Klinger and Disjunctive Unity

December 4th, 2007

Two etchings by Max Klinger collected in the Graphic Works of Max Klinger, with introduction and notes by J. Kirk T. Varnedoe.

“The basic quality in Klinger’s graphic work… could be described by the paradoxical phrase ‘disjunctive unity’. It is a… fundamental principle in his art, extending from the juxtaposition of banal detail and impossible fantasy within the images… to the thematic dichotomy of fantasy and reality… He controls this split, holding it in perpetual poetic tension. Long before the surrealists, he discovered the emotional power of unresolvable disjunction, particularly between levels of reality; through this principle, he formulated another world whose contradictory abnormality had the impact of real experience” (pXXIV).

The Road

Four Landscapes: The Road. 1883 (p28). Click for larger version.

“The perspectives of the fence and trees on either side rush to convergence with an unchecked urgency. It is the kind of funneling space found in the psychologically charged vision of Van Gogh, for example, here rendered with a crisp, cool realism that makes it perhaps even more disturbing. The young trees are bound by wire to wooden stake-poles; hence their regimented regularity, and also a certain undercurrent of latent tension, echoed in the ominously leaden sky. The sky… descends slowly from an even light grey at the top of the plate a deep, bass note, darkest and most sinister at the point where the road hurtles into deep space” (p81).

In Flagranti

Dramas: In Flagranti. 1883 (p38). Click for larger version.

“The Latin title, related to the traditional phrase flagrante delicto, means ‘caught in the act’. The act here was one of adultry, a woman meeting her lover on a moonlit terrace. Her husband, leaning out of the upstairs window, has just shot the lover, whose feet sprawl out from behind the balustrade. The report of the shot still seems to hang in the air, as birds swirl away in fright and the woman clutches her ears in horror. The terror of the scene is intensified by Klinger’s understatement: the moment of maximum violence has just passed, the agony of the dead man is only hinted at, and the whole scene is slowed to an eerie suspension by the obsessive detailing of the ornate villa and the dense plant growth” (p83).

2 Responses to “Klinger and Disjunctive Unity”

  1. Mirco Says:

    I do not know whether the second marvellous etching was meant as an illustration to a story, real or imagined, it hardly matters.

    I like to believe it was (if not, it begs for one).

  2. Greg Pass Says:

    Varnedoe’s notes indicate that the Dramas “cycle” (of which this plate is one of ten) are based on Klinger’s infatuation with French realist novels by Flaubert, Zola and the Goncourt brothers.

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