Degas's Monotypes

by Donald Kuspit

As his loneliness and gloom increased, at a loss what to do with his evenings, Degas had the idea of spending them, in fine weather, traveling on the open deck of trams and buses.... One day he described to me something he had seen the evening before on his open-air jaunt. It is the kind of observation that reveals the observer more than anything. Telling me how a woman came and sat down not far away from him, he described the precautions she took to be well arranged and comfortably seated. She ran her fingers over her dress to uncrease it, contrived to sit well back so that she fitted closely into the curve of the support, drew her gloves as tightly as possible over her hands, buttoned them carefully, ran her tongue along her lips which she had bitten gently and worked her body inside her clothes so as to feel fresh and at ease in her warm underwear. Finally, after lightly pinching the end of her nose, she drew down her veil, rearranged a curl of her hair with an alert finger, and then, not without a lightning survey of the contents of her bag, seemed to put an end to this series of operations with the expression of one whose task is done, or whose mind is at rest, since all that is humanly possible in the way of preparations has been done, and the rest must be left to providence.

The tram went rattling along. The lady, finally settled, remained for about fifty seconds in this state of total well-being. But at the end of what must have seemed to her an interminable period, Degas (who mimed to perfection what I am describing with great difficulty) saw dissatisfaction appear: she drew herself up, worked her neck inside her collar, wrinkled her nostrils a little, rehearsed a frown; then recapitulated all her adjustments of attitude and dress—the gloves, the nose-pinching, the veil.... A whole routine, intensely personal, followed by another apparently stable condition of equilibrium, which lasted only for a moment.

Degas, for his part, went through his pantomime again. He was charmed with it. There was an element of misogyny in his enjoyment. A moment ago I spoke of the female animal: that, I fear, was the right term. Didn’t Huysmans write that Degas felt nothing but repulsion for the dancers he painted?

—Paul Valéry,  Degas Dance Drawing1

Between the state of vision as mere patches of color and as things or objects, a whole series of mysterious operations takes place, reducing to order as best it can the incoherence of raw perceptions, resolving contradictions, bringing to bear judgments formed since early infancy, imposing continuity, connection, and the systems of change which we group under the labels of space, time, matter, and movement.

—Paul Valéry,  Degas Dance Drawing2

The Bellelli Family 1860–62 Musée d’Orsay, Paris, France

Edgar Degas was born in 1834 and died in 1917. He was a devotee of Ingres, whom he briefly met and who advised him to “draw lines, young man, and still more lines, both from life and from memory.” He took “this pointer…to heart,” as Francois Fosca writes, and “followed it throughout his career,”3 not only in his realist paintings—he always called himself a realist, even though he was associated with the Impressionists, and always worked indoors rather than outdoors, making studio rather than plein-air paintings—but in his monotype prints. Neither straightforwardly realist nor unmistakably impressionist, they seem like an uncanny hybrid of both, or an equivocal synthesis of realism and impressionism. More pointedly, there is a contradiction at their core. For however realistic the images that appear in them may seem, a monotype allows for the “unrealistic” “spontaneity and malleability”—the “refusal of precision”—that one sees in impressionistic paintings, since “the image is not fixed on the metal,” allowing it to be worked and reworked, done and undone and redone, “until the very instant of printing.” Degas seems to have done so with a vengeance—manic enthusiasm4—during the two phases, from the mid-1870s to the mid-1880s and the early 1890s, when he made more than three hundred monotypes. During the first, “he worked with black printers’ ink and composed contemporary urban subjects.” During the second, “he used pigmented oil paint to depict real and imaginary landscapes in images that verge on abstraction.”5

Almost all of them were on view in a stunning exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, organized by Jodi Hauptman, Senior Curator of Drawings and Prints. She writes brilliantly about them in the catalogue, emphasizing their improvisational, experimental character and their technical originality, along with their striking novelty—for example, Degas’s “unorthodox…use of a light filament as an etching tool,” and above all his unusual “handwork.” “To create a monotype,” Hauptman tells us, “the artist draws in ink on a metal plate, which is then sandwiched with a damp sheet of paper and run through a press. The method typically produces a single impression, which reverses the composition from what the artist has rendered on the plate. Where most printmaking processes fix the image on the matrix...monotype remains unfixed and manipulable up until the very instant of printing. Its promise of spontaneity and malleability, its reliance on tone and tactility, its productive inversions, its refusal of precision—these qualities captivated Degas.”

To achieve this spontaneous, eye-exciting effect, Degas developed “a new vocabulary of mark-making. Laying a curtain of ink down on the plate, for example, he would draw by removal, conjuring an image out of darkness by wiping the ink away with a rag, a card, or his own hand.... He also broadened his tool kit, using brushes with dry, hardened bristles instead of soft ones to create striated patterns, a hard-pointed implement—probably the brush’s wooden handle—to incise into the ink, sponges or clothes to dab or smoothly move the ink around, his hands to sculpt his subjects, his thumb and palm prints to impress texture, and his fingernails for contour.” For Hauptman, this is a “new kind of gestural rendering,” as she calls it, implying that Degas’s monotypes are expressionist, unfortunately without saying so. She thus misses the underlying sturm-und-drang character of many of them—the tempestuous intensity implicit in them, irrepressible however contained, the feeling that informs their hyperactive lines and often passive figures, the touchiness implicit in Degas’s ruthless touches, particularly manifest in his manhandling of the female figure.

<i>Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper</i>, c. 1885<br/>Private collection

Their expressionistic character is especially evident in the all black-and-white monotypes. In some, the black and white seem inseparable—flowing together in a sort of harmonious mix-up, so that each seems implicated in the other, at a loss without the other—as in many of the images of the female bathers. In others, the black and white are completely at odds—irreconcilably apart, indeed, in conflict—as in the scenes of black-coated men and women, often prostitutes, in white shifts or gowns. In the former, an intimate union of opposites; in the latter, difference, disparity, polarization of unequals, even permanent warfare. At best, the battle of the sexes seems to be at a temporary truce, a state of suspended hostility; at worst, a stalemate in which neither sex is victorious or defeated. All this is signaled by the relationship of the black and white. Their interplay shows Degas’s awareness of the subtleties of mood, but it also announces the basic dynamics of his psychology.

Degas’s intensely worked (indeed, overworked) surface—sometimes harshly cut into with his fingernails, sometimes forcefully shaped with his fingers, sometimes heavily imprinted with his palms and thumbs—is a projection of what the psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu calls his “skin ego.” Perhaps more important than the monotype’s dialectic of black and white (in some monotypes with an admixture of pastel color) is the fact that the skin of the monotype is broken and agitated, mutilated and marred, infirm and spoiled, so that it no longer functions as a container for his emotions and suggests, at the least, that he has a problem with the body—certainly the female body, as his relentless mistreatment and depreciation of it, conveying his contempt for women, suggests. It is as though, in dueling with the female body, he has slashed and scarred himself, as if to acknowledge the pain it causes him—the problem it is for him, its problematic character in general. At the least, the female body’s frustrating reality demands that it be degraded. Thus the odd, dehumanizing position in which he sometimes pictures it: bent over, the Dancer Adjusting Her Slipper, pictured at least four times (c. 1880, c. 1885, c. 1887, 1887), has no face—that is, no identity, or no ego of her own. She’s merely an instrument of the dance, obedient to the male dance master, as Degas makes clear in several works. And to Degas—another male dance master, another Svengali who makes her into a dancing artist—she is a mechanically performing artistic toy, a life-like automaton like E.T.A. Hoffmann’s ballerina Coppélia.

However fluid Degas’s lines, they move erratically, rather than regularly as dance steps do, indicating they have more to do with his own anxious psyche than with mimicking dance steps. As though fated, the dancer’s refined movements follow a preordained pattern, a perfected aesthetic order; Degas’s raw, impulsive, disorderly gestures move unpredictably, even anarchically. If “the transition from the arbitrary to the necessary...is the sovereign act of the artist,” as Valéry asserts, then it is not clear that Degas has made the transition in his monotypes. “Where skin disorders are concerned,” Anzieu writes, “scratching is one of the archaic forms of turning aggression against one’s own body (instead of turning it against the Ego, which would presuppose the existence of a more developed Super-ego).... Mutilations of the skin—sometimes real, but more often imaginary—are dramatic attempts to maintain the boundaries of the body and the Ego and to re-establish a sense of being intact and self-cohesive.”6 Paradoxically, just that which makes Degas’s monotypes an artistic advance or avant-garde—their innovative expressionism—signals his emotional immaturity, not to say his deeply troubled self. Aggressively treating a libidinous object, he eroticizes his aggression, and with that de-eroticizes the female body, so that it is no longer a tempting object of desire, but a projection of his imagined suffering at woman’s hands—the suffering he returns to her, does to her with his restlessly “expressive,” exploratory, probing hands, indifferently penetrating her being to its roots.

And with his eyes, for perhaps the clearest sign of Degas’s arrested emotional development is his childish obsession with women, evident in the fact that he viewed them, with voyeuristic curiosity and cunning, “as if…through a keyhole,” as  he said.7 And by the fact that he preferred “women unconcerned  by any other interests than those involved in their physical condition,” as he also said. In other words, women who were all body and mindless, not to say soulless, that is, with no inner life—women who were depersonalized and derealized, and as such theatrical props and staged dummies.8 But woman’s mystery remained, and it was located between her legs, as many of his bathers and prostitutes make clear. The woman in The Letter (c. 1882–85) masturbates as she reads it, a woman urinates into a Chamber Pot (1880–85), and the vagina is the conspicuous focus in Two Women—Scene from a Brothel and Resting on a Bed (both c. 1877–79), among many other works. A keyhole is a rather small, narrow hole—suggesting a certain narrow-mindedness, and emblematic of a vagina—and a human being who is seen through a keyhole seems more like an object than a subject. It is as though Degas was spying on something he did not understand to fathom its secret—and to sexually gratify himself. I suggest that Degas’s expressionistic handling is displaced masturbation—he’s masturbating with his artful hands as he views the naked bodies and confronting vaginas of his exhibitionistic females. They’re as anonymous as the females in the pornographic photographs popular at the time. In her catalogue essay, Raisa Rexer sees an affinity between them and Degas’s brothel monotypes. Indeed, the latter were apparently influenced by the former, and seem to compete with them; although, comparing the two, it is hard to believe, as Rexer writes, that the brothel monotypes offer in place of the “pornographic photographs...an ultimately sympathetic rendering of the realities of prostitution.” As The Client (1879) shows, Degas makes it clear that prostitution is a business, that prostitutes are no more than bodies for sale. I suggest that his female bathers are prostitutes washing their bodies after they have serviced a client (or many). As the psychoanalyst Salman Akhtar points out, broadly defined voyeurism and exhibitionism—both self-evident in Degas’s brothel monotypes—are “pregenital erotic instincts.” Narrowly defined, “‘voyeurism’ stands for the predominant and mandatory mode of obtaining sexual gratification by watching nude women or two individuals engaged in sexual acts,” adding that “voyeurism as a sexual deviation is seen (pun unintended!) almost exclusively in men…perhaps because the central dynamic in the perversion is a libidinized, counterphobic defense against castration anxiety.” Akhtar notes that “while children ‘spy’ on parents and older relatives, the adult voyeur prefers looking at unsuspecting strangers and pornographic material.” It is not clear whether the child in Degas or the adult Degas was looking through the keyhole. Probably the child, for “early deprivation of libidinal ministrations by the mother can… intensify vision as a modality of contact,”9 Akhtar notes, and Degas’s vision is certainly intense in the monotypes, suggesting that he was eager to contact the mother, symbolized by the prostitute, who gives on demand and without judging her client. She deprives him of nothing, ministers to whatever libidinal needs and wishes he has, as long as he pays the price—the artistic price in Degas’s case. Readable as neither decisively realistic (a clear-eyed rendering of “things or objects,” to refer to the second epigraph of Valéry) nor as an impressionist sum of “patches of color” (that is, an indeterminate patchwork or an overdetermined observation), the monotypes resemble dreams, expressive limbos in which fantasies are enacted. But rather than fulfilling infantile wishes, they convey adult frustration.

For Hauptman, Degas’s gestural handling suggests that “the act of making” is more important and meaningful than the image made. The “act of making” is not exactly an act of imagining for her, which is why, as she writes, for Degas, “process defin[ed] product—or, really, process as product,” implying that he sets the precedent for so-called process or action painting. It is a very modern idea, as she notes, quoting Valéry with approval: “Nothing could be more modern” than “taking for an end what can only be a means.” But Valéry also took Degas’s representation, i.e. vicious treatment of woman seriously—his denying her humanness by reducing her to an animal (and a repulsive one at that, as Huysmans wrote, and thus not an animal one could live with; not an animal appealing and attractive enough to be cared for like a pet). Such a humiliating demonization of woman is just as characteristic of modern art as its emphasis on process, as the surreal misrepresentation of her (for example, by Picasso)—her reduction to a bizarre object of frustrated male desire, and as such a dubious grand illusion (as in Magritte’s Delusion of Grandeur, 1948)—makes clear. For Valéry, woman—a vulgar object of transient desire for Degas’s high-hatted aristocratic men—is as much Degas’s end as his means, the product of his imperious process not simply its incidental catalyst: Valéry acknowledges the double-edged character of Degas’s monotypes, rather than seeing them as one-dimensional. He implicitly acknowledges the dialectic of dominance and submission—male dominance, female submission—that informs Degas’s images. The artist’s original “gestural handling” does not exist for its own pure—abstract, formal—sake, but for the unoriginal male purpose of oppressing woman.

Hauptman notes that “the prints of Rembrandt, with their wide-ranging variations, served as an important model” for Degas and other artists of the time who returned to the monotype process. Monotype had been “known since the seventeenth century…in response”—rebellious response, I would say—“to new technologies of reproduction such as photography,” which tended to mechanize and standardize images so that they lost their personal touch and downplayed the innate aesthetics of the objects they pictured. The personal touch, for example, that the gesturing woman the voyeuristic Degas saw on the bus busily made to turn herself into a work of art, a beautiful aesthetic object beyond the reach of the desire implicit in his predatory curiosity. In other words, Rembrandt had emotional appeal: his handling was as personally—often gesturally—expressive as his human subjects. Hauptman does not explore the meaning of the Rembrandtization—one might say emotionalization—of Degas’s art that occurred in his monotypes.

Other essays in the catalogue explore Degas’s interest in black-and-white photography, the photographic negative and his use of repetition. The final one suggests that the monotypes produced during the second phase do not simply anticipate abstraction but read as pure abstractions. And yet, for all the scholarly brilliance of the essays, none of the writers seem aware of the motivation for the monotypes—the purpose they served in Degas’s life, their emotional raison d’être. It is all but explicit in their expressive gestures—more compulsive than spontaneous, as their manic redundancy suggests—especially those that do violence to many of his female bathers, as was noted by viewers in his own day. He cruelly twists her body to the breaking point, as though it were a doll that could be broken apart and discarded, like a toy he was struggling to outgrow. The destructive vehemence of his handling is ironically inseparable from Arsène Alexandre’s perceptive observation, written shortly after Degas’s death, that his “monotypes represent the area of his work in which he was most free, most alive, and most reckless…not hampered by any rule.”10

Why do the monotypes feel so alive, recklessly and relentlessly alive, even when they are bleak and shadowy, even pitch black—completely obscure—in places, as many of the scenes of bathers are? To put this another way: Why did Degas feel compelled to invest so much of his life in the monotypes at a certain time in his life? Was he bored with painting and stimulated by the new medium? Did he feel his earlier realism was lifeless and that impressionism was too focused on nature to make any human sense—the sense he had been trying to make out of human relationships in such paintings as The Bellelli Family (1858–67) and The Interior (Rape Scene) (c. 1868)? (The latter work is thought to show an “upright” man entering the room of a “low-down” prostitute. The room is a sort of inner sanctum, closed off from the outside world, suggesting that it is a symbol of Degas’s inner world, as well as a kind of dream memory of an actual experience.) The life in the monotypes is instinctive, paradoxically an expression of the death instinct, which shows itself as aggression, as Freud argued. They are full of subliminal hatred of women, conveying a muted death wish toward them. The aggression that was repressed in the Ingres-inspired classicizing works—particularly in the early historical paintings and most notably in Spartan Boys and Girls Exercising (1860), which depicts, in effect, a battle of the sexes, males and females irreconcilably at odds, separated by an unbridgeable space—returns with a vengeance, attacking and trivializing the female.

That same unbridgeable space exists between The Client and the prostitute and the “upright” man in his suit and the “fallen” woman in her shift in The Interior (Rape Scene). The space confirms their alienation; male and female are inherently strangers to each other. The space that separates the male and female figures can only be bridged by an impersonal, aggressive, quick sexual encounter, lacking in tenderness and love, mutual respect and empathy. Degas’s males and females are opposites who briefly meet in a violent sexual encounter and then go their separate ways. I suggest that Degas regarded sexual intercourse as an evil necessity, like woman—no more than an end to an “expressive” instinctive discharge, like his “gestures.” The idea of a sustained relationship with a woman seems never to have entered his mind. He was a lifelong bachelor who probably frequented houses of prostitution—and made his monotypes—to “relieve” himself.

The first monotype, The Ballet Master (c. 1876)—the male master of the female dancers, in effect the slaves he dominates and controls, puppets who must submit to his rule if they are to have any significance (a point made more explicitly in The Dance Foyer at the Opera (1872))—was made when Degas was 42, more or less midway through his life. I suggest that he experienced a mid-life crisis at the time—a deep depression, bringing with it a sense of hopelessness and meaninglessness. It was as though the words on Dante’s Gates of Hell, “Abandon all hope”—and, one might add, creativity—were written on his brow.11 The monotypes were his creative response to his despair, his attempt to rescue himself by renewing his creativity; or more pointedly, by regressing to primary creativity, with its elemental sensuousness, and enlisting it to revitalize the secondary creativity of symbolic representation to which he had been devoted, for it had become “classically” stale. He did not eschew the secondary creativity of symbolic representation, but rather enriched and enlivened it with elemental sensuousness.12 In a sense, the female body was Degas’s means to a sensuous end, for it aroused his senses—his touch, his eye—more than his sexuality. One might say his gestures apotheosize his sensitivity at the expense of his sexuality. They are a kind of sensuous foreplay—a touching, a seeing—that forecloses sexual pleasure; for it is pleasurable and satisfying, even orgasmic in itself, as Degas’s gestural release suggests. The ostensibly abstract second-phase monotypes represent landscapes, suggesting an Antaeus-like staying in touch with the body of Mother Nature—his art-mothering nature, as fundamentally instinctive and creative as nature at large. For me, the exploding Vesuvius (1892) is the most important monotype of the second phase, for it is the only one that shows nature as violently active, aggressive, deadly and threatening rather than mutely passive, serene and lovable. His split consciousness of Mother Nature—soothing and benign in many of the landscapes, difficult to find a footing on, as the rough terrain in others suggests—is an extension of his split consciousness of his dancers and prostitutes.

If Degas’s “expressive handling” is a manic defense against his depression—his “gloom,” as Valéry wrote—as well as a creative breakthrough, it is also a perverse way of solving the problem of his self-imposed isolation, which inevitably brought with it the feeling of “loneliness” Valéry noted. The monotypes registered his widely reported antagonistic attitude to people—more broadly, his repeated interpersonal difficulties13—and his isolation, reflected in the isolation of his dancers and prostitutes, even as the monotypes drew attention to his strong emotions by way of their intense expressivity. (He identifies with his dancers and prostitutes, in part because of their isolation, in part because each is an artist in her own way, and perhaps also because he had to sell his art to live—the monographs were in fact mass-produced, however varied—which perhaps made him feel like a prostitute.) They were peculiarly spellbinding and seductive, not because of the female figures—all but neutered (his prostitutes are pieces of raw meat, often ugly specimens of physicality; Degas “took not the slightest pains to beautify them,” Valéry wrote)—but because of the emotions their handling aroused in the viewer, suggesting a certain reciprocity, a sort of unconscious communication, between Degas and the viewer. The monotypes had unconscious appeal, all the more so because they seemed style-less, their handling instinctive, driven, almost wild, seemingly out of conscious, rational control—certainly compared to the meticulous, slick handling of Degas’s stylish, rigidly controlled, classically rationalized Ingres-type paintings. Degas introduced the viewer to the unconscious—wrote instinct large, as it were—implying that he had fathomed its mysterious workings and was able to work with it. One might say that his monotypes involve “primary process,” which is “governed by the ‘pleasure-unpleasure principle and seeks immediate discharge of tension through hallucinatory wish fulfillment’”—many of the shadowy bathers have a hallucinatory presence, and some of the dancers seem like colorful mirages in a desert—as well as “secondary process,” for they “subserve the ‘reality principle’” in so far as they are logical representations (even if they sometimes show the female body in an illogical, surely painful position).14 Finally, one has to ask whether the blurring and blackness—the tendency to opacity, as though blindsiding us—that recur again and again in the monotypes have anything to do with Degas’s poor eyesight, just as the hyper-clarity—the acuity of detail—in the earlier Ingres-type works is compensation for it. “In 1870, when Paris was besieged…Degas…enlisted in the infantry,” Valéry writes. “Sent to Vincennes for rifle practice, he discovered that he could not see the target with his right eye. It was confirmed that his eye was almost useless.” He was, in effect, half-blind. “By the time he turned forty,” Fosca writes, “Degas’s eyesight, never entirely satisfactory, had begun to give him serious cause for worry. His eyes steadily failed as the years went by, and at last there was nothing for it but to abandon painting, the be-all and end-all of his life. The old man fell back on modeling statues of dancers and women at their toilet. But in the end even that was denied to him and his last years were altogether wretched. Nearly blind, finding no issue from the dreariness and gloom that had closed in upon him, he wandered from morning to night in the streets of Paris, a lonely, forsaken figure in the dun and bustle of the city.” In his mid-forties, Degas began the monotypes. It is worth noting that modeling statues of dancers and women at their toilet—the same themes as the monotypes—also involves touch; that is, the female figures in the monotypes are also made by a kind of sculpting touch.

It seems clear that Degas’s monotypes were a desperate response to the threat of blindness, even as they acknowledged blindness and made the viewer aware of it—made him aware that he could also become blind—by making blind spots; that is, blurring and blackening the female body in order to convey his anxiety and making the viewer realize that he also could not always see clearly and should be anxious about his eyesight. There is often as much darkness as light in the monotypes—much is unseen or half-seen—and sometimes more darkness, the unseen or partially seen turned into the unseeable. Degas’s awareness that he was inevitably going blind may be partly responsible for the derealization and depersonalization of the female figure that occurs in many of the monotypes, considering that “a feeling of imminent or actual catastrophe” may lead to “a feeling of changed reality.”15 Reality surely does begin to change when one is faced with the catastrophe of blindness. Informed by his fear of total blindness, Degas’s monotypes acquire a tragic aura. uncannily suspended between seeing and unseeing, they are fraught with poignant insight into the human condition.

 

Notes 

1. Paul Valéry, “Degas Dance Drawing,” Degas Manet Morisot (New York: Pantheon Books, 1960), 55-57.

2. Ibid., 41. All subsequent quotations from Valéry are from this essay.

3. Francois Fosca, Degas (Geneva: Skira, 1954), 13. All subsequent quotations from Fosca are from this book.

4. Describing “Degas’s new mania for monotype” in a letter of July 1876, the etcher Marcellin Desboutin, his friend, wrote Degas “is no longer a friend, a man, an artist! He’s a zinc or copper plate blackened with printer’s ink, and plate and man are flattened together by his printing press whose mechanism has swallowed him completely! The man’s crazes are out of this world. He now is in the metallurgic phase of reproducing his drawings with a roller and is running all over Paris, in the heat wave—trying to find the legion of specialists who will realize his obsession. He is a real poem! He talks only of metallurgists, lead casters, lithographers, planishers!” Quoted in Jodi Hauptman, “Introduction,” Degas: A Strange New Beauty (New York: Museum of Modern Art; exhibition catalogue), 13.

5. Ibid., 14. All subsequent quotations from Hauptman are from this essay.

6. Didier Anzieu, The Skin Ego: A Psychoanalytic Approach to the Self (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1989), 20.

7. Quoted in Elizabeth Gilmore Holt, ed., From the Classicists to the Impressionists: Art and Architecture in the Nineteenth-Century (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 403.

8. According to Robert Jean Campbell, Psychiatric Dictionary (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1981), 163, depersonalization, the feeling that one is “different or strange or unreal,” and derealization, “the feeling that the environment is also strange or unreal,” usually go together.

9. Salman Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac, 2009), 305.

10. As quoted in Hauptman, “Introduction,” Degas: A Strange New Beauty, 13.

11. According to Akhtar, a midlife crisis involves “coming to grips with external aggression, acceptance of limits, acknowledgement of bodily changes, assimilation of a shift in time perspective, renegotiation of oedipal challenges, and creation of ego-integrity. Such pressures on the ego can and do lead to some regression, some denial, and an occasional acting out” (Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis), 172.

12. Elemental sensuousness is experienced in what the psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden calls “the autistic-contiguous position…a mode of experiencing that is of a sensation generating sort….Such experiences are generated within the invisible matrix of the environmental matrix” (“The Dialectically Constituted/Decentered Subject of Psychoanalysis II. The Contributions of Klein and Winnicott,” International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 73 (1992): 614). It has a certain affinity with what the psychiatrist Harry Stack Sullivan calls “the prototaxic mode” of experience. It involves “the discrete series of momentary states of the sensitive organism, with special reference to zones of interaction with the environment” (The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry (New York: Norton, 1953), 29).

13. Degas’s “argumentative nature was deplored by Renoir, who said of him: ‘What a creature he was, that Degas! All his friends had to leave him, I was one of the last to go, but even I couldn’t stay until the end.’” Of particular interest is his anti-Semitism: “Although Degas painted a number of Jewish subjects from 1865 to 1870, his anti-Semitism became apparent by the mid-1870s. His 1879 painting At The Bourse is widely regarded as anti-Semitic, with the facial features of the banker taken directly from the anti-Semitic cartoons rampant in Paris at the time. The Dreyfus Affair, which divided Paris from the 1890s to the early 1900s, further intensified his anti-Semitism. By the mid-1890s, he had broken off relations with all his Jewish friends, publicly disavowed his previous friendships with Jewish artists, and refused to use models whom he believed to be Jewish. He remained an outspoken anti-Semite and member of the anti-Semitic ‘Anti-Dreyfusards’ until his death.” He also “fired a model upon learning she was Protestant.” His “persistent conflicts” with the Impressionists, despite the fact that he “played a leading role in organizing [their] exhibitions”—he exhibited his work in seven of the eight—are well-known. The “resulting rancor” led to the “disbanding” of the Impressionist group in 1886. From “Edgar Degas,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Edgar_Degas&oldid=734983174.

14.Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis, 220.

15. Campbell, Psychiatric Dictionary, 168.

 

 

American Arts Quarterly, Fall 2016, Volume 33, Number 4