reader, but of the difference between the knowledge available to fictional characters and their readers, The Recognitions marks the difference between what Tanner identified as the patterning of fictionality and the possibility of recognizing some non-fictional reality, the form of the novel making possible the very distinction absent for the characters in the novel. The Recognitions’ ability to ironize literary recognition stems from what Terence Cave has argued is an ambiguity identified as early as Aristotle’s discussion of anagnorisis in his Poetics. As Cave has written, the recognition scene is a necessary element of plot, a topic largely neglected in academic narratology up until the work of Peter Brooks and Paul Ricœur, tainted by its association with popular genres such as melodrama or romance.75 Recognition is a structural feature of a plot that ‘brings about a shift from ignorance to knowledge; it is the moment when characters understand their predicament for the first time, the moment that resolves a sequence of unexplained and often impossible occurrences; it makes the world (and the text) intelligible’. The recognition scene becomes in narrative theory and literary practice ‘a focus for reflections on the way fictions as such are constituted, the way in which they play with and on the reader, their distinctive marks as fictions—untruth, disguise, trickery, “suspense” or deferment, the creation of effects of shock and amazement, and so on’.76 However, because of its ‘double character’ as both a ‘formal device and vehicle of themes of knowledge’, the recognition scene risks blurring the difference between fiction and reality by implying that the conditions for understanding a text and the world are one and the same. Rather than clarifying the difference between a novel and reality, a novel which comments upon how reality is like a novel can often serve to elide the difference between the two, as examples from Austen’s Northanger Abbey (1817) to James’s The Ambassadors (1903) make it their point to show. As Gaddis’s own study of the ‘shock of recognition’ in the fiction of Mansfield and Conrad indicates, the poetics of recognition underwent a gradual transformation culminating in the modernist period. According to Cave, plot events increasingly take place in a character’s psyche, a shift epitomized in Freud’s rewriting of the Oedipus plot as a psychoanalytical drama. At the same time, plots of ‘imperfect recognition’ became more prominent in novels by James, Proust, or Faulkner, where ‘imperfect ­recognitions are usually a direct function of a character’s limited point of view, so that novels which experiment with such limitations may well lead 75  Peter Brooks, Reading for the Plot: Design and Intention in Narrative (Oxford, 1984); Paul Ricœur, Time and Narrative, trans. by Kathleen Blamey and David Pellauer, 3 vols. (Chicago, IL; London, 1984). 76  Terence Cave, Recognitions: A Study in Poetics (Oxford, 1988), 1; 46.

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towards moments of incomplete, uncertain or illusory knowledge or present more than one angle from which a given set of relations or state of affairs may be seen’. The imperfect recognition plot is closely bound up with multiple perspectives in narrative focalization. At ‘the extreme limit of this class (and indeed of the possibility of anagnorisis itself ) there appears— again in modern narrative and drama—the instance in which an expected recognition wholly fails to materialize: Waiting for Godot ’.77 In this history of narrative form, The Recognitions historicizes itself at this point of atrophy of the modernist narrative of imperfect recognitions and multiple perspectives, a historical positioning achieved by the inclusion of numerous readers of modernist fiction in the novel. This is further underlined by the parodies of the modernist styles the characters read. Dialogue is reported without a speaker, as in Faulkner; narrative is focalized around characters like Esther, as in James; Wyatt’s descent into madness is an exhausting exhaustion of the Joycean interior monologue. The modernist notion of a unique style as the signature of an individual artist is i­ ncorporated within and satirized by the novel’s economy of forgery. The novel pushes the multiplication of narrative points of view to the point of parody, with almost every major event related from contrasting and often irreconcilable points of view— Max’s canvas/painting being but one case in point. What ‘Aristotle says’ about plot is mentioned in the novel by the composer Stanley, when he complains about the ‘modern disease’ of conceiving time not as a ‘continuum’, but in ‘fragments’: ‘every fragment consists of itself, and that’s why we live among palimpsests, because finally all the work should fit into one whole, and express an entire perfect action, as Aristotle says’ (615–16). This is one of the novel’s many allusions to T. S. Eliot and his belief that poetry could shore fragments against ruins, but Stanley’s music, which ends by destroying a church, shows how an aesthetics of fragmentation has been outpaced by the reality of the ‘breakage’ caused, as a voice explains, by ‘atom bombs’ (616). Stanley here alludes to Aristotle’s discussion in the Poetics of ‘well-constructed plots . . . [which] should make use of the patterns stated’—those of ‘reversals and ­recognitions’. ‘A plot is not unified, as some think’, Aristotle states, ‘if built around an individual’. Instead, just as ‘in the other mimetic arts’—exemplified by painting—‘a unitary mimesis has a unitary object, so too the plot, since it is mimesis of an action, should be of a unitary and indeed whole action’, otherwise ‘the sense of the whole is disturbed and dislocated’.78 The Recognitions begins by setting up the expectation that it will be unified around Wyatt as the 77 Cave, Recognitions: A Study in Poetics, 233. 78 Aristotle, Aristotle: Poetics, trans. by Stephen Halliwell (Cambridge, MA, 1995), 55; 53; 57; 59.

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novel’s hero, or anti-hero, only to have him disappear from the action and return under a different name, Stephen, in Spain. Instead, as its title suggests, and as Stanley’s allusion to Aristotle self-reflexively explains, the object of the novel—what it represents—is not the fate of an individual character, but a complex pattern of plots and failed recognitions, making the content of the novel’s form the possibility and potential of literary recognition in the postwar era. In terms of the neo-Aristotelian typology that R. S. Crane developed at the same time Gaddis was writing The Recognitions, his novel enacts a shift from a modernist ‘plot of thought’ to a postwar ‘plot of action’. What Pynchon’s Oedipa Mass calls ‘a plot, an elaborate, seduction, plot [italics original]’ becomes in the work of writers like Pynchon, DeLillo, and Foster Wallace one of the prime devices for representing the complex systems structuring the relationship of the individual to society.79 Gaddis’s own sense of how constructing a novel around patterns of plot and conflicting perspectives rather than the fate of an individual acted as an index of historical change can be shown by his reading of an essay entitled ‘The Hero in Crisis’ by the Italian novelist Corrado Alvaro, which appeared alongside Gaddis’s short story ‘Les Chemin des Anes’ in the 1952 anthology New World Writing. For Alvaro, the central issue in debates on the state of the novel ‘is nearly always the hero of the novel, that is, the protagonist of our time. But does our time have a protagonist, a hero?’ Gaddis noted a number of passages of Alvaro’s essay that bear upon his own novel. First, his argument that the European novel from Madame Bovary (1856) to Lord Jim (1900) is structured around the protagonist’s ‘struggle against a limitation, a law which cannot be broken without impunity’, governing the society in which they live. But in the upheavals of the postwar era, all ‘the old certainties . . . have now become open to doubt . . . fiction today no longer has a hero along the lines of the adventurous Ulysses’. This, as Gaddis noted, ‘is all the stranger because, though the hero is gone, true protagonists are not lacking in our daily life. But they are occult, their name is a collective name, that of great undertakings, great companies, great political formations, great states, great ideologies’. The cumulative effect is one of ‘depersonalization’ that the novel must find a new way to address.80 Around the same time, as Sianne Ngai has observed, Theodor W. Adorno’s 1953 analysis of the occult explanations offered for behaviour in the astrology column of the Los Angeles Times suggested that there might be something ‘increasingly funny about character as an aesthetic form’.81 For Adorno, the popularity of explaining behaviour by the 79  Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49 (London, 2000), 19. 80  Corrado Alvaro, ‘The Hero in Crisis’, in New World Writing: Second Mentor Selection (New York, 1952), 117; 123; 124. 81 Sianne Ngai, Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting (Cambridge, MA, 2012), 174.

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movement of the stars showed an awareness that individual agency had been compromised, coupled with an inability to represent the collective formations doing so. Wyatt’s initial appearance as what seems to be the protagonist of a Bildungsroman, and his decision to renounce painting in favour of copying art from the past, only to have what he imagines is a form of resistance subsumed and controlled by Valentine’s elaborate network for the production of forgeries, charts the novel’s turn towards the systems governing artistic production, just as the ambiguity over the status of Max’s ‘canvas’ turns attention to the contexts in which artistic creation as an act of choice is possible. Wyatt’s forgeries and the commentary they engender serve to historicize within a larger frame the novel’s attempt to use the formal technique of complex plots and multiple perspectives to depict the relationship of the individual to social systems. Wyatt only forges paintings from a specific moment in art history: Flemish works from the fifteenth century by artists such as Bouts, Memling, van der Goes, and Hubert van Eyck. He is well aware of their art historical significance: the art historians and the critics talking about every object and . . . everything having its own form and density . . . Do you know why everything does? Because they found God everywhere. There was nothing God did not watch over . . . There isn’t any single perspective, like the camera eye, the one we all look through now and call it realism, there . . . I take five or six or ten . . . the Flemish painter took twenty perspectives if he wished, and even in a small painting you can’t include it all in your single vision, your one miserable pair of eyes, like you can a photograph, like you can painting when it . . . when it degenerates, and becomes conscious of being looked at (251).

Max—the modernist painter Wyatt failed to be—echoes Wyatt’s opinion of the ‘great sense of lucency and multiple perspectives about these early Flemish’, and Otto concurs: ‘The separate multiple consciousness of the . . . things in these Flemish primitives, that is really the force and the flaw in these paintings’ (460). Valentine, characteristically, underlines the flaw rather than the force in this visual mode when stripping Wyatt of any illusions about the nobility of his forgeries, his ‘insane upside-down apology for these pictures, every figure and every object with its own presence . . . Do you know what it was? . . . Fear, fear, pessimism and fear and depression everywhere, the way it is today, that’s why your pictures are so cluttered with detail, this terror of emptiness, this absolute terror of space. Because maybe God isn’t watching. Maybe he doesn’t see’ (690). In these appropriately conflicting perspectives, the object of Wyatt’s forgeries is a world where the limitations of individual subjectivity can be either the sign of God’s presence or absence. Like Beckett, Gaddis figures the beginning of modernity in terms of the birth of a mode of visual representation, but

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whereas for Beckett single-point perspective historicized the rise and fall of the humanist subject, for Gaddis, modernity begins with the relativizing of each individual’s subjective perspective, with only a Christian God in which no one believes—and which the novel exposes as a forgery—able to guarantee objective knowledge. The culmination of the subjectivism is seen in the only modernist painting admired by Wyatt, Picasso’s Night Fishing in Antibes (1939), which prompts in him ‘one of those moments of reality, of near-recognition of reality . . . When I saw it all of a sudden ­everything was freed into one recognition, really freed into reality that we never see, you never see it’ (91–2). The parallel between Wyatt’s forging of paintings with multiple perspectives and the novel’s own technique of multiple perspectives prompts the question: is the novel an equally pessimistic tangle of multiple perspectives which fail to cohere, or can the novel provide the recognition of reality that visual art cannot? The periodic appearance of ‘Willie’ the novelist, working on a novel about forgery and recognition for a ‘very small audience’, takes The Recognitions close, but not ultimately up to, a metafictional strategy of subsequent writers such as John Barth and Kurt Vonnegut, wherein the inclusion of the author as a character in a novel reveals the world a novel represents to be a second-order representation, as for example in Barth’s ‘Life-Story’.82 According to Barth, there is no difference between novels which ‘imitate actions more or less directly’—the Aristotelian definition of mimesis The Recognitions plays with—and novels ‘which attempt to represent not life directly but a representation of life’. Such works are not removed from life, since novels as texts are like documents, and as such part of life, therefore ‘the subject of both, ultimately, is life’.83 But if a representation of life is the same as life itself, then the distinction between fiction and reality ­disappears—and what is at stake here is not the h ­ istorically changing definitions of concepts like ‘fiction’ and ‘reality’, but the possibility of their distinction. The disappearance of this difference into an economy of forgery is the theme of The Recognitions, and it would blunt the force of the novel’s satire to claim any of its characters have a convincing rejoinder to Barth. However, by consistently ironizing moments of recognition, so that each time a failed recognition takes place the distance and difference between character and reader is emphasized, the novel’s formal marks of fictionality serve to underline the difference between fiction and reality, the very difference unavailable to the characters in the novel. Fictional form, 82  John Barth, Lost in the Funhouse: Fiction for Print, Tape, Live Voice (London, 1969), 116–30. 83  John Barth, ‘The Literature of Exhaustion’, in The Friday Book: Essays and Other Nonfiction (Baltimore, MD; London, 1997), 72.

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rather than any systems of belief or aesthetic theories such as modernism, produces a position outside the patterns governing life in Cold War commodity capitalism. Taking up the language of systems theory, Martin Lüdke has argued that Gaddis’s oeuvre as a whole can be seen as a move from ‘description to second-order description’, or from the representation of social life to the representation of the social systems of art, economics, religion, and law in which social life takes place. However, this project should be distinguished from postmodern metafiction because even in the ‘confusion that his novels depict, which convey, conceptually speaking, that blindness and insight are on one side of a distinction the other side of which we cannot know’, the possibility of a position outside the system ‘at least still sounds for Gaddis, if softly, in the background’.84 To doubt the possibility of recognizing the difference between fiction from reality whilst providing a form in which that recognition can take place is very different from denying that possibility altogether. What Gaddis’s subsequent work does doubt is that visual art offers a model of a position outside economic and legal institutions from which a critique of those institutions could be effected. Willie’s final career as a television script writer saw Gaddis anticipating his own future: after The Recognitions was published, Gaddis took up a job as a writer of television plays. One play, although rejected, stands as an apt coda to The Recognitions. The action takes place in the engine room of a freighter ship, where a failing painter called Michael spends his time idly pulling out handfuls of waste from a pile of trash. Michael discovers a priceless and stolen Old Master that a crew member has hidden in the trash, and the play ends with Michael choosing to take the painting ashore and risk a jail sentence, ending his own career, rather than let the painting be sold on the black market. But Michael doesn’t care: ‘I used to study painting, I used to think it was the most important thing in the world, I used to think I’d give up anything I had if . . . but now its all . . . like this, like this waste, these threads, all these different colours, tangled up, knotted, twisted (his hand closes slowly on the waste) with no pattern and no point at all . . .’.85 In this description of a Pollock-like work, which has no point because it cannot represent the ‘pattern[s]’ governing postwar society, art is wholly ruled by the pattern of 84 Martin Lüdke, ‘Keine Handvoll Amis, Diese Vier, Mehr Erst Mal Nicht. Einundzwanzig Versuche, Die Verwendung Des Begriffs “Postmoderne” Zu Unterlaufen’, Rowohlt Literaturmagazin, 39 (1997), 113–31. My translation of: ‘von der Beschreibung zur Beschreibung zweiter Ordnung. In dem Rauschen, als das sich seine Romane darstellen, vermittelt sich, begrifflich gesprochen, Einsicht und Blindheit als eine Seite der Unterscheidung, deren andere Seite wir natürlich nicht kennen (können), die aber, leise, im Hintergrund, bei Gaddis zumindest anklingt’. 85  William Gaddis, ‘Summary of WASTE: A Half-Hour Television Play (live)’, c.1955, MSS049 32/206, William Gaddis Collection, Washington University Library, St Louis.

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the market wherein it can either remain sealed in a museum, or will eventually become just another piece of waste. In JR, abstract painting is just a valuable tax dodge, and in A Frolic of His Own, the site-specific modernist art object is a by-product of a corrupt legal systems conception of property rights. JR also marks a distinct shift to the left in a literary politics that in The Recognitions, as if always in imitation of T. S. Eliot, hovered on the line between avant-garde provocation and arrière-garde reaction. In a rare interview in 1997 Gaddis admitted to being ‘politically so far to the left, so very much against wealth and the present Republican Congress and against the system . . . not against the capitalist system, but against its abuse and this abuse is what my satire generally represents’.86 Marx’s Communist slogan of ‘from each according to his ability’ is the motto of JR’s school— not that any character notices. The novel continues an exploration of modes of failure first represented in The Recognitions by the failure of painting to find a position outside of the institutions of economic forgery. Nicky Marsh has written that in JR, ‘Gaddis poses failure as a formal and thematic alternative to the tautological success story that neoliberalism has promulgated for so long’.87 If the absence of painting in the novel implies it has become redundant for a novelistic project informed by a critique of neoliberal capitalism, its role as the original ‘failure’ in Gaddis’s aesthetics underlines its importance in his work as a whole. Belief in the failure of painting was widespread among visual artists in the 1960s and 1970s, with the critique of its commodity status a recurring justification for conceptual art’s ‘dematerialization of the art object’.88 Among postwar novelists, a melancholic attitude towards the ebbing of the critical potential of painting would be shared by a writer at some distance from Gaddis: John Berger. But if Gaddis’s fiction marks a passage away from the work of art in postwar fiction, Berger’s novels represent a different trajectory, one which moves backwards to Cubism to escape from the polarizing effects of the Cold War, in order to move forward to develop the possibilities of postwar fiction in Britain.

86  William Gaddis and Paul Ingendaay, ‘Agent Der Veränderung. Ein Gespräch Mit William Gaddis’, Rowohlt Literaturmagazin, 39 (March 1997), 89. My translation of: ‘warum ich politisch so weit links stehe, so sehr gegen Reichtum und den gegenwärtigen, konservativen Kongress eingestellt bin, gegen das System . . . [dass ich] nichts gegen das kapitalistische System bin, sondern gegen den Missbrauch, und dieser Missbrauch ist das, was ich im allgemeinen satirisch darstelle’. 87  Nicky Marsh, ‘ “Hit Your Educable Public Right in the Supermarket Where They Live”: Risk and Failure in the Work of William Gaddis’, New Formations, 80/81 (2013), 191. 88 Lucy R. Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 (London, 1973).

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3 The Moment of History John Berger’s Modernism After Realism Writing at the height of the Cold War’s impact on British art in the 1950s, John Berger declared that ‘[a]ll works of art, within their own immediate context, are bound directly or indirectly to be weapons: only after a considerable passage of time, when the context has changed, can they be viewed objectively as objets d’art’.1 This declaration’s reduction of art to a weapon in political struggle might seem a jarring point of origin for a writer whose later work went on to explore art’s relationship to the ‘mystery of the visible’: the enigma and ambiguity of appearance, the experience of the presence of absence, and the possibility of revelation where ‘appearance and meaning become identical’.2 His early rejection of individual response and agency in the face of the determinations of historical context seems an equally unlikely precedent for a figure whose genre-blurring writing across art criticism, fiction, photo essays, and poetry has used Berger’s own life and encounters with works of art as points of d ­ eparture, producing one of the most singular and idiosyncratic bodies of work in postwar British writing. The enormous impact of his 1972 television show and book Ways of Seeing (1972), which Martin Jay described as ‘the launch of visual culture studies’, has tended to fix Berger’s place in literary history as a polemical Marxist art critic and theorist of visuality, photography, and drawing, rather than an author of some twelve novels and even more books of essays, stories, documentation, and autobiographical reflections.3 But Berger is no more primarily an author of fiction than an art critic and visual theorist. His significance in the history of the relationship of fiction to visual art in the postwar period lies in the continual blurring of genres that characterizes his writing on art, and the ways in which this enabled him to conceive of a novel’s relationship to history as extending beyond its reflection of or determination by its ‘own immediate context’. 1  John Berger, ‘The Unknown Political Prisoner’, New Statesman & Nation, 45/1150 (1953), 338. 2  John Berger, And Our Faces, My Heart, Brief As Photos (London, 1984), 51. 3  Martin Jay, ‘Ways of Seeing at Forty’, Journal of Visual Culture, 11/2 (2012), 135.

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Both these features of Berger’s engagement with art emerged as r­ esponses to Cold War debates about the legacy of modernism, the possibility of realism, and the politics of aesthetics in Britain in the 1950s. Related debates have been charted in France and the United States in previous chapters, because they were transnational in scope, but Berger’s early criticism and first novel A Painter of Our Time (1958) engage these debates in a more direct way than Beckett’s turn to the spasming body or Gaddis’s private anxiety about being quoted out of context. This was because of Berger’s public and influential role in defining the meaning of realism in British art criticism in the early 1950s, which later went on to shape the reception of the fiction, theatre, and cinema of the British New Wave at the end of the decade. But Berger’s attitude towards realism was transformed by the crises of 1956 that led to the foundation of the British New Left, and A Painting of Our Time stands as one of the first examples of an overlooked flourishing of what can be called New Left literature in Britain, sharing much with a more well-known example of the genre, Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962). This attempt to rethink the relationship between art and politics as part of the British New Left caused Berger to reconsider the unfulfilled promises of the moment of Cubism, resulting in a reconceptualization of visual modernism as neither a teleological process of formal development (as it was for Greenberg and at times Beckett) nor simply a determined product of the context of modernity (as in ­contemporary academic modernist studies), but as a response to modernity which crystallized aesthetic forms which could only be understood retrospectively, and which therefore enabled art to engage with and respond to historical moments across time. This theory of the art historical moment is what Griselda Pollock sees as ‘one of Berger’s critical contributions to a non-teleological approach to the history of regimes of representation’.4 It enabled what Tim Armstrong has called Berger’s ‘self-conscious revision of historical method’ in G. (1972), one which used narrative structures of multiple perspectives and an interplay between synchronic and diachronic connections to prevent history—the history of modernism—from appearing as a totality. This turn back to the moment of modernism enabled Berger to view the novel as capable of illuminating and anticipating historical moments beyond those of its immediate context of production during the political upheavals of the late 1960s. But the necessity of rethinking both art and the novel’s relationship to history was prompted not by what Berger saw as the failure of the 1968 protest movements, but rather by an earlier failure of realism. 4  Griselda Pollock, ‘Muscular Defenses’, Journal of Visual Culture, 11/2 (2012), 128.

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T H E FA I LU R E O F R E A L I S M The realism that dominated debates about the future of British art and fiction in the aftermath of the Second World War was as pervasive as it was vaguely defined. A similar conviction as to the importance of realism to the self-understanding of postwar British novelists coupled with a difficulty in theorizing this realism has long accompanied literary historical accounts of the 1950s. As Marina McKay and Lindsay Stonebridge have observed, a polarization between ‘experimental and realist fiction . . . has dominated accounts of this period’, one which has often reduced realism to being everything that experimentalism—or modernism—is not.5 Fiction’s return to realism was also deeply bound up with the expression of  national and class identity: for Raymond Williams this realism was ‘a return to older forms, and to specifically English forms, especially by comparison with the most widely discussed work of the 1920s and 1930s, which was largely experimental in form and cosmopolitan in spirit’.6 These debates about realism and experimentation are well known and oft repeated; less commonly are they connected to what James Hyman has called the ‘Battle for Realism’ in British art that took place at the beginning of the 1950s between the ‘social realism’ advocated by Berger and the ‘modernist realism’ theorized by David Sylvester.7 This battle took place in massmarket periodicals (Berger in the New Statesman, Sylvester in The Listener), national exhibitions like the Festival of Britain, and international forums such as the Venice Biennale; it engaged with the criticism of Clement Greenberg as well as drawing on central European Marxist thought, and like debates in relation to the novel it too was bound up with debates concerning the legacy of modernism and national and class-based identities. Although this earlier ‘Battle for Realism’ shaped the critical reception of fiction and drama later in the decade—‘kitchen sink’ realism was coined by Sylvester in an article in the vigorously Atlanticist periodical Encounter as a slur against Berger’s social realism—it was more internationally wide ranging and theoretically engaged than the debates sparked by novels like Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim (1954) or John Braine’s Room at the Top (1957), debates dismissed by Doris Lessing as being ‘extremely provincial’ for their 5 Marina MacKay and Lyndsey Stonebridge, ‘Introduction: British Fiction After Modernism’, in British Fiction After Modernism: The Novel at Mid-Century (Basingstoke, 2007), 3. 6  Quoted in Rubin Rabinovitz, The Reaction Against Experiment in the English Novel, 1950–1960 (New York, 1967), 9–10. 7  James Hyman, The Battle for Realism: Figurative Art in Britain during the Cold War, 1945–1960 (New Haven, CT; London, 2001).

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ignorance of international debates about realism among the New Left and decolonization movements.8 Yet by 1958 Berger’s advocacy of an internationalist social realism had been undermined by the crises of 1956 that led to the foundation of the New Left, with the recognition of the limitations of this failure of realism and of the limitations of the role of the critic providing the point of origin for A Painter of Our Time. Berger’s career as a full-time art critic began when he started writing for the New Statesman & Nation in 1951. From the outset his criticism was marked by an oscillation between dogmatism and doubt, one typified in his response to the legacy of visual modernism. ‘The fact is’, he wrote in 1951, ‘that the modern movement—with all its subdivisions—has now disintegrated; partisan discipline has disappeared and most of the theories have finally lost their precision in practice’. As a consequence, ‘the critic cannot be, as he was in the Twenties, a confident dogmatic missionary. He must be an interpreter, aware of the validity, not only of the artist’s intentions, but also of the layman’s doubts’.9 The economy of modernist artistic production had also disintegrated. ‘The disappearance of what was really an official system of private patronage has robbed the contemporary artist of any vital sense of communication, and his work has therefore tended to become—in an ironically different sense—more and more private [italics original]’. Public subsidy could put the artist ‘into closer contact with his collective patrons’, giving him or her the ‘opportunity of working under the stimulus and tension of rather more definite directives’.10 The tension between responding to the perceived collapse of modernism with the acceptance of individual doubt or by submitting to collective demands would recur throughout Berger’s criticism in the 1950s, soon playing out on the international stage of Cold War politics. Equally typical of Berger’s early art criticism is his focus on all aspects of art as a social product: tradition, patronage, the audience, the relationship between theory and practice, and the role of the critic. This shows the influence of his time spent as a ‘unofficial student’ of the Hungarian art historian Frederick Antal.11 A representative of the central European intellectual tradition Berger drew on in his own criticism, Antal’s experience as a participant in the revolution that led to the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic in 1919, and then as a Jewish émigré from Nazi Germany, was one source for the character Janos in A Painter of Our Time. In an obituary published in the Burlington Magazine, Berger wrote vividly of the impact 8 Doris Lessing, ‘The Small Personal Voice’, in Declaration, ed. by Tom Maschler (London, 1957), 22. 9  John Berger, ‘Present Painting’, New Statesman & Nation, 42/1080 (1951), 560. 10  John Berger, ‘Brobdingang’, New Statesman & Nation, 41/1060 (1951), 744. 11  John Berger, The White Bird: Writings by John Berger (London, 1988), 197.

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of their weekly meetings during the early 1950s. Antal had studied under Heinrich Wölfflin and Max Dvorák in Berlin and Vienna before forming the Sonntagkreis group in Budapest along with Georg Lukács, Béla Balàsz, Karl Mannheim, and Arnold Hauser. These figures introduced him to the Marxism that characterized his approach to art history, an approach praised by Walter Benjamin for pushing the formal interpretation of art up against the ‘concrete bedrock of past historical experience’.12 In his own words, Antal saw style as ‘a specific combination of the elements of subject and form, [where] the thematic elements offer an immediate transition to the general outlook on life, the philosophy, from which the pictures in question derive’.13 His approach drew not only on Marxist theories of culture, but also on the art historical methodology of the Warburg Institute, which he praised for its view of style as a unity of form and subject matter. In his obituary, Berger emphasized two aspects of Antal’s legacy. ‘Art history for him was not just an “interesting” field to be excavated: it was a revolutionary activity. Facts were weapons unearthed from the past to be used for the future’. But Berger also emphasized, in a telling looseness, ‘Antal’s feeling for paintings and sculpture. He never simplified the mystery out of art— and by mystery I mean the power of a work of art to affect the heart [italics original]’.14 This portrait of a mentor betrays a conflicted attitude towards the art as a tool in class struggle versus art as the producer of ineffable affective experience: weapon versus mystery. In his writings in the New Statesman & Nation, Berger attempted to reconcile collective demands with individual experience through his ­theory of realism. Experience as identification with the object was what Berger saw as ‘the philosophic basis of realism’, which ‘differs from naturalism— the mere copying of appearances—by stressing the underlying and reliable facts of the physical world, by disclosing the common intensity of sensuous experience, by identification with the life and natural development of the subject’.15 In the process of composition the artist is brought ‘closer to the object, until finally you are, as it were, inside it: the contours you have drawn no longer marking the edge of what you have seen, but the edge of what you have become’.16 Berger’s theory of realism owed much to Georg Lukács, whose work was introduced to Berger by Antal. In Studies in 12 Walter Benjamin, ‘The Rigorous Study of Art’, in Selected Writings, Volume 2: 1931–1934, ed. by Michael Jennings, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith (Cambridge, MA; London, 1999), 668. 13 Frederick Antal, Florentine Painting and Its Social Background (Cambridge, MA; London, 1986), 4. 14  John Berger, ‘Frederick Antal: A Personal Tribute’, The Burlington Magazine, 96/617 (1954), 258; 260. 15  John Berger, ‘Direct Communication’, New Statesman & Nation, 43/1099 (1952), 372. 16  John Berger, ‘Drawing Is Discovery’, New Statesman & Nation, 46/1173 (1953), 232.

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European Realism, which was published in English in 1950, Lukács defined realism in literature as ‘the recognition of the fact that a work of literature can rest neither on a lifeless average, as the naturalists suppose, nor on an individual principle which dissolves its own self into nothingness. The central category and criterion of realist literature is the type, a peculiar synthesis which organically binds together the general and the particular in both characters and situations’. Through the depiction of types who show the dialectic between individual and society, the human as a social being, realism is able to represent ‘man and societies as complete entities’: realism is thus the aesthetic realization of the totality which, as Martin Jay has argued, is central to Lukács’s thought.17 In the catalogue for the 1952 exhibition Looking Forward, Berger argued that the realist painter ‘tries to deduce a typical truth’, and thus that ‘[r]ealism is not a method but an attitude of mind [italics original]’.18 This was the attitude Berger argued defined social realism. Reviewing the Arts Council’s Young Contemporaries exhibition in 1952, he expressed his sense that ‘[s]lowly but quite certainly something is happening to British painting’ in the works of ‘John Flavin, Derrick Greaves, Susan Horsfield, Stewart Waghorn, Leonard Roads, Elizabeth Dolby, and most outstanding of all, those by Edward Middleditch’. He saw in them ‘a deliberate acceptance of the importance of the everyday and the ordinary’, a realism in the sense of ‘the painters’ imaginative identification with the thing or person painted so that the result, however usual the subject, is compelling and real’.19 However, the fact that Berger failed to provide a reading of an individual painting, and that the actual works he admitted caused him most ‘excitement’ that year were the Expressionist landscapes and portraits of Peter Lanyon, Keith Vaughan, David Bomberg, and Oscar Kokoschka, accentuates a sense that his social realism was as yet theory in search of its practice.20 Nevertheless, this realism was part of a broader international movement, with Berger arguing for a similar ‘identification with the life and natural development of the subject’ in the French painters Roger Grand and Paul Rebeyrolle, the Italian painter Renato Guttuso, and the neorealist cinema of Roberto Rossellini.21 In Berger’s criticism, a commitment to realism was a means by which British art could participate in a common international socialist culture. This transcended the polarization between 17  Georg Lukács, Studies in European Realism: A Sociological Survey of the Writings of Balzac, Stendhal, Zola, Tolstoy, Gorki, and Others, trans. by Edith Bone (London, 1950), 6; 8. 18 John Berger, Looking Forward: An Exhibition of Realist Paintings & Drawings by Contemporary British Artists (London, 1953), 1. 19  John Berger, ‘For the Future’, New Statesman & Nation, 43/1089 (1952), 64–6. 20  John Berger, ‘Looking Back’, New Statesman & Nation, 45/1140 (1953), 36. 21  Berger, ‘Direct Communication’, 372.

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a native English realism and rootless cosmopolitan experimentalism present in the accounts of critics like Raymond Williams. Attempting to define this international social realism, Berger again claimed to distinguish between realism’s aesthetic and epistemological claims: ‘Realism is not a manner but an approach and an aim. The Realist is not concerned with presenting facts for their own sake, but with proving the objective reality of conclusions which can be drawn from them’.22 This view of realism as an artist’s elucidation of an ‘objective’ or typical truth from their identification with their subject—one suspiciously often being the reality of the  proletariat’s role in history—contrasted sharply with that of David Sylvester. For Sylvester, who drew on the phenomenology of MerleauPonty, realism in painting involved the disclosure of the embodied nature of vision and the truths of sensory perception. Formally this could be achieved either by the afocal abstraction of Klee or the figuration of Francis Bacon, but in either mode realism was a matter of sensation and affect.23 Sylvester’s attack on the work of Bratby and Smith, which he granted to Berger was a ‘social not a visual realism’, ostensibly saw the patterning and distortion of their work failing to achieve the true realist’s ‘passionate identification with the object, both its form and meaning’. But he also mocked their depictions of ‘a very ordinary kitchen, lived by ordinary people . . . a kitchen in which ordinary people cook their ordinary food, and doubtless live their ordinary lives’ that ‘doubtless’ leaving little doubt of Sylvester’s view of the ordinary.24 This dismissal of ‘The Kitchen Sink’ was published in Encounter, a transatlantic periodical launched the previous year by the Congress for Cultural Freedom with an explicit anti-Communist programme: it aimed to promote the ‘love of liberty’, to ‘regard literature and the arts as being valued in themselves’, and it saw these values as being embodied in the modernism of the previous generation: its first issued opened with an extract from Virginia Woolf ’s diaries.25 While the ways in which painters like Smith and Bratby realized Berger’s already imprecise definition of realism were indeed unclear, what is not in doubt is that arguments about realism served as a proxy for a debate about the politics of British art in a polarized Cold War world that would inform the production and reception of Berger’s first work of fiction. The ‘Battle for Realism’ with Sylvester was not the only way in which Berger’s criticism was impacted by the kind of Cold War cultural politics around visual modernism in which both Beckett and Gaddis’s engagements 22  John Berger, ‘The Biennale’, New Statesman & Nation, 44/1113 (1952), 12. 23  David Sylvester, ‘Klee: II’, in About Modern Art (London, 2002), 38–47. 24  David Sylvester, ‘The Kitchen Sink’, Encounter, 3/6 (1954), 63; 62. 25  Stephen Spender and Irving Kristol, ‘After the Apocalypse [Editorial]’, Encounter, 1/1 (1953), 1.

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with art were ensnared. In 1953 the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London ran an open competition for a ‘Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner’, intending to commemorate victims of ­political persecution. The ICA played a central role in the institutionalization and promotion of modernism in Britain after the war, and given the complex relationship of this postwar institutionalization to the promotion of postwar liberalism, it is perhaps unsurprising that both the competition and Berger’s excoriating response were embroiled in Cold War cultural politics. The prize was awarded to Reg Butler, but Berger’s attacks in the New Statesman were directed less at Butler’s proposed sculpture than at the concept of the competition itself. He attacked the ‘“generalising” illusion’ of a prisoner without a name, for a sculpture without a site, ‘open to all ideologies: well intentioned, but impossible’. The competing ideologies of different prisoners are ‘totally opposed’, and to fail to acknowledge this means ignoring that ‘we are all implicated in that conflict’.26 The competition sealed the link between the modernist sculpture practised by Butler and the ideology of an art beyond ideology. In fact, as Robert Burstow has shown, unbeknownst to the ICA the competition had been secretly supported and funded by the Office of Strategic Services, a front for the CIA. It was part of a propaganda effort to build a ‘modern-day “Statue of Liberty” commemorating the victims of what Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., in the bible of Cold War liberalism, had recently identified as the ultimate symbol of totalitarianism, the concentration camp’.27 The failure of any sculpture to make a particular prisoner’s situation ‘typical ’ left Berger convinced that the ‘“official” modern art of the West is now bankrupt’, though unbeknownst to him this was hardly true financially.28 The controversy around the Unknown Political Prisoner competition and a sense of the success of what he called ‘the Movement’ of social realism solidified Berger’s confidence and political beliefs in the middle of the decade. At the beginning of 1956, he confidently declared in an article entitled ‘The Battle’ that ‘[t]he movement gathers more and more force . . . What is this movement? The kitchen-sink school? Social Realism? The name, deprecating or proud, doesn’t matter. It is a movement of protest’.29 The same year, artists championed by Berger such as Bratby, Greaves, and Smith represented Britain at the Venice Biennale. The awarding of the International Sculpture Prize to Lynn Chadwick focused international 26  Berger, ‘The Unknown Political Prisoner’, 337–8. 27  Robert Burstow, ‘The Limits of Modernist Art as a “Weapon of the Cold War”: Reassessing the Unknown Patron of the Monument to the Unknown Political Prisoner’, Oxford Art Journal, 20/1 (1997), 74. 28  Berger, ‘The Unknown Political Prisoner’, 338. 29  John Berger, ‘The Battle’, New Statesman & Nation, 51/1298 (1956), 70.

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attention on British art, and led to the perception of realism as a distinctive national style. Yet at the height of his critical influence, in 1956 Berger announced a year’s break from criticism in order to write a novel. In his ‘Exit and Credo’ written in the New Statesman, he cast doubt on his victory in the ‘Battle for Realism’. ‘In fact’, he wrote, ‘very little has been won, and it is only the petty minded who reduce a philosophical belief to one superficial, easily recognizable “style”’. His confidence in the role of the critic was also fading: ‘[t]he critic is a bastard—in more senses than one. Finally he has no definite status. He is merely the index of the tension, the relationship between the changes taking place in art and the changes taking place in the ideas and economics of the time’. As of yet his political beliefs remained: ‘I am with’—though not one of—‘the Communists’.30 What was changing, however, was Berger’s understanding of what kind of art realized the desires of revolutionary politics. In an article significantly titled ‘The Necessity for Uncertainty’ which appeared in June 1956, Berger elaborated on the problems of the contemporary painter. ‘We do not know’, he declared, ‘what British socialist art will be like’, therefore an openness to uncertainty was required to allow it to come into being. This involved a reassessment of the potential of modernism: the ‘discoveries of the modern masters such as Cézanne, Van Gogh, Léger and Picasso . . . [are] now in the hands of Socialists to continue and make their own’. These were now seen as a form of repressed revolution: ‘But because they did not then understand the social and political nature of this revolution, they put all their revolutionary fervour into their art considered as art. Because they did not see how to make a revolution in the streets, they made one on their canvases [italics original]’.31 1956 was a turning point for Berger. He quit criticism to write a novel, he was increasingly disillusioned with the aesthetic and political promises of social realism, and he began to turn back to the unexplored potential of visual modernism. As he began writing, however, these personal changes would be joined by those of much wider significance.

A PA I N T E R O F O U R T I M E A N D N E W L E F T L I T E R AT U R E On 26 June 1956, Berger sent an outline of a proposed book, subtitled A Portrait of the Artist as an Émigré, to Secker & Warburg—the pub­ lishers of Encounter. The book, he explained to Fredric Warburg, ‘is to 30  John Berger, ‘Exit and Credo’, New Statesman & Nation, 52/1333 (1956), 372. 31  John Berger, ‘The Necessity for Uncertainty’, Marxist Quarterly, 3/3 (1956), 171; 170; 176.

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be written in the 1st person. And this “I” will be myself, Berger, art-critic’. He continued: The main character is to be an elderly émigré painter, a refugee from the Nazis, whom I get to know during the last years of his life in this country. My relationship to him, in terms of the book, will be (very roughly) that of a Boswell to a Johnson. There are many prototypes for him: Kokoschka, Adler, Martin Bloch, and so on. But, although he will obviously be drawn from my experience of men like these, he will be a composite and imaginary character. N.B. The reader must not realise this. He must be left in doubt, tending to believe that he is a real painter whom I know but he has not heard of.32

From its inception Berger’s ‘story’ was aimed at a generically unstable auto/biographical space, with Berger as both the ‘I’ and a contemporary Boswell. Berger’s autobiographical ‘I’ was intended to be split between the ‘I’ of the narrator and the portrait of the émigré, with this in turn folded within a fictional biography masquerading as a true one, a deception which the ‘reader must not realise’. Laura Marcus has written that the generic ‘instability or hybridity’ of auto/biographical writing has been central to its use in interrogating ‘topics such as subject/object, self and identity, private and public, fact and fiction’. Auto/biographical writing can appear as ‘either a dangerous double agent, moving between these oppositions, or as a magical instrument of reconciliation’.33 Framing auto/ biographical writing as a ‘double agent’ or ‘instrument of reconciliation’ brings out its particularly charged status during the early Cold War, an era demanding testimony of political loyalty, as experienced by Gaddis in Chapter 2, and populated by confessional accounts of Communism as ‘the god that failed’: autobiography here acting as an instrument of the subject’s reconciliation with objective reality.34 If Berger’s aim to deceptively distribute his autobiographical self across the roles of biographer and autobiographical subject embraces the double-agent status of auto/biographical writing, it also problematizes his previous conceptualization of realism, drawn from Lukács, as the reconciliation between subject and object. In this effort to interrogate the politics of art in the Cold War, questions of form and genre were paramount. As Gordon Johnston has shown in his account of the book’s publishing history, the generic instability of the work in progress that Berger submitted 32  ‘John Berger, ‘Rough Outline of Proposed Book as Already Discussed with Mr. Warburg’, 1956, MS 1090/59b, Secker & Warburg Archive, Reading University Library. 33  Laura Marcus, Auto/biographical Discourses: Criticism, Theory, Practice (Manchester, 1994), 7. 34  Richard Crossman, ed., The God That Failed: Six Studies in Communism (London, 1950).

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during 1957 caused Warburg much unease.35 After reading a draft in April, Warburg wrote to Berger that he was ‘worried about this book’.36 Challenged by Berger, he explained his doubts in a subsequent letter: In the main I feel that it is falling at the moment between two stools. On the one hand it has not the vitality of a novel and the characters don’t come to life. On the other, it has not the authenticity of a documentary or non-fiction book on art and artists. In other words it is a hybrid, or to use a nastier word, a mongrel, and, as I said, I am worried about it.37

Berger’s response was acerbic: ‘We began this affair on grounds of what I naively believed to be mutual understanding—compare my previous letters with yours—my illusion has fortunately been destroyed. Let us reduce our relationship to the purely business level, and about that I will come to see you in due course’.38 In the end, Berger completed the manuscript, and Warburg agreed to publish it in the autumn of 1958, but not without expressing his concern to Berger about ‘how we treat the book, which is on a strange borderland between fiction, reportage, and aesthetics’.39 Warburg’s response to Berger’s use of auto/biographical writing to blur the border between fact and fiction, and between the supposed neutrality of aesthetics and the politically biased nature of reportage, reveals his anxiety about its potential to act as a destabilizing double agent. Their exchange shows Berger’s awareness and exploitation of this perceived generic i­nstability, and his refusal to settle on either of the ‘two stools’ set out by Warburg. Warburg’s recourse to the generic label of reportage is revealing, for it points to a crucial shift which had occurred between Berger’s proposal and his writing of the novel, which was finished by February 1958. This was caused by the Hungarian uprising of 1956, the resulting crisis it caused among the British left in general, and in Berger’s own writings in particular. On 23 October 1956, up to 200,000 people assembled in front of the Parliament building in Budapest demanding the departure of Soviet troops from Hungary, the termination of military and economic dependency on the Soviet Union, free elections, civil rights, and freedom of expression. The uprising spread throughout the entire country through 35  Gordon Johnston, ‘Writing and Publishing the Cold War: John Berger and Secker & Warburg’, Twentieth Century British History, 12/4 (2001), 432–60. 36 ‘Letter from Fredric Warburg to John Berger’, 11 April 1957, Secker & Warburg Archive, Reading University Library. 37  ‘Letter from Fredric Warburg to John Berger’, 17 April 1957, Secker & Warburg Archive, Reading University Library. 38  ‘Letter from John Berger to Fredric Warburg’, 2 August 1957, Secker & Warburg Archive, Reading University Library. 39  ‘Letter from Fredric Warburg to John Berger’, 20 February 1958, Secker & Warburg Archive, Reading University Library.

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the formation of local revolutionary councils supporting the revolution’s demands. By 28 October a new government including Lukács had been formed under Imré Nagy, which agreed to the revolutionary programme and freed political prisoners. On 4 November, Soviet forces attacked Budapest and by 11 November the uprising was broken, with János Kádár installed in power by the Soviets, initiating a period of brutal repression that would last until 1963.40 In the era of the Cold War, the fate of the Hungarian uprising of 1956 could only be decided in the context of overall world politics. It was inconceivable that the Soviet Union would allow the independence of an Eastern Bloc state, and it was equally inconceivable that the United States would risk a nuclear confrontation. These events intruded into the composition of A Painter of Our Time in the most literal sense: Berger pasted two highly significant articles from the Daily Worker into his manuscript notebook.41 The first, dated 24 October 1956, was the earliest report to appear about the uprising.42 The next day an editorial denounced the ‘counter-revolution’, a line backed up by a statement by the Communist Party of Great Britain.43 The second article by the journalist Peter Fryer triggered a crisis which reverberated far beyond the Daily Worker.44 Fryer was the Daily Worker’s Special Correspondent in Hungary, but in a letter published on 16 November, he announced that this article and three others sent to the paper had been severely altered, or not published, and that staff were not even allowed to read them, because they contradicted the Party line. The danger of counter-revolution did not exist; the Soviet troops who entered on 4 November ‘fought workers, soldiers and students; and they could find no Hungarians to fight alongside them’.45 Although Fryer’s claims were denied by the editors, he went on to publish his reports that year in a pamphlet entitled Hungarian Tragedy and it soon became clear that his reports were accurate.46 The novel’s émigré artist was named Janos Lavin (Janos being the Hungarian version of John) and this focus on the Hungarian uprising situated the novel’s investigation of auto/biography, realism, political loyalty, and the artistic representation of history within the international debates 40  György Litván, ed., The Hungarian Revolution of 1956: Reform, Revolt, and Repression, 1953–1963, trans. by János M.  Bak and Lyman  H.  Legters (London; New York, 1996), 30–50. 41  John Berger, ‘A Painter of Our Time: Notebook 2’, 1956, Add MS 88964/1/5 ff. 1–3 & 91–95, John Berger Archive, The British Library. 42  ‘100,000 March in Hungary: Mixed Motives at Rallies’, Daily Worker, 24 October 1956, 1. 43  ‘Hungarian Workers Answer’, Daily Worker, 25 October 1956, 1. 44  Peter Fryer, ‘The Hell That Was Horthy’s’, Daily Worker, 25 October 1956, 3. 45  Peter Fryer, ‘Reports Were Not Published’, Daily Worker, 16 November 1956, 1. 46  Peter Fryer, Hungarian Tragedy (London, 1956).

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about the future of socialism that the suppressed uprising triggered. These debates raged in the letters pages of the Daily Worker : Eric Hobsbawm admitted the ‘tragic necessity’ of the Soviet invasion, while the historian Christopher Hill demanded ‘a very self-critical article . . . of the Daily Worker’s presentation of news from Socialist countries’, a request that went unheeded.47 Berger’s focus on Hungary had autobiographical resonance given his friendship with Fredrick Antal, and in early drafts Janos’s Jewish identity and his experience of anti-Semitism was made explicit, whereas in the published text he is simply a ‘refugee’ helped by an organization ‘helping Jews and Nazi victims to get out of Germany [italics original]’.48 Janos’s Jewishness and experience of exile created another auto/biographical portrait, given that Berger’s father was a Hungarian Jewish émigré from Trieste. Another newspaper clipping included in the novel’s draft notebooks connected the novel to Berger’s critical writings on realism: a 1956 article in The Listener addressing ‘the Battle for Realism’ and attacking Berger’s account of Paul Rebeyrolle (without mentioning Berger by name). A note in the novel’s first draft equates Sylvester with a character called David Kenyon, an art critic ultimately not included in the published text.49 However, Berger’s own previous theory of realism as the unification of subject and object in a typical truth would be more the target of the novel than Sylvester’s realism of embodied experience and affect. This incorporation of newspaper clippings into his drafting process mimicked the technique of Cubist collage, whose nature was explained by Berger in an article written shortly after A Painter of Our Time: Theoretically, the reality of an object for a Cubist consisted of the sum total of all its possible appearances. Yet in practice this total could never be arrived at, because the number of possible visual appearances (or aspects) was infinite. Consequently, the most the Cubist could do, was somehow to suggest the range of, the infinity of possibilities open to, his vision.50

The incorporation of newspaper clippings which expose the falsity of a single viewpoint on history—the Daily Worker’s account of the Hungarian uprising—and which allude to Berger’s own participation in a battle for realism—reality being either the unity of subject and object or the singular truth of embodied experience—shows a technique of Cubist composition informing a very different view of art’s relationship to reality. Both the totality of experience and of history, this account of Cubism implies, can 47  Christopher Hill, ‘Accuracy’, Daily Worker, 22 November 1956, 2. 48  John Berger, A Painter of Our Time (London, 2010), 17. 49 David Sylvester, ‘Round the London Galleries’, The Listener (1956), 896; Berger, ‘A Painter of Our Time: Notebook 2’. 50  John Berger, ‘The Star of Cubism’, New Statesman, 55/1407 (1958), 268.

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never be grasped, only suggested by a multiplicity of viewpoints. With this new understanding of Cubism written after Berger’s first novel was completed, this also suggests that the narrative form of multiple perspectives would be a significant feature of this novel itself. A second major consequence of the Hungarian uprising which impacted upon A Painter of Our Time was its role in catalysing the emergence of what Stuart Hall termed the ‘first’ British New Left; as he recalled, ‘[t]he term “New Left” is commonly associated these days with “1968”, but to the “1956” New Left generation, “1968” was already a second, even perhaps a third, “mutation”’.51 Reports of the uprising and its repression led to what Hobsbawm in his memoirs called ‘the political equivalent of a collective nervous breakdown’ among British Communists.52 Doris Lessing, like Hobsbawm then a member of the Party, elected in her a­ utobiography to describe it as resulting in a ‘mass social psychosis’.53 Along with the artists Peter de Francia, Paul Hogarth, and Edward Middleditch, Hobsbawm, Lessing, and Berger were members of the ‘Geneva Club’, a formally nonaligned left discussion group organized by Berger, whose monthly meetings spanned the crucial years of 1955–7.54 Lessing’s autobiography offers a retrospective portrait of its activities during a time when she was closely involved in New Left activism with Berger: John Berger had decided it was a bad thing writers met only writers, painters painters, architects—their own kind . . . He hired the large room over a pub a minute away from Oxford Circus . . . The place was full, it buzzed, it jumped, it vibrated. What a good idea we all thought, how clever of John Berger to have thought of it, and of course there must be many more such occasions. And then John called us to order and made a speech. It was a good cause of some kind, political. At once it was observed that the painters exchanged looks, were making for the door . . . ‘Not again,’ people were saying. ‘We’ve been here before, too often.’ And so ended a brave attempt; but if politics had not intruded, we would all be there yet [italics original].55

Loose as the ‘Geneva Club’ was, it did provide the self-consciously fashioned intellectual group in which Berger’s first novel was written. Its meetings were part of the broader transformations among British left intellectuals that followed the Hungarian crisis of 1956 and Khrushchev’s speech at the 1956 Congress of the Communist Party in the Soviet Union denouncing 51  Stuart Hall, ‘The “First” New Left: Life and Time’, in Out of Apathy: Voices of the New Left Thirty Years On (London, 1989), 14. 52  Eric Hobsbawm, Interesting Times: A Twentieth-Century Life (London, 2002), 206. 53  Doris Lessing, Walking in the Shade: Volume Two of My Autobiography, 1949–1962 (London, 1997), 198. 54  Julian Spalding, The Forgotten Fifties (Sheffield, 1984), 38. 55 Lessing, Walking in the Shade, 201–2.

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Stalin’s crimes. 1957 saw the appearance of the two founding journals of the British New Left: The New Reasoner and Universities & Left Review, which in 1960 merged to form the New Left Review. The inaugural issue of Universities & Left Review featured an essay by Peter de Francia calling for the cultural politics of the post-1956 left to move beyond the terms of ‘debates concerning commitment, realism and social questions . . . [outlined] in John Berger’s articles in the New Statesman and Nation’.56 Berger’s response showed he had already left these positions behind, declaring himself no longer a practising committed critic, embracing instead André Gide’s genre-blurring view that ‘criticism is the spirit of creation’. What Berger did want to preserve in criticism was what he saw as its unique temporality: in order to truly situate a work historically, the critic must break out of ‘the continuous present’ and view works ‘imagining himself in the future, looking back on the present as we look back at the past’; viewing the present as the past transforms the future into ‘retribution’ for the victims of the past.57 The extract from A Painter of Our Time that appeared in the Summer 1958 issue of Universities & Left Review enacted a blurring between criticism and creation, misleadingly ‘subtitled as extracts from the diary of an elderly mid-European painter living in London during the 1950s’.58 It appeared alongside an essay on ‘Realism and the Contemporary Novel’ by Raymond Williams, who theorized the realist novel ostensibly in decline in Britain in terms similar to Lukács: it was a genre which offered a representation of a social totality, ‘a whole way of living in terms of the qualities of persons’.59 Both the complex ­temporality of criticism and the embrace of narrative uncertainty through the use of multiple perspectives show that Berger’s writing was refusing this demand for a representation of totality. But the fact that this was in tension with the established theorization of realism, and that it involved a turn towards an investigation of autobiography and the legacy of modernism, only made the novel more typical as an instance of New Left literature. That the fiction of the New Left might require a new form in order to narrate its loss of faith in Communism and its search for new kinds of ­politics and subjectivities, and that this requires a turn to autobiography as well as a reconsideration of the legacy of modernism, is a major theme of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (1962). As the writer Anna Freeman

56 Peter de Francia, ‘Commitment in Art Criticism’, Universities & Left Review, 1/1 (1957), 50. 57  John Berger, ‘Wanted: Critics’, Universities & Left Review, 1/2 (1957), 41; 44. 58  John Berger, ‘Pages from a Painter’s Diary’, Universities & Left Review, 4 (1958), 28. 59  Raymond Williams, ‘Realism and the Contemporary Novel’, Universities & Left Review, 1/4 (1958), 2.

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declares to her psychoanalyst: ‘it’s a question of form’.60 For Anna, this is a question of modernism after Stalinism. In her Blue Notebook, Anna attempts her own ‘single day’ novel, a key modernist form used by Joyce, Woolf, and Richardson, wherein she compares writing about her period to Joyce’s account of Leopold Bloom’s defecation. In an earlier entry in her ‘Red Notebook’, Anna records attending a meeting to read Stalin’s writings on linguistics, the falsity of which causes her to think ‘of the novels about the breakdown of language, like Finnegans Wake’.61 In The Golden Notebook, the loss of faith in Communism appears in various forms, all of which involve a crisis in literary representation. In the first entry in the ‘Red Notebook’, Anna’s friend Molly tells of how, when asked by the Party to enact a self-criticism, to write about her ‘doubts and confusion’, she found herself writing ‘a whole thesis—dozens of pages . . . What is it I want—a confessional?’ Anna’s own work for the Party involves proof-reading endless pro-Communist stories, whose falsity leads her to uncertainty—she cannot be sure whether they could be read ‘as parody, irony, or seriously’.62 Around the crucial year of 1956, Anna’s ‘Red Notebook’, like Berger’s manuscript for A Painter of Our Time, is taken over by newspaper cuttings, before concluding with a vignette about a Comrade Harry’s disillusionment with Communism after a visit to the Soviet Union, and the failure of his plan to write the true history of Communism. Neither Anna’s collage nor Comrade Harry’s proletarian perspective prove capable forms of representing history after Communism. Lessing’s dramatization of attempts to find a literary form to narrate the loss of faith in Communism was, like Berger’s novel, part of an i­ nternational tendency among left-wing writers and intellectuals. Previous accounts of Communist disillusion were already a prominent feature of British and American writing: George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia (1938), Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon (1940), Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man (1952), or the collection The God That Failed (1950) featuring contributions from Koestler, Richard Wright, Stephen Spender, and André Gide. Wright’s contribution, ‘The Initiates’, is especially insistent on the relationship between writing and belief in Communism, providing an impetus felt most keenly when it disappears: ‘I knew in my heart that I should never be able to write that way again, should never be able to feel with that simple sharpness about life, should never again express such passionate hope, should never again make so total a commitment of faith’.63 Yet the crises of 60  Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook (London, 1972), 406. 61 Lessing, The Golden Notebook, 291; 258. 62 Lessing, The Golden Notebook, 135; 259. 63 Crossman, The God That Failed: Six Studies in Communism, 166.

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1956 sparked a different kind of post-Communist writing, whose new tendency to propose that a loss of Communist belief requires a new genre of writing beyond autobiography or fiction was observed in France by Maurice Blanchot in 1959. Blanchot distinguished between theoretical works concerned with a ‘renewal of method’ (‘renouvelée de la méthode’), and more searching works interrogating ‘the whole of life, and in which nothing of their [the writer’s] history would be completely excluded’ (‘tout la vie et que presque rien de leur histoire n’en fut tout à fait exclu’).64 In this latter category he placed André Gorz’s Le traître (1958), Edgar Morin’s Autocritique (1959), and Henri Lefebvre’s Le Somme et le reste (1959).65 Blanchot questioned what form of writing could write about a political conviction which in its deepest sense was a form of subjectivity: ‘What will remain of such a thought which welcomed the total demands of Marxism, that is to say, the delivery from a thought seriously capable of rendering thought real and true’ (‘Que demeure-t-il d’une pensée qui, ayant accueilli les exigences totales du marxisme, c’est-à-dire la remise de la pensée au sérieux d’une action capable de la rendre réelle et vrai’). In these genreblurring works, neither fictions, theoretical auto-critiques, nor autobiographies, ‘we feel that between the history of thought and personal history, the narrative, as well as the protest, hesitates, searching for a new path’ (‘[n]ous sentons qu’entre l’histoire des pensées et l’histoire personnelle, le récit, ainsi que la contestation, hésite, cherchent de nouvelles voies’).66 Blanchot’s probing questions about genre and politics were those Berger’s novel was attempting to answer. A Painter of Our Time opens with a frame narrative entitled ‘The Beginning’, which introduces the concerns surrounding auto/biography, narrative perspective, and the relationship between art and politics that Berger grappled with while composing the novel. The narrator John arrives at the studio of the disappeared painter Janos Lavin. Searching through the studio, the narrator projects ‘my own feeling of confusion of loss’ onto everything except his painting, The Games, which was ‘already beginning to outlast the circumstances that had given rise to its being painted’.67 Projection is followed by mirroring, with the narrator noting the pieces of broken mirror Janos used for shaving and for viewing his canvas in reverse. The novel frames itself up as an investigation into these circumstances, setting up an exploration of the extent to which an art work can be 64  Maurice Blanchot, ‘La Fin de la philosophie’, La Nouvelle Revue française, 80 (1959), 286–7. 65  Edgar Morin, Autocritique (Paris, 1959); Henri Lefebvre, La Somme et Le Reste, 2 vols. (Paris, 1959); André Gorz, Le traître : Avant-propos de Jean-Paul Sartre (Paris, 1958). 66  Blanchot, ‘La Fin de la philosophie’, 278. 67 Berger, A Painter of Our Time, 2.

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explained by its context of production, or whether its significance lies in transcending it. Details about Janos’s life uncovered in his studio reveal to the narrator how little he knew about these circumstances: one photograph shows Janos in Prague after ‘having been forced to leave Hungary after the overthrow of the Soviet revolutionary government of 1919’; another shows him in Berlin with his then abstract paintings. The eighteenth-century furniture in his house is described as ‘autobiographical’: it ‘reflected—literally—a way of life’ (5). Searching for his copy of Diderot which he had lent to Janos, an allusion which places the novel in the ­tradition of art writing inaugurated by Diderot’s Salons, the narrator comes across a journal, in English, French, and Hungarian, detailing Janos’s life. It is this journal, translated by an anonymous friend, that follows the frame narrative, and it amounts to ‘a Portrait of the Artist as an Émigré’—the original title of Berger’s manuscript. In introducing the ‘journal’ the narrator claims ‘it was necessary to have also a commentary of background facts. This I have tried to write. I have also, with the help of my friend, tried to polish the translation’. The introduction ends: ‘Naturally, I have changed most of the names’ (7). With its rhetoric of projection, reflection, and mirrored doublings, and the allusions to autobiography and art criticism, the frame narrative presents intersubjective understanding as always potentially frustrated by displacement and misidentification, a process explored through the literary device of the found text, translated journal, and commentary. The device of presenting a personal journal within a larger narrative closely parallels Lessing’s The Golden Notebook, making it a key form within New Left literature for investigating the relationship between private and public, the personal and the political. But whereas the fact that Anna Wulf is a writer entails that her journal, the frame narrative, and her own ‘fiction’ are all in the same medium, the source of the novel’s metafictional complexities, Janos’s status as a painter provides a different medium to think through questions of identity and recognition—and a different historical archive of formal possibilities. Janos’s diary entries, often short and ­aphoristic, lay out his ideas concerning the visual nature of intersubjective recognition. Projection reoccurs in a dream about his native Hungary: ‘Onto the huge Aföld sky a film was being projected as if it were a screen— a film of incidents from my life and paintings’ (22). But this, as John comments, was the dream of a ‘mirage that appears over the Hungarian plain [italics original]’ (22). When Janos describes the technique of crosshatching, he calls it ‘the simplest visual example of the dialectical process’; when one set of parallel lines are crossed by another ‘you get a series of diamonds . . . these diamonds are like the future we work for’ (43). Out of the encounter between self and other, a potential future is created. Yet

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images from the past also haunt Janos’s present. Early in the journal Janos discovers that his friend Laszlo, a poet who remained in Hungary to support the Communist regime, has been executed after a public confession. Under the exigencies of the regime, Laszlo’s confession is meaningless, and so his memory takes the form of haunting images. Janos’s last memory of Laszlo is him saying ‘I shan’t see you’ when he leaves Berlin for London, and Laszlo refusing to return his gaze. As the diary and commentary continue, John discovers how little he actually knew about Janos, how little was revealed by outward appearance and public confession, mirroring Janos’s lack of understanding of Laszlo. In a series of paralleled misrecognitions, realism as the reconciliation between subject and object is called into question in both Communist and liberal democratic forms of life. Laszlo’s refusal of recognition haunts Janos as he begins his way out of mourning by embarking on a new painting, The Games. Working on it, Janos thinks: ‘How difficult it is to paint eyes that do not appeal to the spectator. How difficult to think more of Laszlo’s life than his death’ (138). His thoughts on politics and art shift as the painting progresses: his realization that ‘art is the most inconvenient of activities, the least susceptible to will or legislation’ is ‘bitter for me to admit . . . I who, as a man, believe in the collective, in the revolutionary class not the revolutionary individual’ (140). Producing this painting causes a turn away from realism back to Cubism. Seeking ‘as many frontal views as possible’ (138), Janos discovers: ‘What eyes Cubism has given us! Never can we make a painting of a single view. We now have a visual dialectic. How easy it should be for Marxists to understand!’ (145). He imagines this turn to ‘formalism’ would elicit criticism from the Party, yet he affirms that ‘in my painting their [the working class’s] victory consists of the way in which they have been painted’ (148). A realism of the unity of subject and object, brought into question by the refusal of the gaze or by the limitations of mere appearance, is replaced by Cubism as a manifestation of a ‘visual dialectic’, which, unlike the totality represented in the realism of Lukács (who Laszlo and Janos, tellingly, have read as young revolutionaries), is a future-oriented and incomplete process. This open-ended multiplication of perspectives is the form of the novel itself, with the journal and its commentary offering competing accounts of both John and Janos. Janos’s interpretation of Cubism as multiple perspectives and epistemological uncertainty informs the novel’s exploration of the competing truths of autobiography and fiction; as Janos reflects: ‘It is like listening to a story-teller because he tells good stories and then suddenly realizing that he is talking about his own life, about himself in the third person’ (128). The optimism drawn from this rediscovery of Cubism’s visual dialectic is only temporary. John’s commentary on the diary during the year Janos

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struggled to complete his painting reveals this was hidden to him at the time: ‘The outward evidence of Janos’s moods at this time was very undramatic [italics original]’ (143). Janos wonders whether he might ‘show these last few notes to J.’, about which John comments: ‘He never did show them to me. And although obviously these pages are argued in the kind of way that suggests Janos had public readers in mind, I now believe in the light of later events that he was really arguing with his own conscience [italics original]’ (155). However, after this aesthetic breakthrough, uncertainty is cast upon its motivations: the entry for March 1956—the month news of Khrushchev’s condemnation of Stalin reached the West—reads: ‘LASZLO WAS INNOCENT’ (176), suggesting a possible posthumous rehabilitation in a temporary thaw. The diary ends by fading out: ‘I have nothing to write . . . All around people are talking, but I have nothing to say’ (176). His final entry, appearing two days before he disappeared, opens: ‘If we think of ourselves as special creators, we are wrong’ (198). The novel ends with John discovering a letter from Janos, on a train going eastwards through Austria: ‘I go now to tell my mistake to those who are like I was [italics o­ riginal]’ (199). John concludes: What happened to him after this? We do not know . . . Even worse, we do not know what he did. Did he stand by and watch during those terrible days in Budapest? Did he join with the revisionists of the Petöfi circle? Did he fight side by side with those workers’ councils who resisted the Red Army . . . Each of these possibilities is reasonable.  (200)

Even with access to ‘this man’s most intimate hopes, thoughts, confessions’ we ‘cannot with any certainty declare which of the courses of action he was bound to follow’ (200). The conflicting perspectives of the frame narrative, journal, and John’s commentary are put to use as forms to ensure that neither biographical nor historical truth appear as a knowable totality, refracting instead into the necessity of uncertainty. Fixation upon this concluding demand for uncertainty, rather than the novel’s complex narrative form and its portrait of the loss of revolutionary hope, caused A Painter of Our Time to receive an extremely hostile review from Stephen Spender. For Spender, both Laszlo’s journal and ‘John’s’ commentary were simply the views of John Berger, identical to those expounded in the New Statesman. Spender’s review became an attack on what he saw as Berger’s justification of Communism, the truth of which was, in fact, Nazism. ‘Janos Lavin is an advocate of judicial murder . . . This method was put into practice at Auschwitz, where victims were spared for the purpose of murdering other victims, thus facilitating the liquidation of several million people’. Spender’s only attention to the form of the novel is to conclude that it reminded him of a book he found in Germany in 1945: ‘It was written by a man who was himself a frustrated poet and artist, in a form consisting partly of a diary, partly of vignettes, sometimes of narrative,

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sometimes satirical . . . The novel was called “Michael”; and the author was the youthful Joseph Goebbels’.68 Aside from the tastelessness of comparing a novel by a writer of Jewish descent, about a Jewish victim of National Socialism, to a novel by Goebbels, Spender’s public role as a Communist apostate now editing Encounter, which appeared in Berger’s novel thinly disguised as Impact and described as a tool of ‘American museums’, might have made this attack expected. Yet the review had a powerful effect in burying the novel, with Berger accusing Secker & Warburg of failing to  properly distribute and promote it, given Spender’s influence with Encounter’s publisher. In a 1966 letter, Berger went so far as to accuse Warburg of deciding ‘not to distribute the book’, adding, ‘I hope you will remember telling me this yourself ’.69 This charge was repeated in a 1988 afterword to a reprint of the novel, claiming that after Spender’s violent reaction ‘Secker (who at that time were also publishing Encounter) decided to stop distributing the novel’.70 Gordon Johnston has pointed to Secker & Warburg’s central role in promoting Cold War liberalism in Britain, publishing ‘a body of literature whose critical reception and promotion in the 1950s was heavily circumscribed by the cultural polemics of the Cold War’, such as Czesław Miłosz’s The Captive Mind in 1953, receiving funding from the Congress for Cultural Freedom for translations of Tibor Déry’s Niki in 1958, and selling the film rights for Animal Farm to the CIA.71 Johnston is correct in denying that A Painter of Our Time was explicitly supressed by Secker & Warburg, but the fate of Berger’s novel shows the extent to which Cold War politics shaped the course of British literature in the 1950s. Removed from the polarized world of London publishing, George R. Clay’s review for The New York Times had the perspective to perceive that ‘[i]t is in the nature of Mr. Berger’s message that we should never learn what Janos did when he got to Hungary’. In doing so, ‘Mr Berger has managed to dramatize one of the cardinal dilemmas of our age’.72 THE MOMENT OF CUBISM: G. Why did an attempt to dramatize the dilemmas of art and politics during the Cold War lead Berger back to a reconsideration of Cubism? Why was this return, which in itself works against the linear teleologies implicit 68  Stephen Spender, ‘Mixing Politics with Paint’, The Observer, 9 November 1958, 21. 69  ‘Letter from John Berger to Fredric Warburg’, 11 December 1966, Secker & Warburg Archive, Reading University Library. 70  John Berger, A Painter of Our Time (London, 1992), 196. 71  Johnston, ‘Writing and Publishing the Cold War: John Berger and Secker & Warburg’, 450–1. 72  George R. Clay, ‘Artist in Limbo’, The New York Times, 8 March 1959, section VII, 43.

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within social realism and Greenberg’s historicist theory of modernism, enabled by the writing of fiction rather than criticism? What was Cubism, for Berger, and what did it enable for his subsequent understandings of the relationship of the novel to history? By the end of the 1950s, Berger admitted that his championing of realism as the form of socialist art had been ‘a mistake’.73 His apostasy was noted in the Soviet Union: an article on ‘Revisionism of Marxism in Britain’, commenting upon the emergence of the British New Left and published in The New Reasoner, declared that: ‘In his article on “The Necessity for Uncertainty” John Berger, too, proves himself a strong supporter of contemporary Modernism . . . It is not hard to guess what this obsequious apologist of Modernism advocates: he disapproves of socialist realism in art and immediately gives himself away’.74 This is surprisingly true for a stock piece of Zhdanovist propaganda, with the one caveat that Berger would be better described as a obsequious apologist for Cubism. For Berger, Cubism was at once a formal technique characterized by multiple perspectives, and the aesthetic manifestation of a ‘moment’ of transformation in the experience of time and space which could not be understood in its own time, but only through retrospective re-interpretation. If this overdetermined interpretation of Cubist form lies outside the conventions of professionalized art history, it was crucial in shaping the narrative structure and radical historiography of the Booker Prize-winning G. As David James has shown, Berger’s account of Cubism’s unfinished potential was the model for what he calls Michael Ondaatje’s ‘cubist imagination’ as it engaged with postcolonial history; similarly, Arhundhati’s Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997) takes as its epigraph G.’s core historiographical claim: ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it’s the only one’.75 This reception suggests that the deepest significant of Cubism for Berger lay in how it provided a means to think through the relationship between the novel and history, opening up fictional forms that can engage with history understood not as a linear teleology or totality, but as a discontinuous process shot through with moments of anticipation and retrospection. Shortly after the appearance of A Painter of Our Time, Berger began to outline the vision of Cubism implicitly contained in Janos’s journal. These reviews were responding to a widespread reappraisal of Cubism that followed the major retrospective Le Cubisme in Paris in 1953. Douglas Cooper curated exhibitions of Léger in Paris in 1955, Braque in London in 1956, 73  John Berger, ‘Staying Socialist’, New Statesman, 58/1494 (1959), 576. 74  V. Ivasheva, ‘Revisionism of Marxism in Britain’, The New Reasoner (1958), 147. 75 James, Modernist Futures: Innovation and Inheritance in the Contemporary Novel, 78–80.

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and Gris again in London in 1958, while Roger Penrose curated Portrait of Picasso at the ICA in 1956. Academic canonization was ensured by the first doctorate on Cubism at the Courtauld, published by John Golding as Cubism: A History and an Analysis 1907–1914.76 In a 1958 review of Jacques Lipschitz, Berger wrote that ‘[t]he single static viewpoint in painting and sculpture can no longer satisfy the expectations deriving from our new knowledge of history, physical structure, psychology. We now think in terms of processes rather than substances’. The Cubists’ use of ‘multiple view-points within the picture’ was a discovery of ‘new knowledge’, as ‘self-sufficient as the truth’. Writing on Juan Gris the same year, he declared that ‘the real subject [of a Cubist painting] is always the same, and is the function of sight itself . . . The artist, in other words, became his own subject, not in any subjective or egocentric manner, but as a result of his considering himself and the functioning of his own senses as an integral part of the Nature he was studying’. In so doing, ‘the Cubist formula presupposed, also for the first time in history, man living unalienated from Nature’.77 These early formulations still bear the trace of Berger’s engagement with realism, with Cubism somewhat awkwardly assuming the mantle of undoing the alienation between subject and object at the heart of Lukács’s theory of modernity. Nevertheless, they emphasize Berger’s key claim that if while ‘[t]heoretically, the reality of an object for a Cubist consisted of the sum total of all its possible appearances . . . in practice this total could never be arrived at, because the number of possible visual appearances (or aspects) was infinite’.78 The questioning of totality marked Berger’s distance from the second generation of the New Left. One of its key documents, Perry Anderson’s ‘Components of the National Culture’ (1968), blamed the absence of a revolutionary student movement in British on a national ‘aversion to the very category of totality’, yet avoided the complexities of considering the role of art or literature in shaping a culture’s conceptualization of totality—an approach very different from Lukács’s treatment of Tolstoy, for example, and certainly at odds with Berger’s suspicion of the value of totality as such.79 The notorious theoreticism and philistinism of Anderson’s editorship of New Left Review did not prevent the journal publishing the fullest expression of Berger’s revaluation of Cubism in 1967.80 ‘The Moment of Cubism’ positioned itself against the positivist disciplinary protocols of the ‘dealers, 76  Golding’s bibliography records the major exhibitions of Cubism up to 1959; see John Golding, Cubism: A History and an Analysis 1907–1914, 3rd edn (London, 1988), 202–18. 77  Berger, ‘The Star of Cubism’, 268. 78  Berger, ‘The Star of Cubism’, 268. 79  Perry Anderson, ‘Components of the National Culture’, New Left Review, 50 (1968), 13. 80  John Berger, ‘The Moment of Cubism’, New Left Review, 1/42 (1967), 75–94.

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collectors, and cataloguers who go by the name of art historians’. The essay opens with the curious assertion that Cubism ‘has not yet taken place’, that it waits ‘in an enclave of time, waiting to be released and to continue a journey that began in 1907’. Rather than naming a set of paintings, a style, or a policy, Cubism was a ‘moment’ in the experience of modernity, when the convergence of imperialism and monopoly capitalism, the invention of cinema, automobiles, the telephone, radio, and synthetic chemicals, and the discoveries of the psychoanalytic unconscious and special relativity cumulatively ‘changed the meaning of both time and space’, registering the effects of what Marx called capital’s ‘annihilation of space by time’, qualitatively transforming the nature of both.81 Through its use of a ‘multiplicity of viewpoints’, and the ‘diagramming of discontinuous spaces on a two-dimensional picture plane’, in a Cubist work ‘the forms portrayed never present themselves as a totality. The totality is the surface of the picture, which is now the origin and sum of all that one sees [italics original]’. By escaping from the continuous space required by linear perspective, Cubist works were able to show that ‘[s]pace is part of the continuity of the events within it’ rather than a mere container for a time which must always be sequential; it thus created ‘the possibility of art revealing processes instead of static entities’.82 Throughout the essay, the revolution of Cubist form is compared to that effected by Renaissance perspective, paralleling Erwin Panofsky’s argument for perspective as a ‘symbolic form’ of the Renaissance worldview. Just as Panofsky argued that Alberti’s perspective expressed and participated in the origins of the scientific worldview, the rational subject, and the modern consciousness of history as linear and taking place within homogenous time, so too Berger’s moment of Cubism saw it as a means to think through how modernity’s transformation of space and time transformed the understanding of history into discontinuous moments of shock and incongruity which cannot be situated in the linear time of art history inherited from nineteenth-century historicism, but can only be understood through a process of r­ etrospective re-interpretation.83 Cubist form, as a diagram of space and time as discontinuous processes, explained why the meaning of art works could not be understood in their own time: ‘the Cubists were not aware of all that we are now reading into their art’. Right down to the depths of the experience of historicity, Cubism ‘re-created the syntax of art so that it could accommodate modern experience’.84 81  John Berger, ‘The Moment of Cubism’, in The Moment of Cubism and Other Essays (London, 1969), 4; 3. 82  Berger, ‘The Moment of Cubism’, 21–2; 23. 83  Berger, ‘The Moment of Cubism’, 31. 84  Berger, ‘The Moment of Cubism’, 27; 30.

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This emphasis on Cubism as a moment of rupture and discontinuity in history, and on the most significant aspect of its formal innovations being its multiple perspectives, cut against the grain of the dominant interpretations and evaluations of the 1950s and 1960s.85 These were typified in Golding’s Cubism, which viewed it primarily in formalist terms, and situated it within Alfred H. Barr’s linear and teleological narrative of the development of visual modernism. Berger’s emphasis on the interplay between discontinuity and totality generated by Cubism’s multiple perspectives looked back to some of the earliest interpretations of Cubism: Jean Metzinger’s description of Picasso’s ‘free, mobile perspective’, or Jacques Rivière’s claim that Cubism’s ‘several points of view’ were a ­negation of Renaissance perspective. Above all, as signalled by the epigraphs of Berger’s essay, he harked back to Apollinaire, who wrote of how, from 1907, Picasso and Braque ‘made every effort to represent several facets of figures and objects at once’.86 Berger did not deny what would become emphasized in the structuralist interpretations of Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss: that after 1910, Picasso increasingly drifted towards representation understood as a ‘sign referring to, but not imitating, its [an object’s] appearance’.87 Yet by presenting Cubism as an unfulfilled moment, Berger’s account avoids the teleology structuralist accounts retained from Greenberg, where Picasso’s work necessarily discovers the ‘notion of the sign as arbitrary’, producing an ‘art of the unmotivated sign’.88 Indeed, for Krauss, that it was ‘impossible for Berger to conceive of the rupture in Picasso’s art as coming in 1912, with the evidence of collage’ is evidence of the modernist nature of his understanding of Cubism, one which refuses to see in collage the ‘structural condition of mise-en-abyme’ the equivalent of which in the novel is the metafictional mise-en-abyme of works like Gide’s The Counterfeiters.89 Although intended as a criticism, this comparison shows that what is at stake in Berger’s account of Cubism, and the novel he would derive from it, is multiplicity rather than interdeterminacy, an attempt to think through forms of historicity rather than metafiction’s reduction of history to its signifiers. This renewed interest in the transformed experiences of time, space, and thus history that capitalist modernity creates, and which modernist art 85  David Cottington, Cubism and Its Histories (Manchester, 2004), 165–96. 86  Mark Antliff and Patricia Leighten, eds., A Cubism Reader: Documents and Criticism, 1906–1914 (Chicago, IL; London, 2008), 76; 257; 647. 87  Berger, ‘The Moment of Cubism’, 22. 88 Yve-Alain Bois, ‘The Semiology of Cubism’, in Picasso and Braque: A Symposium (New York, 1992), 175; Rosalind E. Krauss, ‘The Motivation of the Sign’, in Picasso and Braque: A Symposium (New York, 1992), 271. 89 Rosalind E. Krauss, The Picasso Papers (Cambridge, MA, 1999), 217–18.

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tried to express, informed a number of Berger’s essays in the late 1960s, written while composing G. Explaining why Alexander Herzen’s liberalism did not speak to the political movements of the late 1960s, he claimed that Marx has shown that ‘[d]iscontinuity is now intrinsic to our view of reality’. Putting his earlier view of the temporality of criticism into practice, an essay titled ‘Past Seen from a Possible Future’ attempted to view the European tradition of easel painting in retrospect, drawing on Nietzsche’s claim—part of his critique of positivist historicism—that ‘[p]erhaps the past is largely undiscovered; it still needs so many retroactive forces for its discovery’.90 Walter Benjamin, according to Berger, offered a different critique of linear history, suggesting criticism as the recovery of past anticipations, with every object containing ‘a coded testament to the present’. An essay on mass demonstrations, responding to the protest movements of 1968, theorized their potential and limitations in terms of their disruption of time: their ‘prophetic, rehearsing possibilities’ lay in their ability to create in the present the kinds of political awareness and collective subjects located in the future.91 Yet the potential of such ­prefigurative politics was ambiguous. A long piece of reportage about the aftermath of the Prague Spring ventriloquized a critique of the Western New Left, with Berger recording the demand of activists that ‘the New Left . . . distinguish between dreams and reality’, and offering a withering portrait of Western New Left radicals choosing individual consciousness-raising and dreaming over collective political action under concrete circumstances. At the same time, an introduction to a collection containing this essay stated that Berger had been working on a book set in 1900 without knowing ‘whether it will be eventually categorized as an essay, a novel, a treatise, or the description of a dream’, its generic instability potentially participating in those aspects of the New Left criticized in Czechoslovakia. In a 1968 essay on ‘The Changing View of Man in the Portrait’, Berger presented his theory of historical discontinuity and multiple perspectives as a solution to ‘the crisis of the modern novel’: ‘What this involves, fundamentally, is a change in the mode of narration. It is scarcely any longer possible to tell a straight story sequentially unfolding in time’. Rather than a novelistic event being a moment in linear time, ‘we are now aware of it . . . as the centre of a star of lines’.92 G. is thus at the centre of a number of lines intersecting in Berger’s 90  Berger’s own translation of ‘Maybe the past is still essentially undiscovered! So many retroactive forces are still needed!’ Nietzsche Friedrich, The Gay Science, ed. by Bernard Williams (Cambridge, 2001), 183. 91  John Berger, Selected Essays and Articles: The Look of Things (Harmondsworth, 1972), 85; 213; 87; 247. 92  John Berger, ‘The Changing View of Man in the Portrait’, in Selected Essays and Articles: The Look of Things (Harmondsworth, 1972), 40.

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work: a return to the revolutionary temporality and historicity of Cubism; a response to the perceived impasses of the New Left; and a broader return in British avant-garde writing to the unfulfilled promises of modernism in response to a critical discourse on the decline of the novel. G. tells the story of the life of its eponymous hero Giovanni, who later becomes simply ‘G’: the type character of the historical novel dissolving into a narrative cipher. It moves through a series of discontinuous episodes: G.’s birth in Livorno, his upbringing in fin-de-siècle England, his return as an adult to Italy, the outbreak of the First World War, and his death in Trieste. It is also episodic and discontinuous on a smaller scale, typographically consisting of short paragraphs with large section breaks. The overall effect is the narration of a life from afar, rather than from within. Episodes pass like the classic synecdoche for modernity’s t­ ransformation of time and space: the ‘views seen through the train window’ Giovanni experiences as a child as ‘distant, continuous, almost disembodied’.93 As with Janos in Hungarian, Giovanni is a translation of John; the novel ends in Trieste, where Berger’s father was born; and the text includes many passages copied verbatim from Berger’s criticism, for example the section on ‘The Situation of Women’. Like A Painter of Our Time, G. uses elements of auto/biographical writing and criticism to question generic conventions and expectations: in this case, those around the historical novel. This generic blurring is accentuated by the recurring metafictional reflections about the novel’s narrative form, as for example when the narrator admits his limitations: ‘What the boy says in reply I do not know. To pretend to know would be to schematize’ (51). Recalling the ‘necessity of uncertainty’ that marked Berger’s break from realism as a ­politics and aesthetics, these moments introduce indeterminacy and lacunae into the genre of the historical narrative, drawing on modernist narrative techniques to undercut its classical genre aims of presenting history as an unfolding totality. A seemingly autobiographical metanarrative comment explains the central concern of the novel: ‘The way my imagination forces me to write this story is determined by its intimations about those aspects of time which I have touched but never identified’ (148). Echoing the preoccupation with the difference between clock-time and the experience of time found in modernist writers and theorists like Joyce, Woolf, and Bergson, the narrator states that ‘[t]ime is measured not by numerals on a clock face but by the incidence of our apprehended possibilities’ (50). And again: ‘Calendars and clocks are our inadequate inventions. The structure of our minds is such that the true nature of time usually escapes us’ (141). Yet G. 93  John Berger, G. (London, 2012), 58. Further citations will be in the main body of the text.

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is interested not so much in what lies outside clock-time on the level of the individual day, the concern of much modernist fiction, than in other modes of historical time beyond the linear progression of the calendar: coincidences, anticipations, and retrospections that show history to be more than a process of linear progression. These disruptions of linear time can cut through or across time, drawing connections diachronically or synchronically. As a child, G is caught up in the 1898 workers’ uprising in Milan, about which the narrator reflects: ‘Every ruling minority needs to numb and, if possible, to kill the time sense of those whom it exploits by proposing a continuous present . . . The barricades break that present’ (72). If the failure of this uprising is expressed in the transcribed graffiti ‘KARL MARX HAS BEEN RELEGATED TO THE ATTIC, Giolitti in 1911’, with these echoes of Berger’s account of the temporal politics of 1968, the novel connects moments of revolution across time beyond that of merely failed repetition. G. also makes synchronic connection in time: But I have little sense of unfolding time. The relations which I perceive between things—and these often include causal and historical relations— tend to form in my mind a complex synchronic pattern. I see fields where others see chapters. And so I am forced to use another method to try to place and define events. A method which searches for co-ordinates extensively in space, rather than consequentially in time. I write in the spirit of a geometrician.  (137)

The ‘synchronic pattern’ into which G is plotted attempts to connect the structure of fin-de-siècle European history: British imperial expansion in Africa, the technological advance of the first flight across the Alps, workers’ uprisings in Milan. If this shows the influence of Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose Mythologiques appear in a list of footnotes at the beginning of the novel, it also parallels the method by which Berger located the moment of Cubism in a similar moment of modernity’s structural convergence. This interplay between diachronic and synchronic connections produces a different mode of historical fiction, where the historical past and process never appears as complete totality: ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one’ (113). Berger’s statement that G. might be a ‘description of a dream’ points to another form of non-linear historical temporality connecting his novel to his theory of the moment of Cubism. While recounting the story of G’s cousin Beatrice in South Africa, the narrator reflects that ‘[t]here is a historical equivalent to the psychological process of repression into the unconscious. Certain experiences cannot be formulated because they have occurred too soon’ (104). In this highly allusive novel, this is a reference to the Freudian concept of Nachträglichkeit, a difficult-to-translate term

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meaning afterwardness, delayed action, as well as retrospective activation. While never explicitly worked out as a concept in Freud’s work, Jacques Lacan drew glancing but important attention to an aspect of Nachträglichkeit apposite to Berger’s allusion: that it is not a question of ‘biological memory’, but ‘of remembering, that is of history’; that it is a reordering of ‘past contingencies by conferring on them the sense of necessities to come, such as they are constituted by the scant freedom through which the subject makes them present’.94 Lacan also suggested its workings were most fully traced in the most literary of Freud’s case histories: his account of the Wolf Man. In a manner much clearer in the original German, Freud repeatedly conceptualizes the relationship of the Wolf Man’s dream to the primal scene in terms of Nachträglichkeit. The dream involves ‘nachträgliches Verständnis’ (‘understanding . . . [that] was deferred’) and ‘eine nachträgliche zum Verständnis vordringende Bearbeitung der so empfangenen Eindrücke’ (‘a deferred revision of the impressions so received to penetrate the understanding’).95 The dream-work is a ‘nachträglichen Wirkung’ (‘deferred operation’) precipitating the ‘Aktivierung des Bildes, das nun dank der vorgeschrittenen intellektuellen Entwicklung verstanden wurden kann’ (‘[t]he activation of the picture, which, thanks to the advance in his intellectual development, he was now able to understand’).96 Attempting to describe the narrative form of the account he is giving of this complex temporality of delay and retroaction, Freud takes up the analogy of relations in a visual field. After an original ‘Aufsplitterung’ (‘splinter[ing] up’) of the Wolf Man’s perception so that ‘Szene wirkt nachträglich’ (‘[t]he effects of the scene were deferred’), Freud’s investigation requires piecing back together the splintered fragments, and this task, he writes, ‘which is not difficult in other respects finds a natural limit when it is a question of forcing a structure which is itself in many dimensions onto the twodimensional descriptive plane’.97 Nachträglichkeit cannot be shown in a linear narrative, and the closest model Freud imagines for representing its effects across discontinuity is the representation of multiple dimensions on a two-dimensional plane: an uncanny anticipation of Cubism. G. expands this structure of psychic temporality to history, and in this novel, a revolutionary modernism is the event that has ‘occurred too soon’. In 1956 Berger had already argued, as in the temporality of Nachträglichkeit, 94  Jacques Lacan, Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English, trans. by Bruce Fink (New York; London, 2006), 213. 95  Sigmund Freud, Gesammelte Werke: Chronologisch Geordnet. Band 12: Werke Aus Den Jahren 1917–1920 (London, 1947), 64–5; The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII (1917–1919): An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, ed. by James Strachey (London, 1955), 37–8. 96  GW 12, 144; SE XVII, 109. 97  GW 12, 103; SE XVII, 72.

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that Cubism was a moment that had occurred too soon and was already a displacement and substitution: ‘Because they did not see how to make a revolution in the streets, they made one on their canvases’. G. extends this belief to a broader understanding of modernism. George Steiner, who along with Elizabeth Bowen was on the committee that awarded G. the Booker Prize in 1972, admitted that the novel is ‘a highly literary—indeed precious—affair, with plainly recognisable roots in the tradition of modernist fiction. It directs us to Italo Svevo’s Confessions of Zeno and Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities’.98 One of G’s lovers is a reader of Mallarmé, whose poems enclose G’s love letters, and the novel ends with two allusions to Joyce: G’s death in Trieste in the year Joyce was forced to leave the city, the novel ending when Ulysses was beginning, and the epigraph ‘Geneva. Paris. Bonnieux. 1965–1971’. True to the intricate logic of Nachträglichkeit, the novel does not simply set out to recover a putative unfulfilled potential of modernism. Its self-reflexivity about how its own historical position after the New Left and 1968 inflects its historiography of the early twentieth century makes the novel’s form one of Nietzsche’s ‘retrospective forces’ recovering an aspect of the past brought to light for the first time in this moment. ‘Never again will a single story be told as though it were the only one’ (113); if this is the kind of historiography G. proposes through its rupturing of linear historical time, it is also Berger’s historiography of modernism: never a single story, but always one of revision and reconstruction. G.’s meditation on its relationship to modernism, and its attempt to theorize that relationship and give it narrative form, makes it a self-reflexive commentary upon the wider re-investigation of modernism that took place in British fiction in the 1960s and early 1970s and whose representatives were noted by B. S. Johnson in 1973: ‘Samuel Beckett (of course), John Berger, Christine Brooke-Rose, Brigid Brophy, Anthony Burgess, Alan Burns, Angela Carter, Eva Figes, Giles Gordon, Wilson Harris, Rayner Heppenstall’.99 If this phase has only recently come into view as a distinct moment in the history of the postwar British novel (previously overshadowed by the marketing of the 1980s Granta generation), this perhaps stems from a renewed interest in theorizing modernism’s development across the twentieth century beyond the historicist contextualizations that characterize the ‘new modernist studies’.100 Berger’s own turn to Nachträglichkeit anticipates influential attempts in art history to rethink the relationship between earlier and later versions of modernism. For example, Hal Foster has 98  George Steiner, ‘Books’, The New Yorker, 27 January 1973, 92. 99 B. S. Johnson, Aren’t You Rather Young to Be Writing Your Memoirs? (London, 1973), 29. 100  Douglas Mao and Rebecca  L.  Walkowitz, ‘The New Modernist Studies’, PMLA, 123/3 (2008), 737–48.

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argued that ‘historical and neo-avant-gardes are constituted in a similar way, as a continual process of protension and retension [italics original]’, and, echoing Berger’s terminology, that ‘the avant-garde work is never historically effective or fully significant in its historical moments’.101 More recently, Peter Bürger has revised his original theory of the avant-garde away from a simple linearity, according to which postwar avant-gardism is doomed to mere repetition of the radical gestures of previous generations, arguing for the necessity of ‘the use of deferred action as a general category of reflection’, where ‘the second event, which possesses its own context of emergence, illuminates the first’.102 Appropriately enough, such work illuminates Berger’s own attempts to conceptualize modernist art works as those which ‘occur too soon’, and whose meaning can only be grasped by retrospective reactivation, evidence that modernism is still, as Berger wrote of Cubism, ‘defining desires which are still unmet’.103 G. and the ‘moment’ of Cubism transcended the opposition with which Berger’s writing on art began in the Cold War (indeed, which was a product of it): between art as determined by its immediate context, or as an objet d’art divorced from history. Instead, the interchange opened up by his generic blurring between art criticism and fiction, between Cubism and the New Left, enabled a view of the novel as never merely the expression of its historical context of emergence, or as understandable apart from it, but as something whose forms can connect historical moments across and beyond linear notions of progress and teleology. G. marked the conclusion of this re-engagement with modernism, with Berger’s attention turning to the broader question of ‘the meaning and enigma of visibility itself ’.104 However, his turn towards theorizing the impact of photography shows the continuation of his attention to the question of temporality first raised by his writings on Cubism. A 1972 essay on Paul Strand states that ‘[t]he ideal of photography, aesthetics apart, is to seize an “historic” moment’, and throughout Berger’s writings on photography in the 1970s, the ‘moment’ is used repeatedly to theorize how photographic temporality opens up different models of historicity and remembrance. Photographs of ‘moments of agony—a terror, a wounding, a death, a cry of grief’, for example, trigger not just a sense of shock and discontinuity, but also a more complex anticipation of the ‘discontinuous . . . experience of time’ they record, so that 101 Hal Foster, The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century (Cambridge, MA, 1996), 28–9. 102  Peter Bürger, ‘Avant-Garde and Neo-Avant-Garde: An Attempt to Answer Certain Critics of Theory of the Avant-Garde’, trans. by Bettina Brandt and Daniel Purdy, New Literary History, 41/4 (2010), 710; 711. 103  Berger, ‘The Moment of Cubism’, 32. 104  John Berger, About Looking (London, 1980), 41.

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viewing a photograph becomes a moment of remembering anticipation and anticipating remembrance. In an essay dedicated to Susan Sontag’s writings on photography, Berger wrote of how ­photography was transforming ‘the faculty of memory’, and in doing so, revealing how ‘[m]emory implies a certain act of redemption’. But if ‘[p]hotographs are relics of the past, traces of what has happened’, it is also ‘just possible that photography is the prophecy of a human memory yet to be socially and politically achieved’. ‘The task of an alternative ­photography’, Berger wrote in 1978, ‘is to incorporate photography into social and political memory, instead of using it as a substitute which encourages the atrophy of any memory’.105 Unlike many subsequent theorizations of photography as a form of trauma or spectral haunting, where photography only returns the past to the present, Berger’s criticism grasps the other side of this effect: the photographs are also prophecies of a future to come. The essays collected in About Looking (1980) were part of a wider expansion of the theory and criticism of photography in the 1970s beyond the technical and often partisan writings of practising photographers. As W. G. Sebald recalled in 2001: ‘In the ’70s there were very interesting things written about photography by Susan Sontag, Roland Barthes, John Berger. I felt a direct rapport with things said in these essays’.106 Sebald owned a copy of About Looking, and it is not difficult to see how Berger’s reflections upon the relationship between photography, temporality, and memory were taken up in Sebald’s subsequent work. Berger’s collaborative works with Jean Mohr such as A Fortunate Man (1967) and A Seventh Man (1975), which incorporate photographs into discursive essayistic narratives, stand as Anglophone precursors to Sebald’s own genre-blurring works. Sebald also extended, although perhaps less consciously, Berger’s exploration of Nachträglichkeit as a mode of narration, particularly in The Emigrants (1993) and Austerlitz (2001). This use of Berger brings out an unexpected line of continuity between the multiple perspectives of modernist fiction and the turn towards autofictional and historiographical modes that increasingly defined fiction in the last decade of the twentieth century, a turn which was also, as Sebald’s work shows, another chapter in the postwar novel’s engagement with visual art.

105 Berger, About Looking, 53–4; 57–8. 106  Kenneth Baker and W. G. Sebald, ‘Up Against Historical Amnesia’, San Francisco Chronicle, 7 October 2001, R2.

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4 Art’s Swindle W. G. Sebald and History After Trauma In a 1992 interview W. G. Sebald declared: ‘I myself work like a painter who has to consider how big to make the frame. The painter’s craft has always fascinated me. I envy painters because of the craftsmanship that is involved in their art’.1 By this point in his writing career Sebald had published After Nature (1988), Vertigo (1990), and The Emigrants (1992), and so his claim to work like a painter followed a sequence of works preoccupied with artists like Grünewald, Pisanello, and Frank Auerbach, as well as photography, botanical illustration, and what the narrator of Vertigo calls the ‘sense of vision’.2 According to Sebald, the painter’s craft produces art from ‘whence time has disappeared . . . That is what grabs us when we visit a museum and see a painting from the seventeenth century. That is a snapshot for all eternity’. This is envy of a carefully chosen genre of painting: seventeenth-century still-life, whose realist images provide ‘a reflection on eternity’.3 But the images outside of time produced by these paintings are compared to the photographic ‘snapshot’ in a way that calls into question their respective claims to realism. A photograph appears as composed as a painting, and a painting is seen with what Sebald elsewhere called ‘the artificial eyes technology has given us’ (‘der künstlichen Augen . . . welche die Technologie uns beigestellt hat’).4 By ascribing to the ‘plastic arts’ the ability to produce representations of timelessness by depicting single moments rather than temporalized narratives—following in a tradition that goes back through modernism to G. E. Lessing—Sebald casts doubt on his writing’s ‘attempt to create tiny pools of timelessness’.5 For as he 1  W. G. Sebald and Piet de Moor, ‘Echoes from the Past: A Conversation with Piet de Moor’, in Saturn’s Moons: W.  G.  Sebald—A Handbook, ed. by Jo Catling and Richard Hibbitt, trans. by Reiner van Straten (London, 2011), 352. 2 W. G. Sebald, Vertigo, trans. by Michael Hulse (London, 1999), 72. 3  Sebald and de Moor, ‘Echoes from the Past’, 352. 4 W.  G.  Sebald, ‘Kleine Vorrede zur Salzburger Ausstellung’, in Anita Albus, ed. by Tugomir Luksic (Salzburg, 1990), 8. 5  Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Laocöon: An Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry, trans. by Edward Allen McCormick (Baltimore, MD; London, 1984).

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admitted in a 1997 interview, if when looking at a painting ‘[y]ou are taken out of time, and that is in a sense a form of redemption’, in contrast, ‘[f ]iction is an art form that moves in time, that is inclined towards the end, that works on a negative gradient, and it is very, very difficult in that particular form in the narrative to arrest the passage of time’.6 Painting and photography are brought together to define fiction negatively: as that which can only fail to arrest time. In the same way that Sebald also described each of his works as a ‘death mask’ (‘Totenmaske’) of a lost moment of conception, so too they might be understood as forms defined by their failure to achieve the timelessness they desire.7 For a writer who has been extensively discussed in relationship to photography, and whose incorporation of reproductions of photographs into what he called his ‘semi-documentary prose fiction’ is one of the most original features of his work, this claim to ‘work like a painter’ opens up a different aspect of Sebald’s relationship to visual art.8 This does not mean that Sebald’s claim to work like a painter ought to be opposed to his actual work with photographs, setting up a simplistic binary between the two media. Rather, unpicking the implications of this claim brings aspects of Sebald’s use of photography into sharper relief: his investment in photography as a form of anti-art that places him within a lineage of avant-garde practices in which photographs were the visual equivalent of the readymade; his antagonism towards what he called photography’s destruction of reality; and his investigation of how photography engenders a mode of remembrance that his fiction both draws on and contests. Instead of crude opposition, Sebald’s work repeatedly uses explorations of the relationship between painting and photography to provide a language for describing narrative form and to pose questions about the possibility of the aesthetic as a distinct mode of experience. The way art highlights the unavoidably temporal nature of fiction, and its thus different modes of remembrance, 6  Eleanor Wachtel and W. G. Sebald, ‘Ghost Hunter (interview)’, in The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W.  G.  Sebald, ed. by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (New York, 2007), 41. 7 W. G. Sebald, ‘Auf Ungeheuer Dünnem Eis’: Gespräche 1971 Bis 2001, ed. by Torsten Hoffmann (Frankfurt am Main, 2011), 205. 8  W. G. Sebald, ‘Stipendium Des National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA)’, 1999, Bestand A: Sebald, HS005243182, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach; Carolin Duttlinger, ‘Traumatic Photographs: Remembrance and the Technical Media in W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz’, in W. G. Sebald: A Critical Companion, ed. by J. J. Long and Anne Whitehead (Edinburgh, 2004), 155–71; George Kouvaros, ‘Images That Remember Us: Photography and Memory in Austerlitz’, Textual Practice, 19 (2005), 173–93; J. J. Long, W. G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity (Edinburgh, 2007); Lise Patt, ed., Searching for Sebald: Photography After W. G. Sebald (Los Angeles, CA, 2007); Marianne Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture After the Holocaust (New York, 2013), 42–52.

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shapes what Adriana Cavarero identifies as the ‘central core of Sebald’s poetics’: ‘the problem, already announced by Adorno of writing “after Auschwitz” and, speaking more broadly, after the main chapter of the history of destruction, of which Auschwitz is the symbol’.9 Because of the central role played by the visual in Sebald’s answer to this problem, his work is both more and less than what Lynn L. Wolff has called a new form of ‘literary historiography’, a concept which risks demoting Sebald’s use of images to mere additions to an essentially linguistic project.10 As with Berger, Gaddis, and Beckett—the latter of whom Sebald called one of the ‘exemplary modern authors’ (‘exemplarisch moderner Autoren’) for his refusal to let history regress into myth after the Holocaust—Sebald’s attempt to rethink the relationship between fiction and history is ­inseparable from his engagement with visual art and photography.11 Particularly in his final book, Austerlitz (2001), Sebald’s engagement with photography is used to show the limitations of conceiving of history, and consequently fiction’s representation of that history, as a form of trauma. According to a paradigm which dominated fiction during the 1980s and 1990s, the traumatic nature of certain historical experiences meant that the novel’s role was to figure the inexpressibility of what Amy J. Elias calls the ‘historical sublime’.12 However, as Dominic LaCapra has observed, works of art which adopt this task rely upon a questionable model of ‘“tragic” identification or rather uncontrolled transferential relation’, where the reader’s aesthetic experience becomes the equivalent ­repetition of the traumatic experience of the victim.13 For Sebald, writing about the postwar German novel, this ethical violation of ‘identifying with the real victims’ was enabled by ‘traditional narrative forms’.14 The dubious identification and transference that compromise fiction’s engagement with the traumatic experience of others, this implies, are first and foremost a question of form. Trauma as a theorization of memory transforms the passage of time into endless repetition: the past is always present, the future will only be the repetition of the past. Yet for Sebald repetition was a sign of the regression of history into myth, and fiction’s inability to create pools of timelessness makes it a testament to the inescapable passing of time. Fiction’s failure to stop time is a reminder that the remembrance demanded by the victims of history never comes to an end. 9  Adriana Cavarero, ‘Narrative Against Destruction’, New Literary History, 46/1 (2015), 8. 10 Lynn L. Wolff, W. G. Sebald’s Hybrid Poetics: Literature as Historiography (Berlin, 2014). 11 W. G. Sebald, Der Mythus Der Zerstörung Im Werk Döblins (Stuttgart, 1980), 139. 12 Amy J. Elias, Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction (Baltimore, MD, 2001). 13  Dominick LaCapra, History and Memory after Auschwitz (Ithaca, NY, 1998), 101. 14  W. G. Sebald, ‘Constructs of Mourning: Günter Grass and Wolfgang Hildesheimer’, in Campo Santo, trans. by Anthea Bell (London, 2005), 107.

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In the 1980s, Kerwin Lee Klein has written, memory rather than nature, language, or culture emerged as the ‘antonym’ in historiography against which history was understood.15 Critics have long noted that Sebald’s work is preoccupied with the relationship between history and memory, and that this preoccupation shares many of the concerns of these recent historiographical debates: the singular status of the Holocaust, the role of lieux de mémoire, the impact of visual images, or the function of affects such as melancholy in forming collective memory.16 It is in the context of these debates that Sebald’s exploration of the limitations of traumatic memory stakes a claim on literature’s relationship to history. In the same way that for Pierre Nora, memory came to stand as everything valuable that history should be condemned for ignoring, so too has traumatic memory as privileged access to the real come to acquire a certain normative status as an aesthetic form in debates about fiction’s representation of history.17 As Amy Hungerford has written, trauma theory became ‘a kind of formal handbook’ for fiction about the Holocaust and its legacy during the 1990s; yet it also became an evaluative handbook for critical appraisals of a much wider range of historical fiction.18 In bringing photography, painting, and fiction together to theorize art as an inherently c­ ompromised swindle that nevertheless provides the distanced and ironized modes of narration and remembrance necessary to recount the workings of trauma in history, rather than as history, Sebald provided fiction with a new relationship to memory after what Roger Luckhurst has called the late twentieth-century ‘trauma paradigm’, and therefore a new relationship to history.19 The centrality of memory, history, and trauma to Anglophone fiction in the 1990s, and their close relationship to questions of life-writing, provided one reason for the difference in Sebald’s reception in the English- and German-speaking world; as a number of German critics have observed, the success of Sebald’s career was as much if not more a product of the state of the Anglophone literary field than of that of his long-departed Germany.20 Revealingly, of the fifty or so interviews Sebald gave in his career as a literary author, more than half were in English, and he was far 15  Kerwin Lee Klein, ‘The Emergence of Memory in Historical Discourse’, Representations, 69 (2000), 128. 16 Anne Fuchs, Die Schmerzensspuren Der Geschichte: Zur Poetik Der Erinnerung in W.  G.  Sebalds Prosa (Weimar; Vienna; Cologne, 2004); Scott  D.  Denham and Mark McCulloh, eds., W. G. Sebald: History, Memory, Trauma (Berlin, 2006). 17  Pierre Nora, ‘Between Memory and History: Les Lieux de Mémoire’, Representations, 26 (1989), 7–24. 18 Amy Hungerford, The Holocaust of Texts: Genocide, Literature and Personification (Chicago, IL; London, 2003), 100. 19  Roger Luckhurst, The Trauma Question (London, 2008), 2. 20  Scott Denham, ‘Die englischsprachige Sebald-Rezeption’, in W. G. Sebald: Politische Archäologie und melancholische Bastelei, ed. by Michael Niehaus and Claudia Öhlschläger (Berlin, 2006), 259–68.

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more forthcoming to Amazon.co.uk than to the Süddeutsche Zeitung.21 Sebald’s debts to German literary history are so obvious as to be ­undeniable, but equally undeniable, Peter Boxall has written, has been Sebald’s influence on late twentieth-century Anglophone literature and its theorizations of a ‘world community of writers’.22 Similarly, while it is obviously necessary to engage with the original German texts of Sebald’s prose, it is also important to attend to his claims that he ‘intervened massively’ and ‘literally rewrote’ the drafts provided by his English translators, to the point where reworking The Emigrants involved ‘writing a fairly large amount of English for the first time, although starting out from an already existing English text’ (‘zum ersten Mal ziemlich viel English schreiben, allerdings ausgehend von einem bereits existierenden englischen Text’).23 Although Sebald stopped short of comparing himself to Beckett’s practice of selftranslation, research on his translation manuscripts, as Lynn L. Wolff has written in relation to Vertigo, shows ‘that it is less a question of Sebald “correcting” Hulse’s translations and more a question of Sebald rewriting his own, original German text because, as he sometimes admits in letters to Hulse, of the stylistic problems which he claimed to perceive there’.24 Conceptualizing Sebald’s involvement in his translations from German to English as a form of revision brings to light his important yet shifting engagement with Roland Barthes, who provided a theory of photography against which Sebald’s own comparison of painting and photography in his writing could be defined. But in order to understand the ways in which this comparison would become central to the work of Sebald the writer, it is first necessary to turn to look at the place of art in the thinking of Sebald the critic. M Y T H , H I S TO RY, A N D N E G AT I V E T RU T H S : S E B A L D ’ S E A R LY C R I T I C I S M In his account of Sebald’s early academic career, his former colleague Richard Sheppard wryly reflects he cannot ‘help wondering how many of Max’s [Sebald’s] Anglophone admirers understand that a straight, albeit subterranean line runs from his early saturation in revisionist Marxism to the 21 Richard Sheppard, ‘Primary Bibliography’, in Saturn’s Moons: W.  G.  Sebald—A Handbook, ed. by Jo Catling and Richard Hibbitt (London, 2011), 446–96. 22  Peter Boxall, Twenty-First-Century Fiction (New York, 2013), 6. 23  Maya Jaggi, ‘Recovered Memories’, The Guardian, 22 September 2001, B6; Sebald, ‘Auf Ungeheuer Dünnem Eis’: Gespräche 1971 Bis 2001, 120. 24  W. G. Sebald, ‘Lost in Translation? Conversation with Jon Cook (Norwich 1999)’, in Saturn’s Moons: W. G. Sebald—A Handbook, ed. by Jo Catling and Richard Hibbitt (London, 2011), 363; Lynn L. Wolff, ‘The “Solitary Mallard”: On Sebald and Translation’, Journal of European Studies, 41/3–4 (2011), 323–40.

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nostalgia-laden critique of the postmodern, “hamburgerized world” (Max’s phrase) that informs his literary work of the 1990s’.25 A number of other subterranean lines run from Sebald’s academic criticism into his later works. His conceptualization of the narrative techniques of modernists like Beckett and Kafka in terms of visual metaphors anticipates his later descriptions of what he called his own periscopic technique. His reading of the revisionist Marxism of Benjamin and Adorno resulted in his art criticism theorizing the aesthetic as a form of negation, and the relationship between painting and photography as a negative dialectic which, in Lambert Zuidervaart’s definition, ‘refuses to affirm an underlying identity or final synthesis of polar opposites’.26 His readings of the photography theories of Berger, Barthes, and Sontag, three writers with whom he felt a ‘direct rapport’, informed his view of photography as a tautologous form of representation, and his treatment of photographs as visual readymades in the tradition of avant-garde artistic practices such as Dada or Surrealism.27 But there are also important differences between his early criticism and later work, the most significant of which is a transformation in the way in which literature relates to history in the writings of Sebald the critic, and in the hybrid visual and verbal works of Sebald the writer. If like many students in the 1960s Sebald learned his revisionist Marxism from the Frankfurt School, unlike many he was bold enough to write to Adorno in person to criticize him for failing to be revisionist enough in his dismissal of the Expressionist playwright Carl Sternheim, who was the subject of Sebald’s undergraduate and MA theses at the Universities of Fribourg and Manchester. Every author, Sebald declared to Adorno, should be understood as a ‘symptom of his time’ (‘Symptom seiner Zeit’).28 His earliest academic criticism and PhD dissertation on Döblin, written at the University of East Anglia between 1970 and 1974, put this s­ ymptomatic reading into practice. Döblin’s belief that only a messiah could redeem a bankrupt modernity is treated as a ‘pathological case’ (‘pathologisches Falles’) produced by the contradictions of German society diagnosed by Frankfurt School criticism.29 Indeed, few things are more certain in this early criticism than literature’s symptomatic expressions of the terminal 25  Richard Sheppard, ‘The Sternheim Years: W. G. Sebald’s Lehrjahre and Theatralische Sendung 1963–75’, in Saturn’s Moons: W. G. Sebald—A Handbook, ed. by Jo Catling and Richard Hibbitt (London, 2011), 85. 26  Lambert Zuidervaart, Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory: The Redemption of Illusion (Cambridge, MA; London, 1991), 49. 27  Kenneth Baker and W.  G.  Sebald, ‘Up Against Historical Amnesia’, San Francisco Chronicle, 7 October 2001, R2. 28  Reprinted in Marcel Atze and Franz Loquai, eds., Sebald. Lektüren. (Eggingen, 2005), 12. 29  W.  G.  Sebald, ‘Zum Thema Messianismus im Werk Döblins’, Neophilologus, 59/3 (1975), 421.

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contradictions of the ‘late bourgeois era’ (‘spätbürgerlichen Zeit’).30 Although this commitment to symptomatic reading was formed by the specific intellectual and institutional contexts of 1960s Germany, by the 1970s it was also becoming a dominant critical mode in the British academic world in which Sebald worked for his entire career, and was being theorized in France by Paul Ricœur and Louis Althusser.31 More recent Anglo-American debates about these diverse traditions of symptomatic reading have pointed out that ‘history’ is frequently the unconscious of which literature is the symptom, and this is the kind of critic Sebald declares himself in his PhD on Döblin.32 ‘The aesthetic, social, or erotic value which, for example, the image of the forest may have in a given context becomes a symptom through the sheer frequency with which it occurs’ in Döblin’s work; ‘the task of criticism, however, is the analysis of dreams, the reconstruction of the problem which the dream tried to solve’.33 That problem is the descent of bourgeois German society into fascism, and what Sebald’s calls the Traumarbeit of Döblin’s work is its use of art to transform history into myth: ‘much in Döblin’s novels represents the yearning of creativity—as understandable as it is terrifying—to abjure itself, to surrender from reality and relapse into the twilight zone of myth from which art once happily escaped’.34 The task of the symptomatic critic is to turn myth back into history, yet art itself is treated as a historical product, its historicity marked by its failure to achieve what its emancipation from myth promised. Of these two quite different theorizations of the relationship between art and history, Sebald’s criticism would soon replace the routine demystifications of the former with attention to the consequences for art in modernity implied by the latter. Sebald’s thesis on Döblin, which was translated, revised, and published in German in 1980, does not limit itself to historical diagnosis and ­political judgement—although it hardly lacks either in its declaration of Döblin’s style as ‘totalitarian’ in so far as through it ‘something that is essentially relative’—a contingent historical condition—‘is reified, hypostasized and

30  W. G. Sebald, ‘Mord an den Vätern: Bemerkungen zu einigen Drama der spätbürgerlichen Zeit’, Neophilologus, 60/3 (1976), 432–41. 31  Paul Ricœur, Freud and Philosophy: An Essay on Interpretation, trans. by Dennis Savage (New Haven, CT, 1979); Louis Althusser and Étienne Balibar, Reading Capital, trans. by Ben Brewster (London, 1997); Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus, ‘Surface Reading: An Introduction’, Representations, 108/1 (2009), 1–21; Rita Felski, The Limits of Critique (Chicago, IL, 2015). 32  Best and Marcus, ‘Surface Reading: An Introduction’, 1–21; Felski, The Limits of Critique. 33  W. G. Sebald, ‘The Revival of Myth: A Study of Alfred Döblin’s Novels’ (University of East Anglia, 1973), 9; 12. 34  Sebald, ‘The Revival of Myth: A Study of Alfred Döblin’s Novels’, 9.

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deprived of further development’.35 It also shows instances of attention to fiction’s relationship to visual art and to the ethics of narrative form that would become important to Sebald’s later writing. Döblin’s tendency towards mystification is shown in the smallest details of his prose, where concrete objects are transformed into symbolic manifestations of feelings and ‘abstract processes’ (‘abstrakte Vorgänge’), in order to elicit the reader’s empathy.36 Yet this is a problem, Sebald writes, because unlike in Expressionist painting, which can represent these symbolic objects in a single spatial relationship in two dimensions (‘in die Zweidimensionalität einordnen und zumindest in einem räumlichen Bezug setzen kann’), narrative fiction is bound to temporal discursivity (‘Diskursivität’).37 Döblin’s style is criticized for transgressing medium specificity, for attempting to convey the simultaneity of various times and affects in the essentially temporal medium of prose fiction. Inadvertently, Döblin’s limitations show that the actual correlation of modern alienation and style is shown by ‘the exemplary modern authors’ (‘exemplarisch moderner Autoren’), Kafka and Beckett, ‘through a high degree of linguistic and syntactic logic, and by an extreme poverty of metaphor’ (‘durch ein hohes Maß an sprachlicher und syntaktischer Logik und durch eine ausgesprochene Metaphernarmut’).38 Describing Molloy’s fantasies of regression and death as instances of the mimetic impulse that seeks to dissolve culture back into nature, Sebald writes that more than any other author, ‘Beckett watches for the moment when fiction seeks to be hypostatized into myth, and makes that the target of his irony. That is the critical strategy of his art’.39 He achieves this through his narrative style, through ‘the irony of the reporting voice, the irony of the author who greets the daydreams of his authors with covert scepticism’ (‘die Ironie der berichtenden Instanz, als die Ironie des Autors, der den Wunschträumen seiner Kreaturen mit Skepsis begegnet’).40 Buried in Sebald’s doctorate is a narratological distinction that would come to acquire important weight in his later work: the desires of first-person character narrators, like Molloy, come to us through an externally focalized narration that can treat them ironically, and it is this critical distance that resists the transformation of history, or rather the desire to escape history, into timeless myth. Two other early essays compare Kafka with Beckett as part of their investigation of modernist narrative technique. According to Sebald, the 35  Sebald, ‘The Revival of Myth: A Study of Alfred Döblin’s Novels’, 215. 36 Sebald, Der Mythus Der Zerstörung Im Werk Döblins, 136. My translation throughout. 37 Sebald, Der Mythus Der Zerstörung Im Werk Döblins, 136. 38 Sebald, Der Mythus Der Zerstörung Im Werk Döblins, 136. 39  Sebald, ‘The Revival of Myth: A Study of Alfred Döblin’s Novels’, 188. 40 Sebald, Der Mythus Der Zerstörung Im Werk Döblins, 116–17.

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possibility that K in The Castle can be read as the Messiah is an effect of the text’s shifting focalizations. ‘Like K, about whose looks and origin we never learn anything conclusive, the messiah is of uncertain provenance and his physiognomy is indistinct’; the inconclusiveness of K’s appearance is a consequence of him being described by an externally focused narrator. Such passages alternate with others focalized through K, as when Barnabas appears in an ‘epiphany’ that for a brief moment ‘encourages the hope that there may be a connection between the sordid real world and his better vision’. Later, however, ‘the hopeful manifestation at the beginning of the novel dissolves as Barnabas strips off his messenger’s garb’ as he is more and more described by externally focalized narration.41 ‘Beckett’s Molloy’, Sebald concludes, ‘contains a similar constellation of “agent” and “messenger”, of the narrator of the story and a certain Gaber whose memory is as rudimentary as that of Barnabas is phenomenal. The analogy, significant in many respects, cannot be pursued here’.42 It never was pursued, perhaps because the novels are quite different, narratologically speaking; but the analogy in which Moran is the agent, the figure corresponding to K, seems to claim that the possibility of interpreting Gaber as a religious figure, as with K and Barnabas in The Castle, is a narratological effect opened up by the difference between what Molloy and Moran recount. Imprecise as this analysis is—Sebald made a poor academic narratologist—attention to how limited first-person narratives can be ironically treated, and the description of these limitations in visual terms, anticipates Sebald’s later descriptions of what he called his ‘periscopic’ narrative technique, where ‘everything that the narrator relates is mediated through sometimes one or two stages, which makes for quite complicated syntactical labyrinthine structures and in one sense exonerates the narrator, because he never pretends that he knows more than is actually possible’.43 These early essays locate in modernist fiction a treatment of narrative perspective as a form of vision where aesthetics, ethics, and politics cannot be separated. For Sebald, then, the value of modernist fiction lay in the way its narrative techniques alienated and ironized the regression of history into myth. Such a regression, which is first and foremost a matter of form rather than political commitment, lay behind Sebald’s controversial critique of how German writers represented the Allied bombings of the Second World War.44 But as J. M. Coetzee perceptively noted, Sebald is concerned with 41  W. G. Sebald, ‘The Law of Ignominy: Authority, Messianism and Exile in The Castle’, in On Kafka: Semi-Centenary Perspectives, ed. by Franz Kuna (London, 1976), 46; 56. 42  Sebald, ‘The Law of Ignominy’, 57. 43  James Wood, ‘An Interview with W. G. Sebald’, Brick: A Literary Journal, 58 (1998), 26. 44 W. G. Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction: With Essays on Alfred Andersch, Jean Améry and Peter Weiss, trans. by Anthea Bell (London, 2003).

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more than the historical events of the Holocaust and the Second World War, his scope extending to the ‘triumph of Enlightenment reason and the enthronement of the idea of progress’.45 Ben Hutchinson similarly argues that the pivotal moment in Sebald’s understanding of history was not the Holocaust or the bombing of Germany except insofar as they were the outcome of the modernity theorized by the Frankfurt School; he goes so far as to state that Sebald’s work is an ‘ästhetische Fortsetzung’ (‘aesthetic continuation’) of the critique of progress outlined in Dialectic of Enlightenment.46 In his copy of the German edition of that text, Sebald noted that: ‘The great artists were . . . those who adopted style as a rigor to set against the chaotic expression of suffering, as a negative truth’ (‘Die großen Künstler…sind jene, die den Stil als Härte gegen den chaotischen Ausdruck von Leiden, als negative Wahrheit, in ihr Werk aufnahmen’). As Sebald also underlined, art offers a negative truth about reality when its style fails: ‘The moment in the work of art by which it transcends reality cannot, indeed, be severed from style; that moment, however, does not consist in achieved harmony, in the questionable unity of form and content, inner and outer, individual and society, but in those traits in which the discrepancy emerges, in the necessary failure of the passionate striving for identity’ (‘Das Moment am Kunstwerk, durch das es über die Wirklichkeit hinausgeht, ist in der Tat vom Stil nicht abzulösen; doch es besteht nicht in der geleisteten Harmonie, der fragwürdige Einheit vom Form und Inhalt, Innen und Außen, Individuum und Gesellschaft, sondern in jenen Zügen, in denen die Diskrepanz erscheint, im notwendigen Scheitern der leidenschaftlichen Anstrengungen zur Identität’). It is in the ‘failure’ (‘Scheitern’) of its style that ‘the great works of art have always negated themselves’ (‘in dem der Stil des großen Kunstwerks seit je sich negierte’).47 These passages noted by Sebald are a distillation of Adorno’s later theory of modernist art as negation, developed in his posthumous Aesthetic Theory (1970). In modernity ‘[a]rt must turn against itself, in opposition to its own concept, and thus become uncertain of itself right into its innermost fibre’.48 Yet at the same time, whether it is an outdated genre, form, or object of representation, whatever ‘is excluded is maintained in them through its negation; the state of affairs is constitutive of the modern’.49 As with 45  J. M. Coetzee, ‘W. G. Sebald, After Nature’, in Inner Workings: Literary Essays 2000–2005 (London, 2008), 147. 46  Ben Hutchinson, W. G. Sebald—Die Dialektische Imagination (Berlin, 2009), 33. 47 Theodor  W.  Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialektik der Aufklärung (Frankfurt, 1969), 138–9, WGS:7, Sebald Bibliothek, DLA Marbach; Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, ed. by Gunzelin Schmid Noer, trans. by Edmund Jephcott (Stanford, CA, 2002), 103. 48 Theodor W. Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, trans. by Robert Hullot-Kentor (London, 1997), 2. 49 Adorno, Aesthetic Theory, 2; 351.

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Beckett’s critical strategy of incorporating and ironizing the hypostatization of myth, Sebald’s doctorate and notetaking, at least, saw art as condemned and tasked to ironize that which threatened to negate it. A 1993 essay on the work of his friend, the painter Jan Peter Tripp, provides an account of how this process of incorporation and negation could be manifested in painting’s encounter with photography. Yet this essay is also an act of critical ventriloquism; as Mary Jacobus has written, here ‘Sebald could be writing of his own work, with its melancholy accumulation of detail and its memorial testimony of crystallized things’.50 Sebald denies that Tripp’s work is a form of photorealism, a style which shares the ‘tendency to reification implicit in its naturalist mode of depiction’, yet admits that in his copying of photographs where ‘the exact reproduction of reality achieves an almost unimaginable degree of precision, it is impossible to avoid the tiresome question of realism’.51 On the one hand, Sebald rejects the assumptions of ‘those critics schooled in the traditions of modernism’ for whom the possibility that ‘radically exposed artistic positions might nowadays be arrived at just as readily through representational as non-representational art, is . . . virtually inconceivable’.52 On the other, Tripp’s work intentionally engages with ‘the whiff of trickery and inconsequentiality, which . . . at least since the dawn of photography and the beginnings of the modernist era which it ushers in, came to be extended to representational painting as a whole’. The significance of Tripp’s work ‘lies not in what one might assume to be the purely objective and affirmatory quality of its identical reproduction of reality (or the latter’s photographic image) . . . but rather in the far more subtle ways in which it deviates and differs from it’.53 Drawing on his reading of Sontag and Barthes, Sebald states that on its own, ‘the photographic image makes a tautology of reality’, merely affirming that which is the case.54 However, [w]hat may be true of photography though, is not necessarily applicable to art. The latter depends on ambiguity, polyvalence, resonance, obfuscation and illumination, in short, the transcending of that which, according to an ineluctable law, has necessarily to be the case . . . Art deploys the deconstruction of outward appearances as a means of countering the obliteration, in an endless series of reproductions, of the visible world.55

50  Mary Jacobus, Romantic Things: A Tree, a Rock, a Cloud (Chicago, IL; London, 2012), 144. 51  W. G. Sebald, ‘As Day in Night . . . On the Paintings of Jan Peter Tripp’, in A Place in the Country (London, 2013), 160. 52  Sebald, ‘As Day in Night’, 160; 163. 53  Sebald, ‘As Day in Night’, 163. 54  Sebald, ‘As Day in Night’, 164; Susan Sontag, On Photography (London, 1979), 111. 55  Sebald, ‘As Day in Night’, 164.

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Photography’s reproduction of reality as that which appears necessarily to be the case is precisely the tautology that Tripp’s paintings expose by presenting almost exact copies which upon closer inspection reveal themselves to be illusions: a photograph under a pane of glass, for example. Yet this reduction of painting to merely a critique of photography only contributes to the sense of the inconsequentiality of painting—and art as a whole—in technological modernity. Tripp’s work thus belongs to a different tradition of painting than the abstraction that ‘critics schooled in the traditions of modernism’, such as Greenberg (and indeed Beckett), saw as painting’s only justifiable response to photography. ‘The pictures from the first three or four years of Tripp’s career’, Sebald writes, ‘still clearly show the influence of surrealism, of the Vienna school of fantastic realism, and of photorealism, still embedded in the polemical strategies of 1968’.56 Michel Foucault described these polemical strategies, represented by the narrative figuration of Gerard Fromanger, as one of defamiliarization in order to show the workings of mass imagery, revealing ‘the autonomous migration of the image’ across different media platforms.57 Similarly, Hal Foster has argued that in the work of painters working with photographic images like Richard Hamilton and Gerhard Richter, painting returns ‘almost as a meta-art, able to assimilate some media effects and to reflect on others precisely because of its relative distance from them’.58 Writing of this return to ‘painting after painting’, Griselda Pollock has argued that ‘the possibility of painting as the aesthetic mode of thought’ is a fundamental premise of such strategies.59 Sebald encountered a similar argument, albeit proceeding from more conservative premises, in the work of Anita Albus, who saw painting as the ‘art of arts’ able to explore the ways of seeing of science, art, and natural history.60 In a 1990 exhibition catalogue essay, as of yet not translated from German, Sebald argued that Albus’s detailed copying of photographic conventions of representation offered the ‘reflection of redemption’ (‘Abglanz der Erlösung’) from within the condition of seeing with ‘the artificial eyes which technology has made available to us’ (‘der künstlichen Augen bedienen, welche die Technologie uns beigestellt hat’). In the photographic reproduction of reality there is ‘a direct correlation between the realisation of an image and the de-realisation 56  Sebald, ‘As Day in Night’, 157. 57  Michel Foucault, Le désir est partout: Fromanger (Paris, 1975), 10. My translation. 58  Hal Foster, The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter, and Ruscha (Princeton, NJ, 2012), 6. 59  Griselda Pollock, Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive (London, 2007), 182; Griselda Pollock, ‘Aesthetic Wit(h)nessing in the Era of Trauma’, EurAmerica, 40/4 (2010), 857. 60  Anita Albus, The Art of Arts: Rediscovering Painting, trans. by Michael Robertson (Berkeley, CA; London, 2001).

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of reality and between the de-realisation of reality and its destruction. The world has shifted into a simulacrum to the extent that—as today is clearly ­traceable—the image takes on the aura of the natural model and this assumes the aura of an artefact’ (‘eine direkte Korrelation zwischen der Realisierung eines Bildes und der De-realisierung der Wirklichkeit und zwischen der De-realisierung der Wirklichkeit und ihrer Zerstörung. Ist die Verschiebung der Welt ins Simulacrum einmal soweit fortgeschritten, dass—wie heute schon deutlich spürbar—das Bild die Aura des natürlichen Vorbilds und dieses die Aura eines Artefakts annimmt’). This process is part of the dialectic of Enlightenment: ‘so-called reason’ (‘[d]ie sogenannte Vernunft’) is a product of the human species’ unique ‘ability of apperception’ (‘Apperzeptionsfähigkeit’) extended into ways of seeing; yet technological images have alienated us from reality because their way of seeing has come to be seen as natural.61 The painting of artists like Albus on Tripp cannot overcome this: instead their records of attentive investigations of the p ­ hotographic way of seeing provide a negative image of the reconciliation of art and technology, painting and photography, nature and culture. The diversity of the ways in which Sebald uses photographs in his books has been matched by the theoretical approaches critics have used to interpret and historicize his practice: Surrealism, Foucault’s account of ­modernity, but most frequently the association between photography and trauma.62 These essays, however, suggest a different view of photography: as a technology that transforms the meaning of art through its negation of it. Sebald emphasized the anti-aesthetic quality of the photographs he used: I use the camera as a kind of shorthand or aide mémoire. I don’t tie this to any artistic ambitions at all. Most of the time my camera is something cheap . . . I don’t want to integrate images of high photographic quality into my texts; they are rather documents of finding, something secondary. It is actually quite nice when this indistinctness somehow finds its way into the images.63

The secondary status of the photographs he used came from his practice of finding them by ‘chance’, and ‘collecting them not systematically but 61  Sebald, ‘Kleine Vorrede zur Salzburger Ausstellung’, 8; 6. My translation. 62  Judith Ryan, ‘Fulgurations: Sebald and Surrealism’, The Germanic Review, 82/3 (2007), 227–49; Long, W. G. Sebald: Image, Archive, Modernity; Stephanie Harris, ‘The Return of the Dead: Memory and Photography in W. G. Sebald’s Die Ausgewanderten’, German Quarterly, 74 (2001), 379–91; Duttlinger, ‘Traumatic Photographs: Remembrance and the Technical Media in W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz’, 155–71; Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory. 63  Christian Scholz and W. G. Sebald, ‘ “But the Written Word Is Not a True Document”: A Conversation with W. G. Sebald on Literature and Photography’, in Searching for Sebald: Photography After W. G. Sebald, trans. by Markus Zisselsberger (Los Angeles, CA, 2007), 106.

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randomly’.64 The seemingly aimless journeys that structure his narratives replicated this process of random discovery: ‘Sometimes, when you are on a journey . . . the material just comes to you, and then chance plays a role in dealing the hand’ (‘Wenn man mal auf dem Weg ist . . . fällt einem das Material zu, dann spielt einem der Zufall das in die Hände’).65 He described this as working in accord with Lévi-Strauss’s concept of bricolage as a form ‘of savage work, of pre-rational thinking, where one roots around in randomly accumulated finds until they somehow come together’, and he noted in his own copy of The Savage Mind the definition of bricolage as ‘an effect which the Surrealists called “objective chance”’.66 In these interviews, photography’s claim to art stems not from what Andre Bazin saw as its ontological claim to ‘lay bare the realities’, or from its duplication of traumatic experience.67 Instead, self-consciously placing himself in a l­ineage stemming from the modernist avant-garde, photographs are secondary documents of prior moments of chance, automatic procedures, and abdications of authorial intent. The idea that photography redefines the meaning of art precisely because it is not an art form in itself might seem paradoxical, but as Diarmuid Costello and Margaret Iverson have written, it is one which has a long tradition within avant-garde practice and theory. In an account developed by critics like Benjamin  H.  D.  Buchloh and Jeff Wall, photography ‘entered the mainstream fine-art canon when artists turned to the medium to exploit those very features of its process that appear, from a philosophical point of view, to be in tension with its status as art . . . [t]hat is, many artists valued photography in all the respects in which it seemed to evade, rather than mimic, art with a capital A—hence photography’s standing as the pictorial equivalent of the readymade’.68 A photograph’s status as the visual readymade was bound up with its questioning of agency and intentionality, both as a technology which automatically copies the world, and as an object to be encountered by chance. From Mallarmé and Breton to Bernd and Hilla Becher, artists and writers have ‘valued photography insofar as it might be thought to bracket, rather than exert, artistic agency and authorial control. 64  Maya Jaggi, ‘W. G. Sebald: The Last Interview’, The Guardian, 21 December 2001, section G2, 4. 65  Quoted in Renate Just, ‘Im Zeichen des Saturn. Ein Besuch bei W. G. Sebald’, in W. G. Sebald, ed. by Franz Loquai (Eggingen, 1997), 40. My translation. 66  Sigrid Löffler, ‘»Wildes Denken«. Gespräch mit W. G. Sebald’, in W. G. Sebald, ed. by Franz Loquai (Eggingen, 1997), 135–7. My translation. Quoted in Richard Sheppard, ‘“Dexter—Sinister”: Some Observations on Decrypting the Morse Code in the Work of W. G. Sebald’, Journal of European Studies, 35/4 (2005), 425. 67  André Bazin, ‘The Ontology of the Photographic Image’, Film Quarterly, 13/4 (1960), 8. 68  Diarmuid Costello and Margaret Iversen, ‘Introduction: Photography between Art History and Philosophy’, Critical Inquiry, 38/4 (2012), 687–8.

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This is manifested in these artists’ preference for unpretentious snapshot effects, documentary value, and deadpan antiaesthetic qualities, as well as in their use of photography for appropriating and recycling existing imagery’.69 Painters like Gerhard Richter have explained their turn to working with photographs as the use of an ‘image which, deprived of all of the conventional criteria which I had till then associated with art, provided me with a new way of seeing’.70 Jeff Wall has written that such use of the photograph as an ‘anaesthetic’ readymade has been one of the predominant strategies through which artists since the 1960s renegotiated photography’s relationship to art in a negatively d ­ ialectical relationship with earlier photographic traditions like Pictorialism with its stress on composition, skill, and authorial intention.71 This has also been the means by which painters such as Richter and Hamilton—and arguably Tripp and Albus— have negotiated photography’s relationship to painting. Painting’s transformation into a meta-art relies upon photography’s demotion to the visual readymade. Other than the works of the Surrealists and Walter Benjamin, Sebald showed little awareness of these later practices in which photography was treated as the anti-art. In a well-worn avant-garde move, by negating all previous assumptions about art, photography transforms our understanding of what art is. As Sebald declared: ‘The process of making a ­photographic image, which purports to be the real thing and isn’t anything like, has transformed our self-perception, our perception of each other, our notion of what is beautiful’.72 However, his explanations of his use of photographs as non-aesthetic objects, his often strikingly negative judgement on photography’s ‘de-realisation’ and ‘destruction’ of experience, his interest in forms of contemporary painting which investigate photographic ways of seeing, and his situating of photography’s questioning of art within a theory of modernism that saw it defined as the incorporation of that which threatened to negate it all bear comparison with this tradition of twentiethcentury thought on photography. This enables Sebald’s exploration of the relationship between photography and painting to be framed as a specifically aesthetic question, rather than one of memory, trauma, or cultural value. These interviews and critical essays were largely published after his first three works—After Nature, Vertigo, and The Emigrants—and provide 69  Costello and Iversen, ‘Introduction’, 686. 70  Quoted in Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry: Essays on European and American Art from 1955 to 1975 (Cambridge, MA; London, 2000), 379. 71  Jeff Wall, ‘“Marks of Indifference”: Aspects of Photography In, or As, Contemporary Art’, in Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews (New York, 2007), 143–68. 72  Arthur Lubow, ‘Crossing Boundaries’, in The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald, ed. by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (New York, 2007), 163.

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a means to interpret how those works present the relationship between painting and photography, and how their comparison reveals the historicity of the ways of seeing embodied in each medium. T H E ‘ H I S TO RY O F L O O K I N G ’ A N D L O O K I N G AT H I S TO RY In a 1985 essay on Peter Weiss, Sebald compared a 1946 ‘anatomical’ painting by Weiss of a dissected body to Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson (1632). In both paintings, Sebald wrote, a body is being dissected ‘not in the service of vengeful jurisdiction but of some other idea, some neutral principle of knowledge’. Yet in both the dissected body is surrounded by onlookers who do not look at it: Weiss’s surgeons show ‘blind indifference’, Rembrandt’s doctors from the ‘early bourgeois era’ are ‘bent on the open textbook of anatomy, lest they be overwhelmed by the fascination of the business’.73 When Sebald returned to The Anatomy Lesson in The Rings of Saturn (1996), he connected this disjuncture between the surgeons’ ‘gaze’ focusing not on the dissected body but the anatomical atlas with the fact that the ‘much-admired verisimilitude of Rembrandt’s picture proves on closer examination to be more apparent than real’. This blind gaze was shared by Descartes, who ‘teaches that one should disregard the flesh, which is beyond our comprehension, and attend to the machine within, to what can be fully understood, be made wholly useful for work, and, in the event of any fault, be either repaired or discarded’.74 Weiss’s style is more ‘primitive’, verisimilitude giving over to a certain monumentalism, and his dissected bodies derive ‘from inspiration of a more recent kind which, in a spirit of the general maintenance of order, aims for the fullest possible identification and labelling of all the separate parts of a corporeality increasingly seen as subversive’.75 The early bourgeois era of Rembrandt’s doctors and the National Socialism that persecuted Weiss’s Jewish family are linked by a certain way of seeing, a rationality that turns the body into a machine, enabled by a verisimilitude that in doing so mistakes what is apparent for what is real. Underpinning this sweeping comparison between the Enlightenment and the Holocaust is the assumption that there is a historicity to vision, and that these changes in how we see are manifested in the history of visual style. As in Sebald’s art criticism, art and technology, and painting and 73 Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction, 182. 74  W. G. Sebald and Michael Hulse, The Rings of Saturn (London, 2002), 16; 13. 75 Sebald, On the Natural History of Destruction, 182; 181.

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photography, are related in a negatively dialectical manner: the comparison between painterly verisimilitude and the technological machine works to  undermine the self-sufficiency of both concepts without suggest an underlying resolution. Across Sebald’s early works—After Nature, Vertigo, and The Emigrants—painting and photography are compared and contrasted as part of a broader exposition of the historicity of sight and how this affects the work of memory, an exposition that works against the regression of these changes in how we see into myths of the naturalness of either pre- or post-photographic vision or remembrance. Technologically reproduced images come to shape memory, and thus understandings of history, in ways ambivalently contested and copied by the form and techniques of Sebald’s literary narratives. These books offer one aspect of the ‘History of Looking’ that Sebald noted Barthes called for in his copy of Camera Lucida.76 We can take them as tracing what Berger called, in another book Sebald owned and annotated, the historically changing ‘ways of seeing’ embodied in each image.77 Informed by Barthes and Berger, Sebald’s sensitivity to the historicity of sight enabled him to expose some of the myths about seeing in our present. His practice of falsifying source images to produce the reproductions used in his books uses the illusory swindle that is art as a means to reveal the illusions of photographic indexicality, the basis for photography’s record of the past as being categorically different to that of fiction. The awareness that there is a history of looking informed Sebald’s manipulation of reproductions and use of the photograph as a visual readymade in service of what he called the aesthetic ‘swindle’ at the heart of his work: ‘the arrival at the truth on a crooked route’.78 Whether the incorporations of these manipulated images into his fiction meant that fiction could provide its own truths by looking at history via this crooked route is, however, a question these books pose rather than answer. After Nature, Sebald’s first published literary work, introduces many of the themes that occupy his later prose fictions: the bombing of Germany during the Second World War, his childhood spent ‘on the northern edge of the Alps . . . without any idea of destruction’, the truths and lies offered by family photographs, the Enlightenment’s visual classification of nature.79 Different timescales for historicizing these themes course throughout the poem: the passage of glaciers, the formation of valleys, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, 76  Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. by Richard Howard (London, 1993), 12. 77  John Berger, Ways of Seeing (Harmondsworth, 1972). 78  W. G. Sebald, The Questionable Business of Writing [December 1999], 1999 [accessed 10 December 2013]. 79 W. G. Sebald, After Nature, trans. by Michael Hamburger (London, 2003), 84; 86; 82. Further citations in the main body of the text.

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the b­ iography of his grandparents. In the first section of the poem, these historical changes are manifested in the style of Matthias Grünewald’s painting, the description of which gives the poem its title. His Isenheim Altar ‘was so fashioned that / real life could scarce have done other’ (10), his realism attempted to capture ‘the last trace of light / flickering from beyond, after nature’ (30). Painting ‘after nature’ is bound up with the onset of technological modernity: his realism reveals our bodies to be blind ‘experiment[s]’ of nature, which leads to ‘the machines sprung from our heads’ (27). In the section about Steller, the ability to visually replicate flora and fauna ‘after nature’ in Enlightenment taxonomy takes place in service of military power and the oppression of the indigenous inhabitants of Siberia; it is what enables Steller to grasp ‘the difference between nature and society’ (75). Written around the same time as Sebald’s essay on Weiss and Rembrandt, After Nature goes back to the onset of naturalism in early modern painting—which Vera Olejniczak Lobsien points out dominates Sebald’s reflections on art—to connect the production of images ‘after nature’ with a way of seeing that sees the body as a mere technology to be dissected and destroyed.80 Vertigo opens with an account of a different consequence of the transformation in the ways we see wrought by technically reproduced images. When the fifty-three-year-old Marie-Henri Beyle, or Stendhal, tried to remember crossing the Alps, he noticed that ‘even when the images supplied by memory are true to life one can place little confidence in them’; as he discovers, what he thought was a memory of his own view of the St Bernard Valley is in fact the memory of an engraving.81 ‘This being so’, the text continues ‘Beyle’s advice is not to purchase engravings of fine views and prospects seen on one’s travels, since before long they will displace our memories completely, indeed one might say they destroy them’ (8). In a book structured around the co-incidence of dates such as 1913, it is significant that Beyle’s observation is written in 1836: the year when Daguerre and Fox Talbot were consolidating Niépce’s invention of photography. Following Benjamin’s argument, the engraving anticipates the effects of photography on memory, making the significant process less photography itself than its qualities of reproducibility.82 This process of mediation and memory is manifested in the language’s syntax, grammar, and style. As Mark McCulloh has observed, Sebald’s English translations lack the uncertainty created by the reporting of these views in German as indirect 80 Verena Olejniczak Lobsien, ‘Transformations of Early Modernity in the Work of W. G. Sebald’, Journal of European Studies, 41/3–4 (2011), 431–48. 81 Sebald, Vertigo. All further citations in the main text. 82  Walter Benjamin, ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Third Version’, in Selected Writings, Volume 4: 1938–1949, ed. by Howard Eiland and Michael Jennings, trans. by Edmund Jephcott (Cambridge, MA, 2003), 251–83.

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speech in the subjunctive mood.83 In this case, ‘Es sei’ becomes: ‘This was’; ‘Man sollte darum, so rät Beyle’ becomes: ‘This being so, Beyle’s advice is’ (8), and so on. If this loses the manifestation, at the level of style, of the displacement of Stendhal’s views by Vertigo’s shadowy narrator, reading the versions in English and German reminds us that the German original is a translation of Stendhal’s French, and the translation, and medium of the printed book itself, is also a technology of transmission that threatens to destroy our memory through mediation. Later in the narrative, photography’s successor in the history of technically reproduced images, cinema, transforms the narrator’s access to the past. Arriving in Verona and pretending to be a real-life ‘historian’, Jakob Phillip Fallmerayer (117), the narrator goes to the Biblioteco Civica to research newspapers from August and September 1913. Inexplicably, we are told that ‘[a]ll manner of silent movie scenes began to be enacted before my eyes’ (118). It is not clear what these describe, but the reproductions of newspaper advertisements imply they are scenes of daily life from the past. In the next section, the reason for this research is revealed: the narrator wanted to know what ‘Dr K’, an alias for Kafka, viewed in the cinema on 20 September 1913 during a visit to Verona (150). But if in that section the narrator imagines the films he might have seen, such as The Student of Prague (1913), in the first visit to the archive the historical past itself appears as a sequence of silent films, a representation of the past accessed in the visual technologies of that past. This transformation of history into a silent film shapes the living memory of Kafka and the historical imagination of the narrator, who himself is also a writer. The narrator’s recovery of memory in ‘All’estero’ and ‘Il ritorno in patria’ is preceded by two accounts of ­writers, Stendhal and Kafka, for whom the memory of historical events was replaced by memories of technical images. What then of the memories the narrator presents himself as writing about? When looking down the Danube, he admits his memory of the view from Burg Griefenstein will be replaced by the current sight of a dam. The inclusion of a photograph of the dam at the moment when the text states that ‘the sad sight of it now will soon extinguish the memory of what it once was’ (42) suggests it could be either the actual sight, or the photographic ‘sight’. Or rather, the ambiguity introduced by the interaction of text and photography means that the impact of technical images is to render that question unanswerable. In Vertigo, technically reproduced images are inescapable mediations between individual memory and the public archives through which the writer imagines history. There can be no fiction about history that is not 83  Mark McCulloh, ‘The Tandem Literary Oeuvres of W.  G.  Sebald’, in W.  G.  Sebald: History—Memory—Trauma, ed. by Scott D. Denham and Mark McCulloh (Berlin, 2006), 14.

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fiction about photography. Photography also screens the narrator’s views of past paintings, which, of course, appear in Vertigo in highly cropped photographic reproductions. Recounting his visit to the Pellegrini chapel as part of his ‘study of Pisanello, on whose account I had in fact decided to travel to Verona’, whose paintings ‘instilled in me the desire to forfeit ­everything except my sense of vision’, the narrator states that ‘[w]hat appealed to me was not only the highly developed realism of his art, extraordinary for the time, but also the way in which he succeeded in creating the effect of the real, without suggesting a depth dimension, upon an essentially flat surface’ (72–3). This encounter and description of Pisanello’s realism are mediated through two other figures. First, despite the narrator’s claim that Pisanello was the motivation for his trip to Verona, he subsequently mentions that ‘Dr K’ also went to the Pellegrini chapel, and that, in a loaded use of the subjective mood: ‘It might be shown, though, that when Dr K stood in the porch once again’ he would view the frescos not as realism but as a ‘mirroring effect he was familiar with from his dreams’ (149). Second, the 1998 English translation Sebald undertook in collaboration with Michael Hulse expands the 1990 German text’s neutral description of Pisanello’s ‘realistischen Malweise’ (‘realistic painting style’) to a description of how he ‘succeeded in creating the effect of the real’ (73).84 Between 1990 and 1998, Sebald had used the phrase ‘the so-called effet du réel ’ to describe Tripp’s work, and his own practice of embellishing historical events with invented ‘minor detail most of the time, to provide l’effet du réel ’.85 Although Sebald seems to have confused l’effet de réel (‘reality effect’) and l’effet du réel (‘the effect of the real’), the allusion added to the English text is clearly to Barthes’s 1968 essay ‘L’effet de réel’.86 The retrospective recasting of a view of early modern realism as Kafka’s dreams within the text, so that according to the narrative logic of  Nachträglichkeit the former becomes an anticipation of the latter, is doubled by the text’s translation, where the narrator’s own desire for painterly realism is retrospectively rewritten and ironized as a desire for a ‘reality effect’. The complex ways in which we retrospectively realize that our encounter with the ways of seeing of the past is filtered by the ways of seeing of our present are enacted in the linguistic registers, narrative prolepsis, and revised translations of the text itself. And this retrospective comparison of the reality effect of painting presented to the reader through the reality effect of a photographic reproduction serves to defamiliarize 84 W. G. Sebald, Schwindel. Gefühle (Frankfurt, 1996), 88. 85  Sebald, ‘As Day in Night’, 162; Carole Angier and W. G. Sebald, ‘Carole Angier, Who Is W. G. Sebald (interview)’, in The Emergence of Memory: Conversations with W. G. Sebald, ed. by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (New York, 2007), 72. 86  Roland Barthes, ‘L’effet de Réel’, Communications, 11/1 (1968), 84–9.

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that effect—it appears independent of either physical medium—and to undermine the identity of both forms without gesturing towards some underlying realistic ‘way of seeing’. This retrospective revaluation of the past’s ways of seeing, coupled with the sense that those ways of seeing embody some of the deepest truths about that past, also takes place when the narrator returns to his native village, ‘W’. Staying in the Engelwirt inn, he sees one of the many paintings by the artist Hengge, ‘whose fame reached its peak in the 1930s’ (205), and whose paintings, ‘apart from the frescoes in the parish church, were pretty much the only pictures I had seen until I was seven or eight years old’ (208). Paintings by Josef Hengge—the name of the actual artist—are shown in reproductions, depicting woodcutters, peasants, and archaizing ‘allegorical representation[s]’ (206) of the taming of water or the harvest, which after the war were ‘for a variety of reasons . . . no longer much in demand’ (208). For the narrator there was always something ‘unsettling’ (206) about Hengge’s paintings, but it is only with his return as an adult that ‘now I have the feeling that these woodcutters and the crucifixions . . . made a devastating impression on me’ (208). What remains unsaid is that Hengge’s allegories, rendered in a mimetic style, were the visual embodiment of National Socialism, and that the narrator only belatedly has come to realize—in a narrative move encapsulating the narrative as a whole— the impact National Socialism had on the rest of his life, forever shadowed by the melancholy that initiates the journey that begins the text. Seeing them again, he says that ‘I cannot say that their effect on me on re-acquaintance was any less devastating, rather the contrary’ (208). This is not because viewing them again triggers the child’s primal trauma. The revelation enabled by the adult’s knowledge of history is of the falsity of individual memory, one which extends to his entire childhood, to ‘the paths that I had walked in my childhood at my grandfather’s side and which had meant so much to me in my memory, but, as I came to realise, meant nothing to me now’ (210). His return to his village underlines the difference between memory and history, the difficulties of which have been precisely those he has been avoiding, up until now. As the narrator turns to write the notes that may or may not be those of the text we are reading, ‘the example of Hengge the artist, and the questionable nature of painting as an enterprise in general, remained before me as a warning’ (210). Neither the process of memory as the recovery of lost time, which will only be the recovery of lost photographs and films, nor the retrospective reassessment of the ways of seeing of the past provide in Vertigo an unquestioned analogue for fiction’s exploration of the relationship between history and memory. This scepticism towards the ways of seeing embodied in painting and photography, one prompted by their comparison and

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contrast, is turned back on our present in The Emigrants. Narratologically The Emigrants is very different from Vertigo: ‘Everything is related round various corners in a periscopic sort of way. In that sense it doesn’t conform to the patterns that standard fiction has established’.87 ‘Periscopic’ is Sebald’s own description of the frame narratives that structure The Emigrants. The narrator recounts Selywn’s telling of his life story; the narrator relates what Lucy Landau tells him about Paul Bereyer; the narrator recounts what he has heard from Aunt Fini and Uncle Kasimir about great Uncle Ambros; this story frames the account of Ambros’s travels; and the final story frames another life story found in a diary, that of Ferber’s mother Luisa Lanzberg. These in turn are framed within the narrator’s account of his own life and his decision to live in England, the discours ending when it began in September 1970. This technique of periscopic framing has been central to debates about the ethics of Sebald’s style, in particular his retelling of Jewish lives by a non-Jewish German narrator.88 The visual metaphor offered for this technique in The Emigrants by the ‘salt-frames’ (227) at Bad Kissingen, which enable the production of crystalized twigs, suggests a broader history of aesthetics behind this ethical position. Crystallized twigs first appear in Vertigo to Stendhal as ‘an allegory for the growth of love in the salt mines of the soul’ (26). This process of crystallization was an allegory for literary creation; according to Sebald, in the salt works [w]hat takes place is a kind of metamorphosis: something living becomes dead or nearly dead, as Rousseau explains in a curious passage of his on vitrification. This is indeed analogous to what happens in writing: as you become imbued in your subject you become less alive. Works of literature, like the crystallized twigs, are the hardened remains of former lives.89

The life that becomes crystallized into literature is not that of the Jewish emigrants: it is the life of the writer. This is not the ‘death’ of the author theorized by Blanchot and Barthes, where the self dies in the encounter of the impersonality of language itself.90 The life crystallized into literature through the technique of frame narration is always something secondary and incomplete, the text being a version of the romantic fragment or death mask. This incompletion is emphasized by the need to turn to a visual allegory to define the literary, allegory being a form predicated on a text’s requirement of a supplement to elucidate its meaning. Nevertheless, the 87  Wachtel and Sebald, ‘Ghost Hunter (interview)’, 37. 88 Hutchinson, W. G. Sebald—Die Dialektische Imagination, 35–56. 89  Sarah Kafatou and W. G. Sebald, ‘An Interview with W. G. Sebald, by Sara Kafatou,’ Harvard Review, 15 (Fall 1998), 32. 90  Maurice Blanchot, ‘Literature and the Right to Death’, in The Work of Fire, trans. by Lydia Davis (Stanford, CA, 1995), 300–44; Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, trans. by Stephen Heath (London, 1977), 142–8.

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writing subject does not escape into the timelessness of death, but at the cost of crystallizing itself it preserves the stories of others for the future. The description of The Emigrants’ narrative form as ‘periscopic’—a specifically visual metaphor—relates the text’s narrative technique to the reproduced images that appear within it. This form was an aesthetics and an ethics: ‘complicated syntactical labyrinthine structures . . . in one sense exonerat[e] the narrator, because he never pretends that he knows more than is actually possible’. Yet this is only in one sense, because as Sebald noted about Molloy, first-person narrations can always be sceptically ironized. In a ‘periscopic’ view, mediation of multiple lenses provides access to otherwise impossible sights. Access is bought at the price of mediation, whether syntactical or optical, and a narrator is only ‘exonerated’ to the extent they are aware of this mediation. The photographic reproductions present in the book appear less as visual historical ‘evidence’ than they are referred to in order to acknowledge this mediation, such as when Aunt Fini is described as leafing through a photo album and the narrator states: ‘This is a photograph taken at that time’ (75). But p ­ hotographs are equally, even increasingly, revealed to be compromised even as documents of the process of historical mediation. In the final story Max Ferber remembers a photograph shown to him by his Uncle Leo, ostensibly depicting a book burning that took place on 10 May 1933. But this photograph, Leo reveals, was a ‘forgery’, since the burning took place in the evening: the photograph was of a different crowd, onto which a plume of smoke and dark sky had been copied and pasted (183): ‘And just as that document was a fake, said uncle, as if his discovery were the one vital proof, so too everything else has been a fake, right from the start’ (183). Sebald stated of this image: ‘I thought very consciously that this is the place to make a declaration. It couldn’t be more explicit. It acts as a paradigm for the whole enterprise’.91 The paradigm here is not only that, as Vertigo established, since memory and history have become records of technical images, the ways such images can be so easily doctored makes them a threat to remembrance and historical knowledge. The paradigm is also that this threat can be countered through the practice of framed periscopic storytelling: one form of mediation exposes the manipulations of another. A less apparent but more profound ‘forgery’ in The Emigrants is the ‘agenda book’ (126) presented as the source of the information about Uncle’s Ambros’s travels, and implicitly about his homoerotic relationship with Cosmo. The text claims to be a transcription of the diary, reproductions of which are presented as proof. Yet as attentive viewers who knew Sebald 91  Lubow, ‘Crossing Boundaries’, 163.

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have pointed out, the handwriting in the diary is Sebald’s own.92 Even more attentive viewers have pointed out that that transcription is not complete: that when it breaks into an ellipsis it omits a word written in the diary, ‘Schwindelgefühle’: Schwindel. Gefühle being the original name of Sebald’s first book (131). That this was a conscious allusion is confirmed by the first draft of this section in the manuscript, which contains the abbreviation ‘Schgefühle [sic]’ as an insertion at the end of the sentence leading into the ellipses in the published text.93 A viewer whose attentiveness extends to inspecting the diary preserved in Sebald’s archive would be likely to suffer their own ‘Schwindelgefühle’, feeling both dizzy and swindled, when they find the relevant pages in the diary are empty, and that the dates of the diary as represented in The Emigrants—‘23 Martedi’ and ‘24 Mercoledi’— have been cut out and pasted over the original dates, ‘27 Martedi’ and ‘28 Mercoledi’. The diary in Sebald’s archive is not from 1913, but from 1927, and belonged to a man named Alberto Beck, a German living in Milan. In order to transform pages from a 1927 diary into those from a 1913 diary, Sebald cut and pasted the numbers to p ­ roduce the correct correspondences of dates and days. To produce the images used in The Emigrants, he then photocopied these blank doctored pages, wrote in black pen on these copies, and then copied them again to produce the pictures included in the proofs sent to the printers. Sebald therefore did not reveal the full extent of his deception in an interview when he admitted that the diary ‘is a falsification’ and that he ‘wrote it’ in order to provide ‘l’effet du réel ’. The images that appear in The Emigrants are in a certain sense not images of an agenda book: they are photocopies of pages onto which Sebald has written, themselves photocopies of a diary which has been physically tampered with to become a fake 1913 diary. These images erase the indexical relationship a photograph has to its referent that Barthes in Camera Lucida influentially theorized as the ‘essence’ of the photographic image. If the compositional practice of these images in The Emigrants takes both a material and photographic readymade and manipulates it to produce an aesthetic ‘swindle’, allusions to Camera Lucida at the end of Ambros’s story suggest this is being done with and against Barthes. Ambros’s journey ends in Jerusalem, where he writes in his diary that memory ‘makes one’s head heavy and giddy’ (145)— the English translation of giddy here erasing here the revealing use of ‘schwindel’ in the original: ‘macht einen schweren, schwindligen Kopf ’.94 92  Ulrich von Bülow, ‘The Disappearance of the Author in the Work’, in Saturn’s Moons: W. G. Sebald—A Handbook, ed. by Jo Catling and Richard Hibbitt (London, 2011), 249. 93 W.  G.  Sebald, ‘Die Ausgewanderten [Manuskript]’, n.d., Bestand A: Sebald, HS005187486, Mappe 6, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach. 94 W. G. Sebald, Die Ausgewanderten: Vier Lange Erzählerungen (Frankfurt, 2000), 215.

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If this sees Ambros as ironically stating that memory induces the sense of ‘schwindel’ or vertigo that the ‘agenda book’ reveals itself to be, it also alludes to Barthes’s theory of the photographic index. In his copy of Camera Lucida, Sebald noted the distinct punctum indexicality gives to historical photographs: ‘there is always a defeat of Time in them: that is dead and that is going to die’, with Barthes offering as an example of a 1850 photograph of the road to Jerusalem by August Salzman. As Barthes states, and Sebald underlined: ‘At the limit, there is no need to represent a body in order for me to experience this vertigo of time defeated’.95 For Barthes, this vertigo is triggered by the fact that the photograph is an ‘instance of “reality”’, in contrast to ‘the elaborations of the text, whether fictional or poetic, which itself is never credible down to the root [italics original]’.96 However, for Sebald—yet not for Ambros—the swindle at the heart of fiction extends to his creation of non-indexical images which on the one hand deceive the reader in potentially quite problematic ways, yet on the other, because they provide just enough clues revealing the failure of their deception, use illusion to expose the illusory beliefs at the heart of our belief in photography. Rather than photographs acting as a paradigm for Sebald’s writing of fiction, we might say that the writing of fiction acted as a paradigm for Sebald’s use of photography. All fiction for Sebald was a kind of aesthetic swindle: [Photographs] act as a token of authenticity—but they can be deduced, forged or purloined. And of course that in turn throws up one of the central problems of fiction writing, which is that of legitimacy and the arrival at the truth on a crooked route. This is why ‘vertigo’ in German has a double meaning—Schwindel in German means ‘swindle’. What right do you have to write about any of these things? Have you been there, and felt these things for yourself ?97

The double meaning of ‘ein Schwindel’—an act of conscious deception, and the affective state this produces in the deceived—is how Sebald connects his use of photographs to the broader question of the relationship between his fiction and history. This has often been interpreted in terms of its ability to bear witness, or for its figuration of the hermeneutic problem of the historical sublime, as when Eric Santner writes that ‘what is at issue in the interplay of image and text in these writings is the task of bearing witness to what exceeds our hermeneutic grasp of historical experience’.98 Sebald’s own practice and comments instead reveal that what is at issue, in 95 Barthes, Camera Lucida, 96–7. 96 Barthes, Camera Lucida, 97. 97  Sebald, ‘The Questionable Business of Writing [December 1999]’. 98  Eric Santner, On Creaturely Life (Chicago, IL; London, 2009), xx.

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the case of this diary at least, is the ability of art and aesthetic experience to go beyond this familiar deconstructive crux of historical hermeneutics. Indeed Sebald reverses the terms: through the aesthetic swindle, art has the capacity to create the conditions for historical experience in the present, rather than halting at the limit of the ethical demand to bear witness to the past. The photographic indexicality undermined by Sebald’s manipulations is what makes photography a tautology: it cannot do other than show that ‘which necessarily is the case’. But as Sebald claimed, art is precisely what uses ‘ambiguity, polyvalence, resonance, obfuscation and illumination’— the aesthetic ‘Schwindel’—‘the transcending of that which, according to an ineluctable law, has necessarily to be the case’. This is a problem, however, not a solution, since it makes the aesthetic as a mode of making and experience the mere negation of the photographic, making whatever images it provides of history just as provisional as those provided by photography. The very different provisionality of painting as a mode of remembrance and a model for fiction is raised in the final narrative of The Emigrants. The painter in this story was called Max Aurach in the German edition, based in part on the life of Frank Auerbach, and it included a reproduction of a drawing by Auerbach, and a close-up of Auerbach’s eye, that was removed from the English edition at Auerbach’s request, and the character was renamed Max Ferber.99 Even without the retrospective revision, Aurach/ Ferber is the book’s figure of fictionality. A reader who recognizes that the drawings reproduced are by Frank Auerbach would also recognize that the photograph of Aurach/Ferber skiing is not of the author of the drawing (it is in fact of Sebald’s landlord). The ‘significant and improbable’ title of the painting by Ferber that the narrator encounters in the Tate Gallery in November 1989, ‘G.I. on her Blue Candlewick Cover’ (177), is significant and improbable because it echoes the name of the narrator’s Manchester landlady, ‘Gracie Irlam’ and her ‘pink dressing gown’ made of ‘candlewick’ (152). Ferber has also painted a ‘faceless portrait’ called ‘Man With a Butterfly Net’ that ‘had taken more out of him than any previous painting, for when he started on it, after countless preliminary studies, he not only overlaid it time and again but also, whenever the canvas could no longer withstand the continual scratching-off and reapplication of paint, he destroyed it and burnt it several times’ (174). The subject depicted has already appeared three times in the text: Vladimir Nabokov. Sebald claimed that the idea to place Nabokov in all four stories ‘came to me when I was thinking of writing the story of that painter’, and that as a symbol, he is ‘there to give you a sense that there must be something of significance here at that point, but what that is and what the significance is, is entirely a 99  Jaggi, ‘Recovered Memories’, B6.

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different matter’.100 Nabokov appears in all four stories as a signifier of Sebald’s own understanding of literature: ‘a figure that has a certain, albeit incomprehensible function’ (‘eine bestimmte, nicht ganz zu durchschauende Funktion haben’), a purposiveness without purpose marking his text’s departure from claims to realism.101 Ferber’s first realization of ‘what a true work of art looks like’ occurs in a dream where after passing through a trompe l’oeil painted door, he views a miniature model of the Temple of Solomon made of ‘pinewood, papier-mâché, and gold paint’ (176). If the destruction of the Temple leads to the demand for collective historical remembrance that in the Torah defines the Jewish people, precisely the collective history Ferber now lacks, its appearance in his dream as an almost kitsch work of art casts doubt on the ability, or even suitability, of art as a form of trickery to contribute to this process of ­historical memory. At the book’s conclusion, Ferber’s painting becomes a model for the narrator’s writing. On a visit to his studio, the narrator observes Ferber’s method of working: Since he applied the paint thickly, and then repeatedly scratched it off the canvas as his work proceeded, the floor was covered with a largely hardened and encrusted deposit of droppings, mixed with coal dust . . . He might reject as many as forty variants, or smudge them back into the paper and overdraw new attempts upon them; and if he then decided that the portrait was done, not so much because he was convinced that it was finished as through sheer exhaustion, an onlooker might well feel that it had evolved from a long ­lineage of grey, ancestral faces, rendered unto ash but still there, as ghostly presences, on the harried paper.  (161–2)

This description of ‘ghostly presences’ evokes the process of the emergence of the indexical photographic image, again comparing painting ‘after nature’ to photography. Yet at the same time this method is radically different, since while the index only fixes one presence, Ferber’s method fixes many moments which collectively combine to make each painting an index or record of its own process of composition. When the narrator later describes ‘working on the account of Max Ferber given above’, in a paragraph beginning just below an image of a crystallized twig, he calls it ‘an arduous task’ haunted by the ‘entire questionable business of writing’—the phrase used to describe painting in Vertigo. Of the ‘hundreds of pages’ covered with scribbles in pencil and ballpoint, ‘[b]y far the greater part had been crossed out, discarded, obliterated by additions’ so that ‘what I ­ultimately salvaged as a “final” version seemed to me a thing of shreds and patches, utterly botched’ (230–1). The moment when the narrator 100  Wachtel and Sebald, ‘Ghost Hunter (interview)’, 53. 101 Sebald, ‘Auf Ungeheuer Dünnem Eis’: Gespräche 1971 Bis 2001, 107.

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describes his text crystallizing into its fragments is the moment when this narrator follows Ferber in his description of what it means for a writer to ‘work like a painter’. Working with and against the way a photograph preserves indexical traces of the past, offering access to past moments of time and space whilst disguising its mediations, painting and writing are processes through which the past emerges gradually, through layers which express the process of mediation. The work is not a recovered memory or historical account; the work is the record of a failed search, whose failure lies in its form: it is a thing of ‘shreds and patches’. The book’s claim to be a work of art consists in this failure of form. AU S T E R L I T Z A G A I N S T T R AU M A Austerlitz (2001) marked a break with Sebald’s previous work in ways that can be easily overlooked in synoptic accounts of his oeuvre. After completing Rings of Saturn (1996) Sebald went partially blind for a number of months, the realization of a fear he had previously expressed in an interview: ‘Yes, the eyes are the most vulnerable part of a person or of an animal . . . I cannot even think about having a cataract operation. That feeling of Blendung [blinding], the fear of no longer being able to see, probably has something to do with the fear of castration’.102 In Austerlitz, the narrator goes temporarily blind in 1996, and undergoes a cataract operation.103 In a 1997 speech given in Darmstadt, individual blindness became a metaphor for the wider blindness of Germany in the 1960s towards the legacy of the Holocaust, a  blindness which Sebald claimed was the reason he permanently left Germany for England.104 Without eliding the difference between Sebald and Austerlitz’s narrator, it does seem this episode brought an association between blindness, history, and the Holocaust to the fore of his attention in a way that bears obvious import to Austerlitz. Formally Austerlitz is a departure from his previous ‘semi-documentary prose fiction’. While it retains the use of periscopic narration, here it is simpler and generally at no more than one or two removes; as a consequence, against Sebald’s own protestations to the contrary, this has led critics like Andreas Huyssen to call Austerlitz Sebald’s ‘first “real” novel’.105 The status of the photographs in 102  Sheppard, ‘ “Dexter—Sinister” ’, 432; Sebald and de Moor, ‘Echoes from the Past’, 351–2. 103 W. G. Sebald, Austerlitz, trans. by Anthea Bell (London, 2011), 46–7. All further citations in the main body of the text. 104  Sheppard, ‘“Dexter—Sinister”’, 432. 105 Andreas Huyssen, Present Pasts: Urban Palimpsests and the Politics of Memory (Stanford, CA, 2003), 177 n. 40.

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Austerlitz differs in kind from the three previous works. As John Zilcosky argues, because Austerlitz is a photographer himself, with the implied author of many of the reproduced images being a character in the narrative, most of the photographs are less disruptive to the flow of the narrative than those of the other books.106 As a result of this increased attention to photography, painting is for the first time absent in Sebald’s work as a significant counterpoint to photography as a way of seeing. This does not result in photography becoming the model for the writing of memory Ferber’s painting becomes in The Emigrants: in fact, the ­opposite is true. In Austerlitz, as Carolin Duttlinger has observed, Austerlitz himself conceives of photography as an analogue for the workings of traumatic memory and forgetting, as when he describes ‘the moment when the shadows of reality, so to speak, emerge out of nothing on the exposed paper, as memories do in the middle of the night’ (109). Yet ‘both photography and film’, she argues, ‘remain ambiguous as testimonies, not least because Sebald associates both media with strategies of concealment, staging, and masquerade’.107 Indeed, the novel as a whole is not uncritical in its presentation of Austerlitz’s identification of traumatic memory with photography. In ways that counter the most significant criticism of the novel—that its use of indirect speech and periscopic narration risks the identification of the non-Jewish German narrator with the Jewish victim of Nazi persecution—Austerlitz’s allusions to Camera Lucida, its manipulation of the photographic sources for reproductions that are not photographs, and the novel’s conclusion all present the repetition and erasure of time that structure both trauma and photography as fundamentally different from the ways in which fiction, the ‘art form that moves in time’, represents and mediates the individual narratives which constitute historical knowledge. In doing so, Austerlitz goes against the grain of many critics and novelists of recent decades, for whom the unrepresentability of individual traumatic memory became an aesthetic norm for literary representations of historical events and experience. According to Anne Whitehead, ‘[n]ovelists have frequently found that the impact of trauma can only ­adequately be represented by mimicking its forms and symptoms, so that temporality and chronology collapse, and narratives are characterized by repetition and indirection’.108 Toni Morrison, whose writing has been particularly influential on critical debates about the relationship between trauma, 106  John Zilcosky, ‘Lost and Found: Disorientation, Nostalgia, and Holocaust Melodrama in Sebald’s Austerlitz’, MLN, 121/3 (2006), 687. 107 Duttlinger, ‘Traumatic Photographs: Remembrance and the Technical Media in W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz’, 170. 108  Anne Whitehead, Trauma Fiction (Edinburgh, 2004), 3.

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fiction, and history, has claimed that in the representation of the AfricanAmerican past there should be an exact homology between literary style and ‘the shattered, fractured perception resulting from a shattered, splintered life . . . The form becomes the exact interpretation of the idea the story is meant to express’. This literal notion of mimesis, where the experience of ‘splintered’ subjectivity is replicated by that provided by literary form, and thus experienced by the reader, is how Morrison’s work is ‘functional to the group’: ‘it must bear witness and identify that which is useful from the past and that which ought to be discarded; it must make it possible to prepare for the present and live it out’.109 The ways in which trauma theory posits a similar identity between the experience of trauma and the experience of reading, and the ways in which such claims rely upon tendentious readings of medical evidence, have been forensically analysed by Ruth Leys in relation to the work of Cathy Caruth, who has argued for the entirety of ‘history to be the history of a trauma’.110 This is because what seems a historiographical issue becomes for Caruth one of literary form. For Caruth, the ‘literary’ as a mode of language that ‘defies, even as it claims, our understanding’ replicates in the reader’s experience the simultaneous literal impact and impossible understanding of trauma experienced by a victim.111 As for Morrison, the identification of aesthetic experience with trauma makes traumatic experience transmissible and therefore collective. Or as Dori Laub argues in a line of argument replicated in Marianne Hirsch’s speculative concept of ‘post-memory’, we become ‘co-owners’ of a traumatic event.112 This position is aesthetically normative in that it assumes that the victim’s experience should be replicated in literary form and then relived by the reader or viewer who was not a victim. The troubling assumption underlying much of the use of trauma theory as a norm for literary form is that we can only understand the suffering of others by identifying with them as victims, erasing the difference that was the very reason for their suffering. If in these accounts the transmission of traumatic experience takes place through distinctively ‘literary’ language, trauma theorists like Caruth, as Leys points out, theorize memory ‘as above all visual’.113 Drawing on the analogy between memory and photographic indexicality already present in Freud, critics such as Ulrich Bauer have argued for ‘a striking parallel 109  Toni Morrison, ‘Memory, Creation, and Writing’, Thought, 59 (1984), 388. 110  Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (Baltimore, MD, 1996), 18; Ruth Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago, IL; London, 2000), 266–97. 111 Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History, 5. 112 Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (London, 1992), 57; Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory. 113 Leys, Trauma: A Genealogy, 340.

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between the working of the camera and the structure of traumatic memory’, to the point that this becomes an ontological claim for photography as trauma, and vice versa.114 Austerlitz the character, to be sure, comes to describe his own life as structured around a repressed traumatic memory: he realizes ‘how little practice I had in using my memory, and conversely how hard I must always have tried to recollect as little as possible, avoiding everything which related in any way to my unknown past’ (197). But as Mary Jacobus has emphasized, Sebald does not assume but ‘interrogates the role of photography both as a form of forgetting and repression and as a recurrent haunting by historical trauma’.115 Austerlitz the novel does not identify this psychic mechanism with either knowledge of history or with its own fictional form, and nor does it therefore present the novel as a device for facilitating identification between Austerlitz and the narrator, let alone Austerlitz and the reader. Sebald’s own denunciations of such identifications would not be necessary to underline what is so suspect about this use of literature to identify the traumatic experience of others with our own aesthetic enjoyment. One source for Sebald’s awareness of the analogy between photography and traumatic memory came from his reading of Barthes. Sebald began writing Austerlitz no earlier than January 1996, the date of a letter in Sebald’s archive whose reverse contains the first sketches of the chronology of Austerlitz’s life.116 Although Sebald first read Barthes before the writing of The Emigrants, in 1999 he also noted Barthes’s claim in ‘The Photographic Message’ (1961) that: ‘trauma is a suspension of language, a blocking of meaning . . . Truly traumatic photographs are rare, for in photography the trauma is wholly dependent on the certainty that the scene “really” happened: the photographer had to be there (the mythical definition of denotation) [italics original]’.117 In Camera Lucida, this mythical definition of denotation becomes the essence of photography, whose traumatic relationship to the real is revealed in the punctum, a term derived from the Greek word for trauma, meaning that detail of a photograph that ‘wounds’ or ‘bruises’ a viewer.118 In a 1997 interview Sebald mentioned that he had once again 114  Ulrich Baer, Spectral Evidence: The Photography of Trauma (Cambridge, MA; London, 2002), 8; Sigmund Freud, Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis (Part III), trans. by James Strachey, SE XVI (London, 2001), 295–6; Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, An Outline of Psychoanalysis, and Other Works, trans. by James Strachey (London, 2001), 126. 115 Jacobus, Romantic Things, 56. 116  W. G. Sebald, ‘Sebald, Winifred Georg and University of East Anglia ’, 1996, Bestand A: Sebald, HS005171092, Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach. 117  Clive Scott, ‘Sebald’s Photographic Annotations’, in Saturn’s Moons: W. G. Sebald—A Handbook, ed. by Jo Catling and Richard Hibbitt (London, 2011), 223; Barthes quoted in Clive Scott, The Spoken Image: Photography and Language (London, 1999), 24. 118 Barthes, Camera Lucida, 27.

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been reading ‘La chambre claire, the wonderful text by Barthes’, mentioning ‘a photograph of a little boy who had stepped out from behind his school desk into the walkway’. ‘I can’t remember exactly how Barthes comments on this image’, Sebald continued, ‘but he asks questions about what might later have happened to this boy named Ernest . . . One can imagine the lifetrajectories that emanate from these photographs in a much, much clearer way than from out of a painting’. He also mentioned another photograph he had been hoarding showing ‘two people standing on a stage’ that he ‘would like to do something with’.119 At the time of reading, Sebald had in fact noted Barthes’s question about the photograph of the school boy in his copy of Camera Lucida, side-lining: ‘it is possible that Ernest, a schoolboy photographed in 1931 by Kertész, is still alive today (but where? how? What a novel!)’. At the end of this page in his copy of Camera Lucida, Sebald wrote: ‘Je suis le colonel Chabert—celui qui est mort á Eylau’.120 This comparison between Barthes’s desire to write a novel based on imagining the life of a young boy out of a photograph, and Balzac’s story of a soldier who returns from the dead from the Napoleonic wars, would also shape Sebald’s account of the life of a boy named after a different Napoleonic war: Austerlitz. The use of the photograph of the Rose Queen’s page that Vera gives to Austerlitz as the cover photograph for both German and English editions of Austerlitz might suggest that this photograph was to Sebald what the photograph of Ernest was to Barthes. However, when reading Clive Scott’s The Spoken Image: Photography and Language in 1999, beside Scott’s discussion of how people look upon their photographs as ‘evidence, as the sources of their narrative (photobiography)’, Sebald wrote: ‘Aber von Aust.[erlitz] gibt es keine Bilder’ (‘But there are no photographs of Aust.[erlitz]’).121 Scott himself has noted how puzzling this statement seems, given that there are three putative photographs of Austerlitz: in the Stower Grange rugby team, as the Rose Queen’s page boy, and in front of the Antikos Bazar in Terezín. Therefore, Scott argues, these photographs work not in the service of testimony, but rather to explore how these ­photographs simultaneously work in the ‘facilitation of the transfer of subjectivity and narratorial position’, and to complicate the identification at work in this transference, ‘preventing anyone laying hands on Austerlitz in the belief that they can take a quick route to knowledge, to transform 119  Scholz and Sebald, ‘“But the Written Word Is Not a True Document”: A Conversation with W. G. Sebald on Literature and Photography’, 105; 109. 120  Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, trans. by Richard Howard (London, 1984), 84, Sebald Bibliothek, DLA Marbach. 121  Scott, ‘Sebald’s Photographic Annotations’, 217–46.

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the proper difficulties of memory into easy visual appropriation’.122 However, he fails to notice that the photograph in Terezín, which in the text Austerlitz claims shows ‘my own faint shadow image’, is in fact of Sebald himself: a visual version of the falsified composition of Ambros’s diary (277). The photograph of the rugby team was taken from an anonymous photo album retained in Sebald’s archive, of a young British man, dated from the late 1940s. The Rose Queen image is a copy of a postcard also preserved in Sebald’s archive, and as Margaret Olin has pointed out, it is a visual allusion to the character of Oktavian in Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s libretto Rosenkavelier, with Austerlitz becoming the Kinderkavalier to his mother the Rose Queen, this in turn linking to another moment where Austerlitz’s memory of his mother’s ‘sky blue shoe embroidered with tinsel’ is in fact a memory belonging to the titular character of Hoffmansthal’s Andreas.123 So while there are indeed no photographs of Austerlitz, each manipulation of a photographic readymade solicits and negates a different kind of identification: between character and author, between character and a h ­ istorical person, and between character and another fictional character. If Austerlitz the character searches for photographs of himself to confirm his identity, the visual poetics of Austerlitz the novel show this to be a confirmation of Austerlitz’s fictionality. The plot of Austerlitz, however, does not hinge around Austerlitz’s search for an image of himself—indeed he either fails to recognize himself, as in the photograph of the page boy, or they are presented without comment— but for an image of his mother. As numerous readers have noted, this mirrors the plot of Camera Lucida, with Brian Dillon writing that Austerlitz’s ‘search for an image of his lost mother is clearly modelled on Barthes’s desire for a glimpse of the unique being’.124 The genesis of Austerlitz suggests this was both an intentional imitation and a revision of Camera Lucida’s discovery of the truth of photographic indexicality in the image of the mother. In the first draft of the scene where Austerlitz visits Vera, he receives three photographs hidden in a copy of Le Peau du Chagrin: one which almost shows his father in a factory, the photograph of the couple on stage, and that of the Rose Queen’s page, only the latter two appearing

122  Scott, ‘Sebald’s Photographic Annotations’, 228. 123  Margaret Olin, Touching Photographs (Chicago, IL; London, 2012), 93–4. 124  Avi Kempinski, ‘ “Quel Roman”!: Sebald, Barthes, and the Pursuit of the MotherImage’, in Searching for Sebald: Photography After W. G. Sebald (Los Angeles, CA, 2007), 456–71; Olin, Touching Photographs, 86; Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory, 50; Brian Dillon, ‘Rereading: Camera Lucida by Roland Barthes’, The Guardian, 26 March 2011

[accessed 9 February 2016].

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in the published text.125 This was part of a draft which ended at the moment with Austerlitz viewing the film of Thereisenstadt, concluding: ‘und die Hundertstelsekunden, die sich davon drehen, so geschwind, daß man sie nicht entziffern und festhalten kann’ (‘while the hundredths of a second flash by so fast that you cannot read or capture them’) (351).126 After completing this draft Sebald wrote the novel’s conclusion, the section opening after Austerlitz views the film of his mother starting: ‘At the beginning of this year’ (351), in which Austerlitz discovers the photograph of his mother in the Prague theatrical archives, and begins a search for traces of his father. He then revised the scene with Vera so that only two photographs are discovered in her copy of Colonel Chabert: that of the couple on stage, and that of the Rose Queen’s page. The aesthetic logic here is easy to see: once the narrative climax became the discovery of a photograph of his mother, and the turn to search for his father a coda, removing the allusion to his father sharpened the clarity of this structure. A more subtle aesthetic logic is to make Austerlitz a subtle rewriting of Camera Lucida. For Barthes, the Winter Garden photograph of his mother (which his posthumous diaries show really did exist) reveals the ‘essence of the Photograph’: the certification of ‘that-has-been’.127 Yet the Winter Garden photograph also reveals another punctum latent in every photograph, that of ‘Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (“that-has-been”), its pure representation’. Photography represents the possibility of ‘Time’s immobilization’ (91): by collapsing together ‘This will be and this has been’, every photograph is a ‘defeat of Time’ (96). In showing the possibility of time’s immobilization, a ‘motionless’ state which spreads from a photograph to the viewer, a photograph prevents the transformation of ‘grief into mourning’ (90). This ‘vertigo of time defeated’ experienced in a photograph’s immobilization of time is the experience of the viewer’s own death (97). In contrast to Barthes’s account, Austerlitz is strikingly u ­ naffected by the discovery of his mother’s photograph, or rather by Vera’s confirmation that it is a picture of Agata ‘as she had been then’ (354). Although the discovery happened at the beginning of the year in which Austerlitz tells this story to the narrator, in the narrative discourse the account of the discovery of Agata’s photograph is immediately followed by Austerlitz giving the photograph away to the narrator to begin a search for his father in Paris. Fulfilling the quest for an image of his mother confirms nothing: Austerlitz begins another search for ‘any traces of my father’ in Paris (393), 125  W. G. Sebald, ‘Austerlitz [Manuskript]’, n.d., 356–7, Bestand A: Sebald, HS002277561, Mappe 1–3., Deutsches Literaturarchiv Marbach. 126  Sebald, ‘Austerlitz [Manuskript]’, 461. 127 Barthes, Camera Lucida, 73. Further citations in the main body of the text.

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re-enacting the moment when the photographs of his mother were ­discovered in Vera’s copy of Balzac by reading the story of Colonel Chabert, and recounting to the reader the lines ‘Je suis le colonel Chabert—celui qui est mort á Eylau’ (394). Through an act of repetition—repeating Vera’s reading of Balzac, repeating the quest for a photograph of a parent— Austerlitz comes to be a revenant returned from the dead, a figure Sebald identified in his reading of Barthes as the boy imagined returned from a photograph by Kertész. This association between repetition, living death, and photography’s immobilization of time is emphasized by Austerlitz’s final act: he gives the narrator the key to his house in Alderney Street so he can ‘study the black and white photographs which, one day, would be all that was left of his life’ (408). At the end of the novel, Austerlitz sees photographs as being the only remnant of his life, attaching no i­ mportance to the story he has passed on to the narrator. The repetitions that mark the end of Austerlitz’s life, and his giving away of the image of his mother, suggest the novel presents him not as completing the work of mourning that takes place in Camera Lucida, but remaining instead in a state of melancholia. According to Freud, in melancholia the object is not given up but partially identified with, with this identification the sign of a fundamental ambivalence towards the lost object; perversely, the lost object needs to be treated with a certain hostility—to be given away as in the game of fort/da—so that it will continue to cast its ‘shadow’ over the ego.128 The ambivalence at the heart of melancholic identification results in the repetition compulsion of ‘acti[ng] it out’, where the person repeatedly acts out a loss ‘without knowing he is repeating it’. Through this acting out, ‘repetition replace[s] remembering’.129 This is in contrast to the work of mourning where, as Barthes puts it, ‘Time eliminates the emotion of loss’.130 The parallels between the journeys of Austerlitz and Odysseus that a number of critics have pointed out run throughout the novel suggest what is at stake for the novel’s treatment of history in its concluding presentation of Austerlitz’s melancholic r­epetitions.131 On his long journey home, Odysseus descends to the underworld and recognizes his mother’s ghost whilst failing to embrace her and bring her back from the dead; 128  Sigmund Freud, The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Volume XIV (1914–1916): On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement, Papers on Metapsychology, and Other Works, trans. by James Strachey (London, 1957), 249. 129  Sigmund Freud, ‘Remembering, Repeating, and Working-Through’, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume 12: The Case of Schreber, Papers on Technique, and Other Works, trans. by James Strachey (London, 1958), 150; 151. 130 Barthes, Camera Lucida, 75. 131  Russell J. A. Kilbourn, ‘Architecture and Cinema: The Representation of Memory in W. G. Sebald’s Austerlitz’, in W. G. Sebald: A Critical Companion, ed. by J. J. Long and Anne Whitehead (Edinburgh, 2004), 149–52; Zilcosky, ‘Lost and Found’, 690–1.

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Austerlitz descends to the underworld of the concentration camps yet fails to find an image of the mother he recognizes. In his copy of Dialectic of Enlightenment, Sebald noted Horkheimer and Adorno’s definition of the mythical figure (one which bears comparison with Freud’s melancholic): ‘Every mythical figure is compelled to do the same thing over and over again. Each of them is constituted by repetition: its failure would mean their end . . . They are figures of compulsion: the horrors they commit are the curse which has fallen upon them . . . Against this Odysseus fights’.132 He does so when encountering the ‘image of the mother’, the figure of ‘mythic muteness’, and by recognizing that ‘[t]he Promised Land for Odysseus is not the archaic realm of images. Finally all the images reveal their true essences as shades in the world of the dead, an illusion’. History in the form of Odysseus’s own narrative begins with the acceptance of severance from the past. ‘Only when subjectivity masters itself by recognizing the nullity of images does it begin to share the hope which images vainly promise’.133 These allusions to The Odyssey have a more complex and specific purpose than simply to suggest Austerlitz restages a mythical journey home. They set up a parallel between Austerlitz and the mythical figure whose story marked the first transition from mythical repetition to historical narrative, and who did so by a rejection of the mythic timelessness promised by the image of the mother as the source of the image’s defeat of time. Austerlitz seeks to reverse Odysseus’s passage from mythical timelessness into history; indeed, early in the narrative he prefigures his own conclusion: I have always resisted the power of time out of some internal compulsion which I myself have never understood, keeping myself apart from so-called current events in the hope, as I now think, said Austerlitz, the time will not pass away, has not passed away, that I can turn back and go behind it, and there I shall find everything as it once was, or more precisely I shall find that all moments of time have co-existed simultaneously, in which case none of what history tells us would be true, past events are waiting to do so at the moment we think of them, although that, of course, opens up the bleak prospect of ever-lasting misery and never-ending anguish.  (144)

In spite of everything he tells the narrator, Austerlitz remains drawn to this desire to escape the power of time, to refuse the temporality demanded by the workings of fictional narrative in order that his story can be passed on to others. If photography becomes for Austerlitz the character a means to experience this melancholic refusal of time’s passing, Austerlitz the novel 132  Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, 45; Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialektik der Aufklärung, 66. 133  Adorno and Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments, 59.

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ends with a different view of photography. In Heshel’s Kingdom (1998), the book given by Austerlitz to the narrator, Dan Jacobson begins his search for his grandfather’s past with a single studio photograph, but what his search uncovers, the narrator relates, is ‘the vanished past of his family and his people which, as he knows, can never be brought up from those depths again’. As if refuting Sebald’s own previous work, Jacobson writes that ‘[t]he abyss of the past does not have to be figured for us by bottomless pits, vertiginous plunges, stones dropping forever down soundless chambers’. The past is simply a ‘darkness that gives back nothing’.134 For Jacobson, the act of creating narratives and passing them on in time, rather than the search for a photograph’s arresting of time, is what preserves the memory of a people who have vanished. Austerlitz ends by manifesting the deep and unresolved tension between a number of oppositions in Sebald’s work: between myth and history; between the timeless image and the temporality of fiction; between redemption and catastrophe. Drawing on Hannah Arendt’s theorization of history as a  form of making, Adriana Cavarero has argued that the narration of Austerlitz’s life is the process that brings his story into the realm of history, and has insisted that the challenge of Austerlitz lies in this tension between history and traumatic memory. In Austerlitz, she writes, the traumatized life ‘call[s] into question the desire to have a narratable self and, therefore, even the legitimacy and the role of the narrator. The risk is that the reader’s appetite for stories does not correspond at all to the appetite of the story’s protagonist, that is, his lack of desire that his life be recovered and made into a narration’. Nevertheless, she continues, ‘there is an ethical and even ontological urgency in the necessity of this narration, almost as if every recounted story, snatched from oblivion, saves a possible sense of the human from its absolute negation in destruction’.135 If by the turn of the millennium Sebald still believed that the task of the exemplary modern writer remained to show those moments when fiction seeks to be hypostatized into the timeless repetitions of myth, the question Austerlitz asks is whether the transformation of history into trauma, and the ­theorizations of the visual that enable it, might be one of the myths of our own moment in history.

134  Dan Jacobson, Heshel’s Kingdom (London, 1998), 414; 207; xi. 135  Cavarero, ‘Narrative Against Destruction’, 12–13.

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Conclusion The Perspective of the Present ‘His are the books of our history opened before us’. So concludes one of Teju Cole’s appreciations of the work of W. G. Sebald, a writer whom he has cited as a major influence on his work, one who provides him with ‘a feeling of return rather than arrival’.1 Critics like James Wood have located Sebald’s influence on Cole in the ‘steady, accidental inquiry’ governing the syntax and rhythm of a prose that mirrors the seemingly aimless journeys of Sebald’s solitary wanderers.2 But Open City (2011) also shares what Cole saw as Sebald’s attitude towards history: ‘These things, as Sebald said in one of his last interviews, once you have seen them, have a habit of returning, and they want attention. He said this with regard to the interred past, but I think he possibly meant more’. This ‘uncanny, destabilizing mood’ of his books was produced by Sebald’s use of photographs, which seem to appear in service of testimony until one notices ‘the slight fracture between the claim in the text and the photograph . . . it must all be true, we think, but we know it can’t be true’.3 For Cole, the complex manipulations of photography traced in Chapter 4 were a manifestation of Sebald’s understanding of history: the uncanny return of the historical past in the uncanny departure of photography from testimony. But Cole’s claim that a ‘painting becomes, in Sebald’s hands, a world of enumerated wonders’ expresses a very different understanding of what art offers the novelist, one more revealing of Cole’s own embrace of art as a source of wonder than Sebald’s own sense, drawn from the Frankfurt School, that art’s redemption and swindling deception could not be separated. Cole’s simultaneous embrace and rejection of Sebald’s legacy is indicative of how contemporary writers have positioned themselves in relation to the authors discussed in 1  Teju Cole, Known and Strange Things (London: Faber & Faber, 2016), 44; 52. 2  James Wood, ‘The Arrival of Enigmas’, The New Yorker, 28 February 2011, . 3 Cole, Known and Strange Things, 52; 82.

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this book as part of a shift towards a different set of concerns motivating novelists’ engagement with art: wonder and beauty, futurity and experimentation, and the blurring of genre boundaries, all of which are part of a concern less with specific works of art and their place in history than with a generic concept of art and the aesthetic experiences it provides. As its title suggests, Zadie Smith’s On Beauty (2005) shares Cole’s interest in painting as a source of aesthetic wonder, and the novel’s treatment of the art historian Howard Belsey historicizes this as a reaction against the hermeneutics of suspicion that came to dominate the AngloAmerican academy in the 1980s and 1990s in art history as much as literary studies. Belsey’s disenchanting revelation to his students in his classes on Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson that ‘Art is the Western myth’ reads like a caricature of the kind of iconoclastic cultural Marxism pioneered by Berger’s Ways of Seeing, a caricature because it ignores the more doubtful approaches open to art as a form of redemption this book has used a study of Berger’s fiction to trace.4 The novel’s use of The Anatomy Lesson also highlights the difference of Smith’s denigration of suspicion in favour of beauty and Sebald’s more dialectical exposition of the painting in The Rings of Saturn—a comparison which can help to bring to light the possible blind-spots in Smith and Cole’s turn towards art in search of ­epiphanies of beauty. In a 2008 essay on ‘Two Directions for the Novel’, Smith showed that these were blind-spots of which she is well aware, and used a different art historical archive to make her point. The ‘lyrical realism’ which she sees as dominating mainstream contemporary fiction offers a ‘relentlessly aestheticized’ version of the world with a suspiciously ‘many beauties’ in which it is difficult to have much faith because of the difference of our present from the nineteenth-century context in which such lyrical realism originated. Beauty can mask an anachronism of style: this loss of the relationship between form and historical change is Smith’s problem with lyrical realism. This historical lag has not been a problem in visual art: ‘The received wisdom of literary history is that Finnegans Wake did not fundamentally disturb Realism’s course as Duchamp’s urinal disturbed Realism in the visual arts’.5 The novel she sees as taking the other and now more necessary path of the novel towards experimentation, Tom McCarthy’s Remainder (2005), takes as much from Duchamp as from Derrida, she suggests, drawing attention to McCarthy’s self-presentation as part of the parodic avant-garde collective, the International Necronautical Society (INS). Indeed, Smith’s sense that conceptual and post-conceptual art can provide an archive for formal experimentation has been taken up by other novelists in works 4  Zadie Smith, On Beauty (London: Hamish Hamilton, 2005), 155. 5  Zadie Smith, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (New York: Penguin, 2009), 121; 123.

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such as Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers (2013), Siri Hustvedt’s The Blazing World (2014), and Ben Lerner’s 10:04 (2014). In Smith’s attempt to chart a direction away from lyrical realism, art is used to chart the future rather than the history of the novel. Tom McCarthy has made this attraction explicit: ‘I’m a writer through and through, but the art world—to a large extent—provides the arena in which literature can be vigorously addressed, transformed, and expanded’. Speaking about one of the projects of his INS, he has said it was ‘a totally literary exercise; but, again, art was the space in which it could be realized and experienced’.6 Engaging with art also enables what McCarthy has declared as one of his main goals: ‘The task for contemporary literature is to deal with the legacy of modernism. I’m not trying to be modernist, but to navigate the wreckage of that project’.7 As Justus Nieland has written, McCarthy’s fixation upon modernism only serves to emphasize his distance from it: ‘McCarthy’s work stands not as the empty resuscitation of an avant-garde idiom but as its crypt, as a way of presiding over modernism’s death by re-enacting it traumatically, by lingering in the remains of its most fecund catastrophes, which are also those of the twentieth-century itself ’.8 One exemplary figure in McCarthy’s media-driven history of catastrophic modernism is Beckett, who makes a failed appearance in Remainder. When the narrator and Naz hold auditions to find actors for their re-enactment, an actor arrives who had ‘prepared a passage to perform for us: some piece of modern theatre by Samuel Beckett. “We don’t want to hear that”, I said. “We just want to chat for a while, fill you in on what you’ll need to do”’.9 Beckett’s appearance in McCarthy’s novel highlights the difference in how art mediates each writer’s relationship to modernism. The difference between Beckett and McCarthy, and between the writers discussed in this book and their contemporary successors, is that for the former visual art provided an instance of the continuation of modernism in ways which complicated notions of periodicity. For the latter, modernist art belongs to a conventionally periodized past era now needing to be recuperated or re-enacted. As David James and Urmila Seshagiri have pointed out, the ways in which McCarthy and ­contemporary writers are ‘reactivating’ modernism assumes modernism as a discretely 6  Tom McCarthy and Frederic Tuten, ‘Tom McCarthy’, BOMB Magazine, 131 (Spring 2015), . 7  James Purdon, ‘Tom McCarthy: “To Ignore the Avant-Garde Is Akin to Ignoring Darwin”’, The Observer, 1 August 2010, . 8  Justus Nieland, ‘Dirty Media: Tom McCarthy and the Afterlife of Modernism’, Modern Fiction Studies, 58/3 (Fall 2012), 570. 9  Tom McCarthy, Remainder (Richmond: Alma Books, 2006), 110–11.

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periodized cultural moment: ‘Without a temporally bounded and formally precise understanding of what modernism does and means in any cultural moment, the ability to make other aesthetic and historical claims about its contemporary reactivation suffers’.10 If this book has shown the role played by visual modernism in producing novelists’ sense of modernism as something past, it has also aimed to show how ambiguous this modernism was for postwar writers, the source of aesthetic and political problems as well as possibilities, something very different than the canon of value it has come to be for figures like McCarthy. Art does not occupy a place of unquestioned value in these recent debates among novelists about the future of fiction. In 2002 Jonathan Franzen used an essay on Gaddis as a manifesto justifying his turn to what he called ‘conventional fiction, driven by substantial characters and based on a soul-to-soul Contract between reader and writer’—the lyrical realism based on nineteenth-century modes that causes Smith so much unease.11 The opposite of his ‘conservative and conventional’ fiction is ‘[d]ifficult fiction of the kind epitomized by Gaddis’, fiction based on ‘the notion of formal experimentation as an act of resistance’. For Franzen, the aesthetic politics of Gaddis’s work, and that of authors from Flaubert to Woolf and Beckett, are based on a number of fallacies, among them ‘the Fallacy of Art Historicism, a pedagogical convenience borrowed from the moneyed world of visual art, where a work’s value substantially depends on its novelty; as if fiction were as formally free as painting, as if what makes The Great Gatsby and O Pioneers! good novels were primarily their technical innovations’.12 In his attack on the assumption that forms of visual art need to be historicized in order to provide new models for innovation in fiction, Franzen ironically shares more with Beckett and Gaddis—and indeed Smith—than he might like. Franzen’s essay on Gaddis sparked a lengthy riposte from Ben Marcus, setting out the stakes of a debate about literary innovation in contemporary American fiction, and it is part of Franzen’s broader belief in the incompatibility of literary and visual culture.13 As he solemnly declared in ‘The Reader in Exile’ (1995): ‘A few months ago, I gave away my television set’. Franzen’s problem is not so much with popular as with visual culture, the ‘shift from a culture based on the printed 10  David James and Urmila Seshagiri, ‘Metamodernism: Narratives of Continuity and Revolution’, PMLA, 129/1 (January 2014), 88; Laura Marcus, ‘The Legacies of Modernism’, in The Cambridge Companion to the Modernist Novel, ed. Morag Shiach (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 82–98. 11  Jonathan Franzen, ‘Mr. Difficult’, The New Yorker, 30 September 2002, 108. 12  Franzen, ‘Mr. Difficult’, 108. 13  Ben Marcus, ‘Why Experimental Fiction Threatens to Destroy Publishing, Jonathan Franzen, and Life as We Know It: A Correction’, Harper’s Magazine, October 2005, 39–52.

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word to a culture based on virtual images’, which leads to ‘the eclipse of the cultural authority that literature once possessed’.14 There is no necessary correlation between visual art and experimentation, or between modernist visual forms and a rejection of realism: stated like this, the absurdity of the equation is evident. But in these debates about the future of contemporary fiction, visual art has come to stand as a marker (often rhetorical) for the kind of formal experimentation the ­contemporary novel is seen to be lacking. If Cole’s essay on Sebald pinpointed one way in which visual art can facilitate this kind of experimentation—recasting both the novel’s relationship to history and the reader’s experience of the novel as an experience of wonder—his praise of John Berger’s writing shows another way in which an engagement with visual art is informing formal innovation in contemporary fiction. ‘Berger’s Here Is Where We Meet’, Cole has said, ‘is actually one of my favourite books, it’s actually something that influenced me very strongly and I really love his writing’.15 In a review of Berger’s Bento’s Sketchbook (2011), Cole described it as ‘consisting of the mixture of anecdote, essay, politics, reverie, and poetry that he has been exploring for more than half a century’.16 The blurring of genre boundaries between art writing, autobiography, and fiction present in Berger’s work since the 1950s is what makes his work important to Cole, a genre blurring that Cole has elsewhere specified as stemming from his own training as an art historian.17 Ben Lerner has similarly identified Berger’s writing across and between genres as ‘tremendously important to me’.18 Echoing Cole and Smith’s sense that turning to art can recuperate an investigation into aesthetic experience, Lerner has also written: ‘All of Berger’s work—which includes poems, novels, drawings, paintings, and screenwriting—is to me a beautiful and bracing argument that political commitment requires maintaining a position of wonder’.19 The porous boundary between Berger’s art essays and his fiction is for Lerner one predecessor of what he identifies as a characteristic tendency of recent fiction: the investigation of ‘the factfiction border’.20 In a review of Lerner’s 10:04 (2014), Hari Kunzru hazarded to name this tendency ‘an emerging genre, the novel after Sebald, its 19th-century furniture of plot and character dissolved into a series of passages, held together by occasional photographs and a subjectivity that 14  Jonathan Franzen, How To Be Alone: Essays (London: Fourth Estate, 2002), 164; 175; 178. 15  Teju Cole, ‘Open City’, 19 September 2013, . 16  Teju Cole, ‘Drawing’, The New York Times, 2 December 2011, sec. Sunday Book Review. 17 Cole, Known and Strange Things, 79. 18  John Berger, ‘Bookforum Talks with Ben Lerner’, Bookforum, 12 September 2014, . 19  Ben Lerner, ‘Postscript: John Berger, 1926–2017’, The New Yorker, 6 January 2017, . 20  Berger, ‘Bookforum Talks with Ben Lerner’.

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hovers close to (but is never quite identical with) the subjectivity of the writer’.21 As similar instances he cites the work of Teju Cole, Geoff Dyer, Chris Krauss’s I Love Dick (1997), and Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? (2013). What these works also have in common is that they all draw, in different degrees, on visual art as subject or formal model: the novel after Sebald might also then be called the novel after art. Although objections could be made to Kunzru’s attempt to make these similarities into a ­genealogy, his remarks capture an important shift in the role that engaging with art is having on contemporary fiction. Rather than reflections on art being used to rethink the relationship of the novel as a genre to its historical context, essayistic writing about art is being merged into fictional writing in order to escape from the generic constraints of the novel itself. In the debates and writings of these contemporary authors, the relationships this book has traced between novelists’ engagements with art and the ways in which they conceptualized a novel’s place in history no longer seem to hold. Rather than Beckett’s turn to the borders of modernist abstraction as a model for the necessities of form vomiting up against the necessities of historical teleology, we have McCarthy’s turn to the modernist avant-garde of the past as the decaying seed-bed for the novel of the future. Rather than the sense shared in different ways by Gaddis, Berger, and Sebald, that visual art’s relationship to times other than the present needed to be taken up by the novel’s own political engagements with history, Smith, Cole, and Lerner see art as offering politically salient experiences of the presence of wonder in a present exhausted by disenchantment. This turn from a preoccupation with history to a concern with the present is part of what Peter Boxall has identified as a larger shift that has taken place in contemporary fiction since the turn of the millennium. ‘The ­writers of the new century’, he argues, ‘register this sense that the time of the new century has suddenly become alien and strange, that it requires of us a new kind of time sense’.22 In the same way that this book has argued that an apparent waning of historicity only served to motivate more complex means of its recovery in and through novelistic responses to art, so too the sudden emergence of temporality as a topic of concern for theorists and writers alike might prompt new engagements with art as a means to explore this new kind of time sense. Yet at the same time, the authors discussed in this book have become touchstones for contemporary debates about the form and function of fiction in the present. Beckett, Gaddis, Berger, and Sebald have become 21  Hari Kunzru, ‘Impossible Mirrors’, The New York Times, 7 September 2014, 12. 22  Peter Boxall, Twenty-First-Century Fiction (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 22.

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part of the literary history contemporary writers like Cole or Smith are constructing as the foundation, or point of departure, for their own literary endeavours. The contemporary historicization of these writers, and their engagement with art, has been one justification for the methodology of this book. If we are to understand the diverse and complex ways in which postwar novelists responded to visual art, these engagements need to be approached historically: sensitive to the fine-grain of the contexts in which these responses took place, and to the nuances of the art works and aesthetic concepts that mediated and enabled them. By showing how visual art was a means by which postwar writers historicized their present, this book has shown the inseparability of art and history in the poetics of postwar fiction, and their centrality to the interpretation of that fiction. But as this book has also argued, the histories of art are multiple, nonsimultaneous, and often generatively out of sync with the formal and institutional histories of literature. This divergence has meant that for these novelists, thinking historically through art has been as much about linking moments across historical time as about slotting past and present into a linear continuum. In that spirit, then, we might view this recent concern with the time sense of the present, and the role of art in investigating that time sense, not as characterizing a new or successive period in literary history—so that ‘the postwar’ is followed by ‘the contemporary’ like beads on a string—but as a continuation in a different key of art’s role in providing writers a means of thinking about their time. After all, attention to the quality of time hardly means a flight from history. Quite the opposite, as the narrator of Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending (2011) makes clear: ‘We live in time, it bounds us and defines us, and time is supposed to measure history, isn’t it? But if we can’t understand time, can’t grasp its mysteries of pace and progress, what chance do we have with history?’23 With this recognition of art’s continuing role in providing ­writers with a grasp on the history of their present and their present role in history, it is time to take Barnes’s prompt and move from the sense of an ending to a real one.

23  Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending (London: Jonathan Cape, 2011), 60.

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Author Index Abstract Expressionism  3–4, 18, 65, 71–3, 75–6 Acker, Kathy  14–15, 65–6, 79–80 Adorno, Theodor W.  11–12, 24–5, 45–6, 92–3, 130–1, 134–5 Aesthetic Theory 137–9 Dialectic of Enlightenment 163–4 aesthetic autonomy  35, 68–9, 74–5 Agamben, Giorgio  7–8 Albright, Daniel  61–2 Albus, Anita  140–1 Alpers, Svetlana  7 Althusser, Louis  5–6, 11–12, 36–7, 134–5 Altieri, Charles  13 Alvaro, Corrado  92–3 Alworth, David J.  10, 17–18 Anderson, Perry  118–19 Antal, Frederick  100–1 Arendt, Hannah  11–12, 165 Aristotle 90–2 art history  2–3 and modernism  17–21 art and objecthood  75–6 Auerbach, Frank  154–5 Badiou, Alain  25 Balibar, Étienne  5–6 Barrett, William  72–3 Barth, John  3, 8–9, 88–9, 94–5 Barthes, Roland  29–30, 128, 139, 144–5, 147–9, 152–3, 159–63 Barnes, Julian  172 Bauer, Ulrich  158–9 Baxandall, Michael  3–4, 16, 30, 141–2 Beat Generation  71–2 Beck, Ulrich  86–7 Beckett, Samuel Dream of Fair to Middling Women 23–4 ‘German Diaries’  26–33 ‘Peintres de l’empêchment (The New Object)’  39–43 ‘Les peinture de van Veldes ou le monde et le pantalon’  35–6 ‘The End’  39 Eleutheria 41–3 ‘Three Dialogues’  43–4, 51–3 The Unnamable  45, 53–62 Watt 46–8 Molloy  48–50, 135–7

Malone Dies 50–1 Fizzles/Foirades 61–2 Belletto, Steven  8–9 Benjamin, Walter  5–6, 11–12, 100–1, 121–3, 143–4, 146–7 Benn Michaels, Walter  79–80 John Berger A Painter of Our Time  105–9, 113–17 ‘The Moment of Cubism’  119–20 G. 123–8 Berlant, Lauren  7–8 Blanchot, Maurice  47–8, 112–13 Bloch, Ernst  5–6 Bois, Yve-Alain  121 Bolin, John  50 Boschetti, Anna  33–4 Bourdieu, Pierre  66–7 Boxall, Peter  25–6, 132–3, 171 Brooks, Peter  90 Brossard, Chandler  71–2 Braque, George  38–9 Buchloh, Benjamin H. D.  21–2, 142–3 Bürger, Peter  127–8 Burstow, Robert  103–4 Butler, Christopher  13 Butler, Judith  37–8 Butler, Reg  103–4 Carter, Angela  14–15, 126–7 Caruth, Cathy  157–9 Cavarero, Adriana  130–1, 165 Cave, Terence  90–1 Cézanne, Paul  31–2, 41–3 Clark, T. J.  3–4, 6–7, 19–20, 64, 72–3 Clune, Michael  79–80 Coetzee, J. M.  137–9 Cole, Teju  166–7, 170–1 Cold War  39–43, 80–9, 103–4 comparison between art and literature  2–3, 13 Connor, Steven  25, 48–9 contemporary, the  7–8 Copjec, Joan  20–1 Costello, Diarmuid  142–3 Cubism  14–15, 115, 117–23 de Duve, Thierry  74–5 de Francia, Peter  110–11 Deleuze, Gilles  24–5

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194

Author Index

DeLillo, Don  64, 91–2 Descartes, René  57–60, 144 Descombes, Vincent  37–8 Dillon, Brian  161–2 Döblin, Alfred  134–7 Duttlinger, Carolin  157 Eaglestone, Robert  7–8 ekphrasis 29–30 Elias, Amy J.  14, 131 Feldman, Matthew  32–3 Felski, Rita  10–11 Fifield, Peter  40–1 Fleissner, Jennifer  10 Foster, Hal  63–4, 126–7, 140–1 Foucault, Michel  10–11, 31, 47–8, 140–1 Fougeron, André  39, 43–4 Franzen, Jonathan  169–70 Fried, Michael  3–4, 14–15, 17–18, 20–1, 24–5, 66–7, 75–6 Friedman, Susan Stanford  4–5 Freud, Sigmund  28–9, 58–60, 90–1, 124–5, 158–9, 163–4 Fryer, Peter  107–8 Gaddis, William Agapē Agape 63–4 The Recognitions 71–96 JR 96 Gass, William  3 German Expressionism  32–3 Geroulanos, Stefanos  36–7 Gibson, Andrew  33–4 Giddens, Anthony  86–7 Gladstone, Jason  9–10 Golding, John  118–19 Gorz, André  112–13 Greenberg, Clement  3–4, 17–22, 24–5, 43–4, 67–9, 75–6, 100, 121 Guilbaut, Serge  39–40 Habermas, Jürgen  21–2 Hall, Stuart  110 Harris, Donal  66–7 Harrison, Charles  77–9 Hayot, Eric  4–5, 11–12 Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich  11–12, 37–8 Heti, Shelia  170–1 Hill, Leslie  48–9 Hirsch, Marianne  157–8 historicism 10–12 modernist historicism  18–19, 31–2, 40–1 and postmodernism  21–2

Hobsbawm, Eric  108–10 Houen, Alex  8–9 humanism  31, 35–9 Hungerford, Amy  7–8, 132 Hutcheon, Linda  14 Hutchinson, Ben  137–9 Huyssen, Andreas  156–7 Hyman, James  99–100 Iser, Wolfgang  48, 89–90 Jacobson, Dan  164–5 Jacobus, Mary  139, 158–9 James, David  4–5, 9–10, 117–18, 168–9 Jameson, Fredric  2, 9–10 Jay, Martin  97, 101–2 Johns, Jasper  1–2, 13 Johnson, B. S.  126–7 Jordon, Julia  8–9 Kafka, Franz  135–6 Kates, Joshua  11–12 Kerouac, Jack  71–3 Kittler, Friedrich  16 Klein, Kerwin Lee  132 Knowlson, James  27–8 Krauss, Chris  171 Krauss, Rosalind E.  17–21, 30, 75–6, 121 Kunzru, Hari  170–1 Kuspit, Donald  19–20 Lacan, Jacques  13, 36–7, 124–5 LaCapra  10, 131 Lefebvre, Henri  112–13 Lerner, Ben  170–1 Lessing, Doris  14–15, 99–100, 110–13 Lessing Gotthold Ephraim  28–9 Levenson, Michael  6–7 Lévi-Strauss, Claude  124, 141–2 Leys, Ruth  157–9 Luckhurst, Roger  132 Luhmann, Niklas  86–7 Lukács, Georg  100–2, 107–8, 110–11, 115, 117–18 MacDonald, Dwight  66–7 Mansfield, Katherine  69–71 Marcus, Ben  169–70 Marcus, Greil  9–10 Marcus, Laura  9–10, 106 Marsh, Nicky  96 Marx, Karl  5–6, 36–8 Marxism  19–20, 36–7, 41–3 McCarthy, Tom  167–9 McCulloh, Mark  146–7

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Author Index

McGurl, Mark  8–9 medium specificity  23–5, 76–9 Merleau-Ponty, Maurice  37–8, 41–3, 102–3 memory  131–2, 147–9 metafiction  3, 88–9 Mitchell, W. J. T.  21–2 modernism  3–7, 9–10, 19–21, 64, 168–9 institutionalization of  66–7 in visual art  3–7, 25, 39–41, 75–6, 121 and photography  142–4 Moody, Alys  55–6 Morin, Edgar  112–13 Morrison, Toni  157–8 Murphet, Julian  16 Nabokov, Vladimir  154–5 Nachträglichkeit 124–6 New Left  110–13, 118–19 Ngai, Sianne  10, 92–3 Nieland, Justus  168–9 Nicholls, Peter  9–10 Nietzsche, Friedrich  7–8, 10, 12 Nixon, Mark  25–7 non-simultaneity of the simultaneous  2–3, 5–6 Nora, Pierre  132 Olin, Margaret  160–1 Oppenheimer, Robert  80–1, 86 Osborne, Peter  7–8 Owens, Craig  14 Ozick, Cynthia  64 Panofsky, Erwin  5–6, 13, 29–31, 119–20 periodization  4–7, 9–12 perspective in fiction  29–31, 47–50, 92–4, 149–50 in painting  27, 29–31, 43–4, 46, 49–50, 119–20 photography  16, 127–31, 139–44, 156–7 Picasso, Pablo  93–4 Pollock, Griselda  14–15, 98, 140–1 Ponge, Francis  38–9 Porter, Katherine Anne  67–9 postmodernism  2, 9–10, 14–15, 21–2 postwar literature  7–10, 12 Proust, Marcel  23–4 Pynchon, Thomas  7, 65–6, 91–2 Rabaté, Jean-Michel  35 Rauschenberg, Robert  76–9 readymade, the  142–3

195

realism  99–102, 147–9 recognition 89–92 Reid, Thomas  58–60 Rembrandt van Rijn  144 Ricoeur, Paul  90, 134–5 Rosenberg, Harold  39–40, 43–4 Santner, Eric  153–4 Sartre, Jean-Paul  20–1, 31, 37–8 Scott, Clive  160–1 Sebald, W. G. After Nature 145–6 Vertigo 146–50 The Emigrants 149–56 Austerlitz 156–65 Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky  10–11 Serra, Richard  77–9 Sheppard, Richard  133–4 Siraganian, Lisa  7–10, 64, 74 society of the spectacle  16 Smith, Zadie  167–8 Sollors, Werner  9–10 Sontag, Susan  13, 16, 127–8, 139 Spender, Stephen  112–13, 116–17 Stein, Gertrude  67–9 Stechow, Wolfgang  28–9 Steiner, George  125–6 Sylvester, David  99–100, 102–3, 108–9 Tanner, Tony  65–6 temporality 171 trauma  99–100, 157–9 Trilling, Lionel  81–2 Tripp, Jan Peter  139–41 Trotter, David  69–70 Uhlmann, Anthony  58–60 van Velde, Bram  23–4, 35–6, 39–41, 43–6, 51–2, 54–5 van Velde, Geer  35–6, 39–41 Wall, Jeff  142–3 Warburg, Aby  28–9 Warburg, Frederic  105–7 Wilenski, R. H.  27–8 Williams, Raymond  5–6, 99–100, 102–3, 110–11 Wolff, Lynn L.  130–3 Wood, James  166–7 Zevros, Christian  35–6