Judith Palmer & Ben Stoltzfus
Knut House Press
98 Pages; Print, Full Color, $30.00;
Black & White, $15.00
Language, attitudes, and perspectives evolve in this pictonovel that tells a story of opposition, resistance and change generated by a male-female polarity. This performance in pictures and text is shaped by an encounter between an unnamed and only vaguely autobiographical “He” and the visual artist identified as “Palmer” or “She,” whose work we are viewing and whose process of making art is described on several occasions. Her artworks, primarily photoetchings and woodblocks, also include two colored pencil and graphite drawings, a water color, and a final monoprint, whose title “Playgiarism 12 (Bourgeois/Mondrian)” summarizes the ludic intertextuality of Romoland. Whether in the images themselves, in their titles, in the written text, usually attributed to “him” but at times to “her,” allusions abound to artists, including Johns, Twombly, and Diebenkorn and writers such as Robbe-Grillet, Kafka, Federman, Breton, Barthes, Lacan, and Derrida. As we proceed along the path of this imagistic narrative, it becomes increasingly evident that we are being led on an excavation of sorts, one that gradually uncovers meanings not just at the end of the journey but within the journey itself, in its context, in the give and take of gendered confrontations and, especially, in the very way this visual and verbal story is told. Its meaning, or more accurately its meanings circulate among the numerous mischievous and ironic encounters between picture and text, and not exclusively in one or the other. The image needs the text and the text requires the image for the full significance to emerge.
The Prologue sets the tone with the narrator’s use of clichéd language to describe “his” perspective: “He is in charge. He leads the charge. Victory is his and he brings home the bacon. She cooks the bacon.” But the Prologue also prepares us to follow “her” quest beyond and within herself: “There is an identity somewhere and perhaps it will emerge if she works at it.” Divided into 25 chapters each focusing on and bearing the title of one of Judith Palmer’s works, the book invites the reader/viewer to scrutinize each image as it displays aspects of Palmer’s emerging quest. Beginning, in “Body of the Text 5,” as “only an echo …the voice of the Other,” she methodically marks her space (in opposition to his time) through her woodblock etchings as she enables a “new reality” to emerge from the unconscious: “that other country without boundaries where the repressed survive.” Through her art, she struggles against stereotypes and conventions, his control of the word, his imposition of undeviating lines, his ownership of narratives. That struggle is depicted in the verbal text, but also in the images themselves that frequently incorporate found language (from dress patterns, from his written notes, from her photos of markings on a construction site) set off against her “circles, ellipses, squiggles, and tendrils”—images that fight to free themselves from his borders, right angles, and unbroken lines. It is significant that her means of doing so typically involves an obstinate form of violence against matter as “she scrapes, sands, burnishes, and polishes” uses acid, scratches and otherwise scores the material before her in a way that recalls Gaston Bachelard’s description of the ontologically transformative dynamic imagination in his Earth and Reveries of Will (2002). She is, indeed, revealing a new reality as she gradually liberates herself from his control through her physically demanding inscriptions. His pen may be mightier than the sword, as tradition would have it, but her stylus proves to be a match for his pen. Hers is a battle for recognition, for space, and ultimately for self, that culminates, it would seem, in “a war machine…a Trojan Horse…a dual mechanism that ticks inexorably toward zero hour.” In both the textual and sexual sense, echoing the body of the text, her space and his time come together as “the explosions rip his stereotypes apart.” Her work pays off: “she cuts, she scrapes, she polishes, she rolls, she presses, and she comes again...