Spirals

The Whirled Image in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art

Nico Israel

Columbia University Press

Spirals

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Pub Date: December 2017

ISBN: 9780231153034

272 Pages

Format: Paperback

List Price: $27.00£21.00

Pub Date: February 2015

ISBN: 9780231153027

272 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $50.00£40.00

Pub Date: February 2015

ISBN: 9780231526685

272 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $26.99£21.00

Spirals

The Whirled Image in Twentieth-Century Literature and Art

Nico Israel

Columbia University Press

In this elegantly written and beautifully illustrated book, Nico Israel reveals how spirals are at the heart of the most significant literature and visual art of the twentieth century. Juxtaposing the work of writers and artists—including W. B. Yeats and Vladimir Tatlin, James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp, and Samuel Beckett and Robert Smithson—he argues that spirals provide a crucial frame for understanding the mutual involvement of modernity, history, and geopolitics, complicating the spatio-temporal logic of literary and artistic genres and of scholarly disciplines.

The book takes the spiral not only as its topic but as its method. Drawing on the writings of Walter Benjamin and Alain Badiou, Israel theorizes a way of reading spirals, responding to their dual-directionality as well as their affective power. The sensations associated with spirals––flying, falling, drowning, being smothered—reflect the anxieties of limits tested or breached, and Israel charts these limits as they widen from the local to the global and recoil back. Chapters mix literary and art history to explore 'pataphysics, Futurism, Vorticism, Dada and Surrealism, "Concentrisme," minimalism, and entropic earth art; a coda considers the work of novelist W. G. Sebald and contemporary artist William Kentridge. In Spirals, Israel offers a refreshingly original approach to the history of modernism and its aftermaths, one that gives modernist studies, comparative literature, and art criticism an important new spin.
Nico Israel's superb Spirals revisits a history of modernity whose most secret desires and powerful realizations are captured by the dialectical image of the spiral. Not just echoes of Baroque forms, modernist spirals fascinate with endless lines and infinite dynamism. From Tatlin's Constructivism to Yeats's gyres, from Duchamp's Rotoreliefs to Smithson's Spiral Jetty, from Ubu's helical paunch to Kentridge's whirling cartoons, we rediscover works that renew our understanding of the world. Jean-Michel Rabaté, Professor of English and Comparative Literature at the University of Pennsyvlania
A dazzling, dialectical energy marks every page of Spirals, one of the most exciting recent syntheses of literary and art historical scholarship. Israel’s ability to trace the spiral across a truly heterogeneous, intermedial, and yet coherent sweep of twentieth- and twenty-first-century aesthetic production—from Yeats to Smithson and beyond—is exhilarating. Its procedure points to a new modernist studies. Martin Harries, University of California, Irvine, author of Forgetting Lot’s Wife: On Destructive Spectatorship
Nico Israel's brilliant Spirals skyrockets across the extreme twentieth century to land with utmost illumination in our own. In tensile prose as elegant as it is urgent, as sinuous as it is conceptually agile, and with a dazzling command of the multiple languages, disciplines, and global remit of modernity, Israel reveals how embedded the spiral is in the tissue of modern thought and ethics, and how important it is as a mode of reading the world. Breaking through the silo of our understanding, the vibrant matter Israel sets whirling in this crucial book is nothing less than a world future, a spiraling ring of agency that encircles and enacts a commons. Jennifer Wicke, University of Virginia
As it transversely curves from one plane of inquiry to another, this book brilliantly enacts its central insight and mystery: the path of artistic inquiry offered, and accepted, by the spiral. Nico Israel is a wonderful stylist of perception, and this is a joyful and profound work. Joseph O'Neill, Bard College, author of Netherland
Elegantly written, theoretically sophisticated. . . . Israel's ground-breaking work. . . . may have scholars in modernist studies, comparative literature, and visual culture seeing spirals everywhere. Modern Language Review
Stunningly ambitious.... Israel's book opens up a number of new avenues for investigation. Roger Rothman, Modernism/modernity
A richly suggestive. . . . examination of not just spiral images but of spiral apprehension itself. Comparative Literature

About the Author

Nico Israel is an associate professor of English at the City University of New York Graduate Center and Hunter College. He is the author of Outlandish: Writing Between Exile and Diaspora and has published numerous academic essays on twentieth-century literature and critical theory. He has also published widely on modern and contemporary visual art in Artforum, art exhibition catalogs, and other publications.