Painting, Writing and the Time of an Encounter (Félix Fénéon, by way of André du Bouchet)

McAuliffe, Sam. 2019. 'Painting, Writing and the Time of an Encounter (Félix Fénéon, by way of André du Bouchet)'. In: Modernist Art Writing/Writing Modernist Art. University of Nottingham, United Kingdom 24-25 June 2019. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

In a 1948 issue of the Paris based modernist journal Transition, the theme of which is the increasing propensity for the individual arts to interact with one another, there is a short text by the poet André du Bouchet, devoted to the art criticism of Félix Fénéon (‘Félix Fénéon or The Mute Critic’). What distinguishes Fénéon’s writing on the arts is the position it takes up, within language, in relation to visual field. To approach a painting through writing, du Bouchet argues, is to risk imposing on the image a temporal schema that does not belong to it, by treating it as the manifestation of a single instant. Writing never stops giving in to the temptation “to bring the picture, abruptly conjured heaven knows whence, before our eyes (…) He who wastes his time trying to hedge round the refractory picture with the language of time (as well try and take a handful of water) finds himself obliged to resort to magical assimilation, alchemy and other stratagems.” For du Bouchet it is Fénéon’s unique achievement to have developed a syntactical idiom that resists this temptation, the result of which is a form of ekphrasis that concedes as little as possible to this “language of time.” For example, since the operation of the verb necessarily confers upon each sentence a certain temporal quality, Fénéon strives to remove it altogether: “‘The sky, the peak, simply; the peak charred red against the cold white and blue sky’—a Hokusai print. ‘The maid, to one side, upright’”—a segment of Gauguin.”

What this technique shows is that whenever writing places itself in contact with painting, this encounter juxtaposes temporal registers that cannot be reconciled, and this demands in turn from writing an explicit engagement with its own structure. This paper will consider several theoretical treatments of such an encounter within a modernist context, from Julien Gracq’s ‘Literature and Painting’ to Jean-Luc Nancy’s ‘Painting and Presence.’

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Jean-Luc Nancy, André du Bouchet, Félix Fénéon, Painting, Temporality, Description, Ekphrasis

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


24 June 2019Completed

Event Location:

University of Nottingham, United Kingdom

Date range:

24-25 June 2019

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

26 Jun 2019 10:19

Last Modified:

17 Jun 2021 10:50


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