Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint

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9780691170725: Reading Cy Twombly: Poetry in Paint
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Many of Cy Twombly's paintings and drawings include handwritten words and phrases--naming or quoting poets ranging from Sappho, Homer, and Virgil to Mallarme, Rilke, and Cavafy. Enigmatic and sometimes hard to decipher, these inscriptions are a distinctive feature of his work. Reading Cy Twombly poses both literary and art historical questions. How does poetic reference in largely abstract works affect their interpretation? Reading Cy Twombly is the first book to focus specifically on the artist's use of poetry. Twombly's library formed an extension of his studio and he sometimes painted with a book open in front of him. Drawing on original research in an archive that includes his paint-stained and annotated books, Mary Jacobus's account--richly illustrated with more than 125 color and black-and-white images--unlocks an important aspect of Twombly's practice. Jacobus shows that poetry was an indispensable source of reference throughout Twombly's career; as he said, he "never really separated painting and literature." Among much else, she explores the influence of Ezra Pound and Charles Olson; Twombly's fondness for Greek pastoral poetry and Virgil's Eclogues; the inspiration of the Iliad and Ovid's Metamorphoses; and Twombly's love of Keats and his collaboration with Octavio Paz. Twombly's art reveals both his distinctive relationship to poetry and his use of quotation to solve formal problems. A modern painter, he belongs in a critical tradition that goes back, by way of Roland Barthes, to Baudelaire. Reading Cy Twombly opens up fascinating new readings of some of the most important paintings and drawings of the twentieth century.

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Review:

"This is a beautiful and challenging book. Mary Jacobus takes us into the heart of Cy Twombly's practice, his reading, editing, remembering, and remaking of poetry from Homer and Virgil to Rilke and Paz. In doing so, she illuminates Twombly in new and remarkable ways. I loved it."--Edmund de Waal, artist and author of The Hare with Amber Eyes

"In this brilliantly erudite and illuminating study, Mary Jacobus, who is in the front rank of contemporary critics, addresses the languages of paint as well as poetry. As she investigates how Twombly's use of quotation both complements and immensely deepens the power of his visual images, she takes us right to the heart of his doubly articulate genius."--Andrew Motion, UK Poet Laureate, 1999-2009

"The scrawled quotations, ruins of mythic poetry, and trailing verbal scribbles in Cy Twombly's work have fired Mary Jacobus to shape an enraptured yet scrupulously precise conversation with the artist's imaginative world. Her deep literary knowledge, fine close readings, subtle psychoanalytical insights, and sheer sensuous delight in paint and color and stroke and rhythm combine here to create a rare and beautiful work of aesthetic philosophy."--Marina Warner, author of Stranger Magic: Charmed States and the Arabian Nights

"Many who are not art historians have written about Cy Twombly, but precious few with Mary Jacobus's rigor or fresh perspective. Her examination of Twombly's annotated personal library has turned up revelatory details about his practices of reading, notating, and editing; the sometimes quite literal proximity of book to canvas; and more. Jacobus has done profound work and her book is enormously enriching."--Kate Nesin, author of Cy Twombly's Things

"Illuminating and wide-ranging, this is a very significant book. Mary Jacobus's access to Cy Twombly's annotated personal library enables her to speak with unprecedented authority on the literary sources that the artist used."--Stephen Bann, author of Distinguished Images

"A gripping and revelatory study."---Andrew Motion, Times Literary Supplement

"Jacobus . . . assesses with great acumen what Twombly's aims were, and shows brilliantly how he combines the various poetic motifs in his painting."---Marjorie Perloff, Times Literary Supplement

"Mary Jacobus . . . carries us on a marvellous voyage through the artist's mind and beyond."---Marina Warner, Observer

"Through unprecedented access to his notebooks and annotated sources--a vast pool encompassing everything from Homer to Pound--Jacobus elegantly illuminates the complex relationship between word and image in an oeuvre that teems with potentiality and impropriety."---Lucy Watson, Financial Times

"Jacobus' careful reading and broad learning, her understanding of Twombly's art and the poetry he included in it, and her synthetic discussion of literature and art in various periods and genres--her chapter on pastoral is especially breathtaking--all make this a complex, stunningly memorable book."---Elizabeth Greene, Times Higher Education

About the Author:

Mary Jacobus is professor emerita of English at the University of Cambridge and Cornell University, and an Honorary Fellow of Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. She has written widely on visual art, Romanticism, feminism, and psychoanalysis. Her recent books include The Poetics of Psychoanalysis and Romantic Things. She lives in Ithaca, New York, and Cambridge, UK.

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