Sunday, April 27, 2014

`The Lesson of the Line'

"I am grateful for the lesson of the line,
That wandering divider of the world,
So casually able to do anything:
The extended clothesline that will carry trains,
For instance,  or the lines of letters whose
Interstices vary the planes between
The far horizon and the very near nose." 

This is Howard Nemerov in “Metamorphoses” (The Next Room of the Dream, 1962), a poem “according to Steinberg -- that is, Saul Steinberg (1914-1999), a rare artist who makes anything seem possible with the simplest of artistic means. “Line” is a useful word because it applies equally to the graphic and the linguistic. It’s where cartoonists and poet begin and where they remain first cousins. Steinberg called himself “a writer who draws,” and titled one of his largest works “The Line.” In 1945 he published All in Line. Laurence Sterne drew a memorable line. 

Joseph Epstein titled his 1991 essay collection A Line Out for a Walk. He borrowed the line from Paul Klee, who, when asked to recount his artistic strategy, replied, rather wonderfully, “I take a line out for a walk.” Epstein writes about Steinberg here, and goes on to say of the line from Klee: “I have thought of it afresh each time I began a new essay; it describes exactly, precisely, absolutely, what I do.” At the risk of presumption, it describes exactly, etc., what I do as well, each time I sit down to write, usually with only the vaguest notion of where I’m headed, what line I’ll follow.

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