restricted access Marsden Hartley's Light Figures
Abstract

This essay argues that Marsden Hartley's sentimental fondness for the acrobat's "light figure" is an attempt to imagine a form of public intimacy that flickers between social attachment and detachment, emotive personalism and spectacular disembodiment. I trace this figure from its emergence in Hartley's famous War Motif paintings, through its mediating role in the competing aesthetic discourses of New York dada and the Stieglitz circle, to its final articulation in Hartley's unpublished manuscript on the circus, Elephants and Rhinestones. Hartley's sentimental iconophilia, I argue, departs from a dominant modernist gambit linking vision, authenticity, and privatized interiority. Rather than penetrating, his erotic vision disperses; rather than implicating the spectator, it finds no subject, only a fleeting attachment that Hartley secures by losing himself in the affective circuitry of a mediated public sphere.


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