Winter 1993, Volume 10.1
Daniel R. Schwarz
Searching for Modernism's Genetic Code: Picasso, Joyce, and Stevens as a Cultural Configuration
Daniel R. Schwarz (Ph.D., Brown U) is Professor of English at Cornell University and holds the Visiting Citizen's Chair at the University of Hawaii for the 1992-1993 academic year. His publications include The Case for a Humanistic Poetics (1991), The Transformation of the English Novel, 1890-1930 (1989), Reading Joyce's Ulysses (1987), The Humanistic Heritage: Critical Theories of the English Novel from James to Hillis Miller (1986), Disraeli's Fiction (1979), a two volume study of Joseph Conrad entitled Joseph Conrad: Almayer's Folly to Under Western Eyes (1980) and Conrad: The Later Fiction (1982); and Narrative and Representation in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens (forthcoming). He is currently working on a book entitled Modernist Perspectives: Defining the Genealogy of Modernism (from which this essay is a version of a chapter). He is editing a series of books for Paragon House entitled "Studies in the Modernist Imagination," and in summer of 1993 he will be directing his fifth NEH Seminar for College Teachers entitled "Critical and Theoretical Perspectives on the Modernist Tradition."
Phoenix-like, the relationship between literature and its contexts has been reborn as the field of cultural studiesa field which stresses power relationships among genders, races, and classes. Valuably, new historicism and its child, cultural studies, have been skeptical of the older historicism's positivistic stories of "A" influencing "B" and of reductive drawings of the boundaries that divide foreground and background. While it has sought to see literature as one of many cultural artifacts, the artifacts usually are seen in terms of socioeconomic production. But the stress on micropolitical and macropolitical relations should not prevent this welcome return to mimesis and to historical contexts from attending to other kinds of cultural frames. Specifically, the return from the formalism of deconstruction to mimesis should be a catalyst for examining and juxtapositioning figures and movements without regard to simple patterns of influence. What I am interested in is the process of examination of cultural figures in configurations that put new light on cultural history. My goal is to isolate the essential ingredients of modernistic culture, ingredients that spill over the borderlands between genres and art forms. While we have learned in recent years to be wary of locating essential or transcendent themes, it is still necessary to understand the genealogy of modernism and the figures who contributed to the modification of the cultural genetic codeparticularly since these modifications live with us now in contemporary art. Specifically, I am going to frame contextually an odd triptych Picasso, Stevens, and Joyce; as I weave a narrative from particular strands of similarities, I shall inquire into what cultural forces produced this configuration.1
As the high modernist period, the period between 1890 and 1939, becomes distant, we need to locate the modernist turn of mind and see what distinguishes its ethos and its legacy. Modernism bears for the younger generation the same approximate chronological distance from their lives that the Victorian period does for those of us who were born in the forties. Modernism provided not merely the texts but the argument for new criticism, namely that a literary work was a self-contained ontology, and that there was no formal relationship between the creator and his or her creation. Contrary to what we were taught a few decades ago, authors' lives play a particularly vital role in the work of major modernists. Moreover, we now understand that modernism is derived from cultural and historical events which provide the frame for understanding its development. If ever there was a period in which authors' self-fashioning in response to a confused and complicated cultural milieu is a central subject, it is this one. Not only were religious beliefs and political assumptions called into question by the work of, among others, Darwin and Marx, but the very notion of what constituted reality was undermined by the discoveries of modern physics.
John Richardson's recent biography (A Life of Picasso, Vol. 1, 1881-1906)the first volume of a contemplated four-part studyestablishes Picasso's importance to the history of modernism and his stature as the predominant figure in twentieth-century painting. While the culture in which any artist creates depends in part upon extant cultural assumptions, including symbolic structures, Picasso, as much as any artist, contributed originally to the reservoir of available symbols his successors inherited. In his major works, such as The Old Guitarist (1903), Les Desmoiselles d'Avignon (1907), The Three Musicians (1921), The Dance (1925), and # 1 Guernica (1937), he left images for his successors to wrestle with. These paintings became the texts which more than any other Ïuvre created our understanding of modern painting and became the standards by which subsequent painters measured themselves.
James Joyce, Wallace Stevens, Pablo Picassogreat modernist figures: Joyce, perhaps the best important twentieth-century novelist; Stevens, the American poet who most captured the American sensibility in the twentieth century; and Picasso, undoubtedly the preeminent modern painter. They were born within a few years of one anotherStevens in 1879, Picasso in 1881, Joyce in 1882and were deeply affected by the crisis of belief, the explorations of modern science and technology, the development of the modern city, and changing perceptions of reality. More than any other modernists, Picasso, Stevens, and Joyce invented forms, techniques, and modes of perception that became part of the cultural genetic code. Yet each of these three figures revitalized the forms in which they worked and became paradigms for successors.
All three knew that they were auditioning for the role of major artist, the successor to the giants who preceded them. All three were deeply influenced by the canon that preceded them, and needed to be understood in terms of the traditions and contexts in which they wrote and painted. As Eliot wrote in 1919:
No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone. His significance, his appreciation, is the appreciation of his relation to the dead poets and artists. You cannot value him alone; you must set him, for contrast and comparison, among the dead. I mean this as a principle of aesthetic, not merely historical criticism. (Selected Essays, 4)
All three are haunted by personal and cultural memoryfor Joyce, the Irish experience; for Stevens, the democratic and transcendental traditions of the American mind; for Picasso, the Andalusian, Catalan, and Castillian traditions fertilized by the world of Paris. In the work of all three, the deadparticularly dead artistslive as if they were alive, and all threeunbelievers in Godare haunted by the spectre of their own death. (We need to maintain a healthy skepticism about Stevens's alleged conversion to Catholicism on his deathbed.)
Just as Joyce saw himself as the successor to Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Milton, so Stevens saw himself as the heir to Emerson and the English romantics. Picasso, Joyce, and Stevens are in a continuing dialogue with the past from which they take much of their meaning. They are consciously creating a modern tradition by reinterpreting the tradition which precedes them. For example, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon comments on El Greco's Apocalyptic Vision and Cezanne's Bathers as surely as Ulysses comments on The Odyssey and other prior works, and as Stevens comments on Emerson, Whitman, Keats, and Shelley. Picasso, Joyce, and Stevens sought archetypes as the common denominators of human experience. They wished to create modern symbols. They sought to create imagined worlds that would reinvigorate the nominalism of modern experience and enrich the day-to-day tedium of what Stevens calls in "The Man whose Pharynx was Bad," "the malady of the quotidian." Each wished to balance romanticism with classicism.
The very process of role-playing experimenting with diverse styles, while rapidly changing voices was an essential part of modernism. Role playing is crucial to all three of these towering modernist figures. In a world where a systematic world view is impossible, inclusiveness of possibility of multiple ways of seeing is an aesthetic and a value. Isn't the essence of cubism the insistence that we need not restrict perspective and that reality depends on the angle of vision? Borrowing from astronomy, Joyce used the concept of parallax in Ulysses. Thus in Les Demoiselles d' Avignon, the front most naked figure, a whore, is looking forward and backward and has the body of a female; her African mask with its wild libidinous energy mocks the restrained and repressed world of conventions and commerce. But her head also suggests a male artist looking outward to the audience and inviting the audience to see the still life of fruit in the foreground which he is exhibiting for a commercial audience to whom he is desperate to sell pictures. The position of the modern artist who lacks patrons and wealth (including himself), Picasso implies, is not so different from the way the whores are offering themselves to him and other clients; indeed, perhaps the distorted facial expression owes something to the male client's embarrassment for being perceived among whores and to Picasso's discomfort with the role of the artist as whore.
Picasso, Stevens, and Joyce all knew how the specific underlies the universal; each had a remarkable eye for detail. What John Richardson writes of Picasso is true of Stevens and Joyce: "[H]e had learned how to exploit his inherent gifts for caricatures in depth as a means of dramatizing psychological as well as physiognomical traits" (185). Each of our three figures combines in his work, "sacred and profane, demonic and angelic, mystic and matter-of-fact" (270). Each employs an element of magical realism to intensify and give mystery and comedy to the world he observes. Painting on his Barcelona studio wall "the half-naked body of a moor with an erection, suspended from a tree," Picasso anticipates Joyce's morbid yet hilarious equation of orgasm and death in "Cyclops" when the alleged perpetrator has an erection as a result of being hung before his trial (John Richardson 287).
Picasso thought of his works as a diary, and the history of his art as his autobiography: "My work is like a diary . . . It's even dated like a diary" (John Richardson 3). Picasso's work is deeply and profoundly autobiographical. For Picasso, like Joyce to quote what Stephen Dedalus said about Shakespeare as the prototypical man of genius"found in the world without as actual what was in his world within as possible" (Ulysses 175: IX. 1041-42). He used his paintings not simply to reflect his feelings but to create his identity. Picasso's art was exorcism of his feelings, but is that not equally true of Joyce and Stevens? Picasso, we are told, "said that his sculptures were vials filled with his own blood" (John Richardson 461), yet when he depicted himself in self-portraits, he wanted to move beyond the lyrical to the dramatic and epicalas Joyce did in Ulyssesand see himself as other.2 For example, in the famous 1906 Self-Portrait, which was indebted to Manet's Portrait of a Man (1860), "he also switched his gaze away from the beholder, to demonstrate that this is no mirror image, but a detached view of himself" (John Richardson 472). For Picasso, the artist's creative imagination has the power to recast the world, but he does not ignore the world beyond imagination.
In The Necessary Angel, Wallace Stevens wrote, "It is said of a man that his work is autobiographical in spite of every subterfuge. It cannot be otherwise" (121). Yet the coherent self of a major artist is a myriad of selves, roles, voices, and positions. Richardson shows how deeply personal and autobiographical Picasso's work is. He stresses not only the importance of Picasso's self-portraits, but interprets many of the masterworks from, among others, an autobiographical perspective. Beginning with tracing Picasso's Andalusian roots, Richardson shows us the folly of separating an artist's life from his work, and shows that the dialogue between the individual experience and the cultural experience is necessary to answer questions about an artist's themes and styles.
Picasso found his metaphors in biography. Thus in The Poet Sabartès (1901), he is recalling Carles Casagemas, a friend who had recently committed suicide; by envisioning Sabartès's likeness to Casagemas, a not very promising poet, Picasso is using the technique of summoning something absent for means of comparison, as Joyce did with The Odyssey in Ulysses, and as Stevens did in his great 1921 lyric sequence, "The Man whose Pharynx was Bad," "The Snow Man," and "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon," in which he refers to Shakespeare's 73rd sonnet, "That time of year thou mayest in me behold," and Shelley's "Ode to the West Wind." In his three 1901 Self-Portraits, we see Picasso testing different versions of himself. In the first, he is the cocky solipsist of "Hoon," full of bravura, staring boldly at the audience, daring his audience to challenge his charisma. In the second, he stands pensively in black gloom, as if a victim of circumstances. We think of the poet who felt the shadow of time and death in "The Man whose Pharynx was Bad." In the third self-portrait, we see the chameleonic figurethe figure of negative capability in the guise of an El Greco masque; the artist shows how he can become the figure of capable imagination who, as Stevens put it in "The Snow Man," "beholds / Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is" (Collected Poems 9). A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce uses Stephen as a thinly disguised version of himself, and in Ulysses he creates another version the humane other he sought to becomein the form of the unappreciated Jewish exile, Bloom, who lives in the here and now (Aristotle's "ineluctable modality of the visible"), and who increasingly displaces Stephennow perceived as an intransigent Platonist and a jejune aestheteas the center of his attention.
Each artist was fascinated by the role of mirrors and glass, not surprising for writers who could say, as Stevens put it in "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon" (1921), "I was the world in which I walked." While Picasso is known for his compelling and revealing Self-Portraits, Joyce and Stevens uniquely write about their psyche and imaginative life in their self-portraits. In a crucial scene in Ulysses, Stephen and Bloom look into the mirror and see together an image of Shakespearean image of him as a comic figure wearing a "reindeer antlered hatrack" to signify his being cuckolded. Among other things, it is a time when in Ulysses diachronic metaphoricity and synchronic metonymy are interchangeable. For even as Stephen and Bloom take their identity from the past, they also take it from each other. In "Asides on the Oboe," Stevens describes Major Man as a "mirror with a voice, the man of glass,/ Who in a million diamonds sums us up"a man who presumably looks into his own glass to discover his capacity for responding to feelings and images in the external world: "There was nothing he did not suffer, no; nor we." The artist's soul is more encompassing and capable of greater feeling; so, too, are his creations.
Stevens was fascinated, knowledgeable, and deeply influenced by modern painting, and by Picasso in particular. For Stevens, Picasso was the very model of the modern artist. In "The Man with the Blue Guitar," Stevens wrestles with Picasso's paintings not merely The Old Guitarist, but The Three Musicians, The Dance, and a number of the major paintings and collages of guitars as he uses the speaker to define his aesthetic. Like Joyce and Picasso, Stevens, too employs multiple points of view not only from poem to poem but within his major works, such as "The Man with the Blue Guitar" and Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction. Stevens owned a copy of Ulysses and in his 1936 lecture, "The Irrational Element in Poetry," referred to Joyce as one of those who explored the unconscious.
Les Demoiselles d'Avignon established Picasso as the most innovative painter of his era and opened the door to cubism. Stevens was fascinated with Picasso; for him, he was not only the towering figure of modern painting but the archetype of the kind of stature and recognition as the preeminent artist in his medium that Stevens craved. As I argue in my forthcoming Narrative and Representation in the Poetry of Wallace Stevens (London: Macmillan), he played a pivotal role in Stevens's shaping of his conception of the artist and provided sources for "The Man with the Blue Guitar" not only in The Old Guitarist of the blue period, but in The Three Musicians, The Dance, and several other paintings.
If Stevens's "The Man with the Blue Guitar" is a reference to The Old Guitarist of the blue period, it is an ironic, subtle one, for the passionate singer of Stevens's poem is not the blind and probably deaf figure of Picasso's blue period. He is not lifeless or sentimental, self-pitying and deflated; if the guitarist has his blue melancholy mood, Stevens's guitarist finally triumphs over it. He is not in need of pity or charity. He is full of himself, has a period of depression and recovers, but never loses the high spirits of his song. He is proactive not reactive. Stevens's speaker is a man of indomitable will, the painter rather than the subject. Where, in Stevens's speaker, is the old guitarist's image of "old age, destitution, and blindness" that John Richardson ascribes to that painting (277)? No, the man with the blue guitar is more like the Picasso who created the old guitarist, the artist who, as Joyce puts it in the "Scylla and Charybdis" section of Ulysses, pours the "allinall" in his vision, the figure for whom, in Stephen Dedalus's words, his errors are volitional and the portals of discovery (Ulysses 156; IX 228-229).
Let me begin this section with the "Ithaca" section of Ulysses. In a curious passage illustrating the "irreparability of the past," the narrator comments:
[O]nce at a performance of Albert Hengler's circus in the Rotunda, Rutland square, Dublin, an intuitive particoloured clown in quest of paternity had penetrated from the ring to a place in the auditorium where Bloom, solitary, was seated and had publicly declared to an exhilarated audience that he (Bloom) was his (the clown's) papa. The imprevidibility of the future: once in the summer of 1898 he (Bloom) had marked a florin (2/-) with three notches on the milled edge and tendered it in payment of an account due to and received by J. and T. Davy, family grocers, 1 Charlemont Mall, Grand Canal, for circulation on the waters of civic finance, for possible, circuitous or direct, return. (571; xvii. 975-84)
I want to take the above passage as a point of departure for examining parallels among Joyce, Stevens, and Picasso. In a sense, each of these figures conceived the artist as a clown, but more than that, they each understood the issue of paternity in terms of a post-Christian world where God the Father was no longer a working myth.
In the farcical versions of search in Ulysses, the clown is a metonym for Stephen Dedalus's search for a father, and for Bloom's search for a son. He is the anonymous, androgynous, marginalized outsider charged with amusing the bourgeois. All of usor at least all malesJoyce is suggesting, are fathers and sons of clowns. The clown's quest for a surrogate approving father and for an audience is appropriate to Picasso, Stevens, and Joyce. And where is this quest for a father carried on? Isn't it in the circus of the modern citywhich is so often the subject of our three writers? Thus, writing of one of the great triumphs of the rose period, The Saltimbanques (1905), John Richardson remarks: "Like Manet [in The Old Musician], Picasso has appropriated Baudelaire's metaphor of vagabonds as artists; and he has set his wanderers in a metaphysical wasteland, where they confront each other, not to speak of ourselves, with the coolness that Manet (primed by Baudelaire) used to such telling effect" (385).
The above passage from "Ithaca" points to the modern novel's awareness of popular culture and its function as a source of metaphors in a world where, as Stevens puts it, the gods have disappeared (Opus Posthumous 260). The intuitive particoloured clown in the human comedy is Joyce, who is, in fact, the father of Bloom and the grandfather of the clown and who can be, like Shakespeare in Stephen Dedalus's monologue in "Scylla and Charybdis," the father of his own grandfather. The clown is also Picasso and Stevens, the artist as wanderer, as outsider, as performer, as confidence man, as flaneur. Picasso depicted clowns to mock traditional bourgeois complacency; clowns were for him figures who mocked pretension and hypocrisy even while suffering within; they were marginal figureslike circus performers or figures in arcadesliving by their wits. The title figure in "The Man with the Blue Guitar" is a version of the popular performer as troubadour and picaro. Are we not, Stevens implies, all picaros in a system which lacks a supreme fiction?
All three artist found high culture stultifying and turned for inspiration and stimulation both to the middle class of the impersonal and indifferent urban culture and to the classless culture of music halls, circuses, and street and arcade performers. Picasso and Joyce populated their worlds with the tumultuous, sensuous, and sometimes bawdy life of the modern city. While Picasso sought the society of cafZs and brothels in Paris, Joyce knew the life of music halls (we might think of figures such as Tom Rochford and Maria Kendall in "Wandering Rocks"), brothels, and the barsfrom which women were excludedin Dublin and cafZs in Paris. While Stevens as an insurance company lawyer and executive sought refuge in the comforts of upper middle-class and socially elite life, he often held himself aloof from this life and kept ties both to the socially elite and to artistic, bohemian communities. He was a member of the group of artists known as the "Others," whose hero was Marcel Duchamp; Duchamp focused on eros as the way humans felt oneness with the universe.
Circus performer, entertainers, and clowns depend finally on the economic support of those they satirize and set themselves apart from. And there is always the possibility that finally the joke is on oneself and no one hears. The clown is a solitary. And what is the clown's quest; isn't the clown every man and every woman with a painted face? Isn't Bloom a clown to those in Dublin who do not recognize his quality? The second sentence in the above passage is about the serendipitous nature of reality; the image is of a coin marked by Bloom, but a coin that never returns.
We think, too, of Stevens's use of the speaker as harlequin, as mocker, and as picaro. The clown suggests the Chaplinesque figure in pantaloons in Notes and the man on the dump in the poem of that name; both figures are derived from the dispossessed and hobo of the depression. In Stevens's Harmonium (1923), which owes its title to an instrument particular to American middle-class culture, churches, and music halls, are not both Berserk and the prince of peacocks in "Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks" (1923)as well as the speaker in "A High-Toned Old Christian Woman"versions of clowns? Isn't the speaker of "Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks" a clown in motley, a figure dressed as the prince of peacocks when he meets a figure dressed as Berserk? The capable man in "Mrs. Alfred Uruguay" (1940) is a man of cap and bells, an image of the traditional jestera version of Stevens's poet as clowneven as he is the heroic figure who creates in his mind the ultimate elegance. As in Picasso, the clown in Stevens is often not only a harlequin and picaro, but an androgynous figure as well: "For all their coarseness [clowns] struck Picasso as true artists, like himself: wanderers who led an picturesquely marginal existence when they were not, like him, performing feats of prodigious skill" (John Richardson 371). Like them, he felt he was performing for an audience that saw only the mask of an artist and did not wish to and could not understand the man within. Because of this, he sought refuge in secret codes to convey his feelings even while publicly performing a painting for prospective buyers.
At times, Joyce, Stevens, and Picasso sought masques to hide their real feelings, and Picasso and Stevens were drawn to the masques of the commedia dell'Arte. In Stevens's The Man with the Blue Guitar, the poet is a figure from commedia dell'Artea clown and juggler, a circus performer and a picaro; dressed in motley, playing a blue guitar, he flouts standards and mocks his audience and subject. Borrowing from the commedia dell'Arte, Stevens mocks the nose, the most prominent part of the masque, which was often a metonym for penis. In Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, Stevens's poet is a solitary figure, a rabbi, "walking by himself," who is seen as a vagabond, a Chaplinesque figure, namely "the man / In that old coat, those sagging pantaloons"; "A bench was his catalepsy, Theatre / Of Trope. He sat in the park" (I, x; II, x).
Part of the genetic code of modernism is the spectre of the modern city, oedipal image of hope and rescue, but also anonymous, indifferent, paternal juggernaut. For each artist the city had to be naturalized, domesticated, brought into the ken of understanding. For all three artists, Paris was the libidinous, bohemian, anarchial Other. Abroadand specifically Parisfor Joyce and Picasso was voluntary exile to a place where intellectual excitement, personal freedom, and artistic innovation could be found. It is perhaps easier to see some parallels between the Andalusian painter who thought of himself as a Catalan and lived in exile in Paris and the Irish writer who disdained Irish glorification of Celtic culture and language and thought of himself as a European novelist living and writing in Paris. Indeed, did not Picasso live in the Paris that Joyce first visited in 1902-3 and to which he alludes in Ulysses? The thinly disguised Joyce figure, Stephen Dedalus of Ulysses was visiting the same sordid neighborhood where Picasso lived. In the sections of Ulysses, Dublin is Paris mediated. Within Ulysses, specifically in the "Proteus" section, Stephen thinks frequently of his Paris experiences; they inform Joyce's rendering of Stephen's and Bloom's fantasies in "Circe." Isn't the vision in "Circe" of sexual experimentation and outrageous behavior in Bella Cohen's whorehouseJoyce's version of Les Demoiselles d'Avignonoverlaid with his Parisian memories? "Wandering Rocks" is the arcade of Dublin, but its book stalls and eccentricities derive as much from Joyce's memory of Paris as of Dublin. Even if Joyce never met him, was not Picasso a gigantic figure in the 1920-22 Paris where Joyce finished Ulysses?
But what about Stevens who lived abroad only in his imagination and for whom abroad was of necessity a state of mind, inculcated from his reading, from the European influence of the 1913 Armory Show, and from a lifetime of seeing artistic exhibits and reading French literature and literary journals as well as from his foreign correspondence? Although maintaining a strong interest in French culture, corresponding widely beyond the United States, and thinking of himself as a cosmopolitan figure, he never visited Europe. Wallace Stevens was born in Reading, Pennsylvania, from German-Dutch stock and lived as a prosperous New England insurance executive. Joan Richardson reminds us that in 1912-1913, "It was as though Paris had come to New York" (The Early Years 412). For Stevens, Key West was his Paris, a city which for him had associations of artistic and sexual experimentation and bohemian behavior. Although the landscape of Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction is a kind of cinematic montage of a dreamscape, it is fitfully anchored in Paris. Doesn't the ephebe have to overcome the "celestial ennui" of Parisian apartments? Does Stevens not speak directly to the ephebe of his habitat which gives him a view from "your attic window,/ Your mansard with a rented piano" (I,v)? But Stevens is ironic to the cosmopolitan and to the erudition of the city, which are contrasted with his epiphanic immersion in the natural cycle of the here and now at the poem's climax: "[T]hey will get it straight one day at the Sorbonne" (III, x). He addresses the reader as "monsieur and comrade"not without a hint of admonition, if not iconoclastic disdain, that links him (especially if the reader will not heed the lessons of the prior stanzas) with the ephebe in the epigraph.
Let us continue with the parallels among Picasso, Joyce, and Stevens. In their early lives, Joyce, Stevens, and Picasso were all educated in varieties of an ascetic tradition: Joyceand, yes, Picasso, tooin the Catholic tradition which saw this world as a prelude to a better one, and understood death as the birth of the eternal soul or as eternal damnation. Stevens's Pennsylvania Dutch Protestantism saw this world as an individual moral test of worthiness for the next. Each was educated in something of a Platonic tradition Joyce in parochial schools and at University College in Dublin; Stevens at Harvard under Santayana; and, as John Richardson carefully shows us, Picasso, under the influence of his father, on a diet of paradigmatic classical Spanish paintersVel‡zquez, Murill›, and Goyaeven while admiring the figure who was being rehabilitated into the Spanish canon, El Greco.
Before fully encountering the Aristotelian "ineluctable modality of the visible"what Stephen in Ulysses calls "what you damn well have to see"each figure flirted with aestheticism, androgyny, escapism, exoticism. These temptations conflicted with their desire to encounter reality. Picasso, Joyce, and Stevens were overtly attracted to aestheticism; the work of each of them was for a time shadowed by symbolism. All three were touched by the symbolist movement in art which embodied codes to unlock reality and depended upon a hermetic system of correspondence between self and the universe and/or nature. The Stevens of Harmonium, and, in particular, of the early poems in that volume such as "Domination of Black" and "Sunday Morning," was strongly influenced by the aesthetic movement. Like Picasso and Joyce, Stevens was attracted by the concept of pure art but later sought "to get to the center . . . to share the common life" (#327, #397). Like Joyce, Stevens used the Eucharistthe transformation of blood into wineas an image of the word into the world and of the world into word. "After one has abandoned a belief in God, poetry is that essence which takes its place in life's redemption" (Opus Posthumous 185). Like Picasso and Joyce, Stevens saw the artist as God creating a Genesis, a new ontologyand sometimes as a victim, as Christ crucified.
That Oscar Wilde and the aesthetic and decadent movement influenced all three shows their common cultural heritage. As John Richardson has shown, Picasso knew Wilde's work as well as Beardsley's The Yellow Book. Picasso was deeply influenced by the decadent movement from Apollinaire to Jarry. In different ways, all three of our figures were influenced by Gertrude Stein. In Joyce's A Portrait, we see a strong influence of Wilde's art for art's sake and the religion of art. Such a stance puts the artist in the position of observer and voyeur, someone who is like God paring his fingernails. But all three turn their backs onor at least modifythe aesthetic tradition in their later years. Joyce discovered a political voice in Ulysses and Picasso did in Guernica. Stevens found a kinship with Whitman and Emerson and also with the democratic tradition in America. In "The Man with the Blue Guitar," he wrote, "I am a native in this world / And think in it as a native thinks." In the later lyrics such as "Not Ideas About the Thing but the Thing Itself," he emphasizes the need to communicate with the audience and to move beyond abstruse poetry.
Each of these artists struggled with his father and reinvented his father by discovering artistic patrimony. As a very young man, Picasso was said to have remarked, "In art one must kill one's own father" (John Richardson 95). Each had father figures whose personality, character, and value systems were deeply troubling. Each needed to surpass a father who was perceived as either weak or ineffectual or wrongheaded. Each sought father figures in male friends. Joyce's father was a heavy drinker who had let his family's fortune slip away and who, in Joyce's mind, was responsible for the illness and death of his beloved mother; Picasso's father had artistic pretensions that far surpassed his ability; and Stevens's father was a strong puritanical presence who insisted that his son pursue a practical career, even while writing to him, "Paint truth but not always in drab clothes" (Joan Richardson, The Early Years 49). Finally, each endured and was haunted by the loss of a younger sibling: Joyce's brother George died at fourteen when he was twenty, Picasso lost his sister Conchita when she was eight and he was thirteen, and Stevens's sister Mary Katherine died in 1919 when she was in her mid-twenties.
All three had to function as economic men in a bourgeois society, had to market their work and become something of a flaneur to sell in the arcade of the bourgeois. Yet Stevens carved out for himself another life and was part of the world on which he depended, even while having second artistic self. Each is attracted to the unattractive in life. What Richardson wrote of Picasso also applies to Stevens and Joyce: "How often he would echo Goya's dictum, 'Ugliness is beautiful'" (182). For each art was self-expression. For Picasso, his blue period was the reflection of his feelings at the time. Each felt that he was ostracized and victimized by an unappreciative public, although Stevens was characteristically more demure about such feelings. All suffered painful non-recognition and disappointment and felt despair about whether their talents would get a hearing and seeing, and that would affect them later.
Picasso said of his own style: "I'm never fixed" (John Richardson 83). He was always seeking new styles, new visions; what John Richardson wrote about Picasso is as true of Joyce and Stevens: "[H]e wanted to . . . fantasize and dramatize himself and manipulate his own identity and appearance . . . . This self-dramatizing, chameleonlike sense would remain with him all his life" (83). Picasso, Joyce, and Stevens all focused on perspectivism as central to their technique; indeed, for each the technique for presenting perspectives often became the subject. Each used multiple and often contradictory perspectives witness not only Picasso's cubism, but Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" (1917) and Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, and Joyce's Ulysses, which depends on ventriloquy of styles, particularly "Oxen of the Sun" where Joyce performs an historical anatomy of how the changing of styles is the changing of perspectives.
Joyce, Picasso, and Stevens all broke up the surface into several planes and destroyed the distinction between foreground and background; they all decentered the subject and recontextualized it with odd juxtapositions and unique forms. They all saw human characters in perspectives which included prior experience and association. Stevens's poems, like cubist paintings, are a brash attack on traditional ideas of representation. Like cubist paintings, Stevens's poems focus on local objects which the reader needs to put together. Like cubist collages, they highlight some details at the expense of others and often break up a surface into several intersecting planes. Like both cubist paintings and collages, they depend on (1) playfulness that often begins with the title and continues throughout in an attitude of vacillating but pervasive irony; (2) on rapid oscillation between abstraction and nominalistic specificity; (3) on odd juxtapositions of shapes and colors; and (4) on fragments of vignettes and objects, often displaced from their historical origins but with a hint of their original context.
The series of stanzas in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" is like pictures at an exhibitionwe might even recall Moussorgsky's musical composition of that name; it is also like a cubist painting where disparate elements are combined into one flat surface. In a sense, the poem has a radial centerthe blackbird or the perception of the blackbird around which the concentric circles of impressions revolve. Indeed, are not the thirteen stanzas like still lifes, a form which minimizes the presence of the human subject, narrative, and storytelling? As if each stanza were a still life in a room, the reader stands at the center and chooses which one to observe. At the same time, each stanza is a cinematic scene progressing to greater if tentative revelation.
Perceiving "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" as a visual entity, we notice that the imposing empty space on the page calls attention to and provides demarcation for the dearth of words, almost the way frames define and mark the space outside and inside paintings. And isn't this part of modernism's genetic code? As we know, modern art depends less on what is perceived than on how we think about and render what we perceive. And the same can be said for the perception of art. The modern artist does not expect a closed hermeneutical circle where he communicates what he has seen to the perceiver. No, the perceiver must parse together a reading depending on the dialogue between, on one hand, hints, shards, and clues, and, on the other, his own experience.
In Adagia, Stevens quotes Braque's emphasis on the doing as crucial to art: "Usage is everything. (Les idZes sont destinZes ‡ etre deformZes ‡ l'usage. Reconn‰itre ce fait est une preuve de dZsinteressment [Georges Braque, Verve, No. 2])" (OP 159). According to William Rubin, cubists made "the very process of image formation virtually the subject of their pictures" (16). From cubism Stevens derived his sensitivity to light and shade, his experiments with layered textures, his presentation of images in several pictorial planes, his wit and playfulness, and his abstractions oddly intermingled with the embrace of daily life. Such poems as "The Emporer of Ice Cream" and "The Man on the Dump" recall Picasso's and Braque's passion for the vernacular material, particularly their sensory appreciation of objects and interaction of the gregarious and classless world of the cafZ. Wasn't Stevens's idea of Florida, especially Key West, based on experiences and fantasies of this kind? Wasn't Key West his version of bohemian life in Paris? Poems like "The Snow Man" and "Tea at the Palaz of Hoon" follow the cubist tendency to dissolve the distinction between figure and ground, and eliminate a single point of perspective, and also eliminate what Emily Bardace Kies has called "a comprehensible recession in space" (n.p.). Stevens, like Braque, focuses on the connection between things, the composition; but like Picasso, he is riveted by the peculiarities of individual things, the specificity.
Like Picasso, Stevens took odd combinations of man-made and natural forms and fused them into a homogeneity, but a homogeneity that was tentative and disjunctive. One could say that The Man with the Blue Guitar and Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction are elaborate collages. Too, Stevens's non-mimetic use of coloras, say, in "Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks"recalls the cubists' use of color as "an autonomous sign disengaged from the morphological depiction of an object" (Rubin 40). Like Picasso, Stevens liberated color from mimesis and freed color from the boundaries of drawn objects and denoted space. Stevens followed Braque and Picasso in taking art outside the traditional mimetic system of representation and making a new system based upon new juxtapositions, odd assemblies of objects, and discontinuous relations that barely held togethera system that each perceiver had to resolve into his own hypothesis of unity, an hypothesis always challenged by the anarchy of disunity. Yet the flight from verisimilitude was accompanied by a desire to fuse familiar perceptions into odd and striking combinations. Stevens, like Picasso, depended upon the visible world of immediate experience for his donnZe, but created a teasing balance between abstraction and representation.
All three artists were fascinated by colors, and were alternately attracted and repelled by black which they equated with death, evil, nullification, and sexuality. Picasso wrote, "the only real color is black" (John Richardson 417). For all three black is the alpha and omega of colors. Stephen and Bloomlike Hamletwear black all day; "Ithaca" ends in the darkness of Molly's soliloquy; Penelope unweaves by night what she has woven by day. "Ithaca" ends with the orthographic black dot, suggesting, among other things, the womb; in some editions of Ulysses, the black dot is egg shaped. Mourning and death hover over Joyce's work from The Dead to "Hades" to Finnegans Wake. "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" speaks to Stevens's fascination with death, nullification, mystery, and evil.
Such works as Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916)particularly Stephen's voyeuristic fascination with Davin's tale of the Irish woman who invites him in while her husband is awayPicasso's Saltimbanques, and Stevens's "Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks" show how the aesthetic, mystical, naturalistic, and boldly sexual aspects of modernist art struggle dialogically for space in the same work, and thus speak to the contradictory impulses with which their creators struggled throughout their lives. For all three artists, sexuality not only bridges the gap between the aesthetic and ascetic, between word and world, but is the catalyst for imagined worlds that reflect reality. As Richardson wrote, "Picasso's blue period subjects could only be conceived by someone who had been brought up on the agonized martyrs, lachrymose Magdalens and flagellated Christswaxen faces stained with tears, livid bodies streaked with bloodto be found in Andalusian churches . . . such as the Pietˆ in M‡laga Cathedral" (John Richardson 277). Sexual subjects are also a way of offending bourgeois sensibilities; isn't "Anecdote of the Prince of Peacocks," among other things, a poem about the male libido, emphasizing the phallic emblem? In art and in life, when he found a new woman, Picasso "fantasized he was God creating New Eve" (John Richardson 445). Joyce and Stevens, too, felt they were Pygmalions to the female Galatea.
Each of our three figures imaged the artist as a god-figure creating and recreating the universe. Both Stevens and Picasso would understand how, for Joyce, to paraphrase Stephen in the "Scylla and Charybdis" section of Ulysses, the artist could become the father of his own grandfather. The very title of Stevens's Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction pays homage to the concept of Godeven as he declares it a fictionand he speaks in The Necessary Angel of the work the imagination must do now that the gods have disappeared. Stevens's subject is what to do in a world of unbelief. In Notes, the poet-speaker is engaged in a quest for value, for the need to find a surrogate for religion, a working hypothesis for a world in which, as Conrad puts it, "We live, as we dreamalone." Further, each of our three artists stresses the relationship between the creative and the procreative, and uses sexual intercourse as a metaphor for the way the artist's imagination must have intercourse with the world. It might be said that all three spiritualized sexuality, made it something of a supreme fiction; we might think of Stevens's title "Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour." Stevens found in the concept of muse and interior paramour, and in his feminized "fluent mundo" of Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, compensation for what he lacked in a wife, namely a responsive, empathetic other with whom he could share his imaginative world. Just as Molly's monologue gathers together and comments upon the women figures who preceded her in Ulysses (the old milkwoman as "The Old Women of Ireland" who only appears young to a true believer, Bella Cohen, Gerty McDowell, Martha Clifford, Ms. Douce and Ms. Kennedy), so does Stevens's "fat lady" do the same for the women in Notes, including Bawda who marries the great captain on Catawba, Nanzia Nunzio who strips herself naked before Ozymandias, Canon Aspirin's sister, and the blue lady.
Picasso appropriated what John Richardson calls the "sacred fire" of Christianity for his art. In The Two Sisters (1902), Picasso drew upon his "apprenticeship as a devotional painter," "to endow whores with an air of universal relevance and mystic power" (John Richardson 224). Picasso knew Catalan, Romanesque, and Gothic art and architecture; he was in Barcelona in 1902 when the great exhibit of ancient Spanish art opened and knew Spanish religious paintings well. Picasso's work often retains the trappings and apparatus of religion; as Richardson shows, Picasso's early treatment of sacred subjects "lingered on in the artist's memory, and re-emerged in the tear-filled eyes and scream-filled mouths of Guernica, not to speak of Picasso's harrowing portrayals of his own personal martyrsDora Maar, and his wives, Olga and Jacqueline" (John Richardson 72).
The metonymical interrelationship among the sexual, religious, and the aesthetic are at the center of the art of all three figures. Like Joyce with Molly, and Stevens with his "fat lady"herself a version of the earlier blue lady and an echo of Joyce's MollyPicasso celebrated experienced, intensely sexual women as Madonnas. Joyce was fascinated by the systems of religion that he spent his life protesting; does not the very term epiphany come from the Catholic tradition in which he had been immersed as a child and adolescent? Isn't A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man about the aestheticizing of the sacred and of religious tradition? Note the painterly title, playing on Wilde's title The Picture of Dorian Gray (a book about the corrupting effects of a decadent life and about the power of art to transcend life in revealing truth). On one hand, Stephen Dedalus refuses to pray at his mother's funeral; on the other, his frame of reference for imagining the search for a father takes place in terms of arcane Trinitarian heresies of Arius and Sabellius. Joyce in his early work created a religion of art to replace the religion he had left behind.
Each of these male figures uses his art to self-fashion his relationships with women. For each the aesthetic and the sexual, art and desire, are inextricably linked and that link derives from the imagination. As John Richardson notes, Picasso "[charges] the portraits of women in his life with hidden messages and manipulative devices; sometimes calculated to warn or punish or tease; sometimes to seduce or entrap" (John Richardson 237). Joyce with Molly and Stevens with his idealized women as muse, in poems such as "The Idea of Order at Key West" and Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction, also use their art to work out issues with the women in their lives. Each has a need for women both as aestheticized muse and as a sexually accessible object. Yet, by contemporary standards, perhaps all three male figures are somewhat limited, if not misogynistic, in their perception of females. At times Picasso, Joyce, and Stevens see women in blatant sexual roles and do not seem to credit them with powers of intellect equivalent to their own. And this, too, is something of the legacy of the male genetic code of modernism.
To conclude: in this essay, I am suggesting that cultural criticism need not be confined only to Marxist perspectives and stories of power relationships. What I am suggesting is that we might extend cultural criticism beyond ideology and abstractions and to refocus it in humanistic terms. By imaginatively responding to similarities among Picasso, Stevens, and Joyce and tracing patterns within their lives and works, we may create a cultural context that locates the genealogy of modernism, even while that context transcends geographical boundaries, as well as simplified stories of influence or hegemony.
1At the outset, I want to make clear that this story of male artists is one component of modernism's genetic code. I have discussed Virginia Woolf's work and importance in my The Transformation of the English Novel, 1890-1930 (New York: St Martin's P, 1989) and understand that she could and should be part of a different cultural configuration.
2"The dramatic form is reached when the vitality which has flowed and eddied round each person fills every person with such vital force that he or she assumes a proper and intangible esthetic life. The personality of the artist, at first a cry or a cadence or a mood and then a fluid and lambent narrative, finally refines itself out of existence, impersonalises itself, so to speak. The esthetic image in the dramatic form is life purified in and reprojected from the human imagination" (Joyce, Portrait 215).
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