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Form as RevoltCarl Einstein and the Ground of Modern Art$

Sebastian Zeidler

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781501702082

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: August 2016

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501702082.001.0001

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Cubism’s Passion

Cubism’s Passion

(p.91) 3 Cubism’s Passion
Form as Revolt

Sebastian Zeidler

Cornell University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines Carl Einstein's writings on the cubism of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso. Einstein's shift from literature to art criticism was a shift from a nihilist ontology to a hopeful one. Braque and Picasso seemed to have completed the wanderer's quest, for they had come up with “an image type that's characteristic of the beginning twentieth century.” Einstein extended his personal project into cubism by converting an ontological predicament into a powerful art-critical term known as Grundkontrast, or foundational contrast, which served him to describe how in their paintings Braque and Picasso “dovetailed the strongest possible representation of volume into the paradox of the surface.” This chapter also discusses what it calls Braque's open cylinder and Picasso's hinge. Finally, it explores Einstein's visual ethics by turning to Friedrich Nietzsche's Will to Power.

Keywords:   paintings, Carl Einstein, cubism, Georges Braque, Pablo Picasso, art criticism, Grundkontrast, foundational contrast, visual ethics, Friedrich Nietzsche

Cubism’s Originality

This chapter has a double focus. It is devoted to Einstein’s writings on cubism as well as to the cubism he was writing on. The term meant something quite specific to him, for his interests were highly selective. For one thing, Einstein had no patience for the Salon cubists, and while he respected the work of Juan Gris and Fernand Léger, his essays on them are short and lesser texts. For another, Einstein had no compelling things to say on the Demoiselles d’Avignon or cubism at Cadaqués, and nothing much on collage and the papiers collés that he hadn’t stated on painting already. As for cubism in 1914, it remained as opaque to him as to everyone else. That leaves us with the core account: Einstein on the art of Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso in 1911 and 1912. After some brief and hesitant efforts before World War I, he developed that account in The Art of the 20th Century, above all in the first and third editions (1926, 1931), and again in the monograph he wrote on Braque (1934).1 I will explore that account in some depth, by outlining Einstein’s art-theoretical thoughts and then delivering an analysis of the art in their light.

But first, a summary of the story so far will be useful. We have identified the problematic that had sent Einstein on a wanderer’s quest. Whether it was socialist politics, the being of the pauper, or the visuality of an African sculpture: each time we found Einstein probing an origin, essence, or ground that was not one but two, not a substance but a relation. And each time that relation turned out to be ambivalent at best, nihilist at worst. For each time Einstein was describing, and (p.92) enacting in his writing, a formal constellation in which two units were facing each other as antagonists across a void: two factions in the Reichstag, two existential moods, two aspects of a sculpture, two nouns in a clause. Einstein had tried to write an origin for modern politics and subjectivity, for sculptural experience and for experimental prose; but as that origin withdrew from him, no creation had been built on the abyss of its recession. What had emerged instead was the opposition that the recession had spawned in its wake: an opposition between divided terms around a point of indifference. The style of nonessence had written it many times across the page.

Matters changed dramatically when Einstein was finally able to write extensively on cubism from the mid-1920s on. The shift from literature to art criticism was at the same time a shift from a nihilist ontology to a hopeful one. Braque and Picasso seemed to have completed the wanderer’s quest, for they had come up with “an image type that’s characteristic of the beginning twentieth century” (K3 117).2 As I suggested in my introduction, there is a double entendre here: the beginning century was the century of beginnings. It was the great era of modernity’s efforts at creating an origin for itself, an origin for new relations between people and people, people and world; relations that could be viable even though they were brutally uprooted from all extant traditions of customs, politics, religion, or art. Where the wanderer’s prose had failed to give these relations form, there Braque and Picasso had succeeded at it in their art: that was the hope.

To account for the success in medium-specific terms, Einstein modified his terminology. Infinity and essence faded from his writing, but the notion of the ground became more central than before. Witness his announcement to his friend Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler that The Art of the 20th Century was going to be a gründlich study.3 Gründlich, or “thorough,” is derived from Grund, or “ground.” A gründlich book is a thorough book, but it is that because it explores the ground on which modern painting begins.4 Was that ground the surface of the canvas? Not exactly. In Einstein, a surface is one thing, but a ground is two. What went for the origin of African sculpture or the essence of socialist politics also went for the ground of a cubist painting: it was not a substance but a relation, not a unicity but a doubleness. Like all beginnings in the century, cubism’s beginning too was split.

A painting begins the moment marks are made on a surface. But the moment they are so made is the moment they start engaging in a relation with it. In Braque and Picasso, that relation was between surface and space: between a blank canvas and a set of marks that try to carve some pocket of pictorial space into it. “Space and surface” are cubism’s “foundational conditions” (K3 82),5 and in Einstein’s writing they are as inextricable as an adjective and the noun that it modifies. Gründliches Raumerlebnis, gründliche Durchformung des Bildraums (K3 122, 43): phrases like these defy easy translation, but they accurately describe a visuality that’s both spatial and grounded in a surface.

(p.93) Inextricable the relation may be, but it is far from harmonious. Between them, space and surface produced a tension in cubism around 1911/12 that Einstein called a “foundational contrast” (Grundkontrast; K3 125).6 To some degree, that contrast is always at work in a painting. But for Einstein, Braque and Picasso’s originality lay in the fact that they foregrounded the foundational contrast as visibly as never before; that they raised the question of just what kind of relation a contrast actually is, and what it might become.

A great deal was riding on the answer to these questions. I stated just now that Einstein believed cubism was an unqualified success. That is indeed what he wanted to believe, but it is clear he had many moments of doubt. On one hand, he was observing a gründliche Umbildung in the art: a ground transformation that joined surface and space into a new kind of intimacy. But he also noticed a gründliche Spannung at work: a ground tension that juxtaposed the two as hostile adversaries (K3 66, 48).7 So, are we still on the Hegel territory we explored in chapter 1? In the new image type, did a negativity of groundlessness spawn an art of negative relations? Or did Braque and Picasso seize groundlessness as an opportunity for redefining relation in a positive way? In the first case, cubism would have continued the wanderer’s dark errancy in another medium. In the second, it would have been an original event in the strong sense of the term: a visual revolution to match the political revolutions in Luxemburg and Gramsci. This chapter examines whether it was that and on what grounds.

Much of its analytical framework is Einstein’s, but most of the visual analyses are my own. The Einstein scholar Charles Haxthausen has demanded that we finally do what readers of Walter Benjamin have been doing for decades: that, instead of just rehearsing our hero’s ideas, we make them productive for our own art-historical work.8 The descriptions I will deliver below are my response to that injunction.

An Ethics of Function

Epistemology is … the attempt to evacuate the center of the world for a safe tangential position, to produce a division … into a domain of subjects and a domain of objects. This tangential position is gained by renouncing the nature of the world as a fabric of effects; instead, one aims at conceiving it in terms of spherical limits and cross sections. But positing an inner and an outer world is merely a matter of perspective, a question of power, and so is the postulate of a self-enclosed human figure on one hand, inert objects on the other. The same method of suppression is at work in the postulate of causal sequences.9

It transpired that the object is a nexus of functions; that it is the result, as well, of the action of a subject; that its apparent stasis is above all a matter of linguistic habituation and of the desire to enable convenient—that is, conformist—actions; the object, in short, is a matter of biological memory. (K1 58)10

(p.94) The trafficking in substances had everywhere gone bust. The venerable idea of the soul, solid and immobile like a sideboard, had been dispersed functionally; the stable I was revealed as a mere facade, a prejudice; matter was dissipated into discontinuous force fields, and philosophical concepts were recognized for what they were: signs of psychological fatigue, mere negative states.11

It’s nonsense to assume a fixed psychological identity. The I is a function that increases and decreases in intensity.12

In experience, subject and object signify limit states, extremes of action; in thought, they signify limit terms and resistances. What must be restored is the subject-object process in its full complexity and lability. That is, any process is possible at all only through the intimate binding of both forces. (B 293)13

We are no longer positioned across from a motif as observers, with the neat distinction between inner and outer world firmly in place; rather, things are now a function of man just as man is a function of the world.

(B 339)14

These passages from the survey’s cubism chapter, the Braque monograph, and several related texts show how Einstein was enlisting various theoretical resources for his art-critical task. What he called a world of “force fields” or a “fabric of effects” is better known through cognates from the work of a number of modern thinkers. To mention only the two who were most relevant to him: Friedrich Nietzsche called it a “world of relationships” or of “complexes of events”;15 and Ernst Mach, a world of “element complexes.”16

At stake in these technical terms was the early twentieth century’s singular contribution to the history of ontology: a revision, from the ground up, of the fabric of the modern world and of people’s place in it. One major consequence of the revision was succinctly expressed by Mach’s famous dictum that das Ich ist unrettbar:17 that the notion of a punctual, substantive subject located in a world inhabited by equally punctual objects was no longer tenable. “An isolated ego exists no more than an isolated object,” Mach insisted; “both are provisional fictions of the same kind.”18

That is a conceivably radical move. Up until Mach, Nietzsche, William James, Bergson, and Whitehead, thinkers in the tradition of Bewußtseinsphilosophie from Descartes through Hegel and Freud, had agreed on a basic assumption about what it means for anything to be in the world. This assumption was that in a relation between two or more elements—subject and object, master and slave, self and other—it is the elements that precede the relation rather than the other way around. Subjects variously observe, know, negate, desire, miss, or otherwise interact with objects that they confront on the other side of some primordial division. Subjects and objects are primary and divided; relation is secondary; and relation’s job consists in negotiating the division: defying it, asserting it, bridging it over.

(p.95) It is this order of things that was shattered by Mach, when in his ontology the primordial division came down as he inverted the primacy of the elements over their relation. To explain that inversion, Mach used a term from mathematics that recurs many times in Einstein as well: the term “function,” as in the expression “x is a function of y”: x = f(y). As Mach put it with typical concision, “Where two or more immediately dependent elements are connected by a single equation, each is a function of the others.”19 Hence in a function it is the relation itself that is prior to the elements it relates, for the latter do not meaningfully exist before it, outside it, or independently of it. Or to put this in the terms in which it mattered to Einstein: we are always already related to other people and the nonhuman world before we ever turn into subjects over against the objects of “our” experience. Relation is primary, subject-and objecthood are secondary. In fact, subject- and objecthood are deficient modes of relation, mere “limit states” or “resistances,” as Einstein called them.

So far, so Machian. But as my opening quotes demonstrate, Einstein drifted his ontology into another territory, and so turned it into a proper ethics rather than just a physics: the territory of Nietzsche’s Will to Power. For Einstein as for Nietzsche, as decades later for Michel Foucault, what is at stake in all functional relations is power; where power is defined as a medium, not as a substance.20 Power is not a prize over whose possession the parties in a relation will fight it out; rather, power is the very material of their relation. In Einstein, a functional relation is a kind of zero-sum game in which a finite amount of power circulates as if on a sliding scale back and forth between x and y, subject and object, so that each of them constantly “increases and decreases in intensity.”

In an important letter to his friend Ewald Wasmuth from 1923, Einstein described this back-and-forth as a “struggle within the subobjective function between subjectivation and objectivation.”21 “Subobjective function” is a neologism with which he tried to express the intimacy of a relation that knows no division among its elements. “Subjectivation” and “objectivation” in turn are meant to describe the conflicting wills to power that animate it. Where objectivation wins out, power has shifted all the way to the object pole; as when a person momentarily loses his or her sense of self-identity, enthralled by a searing vista, an irresistible obsession, the pull of a mass demonstration toward the Reichstag or the onslaught of violence that seeks to repel it.

Objectivation is our yielding to other people or the nonhuman world that renders us powerless. Subjectivation is just the opposite; it is our own self-assertion within a relation. It can be a narrow escape from grievous harm, the mapping of meaning onto a landscape in a poem composed on the spot, the ecstatic consummation of desire, or the exhilaration of crushing the political enemy in the street. In Einstein’s ethics, subjectivation and objectivation are the poles between which our existence fluctuates. Whether at a political meeting or in an intimate relationship, whether in the street or in the studio: that life is desirable that, rather than resisting (p.96) this fluctuation, embraces it—embraces the fact that “things are a function of man just as man is a function of the world.”

The Image-Object

The question arose whether objects ought to be reproduced or a free image-object ought to be invented. (K1 56)22

The artist keeps entirely to the formal conditions of the picture surface; the individual object is sacrificed to the image-body; but the annihilation of the object, the flight from the mnemotechnics of civilization or from practical necessity is not all; rather, viewing, which is so often saddled with mystifications, is finally laid bare for what it is. (K1 59)23

One day people had to stumble upon the fact that space doesn’t signify a fixed condition but rather a process, a suffering and a doing, that space is merely a convenient abbreviation and schematization of what in truth is a manifold experience…. But once the inferior schema of passive observing, which accepts reality as an immutable given, was disrupted, the real itself became a problem and a task. (B 321)24

Now things could no longer be represented but had to be created. This attitude is thoroughly atheist, for the shape of the world is no longer considered a divine and ultimate solution; rather, man is assigned the task of inventing man and world—those defective provisoria—ever anew again.

(B 313)25

How, according to Einstein, does this ethics get deployed in art, and specifically in painting? By the way in which a painter gives form to visual experience. Looking around yourself, organizing your field of vision, is one way in which you relate to the world: the way of a viewer. The moment a painter steps up to the easel is the moment he or she starts defining what it means to be such a viewer, using the specific means at his or her disposal: brush and pigment, color and line. In Einstein’s terms, this is the moment when painter and canvas join up into a functional relation: the moment when a power exchange of visibility unfolds between them.

Because in Einstein, painter and canvas start out at ontological cross-purposes. The canvas is a flat, two-dimensional surface, which the painter will try to nullify by recording the three-dimensional volumes of bodies and things on it. With a nod to Richard Wollheim, I will call this effort the painter’s volume-seeing.26 In Einstein, the surface is a stand-in for objectivation: a stand-in for other people and the nonhuman world. As such, the surface is the painter’s opposite, that share of the world that resists all efforts at mapping his or her meanings onto it. Volume-seeing in turn is the painter’s impulse to do precisely that. It is a will to carve familiar or desirable shapes into the surface, to project three-dimensional replicas of bodies and things into a space not actually there.

(p.97) Volume-seeing is the will to subjectivation, and the surface is its objective counterpart. As I suggested above, the opposition between them is what Einstein called the foundational contrast (Grundkontrast). The way in which a painting formalizes that contrast determines its ethical value. For example, the painting may resolve it into the complete victory of volume-seeing over surface, and so effectively deny the contrast even exists. That is what Einstein believed Renaissance art had done, by which he meant Italian High Renaissance painting as described in Wölfflin’s Classic Art.27 And it is why Einstein despised it so much: because of what he felt was its deeply unethical anthropocentrism. By rendering the surface invisible under three-dimensional bodies in motion on a receding ground plane, Renaissance painting had given free rein to volume-seeing, and so staged a functional relation in which power had been shifted all the way to the pole of subjectivation.28

It is also why, conversely, Einstein admired cubism so much. For by acknowledging “the surface as arch-phenomenon” (K1 64),29 cubism unfolded the foundational contrast between volume-seeing and surface that the Renaissance had rendered invisible. The result was the “piercing of the closed form,” as Kahnweiler famously put it: the fracturing of illusionistic volumes of people and things all across the canvas.30 Unlike his friend, Einstein keenly felt the negativity at work in that fracturing; but still he insisted that “the annihilation of the object” was “not all.” Getting rid of a fiction enables you to act, and cubism’s act was one of liberation: the liberation of the artist from his fictive mastery over the world to his acceptance of his actual precariousness within it—and to an invention that was enabled by that acceptance. The illusionistic object of Renaissance painting was lost forever, but another object was gained in its wake: the “image-object” (Bildgegenstand).

What is an image-object?31 An image-object is a novelty with a double origin. It is not a represented figure or thing but an invented one whose exact shape isn’t seen before the moment brush is put to canvas. For an image-object is as much of the surface (Bild) as it is of volume-seeing (Gegenstand), and hence is a phenomenon that ontologically exists on canvas only. That is the image-object’s autonomy, its Selbständigkeit: that it can stand on its own two feet precisely because it has a foot each in both—volume-seeing and surface, painter and world.32 An image-object does not belong to either of the parties in a subobjective function but is rather a visual statement of their relation. It strikes a precarious formal balance between subjectivation and objectivation, a balance that will vary from painting to painting or even from detail to detail.

For the cubist space in which the image-object exists is radically instable; it is Alberti’s space seen through the Will to Power. Space is not “a fixed condition” but “a process, a suffering and a doing”: an image-object’s volume, or lack of it, is the product of an open-ended power negotiation. The artist’s “doing” consists in seeing volume into the surface, his “suffering” in allowing the surface a comeback to his effort. Any image-object is the form of this back-and-forth. It renders salient how our viewing in the fabric of effects is at once fragile and inventive; how “man is assigned the task of inventing man and world—those defective provisoria—ever anew again.”33

(p.98) A final point before we look at some examples. Certain image-objects clearly held a special significance for Einstein. After all, what does it mean to say that in cubism “every complex painting will contain a number of psychological and biological contrasts in face of which all talk of merely formal oppositions will fall away as so much superficial blather”? Or that mandolin and guitar “seem equivalent to the human figure” and “might make us think of a bisexual motif” (B 344, 362)?34 It would appear Einstein noticed something peculiar in cubism. He never described what he saw in detail, and as will become clear he couldn’t have, not in an official artist monograph or in a Propyläen survey of contemporary art. But he did give a name to it. He called it an image-body (Bildkörper; K1 59).

What then is an image-body? An image-body is a particular kind of image-object. It emerges from a foundational contrast that is specifically erotic. An image-body formalizes a relation between man and woman in which the full range of amorous passion, from tenderness through delirium to shamelessness, is released onto canvas. If all goes well, an image-body will give form to an eroticism in which both partners are granted full visual equality. And that is the image-body’s ethics: that here man becomes a function of woman just as woman becomes a function of man.

The image-body’s presence in cubism makes it part of a well-known tradition of French painting that at once summoned the female figure onto the canvas and problematized our access to it: by putting the artist-as-male and the artist-as-artist at cross-purposes with one another.35 Einstein can help us understand how cubism took that project, the project of Manet and Degas, into the early twentieth century. In the functional space of Braque and Picasso, the body became more delirious and more elusive than it had ever been.

The result was what Einstein called cubism’s visuell geistige Leidenschaft, its “visually intellectual passion” (K1 72). That is a vintage wanderer’s phrase: the adverb both modifies and opposes the adjective; together they form a pair of terms across from a blank. A number of major cubist paintings were such blanks. They were indifference points between the visual and the intellectual, and so gave birth to a uniquely double passion. Cubism was both systemic and quaint, a new visual ontology and an outmoded studio art, a general treatise on modern experience and a shamelessly intimate fantasy. In exploring its passion in the pages to follow, I will try to keep these dissonant registers in view. Space was volume, but volume was body: this chapter started out with Mach, but it will end with Beautiful Eva.

Braque: The Open Cylinder

In 1908, Braque told Gelett Burgess: “I couldn’t portray a woman in all her natural loveliness … I haven’t the skill. No one has. I must, therefore, create a new sort of beauty, the beauty that appears to me in terms of volume, of line, of mass, of weight, and through that beauty interpret my subjective impression.”36

(p.99) Typically for Braque, a complex definition of artistic eroticism is built into a few terse sentences. First, making a virtue out of necessity (“I haven’t the skill”), Braque describes a shift in his practice from an illusionistic, Renaissance-type eroticism to a formalist one. Rather than in the representation of a lovely body, this eroticism resides in the means of representing it: volume, line, and so on. Second, this eroticism is not a given but a task: it is not a matter of copying a motif but of being compelled to create a “beauty” that will—or will not—“appear.” Third, that appearance is subobjective: beauty, eroticism, will emerge only where paint and surface agree to cohere productively with the artist’s volume-seeing, his “subjective impression.” And finally, beauty may appear in genres besides the female nude, or so is the implication. After all, at the time he was talking to Burgess, Braque had stopped painting female figures and, with the exception of a single bust-length portrait, would not attempt representing them again until 1910.

Instead, he was painting pictures like the Fruit Dish, now at Stockholm (fig. 3.1). At first blush, the work looks like standard cubist fare circa 1908: a midsize still life with a roughly textured earthen color range in which groups of eroticized pears cluster around a bowl overflowing with swelling fruit. A typical example of Braque trying his hand at Picasso’s Cézannism and, as usual, coming up a bit short? Not quite. If we ask what is specifically Braquean about the work, we will notice the presence of two formal constellations that cannot be found either in Cézanne or in Picasso at this time.37 They would prove significant indeed in the coming years.

The first constellation recurs several times in the shape of the fruit bowl; it may well have prompted Braque to choose this particular vessel in the first place. I mean the bowl’s distinctly separate lobes (fig. 3.1a), each of which is typically composed of four formal units: a curved line, sometimes painted white, which serves as the lobe’s upper rim; another line that extends down the lobe’s side, distinguishing it from its neighbors; the outward bulge of the lobe’s “body,” whose contour these two lines define; and an expanse of paint just above the rim. Rim and paint expanse partake in a surface/volume tension that in various ways animates the still life throughout: a tension between concavity and convexity, hollow space and solid. Are we looking at the empty interior of the bowl or at the bulging shape of a palpable fruit? Taken up by the pile of fruit in the bowl, the theme is diffusely erotic, if in an admittedly not very compelling way.

The second constellation is even less noticeable. It comes in two main parts: the low “platform”—a plate warmer wrapped in a napkin?—on which the fruit bowl is resting; and one of the longest bananas in the history of still life, which is looping around platform and bowl from our left. I will share a few brief observations about them, which for now will seem forced but in a few pages will become salient.

Try to extract platform and banana from their naturalistic context, and consider them strictly in terms of their relation as shapes. With a bit of effort it will become apparent that they jointly formalize a basic way of carving out a volume from a surface: by establishing the in-frontness and in-backness of what would otherwise be just a flat silhouette. The platform (and part of the bowl) is that silhouette, and the (p.100)

Cubism’s Passion

Figure 3.1. Georges Braque, Fruit Dish, 1908/9. Oil on canvas, 53 × 64 cm.

Moderna Museet, Stockholm.

banana helps it acquire plasticity. By emerging from behind the bowl, circling down and around the platform, and then terminating in front of it, the banana declares that the platform inhabits a slice of space in between the two slices through which the banana itself is curving. Volume is created as one form embraces another: that, over and above its phallic shape, was the reason Braque chose the banana, a highly unusual still life object in any century, which he needed for its length and flexibility.38

What is most important about this painting, though, is that, strictly speaking, the two constellations I have described are in fact just one. At least potentially, fruit bowl lobe and banana/platform are versions of one another, for each is produced by the interaction between a curved shape and a straight shape: between lobe rim and side edge on one hand, banana and platform contour on the other. A certain abstract systematicity makes itself felt in a work that’s seemingly devoted to a phenomenology of still-life particulars; it is caused by the presence of a device that has not been fully activated yet. A year later that would change.

In Braque’s Castle at La Roche-Guyon, painted in the summer of 1909 (fig. 3.2), a crucial detail is hiding in plain sight; a detail that would prove far more momentous (p.101)

Cubism’s Passion

Figure 3.1a. The fruit bowl lobe in figure 3.1.

for the cubism of 1911/12 than the Cézannist faceted blocks swirling all around it. I mean a constellation of forms right at the center, halfway up between chateau and hilltop donjon (fig. 3.2a). It looks as if it might be either part of the chateau’s crenellated back wall, or else a narrow path winding its way around the cliff face on route to the donjon. But photographs of La Roche-Guyon past and present record no exact equivalent in the topography.39

Nor could they, for the constellation is not natural but formal; it is a descendant of the Stockholm fruit-bowl lobe. At La Roche-Guyon it comes in four parts: a curved white line; a straight white line that descends downward from the curve’s right end; the ochre-brown cliff section that these two lines enclose; and the swath of greenish shrubbery just above the curve. The difference from Stockholm is that the device has been visibly activated as what I call an open cylinder. The curve is the cylinder’s rim; the straight line is one of its edges; the cliff outcropping, carefully modeled in the round, is its outer wall; and the shrubbery is tricky.

Consider the dominant direction of the brushstrokes of which the shrubbery is composed: they extend at a steep angle from lower left to upper right that is the (p.102)

Cubism’s Passion

Figure 3.2. Georges Braque, Castle at La Roche-Guyon, 1909. Oil on canvas, 92.5 × 72.5 cm.

Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven.


Cubism’s Passion

Figure 3.2a. The open cylinder in figure 3.2.

(p.104) same as the angle of the cylinder’s inclination. The visual effect here is double. On one hand, the shrubbery is not so much sitting pat above the cylinder as it seems to be bursting forth from it. On the other hand, the more one is aware of this—the more closely one scrutinizes the brushwork qua brushwork—the more shrubbery and cylinder will reveal themselves for what they materially are: paint on canvas.

What we have here is an image-object in which the opposites of volume-seeing and surface are intimately joined by way of a continuous exchange between outside and inside. To the extent the cylinder’s exterior visually maintains itself as cliff outcropping, it insists on being a rounded volume rather than just surface matter. But then, to the extent it insists on being a volume, it also suggests that, like all volumes, it has an interior. Which means that, to the extent it then goes on to spew forth paint from that interior, the cylinder agrees that, after all, surface matter is the stuff of which it itself, and indeed everything else around it, is made.

“Farewell to landscape, to the given world,” Einstein wrote about Braque and Picasso’s landscapes (K1 71).40 Farewell indeed: as painting begins anew, volume-seeing and surface join into a single loop of autogenetic formalization. Together they blaze a trail into a field of vision that continuously erupts itself into itself, the product and the producer of a double origin. Given the shape and inclination of La Roche-Guyon’s open cylinder, the erotic nature of the eruption is obvious enough—too obvious, in fact. It would be explored further in the years to come, when Braque abandoned the cosmogonic fanfare of landscape for the intimate subtleties of passionate portraiture.

Braque: The Image-Body

Let me leap right into the thick of things: 1911, the year in which Braque upgraded the open cylinder from local incident to basic unit of formalization. The marvelously evanescent painting at Düsseldorf is a good place to start examining its stakes (fig. 3.3).

On this canvas, volume-seeing is no longer a given but a task. A volume will emerge, to varying degree or not at all, from the interaction between the brush guided by the eye and some local section of the surface. Each interaction produces an image-object that is both generalizable and singular. It is generalizable in the sense that each time it is an open cylinder; it is singular in the sense that each open cylinder is a unique negotiation of the foundational contrast. What makes it unique is the degree of visual consistency the cylinder manages to acquire: the degree to which volume-seeing is able, or unable, to activate the surface and jointly produce with it an image-object.

At one extreme, an open cylinder will turn into a fully individuated thing with firm contours, internal shading, cast shadows, proper foreshortening, and rotational slant into depth. Examples include the scroll ornament on the armchair rest in the (p.105) lower left corner; the wineglass (or gas jet?) a few inches up and to the right; the violin scroll; and the violin neck, whose bottom part is composed of a double-rimmed open cylinder receding obliquely back into space. But an open cylinder can also be just an empty wireframe of black contours hovering about, the rim and side edge of a volume that never coalesces because the surface refuses to let them transform it into a bulge. It is then, but only then, that the open cylinder deserves the name that Yve-Alain Bois, taking his cue from Kazimir Malevich, has given it: the “sickle.”41

For Bois’s observation is valuable, but it tells only half the story. The sickle is not the formal device of Braque’s cubism; it is rather just one instantiation of that device, which is the open cylinder. It is through its inflations and deflations that the open cylinder diagrams the shifting of visual power back and forth on the sliding scale of function. And in Braque’s ethics, the sickle—the open cylinder maximally deflated—stands for the defeat of volume-seeing by surface, for the artist’s voluntary relinquishment of visual power to the world.

Braque himself described his painterly project in just this way. He is not on record as a philosophical mind, but his remarks on what he called “the exigencies of painting” condense into a few sentences the ethics of volume-seeing that Einstein extracted from Mach and Nietzsche: “The object cannot appear except to the extent painting allows it to appear.” “It’s not a matter of starting out from the object but of heading towards it.” “I was unable to introduce the object until after I had created the space.”42 “Objects don’t exist for me except insofar as a rapport exists between them and myself.”43

Sometimes, painting will prevent the artist from seeing volume into its surface, the object will fail to appear, and no rapport will be established. At Düsseldorf, that failure has a special poignancy. For there are not just image-objects here; there is also the presence, still tentative, of a metaphorical image-body. In order to get it properly into focus we need to understand which genre we are even looking at. I have deliberately avoided referring to the work by its customary title, Still Life with Harp and Violin, for that is a misnomer. The painting is actually a Man with a Violin: a three-quarter-length frontal portrait, one of many in Braque and Picasso’s cubism, of a seated male figure in an armchair with a musical instrument resting in his lap.

First, note the chair’s armrest scroll at lower left (fig. 3.3). It recurs in Braque’s Emigrant, his Woman Reading, and the MoMA Man with a Guitar and provides a clue about scale and aspect (fig. 3.5; R 99, R 92). Second, relate the scroll and the armchair it implies to the size and location of the violin and try to imagine the large and admittedly schematic black circle segments near top center as the man’s face and neck. Above all, third, note the contoured hand that is holding an angular plectrum to the violin’s body a few inches to the right of the f-hole (fig. 3.3a). This is one ingenious image-hand, its fingers and plectrum all generated by a sequence of nested open-cylinder elements that ascend from the violin’s tailpiece.

Not only does the hand prove the musician’s presence in the painting; it also introduces an erotic dimension into its functional power exchange of visibility. The exchange is between two parties: the musician’s hand and plectrum on one hand, the (p.106)

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Figure 3.3. Georges Braque, Still Life with Harp and Violin (so-called), 1911. Oil on canvas, 116 × 81 cm.

Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf.


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Figure 3.3a. The hand and plectrum in figure 3.3.

(p.108) violin on the other. The violin’s body seems to be evaporating into the brownish haze of the painting’s ambience to the degree that the hand manifests in front of it in order to pluck it. This is the first example, as yet imperfect, of a zero-sum game of erotic power in Braque’s cubism: as volume-seeing produces a male presence in the canvas, a metaphorical female body—for that, as I shall argue in a moment, is what the violin is—withdraws into the surface. Objectivation countermands subjectivation. It is true that the trade-off is still rendered a bit awkwardly. For one thing, there is an unwelcome narrative dimension here—the illusion, almost futurist, of an explosion of violin into ambience. For another, the trade-off is not really a trade-off, because. strictly speaking. an evaporation is not a formalization: it is a withdrawal from form, as opposed to the form of a withdrawal. A different solution had to be found, one that would join musician and instrument into a proper unity of opposites instead of making the one vanish as the other emerged. And it was found.

Braque’s Man with a Violin at Zurich (fig. 3.4) is a darkly luminous oval, blindingly bright around its two foci, basked in darkness almost everywhere else. It too is a three-quarter-length portrait. The musician is likely sitting in a chair, and the violin is resting horizontally either in his lap or on the surface of a table that has been pulled right up in front of him. To be sure, all other details in the painting are radically in doubt. The physiognomy of the man’s face is all but washed out by a flash of Turner-grade luminosity. A lone sickle underneath it tries and fails to register as his neck; and its many companions to either side of the ethereal torso do not fare much better. It all looks like an easy victory of surface over volume-seeing, more than halfway on route to Mondrian. But a careful look at the painting’s lower half will complicate matters dramatically.

Something is not quite right with the violin (plate I). Its strings extend from the tailpiece and fine tuners at left and after a brief hiatus pass between the two f-holes toward the right. That f-hole area contains a detail that musicologically speaking shouldn’t be there: a circle segment that, partly overlapped by the strings, is located on axis with the f-holes, and hence like them must be resting on the obliquely uprighted surface of the instrument. A sound-hole, in other words. But what is a sound-hole doing on a violin, as opposed to a guitar? Artistic license? No doubt, but what is the point? The answer is lurking a few inches further down: right underneath the lower f-hole, where two parallel black lines rise up toward the sound-hole from an area occupied by two further circle segments, these segments adjacent to one another.

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Plate I. The image-body (details of figs. 3.4, 3.5, 3.7, 3.16).

But this language of geometry is putting the matter too abstractly; after all, this is the area of the musician’s crotch. Let me spell it out, then: the two circle segments at bottom are his testicles, and the parallel lines form the shaft of an open cylinder that ascends diagonally upward and terminates at the sound-hole, which doubles as the cylinder’s rim. The reason the violin has a sound-hole is that its body is being penetrated through its full height by an erection from below. (p.109)

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Figure 3.4. Georges Braque, Man with a Violin, 1912. Oil on canvas, 100 × 73 cm.

Foundation E. G. Bührle Collection, Zurich.

(p.110) Einstein was right, then, and so were the art historians who suspected as much later on: in a number of cubist paintings, the musical instrument is a metaphorical female body.44 But it is that in the starkest way imaginable. We are looking at an unexpected instantiation of the open cylinder indeed: an image-body, jointly composed of erection and musical instrument, which casts a new light on the origin and meaning of a familiar cubist phenomenon—the so-called sound-hole cylinder. The sound-hole cylinder is supposed to have emerged only in late 1912, in Picasso’s famous paperboard Guitar, and then for formal reasons that are narrowly epistemological, to do with the conversion of space into semiology, of protrusion and recession into a quasi-linguistic structure. The reality is different. The sound-hole cylinder originated in painting in 1911; its formalism was explicitly erotic; and neither its emergence just beyond the threshold of vision nor its fluctuating expansions and contractions on the canvas can be adequately tracked by a rigidly diacritical system of oppositions.45

Nor is the Zurich Man with a Violin the only example. To varying degree of visibility, metaphorical image-bodies fused with sound-hole cylinders recur in a number of major cubist paintings from 1911 and 1912. The list includes Picasso’s Mandolin Player (1911), which may have been the first to have introduced it;46 Braque’s MoMA Man with a Guitar (1911/12; R 99); his Emigrant (1911/12); and another Man with a Violin (1911), this one at the Pompidou and, like the work at Düsseldorf, usually misidentified as a still life (figs. 3.5, 3.7, 3.16; plates I and II). Whether violin, mandolin, or guitar: each time we are looking at an open-cylindrical erection that attempts to penetrate it. And each time the erection belongs to a three-quarter-length musician, a highly unusual genre in any period, but one chosen by Braque and Picasso for a specific purpose. Half-length musicians, a common format in Terbrugghen or Caravaggio, would have been unsuitable, since a crotch-level zone was needed where instrument and arousal could merge.

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Plate II. The image-body (schema).

Let me attempt to make sense of this discovery. What we have here, formalized as a mix of shocking vulgarity and seductive subtlety, is the foundational contrast eroticized. The surface is the world; the artist who faces it is the volume-seer; the musician is the artist’s proxy and other in the painting; and the instrument is the point of contention between them. This tension, between the artist-as-artist in front of the canvas, and the artist-as-male within it, is what generates the cubist musical instrument as image-instrument: as a metaphorical body suspended between surface and volume.

In an intimate relation between male and female, what is the distribution of power; and what are the terms, and the tone, of the subobjective function? What is the proximity, and what is the difference, between ecstatic fusion and brutal violation? Will a gentleness that exposes the latter as bizarre and ridiculous produce a unity of opposites instead? Braque’s paintings address these ethical questions by converting them into pictorial ones: How much visual autonomy—how much Selbständigkeit—will be ceded to the musical instrument? Does it maintain (p.111) its embeddedness in the surface, and so its freedom in the world? Or is it extracted from the surface as a volume, and so is penetrated by the musician? Is the sound-hole cylinder inflated, lifting the instrument obliquely forward and out? Or is the cylinder being deflated, so that the surface folds the instrument back into itself, flattening the erection in the process? In his paintings from 1911/12, Braque spent infinite care on leaving these questions open. As he was negotiating the foundational contrast in the process of painting, Braque split himself up into two, into volume agent and surface agent, his brush by turns strengthening and weakening each party’s claim to visibility.

Let me describe that split by focusing on the detail of the sound-hole cylinder in its two most complex instantiations: in the Zurich Man with a Violin and the Emigrant (figs. 3.4, 3.5; plates I and II). In both cases, the crucial area is the cylinder rim. Is the rim a volume-agent, or is it surface matter? Is it an ellipse, and hence a foreshortened circle that would fit what in that case would be a fully rounded volume underneath it like a lid fits a jar? Or is the rim a perfect circle, and hence a flat surface fact that would nullify the cylinder’s claim to three-dimensionality? Each time, Braque’s answer is an infinitely subtle yes.

At Zurich, the sound-hole rim is missing an entire circle quadrant, so that the cylinder opens onto the surface, sinking back into it at the point of its own maximum elevation. Further, the topmost violin string doubles as a horizontal tangent to the rim, joining with it into a sickle whose claim to frontality is at variance with the shaft’s claim to obliquity. The f-holes only amplify the confusion. On one hand, their location one above the other visually folds the violin into the vertical, and so makes it immune to backward penetration and outward extraction. On the other hand, the upper f-hole is partly hidden from view and just a bit smaller than its partner; as if the soundboard were mildly foreshortened and hence, like the f-holes, obliquely positioned after all.

Zurich is an extreme painting in every way. Braque exploited the formal properties of the oval in order to record an improbably concentrated and fleeting moment of delirious fusion.47 The oval’s double focus produces both a contrast and a rhyme between the musician’s washed-out face, which is located at one focus, and the penetrated image-body in his lap, which is located at the other. The oval’s format, which according to Picasso can signify “a circular plane seen in perspective,”48 binds them together even more intimately. Picasso’s remark may be taken to mean that, qua canvas, a cubist oval painting is a surface fact even as, qua silhouette, it is a receding volume. The Zurich oval would then be like the rim—somehow at once foreshortened and flattened—of an open cylinder, and so would internalize as its format the erotic unity of opposites stated by its composition.

In the Emigrant, Braque tried a different tack. The most obvious difference from Zurich is that the instrument is hardly even there; no credible soundboard contours or neck are in evidence. Even so, Braque stated twice that the figure is a “guitarist”; and indeed we can see the strings and the sound-hole, not to mention the prominent (p.112)

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Figure 3.5. Georges Braque, The Emigrant (The Portuguese), 1911/12. Oil on canvas, 116.7 × 81.5 cm.

Kunstmuseum Basel. Gift of Raoul La Roche, 1952.

(p.113) cylinder and the testicle at its root.49 And the precedent of the Düsseldorf violin (fig. 3.3) clarifies the spectral nature of the instrument: again we are dealing with a zero-sum game of visibility. The guitar’s volume dissipates into the surface the moment the cylinder manifests at its center in order to penetrate it. The result is an erotic Cheshire guitar, an image-body composed of sexual arousal and its frustration.

Still, volume-seeing tries to work with what it has got. It tries, for example, to declare the cylinder’s roundedness by establishing a uniform transition from highlighted to shaded areas down along its length. But the facture militates against the chiaroscuro effect it is supposed to generate. No brushstrokes in the Emigrant sit as smoothly and flat on the surface as those that went into painting the cylinder’s curvature. Moreover, the cylinder is only half as wide as the rim above it: Braque stopped painting it at that point where the flat band of paint would have turned into an unambiguous erection in the round. Three other details further amplify this ambiguity.

First, there are the guitar strings. Most of them do not fully pass across the sound-hole rim but dissipate within it. The reason is simple: parallel lines are surface facts, hence their complete passage across the rim would have resolved the foundational contrast rather than stating it. Second, there are the intervals between the strings. The rim’s black contour partly disappears underneath them. As a result, the question of the rim’s exact shape—ellipse or circle?—is forever kept open, and with it the question of erotic satisfaction.

Finally, there are the parallel lines that extend beyond the sound-hole toward the upper right. They are a deliberate pentimento. At one point the emigrant was meant to be holding an accordion. Its outline is still visible. It was sitting obliquely in his lap, extending from the left back toward the right. The black parallels are the upper contours of the accordion’s bellows. The bellows try to pull the guitar strings back into the space into which they claim to be receding. So, are the guitar strings surface agents or volume agents? If the strings were receding together with the bellows, there would be an accordion, and hence no guitar to penetrate for the cylinder. If the strings were to remain parallel, there would be a guitar but no recession, and hence no penetration.

This then is Braque’s vocabulary for eroticizing the foundational contrast: elliptic circles, guitarless sound-holes, receding parallels. Each time an image-body is the site of an opposed fusion between surface and volume-seeing. Yet each time that fusion is stated as a suspension, layering, or dissipation: not as an irreconcilable conflict, but not as an easy merger, either. It is one elusive kind of passion; many Picasso fans, desensitized by the master’s rapports de grand écart, have mistaken it for hesitancy. What shall we call it?

Einstein once called it Braque’s feine Gewalt (K1 76). The obvious English translation, “subtle violence,” is dissatisfying, since it suppresses the rich etymology of the German term fein. A postmedieval equivalent not just for the Latin subtilis but also for delicatus and tenuis, fein can mean “gentle,” “delicate,” “stretched out,” or “threadbare”—like a tenuous argument, but also like a finely spun web.50 Braque’s violence, Einstein was saying, not only imposes itself in a gentle fashion. It (p.114)

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Figure 3.6. Braque in his studio at 5, impasse de Guelma, Paris, 1911 or 1912 (detail).

Laurens Archive, Paris.

also exposes its own delicacy as it does, its willingness to attenuate rather than force a visual claim, and be it at the risk of seeming to have failed to make it altogether.

A mesmerizing photograph shows how the feine Gewalt extended to the artist himself. Taken in either 1911 or 1912, it shows Braque in his studio at the impasse de Guelma together with the Emigrant (fig. 3.6). Like so many photographs of Braque and Picasso from the 1910s, it is clearly staged. Why prop up the painting on the easel this low; why squat next to it in such a way that our view of the figure is partly obscured by its maker? In order to establish a tenuous equivalence between the two. Not only is Braque’s body exactly level with the emigrant’s; his posture, including the relation between profile head and frontal torso, is the same (p.115) as well, only rotated sixty degrees or so. Turn it sixty degrees back, and you are looking at Braque in the place and pose of the emigrant.

Except that Braque is not holding a guitar but a palette and a bunch of brushes. In the photograph they project into the painting at the same angle at which the sound-hole cylinder projects forward and out toward them. The visual argument made by this formal rhyme is one we will see Picasso make as well (figs. 3.10, 3.11): a crotch-level open cylinder is not just like an erection but also like a brush. But by splitting the device in two, the photograph insists that in Braque erection and brush are not as one. The same tool that has painted in the cylinder has also painted out the guitar. Musician and artist relate as two opposites joined into the unity of a double self-portrait: a male who imagines seizing a body, and an artist who, by painting his picture, will give him a hard time of it.

Braque: Simultaneity

While it is a startling discovery, the sound-hole cylinder image-body, to coin an ugly phrase, should not be considered the secret of Braque’s cubism finally exposed. Braque’s paintings aren’t accessible to a surface/depth hermeneutics; nothing is actually hidden in them. Instead, Braque explored what it means for a phenomenon to accede to visibility, to cross a threshold beyond which a peripheral blur in our field of vision will suddenly acquire the distinctness of a hallucination. I have made that case for certain details in Braque; it is time to step back and take in a painting as a whole.

Above I called the Pompidou Braque a Man with a Violin rather than a still life, but that is a claim that still needs arguing (fig. 3.7). The following description is meant to back it up, but it is also intended to push the descriptive language into a territory of ambivalence that calls for a new Einsteinian term to resolve it.

A man is seated in an armchair behind a small table on which a violin is lying horizontally; note the strings, the f-holes, and the neck and scroll at right. Note, furthermore, the chair’s armrest scroll at the left; the handless forearm raised at forty-five degrees next to it; the triangular “head area” at top right; the receding tabletop with its strongly accentuated horizontal front edge; and, in the bottom right quadrant, the two vertical strips underneath the table: they are the front side and one oblique side (folded forward) of a single table leg.

The “head area” needs commentary to become visible at all. Two precedents should help. First, there is Braque’s own bust-length Girl with a Cross (1911; fig. 3.8), an unsuccessful work that is nonetheless instructive in one respect: as at the Pompidou, one of the several possible shapes of the face is an inverted triangle slightly inclined to our right. Second, there is Picasso’s Cadaqués Guitarist (1910; fig. 3.9), a three-quarter-length male musician who is seated in a chair, one forearm resting on a table that extends into the painting from our right. Observe how (p.116)



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Figure 3.7. Georges Braque, Still Life with a Violin, 1911. Oil on canvas, 130 × 89 cm.

Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.


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Figure 3.8. Georges Braque, Girl with a Cross, 1911. Oil on canvas, 55 × 43 cm.

Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth.

Braque copied the double-strip table leg right into his Pompidou painting; then note the Guitarist’s “head area.” By means of a juxtaposition of differently angled lines (some rectilinear, others diagonal) and differently colored planes (some dark ochre, others dark gray), Picasso is prompting us to imagine the guitarist in two alternative postures: either sitting straight up, with the head facing us frontally; or with the head inclined to our right—its shape an inverted triangle, among other options—and the shoulder slumped down toward the table. In the Pompidou painting’s “head area,” Braque was trying his hand at Picasso’s frontality/inclination formula, only with mixed results.

Finally, note the image-body (fig. 3.7; plates I and II). We are looking down upon the violin on the tabletop, from which an open cylinder is obliquely rising forward and up right through it. The cylinder terminates in a circle-segment rim, which, as at Zurich (fig. 3.4), doubles as the violin’s sound-hole. It is unclear what the cylinder is supposed to be. One would be grateful if it were just a candlestick, (p.120)

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Figure 3.9. Pablo Picasso, Guitarist, 1910. Oil on canvas, 100 × 73 cm.

Musée national d’art moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. André Lefèvre, 1952.

which it may well be, given the presence of a circular base (a dish?) on the table from which it seems to be projecting. But we cannot rule out that we are being asked to imagine an erection piercing both the tabletop and the violin from below. Either way, whether literal or metaphorical, this is a lurid fantasy, though one whose visual consummation is suspended in a familiar manner. The impressionist stipples of gray and ochre that gently issue from the cylinder’s rim, La Roche-Guyon-style (fig. 3.2a), prevent it from hardening into a shaft; more such stipples gather round its base, and so suspend its penetration of the tabletop.

That said, what are we to make of the painting’s genesis? In a letter to Picasso from November 1911, Braque reported he was working on it. He called it a still life: “There’s an entire fireplace in it, with wood inside.”51 And indeed, given this piece of information, the armrest scroll at left looks large and solid enough to pass for almost a marble mantelpiece ornament.52 In turn, once that is accepted, the table surface becomes imaginable, barely, as the ground plane of a fireplace (p.121) receding back into a wall toward the chimney. Then again, a violin just isn’t firewood. Meanwhile, in light of Braque’s letter, is the forearm really a forearm?

We seem to have entered a major interpretive quagmire. Accordion-guitars, armrest-mantelpiece scrolls, candlestick-erections, still life-violinists: how, other than by hyphenation, can we make sense of various visual phenomena in Braque’s cubism that seem to be several things at once? To speak of “palimpsests” or “afterimages” would be to invoke an unwelcome sense of causal linearity: a sense of earlier marks left to stand as pentimenti among more recent layers, of the individual stages of a process to be retrieved by the viewer. I say unwelcome, because successiveness—a definition of visual experience over time as a sequence of events unrolling one after the other—is precisely what is not evident in Braque’s paintings. On the contrary, a model of time as succession is what they are programmatically displacing.

It may have been procedurally the case, but it simply isn’t visually the case, that the Emigrant’s instrument “started out” as an accordion and “subsequently” became a guitar, or that the Düsseldorf and Pompidou paintings were “changed” from still lifes into portraits by “adding” a hand or a forearm. In our actual experience, each instrument is simultaneously two, just as each still life is simultaneously a musician, and each instrument a body. Which returns us to Einstein: the last and arguably the best art critic of the early twentieth century to make a serious effort at thinking cubism as an art of simultaneity.53

A brief general note on the topic is in order, for once upon a time simultaneity was many things to many people. By 1926, when Einstein first started using the notion systematically, it had already been outmoded in art world circles for a decade or so; but in the period just before World War I simultaneity had been a polysemic buzzword that had stirred the imagination of an entire generation. At its most specific, it had been at issue in the fiercely technical debates among physicists about the nature of time in the wake of the theory of relativity; Albert Einstein (no relation), Mach, Whitehead, Bergson, and Poincaré all pronounced on it.54 Meanwhile, at its most general, simultaneity had been used to invoke the sensory overload of the modern urban environment that generated an experience of time at once fractured and layered, and as such had been lavished onto all sorts of prewar cultural artifacts: the paintings of Robert Delaunay as well as of assorted Salon cubists, the poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire and Blaise Cendrars, the multimedia efforts of the Italian futurists.55

How does Einstein fit into this scheme of things? The physicists’ debates clearly went over his head; his writings contain only the briefest nods in the general direction of Relativity. But simultaneity in Delaunay and futurism (he always lumped the two together) was a different matter. Einstein pronounced on it in detail and long before he appropriated the notion for cubism, if always in strongly negative terms.56 Einstein was unfair to futurist thought and merciless to the art; but some of his verdicts rose above the level of polemics. For one thing, he deplored the (p.122) way in which in futurist painting the “impressionist instant was expanded by way of memory into a dynamic simultaneity of the imagination, but the formal counter-value remained undiscovered” (K1 93).57 For another, using the futurists’ own Bergsonism as a club against their art, he attacked their “cinematographic technique” (K1 67): the fact that in futurist painting figures and objects are as if arranged “on a psychological screen, a filmic surface.”58

The deeper flaw for Einstein here was the notion of time with which the futurists seemed to be operating, and the way in which it was formalized in their work. Einstein felt that, at the end of the day, in futurist painting time was defined merely as the succession, however “durational,” of several moments of visual experience. A futurist painting was the compromised simultaneity of these moments. It either merged them together, blurring the contours of objects in order to extend “the impressionist instant” of perception backward and forward in time; as when a swaying Eiffel Tower is circled by swishy aeroplanes. Or else it unrolled these instants one after the other, filmstrip-style: as so many girls on balcony, so many dogs on a leash. And it did so merge or unroll them on a surface that it treated as the docile ground of that unrolling rather than as its “formal countervalue.” Put another way, it was their flawed notion of time as succession that made the futurists fudge the foundational contrast.

For Einstein, that was the crucial difference from Braque and Picasso. To his mind, it was by foregrounding the foundational contrast that they recorded a temporalized experience on canvas whose simultaneity was neither cumulative nor successive but what I call diagrammatic. A cubist painting was a diagram of possible experiences, a visual simultaneity of different kinds of relation in the fabric of effects. As Einstein put it in The Art of the 20th Century, “In simultané, form is seized as the unity of temporally differentiated action” (K1 68).59 He tried unpacking this dense statement many times, most clearly so in the colloquial language of the draft he composed for a letter to Kahnweiler in 1923.

Let’s say you experience something; fine. You go on to express it, but precisely in so doing you suppress what makes the thing a sensible experience at all: the complicated complexity, the intrinsic functional contrast of the sensation, the process that unrolls simultaneously according to different kinds of “logic.” If that weren’t the case, our psychic life either a) would have no mobility at all, or b) would rush forth unrestrained like a cataract, exceeding any conceivable speed of the phusis.60

Translation: in the Will to Power, Nietzsche got it right.61 Selfhood is functional; it is multiple and riven, not singular and unitary. At any one moment of anyone’s psychic life, various mutually opposed impulses are entwined (com-plicated) with one another in so many power relations.

As a result of this ongoing struggle, Einstein wrote, “a person” constantly “increases and decreases in terms of volume, of self-sensation and (p.123) object-sensation.”62 This waxing and waning of the self over time is unavoidable, for the simultaneous oppositions among the impulses are irreconcilable and open-ended. This is a good thing, Einstein was telling Kahnweiler. If it weren’t so, we would all be either Parmenideans from hell or Heracliteans from hell. Either time would not exist and we would only ever have one experience (a); or time would “rush forth like a cataract” and we would have every conceivable experience all at once (b).

But such fictions, Einstein was arguing, should be left to the metaphysicians who enjoy making them up. In reality, psychic life is neither inert nor cataractic but mobile. By opposing one another functionally, psychic impulses are egging one another on and slowing one another down. This is how they become “sensible,” how they acquire form as a specific experience or image at all.

That said, as the experience or image does acquire form, the conflict that produced it is typically suppressed in favor of the victor. Because in thinking about themselves, people tend to resolve the simultaneity of their different psychic investments into a linear chain of consecutive states of mind. We’d like to think we are now aesthetically sensitive, now aroused, now rational. First we appreciate the finer points of an artwork, then we have sex, and then we do our taxes. And of course that is what we do. The question is, Just what is this “we”? Is it one, or is it many? The conviction that it is one is as attractive as it is because it allows us to think of ourselves as a unity in temporal diversity: as a single cohesive self that’s passing through sundry states of mind one after the other. But then, Einstein was asking Kahnweiler, where are all these different states coming from? How is it that arousal emerges at all and displaces aestheticism, and is then displaced by instrumental reason in turn? Why do we ever change?

The answer Nietzsche had given in the Will to Power was that all these different affects, and countless others besides, do not come from nothing but are always copresent in the psyche. A self is not a chain of states of mind that keeps unrolling but a fabric of effects that keeps reconfiguring itself. Aestheticism, arousal, and so on are constantly active impulses, opposed in simultaneity; it’s just that at various moments one of them will provisionally vanquish the others. Einstein’s point was that Braque was painting the struggle that comes before, and after, these transitory victories. The result was an art that, so far from being otherworldly, shows what it’s like for a person to exist in time. Braque’s cubism exploded the fictive linearity of experience into an unpredictable openness, and it dissolved the stable meaning of our field of vision into the uncontrollable manifold it actually is.63

With his trademark laconicism, Braque himself said as much: “It’s all the same to me whether a form represents a different thing to different people or many things at the same time.”64 What Braque was getting at is what we might call a simultaneity of on-the-vergeness. He had in mind a kind of painting in which a functional contrast is only ever about to be resolved in favor of one of the impulses (p.124) that comprise it. A painting will be the diagram of that contrast, not its resolution. The work at the Pompidou, which, like the others I have discussed, is best left untitled, is such a diagram. It produces a psychic contrast both at the level of various details and at the level of its genre as a whole: as the oscillation between armchair and mantelpiece, erection and candlestick, portrait and still life—between a male’s succumbing to a delirious fantasy and an artist’s commitment to genre convention.

Picasso: Freedom and Constraint

Like Braque and Einstein, Picasso had a visual ethics. He never cared to elaborate it discursively in the manner a critic or philosopher would, but still it can be teased out of the statements he made about his work. Then, it will transpire that Picasso came up with his own terminology in order to address the question that also moved Braque and Einstein: the question of the foundational contrast. In Picasso’s ethics, the question hinged—quite literally, as we shall see—on the issue of freedom. Despite its existential importance for the artist, that issue has never been adequately addressed by the literature. It is worth looking into in some detail.

Just what is freedom, Picasso asked himself many times in his misleadingly apodictic way; and just how should it be given form in art? At first blush, the answers he gave over the years seem wildly contradictory, but on close inspection they will actually add up. Let us consider two pieces of evidence.

First, there is a statement from 1944. Recorded by Françoise Gilot, Picasso’s partner and interlocutor of several years, it is one of the most important remarks he ever made about his working method: “Forcing yourself to use restricted means is the sort of constraint that liberates invention. It obliges you to make a kind of progress that you can’t even imagine in advance.”65 Constraint liberates invention: according to Picasso, freedom would seem to be a desirable thing.

But then there is another statement, again to Gilot, which was prompted in 1948 by a well-known incident. Picasso received a cable from New York with an urgent plea. The curator James Johnson Sweeney reported on recent attacks on modern art by conservative US politicians.66 Sweeney warned of a “wave of animosity towards free expression” in the United States, and he implored Picasso to lend his public support to the cause of the embattled American artists. That seems a reasonable request, yet Picasso categorically refused to consider it and threw the cable in the trash. He flew into a rage and denounced all clamor for the freedom of art.

The point is, art is something subversive. It’s something that should not be free…. There has to be a rule even if it’s a bad one because the evidence of art’s power (p.125) is in breaking down the barriers. But to do away with obstacles—that serves no purpose other than to make things completely wishy-washy, spineless, shapeless, meaningless—zero.67

The apparent contradiction between these two statements will disappear once we realize Picasso is not talking about one but two notions of freedom: a good notion, which he endorses in the first statement, and a bad notion, which he rejects in the second one. The two notions are distinguished by the role each of them assigns to a human impulse to expression in the achievement of that freedom.

According to the bad notion, promoted by Sweeney, freedom is simply unbridled expression. Picasso considers it bad because he believes the result won’t actually be liberatory but catastrophic. Remove the bridles from expression, and it will dissipate: it will become “shapeless, meaningless—zero.” Free speech, Picasso is saying, is the formlessness of meaning. His point should not be confused with an aristocratic denunciation of liberal relativism. Picasso is not arguing that if everything may be said, then nothing that can be said is of value. Rather, he is arguing that if everything may be said, then nothing actually can be said. The moment you are in a position to say anything whatever is the moment you are no longer able to say anything in particular, for it is the moment you have deprived yourself of the means of saying anything at all—the means of formalization.

That point is elaborated in Picasso’s first statement, which insists that freedom, as defined by the good notion, is not intrinsic to expression. Rather, freedom emerges from the interaction between that expression and a constraint that limits it, and that, in limiting it, enables it to acquire form.68 Form is expression freed from the threat of meaninglessness by its submission to constraint: that is the linchpin of Picasso’s ethics. Hence his hostile response to the cable from America. Sweeney was arguing that freedom and constraint are at odds; Picasso insisted they go together. An “obstacle” or “barrier” against which an expression runs up, a constraint nonetheless “liberates invention.” It forces you to convert the world’s resistance to your effort at mapping your meanings onto it into the form of a new kind of meaning that emerges from the friction between the effort and the resistance.

What we have here is the outline of an ethics of the medium with some real heft to it. But there is also a sinister dimension. It is signaled by the presence of the word “subversive” in the second passage I cited. It is surprising to find it used by Picasso, an artist who is still routinely dismissed, or else celebrated, for having been infatuated with a model of art making as “bourgeois creativity” and with the Sweeney-type freedom that is said to go with it. As we just saw, this alleged infatuation is actually a myth. But that only throws the real problem of Picasso’s ethics into full relief: the problem of negativity. Consider another moment from the conversation (p.126) about Sweeney’s cable. The subject has drifted to art and politics in general, and Picasso is bringing in a new example: the Soviet Union.

Only the Russians are naive enough to think that an artist can fit into society. That’s because they don’t know what an artist is. What can the state do with the real artists, the seers? Rimbaud in Russia is unthinkable…. There wouldn’t be such a thing as a seer if there weren’t a state trying to suppress him. It’s only at that moment, under that pressure, that he becomes one.69

The socialist realist ethics of the Russians is the obverse of the abstract expressionist ethics of the Sweeneys. The Sweeneys think an artist must protect his freedom from the state; the Russians believe he should submit his freedom to it. Neither of them understands that the art of the seer, which liberates invention, is subversive by default. Contrary to the Sweeneys, art always needs the constraint of a state; contrary to the Russians, it needs it only in order to fight it. That thought is as curious as its consequences are bleak: to liberate yourself, you must first be imprisoned, but in prison is also where you will stay. For the condition of freedom cannot actually be attained; all that can ever be done is to engage in the struggle for liberation. Art making, formalization, is that struggle in perpetuity.

Picasso’s ethics may have originated in his allegiance to anarchism during his Barcelona years in the early 1900s, when antistate manifestos were regularly published in Arte Joven, a journal for which he had worked as coeditor.70 If so, then over the following decades, as his political ties faded away, a momentous decoupling took place in Picasso’s thought. What may have begun as an antistate politics turned into an anti-anything ethics, in which “the state” came to serve as an abstract placeholder for something unnameable, malevolent, and ubiquitous. To be sure, it may have been that at Barcelona already, in which case anarchism simply helped give a name to an elusive target. Either way, all political formations Picasso ever brought up in his later years became, to his mind, so many “states”: not just Stalin’s Russia or McCarthy’s America, but also the Middle Ages, for example. Take the report of an American journalist who had visited Picasso in Paris in 1944: “‘A more disciplined art, less unconstrained freedom, in a time like this is the artist’s defense and guard,’ Picasso said. ‘Very likely for the poet it is a time to write sonnets. Most certainly it is not a time for the creative man to fail, to shrink, to stop working. Think of the great painters and poets of the Middle Ages’.”71

So, an artist’s resistance to fascist occupation consists in internalizing the political constraints upon his life as the formal constraints upon his work. Fair enough, but how do we get from German-occupied Paris to the medieval manuscript workshops? By assuming the medieval illuminators were so many Picassos; that, whatever its historical context, art is always “working against.” That phrase comes up in a very important statement Picasso made to Hélène Parmelin, and it is implied in another recorded by Gilot. In both cases, constraint is stripped of all (p.127) political connotations and instead is defined as an adversary in a raw ontological antagonism.

Picasso says that when you work you must be “against.” You must do everything against. And never for. “From the moment you begin to work for, you’ve had it,” he says.72

Anything of great value—a creation, a new idea—carries its shadow zone with it. You have to accept it that way. Otherwise there is only the stagnation of inaction. But every action has an implicit share of negativity. There is no escaping it. Every positive value has its price in negative terms, and you never see anything very great which is not, at the same time, horrible in some respect.73

In the paintings of Pablo Picasso, what was the negativity that was accompanying the action? What was it he was working against? And how does his ethics line up with Braque and Einstein’s? To answer these questions, let us consider two further remarks. The first one was reported by Alexander Liberman after a visit to the artist’s studio; the second is Picasso’s notorious put-down of the art of Pierre Bonnard.

He looked around him [in the studio] and said: “All of this is my struggle against the two-dimensional aspect.”74

[Bonnard] fills up the whole picture surface, to form a continuous field, with a kind of imperceptible quivering, touch by touch, centimeter by centimeter, but with a total absence of contrast. There’s never a juxtaposition of black and white, of square and circle, sharp point and curve. It’s an extremely orchestrated surface developed like an organic whole, but you never once get the big clash of the cymbals which that kind of strong contrast provides.75

It is likely that, if asked to define the difference between Braque’s cubism in 1911/12 and his own, Picasso would have come up with a milder but essentially similar description. Strong juxtapositions can be found in Braque; but, as we saw, his ethics led him to suspend their clash. That Picasso for his part insisted on a contrast, “tension,” or “opposition” in his own work76—a contrast among the individual forms in a painting as well as between these forms and the surface—invites a translation of his visual ethics into Einsteinian terms. The same is true for the “struggle against the two-dimensional aspect” he mentioned to Liberman.

The surface is the constraint, and volume-seeing is the artist’s impulse to expression. Just as in Braque, a foundational contrast emerges when the two meet on canvas. But unlike in Braque, the contrast will be violent, for the constraint of the surface is at once embraced and resented by Picasso. The resentment in question is (p.128) a resentment of aspectivity: of the fact, which is hardwired into easel painting as a medium, that to paint a volume under one aspect onto a surface is simultaneously to lose all other possible aspects from view. To paint a head in three-quarter view turned toward the left, for example, is to be compelled not to paint it in lost profile or from the back. Moreover, even to paint that single aspect of a three-dimensional figure is to be constrained to painting it in two dimensions: it is at once to indulge in volume-seeing and to relinquish its object to the surface.

Obviously enough, any representational painting addresses this doubleness, but Picasso made it the very ground of his art: by confronting “the state” every time he started to paint. Every “action”—every movement of the brush—was accompanied by an “implicit share of negativity”: even as an “aspect” was being recorded on canvas, its two-dimensionality was being foregrounded as well. Nor could it be otherwise. Subversion cannot exist without some “state” to subvert; to paint a volume, you need a surface that will deny you your wish. The result was not an art of freedom but, second best, an art of liberation. The origin of painting was ever split for Picasso, yet for him that split became a bottomless wellspring of form.

Picasso: The Hinge

In 1921, Braque’s Emigrant (fig. 3.5) was acquired by the Swiss banker Raoul La Roche for his distinguished collection of modern art, assembled on the advice of Amédée Ozenfant, then still an Einstein associate. Four years later, the Emigrant received company when La Roche moved the collection to a new abode in Paris. Designed by Le Corbusier, the Villa La Roche was completed in 1925 and instantly became a pilgrimage site for the European avant-garde. Proudly on display in it was a recent major acquisition: Picasso’s Aficionado, painted in the year Braque completed the Emigrant (fig. 3.10).77 Since Einstein’s fascination with both paintings is well documented, it is tempting to imagine him visiting the Villa repeatedly, wandering from the Emigrant to the Aficionado and back, musing about the different passions on display.78

An aficionado is a fan of the bullfight, a sport in which sharp metal plunges into volume, cutting the surface of skin in two. Picasso’s figure is holding one of the weapons employed for that purpose: a banderilla, a straight, rounded stick that ends in the semicircular curve of a barbed blade (fig. 3.10a). Yet another instantiation of the cubist open cylinder—a sickle literalized—the banderilla in Picasso’s portrait doubles as brush and, given its location, as erection.79

This overdetermination makes the banderilla the Aficionado’s equivalent of the Emigrant’s sound-hole cylinder: a detail that programmatically states a visual ethics of form that prevails across the canvas at large. But Picasso’s banderilla is deeply foreign to Braque’s ethics of suspension. Equating brush with blade, mark-making with slicing, gestation with division, the banderilla suggests a relation between freedom and constraint, volume-seeing and surface, in which violence and form are as one.

(p.129) Nor is the banderilla the only example. Consider Picasso’s Poet (fig. 3.11), it too an Einstein favorite, painted in 1911 at Céret while Braque was working there on the Emigrant. The Poet is another case—and there are still more—of a three-quarter-length cubist male with crotch-level issues.80 Thomas Crow has pointed out that the figure’s pipe, held in the lap, is spewing forth smoke in an unmistakably phallic way (fig. 3.11a).81 Once again, the conceit is straight out of Braque; once again, it is tellingly transformed in the borrowing. Unlike cliff and shrubbery at La Roche-Guyon (figs. 3.2, 3.2a), no autogenetic loop unites pipe and smoke in the Poet, which insists instead on their unsuspended opposition: the opposition between volume-seeing and surface. One of the most distinctly rounded shapes in the painting, the pipe is yet spewing forth sheer pigment, the bane of all roundedness. The paint’s materiality does not blend into the pictorial world into which it emerges, much less does it claim to create it; it rather smears across it as far as it can reach, obliterating the poet’s abdomen in the process. In the Poet as in the Aficionado, creation is bound up with eroticism but also with negation, the paint serving as medium, ejaculate, and blotting ink.

Where the pipe blots out, the banderilla slices. On one level, the slice is metaphorical: it negates, as it does not in Braque, the artist-viewer’s temporal coherence from one visual act to another. All across the canvas of the Aficionado the psychological rope is cut up into a simultaneity of strands whose “different kinds of ‘logic’” are incommensurable with one another. Each detail comes with its own handling, lighting, degree of finish, built-in aspect, and viewing distance—even with its own implicit miniature world, which it unfolds locally in the painting, asserting it against the others.

Take the upright guitar at left, the bottle at lower right, and the banderilla itself. The guitar headstock is an oneiric vision, a looming ziggurat glimpsed from below in a moonlight haze as if from hundreds of yards away. The bottle is a Kantian visual category right out of Kahnweiler, an engineer’s diagram that pares the vessel down to circumference, elevation, and plan. The banderilla for its part is the most naturalistic detail in the painting, the reflection on its blade caused by a glaring spotlight that, like the headstock-ziggurat’s moon, shines for it alone.

Hallucination, Pure Reason, eroticism: we are looking at a phenomenon known as Picasso’s “stylistic multiplicity”; a multiplicity that he is supposed to have discarded after the Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) in favor of the search for a “unitary system of notation.”82 But the Aficionado proves that stylistic multiplicity—a clumsier, Einsteinian term would be “subobjective simultaneity”—extended right into Picasso’s cubism. And despite its presence, and just like the Demoiselles, the Aficionado does not fall apart, for the dissonance of its psychic impulses is embedded in a coherent substrate of form. This is where the second kind of slicing comes in. To get it into proper focus, and understand its difference from Braque’s approach, it will be useful to compare the faces of the Emigrant and Aficionado from close-up (plate III). Both formalize the foundational contrast in similar terms: the Emigrant’s face, as a contrast between three-quarter view and full profile; the Aficionado’s as one between three-quarter view and frontality. (p.130)

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Figure 3.10. Pablo Picasso, The Aficionado, 1912. Oil on canvas, 134.8 × 81.5 cm.

Kunstmuseum Basel. Gift of Raoul La Roche, 1952.


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Figure 3.10a. The banderilla in figure 3.10.


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Figure 3.11. Pablo Picasso, The Poet, 1911. Oil on canvas, 131.2 × 89.5 cm.

Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York).


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Figure 3.11a. The pipe and smoke in figure 3.11.


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Plate III. Picasso and Braque: The hinge and the open cylinder (details of figs. 3.10 and 3.5).

(p.135) The emigrant’s face is turned toward our left; but just how much it is turned—at which angle exactly—is a question that, as always, Braque declines to answer. Note that the main features are generated by open cylinders: bulbous nose, grinning mouth with bared teeth, the lower contour of an earlobe, an eyelid. All of them emerge from so many local interactions between surface and volume-seeing; all are designed to suspend their opposition. Does the mouth belong to a full profile, which is a surface fact, or to a three-quarter profile, which implies the volume of a head rotated in space? Is the rhyme between the lips and the lower contours of nose and earlobe enough to flatten the mouth, and so to make it assist them in declaring the face a silhouette? Or does the mouth manage to loop around the face in the manner in which a cord loops around a curtain fold? Hovering between the competing claims, the mouth gently suspends them both.

The Aficionado’s face couldn’t be more different. It is true that Picasso referred to it as “a nice ole Southerner’s mug.”83 But that remark should not deceive us into thinking we are looking at a caricature; not if that term is meant to suggest a tone of thigh-slapping jollity. Nor should we call the formal elements of which the face is composed, notably the mustache, “emblematic signs” or “hieroglyphs”; not if those terms are meant to describe flat silhouettes sitting pat on the surface. The mustache looks funky, but the funkiness is straddling an abyss. And the mustache looks flat, but the flatness is quivering with an unsuspended tension.

The mustache is peculiar in two ways. It is tilted out of the horizontal, and its left half is several millimeters shorter than the right half. Between them, tilt and asymmetry mount a visual argument for the mustache as a volume in space. The argument is that it is ever so slightly foreshortened and turned away from us to our left; and that, by extension, the entire head too is rotated to our left and back as well as being inclined to our right. But then, other formal properties of the mustache militate against this suggestion. For one thing, its right half, whose frontality is perfectly undistorted, refuses to foreshorten in sync with the left one. For another, both halves are striated with the same pattern of parallel waves, probably generated by a house painter’s comb; waves whose undulation recurs in the mustache’s contour. And contour, parallel lines, and striation are all surface facts. Thus foreshortening stands against frontality, rotation against parallelism.

Now consider the abyss whose brink the mustache is straddling. I mean the line that extends down the center axis of the face, splitting it in two. To the left of the line is a vertical strip painted the white and rosy colors of the cheek. A merger of pigment and makeup, the strip is all surface, paint flush with the canvas. The area to the right of the slice is just the opposite. Down along its entire length Picasso converted black paint into that most intangible of volumes: a shadow that claims to be plunging “down onto” a second strip, which it thereby declares to be located in the “depth” behind it.

(p.136) Finally, think mustache, strip, and shadow zone together. A visual chiasmus unfolds across the slice, the first of several we will encounter in Picasso’s work. Foreshortening (the left mustache half) and depth (the shadow recess on the right) join forces against flatness (the left strip) and frontality (the right mustache half). A face has emerged as if by the slice of a banderilla blade—an image-face, at once created and split by a foundational contrast that rallies the basic registers of image-making in order to divide them against each other.

To call the vertical line of the Aficionado’s face a slice amounts to more than just using a metaphor. For, strictly speaking, the line is not a line, since it is not a mark at all. It just looks like one. A mark is a positive notation, but this line is a negative division. Picasso painted the vertical strip and the shadow zone that abuts it, and the line emerged visually as that abutment. That makes it an example, one of many in Picasso’s cubism circa 1911/12,84 of what I call a hinge: a form that generates image-objects as a unity of opposites—surface and volume-seeing—even as the form itself, in its sheer negativity, declares their antagonism.85

Picasso’s hinge is the device of his passion, which at bottom is deeply foreign to Braque’s.86 It is a passion that insists that freedom and constraint are co-originary, that “when you work you must be ‘against’”: that to paint a picture is to want to see a volume into a surface and at the same time to suffer the surface to break it up. The “invention” of “new forms” will consist in dramatizing that break in ever new ways, generating ever new image-objects, half seized from the canvas, half lost to it. Or to put this in Einstein’s terms, we are looking at a passion that splits up the subobjective function’s sliding scale into a balance with two pans and the image-object as the pointer: as the point of indifference between subjectivation and objectivation rather than as the form of their merger.

Hence Picasso’s hinge is both the cousin and the other of Braque’s open cylinder. Where the open cylinder loops, transitions, and suspends, there the hinge interrupts, opposes, and defines. The difference emerges all the more clearly in those instances where one of the artists looked sideways and mapped his own ethics onto the other’s device. Take the vertical axis of the Emigrant’s face (plate III): bringing an open-cylinder approach to the hinge, Braque made the shadow zone dissipate gently on the surface like a wave on a beach. Conversely, when Picasso picked up Braque’s open cylinder, he reconceived it as a hinge. Let us see how.

Picasso: The Mandolin Player

Sometime in 1911 Picasso carefully staged a still life in his Paris studio on the boulevard de Clichy and took a photograph of it (fig. 3.12). Among the objects on view is a mandolin lying on a pedestal table next to a bottle of champagne, and a (p.137)

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Figure 3.12. Pablo Picasso, Still Life on a Pedestal Table, 1911.

Modern gelatin silver print from original negative no.1014. Musée Picasso, Paris.


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Figure 3.13. Pablo Picasso, Self-Portrait, 1910. Gelatin silver print, 14.7 × 11.6 cm.

Musée Picasso, Paris.

zither that has been propped up against the wall right behind it. The photograph is strangely compelling. The props are mundane, yet their arrangement has charged them with an intensity whose nature one cannot quite pin down.

The plot thickens once one realizes the image belongs to a photographic series that began in late 1910, extended through the spring of 1911, and recommenced in the fall after a summer hiatus at Céret (figs. 3.13–3.15).87 In four of these photographs, men and women—Braque, Picasso (his picture taken by Braque), and the painter Marie Laurencin—were individually posed beside the table. With one exception, a mandolin was present too, either resting on the table or held by Laurencin. Four other photographs lack the table but include a mandolin, either placed on a couch next to the sitter or hanging on a wall. Here all sitters are male; they include Picasso himself, two of his closest friends, and one acquaintance: Max Jacob, Ramon Pichot, and Frank Haviland.

Picasso took these photographs in order to explore a phenomenology of the studio. “The studio is where the world, as it gets into painting, is experienced,” as Svetlana Alpers put it succinctly in her book on the studio tradition from Vermeer (p.139)

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Figure 3.14. Georges Braque, Portrait of Pablo Picasso, 1911.

Modern gelatin silver print from original negative. Private collection.

to Picasso.88 By extension, the studio photograph, which makes experience durable by recording it, served Picasso as a filter between painting and world. Photography arrested his casual looking about the studio into a series of images that could be scrutinized methodically. It allowed him to manipulate the inventory and visitors of his work space, to arrange them in a manner germane to his visual ethics. By a mixture of chance and design, relations might emerge in a photograph among the various volumes and surfaces on which Picasso was training his lens. The camera might reveal how these objects could be turned into image-objects.

The camera gave visual weight to certain details, among them the tablecloth’s braided border and tassels and, in the photos that Braque and Picasso took of each other (figs. 3.14, 3.15), a number of canvas stretchers with wedges fitted into their corners. Above all, the camera picked out the difference between male body and mandolin (figs. 3.13, 3.15). That difference is between two kinds of corporeality, two ways in which a three-dimensional object in space appears to the viewer or lens: as the flexible oneness of the body, as the unbending doubleness of the instrument. The photos stress the body’s continuity as an unbroken volume from the (p.140)

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Figure 3.15. Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Georges Braque, 1911.

Modern gelatin silver print from original negative no. 40. Musée Picasso, Paris.

erect torso down to the thighs, its physicality powerfully modeled by the heavy fabric of a dress or uniform. At the same time, the photos stress the mandolin’s dis continuity: the fact it comes with a foundational contrast built right into it. A swelling shape abruptly sheared off by a flat soundboard, a mandolin can be all volume, all surface, or their transitionless opposition, depending on placement and camera angle. Thus photography had extracted a visual antagonism from studio phenomenology, raising the question of how it might be stated in art. How could body and mandolin be joined into a painting?

The still-life photo answered the question with the invention of a form (fig. 3.12). The clue here is the placement of the mandolin. Picasso wedged its neck between bottle and zither in such a way that, with its soundboard obliquely turned toward us, the reclining instrument is lifted halfway off the table and is held suspended in that position. Why did Picasso do this? Because he noticed the rhyme that emerged from the juxtaposition of the two sound-holes once raising the mandolin had made them adjacent. This was a rhyme that resonated deeply with the artist’s passion: a rhyme between two circles that are identical in terms of their (p.141) shape but different in terms of their inclination in space. Manipulating his studio props back and forth on the table, Picasso had chanced upon a hinge.

For what we have here is the foundational contrast staged as a still life. The sound-holes touch but cannot merge, because they and the instruments to which they belong inhabit two realms of being that in Picasso’s art are radically incommensurable unless an effort is made to formalize their unity: the realms, respectively, of volume-seeing and surface, expression and constraint. Mandolin stands against zither as ellipse stands against circle, obliquity against frontality, foreshortening against uprightness, recession against surface—female against male. For does the bottle not look like a forearm complete with wrist and hand? Holding as it does the mandolin in place by touching the fingerboard with its neck, it certainly works like one.

That seems to have been what Picasso himself was thinking when he painted his most impressive contribution to the cubist genre of the three-quarter-length musician: the Mandolin Player (fig. 3.16). Besides Braque’s Emigrant and MoMA Man with a Guitar (fig. 3.5; R 99), the painting is in close communication with at least two members of the photographic campaign: the still life and the portrait of Braque (figs. 3.12, 3.15). In the Mandolin Player, Picasso thought them together. He mapped still life onto portrait, painting onto photo, answer onto question. Imagine Braque in the photo holding the mandolin in his lap, one leg slung over the other; then imagine body and instrument joined by the still life’s double-sound-hole hinge: there is the Mandolin Player.

Compare the player’s crotch-level area to the still life (fig. 3.12; plates I and II). The painted mandolin’s angle of inclination is almost the same, and its sound-hole rim too is juxtaposed with a second rim. The difference is that instead of the zither we now have the male player, whose hand replaces the bottle’s neck, and that the rims are assigned to different owners. The lower rim, an ellipse, now belongs to the player’s cylindrical erection. The top rim, a perfect circle, now belongs to the mandolin. But what goes for mandolin and zither in the photograph also goes for erection and mandolin in the painting: a hinge unites them into the form of their opposition. As erection becomes volume, inflating itself obliquely upward, the instrument frontalizes its soundboard, withdrawing back into the surface. Desire, to put it in Picasso’s terms, seeks to express itself unbridled, only to hit the constraint any medium will impose on expression. And painting’s constraint is the foundational contrast.

Routed through studio photography, this then was Picasso’s version of Braque’s open cylinder: two rims that are circle and ellipse instead of one rim that might be both or either. That difference can stand more generally for the difference between the two artists’ visual erotics: the difference between an image-body as the statement of a suspended fusion, and an image-body as the statement of an open antagonism. In Braque, two parties merge, their unity founded on their partial self-relinquishment. In Picasso, each party denies the other, their unity founded on a mutual denial in which each is the constraint to the other’s freedom.

To modulate the theme further—to diagram, in Einstein’s terms, “the process that unrolls simultaneously according to different kinds of ‘logic’”—Picasso (p.142)

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Figure 3.16. Pablo Picasso, The Mandolin Player, 1911. Oil on canvas, 100.5 × 69.5 cm.

Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel, Beyeler Collection.


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Figure 3.16a. Detail of figure 3.16, top right (stretcher and wedge above braided frame ornament).

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Figure 3.16b. Detail of figure 3.16, lower right (stretcher and wedges).

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Figure 3.16c. Detail of figure 3.16 (mandolin headstock).

brought in a number of other studio details that photography had recorded. The mandolin player’s slung thighs, for example, are trying to consume autoerotically the union of volumes denied by the hinge. But the tablecloth border deflates that ambition: by converting the sling-around of the thighs into a repeat ornament on the surface. Meanwhile, in the top right corner, an oversize wedge either succeeds or fails at penetrating the interior of a stretcher frame from bottom right (fig. 3.16a). It depends on how one reads the three black verticals: are they the contours, respectively, of the left stretcher bar’s flat front and its obliquely receding interior side, or of two adjoining flat strips? A different version of the question is raised at bottom right by the angular squiggle of black lines (fig. 3.16b). That squiggle is actually the combined silhouette of a wedge and the inside of a stretcher frame’s top left corner. In this case, wedge and stretcher have indeed fused, but fused into a surface contour only.

And then there are the pegs on the mandolin’s headstock (fig. 3.16c). It is as if they are trying to regularize the mad vacillation of the total field by extracting and then repeating its logic at the bedrock level of mark-making. Each peg has been rigidly painted as a single brushstroke; each stroke is casting another stroke as its shadow onto the headstock. The result is a mix of the bizarre and the systemic, of hazy dream vision and coarse materiality. On one hand, the pegs look like a colonnade of idols on a forgotten desert plateau. On the other, each peg-and-shadow pair repeats a version of the contrast that animates the painting throughout: between uprightness and recession, verticality and obliquity, light and shadow. In the simultaneity of Picasso’s eroticism, hallucination, pornography, and a pedantic rage for order go together.

(p.144) Picasso: The Guitar’s Two Bodies

During the summer at Sorgues in 1912, cubism’s passion reached a high point. The bare chronological facts are known well enough.89 In May 1912, accompanied by his new girlfriend, Eva Gouel, Picasso left Paris for Céret, where he intended to work as he had the year before. When he learned that Fernande Olivier, his previous girlfriend, might be visiting, Picasso and Gouel departed. In late June, they ended up at Sorgues, a small town to the north of Avignon. From there Picasso wrote to Kahnweiler, imploring him to tell no one of his whereabouts—no one except for Braque, who joined him with his own girlfriend at Sorgues in July. In late September, Picasso and Gouel returned to Paris. Until then, hidden away in the seclusion of the Villa des Clochettes, Picasso got some stunning work done.

The work was a series of Guitars (figs. 3.17, 3.19–21).90 The specificity of the genre bears stressing: they are neither Guitar Players nor Still-Lives with Guitars. Even when the instrument is accompanied by other props, it is always the central focus, displacing everything else to the periphery. I suggest we make sense of the series by recalling Einstein on cubism: “Every complex painting will contain a number of psychological and biological contrasts in face of which all talk of merely formal oppositions will fall away as so much superficial blather” (B 344). Note the exact distinction Einstein is drawing here: between a formalism that has no room for psychology and one that does. And the latter is what we need. In the summer of Sorgues, Braque’s presence stood for the form of cubism’s passion, Gouel’s for its psychology, and Picasso’s Guitars for the convergence of the two.

To add some specificity to this claim, I will read three of Picasso’s own statements together. The first two he scribbled into a sketchbook he compiled at Sorgues, which makes them precious documents in spite of their brevity: art-theoretical dicta by the artist, pronounced while cubism was actually under way. The third statement was made much later to Christian Zervos, but it is nonetheless instructive for the issue in hand.

In painting, an idea won’t be pure if it can be expressed in a language other than painting’s own.

To find the equilibrium between nature and our imagination.91

Do you think it concerns me that a particular picture of mine represents two people? Though these two people once existed for me, they exist no longer. The “vision” of them gave me a preliminary emotion; then little by little their actual presences became blurred; they developed into a fiction and then disappeared altogether, or rather they were transformed into all kinds of problems. They are no longer two people, you see, but forms and colors: forms and colors that have taken on, meanwhile, the idea of two people and preserve the vibration of their life.92

(p.145) The first sketchbook note is a declaration of medium-specificity: if you are going to express your “idea” in painting, do it with the medium’s own unsubstitutable means. The statement to Zervos elaborates on how these means get deployed: during the process of painting, the intimacy that binds two people together will be transformed into problems of form and color, all while preserving their “vibration.” The vibration in turn will be preserved so long as the second sketchbook maxim is heeded: “To find the equilibrium between nature and our imagination.” That sounds like an empty art-theoretical topos, but the evidence of the sketchbook and the paintings reveals it as a specific ethical self-injunction: the injunction to formalize a unity of opposites between the world (“nature”) and the meanings an artist maps onto it (“imagination”): between objectivation and subjectivation, constraint and expression, female body and male desire.

In the Sorgues Guitars, Picasso explored the visual language of that equilibrium. He embarked on a serial experiment in subobjective function, in the invention of new relations of form to match a new relation in life. The experiment’s focus was the guitar. That it was once again both an instrument and a metaphorical female should not be in doubt, since that equivalence was stated repeatedly in the sketchbook. Picasso often drew on its verso pages only, leaving many of the rectos blank. Several times, by way of a process of metamorphotic tracing, he used a finished verso drawing as the basis for a new one, which he would begin on the next verso that sat on top of it. In this fashion, right after he had jotted down his second maxim, Picasso converted a Violin into a Woman with a Guitar, a Guitar into a Seated Woman, and a Woman with a Violin into a Guitar; making it abundantly clear that image-instruments and image-bodies were as one.93

Except that they were not one but two. The formal baseline of the Sorgues series was what I call the simultaneity of the guitar’s two bodies. One body belonged to the surface, the other to volume-seeing; both were unified in opposition by a hinge. The vibration generated by that opposition migrated across various media, including drawing, oil, and charcoal; and it raised “all kinds of problems” to do with the basic means of image-making: frontality and obliquity, silhouette and foreshortening, color and texture. But always the basic questions were the same: how much autonomy to grant to the body, how much of the body to claim for the artist, how to give form to their relation, and how to define that relation’s tone.

An extraordinary drawing that’s part of the series lays out the formal parameters in all their dazzling rigor (fig. 3.17). The key to understanding it is the intersection of three lines—a vertical, a horizontal, and a diagonal—a few inches below the sound-hole. The horizontal and the diagonal are two guitar bridges; the vertical is the hinge between them. The diagonal bridge stakes a claim for the oblique location of the guitar: a claim for the artist-viewer’s will to see the instrument as a volume whose left half is emerging from the surface into his own space even as its right half is sinking back into the space of the sheet. The horizontal bridge disputes that claim; it insists on the guitar’s frontality, its flushness with the surface. In turn, bisecting (p.146)

Cubism’s Passion

Figure 3.17. Pablo Picasso, Guitar, 1912. Pen and ink over traces of graphite, 34.3 × 22.2 cm.

Musée Picasso, Paris.

(p.147) the entire guitar as well as the bridges, the vertical works as a pivot between them: between frontality and obliquity, surface and volume-seeing, which it unites in opposition, splitting the instrument up in the process. That split is stripped down to the basics by the two pairs of three bridge pins to either side of the hinge. They stand divided as the two fundamental kinds of mark-making that are available to line drawing: silhouette and solidity, contoured white circle and black dot. We will meet that division again in chapter 4.

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Figure 3.18. Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907 (detail). Oil on canvas, 243.9 × 233.7 cm.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest.

The turmoil on the rest of the sheet is the fallout of this nuclear conflict. There is, for one thing, the wild cascade of circle segments at the left. Drawn as if with a compass, the segments try to impose on the guitar the same rotating motion—the motion of a volume in space—that Picasso’s hand had enacted when he was producing them: but producing them as marks on a surface.

For another, there is the double guitar neck. Like the double bridge, it is divided against itself, though now as frontality against profile, and as forward against backward foreshortening. On one hand, the neck is seen in frontal recession, in the manner of Andrea Mantegna’s Dead Christ. Diminishing in length and intervals toward the top, its frets ascend the fingerboard like the rungs of a ladder reclining back into space. On the other hand, the zigzag line that plunges down the frontal neck’s right side is that same neck seen in profile. But here the frets are increasing in size toward the top and hence are suggesting the neck is actually looming forward; which is exactly what it will do a few months later in Picasso’s paperboard Guitar from the fall of 1912. At the same time, this radical spatial instability also points back to an earlier moment in Picasso’s oeuvre. It makes the drawing’s image-guitar a descendant of what Leo Steinberg called the “rampant gisante”: that nude figure in the Demoiselles d’Avignon, which, it too, had been riven by the competing demands of backward pull and uprightness (fig. 3.18).94 Whether in 1907 or 1912, whether the image-body was actual or metaphorical: for Picasso, the terms of freedom and constraint were always the same.

A marvelous oval extends the contrast to painting and charcoal (fig. 3.19). In this work, the hinge coincides with the left vertical edge of a painted faux bois section (p.148)

Cubism’s Passion

Figure 3.19. Pablo Picasso, Guitar, 1912. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 64.5 × 50 cm.

Private collection.

(p.149) at top right. As in the drawing, the hinge would bisect the guitar’s body were it to continue downward. As in the drawing, the ascending ladder at center top and the zigzag frets to its right make competing claims for the fingerboard’s frontality and profile. But the most significant contrast unfolds between the charcoal and the colored areas. What we have here is the psychological dimension of a well-known formalist issue: the so-called cubist dissociation of line and color. That dissociation is not the result of a rationalistic laboratory analysis but of an ethical decision: the decision to strike a vibratory “equilibrium between nature and imagination.” Its point is to separate the guitar’s two bodies, one claimed by the artist-viewer, the other ceded to the surface.

Let us get the first body into view by focusing on just the charcoal. Consider the open trapezoid wireframe that’s formed by (a) the right contour of the fingerboard ladder; (b) a second line at lower right that extends through that contour at a right angle toward the left; (c) a third line that extends up from this second one, again at a right angle; and (d) a short fourth line that extends from the third one near the top. Now consider the guitar strings: they ascend straight up from the bridge across the sound-hole until they reach a horizontal plateau, then continue straight up from there. Finally, think wireframe and strings together. The plateau defines the depth of the guitar’s inclination, the wireframe its angle. The sense here is of the guitar’s top half reclining backward and to the left, and of its bottom half protruding forward and to the right, out toward the artist-viewer.

But this charcoal volume is an intangible, all hollow transparency and no substance. The painted parts, by contrast, yield color and texture in abundance, the pink and turquoise combining a pastel-like lyricism with a tinge of the shrill. Yet this seductive richness is programmatically confined to flat strips. The brown faux bois ought to cover the soundboard, adding facture to the contoured void. Instead, it withdraws to the periphery, and so defines the soundboard negatively. One body’s volume is a cutout from the other’s surface.

Picasso’s faux bois is too often considered just a means of ironizing illusionism or avant-garde deskilling, of substituting a hand-painted wood-grain pattern with a prefab or trompe l’oeil version of it. But in Picasso’s cubism, including all collages and papiers collés, the faux bois is actually always painted, and painted moreover in a powerfully sensuous way.95 Faux bois, therefore, is not a substitute for painting but rather a constraint upon it; and I submit its sensuousness is metaphorically erotic. A typical Sorgues faux bois section is a pattern of marks whose handling ranges from dirty wash-like stains to piled-on smudges incised with the palette knife. Even and particularly at its most trompe l’oeil, the pattern can look positively hypnotic, what with the pulsating grain and the knots staring right out at the viewer (figs. 3.19, 3.20). Svetlana Alpers once drew a distinction between (p.150)

Cubism’s Passion

Figure 3.20. Pablo Picasso, Guitar, 1912/13. Oil and charcoal on canvas, 72.5 × 60 cm.

Nasjonalmuseet for kunst, arkitektur og design, Oslo.

(p.151) two basic ways of painting a nude’s external appearance: either as smooth two-dimensional skin, as in Titian, or as three-dimensional flesh, as in Rubens.96 By extension, faux bois at Sorgues should be considered metaphorical image-flesh: Rubensian flesh processed through the foundational contrast. The wood-grain pattern both invokes the palpable voluptuousness of flesh in relief and flattens it out into two dimensions, the painter’s mark fusing with the volume it consents not to model in the round.

In the second oval of the series, now at Oslo, the pattern becomes familiar (fig. 3.20). Fragments of a trapezoid wireframe, weak but recurring, are inclined at the same angle as in the first oval. The drawing’s divided bridges are present, and so are the fingerboards. The right one is a recessional ladder, precision geometry ascending frontally and back; the left one is a sequence of irregularly curved hatching marks that declare an oblique view of sagging flesh in the round. What is different at Oslo is the programmatic use of blurring and erasures all across the canvas. I will mention just a few instances.

The fingerboard ladder’s right contour suddenly becomes spectral toward the top, its claim to recession fading together with its visibility. The black pins of the right bridge are vigorously drawn, yet they are stranded on a weakly contoured ochre ground that bleeds into the faux bois around it and so prevents the bridge from lifting off from it obliquely forward. Finally, the upper portion of the leftmost guitar string evaporates in a grayish haze as if blotted out. The idea here—and its execution is purposely aborted halfway—is to force the strings out of their surface parallelism and submit them to a foreshortened recession back toward our left. (For the same idea fully realized, see the top ends of the guitar strings in fig. 3.21.) Or to put all this another way, at Oslo the relation among the guitar’s two bodies becomes a matter of process, of the artist-viewer adjusting the balance of visual power, and be it in his disfavor, over the course of completing the work, and be it by painting out what he had previously painted in.

A final example: the powerful little painting known as Guitar “J’aime Eva” (fig. 3.21). Its title is derived from the words that were once inscribed in the bottom area, which now looks like a blank cartellino. A personal gift from the artist to Gouel, it is the only Picasso known to have been owned by her.97 That promises to make the work special even by Sorgues standards; and it is.

Let us quickly note the familiar series traits. There is the hinge between frontality and obliquity, which here is located in a vertical that extends through the guitar neck’s right edge down below the bridge. And there are the strings, which clarify the point of the Oslo erasure. Their bottom ends terminate at the horizontal line of the bridge, which asserts their frontality; but their top ends descend in a staggered progression, which asserts their foreshortening (p.152)

Cubism’s Passion

Figure 3.21. Pablo Picasso, Guitar “J’aime Eva,” 1912. Oil on canvas, 35 × 27 cm.

Musée Picasso, Paris.


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Figure 3.21a. Detail of figure 3.21.

toward our right, as if the guitar were rotated around the hinge back into space. Internally riven by the foundational contrast, these strings are image-strings, relatives of the Aficionado’s image-mustache, it too painted at Sorgues (fig. 3.10).

The relation between the two paintings goes deeper than that. The Aficionado is metaphorically present in Guitar “J’aime Eva”: as one party in a subobjective power exchange that cleaves the image-body in two. The opposite party (“the state”) is represented by the sound-hole. Its flat frontality and facture, the latter worked up to the density of unsmoothed concrete, deny the idea of a cavity behind it. But there is also a comeback: the rounded volume that’s swelling in the guitar’s lower left section (fig. 3.21a). Picasso carefully shaded the bottom edge to model its curvature; he also painted a blob right into its center. Between them, swell and blob summon the shape of an almost-breast onto the canvas. It is caressed by a strand of almost-hair that runs down the guitar’s left contour.

Subjectivation inflates one part of an image-body even as objectivation withdraws another to the surface: that is a very Braquean way of formalizing (p.154) a visual power exchange. But in Guitar “J’aime Eva” Picasso’s emphasis is on Gewalt rather than Feinheit, on the difference between the materiality of paint and the illusion of swelling flesh. Moreover, the swell is being violated. Halfway down, the strand of almost-hair abruptly veers inward and cuts into the almost-breast. The brownish-red brushstrokes undergo a similar transformation. Their house-painter comb pattern fades toward the bottom, and with it all constraints to expression, as the brushstrokes turn into stains of almost-blood. One of them is even dripping down onto the table with the Kahnweilerian wineglass. As if the almost-breast had been swished, ever so gently, by a banderilla.

Braque and Picasso: The Opposite of Unity

At one point in The Art of the 20th Century, Einstein described the relation between Braque and Picasso as follows: “Taking sides is nonsensical; both men are indissolubly linked to the creation of cubism, and the biased indulge in the struggle over priority” (K1 74).98 What sounds like a straightforward appeal to art-critical fairness takes us back to the problematic of Einstein’s prewar writing. For what we have here is a wanderer’s ontology in a nutshell. As we know, creation and priority—origin and firstness—are loaded terms in Einstein’s book. His point is that the origin of cubism wasn’t single but double; that as Braque and Picasso formed up into a pair of comparanda, cubism was born at the point of their indifference. That is another way of saying the two were complementary and equal, that Braque and Picasso related as plus and minus to the zero of modern art. That has in effect been the argument of this chapter, and I close it by pointing to the existential weight it had for Einstein.

Readers may have noticed the term “simultaneity” has a familiar ring beyond Einstein’s polemic against futurism: we came across many synonyms for it in chapter 1. There, we had seen Einstein struggling with the way in which different kinds of subjectivity were appearing “at once” or “at the same time” (zugleich, gleichzeitig) in a single text: different authorial personas in “The Decorator,” different political agents in the Aktion “Political Notes,” different existential moods in “The Pauper.” When Einstein was looking at cubism, he mapped that writerly problematic onto visual art. And here, seeing double, the wanderer found simultaneity realized in two ways.

Braque had achieved on canvas what Einstein himself hadn’t achieved on the page. The problem of form was the problem of time; the problem of time was the problem of a beginning; and that the beginning was split was no longer a problem. For in Braque’s cubism the beginning had become a moment of (p.155) productive bifurcation: a moment when temporal flow, instead of either unrolling as a causal chain or disintegrating into negativity, was compressed into an at-onceness of sheer potentiality. Just which outcome one extracts from the Pompidou painting (fig. 3.9)—is it a musician, or is it a still life?—is a question its simultaneity doesn’t answer but broach. In Braque, that question was a conceivably intimate one, but to Einstein it had much wider ramifications. To define a field of vision as only ever on the verge of coalescing was more broadly to define any moment of any kind of experience—pictorial, amorous, political—as open, conflicted, and producible rather than as closed, predetermined, and merely executable. Braque’s spontaneous realism seemed to have given form in the studio to a beginning to which Rosa Luxemburg had given form in the street.

The same could not be said of Pablo Picasso, a subversive artist who always needed the prison walls of “the state” to bang his brush against. But just where does one draw the line between working under constraint and nihilism? “You must do everything against. And never for. From the moment you begin to work for, you’ve had it”: Picasso was the Georges Sorel to Braque’s Luxemburg. Like Sorel, Picasso had a taste for violence for its own sake, for liberation not as means but as end. That fact did not escape the author of the Aktion “Political Notes,” and the words he found for describing it were again familiar ones.

“By unity we understand the compression of dialectical opposites and variations; for it is only in the preservation of the animating conflict that forms will stay active. The idea is to preserve the tension of the forms and the danger of their destruction” (K3 121).99 Statements like these will gain no purchase on the Emigrant, but they get at the simultaneity of the Aficionado well enough (fig. 3.10). In Picasso as in Braque the ground of painting was split, but in Picasso that split didn’t open onto a beginning. Instead, the oppositions it generated looked as dialectical to Einstein as their equivalents had in his own writing. The banderilla left traces on the canvas as sharp as those the pen left on the page: an image-face cut up into two, a word divided as prefix against noun. The Aficionado is a humorist self-portrait every bit as fanatic as “The Pauper.” Which means that Kahnweiler was right after all: in the 1910s Einstein had indeed been a cubist poet of sorts.100

A final note. The presence of the dialectic in the passage I just cited is symptomatic of Einstein’s renewed obsession with Hegel around 1930. That obsession, and his related obsession with Picasso, will be one focus of the next chapter. We are headed into dark territory, and that cannot be helped. The problem was that by 1930 one member of the cubist dyad had faded away, and with him the promise his art had been carrying. To be sure, it was in the early 1930s that Einstein would write his monograph on Braque. (p.156) But the brevity and hyperbole of its postcubism sections reveal that book as a largely commemorative exercise. In his heart of hearts, Einstein was well aware Braque was no longer producing significant new work. Picasso, on the other hand, had lately been going strong again. Only one painter was now available for the wanderer’s double vision, and he looked at his art with twice the intensity.


(1.) A brief note on Einstein and cubism in the 1910s is in order. By late 1913 he had seen Picasso’s work firsthand: probably during his stays in Paris, which became regular around 1912; certainly once he had visited an extraordinary show called Picasso and Negro Sculpture (Picasso und Negerplastiken) that opened in December 1913 at the Neue Galerie in Berlin, the German branch of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler’s Paris gallery. According to John Richardson, the show included fifty-three Picassos from between 1907 and 1913, among them “Ma Jolie” and the great Head of a Girl. A detailed account of the show, as well as of another right before it, again at the Neue Galerie, has been offered by Heike Neumeister. Neumeister has argued that Einstein organized the first show, for which he also wrote the preface, and that he may have had a hand in Picasso and Negro Sculpture as well. Both shows juxtaposed modern art with non-Western objects, which possibly included the Chokwe sculpture (fig. 2.2). All this would be very interesting, if it weren’t for the fact that, as far as Einstein’s art criticism was concerned, nothing actually came of it. For all his fascination with Picasso and his interest in thinking cubism and African art together, Einstein never delivered a full-blown argument on either topic before the war. And when a decade later he did get round to writing comprehensively on cubism, his argument was no longer tied to African art. See John Richardson with Marilyn McCully, A Life of Picasso, vol. 2, 1907–1917 (New York: Random House, 1996), 317 with 468 nn. 61 and 62; Richardson, “Picasso und Deutschland vor 1914,” in 20 Jahre Wittrock Kunsthandel (Düsseldorf: Wittrock, n.d. [1995]), 10–31; Heike Neumeister, “Notes on the ‘Ethnographic Turn’ of the European Avant-Garde: Reading Carl Einstein’s Negerplastik (1915) and Vladimir Markov’s Inskusstvo Negrov (1919),” Acta Historiae Artium 49 (2008): 172–85.

(2.) “Dieser Bildtypus charakterisiert das beginnende zwanzigste Jahrhundert” (K3 117).

(3.) Carl Einstein, letter to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, 1922, in Einstein and Kahnweiler, Correspondance 1921–1939, ed. Liliane Meffre (Marseilles: Dimanche, 1993), 130. Some scholars have discerned a common ground between Einstein and Kahnweiler. In my opinion, his texts on Braque and Picasso are simply worlds apart from The Rise of Cubism’s sterile neo-Kantian model of developmental problem-solving. For a different view, see, for (p.276) example, Birgit Raphael, “Vergleich zwischen den Kubismustheorien von Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler und Carl Einstein,” Kritische Berichte 13:4 (1985): 31–37.

(4.) In thinking about the issue of the ground in painting I have learned much from a recent anthology that addresses it with unprecedented complexity: Der Grund: Das Feld des Sichtbaren, ed. Gottfried Boehm and Matteo Buroni (Munich: Fink, 2012). Moreover, Gottfried Boehm, who seems not to be aware of Einstein’s precedent, has been using the notion of Grundkontrast in his version of Bildwissenschaft for a long time now. That that version should be Heideggerian points to an overlap between Boehm and Einstein as well as to some categorical differences. For one thing, to put it graphically, it’s a long way from the blood-drenched streets of Berlin in 1919 to the Black Forest shed. For another, there is the intriguingly absent presence of Heidegger in a letter of 1932 in which Einstein reported to a friend that he had recently read “Vom Wesen des Grundes.” The letter looks straightforward enough, but, like so many others, it is a darkly humorist exercise in the style of nonessence (see chapter 1). Over and over again, Einstein wants to write what Heidegger and Husserl mean to him (“fand ich,” “für mich bedeutet,” “ich habe den Eindruck”). Yet, over and over again, that meaning can be stated only negatively: as when, using a privative, he calls Husserl’s Wesensschau “unoriginal,” or, using a Mallarméan quantitative, he calls “Vom Wesen des Grundes” “empty.” So, in Einstein’s letter “Husserl” and “Heidegger” remain words on a page, the absent flowers in all ontological bouquets: the groundlessness of writing trumps the philosophers’ discourse on the ground. Is that all there is to say about the relation between Einstein and Heidegger, then? That depends on what one thinks the ground in Heidegger actually is. There may be a rapport between Einstein’s “indifference point” and the Riß between Erde and Welt that Heidegger describes in his artwork essay. Both notions owe something to Schelling, and both serve similar purposes: they ground the proliferation of human meanings in a nonhuman abyss. What below I am calling Braque’s open cylinder and Picasso’s hinge would then be pictorial equivalents to the Riß on which Heidegger’s Greek temple is sitting. Einstein’s letter, which is the only occasion on which Heidegger’s (misspelled) name comes up in his work, is quoted in Klaus H. Kiefer, Diskurswandel im Werk Carl Einsteins: Ein Beitrag zur Theorie und Geschichte der europäischen Avantgarde (Tübingen: Niemeyer, 1994), 375.

(5.) “Aus den Grundbedingungen, dem Raum und der Bildfläche, wird eine reicher gestufte Einheit gewonnen” (K3 82). Here and elsewhere, Bildfläche (and Grundfläche) will be translated as “surface.” The term should not be confused with two others that didn’t matter centrally to Einstein: “ground plane” (the receding ground of perspectival space) and “picture plane” (the virtual limit between picture space and actual space).

(6.) “Hinzu kommt der Grundkontrast, nämlich die stärkste Darstellung des Volumens wird in das Paradox der Fläche gefügt” (K3 125).

(7.) These two phrases are taken from the survey’s chapters on impressionism and Matisse, but it is clear from context that Einstein was implicitly holding up cubism as paragon to them: to his mind, Matisse’s flat arabesques were lacking cubism’s “gründliche Umbildung,” and impressionism’s stippled surfaces its “gründliche Spannung” (K3 66, 48).

(8.) Charles W. Haxthausen, “Carl Einstein, Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Cubism, and the Visual Brain,” in the online journal nonsite.org 2 (2011).

(9.) “Erkennen ist der Versuch, die identische Weltmitte zu verlassen, um die ungefaehrliche Tangentenstellung durch Zerreissung … in einen subjektiven und objektiven Bezirk zu erreichen. Solche Position wird durch Verzicht auf den verwebten Wirkungscharakter der Welt gewonnen; man erstrebt nun stattdessen sfaerische Abgrenzungen und Schnitte. Die Position von innerer und aeusserer Welt bedeutet nur Perspektive, eine Machtfrage, genau wie die Behauptung der geschlossenen menschlichen Gestalt und der starren Objekte. Wir stellen solche Verdraengungsmethode auch in der Setzung kausaler Folgen fest.” See Carl Einstein, “Diese Aesthetiker veranlassen uns …,” in W4:194–221; 195. The Einstein literature refers to this untitled text as “Gestalt und Begriff”; it will hereafter be cited as GB. For an English translation, see Einstein, “Gestalt and Concept” (excerpts), trans. Charles W. Haxthausen, October 107 (Winter 2004): 169–76; 170–71 (translation modified); hereafter cited as GC.

(10.) “Man entdeckt, daß der Gegenstand Knotenstation von Funktionen ist, Ergebnis auch subjektiven Tuns, daß seine Starrheit vor allem von sprachlicher Gewöhnung bewirkt wird und von dem Wunsch, recht leichte—das ist konforme—Handlungen zu ermöglichen; also eine Angelegenheit des biologischen Gedächtnisses” (K1 58).

(11.) “Die Substanzenwirtschaft hatte allenthalben bankrott gemacht, die alte Seele, kompakt und unbeweglich wie ein Buffet, war funktionell zerfallen; das stabile Ich eine Fassade, ein Vorurteil; die Materie war in diskontinuierliche Kraftfelder zersprengt und die Begriffe waren als seelische Ermüdungserscheinungen, als Negatives erkannt.” See Carl Einstein, Georges Braque (typescript), in W3:251–516; 319; hereafter cited as B.

(12.) “Es ist ein Unsinn eine fixe seelische Einheit anzunehmen. Ich ist eine an Intensität ab und zunehmende Funktion etc.” Carl Einstein, letter to Ewald Wasmuth, November 16, 1923, reprinted in Klaus H. Kiefer, Avantgarde—Weltkrieg—Exil: Materialien zu Carl Einstein und Salomo Friedlaender/Mynona (Frankfurt: Lang, 1986), 60–61; 61.

(p.277) (13.) “Subjekt und Objekt bedeuten im Erlebnis Grenzzustände, Aktextreme und im Denken Grenzbegriffe und Widerstände. Tatsächlich muß man den komplexen und labilen Subjekt-Objekt-Prozeß wiederherstellen. D.h. ein Prozeß ist nur möglich durch die intime Bindung beider Kräfte” (B 293).

(14.) “Man steht nicht mehr einem Motiv beobachtend gegenüber, wobei säuberlich zwischen innerer und äußerer Welt geschieden wird, sondern die Dinge sind Funktion des Menschen, wie dieser Funktion der Welt ist” (B 339).

(15.) “If we give up the effective subject, we also give up the object upon which effects are produced. Duration, identity with itself, being are inherent neither in that which is called subject nor in that which is called object: they are complexes of events apparently durable in comparison with other complexes…. If we give up the concept ‘subject’ and ‘object’, then also the concept ‘substance’.” “[The world] is essentially a world of relationships; under certain conditions it has a differing aspect from every point; its being is essentially different from every point; it presses upon every point, every point resists it.” See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R. J. Hollingdale (New York: Vintage, 1968), 306, #568; 298, #551.

(16.) Ernst Mach, The Analysis of Sensations and the Relation of the Physical to the Psychical, trans. C. M. Williams (New York: Dover, 1959), 16.

(17.) Ibid., 24.

(18.) Ernst Mach, Knowledge and Error: Sketches on the Psychology of Enquiry, trans. Thomas J. McCormack and Paul Foulkes, 5th ed. (1926; Dordrecht: Reidel, 1976), 9.

(19.) Ibid., 205 (translation slightly modified).

(20.) As Nietzsche put it, “The measure of power determines what being possesses the other measure of power; in what form, force, constraint it acts or resists” (Will to Power, 306). Compare Foucault: “M.F.: I had to reject a priori theories of the subject in order to analyze the relationships that may exist between the constitution of the subject or different forms of the subject and games of truth, practices of power, and so on. Q.: That means the subject is not a substance. M.F.: It is not a substance. It is a form, and this form is not primarily or always identical to itself.” “I scarcely use the word power, and if I use it on occasion it is simply as shorthand for the expression I generally use: relations of power. But there are readymade models: when one speaks of power, people immediately think of a political structure, a government, a dominant social class, the master and the slave, and so on. I am not thinking of this at all when I speak of relations of power. I mean that in human relationships, whether they involve verbal communication such as we are engaged in at this moment, or amorous, institutional, or economic relationships, power is always present. I mean a relationship in which one person tries to control the conduct of the other. So I am speaking of relations that exist at different levels, in different forms; these power relations are mobile, they can be modified, they are not fixed once and for all.” See Michel Foucault, Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth, ed. Paul Rabinow (New York: New Press, 1997), 281–301; 290, 291–92.

(21.) “Dann der Kampf in der subobjektiven Funktion—zwischen Sub- und Objektivierung” (Einstein, letter to Wasmuth, 61).

(22.) “Es erhob sich die Frage, ob Gegenstände abgebildet werden sollen oder ein freier Bildgegenstand zu erfinden sei” (K1 56).

(23.) “Man bleibt lediglich innerhalb der Formbedingungen der Bildfläche; der individuelle Gegenstand wird dem Bildkörper geopfert; jedoch bleibt es nicht bei einer Gegenstandsvernichtung, der Flucht vor der Mnemotechnik der Zivilisation oder des praktisch Notwendigen, sondern dies so oft vollgeheimniste Sehen wird klargelegt” (K1 59).

(24.) “Einmal mußte man darauf stoßen, daß der Raum nichts Festes, sondern ein Geschehen, ein Erleiden und ein Tun bedeutet, und lediglich eine bequeme Abkürzung und Schematisierung vielfältigen Erlebens ist…. Durchbrach man aber das mindere Schema der passiven Beobachtung, welche die Realität als Gegebenes und Unveränderliches hinnimmt, so war das Wirkliche selber als Problem und Aufgabe gestellt” (B 321).

(25.) “Nun konnte man die Dinge nicht mehr abbilden, sondern mußte sie erschaffen. Solche Gesinnung ist schlechthin ateistisch, da die Welt nicht mehr als göttliche endgültige Lösung betrachtet wird, sondern dem Menschen die Aufgabe gestellt wird, Mensch und Welt—defekte Provisorien—stets neu zu erfinden” (B 313).

(26.) Readers of Richard Wollheim might want to think of volume-seeing as a Nietzschean version of “seeing-in.” Compare Richard Wollheim, Art and Its Objects, 2nd ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980), 205–26.

(27.) Heinrich Wölfflin, Die klassische Kunst: Eine Einführung in die italienische Renaissance (Munich: Bruckmann, 1898). Wölfflin is expressly named as a target in Georges Braque, where Einstein calls him a “classicist” (B 254), clearly in reference to the title of his book.

(28.) The following passage, whose tone is sarcastic, should be read with Wölfflin’s description of Raphael’s School of Athens in mind (Die klassische Kunst, 87–91): “With perspectival representation one declares oneself independent from the picture surface; one wants to demonstrate how nature is full of mathematics, and how every point in space is harmoniously embedded in the law. A world everywhere heaving with action is (p.278) related to a static observer, in front of whom a well-ordered cosmos has been unfolded.” (Mit der perspektivischen Darstellung macht man sich von der Grundfläche unabhängig; man will zeigen, wie Natur voller Mathematik ist und jeder Punkt des Raumes harmonisch im Gesetz steht. Die Welt, die weit ausgeatmet mit Handlung erfüllt ist, wird auf den ruhenden Beobachter bezogen, vor dem ein geordneter Kosmos gebreitet liegt; K1 65.)

(29.) “Der Kubist geht vom Urphänomen der Fläche aus” (K1 64).

(30.) Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Der Weg zum Kubismus (1920); Kahnweiler, The Rise of Cubism, trans. Henry Aronson (New York: Wittenborn Schulz, 1949), 10.

(31.) While a theoretical comparison might be rewarding, Einstein’s Bildgegenstand is not indebted to Edmund Husserl’s notion of the Bildobjekt. Husserl explored it in a lecture series in 1904/5 that was published only in the 1980s. See Edmund Husserl, Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory (1898–1925), trans. John B. Brough (Berlin: Springer, 2005), 1–205.

(32.) “[Es wird] von einem autonomen Flächenbild und dessen selbständiger formaler Ordnung, jedoch nicht von vorherrschendem Motiv ausgegangen” (K1 63).

(33.) Now I have outlined Einstein’s terminology, I should mention a figure who may have helped him come up with it: the art historian and critic Max Raphael, to whom Einstein had been close in the 1910s. In his From Monet to Picasso (1913) Raphael had invoked Mach in order to argue that in modern experience “object and subject no longer stood over against one another … but were considered as one and as immanent with one another”; that in Picasso’s art “space signifies the function of spatialization” (Räumlichwerden); and that the artist considered the surface “the limit of the human faculty of forming” (Gestaltungskraft). So, over a decade before Einstein, Raphael was writing, however briefly, on what I am calling a functional ethics of volume-seeing and on the foundational contrast in Picasso: why then consign him to a footnote? Because the sad truth is that Raphael was a much lesser critic than Einstein. A typical Raphael text is an intellectual glass-bead game: the mechanical application of a philosophical terminology to visual art. Hence, while precedent should be acknowledged, so should the fact that Einstein took ideas that he may originally have hashed out together with Raphael into a direction his friend was unable to go. See Max Raphael, Von Monet zu Picasso: Grundzüge einer Ästhetik und Entwicklung der modernen Malerei (1913; Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1989), 92–93, 182–83. For the biographical facts, see Werner Drewes, “Max Raphael und Carl Einstein: Konstellationen des Aufbruchs in die ‘Klassische Moderne’ im Zeichen der Zeit,” Etudes Germaniques (January–March 1998): 123–58.

(34.) “Jedes komplexere Bild [wird] seelische und biologische Kontraste aufweisen, vor welchen das Gerede von formalen Gegensätzen zu vordergründlichem Geschwätz absinkt” (B 344). “Die beiden Instrumente gelten uns gleich der menschlichen Gestalt. Man könnte vor Mandoline und Gitarre an ein bisexuelles Motiv denken” (B 362).

(35.) On this tradition, see, for example, Carol Armstrong’s classic essay, “Edgar Degas and the Representation of the Female Body,” in The Female Body in Western Culture, ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1986), 223–42.

(36.) Gelett Burgess, “The Wild Men of Paris,” Architectural Record 27:5 (May 1910): 400–414; 405.

(37.) Other examples from 1908 of what I am describing here include the tree trunk at the left edge of Braque’s Trees at L’Estaque (R 18) and the relation between mandolin soundboard, neck, and strings in his Musical Instruments (R 7).

(38.) This is not to say there is no still-life phallicism in Braque. For well and truly phallic shapes (and well and truly feminine pears) in 1908 Cézannean Braque, see the knife handles in Napkin, Knives, and Pears and Plate and Fruit Dish (R 28 and 29). For the continuation of this morphological eroticism in a cubist idiom, see the clarinets with testicular bells in three still lifes of 1910/11 (R 94, 96, 157).

(39.) Compare the early twentieth-century postcards and the author’s photo in Christopher Green, Picasso: Architecture and Vertigo (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), 130, figs. 64–66.

(40.) “In Picassos Hortabildern steht Abschied von der Landschaft, vom Gegebenen” (K1 71). Five lines down the same point is made about Braque.

(41.) Yve-Alain Bois, “The Semiology of Cubism,” in Picasso and Braque: A Symposium, ed. Lynn Zelevansky (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1990), 169–208; 182–85. By arguing the sickle is a mode of the open cylinder rather than the other way around, I am obviously disagreeing with Bois on more than a detail. For Bois, a Kahnweilerian Saussurean, the sickle is proof that cubism was a raisonnable project of semiotic Enlightenment that culminated in the telos of the signifier’s flatness. For me, an Einsteinian Nietzschean, the open cylinder is proof it was an unreasonable project of visual passion that kept oscillating between surface and space. Nor does my insistence on cubism’s nonlinguistic visuality make me an advocate of some “pure opticality.” On the contrary, I am showing how the art of Braque and Picasso was much more impure—much closer to Marcel Duchamp’s cubism—than Kahnweiler and the semiologists have allowed it to be. On a more general note, while the individual observations of the semiologists have often been excellent—without Bois on the sickle, I doubt I would have (p.279) seen the open cylinder—I agree with the fundamental objections that Richard Wollheim has raised against their method. See Richard Wollheim, “On Formalism and Pictorial Organization,” Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59:2 (Spring 2001): 127–37. Finally, while I have learned a great deal from T. J. Clark’s rejection of the alleged “narrative continuity” of modernism’s cubism, this chapter as a whole can serve to explain why I do not endorse his alternative account of cubism as counterfeit. See T. J. Clark, Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999), 169–223.

(42.) “Naturellement l’objet ne peut apparaître que dans la mesure où la peinture le permet. Et elle a ses exigences, la peinture … Pas question de partir de l’objet: on va vers l’objet…. Je n’ai pu introduire l’objet qu’après avoir créé l’espace” (quoted in Dora Vallier, “Braque, la peinture et nous,” Cahiers d’Art 29:1 [October 1954]: 13–24; 16).

(43.) John Richardson, Georges Braque (London: Penguin, 1959), 27.

(44.) See, for example, William Rubin, “Picasso and Braque: An Introduction,” in Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1989), 15–62; 23–24; and Werner Spies, “La guitare anthropomorphe,” in La Revue de l’Art 12 (1971): 89–92. Picasso explicitly confirmed the analogy between guitar and female body à propos of a Guitar collage from 1913 (DR 608); see William Rubin, Picasso in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1972), 82.

(45.) On the sound-hole cylinder in Picasso’s paperboard Guitar, see Yve-Alain Bois, “Kahnweiler’s Lesson,” in Painting as Model (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 65–97.

(46.) The date of Picasso’s Mandolin Player has been investigated by Pepe Karmel, who has concluded that it was begun in the spring of 1911. Hence the prize for the invention of the sound-hole cylinder—as opposed to the open cylinder of which it is an instantiation—would seem to go to Picasso. See the entry for the Mandolin Player in Karmel’s “Notes on the Dating of Works,” in Picasso and Braque: A Symposium, 331; my thanks to him for sharing his reasoning behind that entry with me.

(47.) For alternative views on the Man with a Violin, see Nicolaj van der Meulen, Transparente Zeit: Zur Temporalität kubistischer Bilder (Munich: Fink, 2002), 118–23; and Harry Cooper, “Braque’s Ovals,” in Picasso and Braque: The Cubist Experiment, 1910–1912 (Santa Barbara: Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2011/12), 39–59.

(48.) Roland Penrose, Picasso: His Life and Work, 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 170.

(49.) Braque referred to the painting as a “guitarist” in his final letter to Kahnweiler from Céret, written just before he returned to Paris to put the finishing touches on it. He also told John Richardson as much after the war, which I take to mean that those finishing touches didn’t change the work substantially. For the letter, see Judith Cousins, “Documentary Chronology,” in Picasso and Braque: Pioneering Cubism, 387; for Braque’s conversation with Richardson, see Richardson with McCully, A Life of Picasso, 2:458 n. 22.

(50.) Compare Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch (Leipzig: Hirzel, 1862), 3: cols. 1452–59.

(51.) Braque, letter to Picasso, November 1911, quoted by Cousins, “Documentary Chronology,” 383.

(52.) Compare the volute that serves as a mantelpiece ornament in the lower right quadrant of Braque’s Clarinet and Bottle of Rum on a Mantelpiece from the autumn of 1911 (R 96).

(53.) For a clear if image-free account of Einstein’s theory of simultaneity, see Heidemarie Oehm, Die Kunsttheorie Carl Einsteins (Munich: Fink, 1976), 76–86. Oehm argued that Einstein was wavering between two definitions of the term: the diagrammatic simultaneity I am exploring here; and another, more conventional one that turns on the cumulative simultaneity of the various aspects of an object on a canvas. In my opinion, this second notion, popular with the Salon cubists, was at most weakly present in Einstein’s thought.

(54.) For an overview of the simultaneity debates of the physicists, see Max Jammer, Concepts of Simultaneity from Antiquity to Einstein and Beyond (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 95–170.

(55.) There are now many surveys of this tangled discursive web, starting with Pär Bergman, “Modernolatria” et “Simultaneità”: Recherches sur deux tendances dans l’avant-garde littéraire en Italie et en France à la veille de la première guerre mondiale (Stockholm: Svenska Bokförlaget, 1962). Van der Meulen, Transparente Zeit, 42–55, is a concise summary of the problems that must arise from any crude equation of simultaneity in art and science.

(56.) For an important early attack on Delaunay and the futurists, see Carl Einstein, “Ausklänge der Hypermoderne auf dem Pariser Salon der Unabhängigen,” Zeit im Bild 12:13 (1914): 711–13; not in Werke; reprinted in Andreas Kramer, “Zwischen Klassik und Avantgarde: Zwei unbekannte Texte Carl Einsteins aus den Jahren 1913 und 1914,” Jahrbuch der deutschen Schillergesellschaft 43 (1999): 45–48.

(57.) “Man hat den impressionistischen Moment durch Erinnerung zu dynamischer Gleichzeitigkeit der Vorstellung geweitet, doch der formale Gegenwert war nicht gefunden” (K1 93).

(58.) “kinematographische Technik” (K1 67); “auf einem seelischen Ecran, einer Filmfläche” (Carl Einstein, draft of a letter to Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, April[?] 1923, W4:142). The reference here is to the well-known chapter on the “cinematographical mechanism of thought” in Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, trans. Arthur Mitchell (New York: Holt, 1911), 304–70. Einstein’s point was that for all the talk about durée, futurist painting was actually the epitome of the cinematographical thought that Bergson abhorred.

(p.280) (59.) “Form wird im ‘Simultané’ als Einheit zeitlich differenzierten Tuns erfaßt” (K1 68).

(60.) “Sie erleben was; gut. Sie drücken es aus, aber sie unterdrücken gerade das, was die Sache zum empfindbaren Erlebnis macht, die komplizierte Komplexheit, das in sich functional Kontrastierende der Empfindung, das gleichzeitig nach verschiedenen ‘Logiken’ ablaufende. Wenn dies nicht so wäre, hätte ja unser seelisches Leben a keine Bewegung b stürzte wie ein Katarakt haltlos über jedes Tempo der Physis hinaus” (draft of a letter to Kahnweiler, W4:159; Einstein and Kahnweiler, Correspondance, 146).

(61.) “The assumption of one single subject is perhaps unnecessary; perhaps it is just as permissible to assume a multiplicity of subjects, whose interaction and struggle is the basis of our thought and our consciousness in general? A kind of aristocracy of ‘cells’ in which dominion resides? To be sure, an aristocracy of equals, used to ruling jointly and understanding how to command? My hypothesis: the subject as multiplicity” (Nietzsche, Will to Power, 270, #490).

(62.) “Die Person nimmt an Volumen, an Ichempfindung oder Sachgefühl, Zeiteinspannung usf. zu und ab” (draft of a letter to Kahnweiler, 153).

(63.) On that note, it seems no coincidence that Marcel Duchamp was an early visitor to Braque’s studio around 1911. His paintings of that moment, Sad Young Man on a Train and The Passage from Virgin to Bride, formalize a temporal simultaneity of body and technology that, for all its obvious differences, may have been prompted by the temporal simultaneity of body and still life he saw in Braque’s Pompidou and Düsseldorf paintings. For Duchamp’s slightly hazy recollection of his visits to Braque’s studio, see Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, trans. Ron Padgett, 3rd. ed. (New York: Viking, 1976), 25. For the temporality of The Passage from Virgin to Bride, see Jonathan Crary, “Marcel Duchamp’s The Passage from Virgin to Bride,” Arts Magazine 51:5 (1977): 96–99.

(64.) Quoted in Richardson, Georges Braque, 26. Braque’s statement is part of a long quote that summarizes several conversations he had had with Richardson. The quote is replete with Einsteinisms; the term “metamorphosis,” vital to Einstein’s ontology during his Paris years, when he was personally closest to Braque, occurs twice. For the fullest account of the relation between Einstein and Braque, see Uwe Fleckner, “The Joy of Hallucination: On Carl Einstein and the Art of Georges Braque,” in Georges Braque and the Cubist Still Life, 1928–1945 (St. Louis: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, 2013), 52–73.

(65.) Françoise Gilot with Carlton Lake, Life with Picasso (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965), 57. I have emended the English edition’s “restraint” to “con straint”; the French version too has contrainte (Vivre avec Picasso [Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1965], 47).

(66.) On the Cold War context of this episode, see Serge Guilbaut, “Picasso—Picassiette: Les tribulations d’un agent double au temps de la guerre froide,” in Picasso: L’objet du mythe, ed. Laurence Bertrand Dorléac and Androula Michaël (Paris: Ecole nationale supérieure des beaux-arts, 2005), 35–50; 44.

(68.) In thinking about Picasso on constraint I have profited from Svetlana Alpers’s study The Vexations of Art: Velázquez and Others (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2005), especially 9–45, where Alpers discusses the constraints (a term she derives from the Renaissance thinker Francis Bacon) that the premodern studio imposed on the art that was made in it.

(70.) On Picasso and anarchism in Barcelona, see Patricia Leighten, Re-Ordering the Universe: Picasso and Anarchism, 1897–1914 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1989), 13–47; 20–21, for an antistatist manifesto published in Arte Joven in 1901 (“La Vida,” by J. Martínez Ruiz).

(71.) John Pudney, “Picasso: A Glimpse in the Sunlight,” New Statesman and Nation 28:708 (September 16, 1944): 182–83; quoted after Picasso on Art: A Selection of Views, ed. Dore Ashton (New York: Da Capo Press, 1972), 148.

(72.) Hélène Parmelin, “The Artist and His Model” and Other Recent Works (New York: Abrams, n.d. [1965]), 47.

(76.) “What interests me is to set up what you might call the rapports de grand écart—the most unexpected relationship possible between the things I want to speak about, because there is a certain difficulty in establishing relationships in just that way, and in that difficulty there is an interest, and in that interest there’s a certain tension, and for me that tension is a lot more important than the stable equilibrium of harmony, which doesn’t interest me at all…. So, my purpose is to set things in movement, to provoke this movement by contradictory tensions, opposing forces, and in that tension or opposition to find the moment which seems most interesting to me” (Gilot with Lake, Life with Picasso, 59, 60).

(77.) On the Aficionado’s provenance, see Franz Meyer, “Picasso,” in Ein Haus für den Kubismus: Die Sammlung Raoul La Roche, ed. Katharina Schmidt and Hartwig Fischer (Basel: Kunstsammlung Basel, 1998), 41–58; 47. (p.281) On the collection and its openness to visitors, see Katharina Schmidt, “Raoul La Roche,” ibid., 9–23; 17–18. One of the photographs Fred Boisonnas took of the Villa’s interior in 1926 shows the Aficionado on view in the gallery (ibid., 250).

(78.) The Aficionado is one of a small number of cubist paintings that are mentioned in the body of Einstein’s survey text (K1 72, as The Torero). It received a full-page illustration in his Documents essay on cubism, where it was also correctly captioned; see Einstein, “Notes sur le cubisme,” Documents 3 (1929): 148. For another discussion of Einstein and the Aficionado, see Green, Picasso, 29.

(79.) Natasha Staller was the first to have suggested the equation of banderilla and erection in the Aficionado; see her A Sum of Destructions: Picasso’s Cultures and the Creation of Cubism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2001), 222 and 380 n. 34. Staller has also argued, rightly so, that the equation is even more apparent in the preparatory drawings, where the figure is also more obviously clasping the banderilla.

(80.) Even the most conservative list of cubist Picassos in which more or less open-cylindrical phallic implements are being manipulated in a male figure’s lap must include several drawings from 1911 and 1912: a Man with a Tenora (Z XXVIII 43 and 48) and a Man with a Pipe (Z XXVIII 99); a number of studies related to a portrait of Frank Haviland (Z VI 1161, Z XXVIII 154); and the openly masturbating figures from the 1912 Sorgues sketchbook that Zervos chose to call Harvesters (Z II 775, 776; see now Brigitte Léal, Musée Picasso: Catalogue des dessins; Carnets [Paris: Réunion des musées nationaux, 1996], 1:223, cat. 16, fols. 37v and 39v).

(81.) Thomas Crow, Modern Art in the Common Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 178–80.

(82.) On stylistic multiplicity in the Demoiselles, see Leo Steinberg, “The Philosophical Brothel,” October 44 (Spring 1988): 7–74; 60–62. On the unitary system of notation, see Bois, “Semiology of Cubism,” 180–85.

(83.) “Une guele bien du midi,” as Picasso put it in a letter of July 1912 to Braque. The letter is quoted in the original French by Clark, Farewell to an Idea, 424 n. 3; for a partial English translation, see Cousins, “Documentary Chronology,” 399.

(84.) To name just a few chestnuts: prefigured in the face of the Girl with a Mandolin (1910; DR 346), the negative line recurs in the Philadelphia Man with a Violin (1912; DR 470) and in Poet (DR 499) and Man with a Guitar (DR 495), both of which, like the Aficionado, were begun at Sorgues in the summer of 1912. A powerful instantiation occurs chronologically in between: in what I take to be the right cheek of the Woman with a Zither (“Ma Jolie”) (1911/12; DR 430).

(85.) A full account of the history of Picasso’s hinge, in which his cubism is just one episode, would have to address at least three crucial earlier moments: (1) The academic drawings from the 1890s, in which an antique torso or live model interacts with a plinth or block in such a way that the latter formalizes a hinge between light and shadow, frontality and obliquity, of which the former’s musculature is a mere instantiation: contrary to their apparent illusionism, Picasso’s academic bodies were already image-bodies. (2) The reemergence of the plinth/body combination in a number of paintings of nude figures interacting with cubes from 1906, most importantly the Prague Seated Nude (Z I 373), in which the hinge has crept up from the block into the figure’s face, splitting it in two: the origin of the so-called double head in Picasso’s work is the foundational contrast. (3) The moment of Horta, when Picasso discovered the hinge in landscape; or, more precisely, when the stunning photographs he took of Horta served him as a filter through which he looked both at the actual village and at landscape in Cézanne. Blocking out the convulsive passage in Cézanne’s Mont Ste-Victoires, the harsh precision of black-and-white photography enabled Picasso to see the hinge that separates the front and side facades of certain foreground buildings in Cézanne’s paintings as well as of the houses of Horta itself. That in Picasso’s paintings these houses would sometimes be flesh-colored suggests that while Cézanne’s passage was indeed filtered out, its eroticism wasn’t. For Picasso at Horta, the image-village became almost-an-image-body, but one whose organic continuity was riven by the foundational contrast.

(86.) It will be obvious that what I call Picasso’s hinge is a descendant of what Leo Steinberg called his “arris.” Steinberg has eloquently described the arris as “the salience that defines the external junction of convergent planes,” or else as “the principle on which embodiment turns.” So why rename things? Because I don’t believe either “arris” or “salience” quite cuts it, so to speak. I want to get at a dimension of Picasso’s art from which Steinberg always shied away: the abiding negativity that resided next door to the magic of invention. Steinberg wrote more insightfully on the magic part than any other art historian. But I think there is a reason he was so brief on Picasso’s cubism in 1911/12, or, for that matter, on his surrealism around 1930. In 1911/12, “the principle on which embodiment turns” became the principle on which it went to ground. As I suggested in the preceding note, it was not the only time it did. See Leo Steinberg, “The Prague Self-Portrait and Picasso’s Intelligence,” in Cubist Picasso (Paris: Musée National Picasso, 2007/8), 103–17; 104, 107.

(87.) For good reproductions, see Anne Baldassari, Picasso and Photography: The Dark Mirror, trans. Deke Dusinberre (Paris: Flammarion, 1997), 85–117 and figs. 105, 109–13, 115, 118. I am following Baldassari’s dating of the photographs.

(p.282) (89.) For the sequence of events, see Cousins, “Documentary Chronology,” 390–404; Pierre Daix, Picasso: Life and Art, trans. Olivia Emmet (New York: Icon, 1993), 115–20; and Richardson with McCully, A Life of Picasso, 2:235–57.

(90.) Other members of the Guitars series include another painting (DR 490) and a number of drawings (Z XXVIII 193–96, 198–201). All of them contain one or several of the formal units I examine here: pivots, wireframes, double fingerboards, divided bridges, compass ruler segments.

(91.) “Une idée de peinture ne será pure si on peut la exprimer dans un autre langage que le sien [de] la peinture”; “trouver le equilibre entre la nature et notre imagination.” See Léal, Carnets, vol. 1, cat. 16, fols. 16r and 25r; and Edward F. Fry, “Picasso, Cubism, and Reflexivity,” Art Journal 47:4 (Winter 1988): 296–310; 309. I am following Fry’s transcription of the first quote, which has langage where Léal has paysage. Either way, the sense is the same, provided one takes paysage to mean “proper territory.”

(92.) Christian Zervos, “Conversations avec Picasso,” Cahiers d’Art 10:7–10 (1935): 173–78; quoted after the modified translation by Myfanwy Evans in Picasso on Art, 10.

(93.) See Léal, Carnets, vol. 1, cat. 16, fols. 18v and 19v, 28v and 29v, 34v and 35v, with Léal’s introductory notes, ibid., 16, 218; and Pepe Karmel’s observations in his Picasso and the Invention of Cubism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 152.

(95.) Blair Hartzell alerted me to a single exception: the large faux bois wallpaper strip that was once part of the paperboard Guitar assemblage that Picasso put together in the fall of 1912.

(96.) Svetlana Alpers, The Making of Rubens (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1995), 129–30.

(97.) According to Daix and Rosselet (at DR 485), Kahnweiler stated that the words were inscribed on a gingerbread heart that Picasso then pasted onto the painting; they also note that the documentation in the Kahnweiler archive lists Gouel as its owner in 1912. Like Christine Poggi, I fail to see the gingerbread in an early photograph of the painting (Z II 352) that still shows the letters. See Christine Poggi, In Defiance of Painting: Cubism, Futurism, and the Invention of Collage (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992), 261 n. 19).

(98.) “Es ist unsinnig, Partei zu nehmen; beide Männer sind unlösbar mit der Schöpfung des Kubismus verknüpft, und Kampf um Priorität vergnügt die Unsachlichen” (K1 74).

(99.) “Wir verstehen unter Einheit die Komprimierung dialektischer Gegensätze und Varianten; denn nur im Erhalten des bewegenden Konflikts bleiben Formen aktiv. Die Spannung der Formen und die Gefahr ihrer Zerstörung soll erhalten bleiben” (K3 121).

(100.) Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, Juan Gris: His Life and Work, trans. Douglas Cooper, 2nd ed. (1946; New York: Abrams, 1968), 185.