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Issue #46

For Rossetti, gold’s economic and monetary associations were something to be harnessed, wielded as a weapon, or presented as an offering. His reinterpretation of gold and gilding served, therefore, a most patently modern, even modernist, agenda: not the pursuit of novelty or Greenbergian “flatness” but the purposeful interrogation of established standards of value.
Cézanne eradicates any attribute that could facilitate an intellectual or emotional grasp of the objects represented in his pictorial world. Atmospheric content is systematically eliminated; life as if beheld by an “extrahuman” gaze grows cold; the illusion of three-dimensional space is laid bare; and line, a necessary evil, is deprived of even the slightest measure of expressive value, which until then it had still inescapably and as a matter of course assumed. Rather than cultivating a world of thought and feeling beneath appearances, Cézanne’s artistic ideology denies this possibility.
As the parable migrated from art criticism to the wider world, its purpose changed. Initially, it was used to understand artistic style, especially to shift the register of explanation from manual causes (the way a painter holds his brush, the materials he chooses, etc.) to cognitive ones (the way he sees and understands the world). With repeated retellings, however, cause and effect flipped. Instead of proving that style is subjective, the parable seemed to reveal that subjectivity is stylistic.
Although he may have held little in common with Marxist ideology, Martin appears to have been more alert than most to the negative disruption of a system of urban-rural exchange, more anxious than most about failing to harness the latent economic value of waste, and more motivated than most to see in infrastructure the potential for compensatory systems.
Now I want to go a step further and propose that the portraits of monomanes represent not only a climactic stage in Géricault’s development but also a decisive episode in the antitheatrical dialectic generally—as if they mark the limit case of absorption, beyond which for the moment, but perhaps not only for the moment, it was impossible for painting to go.