In the Box

A Short History of the Picture as Box

by Amy Knight Powell

The essay begins:

Paintings are small. Even those that are relatively large are still tiny compared to the world. The desire to escape this limiting condition has been integral to the history of Western painting since the Renaissance, and it has registered in talk about painting since then as well, in the dominance that the painting-as-window metaphor, with all its connotations of openness and extension, has enjoyed over the metaphor of painting-as-box, with its connotations of closure and withdrawal.

“Then it occurred to me that it could be a box in which all my works would be collected and mounted like in a small museum, a portable museum, so to speak.” This is Marcel Duchamp talking about his monographic box-in-a-suitcase, which contains sixty-nine miniature replicas, photographs, and color reproductions of his own works.

“Duchamp is involved with the notion of the manufacture of objects,” Robert Smithson chides, “so that he can have his little valise full of souvenirs.”

More willing to entertain Duchamp’s irony, Benjamin Buchloh describes Duchamp’s Box in a Valise as a critique of commodity fetishism that is still caught in fetishism’s thrall: “All the functions of the museum … are minutely contained in Duchamp’s Valise: the valorisation of the object, the extraction from context and function, … arbitrary movements in time and space, multiple ownership and privacy of possession.” The box, according to Buchloh and Smithson, is a repository for the sentimentalized and domesticated. It is made to hold discrete things and, thereby, facilitates the circulation of commodities on which capitalism depends.

Indeed, boxes travel well from place to place. (Suitcases are nothing more than boxes with the added convenience of handles. One of the ironies of Duchamp’s box-in-a-suitcase is the redoubling of this portability.) They also allow their contents to travel through time, storing them so they can be used at some later date. Each time something is boxed so it can be transported to another location, it is also readied for another occasion. With each re-opening, the contents of the box will find themselves at a temporal remove from where they were before, having missed, in a certain sense, everything that happened in between.

In this essay, I will make the case that paintings have been box-like for a long time, and that a corresponding desire to move beyond that condition has been around for a long time as well. Smithson’s and Buchloh’s disdain for the box—their preference for a more site specific and less portable and, therefore, less marketable art—is only one, relatively recent, expression of this drive. Their primary target, the modern easel picture, was already an attempt to escape the box that earlier images had inhabited, insofar as its illusionism was already a reaching for the world beyond the frame.

Seeing the longevity of this drive to escape requires taking a long and therefore necessarily cursory view. The view could in fact have been much longer. By starting my story in Europe in the late Middle Ages, I do not at all mean to suggest that this was the first time and place in which the widespread boxing of images occurred. This story could have been told on a much larger scale, both temporally and geographically. Not only is my choice of objects highly selective in this sense; it also adheres in large measure to a canon that itself entails countless exclusions. Aspects of my argument could well have been made by bringing extracanonical material to bear, but here I have wanted to work open the canon from the inside out. Continue reading …

In “The Crisis of the Easel Picture” (1948), Clement Greenberg compares the easel picture, disparagingly, to a box-like cavity cut into the wall. In this essay, I argue that late medieval panel paintings—which indeed often took the form of boxes—show Greenberg to be justified in making this comparison, if not in doing so disparagingly. But what Greenberg failed to fully acknowledge is that the easel picture had already long tried to escape this condition through the opening of the metaphor of the window. Failing to recognize this earlier effort to escape the material conditions of the box, many modernists and postmodernists, like Greenberg, attempting to move beyond the easel picture in the name of an art undivided from life, have unintentionally upheld the easel picture’s own escapist ideology.

AMY KNIGHT POWELL is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of Depositions: Scenes from the Late Medieval Church and the Modern Museum (Zone Books, 2012).

“A Ball of Contradictions”

In Search of Madame Blavatsky: Reading the Exoteric, Retrieving the Esoteric

by Gauri Viswanathan

The essay begins:

Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91), self-styled revolutionary mystic and, years later, adopted as a New Age guru who proudly laid claim to being a “ball of contradictions,” dared her critics to view her as a minor blip on the world stage. They knew her primarily through an odd assortment of paired labels that persisted over time: occultist and mystic, charlatan and trickster, Russian noblewoman and revolutionary, cunning subversive and con-artist guru, hedonist and eccentric visionary, ventriloquist and illusionist. However, no name was more enduring than the sobriquet “Madame Blavatsky” or, to the people in her inner circle, the telegraphic “HPB” by which she was popularly known. Her disparate name-tags have endured in mainstream scholarship as obdurate descriptions of an elusive and charismatic figure who was wildly influential in her time, but whose larger-than-life reputation is now reduced to the messianic fantasies of small fringe groups. The latter characterization has made it challenging, to say the least, to give a serious reckoning of Blavatsky’s impact on the literary, philosophical, and cultural thought of the late nineteenth century, which was considerable, albeit uneven, and occasionally undermined by an impenetrable obscurity that limited her influence to her devoted acolytes. Furthermore, her self-presentation as a vessel for esoteric communications emanating from elusive “Masters,” who were purported to reside in a remote region of Tibet, only estranged her further from people outside her esoteric circle and made her more incomprehensible to them. Indeed, her arcane use of the Masters as conduits to inaccessible knowledge often undercut her historical critiques of religion in works such as Isis Unveiled (1877). If Blavatsky ended up in an esoteric niche, it was in no small part due to her abiding commitment to the Masters as ineffable sources of knowledge, obscuring her readings of religious history, which systematically took apart textual traditions in order to critique them.

Blavatsky may arguably be one of the most important countercultural figures in nineteenth-century Europe, but she nonetheless remains peripheral in scholarly studies of the period, which have dispatched her to the nether regions of esoterica, where she is more closely associated with table rapping than rabble rousing. She plays much better in the popular imagination, appearing as a vivid subject in books such as Madame Blavatsky’s Baboon by Peter Washington, whose entertaining portrayal of Blavatsky as a fraud and peddler of mystical goods dwells on the eccentricities of her personality and the colorful antics of Europe’s spiritualist counterculture in the fin de siècle. Washington’s depiction of Blavatsky as a charlatan parlays the nineteenth-century investigations of her occult claims by the Society for Psychical Research (hereafter SPR) into late twentieth-century terms, treating her story as the defeat of outmoded magical practices by skeptical rationality. Blavatsky even becomes a kind of stand-in for a discredited magical worldview. The apprehension that approaching her outside an empiricist, rational framework comes perilously close to relegitimizing superseded practices partly explains the scholarly difficulties in submitting Blavatsky’s works to serious scrutiny, especially in light of her claims that she was channeling communications from the Masters, who, she insisted, were the true authors of her numerous writings.

In his compelling work on the complexities of writing about the paranormal, Jeffrey Kripal captures the problems in shutting out what cannot be permitted into our rationally ordered schemas, all the while recognizing the conceptual difficulty inherent in the task: “How, after all, can one have an experience beyond matter in a worldview that claims that there is nothing outside of matter? And how can one step out of a worldview that says one cannot step out of a worldview?” Kripal goes on to discuss the work of Harvard psychoanalyst John E. Mack, who became interested in ufology after working with clinical patients claiming to have been abducted by aliens. To illustrate the scholar’s predicament, Kripal cites Mack’s 1992 lecture at a Massachusetts Institute of Technology conference on experiences of alien abduction, as quoted by Barry Windsor-Smith: “You can’t get there from here without a shift in our worldview—a worldview that contains a ‘we’re here and you’re there’ sense of separateness in which the physical world is all that exists. . . . In other words, you can’t deal with something such as the [alien] abduction phenomenon that is so shattering to our literalist, materialist world-view and then try to understand it from a literalist, materialist world-view!” Similarly, the conundrum of trying to understand supersensible phenomena from a standpoint that upholds different standards of proof partially accounts for the difficulties in approaching Blavatsky from outside the esoteric register.

Not making it any easier for her critics, Blavatsky participated in her own self-exile. In her customary ironic mode, she helped to convey a picture of herself as an untenable set of contradictions that laid bare the “chaos of impossibilities” in the modern era, extending far beyond a crisis of faith. The skepticism that she mockingly described as a bump on her skull, fingered by a perplexed phrenologist, coexisted neatly with equally large “lumps” of belief, and Blavatsky deliberately loaded both terms—skepticism and belief—with new meanings that left the science versus faith debate flat and one-dimensional. Blavatsky picked up on a key understanding of science—that it creates systems of meaning about unseen phenomena—in order to claim that her method was closer to science than to the history of religions. Religion treats the unseen as if it has already been experienced and seen in a unique mystical event, whose visionary insight is transmitted through teachings and texts. Science, on the other hand, depends on imagining the unseen in another space and time, prior to experience. In distinguishing between science and religion in these terms, Blavatsky aligned occultism more closely with science than with religion. Partly her move aimed to give greater respectability to occultism, but she also sought to detach religion from the core of transcendental experiences and so to redefine its modern expression as a form of occultism that collapsed distinctions between mind and matter.

Molding her personality ostensibly to the demands of science, she turned herself literally into a medium for the articulation of modernity’s search for new answers to old questions. The view that Blavatsky outpaced her times, held by occultists like Denis Saurat, painted her as a romantic rebel and revolutionary, more akin to William Blake than to Éliphas Lévi. Her modernity can be more aptly placed in perspective when viewed through the lens of a clash between reason and religion. Wouter Hanegraaff has convincingly argued that secular modernity provided a context for the emergence of occultism, which can be understood, in his view, as “the attempt by esotericists to come to terms with a disenchanted world, from the perspective of a disenchanted secular world.” Speaking to and from a disenchanted world, Blavatsky, in her attempts to find a common ground between science’s pursuit of the unseen and occult studies, epitomized the contradictions opened up by the secularizing rationality of her time. A wide spectrum of intellectuals, writers, and artists were drawn to the organization she cofounded in 1875—the Theosophical Society—partly because secular rationalism failed to meet their spiritual needs, and in equal measure due to the failures of religion to do likewise. In response to the limitations of both rationalism and religion, these seekers turned to so-called fringe movements for answers to questions about matter and mind that went beyond the confines of either science or religion.

The Theosophical Society emerged from the parlor rooms of Blavatsky and her spiritual partner Henry Steel Olcott (1832–1907) and quickly became a magnet for an eclectic group of people who were not only interested in the nature of psychic phenomena but also actively sought their roots in antiquity. A lecture in New York by G. H. Felt on September 7, 1875, “The Lost Canon of Proportion of the Egyptians,” incited such avid interest that it resulted in the decision to form a society for the study of occult philosophies from antiquity to the present age. Blavatsky went so far as to claim that the organization’s origins were occult in nature, insisting that astral communications from remote spiritual adepts had directed her to form the Theosophical Society, by means of which their wisdom teachings would be disseminated to the world at large. In an effort to create an aura around the Theosophical Society as an enchanted organization, Blavatsky sought in equal measure to minimize her own role as author and to privilege mediumship as the engine of esoteric insights. While Olcott wrote newspaper articles on spiritualism that familiarized the American public with unusual activities involving mediums and séances in upstate New York and Vermont, Blavatsky boasted that she possessed the power to produce the psychic phenomena on which he reported, declaring that her abilities represented true spiritualism, in contrast to the chicanery exposed in Olcott’s reporting. Blavatsky’s effort to distance herself from theatrical spectacle and affiliate her mediumship to spiritualism’s roots in the secret teachings of the adepts, however, was far from successful in those early years, and she remained under a cloud of suspicion that led to lengthy investigation by the SPR.

Theosophy, the philosophy espoused by the Theosophical Society, was a cosmopolitan movement that acquired adherents around the world, where it flourished independently and had a life beyond the society. Theosophy developed in reaction to orthodox Christianity, seeking the roots of spiritual life not in dogma but in an experiential religion recapturing a non-deity-centered, pantheistic theology. Its appeal lay in finding a common ground between many world religions, without necessarily subscribing to the tenets of any one particular faith. Theosophy and other occult movements played a major role in the crisis of culture and conscience in fin-de-siècle Europe, reflecting changes in the status of not only science but also Christianity. Theosophy gained some legitimacy in scholarly circles because it was helping to make available Eastern texts at around the same time that Western scholars were researching Hindu and Buddhist literature. However, unlike other countercultural movements that became part of the mainstream, Theosophy remained at the fringes and was perceived as too enveloped in arcane symbolism and wild sleights of hand to be anything more than an eccentric movement. Yet, despite being at odds with the prevailing worldview and establishment culture, Theosophy was part of a broad search for a new world conception, exploring psychic and spiritual states that defied rational, positivist comprehension. In Theosophy artists and intellectuals found a new vocabulary for discussing topics that could no longer be discussed in the existing terminology of theology or science, although this did not mean that thinkers who were drawn to Theosophy necessarily stayed with the movement. Some in fact, like George Bernard Shaw, turned fiercely antagonistic. But for painters like Wassily Kandinsky and Piet Mondrian and poets like James Cousins, Æ (George William Russell), and W. B. Yeats, Theosophy contained a cache of imagery that helped them move far beyond the limiting Kantian categories of time, space, and causality. From such images they could develop a nonrepresentational abstract art to convey spiritual and psychic realities that remained unseen and unknown, bringing into play the insights of science to explicate living organisms that remained invisible to the human eye.

Theosophy attracted these creative thinkers and intellectuals because it offered a philosophy that approached consciousness as a substantive rather than transcendental phenomenon. At the same time, its resistance to a materialistic ethic appealed to those dissatisfied with socialism’s failed promise. Positing one substance and no separate God, Theosophy’s pantheistic orientation helped to overcome the vexing problem that a supposedly merciful God can also be the source of suffering. While the unresolved contradictions in the Christian conception of God led many intellectuals to atheism, Theosophy’s decentered divinity encouraged an alternative route for those still suspicious of atheism’s unreconstructed nihilism. At the same time, Theosophy permitted them to salvage the pre-orthodox aspects of Christianity found in the early mysteries, alternatively dubbed “esoteric Christianity.” Furthermore, Theosophy’s interest in the formation of consciousness lent itself to evolutionary theory, which supported the modern teleology of progress and the fulfillment of a world plan. Theosophy presented itself as a quasi-religion that satisfied spiritual drives while grounding them in the biological development of human consciousness, from insensate matter to thinking subject. In part, this accounted for its attraction to people in professional fields looking for new forms of religion not founded on faith alone, which would also be amenable to the tools and techniques of science. Continue reading …

Widely considered to be one of the most influential occultists of modern times, Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831–91) was equally a cultural critic and theorist of religion. This essay examines Blavatsky’s reading practices and the interpretive protocols she followed in challenging the hegemony of certain knowledge structures, whose origin she located in religious orthodoxy. Her extensive writings emphasized that skepticism has its source not only in modern science but also in the heterodox religious philosophies banished or superseded by doctrinal religion. A key point of her critique was that dominant religions consigned competing theories of the world to oblivion by denouncing them as heresies or blasphemies. These so-called heresies were, for her, lost or esoteric knowledge, just as magic was a placeholder for religious debates erased from the historical record. Maintaining that the dislocated past can only be salvaged by nonrational experiences, Blavatsky shifted the weight of truth from the exoteric to the esoteric, thereby creating a space for the recovery of core meanings through such eclectic means as memory, imagination, and the paranormal faculties.

GAURI VISWANATHAN is Class of 1933 Professor of English and Comparative Literature and Director of the South Asia Institute at Columbia University. She is the author of Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India (Columbia University Press, 1989; 25th anniversary edition, 2014) and Outside the Fold: Conversion, Modernity, and Belief (Princeton University Press, 1998). Her current work is on genealogies of secularism and the writing of alternative religious histories.


Tut’s Travels

Tutankhamun in West Germany, 1980–81

 by Mario Schulze

The essay opens:

When I began my research on the Tutankhamun exhibitions, I repeatedly came across one remarkable motif in the archives: quite a few of the remaining photos of the exhibition show the golden funeral mask of the famous ancient Egyptian pharaoh, the most important piece of the exhibition, facing at eye level a high-ranking representative of the country in which the exhibition was then appearing. These pictures call to mind a diplomatic meeting of two states or a state visit across time. Instead of the mandatory handshake between the two leaders, the photos give the impression of eye contact between the Egyptian mask and the queen of England or the presidents of the United States or the Federal Republic of Germany. The photos portray the Western leaders not as connoisseurs in the act of examining a work of art but as reverential admirers of a foreign leader. When the leaders are joined by experts, as in the photograph of President Jimmy Carter with the director of the National Gallery in Washington, John Carter Brown, the experts appear redundant. It looks as if Carter is not even listening to Brown but communing instead with Tutankhamun. In Germany, this connection between the leader and the artifact was so evident that the popular tabloid Bild even expressed concerns about why the German president stood so far away from the mask during his visit. The explanation, that the president was farsighted, made it clear, nonetheless, that this was an intimate meeting between two leaders. All of these pictures suggest that Tutankhamun’s golden mask was more than just a beautiful, awe-inspiring artifact; it was an ambassador.

There have been several exhibitions of objects from the tomb of Tutankhamun since its famous discovery by the British archaeologist Howard Carter in 1922. The best known, and the one of interest here, is the Treasures of Tutankhamun tour of 1972 – 1981. At first fifty and then fifty-five tomb artifacts were exhibited in the United Kingdom (London); in the Soviet Union (Moscow, Leningrad, and Kiev); in seven cities in the United States; in Toronto, Canada; and, finally, in five cities in the Federal Republic of Germany, where it was renamed Tutanchamun. The 1970s world tour is considered the most popular exhibition of all time, having broken records for attendance at almost every participating museum—records that for the most part still stand today. Especially in the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany the “King Tut” show became a pop-cultural phenomenon: “Tutmania.” The exhibition received massive news coverage from tabloids and broadsheets alike. Even on TV, King Tut was everywhere. Although large-scale art exhibitions with hundreds of thousands of visitors had taken place as early as the mid-nineteenth century, the Tut exhibition was the prime example of a new exhibition genre. It became “the ultimate blockbuster,” as the director of the New York Metropolitan Museum, Thomas Hoving, wrote in his memoir. The exhibition was highly successful not only in terms of visitors and media coverage but also because it produced huge revenues for Egypt, which lent the touring objects, and for museums and tourist industries around the world. As such, the 1970s Tut exhibition is interesting on many levels: in its expression of a new exhibition boom, in its exemplification of the postmodern commodification of culture, and in the negotiation of the gender relations and racial identities that intersected in the course of the exhibition.

In this essay I am concerned with the diplomatic dimensions of the blockbuster. News reports on the Tut exhibition often pointed out that the objects, and particularly the gold mask, were not simply museum artifacts but objects of ambassadorial status. The small German newspaper of Southern Schleswig explicitly headlined: “Tut—Egypt’s Special Ambassador.” Other newspapers celebrated the mask as the “King of Egypt” and representative of Egyptian state power. They reported on the way the mask was treated as a state guest, transported by the Luftwaffe (German airforce), and continually guarded by Egyptian and German security forces.

The political charge of the objects was obviously an integral part of the massive appeal of the show in the Western world. But it is not for political reasons alone that the ambassadorial status of museum objects deserves a closer look in the context of the contemporary history of exhibitions. How did Tutankhamun’s grave goods become ambassadors? Or, to put it more broadly: what is the state-political dimension of traveling museum objects and, in particular, of very mobile and world-famous star objects? Continue reading …

Schulze’s essay tells the diplomatic history of the Treasures of Tutankhamun touring exhibition, the most successful exhibition of all time, and its engagement in West Germany. It argues that the exhibition ascribed an ambassadorial role to its objects and used them as a tool of diplomatic propaganda. While the visit of the objects was promoted as an attempt at cross-cultural understanding, the interpretation and commodification of the exhibits also served to justify the West’s appropriation of Egypt’s natural and cultural resources.

MARIO SCHULZE is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Zurich University of Arts. As member of the research group “Mobile Objects,” a project of Humboldt University’s Interdisciplinary Laboratory for Image, Knowledge, and Gestaltung at the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, he is writing a book on the Tutankhamun exhibitions.

Blockbuster Diplomacy

The Splendor of Dresden in the United States, 1978–79

by Alice Goff

The essay begins:

On June 1, 1978, The Splendor of Dresden: 500 Years of Art Collecting opened in the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. At the entrance to the massive exhibition, two life-size mannequins on horseback, outfitted in ornate armor, lunged at each other in mid-joust: a preview for visitors of the spectacular onslaught of cultural objects across twenty-two galleries in the brand new East Building beyond (fig. 1). The impact of Splendor was both political and aesthetic. This was the first major loan of art from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) to the United States, initiated immediately after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries just four years earlier. Billed as a grand gesture of cultural exchange in the spirit of the Helsinki Accords, the exhibition was the product of unprecedented collaboration between American and East German museum officials in an environment of intense mutual suspicion at the highest political levels. The gradual erosion of détente in the late 1970s set the stage for a telling opening scene: the dinner planned to celebrate the exhibition’s installation in the National Gallery was deferred to accommodate the NATO summit taking place concurrently in Washington. At the same time that NATO delegates were committing to increase defense spending in response to Soviet military advantage in central Europe, their wives, hosted at a preview tea by First Lady Rosalynn Carter, were among the exhibition’s first visitors.

Beyond the strained political environment from which it emerged, Splendor was a spectacle in its own right, exceeding standards of scale and expense even in an age of blockbuster exhibitions. The 702 objects on display, works of fine and decorative arts from eight of Dresden’s state museums, formed by many accounts the most ambitious exhibition ever mounted by an American institution. Insured for an extraordinary $81 million, Splendor was among the first exhibitions to be partially indemnified by the US government under the 1975 Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Act. In addition to funding from the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, the cost of the enterprise was funded by a $750,000 grant from International Business Machines (IBM), the largest-ever corporate contribution to a cultural project in the United States at the time. Over the course of a year, Splendor traveled from Washington to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, attracting 1.5 million visitors and widespread national and international press coverage before its return to Dresden in June 1979. “I wore out my eyes,” confessed the Branson Beacon’s Helen C. Saults of the endless galleries of artworks, from Cranachs, Rembrandts, and Friedrichs to ostrich-egg tankards, gem-encrusted mirrors, astronomical clocks, and filigreed automata—not to mention towering arrays of porcelain, weaponry, and bronze sculpture. The New York Times art critic John Russell concurred: “It is by universal agreement the most intelligently conceived, the most inventively presented and, room by gorgeous room, the most seductive exhibition of its kind ever to be seen in this country.”

The lavish scope of The Splendor of Dresden was an expression of the firm belief, common to its American and East German organizers, in the utility of fine art to Cold War foreign relations. Splendor joined numerous other exhibition initiatives during the 1970s that exploited the public forum of the art museum as a stage for the performance of mutual understanding on one hand and cultural superiority on the other. As David Caute argues, while the Cold War was a conflict between opposing world powers, it was also a contest over a shared cultural field located broadly in the Renaissance and Enlightenment. An 1823 bust of George Washington included in the gallery on neoclassicism is a case in point. Commissioned from a Dresden sculptor by a Saxon merchant who had served as a volunteer in the Philadelphia militia, the bust was to stand for a liberal republicanism common to Saxon and American cultural traditions in the nineteenth century: “a work of remembrance and respect,” in the words of the exhibition’s principle organizer in Dresden, Joachim Menzhausen. As the catalog noted, the bust was based on an illustration of Antonio Canova’s 1821 statue of Washington for the North Carolina State House. Incidentally, because Canova’s statue had been destroyed when the state house burned in 1831, and had only been replaced with a marble replica in 1970, the Dresden bust served as a unique referent to a work of American cultural heritage since lost. The collections on view in Splendor established Dresden’s artistic wealth in terms that American audiences could easily appreciate; they also sought to prove socialism’s unmatched capacity as a steward of the artifacts of the Western cultural canon.

For the East German officials who were largely responsible for Splendor’s conceptual framing, the role of art in political performance was not only the exhibition’s guiding premise but also its central theme. This was among the first exhibitions to focus on the history of collecting, narrating the shifting fortunes of notoriety and prestige won through the production, acquisition, and display of art over five hundred years. In the catalog, published by the Metropolitan Museum but authored entirely by curators from the Dresden museums, this story unfolded according to a Marxist-Leninist narrative, with socialism as the last stage in a long dialectical process of progress and retrenchment. Catering to American audiences, “for whom every communist dialectic is foreign,” this trajectory was both conventional and understated. From the curiosity cabinets of the sixteenth-century electors to the grandiose collections of the absolutist monarchs, through the rationalized public museums of the bourgeoisie, and culminating in the rise of fascism and the total destruction of Dresden’s architectural heritage and near annihilation of its art collections by American and British bombs in February 1945, the socialist state emerged from this history as its logical end and proper keeper. “We recognize the creative conservation of our humanistic cultural heritage in the hands of the working class,” wrote Manfred Bachmann, general director of the State Art Collections of Dresden in his prefatory statement. While the objects on display transformed the splendor of the past into the splendor of the present, they also showed the very concept of splendor itself to be a historical construction: dynamic, contextual, and contingent on the political convictions of their owners.

The following pages offer a tour of three focal galleries in The Splendor of Dresden that demonstrate how East German political aspirations, historical imagination, and diplomatic maneuvering shaped the story of art collecting at work in the exhibition’s design and reception. This was a conception of splendor as fragile as it was complex, as the Washington Post noted: “It is ironic that a socialist state should dazzle us with the spoils of absolutism.” The title of the show might more appropriately be “The Splendor that was Dresden,” quipped the Wall Street Journal. To make the cultural wealth of early modern Saxony reflect the political prestige of the East German state for Western audiences was the exhibition’s central challenge. Fully cognizant of the conceptual risks, curators from Dresden worked with their American collaborators to create an exhibition that was as concerned with the perils of splendor in the past as with its promise in the present. In the first gallery, we encounter a history of the destruction of Dresden that established the enduring fragility of its cultural wealth; the second gallery presented the virtues of the unaffected pursuit of knowledge sheltered from the taint of statecraft; the fifth transformed the excesses of princely collecting in the baroque into a new model of cultural diplomatic exhibiting. Throughout, splendor emerged as a historical problem, even as it remained for East German organizers the primary instrument through which its cultural political goals could be achieved. Continue reading …

“The Splendor of Dresdenwas an astonishingly lavish blockbuster exhibition loan from the German Democratic Republic to the United States between 1978 and 1979. Yet the history of its conception and execution reveals the tensions and ambivalences that underwrote cultural diplomatic efforts in the era of the Helsinki Accords, even those at the grandest scale.

ALICE GOFF is a historian of German cultural and intellectual life in the modern period. She is Assistant Professor of History and the College at the University of Chicago.

Sweet Science

Join Amanda Jo Goldstein for a discussion of her Sweet Science: Romantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life

Wednesday, Apr 11, 2018 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm in the Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley

Today we do not expect poems to carry scientifically valid information — but this was not always the case. In Sweet Science: Romantic Materialism and the New Logics of Life (Chicago, 2017),  Amanda Jo Goldstein explores how Romantic poetry served as an important tool for scientific inquiry. She argues that the work of authors such as William Blake and Percy Shelley makes a compelling case for poetry’s role in the perception and communication of empirical realities.

Amanda Jo Goldstein is Assistant Professor of English at UC Berkeley specializing in Enlightenment and Romantic literature and science, with particular interests in rhetoric and poetics, pre-Darwinian biology, and materialist theories of history, poetry, and nature. A version of her Sweet Science chapter “Growing Old Together: Lucretian Materialism in Shelley’s The Triumph of Life” was first published in Representations in 2014.

Presented by the Townsend Center for the Humanities

Translation as Citation

New from Haun Saussy:

Translation as Citation: Zhuangzi Inside Out

(Including the essay “Death and Translation,” first published in Representations 94.

This volume examines translation from many different angles: it explores how translations change the languages in which they occur, how works introduced from other languages become part of the consciousness of native speakers, and what strategies translators must use to secure acceptance for foreign works.

Haun Saussy argues that translation doesn’t amount to the composition, in one language, of statements equivalent to statements previously made in another language. Rather, translation works with elements of the language and culture in which it arrives, often reconfiguring them irreversibly: it creates, with a fine disregard for precedent, loan-words, calques, forced metaphors, forged pasts, imaginary relationships, and dialogues of the dead. Creativity, in this form of writing, usually considered merely reproductive, is the subject of this book.

The volume takes the history of translation in China, from around 150 CE to the modern period, as its source of case studies. When the first proponents of Buddhism arrived in China, creativity was forced upon them: a vocabulary adequate to their purpose had yet to be invented. A Chinese Buddhist textual corpus took shape over centuries despite the near-absence of bilingual speakers. One basis of this translating activity was the rewriting of existing Chinese philosophical texts, and especially the most exorbitant of all these, the collection of dialogues, fables, and paradoxes known as the Zhuangzi. The Zhuangzi also furnished a linguistic basis for Chinese Christianity when the Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci arrived in the later part of the Ming dynasty and allowed his friends and associates to frame his teachings in the language of early Daoism. It would function as well when Xu Zhimo translated from The Flowers of Evil in the 1920s. The chance but overdetermined encounter of Zhuangzi and Baudelaire yielded a ‘strange music’ that retroactively echoes through two millennia of Chinese translation, outlining a new understanding of the translator’s craft that cuts across the dividing lines of current theories and critiques of translation.

The Fallacy of “Fallacy”

The Fallacy of “Fallacy” and Its Implications for Contemporary Literary Theory

by Charles Altieri

The essay begins:

Despite my initial bewilderment, I have come to love the timeliness of devoting an issue of Representations to the issue of how thinking about fallacies might be apt and even necessary, given the recent US presidential election. What can be the role of logic in public life when the president cannot even pay sufficient attention to produce narrative consistency? Alas, I have no coherent response to this question. But I am reminded of other challenges to rationality closer to my professional life for which similar (although far less pressing) questions prevail. What can be the role of logical analysis in relation to imaginative texts that flaunt their quite different modes of pursuing relational structures?

Clearly, no discursive practice can dispense with logic. But perhaps most discursive practices, including philosophy, can cease fetishizing the language of logic so they can explore complexities in issues where it is difficult to establish just what logic or what kind of logic can apply. For example, the idea of an intentional fallacy requires sharp and clear oppositions between kinds of meaning if we are to bring logical distinctions to bear. Similarly, claims about a pathetic fallacy require judgments that feelings are either subjective or objective, just as intentions have to be either manifestly present or not present forces that determine how we are to read discrete sentences and expressions. But a strong case can be made that feelings involve complex interactions between subjects and objects. And an even stronger case can be made that discourse about intention has to cover a complex variety of cases ranging from the kind of action intending is to the kinds of meaningfulness that intentions can establish. The demand for clarity might be dangerous because it leads to focusing on establishing the meaning of particular discrete sentences rather than the muddy domain of complex relational structures that may be more interested in displaying possible meanings (or meaningfulness) than in securing what is being unequivocally asserted.

So while claims specifically about fallacy rarely occur now in the humanities, the desire to wield the claims to lucidity asserted by the sciences still shapes significant arguments about the status of literary theory tout court. For those scholars seeking clear oppositional conceptual structures, literary theory becomes a bastard usurper always in danger of having to yield authority to the heir designated by Enlightenment progenitors. But if all serious questions concerning meaning cannot be resolved by models based on how sentences structure communication, then there are substantial roles to be played by a distinctive discipline of literary theory. Minimally, theory becomes a domain where we work out how texts can claim meaningfulness even as they resist models of meaning based on or limited to communication and suspicion about communication. More ambitiously, theory can also become the domain where philosophical and historical reflection comes to bear in clarifying how aesthetic objects take on meaningfulness and in establishing why that meaningfulness might matter for social life. Theory becomes not a matter of proving anything, but rather of displaying a range of analytic and historical concerns as general backdrops for the specific kinds of labor literary works can perform.

My ultimate test here will be briefly exploring how Walter Benn Michaels’s arguments about intention in 1982 reveal a penchant for clear oppositions that in his most recent work sustains an elaborate, almost mythical structure of contrasts explicating relations between contemporary art and contemporary politics. I suspect that Michaels is so subtle and lucid a writer that the only way to escape his mode of thinking is to locate it historically in a culture that demands a clarity willing to risk reductionist moves in order to secure first principles. Then I will close by examining how those first principles tend to oversimplify the issues he manipulates so brilliantly. Continue reading …

This essay concentrates on the limitations of logical binaries in constructing arguments for literary theory. My test case is claims about intention. Theorists argue either that intentions can and must be determined or that intention is a psychological entity that cannot be determined simply from textual evidence, even when buttressed by biographical contexts. But such debates center on intentions to mean. The essay argues that literary texts are makings and not statements, so they display a relation to the world rather than assert it. It follows that when dealing with makings we usually have to look not for a specific psychological intention to mean but a way of clarifying how the display works. Therefore it may be best to equate intention with the taking of responsibility that the author assumes when deciding to publish or present materials. What is a plausible account of a series of decisions that led the author to want to make something public?

CHARLES ALTIERI teaches in the English department at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent books are Wallace Stevens and the Demands of Modernity (Cornell, 2013) and Reckoning with Imagination: Wittgenstein and the Aesthetics of Literary Experience (Cornell, 2015)He is now working a book on interpreting constructivist features of modernist poetry in conjunction with Hegel’s concept of inner sensuousness.

Tangled Up in Hitchcock

The Hitchcockian Nudge; or, An Aesthetics of Deception

by Rey Chow and Markos Hadjioannou

The essay begins:

Alfred Hitchcock’s work is, in our view, antithetical to the idea of fallacy, if we understand by fallacy an error committed against a logical mode of validity, an error that needs to be corrected. How this antithesis plays itself out is consistently fascinating. Indeed, it is deception, the state of mind most readily associated with fallacy, that Hitchcock’s cinema loves to portray. In film after film, the condition of being taken in, of mis-taking a situation for what it actually is, constitutes the mise-en-scène not only in the classical, theatrical sense of a setting for the story but also, more critically, in the metaphysical sense of a dynamic play of terrifying forces, the resolution of which (if there is one) often strikes us as conventional, perfunctory, and inadequate. How Hitchcock constructs and furbishes such mise-en-scènes is the focus of the present essay. Specifically, we will examine how he dramatizes deception as a trajectory of the fallacious—that is, as a scenario with its own logics that are played out within the setting of modern Western society.

To begin with, Hitchcock’s films are full of references to institutions that specialize in the verification of evidence. Populated by police officers, private detectives, lawyers, judges, and medical doctors (in particular psychiatrists), his work demonstrates time and again the investments in law and order as imposed by what Michel Foucault calls disciplinary society, in which private citizens’ behavior—mental and psychological as well as physical—is regulated by an enforcement machinery dedicated to finding them guilty. If law and order rely for their functioning on an implicit notion of human error, so to speak, with crime being the most typical manifestation of such error in a secularized context, it could be argued that fallacy does, in a cynical way, play a big role in Hitchcock. In so far as the professionals specializing in rectifying such error are constantly made fun of, their incompetence a woeful match for the intricate ramifications of the error involved, an institutional attempt to handle fallacy (by way of law, policing, or medicine), Hitchcock suggests, can only lead to the perpetuation of the status quo—what we now call normativization—rather than to the truth. Think of the psychiatrist who proudly offers a scientific explanation for Norman Bates’s personality at the end of Psycho (1960); the judges who absolve Gavin Elster, the mastermind of the crime of his wife’s murder, and the doctor who prescribes Mozart for Scottie in his traumatized state in Vertigo (1958); the police, legal officers, and gynecologist whose findings collectively block the truth of Rebecca’s death from surfacing in Rebecca (1940); or the capitalist Mark Rutland’s self-righteous, pop-psych analysis of his wife Marnie’s kleptomania, frigidity, and strained relationship with her mother in Marnie (1964). Such systemic misses, or disjunctures, abound in Hitchcock’s stories, as if to call attention to the consistent failure of precisely those functionaries who serve as the guardians of modern Western society’s self-validating logic, who stand in, as it were, for its punitive superego.

The heart of Hitchcock’s work, then, lies rather in the gap between modern Western society’s ordinary actors—their habits, desires, beliefs, secrets, and fantasies—on the one hand, and the collective procedures, in various forms of the superego, that are devised to catch and trap them, on the other. That human behavior, especially its errors, is always in excess of these procedures of capture, that there is always a slippage between their actions as such and the so-called objective (or superegoistic) rendering of such actions: this shadowy, messy core of Hitchcock’s cinema is what Pascal Bonitzer means by “Hitchcockian suspense,” which, according to Bonitzer, differs from the more mechanical varieties of suspense commonly found in thrillers. “Hitchcock would appear to have ‘hollowed out’ [the classic thrill of] the cinematic chase that he had inherited from Griffith, much as Mallarmé claimed to have ‘hollowed out’ Baudelaire’s verse,” writes Bonitzer. Instead, the classic “chase” is now staged in the form of a steadily expanding contamination or stain:

Hitchcockian narrative obeys the law that the more a situation is somewhat a priori, familiar or conventional, the more it is liable to become disturbing or uncanny, once one of its constituent elements begins to “turn against the wind.” Scenario and staging consist merely in constructing a natural landscape with its perverse element, and in then charting the outcome. Suspense, by contrast with the accelerated editing of races and chases, depends upon the emphasis which the staging places upon the progressive contamination, the progressive or sudden perversion of the original landscape. . . . The film’s movement invariably proceeds from landscape to stain.

Importantly, Bonitzer points to the distinctive nature of Hitchcock’s configuration of suspense. Suspense in Hitchcock’s universe, that is, does not follow from a narrative of linear acceleration that moves rapidly toward an end to the drama. Instead, Hitchcockian suspense arises from a contamination that progresses steadily in its perverse relationship to the world from within which it grows and to which it belongs. Hitchcock’s films do not so much raise the formulaic question of “whodunit” as confront us with large philosophical questions—of why one commits crimes, of the actual motive and purpose behind a particular crime, and, in particular, of the paradoxical forces of binding that bring into focus unexpected or inexplicable alliances, partnerships, love affairs, symmetries, and couplings (for instance, Uncle Charlie and little Charlie in Shadow of a Doubt [1943], Brandon and Philip in Rope [1948], and Melanie Daniels and the various birds in The Birds [1964]). This is a suspense that suspends normality by letting the latter’s perverse underpinnings unravel alongside it, the way a stain seeps through its surrounding material. As it spreads out, the stain brings to the fore erroneous elements that cannot be simply corrected and irrational elements that cannot be easily explained—in short, fallacies that contaminate concurrently with the very act of logical deduction or construction. Continue reading …

This article considers Alfred Hitchcock’s work in relation to the connotations of “fallacy” within conventional settings of modern Western society. Focusing on two films, Strangers on a Train (1951) and Rear Window (1954), we point to the phenomenon of the incidental push that leads toward an inextricable entanglement of characters, events, and psychic forces in what appear to be logical courses of action. We name this push “the Hitchcockian nudge.”

REY CHOW is Anne Firor Scott Professor of Literature at Duke University. The author of numerous influential monographs, she is also the coeditor, with James A. Steintrager, of the anthology Sound Objects, forthcoming from Duke University Press.

MARKOS HADJIOANNOU is Assistant Professor of Literature and of the Arts of the Moving Image at Duke University. He is the author of From Light to Byte: Toward an Ethics of Digital Cinema (2012) and of a number of essays on cinema technologies and aesthetics.

The Case of the House of Usher

Materialist Vitalism or Pathetic Fallacy: The Case of the House of Usher

by Branka Arsić

The essay begins:

Notoriously weird things occur in Edgar Allan Poe’s world, things in fact so bizarre that some readers dismiss them as mere exaggerations, whereas for others they amount to philosophical dilettantism. The list of the weird occurrences in Poe is long, but perhaps most famously: human wills are rendered so powerful that they transport the dead back to life; matter is able to transcend decay, whereas dead bodies, even when dismembered, pulsate with vitality; spirited forces—from minds to presumed supernatural agencies—are endowed with power to generate physical phenomena, such as inarticulate sounds and styled whispers, or to affect the physical by animating or stalling its motion, altering its figuration through various mergings and disseminations of particles of matter. Additionally, the natural and material is afforded immanent life, enabling it to become otherwise without any intervention by divine powers or by anything immaterial at all. Thus, stones and rocks sometimes feel and experience, plants are said to enjoy or suffer, and even planets and elements, as the end of Poe’s prose poem Eureka postulates, are found to be happy and joyous.

How, then, are we to understand such instances? A long tradition of critical reading has explained away Poe’s allegedly weird preoccupations by classifying them as gothic devices mobilized to fuse the strange with the pleasing and to appease the morbid by styling it into the fantastic, while simultaneously spellbinding the reader by means of the cultivated terror Poe depicts. But as I will be arguing, that approach—which reads Poe as a romance-goth—is weak, because it reduces to the aesthetic phenomena that are in fact often scientific, summoned by Poe from domains as different as biology, geology, astronomy, or medicine. For instance, when the claim that death is a radically slowed-down life is taken not as scientific but as a narratological device allowing the dead to revisit the living, and thus generate horror, the aesthetic is made to function as a normalizing shield protecting a dualistic ontology (which posits the divide between spiritual and material, takes matter to be inert, and establishes clear taxonomical topographies that separate beings into their proper existential niches). In that way we are assured that Poe’s anomalous worlds are not really anomalous but merely abstractly or aesthetically so. By ideating and thus anesthetizing Poe’s propositions, the “aesthetic” approach—where aestheticization refers to the content of his narratives, not to their form—weakens the challenge those propositions pose to Western ontology, making us overlook just how seriously Poe was invested in critiquing it, dedicated, as Joan Dayan has argued, to “debunk[ing] the cant of idealism.” That tradition of criticism turns into “romance” his deadly serious ontology, which, Dayan claims, is monistic (enabling the “convertibility” of spiritual into material), committed to “a radically physical world,” and so “attach[ed] to materiality” that even if there are “phantoms and rarified presences” in his stories “they are always seen through or next to the collateral flesh and blood remnants.” As I will argue here, this commitment to the physical, which Poe’s ontology understands as inherently vital, manifests as a ceaseless experiment with processes of becoming and transformation, which undoes the existential status quo of beings and persons. His propositions thus resist being aestheticized as romance, for as Dayan also argued, “‘romance’ . . . always serves the status quo” by “mythologiz[ing] an inwardness,” whereas Poe shatters the coherence of any inwardness, reducing it to the material supposedly external to it. Finally, and most straightforwardly, the anesthetization of Poe’s narratives, their domestication as aestheticized gothic allegories, must be resisted also because a lot of what he wrote enacts strange ontologies without ever rendering them gothic. (What, for instance, is specifically gothic about paranoid obsessions, perverse desires, or even feeling plants?) Continue reading …

This essay revises the inherited understanding of Ruskin’s theory of pathetic fallacy by positing that his ideas are close to theories that oppose any strict division of phenomena into persons and things. To elaborate this point, the essay investigates Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher,” where inanimate things are rendered animate, claiming that such instances are far from being pathetically fallacious and, also, that Poe’s ontology is in accord with that formulated by Ruskin.

Branka Arsić is Charles and Lynn Zhang Professor of American Literature at Columbia University. She is the author of Bird Relics, Grief and Vitalism in Thoreau (Harvard University Press, 2016), On Leaving: A Reading in Emerson (Harvard University Press, 2010), and a book on Melville entitled Passive Constitutions or 7½ Times Bartleby (Stanford University Press, 2007), as well as coeditor (with Kim Evans) of a collection of essays on Melville entitled Melville’s Philosophies (Bloomsbury, 2017).

A “Field Theory” of Poetry

Compositionism: Plants, Poetics, Possibilities; or, Two Cheers for Fallacies, Especially Pathetic Ones!

by Maureen N. McLane

The essay begins:

I adopt “compositionism” from the philosopher and sociologist Bruno Latour, namely, from his “Attempt at a ‘Compositionist Manifesto’” (2010). For poets and composers, “compositionism” might evoke thoughts of composing, making, arranging, wordsmithing, tune smithing—of poiesis itself. For botanists, compositionism might conjure the plant family Compositae (also known as Asteraceae, a vast group including daisies, asters, sunflowers). Latour, for his part, proposes “compositionism” as an “alternative to critique”: “It is time to compose—in all the meanings of the word, including to compose with, that is to compromise, to care, to move slowly, with caution and precaution.” I am agnostic about whether critique has “run out of steam”—though it may be increasingly beside the political and ethical point in precisely the ways Latour limns; but for the duration of this essay I would like to entertain compositionism along critical, as well as poetic and botanical, axes.

Among his many sallies, Latour observes in a footnote to his manifesto, “The redistribution of agencies is the right purview of literature studies” (489n25). Compositionism, then, might be one name for this mode of literature studies; it might also designate what literature—or rather poetry—has long undertaken. Latour’s compositionism notably aligns with some recent reflections on poetics—as when Marjorie Levinson draws on William Connolly, “defining agency as distributive across a very wide spectrum of life forms, including the inanimate ensembles woven into our everyday routines.” Or when Susan Manning (in her posthumous The Poetics of Character) proposed an analytic of “correspondence”—in her lexicon, a conceptual category allowing for the mapping of anachronic networks of rhetorical and ethical relations—and called for an “affective poetics based on principles of analogy.” Among other things, “compositionism” offers routes to take seriously challenges to anthropocentrism (including that unslayable dragon “pathetic fallacy”) without throwing out the anthropomorphizing baby with the anthropocentric bathwater.

Latour has long excavated and critiqued the division between human and nonhuman subjects he sees as central to “the Modernist Constitution,” from 1600 to yesterday, and he polemically endorses a kind of neo-animism the regime of modern science has long scorned. Here and elsewhere his work chimes with posthumanist, ecocritical, anthropocenically minded critics—from Timothy Morton on “the mesh” to Jane Bennett on “vibrant matter” to Anahid Nersessian on “the calamity form” to Levinson’s recent reactivation of Spinoza alongside new morphogenetic modeling. Rather than plunging into new or old materialisms, ecocriticisms, folds, spheres, meshes, or hyperobjects (inter alia), I would like to explore compositionism more locally in a poetico-botanical key, taking plants as one crucial node for thinking about new horizons for poiesis—both the making of poems and the theorizing of them. For as certainly as literature has long redistributed agencies, often violently, along planty lines—from Ovid’s metamorphoses to Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “old root” that “was once Rousseau” in his “Triumph of Life”—plants have long been significant players in the fatally vivifying game of anthropomorphism and trope: not for nothing does John Ruskin begin his reflections “Of the Pathetic Fallacy” with the matter of a blue gentian.

Yet now that we seem to have arrived at a postnatural, posthuman/ist, posthistorical moment, it is worth wondering: are we postplant? I would say that in many ways I am preplant.

But, you may well say, your entire lifeworld depends upon your interactions, overt and covert, with plants: you eat them, wear them, breathe them, touch them, arrange them, pluck them, smell them, ingest them! You are indeed a plant codependent!

Pressed thus, one might want to consider the plant unconscious—a phenomenon not so complex perhaps as what Fredric Jameson called years ago the political unconscious but not unrelated. (Might plants have a politics? Might minerals? Or consider the recent granting of legal personality to the Whanganui River in New Zealand.) Plants have always been good to think with and good to think through; I would further suggest that plants have been thinking poetry for a long while—and continue to. And so I want to consider poetry as a mode of what the philosopher Michael Marder has called “plant-thinking”:

“Plant-thinking” refers, in the same breath, to (1) the non-cognitive, non-ideational, and non-imagistic mode of thinking proper to plants (hence, what I call “thinking without the head”); (2) our thinking about plants; (3) how human thinking is, to some extent, de-humanized and rendered plant-like, altered by its encounter with the vegetal world; and finally, (4) the ongoing symbiotic relation between this transfigured thinking and the existence of plants.

I will suspend the question of whether plants “think” and attend rather to Marder’s options 2 and 4, pursuing “our thinking about plants” and the “transfigured thinking” that might emerge, compositionally, symbiotically, when we think with poetry’s plants. Marder draws inspiration in part from Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, who in A Thousand Plateaus commanded us: “Follow the plants”! And one hears echoes of Deleuze and Guattari’s call for a “rhizomatic” thinking over and against “arborescent” thought—excessively rooted and hierarchized. And perhaps rhizomes offer one compositionist model for the composing and receiving of poems. Alive to the roots of and in language, one might stumble upon new linkages and new futurities: rhizomes in the tree, the composite in the apparently singular specimen, a plant within and without the self, the plant in the poem, the poet in the plant. Continue reading …

Invoking Bruno Latour’s notion of “compositionism,” this essay proposes a “field theory” of poetry, exploring the use and abuse of plants as one crucial node for thinking about poiesis. Core cases include the traditionary ballads “The Three Ravens” and “Barbara Allen,” with nods to romantic and contemporary lyrics. The essay also considers en route the pathetic fallacy in light of ongoing debates about anthropomorphism and personification, and concludes with a meditation on “nighing” as a mode of composition.

MAUREEN N. McLANE, Professor of English at NYU, is the author of two monographs on British romantic poetics, both published by Cambridge University Press, as well as My Poets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012), an experimental hybrid of memoir and criticism.  Her most recent book of poems is Some Say (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2017).