Anxious embodiments : revenants of post-WWII American Jewish masculinities in Barnett Newman's Stations of the cross / by I. Nancy Nield Buchwald
Includes bibliographical references (p. 516-530)
This dissertation will examine the way in which Barnett Newman's fourteen painting series Stations of the Cross: Lema Sabachthani (1958–1966) assembles visual metaphors for the (in)visibility and vulnerability, the anxious embodiment of Jewish masculinity in post WWII, post Shoah American society, specifically among New York's Jewish intellectual community. More specifically, this thesis will problematize the ways in which the putatively ahistorical pictorial conventions of Abstract Expressionism attributed to Stations of the Cross instead both revealed and concealed a belated American Jewish mourning of the Holocaust, or a syntax of “postmemories” of the Shoah. The series' emphasis on connoting visual rhythm, repetition, and instability undermines the viewer's efforts to maintain a modernist, purely optical gaze in contrast to a provisional and corporeally mediated glance. Newman's series struggles to represent Jewish masculinity as a stain in the visual field, a stuttering or elision within Abstract Expressionist production, which triggers an always-already belated moment of recognition of the effaced ethnicity of both painter and beholder. The titles of the work are not merely paratextual, but illuminate Stations' mobilization of metaphors for Jewish vocality. More specifically, the series' subtitle “lema sabachthani” or “why have You forsaken me?,” a question posed to a non-specific addressee, gestures broadly to the sense of abandonment experienced by Jews during the Shoah. The question also introduces a discursive and linguistic instability which echoes the shifting and indeterminacy of the compositional elements of the series. The emphasis which Newman places on what he terms “the outcry” unfurls into a wider consideration of the way in which the series nests particular articulations within a more elastic dialogic format; the fragmentary and unstable quality heralded by the subtitle's “cry” underscores the subversion of expected binary oppositions, both thematic and compositional, within the series: object and subject, line and color, foreground and background, particular and general, Jew and Gentile promiscuously intermingle. Perhaps most importantly, the positions of viewer and artwork shift the paintings of Stations of the Cross function as interlocutor of a listener/beholder addressed as a particular body mapped with the geographies, imagined or real, of trauma and (post)memories after Auschwitz.
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