Is the artist hysterical?
in Killing Men & Dying Women
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This chapter explores further structural/semiotic/psychoanalytical readings of abstract painting and the inherent instability of psychic gender it enacts though a discussion of hysteria that opens the subject to oscillating identification – ‘Am I a man? Am I a woman?’ – as well as the anxiety of non-being: ‘Am I dead or living?’ When creating, does the masculine artist, structurally, psychically, hysterically identify with the Mother as both the Ur-figure of creator, or battle with the Mother as the Other from which he, as a masculinized subject, has been severed by the Oedipally decreed abjection of the maternal body and by the resulting Oedipal formation of his masculine subjectivity through identification and rivalry with the Father? If making art by men is theorized as hysterical, this destabilizes gender ideologies that heroize artist-men. The maternal remains a ghost in the artwork, momentarily taking centre stage in the history of art c. 1950 when the expanse of canvas awaiting the gesturing mark of the artist confronted artists, both men and women, as the maternal other. Painting became a dynamic contest between marking as self-realizing and surface as otherness, as maternal parent, as ‘world without me’. This stages a psycho-aesthetic drama of the subject, the ordeal of sexual difference for the masculine as well as the feminine artist-subject, who too must deal with the maternal, as both creator-m/Other (Ettinger’s matrixial supplement) and the Oedipal Mother in a different configuration of identification and escape. Artist-women’s engagement in gestural abstraction enabled them to participate aesthetically and formally in the drama of emerging subjectivity and of fluid, hysterical sexual difference with differentiated psychic investments in the feminine-maternal m/Other/Mother in variably sexual and psycho-corporeally differentiated relation to the maternal and hence to their own sexuated singularity ‘in, of and from the feminine’.

Killing Men & Dying Women

Imagining difference in 1950s New York painting


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