Spirals

Spirals: The Whirled Image in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art

NICO ISRAEL
Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 272
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/isra15302
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  • Book Info
    Spirals
    Book Description:

    In this elegantly written and beautifully illustrated book, Nico Israel reveals how spirals are at the heart of the most significant literature and visual art of the twentieth century. Juxtaposing the work of writers and artists--including W. B. Yeats and Vladimir Tatlin, James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp, and Samuel Beckett and Robert Smithson--he argues that spirals provide a crucial frame for understanding the mutual involvement of modernity, history, and geopolitics, complicating the spatio-temporal logic of literary and artistic genres and of scholarly disciplines.

    The book takes the spiral not only as its topic but as its method. Drawing on the writings of Walter Benjamin and Alain Badiou, Israel theorizes a way of reading spirals, responding to their dual-directionality as well as their affective power. The sensations associated with spirals--flying, falling, drowning, being smothered--reflect the anxieties of limits tested or breached, and Israel charts these limits as they widen from the local to the global and recoil back. Chapters mix literary and art history to explore 'pataphysics, Futurism, Vorticism, Dada and Surrealism, "Concentrisme," minimalism, and entropic earth art; a coda considers the work of novelist W. G. Sebald and contemporary artist William Kentridge. InSpirals, Israel offers a refreshingly original approach to the history of modernism and its aftermaths, one that gives modernist studies, comparative literature, and art criticism an important new spin.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-52668-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VIII)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. IX-X)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. XI-XVI)
  4. INTRODUCTION: ON SPIRALS
    (pp. 1-20)

    Spirals have a curious centrality in some of the best-known and most significant twentieth-century literature and visual art. Consider the writings of W.B. Yeats, whoseVisionwas entranced by a system of widening and narrowing gyres; Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, whose poetry traced Dantesque helical journeys into and out of the modern urban inferno; and James Joyce, whoseUlyssesnavigated between the Scylla of Aristotelianism and the Charybdis of Platonism, ultimately casting both into theWakeof a thunderous Viconian “gyrotundo.” Or think, later in the century, of Samuel Beckett’s obsessive circuitry and abortive spiral journeys or of W.G....

  5. ONE DEFINITIONS: A BRIEF HISTORY OF SPIRALS (AND A WAY OF READING SPIRALLY)
    (pp. 21-42)

    Spirals are ubiquitous in nature, from plant and insect life, to human hair and fingerprints, to the movement of water and celestial bodies. Spirals have also, and increasingly, been used by corporations and in branding commodities. Innumerable products for children (films and television programs, toys, games) feature spiral shapes, and many companies have spiral logos. Perhaps this is because spirals express both the idea of growth and the pleasures of play. Give a young child a pencil and one of the first things he or she is likely to draw is a spiral. The infantile and youthful pleasures of the...

  6. TWO ENTERING THE WHIRLPOOL: ’PATAPHYSICS, FUTURISM, VORTICISM
    (pp. 43-72)

    Perhaps no other scholar of spirals has ever evinced more enthusiasm for his topic than has Theodore Andrea Cook. In 1914, Cook, a London art critic and well-known former editor ofThe Field, an illustrated magazine appealing to gentlemen sportsmen, completed more than a dozen years of research into spiral forms of all kinds.¹ In his sprawling (and sprawlingly subtitled) bookThe Curves of Life: Being an Account of Spiral Formations and Their Application to Growth in Nature, to Science, and to Art; With Special Reference to the Manuscripts of Leonardo da Vinci, Cook offers a detailed description of insect...

  7. THREE TWINNED TOWERS: YEATS, TATLIN, AND THE UNFASHIONABLE PERFORMANCE OF INTERNATIONALISM
    (pp. 73-110)

    William Butler Yeats’s best-known poem, “The Second Coming”—with its widening gyre, falconless falconer, “things” falling apart, and correspondingly monstrous rough beast slouching toward Bethlehem to be born—presents in condensed verse some of the central insights of the text that would eventually be calledA Vision, his all-encompassing occult system explaining in detail how both an individual life and human history move ineluctably in and through time. In the same year that “The Second Coming” was written, 1919, Russian artist and would-be architect Vladimir Yevgrafovich Tatlin conceived hisMonument to the Third International, an enormous, transparent double-spiral iron-and-glass...

  8. FOUR L’HABITE EN SPIRALE: DUCHAMP, JOYCE, AND THE INELUCTABLE VISIBILITY OF ENTROPY
    (pp. 111-160)

    In 1929, the editors of the newly formed, Paris-based English-language publishing house Black Sun Press commissioned a drawing of James Joyce from the Romanian sculptor Constantin Brancusi for a limited edition of fragments of the ongoingWork in Progressthat they planned to publish later that year.¹ Brancusi produced two drawings that certainly resembled Joyce but did not have the modern signature style sought by the editors, so the editors asked the artist to try again. This time, Brancusi created a far more abstract work, titledSymbole de Joyce, consisting of three vertical, straight lines of varying lengths spaced at...

  9. Color plates
    (pp. None)
  10. FIVE AT THE END OF THE JETTY: BECKETT . . . SMITHSON. RECOIL . . RETURN
    (pp. 161-186)

    In the fall of 1930, fresh from contributing his essay “Dante . . . Bruno. Vico . . Joyce” toOur Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progressabout Joyce’sFinnegans Wake, and winning a substantial cash prize for his own hastily written, footnote-laden poem,Whoroscope, Samuel Beckett returned to Dublin from Paris, where he had been residing for three years, and took a post at his alma mater, Trinity College, teaching foreign languages. Invited soon after his return by the Modern Language Society of Dublin to present a November lecture, Beckett announced he would discuss the...

  11. IN CONCLUSION: THE SPIRAL AND THE GRID
    (pp. 187-226)

    In the preceding chapters, I have traced a metamorphosis of the spiral image from the early twentieth century, in which the spiral was often passionately embraced as associated with modernity, energy, and spatiotemporal expansion, through the pivotal work of James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp, in which the spiral began to serve as a sign for an anemia that challenged those early-century associations, to the later-century work of Samuel Beckett and Robert Smithson, in which spirals expressed a recoiling entropy that calls into question the very foundation of the project of modernity and the colonial-imperial project and human-centered histories it subtended....

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 227-274)
  13. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 275-278)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 279-300)