Printer Friendly

Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell.

I recognize that the notion of genre is limited and convenient. Surely the two books I am reviewing - both are from a series of "writers on art" - cannot be easily defined. They are art criticism, but at the same time they are representative works by their authors. Davenport and Simic seem to be present even as they enter the art of Balthus and Cornell.

Davenport's "notebook" - what exactly does he mean by the word? - mirrors his fiction of collage. It tangles quotation, historical fact, meditation in the same way Tatlin! does. Can't we call his art criticism fiction? And the same question applies to Simic. Simic offers surrealistic prose poems which resemble Cornell's boxes. Davenport often juxtaposes objects or names or references in a brilliant, almost forbidding manner. Section forty-four contains these lines: "Balthus, like Kafka, is a master of gesture and posture. For Kafka the body was a semaphore transmitting a language we cannot read. Balthus's gestures also defy interpretation." This is brilliant criticism of Balthus and Kafka; it also reflects Davenport's own fictions of interpretation (or vice versa). I leap here: Davenport writes that both artists "defy interpretation." Doesn't his passage become an odd interpretation, a "private" language of his own? Thus the lines blur in textual arrangement; criticism and fiction "marry."

Simic structures his book in an interesting way. The book is divided into three sections: "Medici Slot Machine," "The Little Box," "Imaginary Hotels." The sections - which are, indeed, "boxes" or "hotels" - are then "condensed" into smaller boxes. These prose "passages" - perhaps the word is inappropriate? - are brilliant explications of Cornell's art. Each "box" has a surrealistic title: "Untitled (Soap Bubble Set), 1936." The book is a reflection - pun intended - of Cornell's constructions. Simic, like Davenport, "explains" Cornell (his subject), but he also seems to ask himself some questions: How does one look at a Cornell box? How can "words" - objects - interpret bubbles, hotels, "dime-store alchemies"? At what point does interpretation (or perception) become fiction? I quote Simic: "The world is beautiful but not sayable. That's why we need art." But Simic has just said the "not sayable." And he has said it in an artistic way.

These two books oddly resist interpretation and/or classification. They defy genre; they are more - or less? - than criticism. Or is criticism itself - even this brief review - fiction?
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Malin, Irving
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1993
Words:388
Previous Article:A Balthus Notebook.
Next Article:American Energies: Essays on Fiction.
Topics:

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters