00 Scholes,Robert: Picasso and Joyce



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Robert Scholes, “In the Brothel of Modernism: Picasso and Joyce”

In the Brothel of Modernism: Picasso and Joyce

by Robert Scholes

Part 1

Hey what! You here, dear fellow! You, in a house of ill fame? You, the drinker of quintessences! You, the ambrosia eater? Really, this takes me by surprise.
(Charles Baudelaire, “Loss of Halo,” Petits Poèmes en prose)

But it is precisely modernity that is always quoting primeval history. This happens through the ambiguity attending the social relationships and products of this epoch. Ambiguity is the pictorial image of dialectics, the law of dialectics seen at a standstill. This standstill is utopia and the dialectical image therefore a dream image. Such an image is presented by the pure commodity: as fetish. Such an image are the arcades, which are both house and stars. Such an image is the prostitute, who is saleswoman and wares in one.
(Walter Benjamin, Reflections, 157)

This essay has existed in a number of forms: as a series of slides with an accompanying oral patter, as a written text with no visual illustrations, and as a lecture with slides, as a chapter in a book, and, now, as a hypertext with images. In the course of its existence as a lecture, the view of modernism offered here has met with some serious criticism. The present version has been modified to respond to that criticism, and it also includes some material dropped from earlier versions because it seemed likely that only those with a special interest in Joyce might find it interesting. The criticism to which I shall be responding was made by Professor Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, both publicly in a lecture following my own, and privately, in a letter to me after the public presentation of this material. I have taken her objections with the utmost seriousness, not simply because we are old friends (which we are), nor because I have enormous respect for her learning and her critical intelligence (which I do), but especially because her objections focus on the role of women in modernism, which has been a major concern of mine for some years, in the courses I have taught and in my thinking about cultural history. It was precisely thinking of modernism in terms of gender that led me to this subject, that led me to see that Joyce and Picasso were connected, at some important level, by their interest in the brothel as an aesthetic space.



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