Poet and critic Paul Valéry held two strong and conflicting views of literary meaning. On the one hand, he affirmed his “verses have whatever meaning is given them.” And in a phrase that entered into the post-modern literary canon, he declared “Once a work is published its author’s interpretation of it has no more validity than anyone else’s.” On the other hand, he suggested that “One is led to a form by a desire to leave the smallest possible share to the reader.” Valéry’s career can be divided along these lines of anti-intentionality and intentionality. My larger claim is to show the primacy, or perhaps the invention of a dominant mode of twentieth- and twenty-first century thought.
W.G. Sebald’s long poem Nach der Natur (1988) contributed significantly to the swift recognition of his literary talent among fellow writers and poets, yet it received scant attention by the larger public and literary scholars alike.1 To the English-speaking world it was not even available until 2002, a year after its author’s death, when it appeared in Michael Hamburger’s excellent translation under the title After Nature. Like a triptych, it is divided into three untitled parts, each with a distinct thematic concern involving a specific historical period and a writer or artist: the first focuses on the Renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald, the second on the eighteenth-century naturalist, travel writer, and Arctic explorer Georg Wilhelm Steller, and the last on elements from Sebald’s own biography.2 As opposed to Sebald’s later practice, apart from the landscape photographs that are reproduced on the end sheets of the first edition of Nach der Natur, there are no visuals in the volume, although paintings play a prominent role, especially in the first and final sections of the poem. In what follows, I shall support my reading of Sebald’s poem with reproductions of Grünewald’s paintings. I do so, however, in an attempt to provide…
We should give ourselves up to the lies of art to deliver ourselves from the lies of myth: it is by this very paradoxical and singular way of absorption into the framework of one of the “great works” of the Occident that Picasso belongs to myth. For if it is true that he always sought to combat myth, making him even more dependent on it, he only succeeded by turning myth’s own arms onto itself—that is, the “lie.”
Picasso’s early work—his so-called Blue Period, in the present case—responds to a concern, widespread in the symbolist milieu from which the young Picasso emerged, with authority. By authority, this essay understands one’s ability to believe in and respond to a truth as one finds it represented. In this moment, the tasks of representing truth by art and by religion found themselves in dialogue, or even, as one might say, in a relation of mutual self-definition. Charles Morice’s explanations of Eugène Carrière’s works provide the background against which to understand some of Picasso’s Blue Period works, Morice’s remarks on them, and Apollinaire’s vindication of Picasso. Their exchange raises, furthermore, important problems for those of us who write histories and interpretations of art.