Abstract

This essay examines Charlotte Salomon's Leben? oder Theater?, a roman à clef made up of nearly eight hundred paintings with textual annotations. This complex interrelation of visual and verbal elements refuses to acknowledge the usual distinction between painting's visuality and materiality and language's purely symbolic signification. In fact, Salomon is preoccupied with the materiality of signification—with the shapes and colors with which signifi ers are made. The essay draws on Judith Butler's and Julia Kristeva's psychoanalytic examinations of how melancholic art preserves the lost maternal/material Thing in the letter-shapes and sounds that make signification possible. Such a project would have appealed to Salomon, who inherited melancholic tendencies towards suicide from her maternal family. Salomon is particularly troubled by her mother's and grandmother's suicides, and depicts their mangled bodies after they have thrown themselves to their deaths. However, Salomon reclaims those bodies in her signature, an intertwined C and S, which mimics the outlines of her mother's and grandmother's bodies. Salomon's signatory mark, which refers to the name of the father, also preserves the body of the mother, and asserts the necessary relation between material symbol and immaterial signification.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1456
Print ISSN
0162-4962
Pages
pp. 103-132
Launched on MUSE
2008-07-04
Open Access
No
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