Spirals: The Whirled Image in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art (Modernist Latitudes)

Spirals: The Whirled Image in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art (Modernist Latitudes)

Nico Israel

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 0231153023

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this elegantly written and beautifully illustrated book, Nico Israel reveals how spirals are at the heart of the most significant literature and visual art of the twentieth century. Juxtaposing the work of writers and artists―including W. B. Yeats and Vladimir Tatlin, James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp, and Samuel Beckett and Robert Smithson―he argues that spirals provide a crucial frame for understanding the mutual involvement of modernity, history, and geopolitics, complicating the spatio-temporal logic of literary and artistic genres and of scholarly disciplines.

The book takes the spiral not only as its topic but as its method. Drawing on the writings of Walter Benjamin and Alain Badiou, Israel theorizes a way of reading spirals, responding to their dual-directionality as well as their affective power. The sensations associated with spirals––flying, falling, drowning, being smothered―reflect the anxieties of limits tested or breached, and Israel charts these limits as they widen from the local to the global and recoil back. Chapters mix literary and art history to explore 'pataphysics, Futurism, Vorticism, Dada and Surrealism, "Concentrisme," minimalism, and entropic earth art; a coda considers the work of novelist W. G. Sebald and contemporary artist William Kentridge. In Spirals, Israel offers a refreshingly original approach to the history of modernism and its aftermaths, one that gives modernist studies, comparative literature, and art criticism an important new spin.

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“‘The Rock’: William Kentridge’s Drawings for Projection,” October 92 (2000): 3–35. 6.  Jeremy Sarkin-Hughes, Carrots and Sticks: The TRC and the South African Amnesty Process (Oxford: Hart, 2004), 219. 7.  Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (New York: Zone, 1999), 34. 8.  It is not incidental that Agamben’s tracing of the history of the camp as “nomos of the modern” begins with the so-called Boer War, in which Afrikaners were

Jarry’s Ubu Roi, 46 Stalin, Josef, 101 Stein, Gertrude, 126 Stevens, John Lloyd, 165 stillness: in Benjamin vs. Vorticists, 67; as Vorticist value, 64–65, 67 Stoermer, Eugene, 230n.19 “Stranger’s Letter, A” (Lenin), 103–104 Strigalev, Anatoly, 108 Strong, Eugénie, 91 Sullivan, Edward, 149–150 Surrealism: and de Campos’s concrete poetry, 198; and Duchamp, 115, 119, 122, 126, 138; exhibitions of, 138; liberated unconscious in, 121; spirals in, 119, 121, 122 surveillance: as geopolitical

in and through a spiral, projecting from real to reel and back.60 Spirals, in both Beckett’s and Smithson’s work, are thus both form and forum for challenging the vexed relationship between “I” and “not I,” “site” and “non-site,” past and present, and, irresistibly, local and global, both ends of which “jetties” the artists call into question, reroute, approach without quite ever reaching. Just as Beckett (through The Unnamable’s locutor) responds to the history of philosophy (and the philosophy

of the entire one hundred years, and does not presume that post-1980s art is inherently reactionary. 7.  Badiou, Century, 3. It has been Badiou’s project to describe the contours of such “events,” a term through which he seeks to revise and politicize the Heideggerian conception of Ereignis. In Century, Badiou goes on to raise the question of “how the century thought its own thought, how it identified the thinking singularity of the relation it entertained with the historicity of its own

work of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, the thinker who, over the past three decades, has done more than any other to extend the political and ethical implications of Benjamin’s work, especially on violence, sovereignty, and community. As a sort of postscriptural justification for my entire project, I end with a reconsideration of Dürer’s Melencolia I, the etching whose meaning-images both Benjamin and Agamben have explored with great sensitivity and nuance. Perusing this summary of the

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