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Creative paths


Maurice Géracht et Brittain Smith
p. 1-5

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1Volume 42 of INTERFACES issues is a miscellany, a gathering of articles not explicitly connected by a shared subject or theme. Nevertheless, beyond metonomy, they are united in their focus on the word and image nexus, and they do raise, around different subjects, ever-present verbal-visual issues.

2In “Illustrer Les sentier de la creation: des cheminements singuliers,” Alice Scheer selects six samples from Albert Skira’s twenty-three volume series entitled Les sentiers de la creation—texts for which authors also did or selected the graphics, or for which visual artists wrote the texts—and most directly address the question: why, she asks provocatively, did these authors choose to privilege and establish distance and independence between the verbal and graphic texts? Her analysis suggests a number of possibilities: the graphics can suggest an alternate narrative; the decalage, the detachment, between the words and the graphic can indicate creation in the making; the ecart, the gap, can even be the author’s thought on creation, a process of distancing; or it may be a sign of self-examination and self-discovery.

3Although hardly known today, one who blazed his own creative path in welding words and images, and though hardly known today, Louis- August Martin (1811-1875), was one of the early practitioners who incorporated daguerreotypes into verbal texts and thereby transformed traditional 19th century literary “promenade.” As Margaret Fields Denton deftly demonstrates in “Promenades poétiques et daguerriennesBellevue : Photography and Narration,” the transformation was not merely a matter of using a new medium (had recently been transferable to paper); rather, Martin’s interlinear placement of the images raised new questions: did mid-nineteenth century readers/viewers believe that there were significant affective differences between scriptural (ekphrastic) and graphic (e.g. engraving) depictions on the one hand, and, on the other, daguerreotype (photographic) renderings, because of the daguerreotype’s immediacy and assumed direct, actual, authentic viewpoint? How do such images affect the relationship to the words they accompany, and how do they differ in this regard to the other forms of graphic rendering? Mid-nineteenth century photo technology hardly captured impressions as instantly as they do today, nor were the paper presentation of the daguerreotypes as clear and visibly detailed as claimed (compared, let’s say, to 17th century Dutch and Flemish painters or Italian baroque). Nevertheless, the belief in the fidelity of the image to the actual, and that these new images allowed viewers to imagine to be in the locale and at that moment, also permitted the viewer to imagine participation in the event. The images, Denton shows, are occasions for pause in the narrative drive, for prolonged looking and meditation, for savoring the moment and comprehending its meaning in the promenade. They are not merely a quick impression for the moment, a quick stop, they are integral to the narrative. Hence Martin’s Promenade is both poétiques (verbal) which describes the trajectory of the promenade and daguerriennes (photographs) which renders the immediate impression, thus allowing for the prolonged experience of the moment to also experience its meanings.

4Graphic re-presentations of text are, ineluctably, readings: some limit themselves to reflect and successfully mirror the original text; some readings can be irrelevant; many will focus on and further develop a commonplace aspect of the text; the best will help discover the less obvious, and expand our understanding of even the most familiar text. Eric T. Haskell, in "Baudelaire’s 'Le Jet d'eau’; Verbal-Visual Inquiry and the Illustrated Book," offers examples of each. In effect, his succinct yet revealing analysis of six illuminations of Baudelaire’s poem creates a taxonomy of the various ways in general graphics of texts can function. Moreover, Haskell’s graphic readings present six interpretations of the way particular illuminations do (and occasionally don’t) interpret the very particular text that is Baudelaire’s "Le Jet d'eau.”

5“The power to guess the unseen from the seen, to trace the implication of things... may almost be said to constitute experience”; and “My point of view, thank God, is personal!”: these citations from Henry James, the first from “The Art of Fiction,” the second from The Portrait of a Lady, together encapsulate Belgian writer Yannik Haenel’s project as it is adroitly presented by Corentin Lahouste in “Donner à voir l’irreprésentable, faire trembler Le réel: l’agir sympolique des oeuvres d’art reproduites dans Cercle de Yannnick Haenel.” Lahouste asserts that for Haenel “art is intimately linked to life, and life to art” and urges us to “live life as a work of art” (editor’s translation), injunctions that echo James’s address to H.G. Wells that “art makes life.” When Haenel privileges the ‘personal’ response to a work of art (or of a reproduction which evokes it) rather than the dictates of this or that ideology or authority, he is not being ‘subjective’ (a subjective point of view looks only inward and has no ‘view’ at all); his personal point of view is widely inclusive, is informed by all the literature he has read, by all the art he has seen, by all the music he has heard, by the places he has been, by the people he has encountered—in short, by all the views he has entertained. Lahouste demonstrates that for Haenel particular works of art (e.g. in Cercle, Bacon’s Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion; Durer’s Rhinoceros; Giovan Francesco Caroto’s St. John at Patmos; a XVII Chinese woodblock) offer this author and critic openings onto the world that are at once platforms for discourse, for meditation, for articulation, and, eventually for revelation. It is in these spaces that the unseen is given life and made known.

6Haenel had a literary predecessor in his Flemish born compatriot Suzanne Lilar whose major work, Journal de l’analogiste (1954), appeared more than a dozen years before Haenel was born (1967). For all their differences—Lilar’s Journal entries rely heavily on lived experiences, while Haenel’s foundations are fictive events—they share, in common James’s serviceable term, the conviction that “art makes life.” In “‘Grâce poétique’ et ¨œuvre d’art: méditations phénoménologiques dans le Journal de l analogiste de Suzanne Lilar.” Lenina cites Lilar’s stance toward life: “she is not detached from the everyday common place, rather she is detached from the common place way of looking at them” (editor’s translation). The poetry of a painting, of passages of music or verse, or the glimpse of a dog through the widow of a moving car, are phenomena to which Lilar was equally present and valued equally as belonging to the same category. What Lenina admirably describes is Lilar’s habit of mind, the inclusivity of her imagination and creative faculty. Lenina’s article explores the foundations and practice of Lilar’s poetics: how to read a painting, a sculpture, architecture; how to look, to see, perceive, discover. More, she asks what are the ramifications of these interrogations between viewer and artifact and artist? In her analysis of Lilar’s Journal, Lenina notes the Belgian’s fascination with death, with the grotesque, with the baroque: e.g. in her childhood, the death of a family cat and of an uncle, and an adolescent visit to the Villa d’ Este; and her predilections for such works as the crypte des Capucins; and Goya’s Les Vieilles. Lenina teaches us how Lilar’s “uncommon-place” mode of looking also renders the unseen—seen.

7In her "The Mathematician, the Surrealists, and the Poet Are of Imagination All Compact: Man Ray's Shakespearean Equations," Anne-Kathrin Marquardt does a very skillful job of marrying theory and practice.  The first part of her article succinctly delineates some fundamental issues having to do with adaptation and productively links Man Ray's not immediately transparent use in his paintings of Shakespeare and of math to the surrealist notion of randomness.  The second part of the essay provides revealing and nuanced interpretations of three of Man Rays's paintings from Shakespear's Equations--"King Lear," "A Midsummer Night's Dream, and "Hamlet" whereby the author problematizes the notion of randomness, positing it as a "dialectical poetics [of] opposing poles" that "breed both a new form of knowledge [... and] a 'convulsive' beauty."

8In 1831 H. Heine settled in Paris for the rest of his life and earned his living as a foreign correspondent for the Cotta House, whose publications included Allgemeine Zeitung, the leading political journal in Germany. Heine became a major contributor: he wrote on music, paintings, on the French way of life. He also wrote about Louis-Philippe and French/German politics. In spite of the promises of the 1830 Charter which endorsed republican values, press censorship was in force in Paris, as it was in Prussia, and by extension, the rest of Germany. Heine needed to avoid strictures from both countries, even as he communicated what was and where he in fact stood. This is the context of Vera Faßhauer’s subtle “Unharmonious Images Conceived by Troubled Minds: Graphic and Literary Caricatures in Heinrich Heine’s French Affairs and French Painters.” Heine’s strategy was to distance himself from the ‘offending’ “caricature and to affirm every aspect of their criticism at the same time.” He detached “the messages of the graphic satires from the form they were presented. Faßhauer’s close analysis of Heine’s ekphrastic renderings of Decamps, Philipon, Daumier, Granville, Paul Gavarni, and other graphic satires, clearly show that his alleged deprecation of these works are in fact instances of “thought smuggling.” He did so, Faßhauer demonstrates, by “masking his subjective thoughts as [mere] accounts of objective facts,” straight reportage. The project of the satiric magazines La Caricature and Le Charivari was to reclaim the promises of democratic rights and values that the 1830 Revolution, led by Lafayette, made to the Republicans. Expatriated in Paris, Heine was devoted to those ideals and, under the guise of a disinterested critical observer, was in fact smuggling and disseminating the satires of these publications to Germany in broad daylight. His project as a correspondent, Faßhauer’s corrective article clarifies, was to inform and educate his German readers on the new graphic satiric form, as well as on France’s political struggles in a manner that would avoid censorship.

9Five decades after the fall of July Monarchy in 1848, France's Third Republic is in crisis, again confronted with the necessity of living up to its professed ideals as it addresses the ramifications of the Dreyfus Affair. Again, as Nadia Fartas ably demonstrates in " 'Derrière un grillage' d'Octave Mirbeau et l'Hommage des artistes à Picquart," word and image texts clearly show that the very principles of truth and justice are threatened. An album of twelve lithographs by various artists and necessarily different all share in common the use of light as an indicator of truth. In all these graphic allegories, “truth” does not illuminate. On the other hand, Octave Mirbeau's ekphrasis of his visits to Picquart in prison is a gradual process of detecting in its darkness, the colonel’s welcoming gesture, of noting his clear eyes, and hearing amidst clamor of mendacity, a truthful voice. Mirbeau’s prefatory text is a rhetorical gesture for uncovering the truth and restoring justice; his narrative, Fartas demonstrates, is a peeling away of obfuscations to reveal, on the one hand, the heroism of Picquart, and, on the other, to expose the treachery of the anti-dreyfusard.  While the artists’s images and Mirbeau’s words differ in their perspective, the album attacks the state with the very principles it was founded to defend.

10Even in a miscellaneous collection, one finds articles speaking to each other: Faßhauer’s focus on Heine’s French Affairs and French Painters and Fartas’s " 'Derrière un grillage' d'Octave Mirbeau et l'Hommage des artistes à Picquart" both address approaches to political activism. Nataliya Lenina in “‘Grâce poétique’ et ¨œuvre d’art: méditations phénoménologiques dans le Journal de l analogiste de Suzanne Lilar” and Corentin Lahouste in “Donner à voir l’irreprésentable, faire trembler Le réel: l’agir sympolique des oeuvres d’art reproduites dans Cercle de Yannnick Haenel,” focus on Belgian writers who distance themselves from the plethora of theoretical approaches in their responses to art, literature, and indeed to life—in order to affirm that criticism is the critic.

11Alice Scheer in “Illustrer Les sentier de la creation: des cheminements singuliers”, Margaret Fields Denton in “Promenades poétiques et daguerriennesBellevue: Photography and Narration,” and Eric T. Haskell in "Baudelaire’s 'Le Jet d'eau’; Verbal-Visual Inquiry and the Illustrated Book," each demonstrate how images independent of their associated text can extend its significance.

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Maurice Géracht

Holy Cross
Maurice A. Géracht, Stephen J Prior Professor of the Humanities, has taught English and American Literature at the College of the Holy Cross since 1966. He has published widely on 18th, 19th and 20th century English, American and French authors and artists including: J. Dryden, D. Defoe, J. Swift, T. Smollett W.M Thackeray, G. Eliot, J.F. Cooper, H. James, G. Sand, H. Balzac, A. Gide, and V. Woolf. The latest “The Color of Things, in Henry James’s “The Ambassadors”: Complicating The Process of Vision” appeared in Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Inquiry, WORD & IMAGE, VOL. 34, NO. 2, 2018 He also has written reviews, catalog essays and notes for art exhibitions. He has been invested in INTERFACES since its founding, and has served as a co-editor since 1999.

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Brittain Smith

Holy Cross
Specializing in German and Russian, Brittain Smith received his Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of Chicago. He has taught film, literature, and philosophy at Loyola University, New Orleans and Boston University. Currently the Director of Study Abroad at the College of the Holy Cross, Smith is the translator and editor of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Dawn, Volume 5 of The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche published by Stanford University Press.

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