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Objects on a Table

Harmonious Disarray in Art and Literature

List Price: $17.95

July 30, 1999 | Paperback |  7.5 x 7.5, 136 Pages | ISBN 9781582430355
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"That such diverse elements ... are quite loosely combined ... in no way diminishes the reader's pleasure at following the mazy motions of Davenport's protean mind." —New York Times Book Review

Davenport’s meditations on the still life dip into the full history of this art formfrom Neolithic cave paintings to the Dutch masters, from Czanne and Van Gogh to photography and the collage. In a series of four meditations on still-life painting, Guy Davenport blends art history with literary criticism, taking a close look at the iconic and symbolic function of objects and the multiple ways they are represented in culture. Focusing on a genre that is supposedly static, these essays reveal the dynamic forces that motivate and shape the still life, explaining why and how painters have employed this genre to such vital effect. As always in Davenports eclectic and provocative work, specific themes or images that appear simple on the surface—apple and pear, a bust of Sherlock Holmes—resonate across human history to yield a rich interplay of meaning and story. Whether ancient or modern—an image found within an Egyptian tomb or a painting by van Gogh, a verse from the Book of Amos or a passage from Joyce—the works that Davenport discusses are parsed and analyzed for the clues within silent objects (the fruit basket, the postage stamp, the clock) with brilliant erudition. Feats of maverick detective work, Davenports readings of art never fail to surprise and inform.Focusing on a genre that is ostensibly static, these meditations reveal the dynamic forces that motivate and shape the use of still life, explaining why and how painters have employed this form to such vital effect. As Davenport says here, Culture is like a magnetic field, a patterned energy shaping history. It is invisible, even unsuspected, until a receiver sensitive enough to pick up its messages can give it a voice. When Ezra Pound said that poets are the antennae of the race, he meant radio antennae, not insects only. Readers, whether they are newcomers or devoted fans of Davenport’s extraordinary work, will discover that Objects on a Table broadcasts the energy of cultural patterns in a way that will awaken them to the music within.

GUY DAVENPORT received an award for fiction from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1981, a MacArthur Fellowship in 1992, and the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets for Seven Greeks in 1996. Author of more than a dozen books, he lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

Praise

“That such diverse elements … are quite loosely combined … in no way diminishes the reader’s pleasure at following the mazy motions of Davenport’s protean mind.” —New York Times Book Review

“Davenport has the wonderful ability to “read” inanimate objects in their historical setting, and he seems to remember everything he ever read. The range of allusion is immense and challenging and rewarding. Davenport is a virtuoso of the literary essay, and here the magic mostly works.” Kirkus

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