Breaking the Letter: Illegibility as Intersign in Cy Twombly, Steve McCaffery, and Susan Howe.

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Show simple item record Rinaldo, Michael en_US 2013-09-24T16:01:32Z NO_RESTRICTION en_US 2013-09-24T16:01:32Z 2013 en_US 2013 en_US
dc.description.abstract This dissertation analyzes different forms of illegibility in the works of Cy Twombly, Steve McCaffery, and Susan Howe within the context of postwar experimental art and poetry in North America. From the 1950s onward, interest in intermedium experimentation prompted American artists and poets to explore the visuality of writing, and to pursue strategies for breaking down the letter as the smallest graphemic unit in alphabetic writing systems through occlusion or eradication. How do we interpret marks that are variously effaced, erased, covered, cut, and fragmented to resist notational decipherment? The dissertation considers the suspension between text and image as “intersign,” and proposes “scanning” as an interpretive mode that mediates between seeing and reading, without assuming the priority of verbal or iconic legibility. Such intersemiotic illegibility seemingly escapes interpretation, yet simultaneously invites more complex interpretive strategies that are demonstrated in each chapter. The Introduction provides a theoretical and historical framework for 20th-century inter-arts experiments, while also touching on earlier European avant-gardes, to frame the artists and poets’ use of illegibility in the postwar North American context. Chapter One focuses on Twombly’s scribblings in paintings, drawings, and prints from 1959 to 1968: by juxtaposing his own name (inscribed in handwriterly marks) with the half-covered inscriptions of names of classical poets like Sappho, Twombly foregrounds the fragmentation of the modern artist’s signature. Chapter Two turns to Carnival, composed by McCaffery from 1967 to 1977, as a hybrid text that challenges reading habits by its “destructible” book format and complex typewriter techniques. Chapter Three explores Howe’s typographic experiments from her early to later poetry, culminating in Souls of the Labadie Tract (2007), where the cutting up of letters into “microfonts” interrogates the divide between text and image. The conclusion reflects further on the critical and cultural environment where artists and poets looked to each other to explore new possibilities for American poetry. In moving between visual arts and experimental poetics, between art history and literary criticism, and between pictoriality and textuality, the dissertation places the concept of illegibility in a broader interpretive context. en_US
dc.language.iso en_US en_US
dc.subject Text/Image Relations en_US
dc.subject Illegibility As Intersign en_US
dc.subject 20th-Century Avant-garde Art & Poetry en_US
dc.subject Cy Twombly en_US
dc.subject Steve McCaffery en_US
dc.subject Susan Howe en_US
dc.title Breaking the Letter: Illegibility as Intersign in Cy Twombly, Steve McCaffery, and Susan Howe. en_US
dc.type Thesis en_US
dc.description.thesisdegreename PHD en_US
dc.description.thesisdegreediscipline Comparative Literature en_US
dc.description.thesisdegreegrantor University of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Prins, Yopie en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Biro, Matthew Nicholas en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Potts, Alexander D. en_US
dc.contributor.committeemember Hannoosh, Michele A. en_US
dc.subject.hlbsecondlevel Art History en_US
dc.subject.hlbsecondlevel English Language and Literature en_US
dc.subject.hlbsecondlevel General and Comparative Literature en_US
dc.subject.hlbtoplevel Arts en_US
dc.subject.hlbtoplevel Humanities en_US
dc.owningcollname Dissertations and Theses (Ph.D. and Master's)
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