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Hubert: Accounting for Critical Displacements

Article Citation: 
Cahiers du dix-septième: An Interdisciplinary Journal, XI (2006), 1–17
Author: 
Judd Hubert
Article Text: 

As a Fulbright research fellow back in 1956, one of my assignments consisted in consulting Sorbonne professors in my field of research. Antoine Adam, in those days a highly respected scholar in seventeenth-century French literature, asserted that my critical approach suffered from the fact that, living far away from the Bibiothèque Nationale and other serious sources I had no other recourse than to indulge in subjective interpretation. My colleague at Harvard, René Jasinski, engaged at the time in composing his Vers le vrai Racine, originally entitled Le Vrai Racine, complained that, having received seven erroneous explications de textes from his seminar students, he regretfully had to supply the eighth, the only valid commentary. However, I met many other distinguished Sorbonne professors, notably Jean Pommier, Albert-Marie Schmidt, Frédéric Deloffre, Octave Nadal, Raymond Picard who did not voice objections to unorthodox methods. Of course, my open-minded teachers at Columbia accepted any approach within reason.

Literary studies have evolved during the last half-century thanks to Anglo-American new criticism, structuralism, deconstruction, psychoanalysis, feminism, and post-colonialism. Today, all approaches have become acceptable, though somewhat reluctantly, to “dix-septièmistes” who may have remained more faithful than scholars in later fields to traditional methods by insisting on historically based close readings of texts.

I still find it surprising that in spite of new ways of analyzing and deconstructing literary works without worrying unduly about historical and biographical details most scholars continue to specialize in centuries. Perhaps hiring practices help to keep the centuries alive. I.A. Richards had shown, merely by eliminating dates and typographical clues, that for lack of a proper historical framework, students felt at a loss in dealing with specific poems. During the years I spent at Columbia, I enjoyed most of all a summer course taught by a visitor from Yale, Henri Peyre, a brilliant scholar and teacher skilled in revealing the mysteries of poetic texts. Because of his influence, reinforced by my discovery of William Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, a book familiar at that time to graduate students in English, but unknown to those in French, I developed a strong interest in analyzing literary texts. Previously, as a student at the French lycée in Brussels and at Middlebury College in Vermont, I had a marked preference for philosophy thanks mainly to Emmanuel Mounier, the founder with Jacques Maritain of the Personalist movement in France. Instead of assigning the standard manual in preparing us for the “Baccalauréat” in philosophy, Mounier had us read complete texts by Bergson, Nietzsche, and Whitehead. As a result, we all passed without difficulty. As a graduate student, my enthusiasm for philosophy hardly abated for I insisted on taking Jacques Maritain’s seminar in epistemology instead of courses in French literature useful in preparing comprehensive exams. Years later, when so many scholars with minimal training in philosophical speculation, metamorphosed overnight into theorists, I nonetheless refrained from immediately participating in the new venture. I have to admit, however, that my very first article, “Esbozo de una critica ontological de la poesia,” published in an avant-garde Peruvian journal, pertained to literary theory.
I endeavored, in my doctoral thesis, to apply Empson’s method to Baudelaire, my favorite poet. As this resulted in L’Esthétique des Fleurs du mal: Essai sur l’ambiguïté poétique (1953), I willy-nilly started my career as a nineteenth-century new critic, if not necessarily as a scholar. Baudelairean scholars had privileged biographical and source criticism, for instance in matching the poems with the women who had allegedly inspired them or in finding every line of poetry that Baudelaire may have remembered. However, gifted scholars such as Jean Pommier had preferred to place the Flowers of Evil in a meaningful historical context.

I looked for double meanings, for instance in etymological puns, realizing that Baudelaire, a lexical purist, would hardly countenance the outrageous puns favored by more recent poets. “Danse macabre” provides a good example of Baudelaire’s method in “L’élégance sans nom de l’humaine armature” where “sans nom” means both “nameless” and “extreme.” In the condemned poem “A celle qui est trop gaie” synesthesia predominates. Words involving both light and sound such as “claire,” “éclatantes, ” “retentissantes” combine with joyful colors in opposing the persona’s so-called satanic aggression and “atonie.” Nor did I limit myself to purely verbal ambiguities. Form plays a major part in “Bien loin d’ici,” a reversed sonnet in which the sextet precedes. While in so many of his poems, Baudelaire associated “souvenir” with perfumes, here he dwells on the origin of memory: “De haut en bas, avec grand soin,/Sa peau délicate est frottée/ D’huile odorante et de benjoin.” By turning the sonnet form upside down, he has shown the origins of memnonic poems such as “La Chevelure,” triggered by perfume. Although I closely followed Empson, I differed in some respects from several other new critics, notably I.A. Richards who, hoping that semantic polyvalence would enable him to uncover the source and secret essence of a poet’s creativity, relied on a highly sophisticated biographical approach based on wordplay rather than events. I felt that the writer’s life, secret or overt, only superficially accounts for his work. In writing a poem, a play, a novel, a writer goes beyond personal experience. Indeed, the work of art transcends personal experience and leads an independent existence.

I considered Baudelaire the first modern poet. His Romantic predecessors in France had, in one way or another, maintained a physical presence in their poems. Lamartine often favors a recumbent position while Vigny, seated upright, expresses a stoic dignity. Moreover, he versified texts that he had originally written in prose. The great Victor Hugo, who composed standing up, vigorously moves about in his poems. Even in his numerous confessional texts, Baudelaire’s presence in his poetry remains operational insofar as by giving no more importance to his body and his emotional makeup than to other aspects of his subject matter he subordinates everything to a functional structure. In short, he completely devoted himself to his creative task and, as a result, reduced the barrier separating the self from the outside world, an accomplishment characteristic of modernity. Later French poets followed suit, notably Rimbaud with his “Je est un autre” and Eluard in whose works the barrier separating the inner from the outer world has completely disappeared.

My interest in philosophy made its presence felt in the opening chapter in which I attempted to elaborate a theory about literary research that may have alienated more readers than my interpretations of the poems themselves. Inspired by the epistemologies of Hans Vaihinger and Emile Meyerson, I pointed out the assumptions of all critical and scholarly approaches to literature including those of new critics such as I.A. Richards. I also revealed my own assumptions including the distinction between poetic function and semantic plurality. In short, I tried to show the cognitive presuppositions of literary studies that I regarded not as a science but as a discipline and an art. However, I stubbornly privileged the literary text unlike some later critics who considered theory self-sufficient. Looking back at L’Esthétique des Fleurs du mal, I realize that I had undertaken a semantic deconstruction of the texts in order to reveal their poetic functions.

While teaching seventeenth-century French literature at Harvard, I spent more time explicating drama than discussing moralists, novelists, and poets, wondering whether a method derived from Anglo-American new criticism might lead to the discovery of hidden meanings in tragedies noted for clarity of expression. By applying a similar sort of close reading with modifications to Racine I entered the field of seventeenth-century French literature to which I still belong in spite of lengthy excursions into French symbolist poetry, Shakespeare, and, in collaboration with Renée Hubert, contemporary artists’ books. I treated Racine’s tragedies as poems, substituting inner coherence for poetic function. Interrelating metaphors mattered much more to me than studying plots and characters or showing the dramatist’s success in representing mythological or historical events. Nor did it matter too much whether a protagonist or a minor character uttered a speech for all words in the play belonged to the same poem and thus could reveal its inner coherence. After all, the great Leo Spitzer needed only to analyze a single paragraph to reveal the entire system of a text.

My approach consisted in trying to show that leading characters, for instance Pyrrhus, Oreste and Hermione in Andromaque, dissatisfied with their past actions or present situation, vainly tried to attain perfection. The brutal Pyrrhus wanted to become Hector, the rejected Hermione tried to ”launch a thousand ships,” while Oreste, too young to have joined the Greek forces, envied his father’s prestige as leader of the Greek armies. I thus saw the tragedy as a sort of ghost story in which Hector set the Trojan war in reverse by punishing the Greeks for their crimes and giving the power in Epirus to his widow. Though I still consider Hector the occult protagonist of the play I have misgivings about my reliance on perfection as a means to explain the behavior of Racine’s leading women and men. In a second edition of Essai d’Exégèse racinienne: les secrets témoins (1985), described as “edition augmentée” even though it contained commentaries on only three tragedies, precisely those assigned that year for the “agrégation,” I supplied a “postface” that provided a more theatrical orientation. Dismissing the search for perfection—a moral value—as a means to account for a character’s conduct, I advocated a performative reading. Leaving perfection aside, Pyrrhus, Hermione, and Oreste, dissatisfied with their roles, vainly seek a different casting and in so doing fail also as dramatists. In “Les Ecarts de Trézène” (1986), I provided a more theatrical reading of Phèdre than in the Essai d’éxégèse by focusing on the unity of place—on the tranquil and ordered Trézène, invaded by evil forces. No longer able to sustain his part as follower of Venus, Hipppolyte wants above all to leave the city or rather the stage while Phèdre, pursued by Venus, refuses to make an appearance. Nevertheless, Hippolyte shows reluctance in admitting his transformation and in following in his womanizing father’s footsteps. Phèdre, unable to sustain her part as a mean mother-in-law and ashamed of her role as lover, leaves the function of dramatist to Œnone. The peaceful order of Trézène, an ally of the Sun, has turned against her. Thus, I contrasted the orderly framework of classical drama with the violent state of disorder taking place within it.

Neither poetic function nor inner coherence can account for Molière’s masterpieces, featuring brilliant (dis)connections. After all, laughter arises from forcing together incompatible scenarios. Nonetheless, my approach in Molière and Comedy of Intellect did not undergo a radical change in spite of my growing awareness of the importance of theatricality for I continued to minimized those historical, moral, and psychological considerations that have made so many studies of the comedies so serious in tone that Molière might as well have composed essays. Although his plays may lack the obvious metaphorical unity and poetic coherence of Racine’s, they possess, however, a theatrical unity featuring entertainment at all costs. And they do provide more than enough material for verbal analysis. Indeed, his one and only tragic-comedy, Don Garcie de Navarre, requires as searching a metaphorical study as any tragedy of Corneille and Racine. Intellectual terms involving perception, self-deception, illusion, and subversion of established values appear in practically all the works. Even in Don Juan, a play seemingly lacking in continuity, the interplay of movement, immobility, wordiness, and testing give it an undeniable coherence. While treating Molière’s comedies in much the same way I had analyzed Racine’s tragedies, I discovered that theatricality and entertainment prevailed over all other considerations. In spite of my critical intentions, Molière and the Comedy of intellect revealed the overriding importance of theatricality in all successful works written for the stage. Unfortunately, I did not become aware of this truth until about twenty years later when, in collaboration with Franco Tonelli, I wrote “Theatricality: The Burden of the Text.”In the meantime, I remained more or less faithful to my usual new critical approach in writing about Molière’s two burlesque styles as well as in several articles on Corneille and other seventeenth-century dramatists such as Longepierre. Nor did I neglect poetry: Malherbe, seventeenth-century burlesque parody, Baudelaire, Malherbe, Rimbaud, and Nerval. In addition, I finally ventured into historical scholarship. Although I had spent many hours at the Bibliothèque Nationale and at the far more appealing Arsenal, my scholarly publiations stemmed mainly from collecting antiquarian books, an inexpensive habit in the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, books in your personal collection to which you can return at leisure can provide greater rewards than volumes consulted in research libraries. In this manner, I discovered the source of Jean de Schélandre’s tragedy, Tyr et Sidon, rewritten as a tragicomedy, in Les Fantasies amoureuses (1601), an exceedingly rare anonymous novel of considerable merit containing excellent poetry. Ownership of several “recueils collectifs” enabled me to show in “Le Mystère des deux Acante,” how La Fontaine had imitated and improved upon his friend Pellisson’s clever verse, much of which had appeared anonymously but that I easily managed to restore to him. Both of these articles appeared in La Revue d’Histoire Littéraitre de la France where I would probably have had difficulty at that time in placing my more interpretative pieces. I had also acquired Voltaire’s 1764 edition of Corneille’s Théâtre, at a very low price because somebody had written in the margins. It turned out that a “philosophe,” Pierre-André Le Guay de Prémontval, rather than a vandalizing freshman had penned all the annotations for the edification of his pupils, nephews of the great Frederic of Prussia. A devotee of Racine, Premontval had so little respect for “le grand Corneille” that he considered Voltaire’s strictures far too lenient. Fortunately, Voltaire included Racine’s Bérénice so as to establish a belittling comparison with Corneille’s Tite et Bérénice. Prémontval’s impressive notes on Racine’s tragedy appeared in “Une Appréciation inédite sur Racine en 1764” in which I suggested that Prémontval, a remarkably original friend of Diderot and Lessing, deserved further study and perhaps a doctoral dissertation.

I departed from this safe kind of research by the risky attribution of anonymous poems appearing in Emile de la Bédollière’s Les Industriels to Baudelaire at an early stage in his career. Major Baudelaire scholars such as Bandy and Pichois strongly resisted this attribution, but Jean Pommier, a literary historian who really understood poetry, agreed with me. I also thought that La Rochefoucauld had produced, in addition to his maxims and memoirs, an essay entitled La Justification de l’amour. As hardly anybody deigned to take notice of this problematic attribution, I gathered that scholars hardly ever object when you restore an anonymous work to a minor author such as Paul Pellisson but that you had better not attribute a minor work to a major writer.

I also became concerned with the problems of translation. In teaching stylistics at UCLA and Irvine, I occasionally asked the graduate students to operate both as ”theme” and “version translators. I had them translate a passage from “The Fall of the House of Usher” without consulting Baudelaire’s rendition. While Poe’s prose in this tale suggests aggression with a blunt instrument, Baudelaire’s has much more in common with a rapier. The students’ translations fell somewhere in between. And we all agreed that French style favors spatial relations far more than does English. My interest in translation as a pedagogical tool resulted in articles comparing Baudelaire’s “La Cloche fêlée” and Mallarmé’s “Ses purs ongles très haut déployant leur onyx” to various English renditions whose inevitable shortcomings helped to reveal the hidden meanings of the poems.

The article composed in collaboration with Franco Tonelli showed at the very least that I had finally succumbed to the critical theory contagion by invoking authorities such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthe, Merleau-Ponty, and Jacques Derrida. The theatrical method we developed—and that I expanded in the introductory chapter of Metadrama: the Example of Shakespeare and reduced to more manageable proportions in Corneille’s Performative Metaphors— probably did not require so abstruse a discourse. Consisting essentially of close readings of plays as plays rather than narratives or poems, a theatrical approach can probably thrive without theorizing about metadrama. A performative reading depends on a certain number of interpretive techniques. In studying the language of a play, the reader focuses on words and metaphors relevant to the stage, words and metaphors that often go unnoticed particularly when they fit unobtrusively into the mimetic aspects of the play, notably the psychological, moral, and historical behavior of the speaker. For instance, lines concerning Macbeth’s costuming show his inability to fit into the role of king. He fails not only as an actor but also as a dramatist, for the witches with the help of Lady Macbeth have imposed upon him their evil scenario. As certain twists in the plot advance the action while others serve mainly to retard it, a performative interpretation may profit from a careful examination of this alternation of forward and backward movements. I have referred to the former as illusion and the latter as elusion. Without the protagonist’s procrastinations, Hamlet would have lasted little more than a single act while Phèdre would not figure in the repertory if Hippolyte, as promised, had immediately left Trézène or if Phèdre herself had persisted in her refusal to appear on stage. In Renaissance tragedy, Jean de la Taille’s Saül le furieux, the mad protagonist whose ranting about God and the prophet Samuel takes up most of the play, dwells on the past instead of joining his sons in resisting the Philistines. While illusion consists in building up the plot and in focusing on action, elusion, by retarding the unfolding of the play, creates, so to speak, suspended time. Seventeenth-century French dramatists, in avoiding violent action on stage, required narratives, often spoken by a minor character, to inform the on-stage and off-stage audience of what hasd happened. Naturally, all such narratives mark a momentary step back into the past instead of progression toward the future.

By treating the text as a score, a performative approach postulates that a play, however accurately it may portray people and events, represents even more successfully its own theatrical manipulations. The play within the play in Hamlet provides an overt manifestation of this process, ever present in less obvious form throughout the tragedy. It so happens that dramatists tend to make their characters conform to the requirements of the stage in order to represent them more convincingly. Among Hyppolyte’s first words we find the highly theatrical: “Je me suis applaudi quand je me suis connu” while the reluctant Phèdre complains about her hairdresser and costumer thus introducing early in the play the idea of spectacle in addition to stage directions. By such means dramatists succeed in bridging the gap between the persons and events they purport to represent and the framed artificiality of saging. Although a theatrical approach cannot completely dispense with mimetic interpretations of drama, it emphasizes the self-referential aspects of plays. It so happens that displacement provides a useful tool in showing transitions from the mimetic to self-referential theatricality.

Having discovered in Molière—actor, writer, producer, playwright—the overwhelming importance of theatricality, I tackled another master of the stage: Shakespeare. I had previously written a book about Racine and devoted several articles to Pierre Corneille, dramatists considered so different from one another that many scholars with a preference for the former have shown little inclination to write about the latter. The still greater gap between Shakespeare and Racine has discouraged Elizabethan and Jacobean scholars from interpreting classical French theater and prevented specialists in classical French theater from devoting time to Shakespeare. Among the few exceptions, I must single out Jean Dubu who has provided excellent historical studies on both Racine and Shakespeare. I could write without qualms about both Corneille and Racine perhaps because I did not worry about the incompatibility between the semblance of heroic behavior and sense of honor predominating in Corneille’s dramas and the fatal weaknesses displayed by so many of Racine’s protagonists. Because of my preoccupation with theatricality, all plays, whether classical, Elizabethan, or modern became grist for my mill. Their performative aspects diminished all mimetic differences insofar as characters, however true to life or myth, tend to function at one time of another as actors, dramatists, and spectators. In no way did I invent this inevitable displacement from a so-called imitation of reality to theatricality. James Calderwood, for one, had discussed metadrama in all his studies of Shakespeare and Kenneth Burke provided the initial justification for this approach in his Grammar of Motives.

Having taught a course in comparative literature on early modern theater in which I had included both French and English dramatists, I decided to apply a theatrical approach to Shakespearean tragedy by writing an article on King Lear and Macbeth, both of these plays belonging to my century if not exactly to my field. I thus tackled two of the most complex and least classical plays in the English repertory but certainly among the most theatrical. In the abdicating and verbalizing Lear I saw a king who had willfully ceased to function as a dramatist and had thereby reduced himself to acting in scenarios imposed by others before becoming the miserable spectator of his own downfall. Edgar, his successor, successfully performed the parts of madman, of villager, and of knight according to his own scenarios before acceding to the throne. By continually overreaching himself, Macbeth never could succeed in establishing a reliable scenario and fitting into a part. His failures contrast with Banquo’s endless pageant of successors including King James I who probably enjoyed the play at its first performance. He must have strongly approved of this distant ancestor, for Jean de Schélandre, during his sojourn at the English court, composed for his benefit three cantos of an epic poem entitled La Stuartide, featuring Banquo’s son, Fleance. Both Shakespeare and Schélandre found devious ways to exculpate Banquo , an active accomplice in Duncan’s assassination.

Metatheater: The Example of Shakespeare followed several years later. I limited my study to six plays. Rather than psychological verisimilitude and a realistic story, Much Ado about Nothing features country dancing with its numerous permutations and reliance on fashion. For this reason, the comedy provides displacements far different from the dramatic mimeticism of other plays. Twelfth Night features spatial displacements in keeping with the scenic divisions of the Elizabethan stage. Three sets of characters produce their own kind of illusions and elusions without too much interference from the outside apart from the enterprising mobility of Viola and the entertaining clown Feste. From a theatrical point of view, the comedy reaches a climax in the imprisonment of Malvolio. Separations also mark Measure for Measure where Duke Vincentio, the protagonist, functions as chief dramatist, director, and spectator while featuring inauspiciously in scenarios created by lesser dramatists.

Instead of including King Lear and Macbeth, I chose Othello and Hamlet. In Othello, I dwelled on the discrepancy between his stage presence as a Moor and his prestige as general and governor, a discrepancy epitomized in Iago’s referring to him as “his Moorship.” Having transformed his military tribulations and ultimate triumphs into the inevitably fictionalized narratives that Desdemona found so appealing, he becomes the victim of Iago’s story telling. Moreover, he moves from an epic style to a manner of speech closer to Iago’s demeaning language. In Hamlet, I saw a sophisticated actor unwilling to star in an outmoded revenge play rather than the victim of complexes or a person incapable of taking a decision. Basing myself on the first quarto of the tragedy, I displaced the famous “To be or not to be” from soliloquy to reading and the following scene to a comic interlude in which Hamlet, carrying the volume from which he had just read a passage, makes fun of Ophelia, a submissive non-reader who displays a prayer book no doubt handed to her by her father. In addition to the comedies and tragedies, I included The Winter’s Tale, a romance or tragicomedy based on a novel. Shakespeare’s skill in bridging the sixteen-year gap separating the first from the second part interested me most of all. I discovered that the play consisted of far more gaps than the one in time. In the first part, the paranoid Leontes imposes upon his skeptical courtiers a dismal drama in which he casts himself in the shameful role of cuckold. In the second part, the con artist Autolycus imaginatively concocts self-serving shows as false but far less harmful than Leontes’ dismal drama while Perdita, the jealous king’s cast away daughter, playing the part of Flora, entertains the audience with a poetic pastoral. Playing the part of statue, Queen Hermione comes back to life and rejoins de cast. In brief, everyone performs or serves as an audience including Time itself, transformed into a dramatist and an actor.

I had to reduce a gap of my own making in order to give a semblance of continuity to Corneille’s Performative Metaphors. David Rubin had encouraged me to publish in book form the various articles I had published on Corneille from 1958 until 1993, an abeyance more than twice as long as that of The Winter’s Tale. And like the famous romance, it consisted of two quite separate parts. Having published between 1958 and 1971several articles in which I treated various plays of Corneille as poems, I started in 1984 to interpret some of his other dramas from a theatrical point of view. Realizing that a book length study requires a minimum of continuity, I rewrote and augmented the earlier articles, left the most recent with only minor changes, and added several chapters dealing with plays I had not previously discussed. As a result, the book, far from limiting itself to previously published articles, consists for the most part of new material. I must admit, however, that while emphasizing the theatrical aspects of drama, I did not neglect whatever I may have gleaned in treating plays as poems. As these revisions consisted in blending, as best I could, a poetic with a theatrical bias, I inevitably had to conjure away their mimetic aspects, considered by many critics as essential. Completeness tends to elude scholars who often suffer from the same limitations as the ghost of King Laios in Cocteau’s La Machine infernale. Unable to a make himself visible and audible at the same moment, he fails to warn Jocasta of impending dangers.

In the ”The Greatest Roman of Them All: Corneille’s Sertorius,” I dwelled on the metaphors of division and divorce, matrimonial as well as political, while stressing the importance of greatness as resulting from moral values rather than power. In the book, a considerably expanded commentary on Sertorius stresses in addition role-playing and displacement while personified greatness functions as an actant capable of creating scenarios of its own. One of Sertorius’s problems arose from his reluctance to assume the part of foreign potentate in which Viriate insisted on casting him. Interestingly enough, the Spanish Queen, unlike our present leadership, felt little need to free other nations, including Rome itself, from tyranny: ”Affranchissons le Tage, et laissons faire au Tibre,/La liberté n’est rien quand tout le monde est libre” (1333–35). In brief, she wishes to enjoy, in the company of Sertorius, the protracted spectacle of an independent and thriving Spain.

In le “Réel et l’illusoire dans le théâtre de Corneille et celui de Rotrou,” an article stressing the importance of reasoning in French seventeenth-century literature, I contrasted the use of analogy in Le Véritable saint Genest with reliance on the concepts of “volonté” and “efficacité” in Polyeucte. While stressing the metadramatic qualities, worthy of Pirandello, of Rotrou’s religious tragedy, I failed to discuss the less obvious theatricality of Polyeucte. I made up for this lack in the book by insisting that although the Armenian prince’s rush to martyrdom overtly resulted from the power of grace it depended even more on the dramatist’s skillful use of the unity of time. Thus, divine grace required the even greater efficiency of theatricality. In short, the play favored its own operations in the course of representing a religious event. In addition, I discussed the importance of ostentatious performance, particularly on the part of Néarque and Polyeucte himself.

In recent years, I collaborated with Renée Hubert on The Cutting Edge of Reading: Artists’ Books and on several articles involving related subjects. After completing her Ph.D. at Columbia University, Renée, tired of writing about Dreyfus and the novel, published in France several volumes of poetry including Le Berceau d’Eve in 1956 at the Editions de Minuit. However, her enthusiasm for avant-garde poetry and painting eventually reconciled her with scholarship. In addition to two volumes on Surrealism and The Cutting Edge, she produced some 180 articles on a variety of subjects. Shortly before her death, she completed Cultural (dis) Connections: Memoirs of a Surrealist Scholar appearing in April, 2005, at Black Apollo Press. I naturally shared her interests. Instead of adding to our collection of rare antiquarian volumes, I joined her in acquiring Surrealist “livres de peintres” and, later on, even more recent artists’ books that pose as many questions as metadrama even though they obviously require a far different kind of reading particularly when they display only graphics. Thanks to Louis Marin and others, reading paintings has become a fixture in recent art history. Renée, an expert in Surrealist art and in relating texts and images, played the main part in treating the visual aspects of our enterprise while I contributed particularly to the verbal side. In any case, we wrote and rewrote our analyses of these hybrid works situated in the no-man’s-land between literature and art. We met many book artists both in this country and in Europe. A young artist to whom we had devoted a chapter expressed astonishment when we met him. He thought that The Cutting Edge of Reading owed its existence to youthful critics rather than to octogenarians. Perhaps he did not realize that close reading, hardly dependent on age, can deal with all sorts of creative endeavor.
Actually, the study of artists’ books fits into our previous research, Renée’s far more obviously than mine insofar as The Cutting Edge of Reading provides a sequel to Surrealism and the Book. Inner coherence obviously plays a more important part in bookwork than in ordinary book production. Indeed, artists strive for cohesion among the various parts of the book by giving equal status to its various aspects such as images, typography, paper, binding, page setting, folds, collages… And while traditional volumes, whether illustrated or not, rely mainly on readability, artists’ books feature performance.

University of California, Irvine

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