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In recent years, scholars in literature and anthropology have debated how “postmodern” biography, challenging the realist conventions and authorial objectivity of traditional biography, and “postmodern” autobiography, questioning the unified self of the autobiographical narrative, might be written. In the past decade, a growing number of art historians have similarly been attentive to issues of identity and subjectivity, especially as feminist, ethnographic, and psychoanalytic discourses have framed those issues.[1] But during the same time, shorter or more thematic researches have largely displaced full-length artist biographies. “Postmodern” alternatives to this genre remain virtually unexplored. In fact, to write biography at all is to invite speculation that one is ignorant of the past thirty years' worth of intellectual history.

In 1988, J.R.R. Christie and Fred Orton offered one possible explanation for this state of affairs. They observed that the “biographical narrative,” which does not foreclose the possibility of a pluralized subject or endless possible story patterns derived from both nonfictional and fictional literary genres, has frequently and incorrectly been regarded as synonymous with the familiar “monographical narrative,” which tends to offer an overly individualized account of a unified subject, a “genius,” whose life follows a predictable trajectory from birth through creative development to career peak and decline to death.[2] Furthermore,

as Griselda Pollock pointed out years earlier in her classic indictment of the default assumptions of art history, the excessive focus on the art object itself requires the production of an artist-subject for and from the work, one who becomes the source of originary meaning. Through solipsistic circularity, the object then becomes the conduit to knowledge of that subject's supposedly transcendent self. Such circularity is central to conventional narrative practice, “which produces coherent, linear, causal sequences through which an artistic subject is realised” as “the effect of his works, the hero of the story, the character whose ‘truth’ is to be sought and visualised, reconstructed and made plain.”[3]

Despite these challenges, the structure of the full-length traditional artist's biography (the monographical narrative) remains fundamentally unchanged in mainstream art history, its service to “objective” scholarship largely unquestioned. Plurality is reduced to sameness. Competing and potentially incompatible elements of the subject's life are harmoniously resolved, while the biographer's conceptual arbitrations regarding conflicting evidence are effectively concealed. I hoped to resist these conventions when I wrote the manuscript published as Irene Rice Pereira: Her Paintings and Philosophy (1993).[4]

The form of the artist biography is foregrounded when its subject is someone like Irene Rice Pereira (1902–71). Best remembered as a painter, she wrestled with the design and content of an auto biographical manuscript. “Eastward Journey” was written in 1953, the year of her retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, an exhibition noteworthy in the history of women's art in the United States.[5] Never published despite her dogged pursuit of a publisher, [6] it was to have been the artist's authoritative statement regarding her life and work, wresting from others the power to define either and ensuring that her reputation would last.

An artistic reputation is critically dependent upon what is written about an individual and its degree of concordance with popular but historically variable patterns regarding the model artist's life. Pereira evidently wrote “Eastward Journey” with that idea foremost in her mind. The text follows the form of a secularized spiritual autobiography or conversion narrative in that it is characterized by an introspective and retrospective view of personal experience and a consistent hermeneutic system by which meaning is assigned to that experience. Interpretation supersedes description, for the text's purpose is to edify:

the subject's exemplary life is meant to illuminate the way for others. Historically colored in the United States by the Puritan practice of publicly reciting one's spiritual history to prove worthiness for congregational membership, this narrative form connotes the desire of its subject to be counted among the elect. Eighteenth-century spiritual autobiographies were based upon biblical hermeneutics; “Eastward Journey” ultimately relies upon romantic discourses surrounding artistic creation for its principles and strategies of interpretation. Thus the manuscript's primary significance lies in its construction of its author-narrator, the “I” of the narrative, as the paradigm of the artist-hero-seer, simultaneously reinforcing and defying convention in usurping for herself all the power and privilege associated with this figure. To clarify, the “I” here is not the “real” Pereira, the historical figure who is herself the product of multiple subject positions and whose life exceeds text-based archival and explicative materials. (As Jacqueline Rose observed in her superb book challenging the “authorized” interpretations of the poet Sylvia Plath's life and work, all such texts are representations only, standing in effigy for the deceased and speaking in her name.) Rather, this narrating subject, a persona one might call the “Artist named Pereira,” is produced by the text. The narrator's developing “self,” a separate persona becoming the Artist named Pereira, emerges as a painter who is not merely rhetorically but demonstrably the effect of her art. The reader thus “journeys,” with the narrator as guide, toward Mecca, a 1953 painting, as the narrator enumerates and interprets the artworks and events marking the path to her own enlightenment, manifested by her now-congealed philosophical beliefs. According to the text, the developing self is a mere spectator to the visual drama unfolding before her. She is “converted” in stages, her canvases revealing the transcendent artist-self to herself. By the end, her story told, her worthiness demonstrated, the Artist named Pereira is prepared to take her place with the congregation of celebrated artists.[7]

Such metaphoric peregrinations certainly had precedents in autobiographical literature of the time. One notable example is the multivolume novelized autobiography Pilgrimage by the English author and film critic Dorothy Richardson (1872–1957), who, like Pereira, fashioned herself as a “seer.”[8] But the “real” Pereira's inability to secure a publisher, though it probably had several causes, pinpoints a difficulty besetting women artists during this era: the form of the artist biography, which tended to fuse with that of the fictional Künstlerroman[9] to

proclaim the advent of the male artist-hero, was inherently exclusionary and inadequate to their needs. Not only did women bear little ontological resemblance to the protagonists of these stories, but the interpretative systems by which their narratives derived meaning, although secularized, had roots in biblical hermeneutics, territory historically forbidden to women because of assumptions about inferior female intellect. Linda Peterson notes in her studies of Victorian autobiography that women like Charlotte Brontë and George Eliot chose fiction to critique the conventions and implications of the prohibition against female self-interpretation, thus safeguarding their private selves from the penalties of violating social taboos. In a later era generally suspicious of “eggheads” and amused at women too eager to be seen as such, Pereira was less circumspect. Her self-interpretative autobiography was unremittingly transgressive. In usurping the masculine position of enunciation, as Sally Robinson reminds us, a woman changes the politics of the enunciation.[10]

What remains compelling about “Eastward Journey” is Pereira's location of a site of potential resistance and strategic attempt to resituate herself in contemporary discourses on the identity of “the Artist” so as to open them to the possibility of a woman's being emblematic of that exalted, “universal” role. Even so, one could not call her a feminist. Indeed, she endeavored to transcend the issue of difference rather than embrace it. She probed neither the deficiencies of her model nor alternatives based on women's experiences. Her purpose was to exploit existing discourses and to render herself visible where women had lacked visibility before.

Pereira's paintings, poetry, philosophical writings, and self-conscious shaping of the archive to survive her were all in some measure intent upon constructing an Artist named Pereira. These self-promotional “autobiographical acts”[11] were central to my book (and, a year later, to an exhibition catalogue, Irene Rice Pereira's Early Work: Embarking on an Eastward Journey). While writing, I was aware that I, too, was constructing a “Pereira” in accordance with my own needs. In many respects I desired to contribute to feminist recuperative practices, to accord forgotten women their rightful and active places in history. Still, I was unwilling to ignore questions of subjectivity raised by poststructuralism, despite my considerable skepticism regarding the phantom existence to which “the author” had been relegated in poststructuralist discourse.[12] Not seeing these positions as necessarily in

opposition, despite their stark polarization within much contemporary feminist criticism, I wanted to write a biography that, while resuscitative and dependent upon archival research, was also resistant to realist conventions. Nevertheless, an examination of the form itself was not my goal. Further, I was under the publisher's mandate to write for a “general audience” and omit any difficult jargon. Thus I tried to signal my critique of the traditional monographical narrative through the organization of the book, its publication as part of an American Studies series, and its considerable focus on Pereira's maneuvers to gain visibility and patronage and to secure the longevity of her reputation. Interpretations of paintings or iconography, where offered, were subservient to this agenda. They demonstrated the artist's conscious choices to participate in certain discourses of the day while disdaining others. Other critical concessions I made, however, muted the impact I wanted my book to have.

Consequently, I would like to explore here some of the tensions between Pereira's “autobiographical acts,” my own mediating “biographical acts,” and the sometimes conflicting needs of publishers—particularly as they assess their market—so as to open wider a space within art history for the practice and evaluation of critically informed accounts of artists' lives. Ideally, these biographical narratives would consider their subjects as positioned within multiple discourses without foreclosing their ontological existence, would resist simplistic cause-and-effect relationships between isolated events and individual works of art (or vice versa), and would avoid notions of god-given “genius” or linear narratives of artistic “development.”

My position regarding the subject is clearly antihumanist and antiessentialist, and I am heavily indebted to, although not uncritical of, poststructuralist discourse theories. The notion of the coherent, rational individual is itself a consequence of discourse.[13] Being the subject of a discourse, though, is not the same as being passively subject to it. Like other feminists, I believe that some measure of agency must be theorized for resistance or change and that there must be some accounting of embodied existence, even if the body itself is situated discursively at the intersection of multiple axes of meaning. I find much with which I agree in Wendy Hollway's “Gender Difference and the Production of Subjectivity.”According to Hollway, discourses make available positions for subjects to take up. Because traditional discourses concerning sexuality are gender differentiated, men and women are not equally able to take

up subject or object positions. Although these positions are specified for “man” or “woman,” particular men and women fill them, and their practices and experiences are rendered meaningful according to gender-differentiated discourses; practices and their meanings have histories, developed through the lives of people concerned. These behaviors are the products of multiple discourses, although the hegemony of any one discourse may make meanings more or less homogeneous. Because discourses do not exist independently of their reproduction through the practices and meanings of particular women and men, we must account for changes in the dominance of certain discourses, and the development of new ones, by taking account of men's and women's subjectivities. For example, we might question why men or women “choose” to position themselves within certain gender-differentiated discourses or whether practices signify differently for women and men because they are read through different discourses. Finally, by showing that subjects are invested in certain discourses, and that these investments are socially constituted and constitutive of subjectivity, one can avoid the determinism characteristic of some discursive theories and thus allow for resistance and change.[14] A consequence of being invested in subject positions is expecting some sort of satisfaction or reward, such as relative power over or solidarity with others. This need not be rational or consciously determined, and one subject position need not exist harmoniously with others. To complicate matters, new discourses often coexist with rather than displace the old. Subjectivity, then, is the product, not the sum, of often contradictory positions within discourses. Each position, each relation, becomes as much a site of potential change as one for the reproduction of practices and meanings, so some measure of agency, of intention, can be theorized.[15] One can examine the strategies, maneuvers, or practices of historic figures within discursive frameworks without pretending that one can know or represent the “real” person and without resorting to humanist individualism or to traditional psychoanalytic theories of desire.

One might say that our sense of our “self,” however fragmentary or illusory, is dependent upon the stories we tell ourselves and that these are largely determined by how others narrate us, by language, and by the genres of storytelling we inherit from our cultural traditions. Anthony Paul Kerby, in his 1991 study of self-narration, argued that “much of our self-narrating is a matter of becoming conscious of the narratives that we already live with and in…. Such external narratives

will understandably set up expectations and constraints on our personal self-descriptions, and they significantly contribute to the material from which our own narratives are derived….[E]ven fictions can provide us with characters and plots that we may identify with and which disclose ourselves; our experience of literature and film should readily prove this point.” More simply, we interpret our lives through readings of other life stories, factual or fictional.[16]

Irene Rice Pereira clearly read her own life story through those of others. Among the few details she ever recounted publicly about her youth was her passion for literature, including works by Louisa May Alcott and Jane Austen, and “any biography of a great woman she could lay her hands on.”[17] She also made early attempts at writing a biography of Joan of Arc. She related these memories late in 1952 to John I.H. Baur, author of the catalogue to her Whitney retrospective, when she was writing, or preparing to write, “Eastward Journey.” Her choice to foreground these particular details of her childhood suggests a preoccupation with biography itself. It also signals to readers her precocity as a girl and provides an intellectual foundation for her subsequent achievements as an artist and philosopher. Pereira thus gave shape to her life through calculated answers in this and other interviews. (One should not discount Baur's role, however, in editing responses and giving final form to the catalogue narrative.) Her accounts construct an “origin” for her interest in writing, nurtured with night courses in literature when she was in her twenties and marked by the increasingly frequent appearance, in the 1950s, of published essays, poetry, and philosophical tracts. Perhaps they also reveal her contemplation about the strategies by which successful women become “famous women” with enduring reputations, the subjects of autobiographies and biographies.[18]

Most scholars of autobiography are quick to indicate the elusive boundary between fact and fiction in the genre. Such writing is inherently interpretive. Isolated yet significant incidents are extracted from the past, from memory, and given continuity and meaning within a narrative framework. Clinton Machann has argued that the author makes an “autobiographical pact” with the reader that, if the author's name refers to a person whose existence is confirmable, the text will be essentially accurate. Verifiably inaccurate statements will thus be adjudged flaws. On the other hand, Timothy Dow Adams maintains that autobiography is essentially a means by which one attempts to reconcile past events with one's current sense of self. The narrative is to be

taken as metaphorically authentic, its significance lying in what the writer hopes to achieve by deliberately straying from fact.[19]

My sympathies lie with Adams's assessment. The perceived “authenticity” of an autobiographer's story is measured by its proximity to the “truth” of the metaphors employed and by the meaningfulness of the author-confessor's standpoint. Pereira's manuscript may have failed this test on both counts for contemporary publishers, who lacked the evidence necessary to evaluate its factual merit. In “Eastward Journey,” she imparts to her developing self the identity of a pilgrim following a lonely, dangerous pathway through the darkness of the early 1940s, marked by a sister's death and her own battle with a “severe illness” (breast cancer), toward the light of 1953. This trek also inscribes “step by step or depth by depth” her movement from figurative art to abstraction, from the imaginary to the symbolic, and her simultaneous intellectual transformation from apprehension of mere physical space to apprehension of a metaphysical, multidimensional space. The text is filled with dualisms: the familiar distractions of the temporal world countered by an aesthetic, spiritual, or inner life that “swings on a pendulum of stars”; the existential world of three-dimensional space versus infinity; being “split in two” as an instructor at the Design Laboratory, a WPA-sponsored and Bauhaus-inspired school of industrial design in New York, teaching students rote technical skills while simultaneously trying to instill aesthetic appreciation; and Pereira's favorite opposition, “thinking and feeling.” All dualisms are ultimately resolved by resort to “the symbol,” the “structural essence of experience,” which, as the narrator makes clear in prefatory remarks, is her guide and the reader's.[20]

Significantly, the dichotomy between masculine and feminine is also resolved in the symbol: “I,” the transcendent essence, the romantic artist-seer. Pereira's autobiography, like her paintings, is signed by the sexually ambiguous “I. Rice Pereira,” and at no point in the text is there an indication of the artist-narrator's gender. Readers gain a fleeting glimpse of her body in the reference to her unidentified illness; otherwise all concerns are noncorporeal. The single gendered term used throughout the text is man, employed only in the so-called neutral or universal sense customary at the time for referring to humankind.

In its focus upon its character's development, “Eastward Journey,” although autobiographical, echoes the closely related fictional genre of the Bildungsroman, the German romantic novel of individual self-realization.

Having its own origins in confession narratives, the Bildungsroman is sometimes called an apprenticeship novel, based upon filiation with Goethe's Wilhelm Meisters Lehrjarhre (1795–96). Usually associated with the enculturation of its youthful protagonist, the genre has been described by Martin Swales as “essentially an epic of inwardness, one that celebrates the imagination of the hero as the faculty which allows him to transcend the limitations of everyday practicality [italics added]” to become “whole” and integrated, by symbolic stages of transformation or initiation, into the community. Ultimately, it is the implied reader, the middle-class European male, who is initiated into the wholeness of the Bildung, following the exemplary model of the hero. In its civilizing, social function, the Bildungsroman seeks to impose order, resolving differences through the seduction of the “universal.” If the story does not always detail the protagonist's (and hence the reader's) reconciliation with the social, that reconciliation is intimated, as Swales suggests, “through the writer's collusion with his artistic community of notional readers [italics in original].”[21]

However, in its focus upon an artist's development, Pereira's text more aptly resembles the near twin of the Bildungsroman, the Künstlerroman. Gerald Goldberg's survey of this genre in 1961 noted that through the nineteenth century the artist-hero of the Künstlerroman retained a social function, a stage of reconciliation with the community, like that just described for the Bildungsroman. However, by the era of the abstract expressionists, the famed inheritors of the mantle of “artist-hero” in much critical literature, this figure had assumed “his” estrangement from society from the outset and realized himself in a state of alienation without assuming any responsibility to the social. By virtue of the continued currency of romantic aesthetic discourse, this shift in discourse did not displace but coexisted with the view of the artist as a universal symbol of humanity. In that view, propounded by Schiller in his Aesthetic Education of Man, the path taken by the artist was the path all humanity must take. Therefore, the narrative of subject-formation in the Künstlerroman implicitly was more than the life story of a mere artist: it was a universal history.[22] For those midcentury artists fearing not only that they had been displaced by the critical acceptance of abstract expressionism but also that art's relevance to society was at stake, a crucial issue left unresolved by this confluence of personas was this: Was the fate of the postwar world to be alienation and chaos, with humanity following the path of the abstract expressionist

artist-hero? Or might harmony and order yet be reclaimed by following an alternative course?

If Goldberg's observations regarding the history of the artist-hero are even superficially accurate, one can locate a tension between the shifting discourses concerning this persona that Pereira could conceivably exploit to secure legitimacy for her own claims to that identity. She persistently stationed herself against the abstract expressionists, who, she argued, having lost their psychological balance, were unable to find integration in the social. They were alienated, caught in the “Void”—a viewpoint in some agreement with Goldberg's. Consequently, in embracing the earlier romantic function of the artist-hero as the reconciler of opposing social forces, Pereira could position herself in a tradition by which she could lay claim to exemplary status. She could also posit a more socially responsible future for the artist, one more consistent with Depression-era ideas with which she retained much sympathy and with the caregiver role usually accorded to women. Pereira clearly believed that women were on the brink of a new age of public visibility and social responsibility. Indeed, according to a passage she marked with emphasis in her copy of Carl Jung's Contributions to Analytical Psychology (1928), “the modern woman longs for greater consciousness, for meaning, and the power of naming her goal in order to escape from the blind dynamism of nature…. The modern woman stands before a great cultural task which means, perhaps, the beginning of a new era” [italics added].[23]

The romantic function of the artist-hero was updated in psychoanalytic discourse in the twentieth century. In the Aesthetic Education of Man, Schiller had called for a resolution of the intellect/senses (“thinking and feeling”) dichotomy through beauty, the means by which humanity became civilized. Jung, who acknowledged his debt to Schiller in several of his volumes, viewed this reconciliation as a metaphor for the integration of conscious and unconscious levels of the psyche in the process of individuation. Jung, who apparently did not reciprocate the esteem voiced by some of the abstract expressionists for his work, was a major source for Pereira's concept of the “hero,” particularly as this figure was popularized in the writings of Joseph Campbell, himself indebted to Jungian thought. As I have argued elsewhere, the psychoanalyst's books were also a primary resource for ideas framing Pereira's own statements regarding the multiplanar glass paintings for which she garnered critical acclaim.[24]


Her concern with and investment in the role of the artist-hero in society was manifested in her art before she began using glass, however. In 1937, Pereira painted The Artist, also titled Struggling (Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami), which visually encapsulates the romantic concept of the artist, weighed down by worldly concerns yet seeking transcendence. Ironically, the shackled bodies she painted to depict writers and painters, emblematic of her own dual interests, were male. Working within mainstream discourses and using a figurative style, she opted for social acceptability and denied her own subjectivity as either a painter or a writer in her own painting. When she began to work with geometric forms, hardly gendered neutral in art discourses, she could at least comfort herself that, as symbols, they were open theoretically to any number of interpretations, just as alphabetic characters can take on different values as variables in algebraic equations. Her abstract paintings show a constant balancing of forms coded as “masculine” and “feminine.” For example, the rectilinear shapes (masculine) appearing in her glass paintings float illusionistically in a “fluid” matrix (feminine) caused by the visual integration of superimposed transparent planes fixed in a box frame. Since in the Jungian psychology that Pereira expounded in her written works, the concepts of the conscious and unconscious mind are also gendered, the whole suggests a metaphorical representation of the individuated Jungian psyche.[25]

Such reconciliation of opposites is symbolized in Jung's writing by the androgyne, which has a long history in mystical and philosophical traditions as the symbol of the ideal psychic state and which plays a prominent role in both romantic and surrealist bodies of thought. Diane Long Hoeveler has observed that the androgyne, as the poetic representation of the “whole” transcendent mind, is the antithesis of the hermaphrodite, a bodily representation. Jung, however, represents the androgyne by the hermaphroditic figure of Mercurius and uses the terms more or less interchangeably. Transcendence in romantic literature is a masculine project, the male redeeming himself through the “completion” of his own psyche. On the other hand, Mercurius often appears in female form in Jung's books, as in his Psychology and Alchemy (1953). Thus the androgyne, like Virginia Woolf's “woman-manly” and “man-womanly” androgynous mind, has dual imagistic possibilities in that it can be exalted as essential for both male and female creativity.[26]

Pereira began to identify with the hermaphroditic Mercurius soon after her body had been surgically disfigured. This, considered with her

bisexuality, her successful painting career, and her belief that, through Jungian analysis, she had achieved full integration of her “masculine” and “feminine” aspects, led her almost inevitably to her ultimate conclusion.[27] The “I” of her autobiography is the union of opposites, the androgynous ideal, the Artist named Pereira, the artist-hero of the traditional Künstlerroman. The path taken by the woman artist becomes that along which humanity must pass. Her narrative of subject-formation becomes that of universal history.

The idea sounds preposterous, even megalomaniacal, only because Pereira was a woman. Similar romantic claims continue to be made without evident embarrassment in much of the literature concerning male artists. Although Pereira had inserted personal events into a recognizable literary framework, her narrative lacked “authenticity” because of its distance from metaphoric “truth” and the relative lack of meaning society accorded to her subject position. While her autobiographical writing must have felt liberating, the power of self-interpretation she claimed came as a result of the suppression of that undermining signifier, her femaleness. Nevertheless, she was unable to fulfill Jung's prophecy for the modern woman by rising above the blind dynamism of nature to claim her right to name her own goals. Contemporary critics, promoting the affective art of abstract expressionism, ridiculed her for providing a philosophical rationale for her “cold” paintings, and even friends advised her to downplay her metaphysical interests. Lacking access to viable alternative discourses and practices, she was overdetermined as “female” despite her efforts to locate herself in the “ideal” middle ground between discursively polarized gender positions. Like the Bildungsroman, “Eastward Journey” remained open-ended, its protagonist's welcome integration into the community implied. But the integration did not happen. Her autobiographical tract was never published, and Pereira was unable to “collude” with her notional readers, the canon of celebrated male artists in whose congregation she coveted membership.

Unlike Pereira, I found a publisher. Nonetheless, I decided to examine her participation in modernist discourses with the awareness that there would initially be a small audience for my book. Her name was unfamiliar to most art historians outside New York, where the gallery owner Andre Zarre has kept her work visible. Although she had apparently taken great pains in later years to shape her archive and ensure that it survived her in public institutions, there was no serious

scholarship on her, and her paintings had little value. In addition to satisfying professional desires, my recuperative project was partly recompense for the emotional support of a paternal great-grandmother, who had introduced me to the lives of celebrated women, and of her daughter, my grandmother, who had introduced me to art. Self-supporting and schooled in the Southwest, with almost no preuniversity access to museums despite my having painted since childhood, I was not destined for a “conventional” career in art history. Thus, my interest in the discipline was little shaped by the aura of the object, and I was determined not to characterize Pereira as being defined by the paintings she produced, particularly since she was so multifaceted in her professional output.

I never intended to write about Pereira's entire life. Although I had been introduced to her work in a graduate seminar on mysticism in modernist art, I was at first highly resistant to her esotericism, predisposed as I am toward more material and political matters. I was more attracted to her social realist paintings of the 1930s, but the brevity of her interest in that genre rendered the topic unsuitable for a sustained study. The discovery of “Eastward Journey” on microfilm, and the realization that it was among the first batch of papers she had lent to the Archives of American Art for shooting, caused me to reconsider my approach. I assumed that she had planned this manuscript to be a hermeneutic key to the rest of her work, and, while I did not expect to use it in that fashion, I became aware of the breadth of her interests, from theories of the space-time continuum to light mysticism to experimentation with unconventional painting materials to mediumship and crystal lore to literature. There were many Pereiras here—the painter, the philosopher, the poet, the mystic, the lab technician, the teacher—and I knew her work would be engaged with the conflicting discourses surrounding those identities as well as other identities that I suspected were not represented in the autobiography. I resolved to write an “intellectual biography,” for want of a better phrase, with thematic divisions of the chapters. My book contained no linear “development” of the artist's life and no hagiography; the chapters, which explored her sometimes competing strategies and interests, overlapped one another in time. Some paintings I situated within multiple discursive frames to render it evident that both the contextual structure and my interpretation were contingent, with other avenues remaining open for investigation. I tried to make clear that I was dealing with materials

that had largely been edited by the artist and that the “real” Pereira, most of whose life was undocumented, exceeded this archival material. In fact, key to my understanding of how much editing Pereira had done was my serendipitous discovery of uncatalogued correspondence in the archive of her third husband, George Reavey, a professor and translator of Russian symbolist poetry at the University of Manchester. Pereira wanted these love letters, filled with esoteric symbolism, destroyed following their divorce, but Reavey clearly had not complied. In short, whereas Pereira had tried to benefit from inserting herself into mainstream constructs of who the artist was, I was invested in nontraditional, more socially oriented issues overlaid with feminist sensitivities. I hoped the tensions between the two agendas, colored by the knowledge that neither of us would have the last word, would provoke interest on the part of future readers.

My book was to be an utterance, in the Bakhtinian sense of the word, with an expectation of response from other scholars. With a newly acquired tenure-track job at a reputable institution, I expected full entry into “the dialogue.” Naïvely, I had not expected my “utterance” to be so mediated by the machinery of publication. Having written on a relatively obscure woman artist and having found a press interested in my topic and interdisciplinary approach, I made several concessions, fearful of relinquishing my grip on a publication opportunity as the tenure clock ticked down. These altered the form of what I had hoped would be the final product. I had discovered the tensions intrinsic to the publishing process as interested parties' investments in different discourses collide and must somehow be resolved. I am certainly not the first to address such difficulties, even within art history.[28] Yet here my own subjectivity as the “author” of the text was at stake, located as it was in the gap between how I wanted to be seen and how, by virtue of the final product, I might be seen. These discursive tensions, of course, extended to perceptions of Pereira as the subject(s) of my biography.

As mentioned above, my press wanted my book to address a “general audience” and explicitly requested that any arcane or difficult (read “poststructuralist”) jargon be omitted. This request, in and of itself, was not a problem, for I, too, object to impenetrable writing. Besides, I was not interested in writing theory; I was intent on putting it into practice. I was also aware that many presses, in an effort to expand their sales, were exacting similar commitments from their authors.

However, I worried that scholars or colleagues might dismiss the book out of hand because it would lack sufficient textual markers—the recognizable “buzzwords” and ritual namedropping—to signal the “proper” (academic) audience, despite its active engagement with issues raised by feminist scholars.

A more critical concession, however, was based on an outside reader's request to have more information about Pereira's “personal life.” Reluctantly, I added more information about her childhood, her marriages, and so forth. While not opposed to providing such information, I felt that by integrating it into the narrative, as opposed to leaving it in the appended chronology, I was rendering the form of the book too traditional. My text took on a likeness to the standard artist biography, the very structure I wanted to resist. Since I was unable to alter the book's title, proposed by the press to enhance the book's marketability by strengthening connections with conventional genres, reviewers, who have been most generous in their praise, have had a tendency to approach the book as a traditional monograph—the subject Pereira becoming, despite my efforts to “decenter” her, essentially a humanist subject after all.

From my perspective, the traditional artist biography, the monographical narrative, has outlived its usefulness. Numerous feminists from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds have exposed its limitations. The romantic concept of the artist as the symbol of the condition of humankind or as the demigod who lights the way for others is seductive but exclusionary by design. Still, the whole enterprise of biographic writing should not be abandoned because the conventional model is flawed. There is a need in art history for critically informed biographical narratives (perhaps analogous to Toril Moi's exceptional portrait of Simone de Beauvoir in literature)[29] and for presses to support them. As a rule, publishers with established reputations for promoting theoretical texts avoid biographies, and those interested in publishing biographies avoid theory. The two need not be, and should not be made to appear, mutually exclusive. As things stand, the average student or enthusiast of art history is never asked to question the discursive frameworks—whether conventional or “postmodern”—by which information about artists and art objects is delivered. Looking at the ways each of us is differently situated within and differently invested in our disciplinary discourses may open space for more complex and interesting narratives than those currently patterned after old models.



1. Subjectivity, generally, is the condition of being a subject; the subject is understood to be multiple, always positioned in relation to and regulated by particular discourses and practices and produced by these. (See the development of this concept in the text to follow.) Discourses are those ensembles of beliefs, concepts, and specialized terms through which disciplines, media, institutions, and ideologies organize, understand, and produce their objects of study. [BACK]

2. See J.R.R. Christie and Fred Orton, “Writing on a Text of the Life,” Art History 11 (December 1988): 558–60. [BACK]

3. Griselda Pollock, “Artists, Mythologies and Media Genius, Madness and Art History,” Screen 21, no. 3 (1980): 58–59, 95. In 1989, in revising her position somewhat to reflect the intervening debate regarding the issue of subjectivity and agency, Pollock acknowledged Christie and Orton's theoretical distinction between biographical narrative and monographical narrative, a distinction she had not made in 1980. See Griselda Pollock, “Agency and the Avant-Garde: Studies in Authorship and History by Way of Van Gogh,” Block 15 (1989): 4–15. The Christie/Orton article and the Pollock Block article are reprinted in Fred Orton and Griselda Pollock, Avant-Gardes and Partisans Reviewed (New York: Manchester University Press, 1996), 295–314 and 315–42, respectively. [BACK]

4. Karen A. Bearor, Irene Rice Pereira: Her Paintings and Philosophy (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993). [BACK]

5. In this joint exhibition, Pereira and Loren MacIver shared the distinction of being the first living women artists honored with a retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. For a detailed chronology of Pereira's life and a record of her most significant exhibitions, see the appendices in Bearor, Irene Rice Pereira. [BACK]

6. “Eastward Journey,” Irene Rice Pereira Papers, microfilm roll D223, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. Most of Pereira's philosophical writings were self-published. The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., reprinted two, The Nature of Space, a Metaphysical and Aesthetic Inquiry (1956) and The Lapis (1957), in 1968 and 1970, respectively. (For a list of her published and unpublished manuscripts, see Bearor, Irene Rice Pereira, 302–3.) Surviving correspondence suggests that the desired number of costly reproductions for “Eastward Journey” formed a major obstacle to securing a press, although there also appears to have been little editorial interest in negotiating the matter. [BACK]

7. On spiritual autobiography, see Linda H. Peterson, Victorian Autobiography: The Tradition of Self-Interpretation (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1986), 125, and Peter A. Dorsey, Sacred Estrangement: The Rhetoric of Conversion in Modern American Autobiography (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993), 9. On Puritanism, see Kathleen M. Swaim, “‘Come and Hear’: Women's Puritan Evidences,” in American Women's Autobiography: Fea(s)ts of Memory, ed. Margo Culley (Madison:

University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), 32–56; and Jacqueline Rose, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992), 2. On the artist as spectator, see “Eastward Journey,” frame 52. Many scholars have commented upon the rhetorical connections between travel writing and conversion narratives. See, for example, Dorsey, Sacred Estrangement, 30; and Casey Blanton, Travel Writing: The Self and the World (New York: Twayne, 1997), 3. There has been relatively little scholarship devoted to reputationbuilding strategies by artists or their estates. See, however, Rose, Haunting of Sylvia Plath; Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang, Etched in Memory: The Building and Survival of Artistic Reputation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990); and Carol M. Zemel, The Formation of a Legend: Van Gogh Criticism, 1890–1920 (Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1980). For additional information on women in the United States, see Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang, “Etched in Memory: An Essay on Rescuing Reputations,” in Etched in Memory: Women Printmakers from the Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang Collection, ed. Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang (Seattle: Frye Art Museum, 2001), 1–11. [BACK]

8. Horace Gregory, Dorothy Richardson: An Adventure in Self-Discovery (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1967), viii. Pilgrimage was published in eleven chapter-volumes between 1915 and 1935. These were collected and published with an additional chapter in 1938, and a thirteenth chapter was added posthumously to the four-volume 1967 edition. Dorothy Richardson, Pilgrimage, 4 vols. (New York: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1938; New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967). [BACK]

9. The Künstlerroman is typically defined as the novel of the artist's aesthetic education, although this is generally understood to include the development of the entire personality. The form often overlaps with the Bildungsroman, the so-called apprenticeship novel, although the Künstlerroman does not necessarily concern itself with youthful protagonists. Both these forms have affinities with the more generalized “development novel,” the Entwincklungsroman, and the more narrowly focused Erziehungsroman, which generally concerns the impact of schools or teachers on the central character. Like the autobiography itself, these fictional forms emerged in the eighteenth century from confession narratives. Although literary critics have devoted much ink to defining these elusive and much abused terms in more concrete ways, as a literary nonspecialist I am not invested in that debate and depend only upon common usage.

The early-twentieth-century form of the artist biography is heavily dependent upon the overall development of modern biography in Victorian England, particularly as it fell under the spell of Thomas Carlyle's so-called Great Man theory of history. Carlyle (1795–1881) popularized German romanticism in England, particularly through his translations of Goethe's Faust and Wilhelm Meister, his Life of Schiller (1825), and his On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and the Heroic in History (1841). Hence the artist biography, understood here as the monographical narrative, was already heavily informed by German romanticism before Jungianism and Otto Rank's Art and Artist: Creative Urge and Personality

Development (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1932) helped incorporate the aspects of inner development central to the Künstlerroman into the genre and provided the critical basis for the “heroic” phase of abstract expressionism.

Although Pereira was associated with leftist causes during the 1930s, her use of the conversion narrative is unrelated in purpose to the so-called proletarian Bildungsroman, whereby non–class-conscious workers develop into fighters for the proletariat. However, these examples do indicate the continued vitality of the genre, broadly conceived. See Barbara Foley, “Generic and Doctrinal Politics in the Proletarian Bildungsroman,” in Understanding Narrative, ed. James Phelan and Peter J. Rabinowitz (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1994), 43–64. [BACK]

10. Peterson, Victorian Autobiography, 130–32; Linda H. Peterson, “Gender and Autobiographical Form: The Case of the Spiritual Autobiography,” in Studies in Autobiography, ed. James Olney (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 211–22; Sally Robinson, Engendering the Subject: Gender and Self-Representation in Contemporary Women's Fiction (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991), 191. [BACK]

11. This term originated with Elizabeth Bruss in her Autobiographical Acts: The Changing Situation of a Literary Genre (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1976). It is now widely used to refer to any of a number of autobiographical practices manifested in diverse forms, including not only the traditional literary form but also poetry, photography, essays, performance art, dreams, visions, and so forth. See Sidonie Smith, “Autobiography,” in Oxford Companion to Women's Writing in the United States, ed. Cathy N. Davidson and Linda Wagner-Martin (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 85–90. [BACK]

12. I refer here, of course, to the position left to the “author” by Roland Barthes's “The Death of the Author” and the countless writings it inspired. See Roland Barthes, “The Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), 142–48. [BACK]

13. As Felicity Nussbaum wrote, “One consequence of the subject's entering into the culture's language and symbol system is a subjectivity placed in contradiction among dominant ideologies while those ideologies simultaneously work to produce and hold in place a unified subject. In order to preserve the existing subject positions, individual subjects are discouraged from attending to the ways in which the discourses are incongruent. We believe that the different positions make an autonomous whole, but the feeling that we are constant and consistent occurs because of ideological pressures for subjects to make order and coherence. Though we have confidence that the conflicting positions will add up to a whole, it is partially that we attend to the particular memories that match the available codes and make us believe in a fundamental unity. If human subjects give heed instead to inconsistencies, the reformulated ‘self,’ an intersection of competing discourses, may seem less obviously continuous and explicable.” Felicity A. Nussbaum, The Autobiographical Subject: Gender and Ideology in Eighteenth-Century England (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989), 33. [BACK]


14. Wendy Hollway, “Gender Difference and the Production of Subjectivity,” in Changing the Subject: Psychology, Social Regulation and Subjectivity, ed. Julian Henriques et al. (New York: Methuen, 1984), 236–37. Hollway chooses the term investments, despite reservations, to theorize forces for people's actions that cannot be reduced to biology or the social, without resorting to the model of the humanist rational subject or to terminology overloaded with meaning from psychoanalytic theory (238). There is extensive literature on the body as a site of meaning. For an examination of the discursive relationship between the female body and autobiography, see Sidonie Smith, “Identity's Body,” in Autobiography and Postmodernism, ed. Kathleen Ashley, Leigh Gilmore, and Gerald Peters (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1994), 266–92. [BACK]

15. Hollway, “Gender Difference,” 238, 228, 260. Griselda Pollock came to similar conclusions regarding agency in part by following Raymond Williams's idea of art as practice. See Pollock, “Agency and the Avant-Garde,” 14–15. [BACK]

16. Anthony Paul Kerby, Narrative and the Self (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991), 6. See also Smith, “Autobiography,” 85, and Christi and Orton, “Writing on a Text,” 559. [BACK]

17. John I.H. Baur, Loren MacIver; I. Rice Pereira (New York: Macmillan and the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1953), 40–41. [BACK]

18. For an excellent study of the difficulties associated with being an intellectual woman during this era, and a model of what a “postmodern” biography might be, see Toril Moi's Simone de Beauvoir: The Making of an Intellectual Woman (Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1994). [BACK]

19. Clinton Machann, The Genre of Autobiography in Victorian Literature (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994), 6; Timothy Dow Adams, Telling Lies in Modern American Autobiography (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1990), ix, 3. For interesting developments in the ways our notions of our selves are changing with new technologies, see Debra Grodin and Thomas R. Lindlof, eds., Constructing the Self in a Mediated World (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage, 1996). I have addressed some of these new developments, and how they intersect with feminist pedagogies, in a paper entitled “Situated Knowledges: Bodies, Politics, and Technology in the Feminist Art History Classroom,” presented at the annual meeting of the College Art Association, Chicago, March 2001. [BACK]

20. Pereira, “Eastward Journey,” n.p. Pereira's attempt to teach students technical skills as well as aesthetic appreciation was a key aspect of Design Laboratory pedagogy in that the school endeavored to bring “good design” to the industrial arts. However, this raises broader issues concerning how the “artist” and the “craftsperson” are distinguished. For a discussion of the role of professional and liberal arts schools, including the Bauhaus under Walter Gropius, in making these distinctions clear, see Howard Singerman, Art Subjects: Making Artists in the American University (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1999). For more on the construction of the identity of the professional artist, see Caroline A. Jones, Machine in the Studio: Constructing the

Postwar American Artist (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996); and Kirsten Swinth, Painting Professionals: Women Artists and the Development of Modern Art, 1870–1930 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001). [BACK]

21. Martin Swales, The German Bildungsroman from Wieland to Hesse (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1978), 29, 32; Franco Moretti, “The Comfort of Civilization,” Representations 12 (Fall 1985): 139, n. 31. There has been much recent writing on women and the Bildungsroman. See in particular Esther Kleinbord Labovitz, The Myth of the Heroine: The Female Bildungsroman in the Twentieth Century (New York: P. Lang, 1986); Bonnie Braendlin, “Bildung and the Role of Women in the Edwardian Bildungsroman: Maugham, Bennett, and Wells” (Ph.D. diss., Florida State University, 1978), and “New Directions in the Contemporary Bildungsroman: Lisa Alther's Kinflicks,Women and Literature n.s. 1 (1980): 160–71; Laura Sue Fuderer, The Female Bildungsroman in English: An Annotated Bibliography of Criticism (New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1990); and Annis Pratt, “Bildungsroman and Künstlerroman,” in Davidson and Wagner-Martin, Oxford Companion to Women's Writing, 104–6. The subject of autobiography is a rich one, with many scholars making it their life's work. Apart from sources already cited, those most useful to me have included Estelle C. Jelinek, The Tradition of Women's Autobiography: From Antiquity to the Present (Boston: Twayne, 1986); Paul John Eakin, Fictions in Autobiography: Studies in the Art of Self-Invention (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985); Sidonie Smith, Subjectivity, Identity, and the Body: Women's Autobiographical Practices in the Twentieth Century (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993); Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, eds., Women, Autobiography, Theory: A Reader (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998); Françoise Lionnet, Autobiographical Voices: Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989); Deborah E. Reed-Danahay, ed., Auto/Ethnography: Rewriting the Self and the Social (New York: Berg, 1997); and James Clifford and George E. Marcus, eds., Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986). [BACK]

22. Gerald Jay Goldberg, “The Artist-Novel in Transition,” English Fiction in Transition 4, no. 3 (1961): 25; Marc Redfield, Phantom Formations: Aesthetic Ideology and the Bildungsroman (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996), 21–22. [BACK]

23. See Bearor, Irene Rice Pereira, 298, nn. 12, 14; Carl G. Jung, Contributions to Analytical Psychology, trans. H.G. Baynes and Cary F. Baynes (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1928), 187–88. [BACK]

24. See Friedrich Schiller, On the Aesthetic Education of Man, in a Series of Letters, trans. Reginald Snell (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1954). See also Bearor, Irene Rice Pereira, 298, n. 13, and 138–77, and Karen A. Bearor, Irene Rice Pereira's Early Work: Embarking on an Eastward Journey (Coral Gables, Fla.: Lowe Art Museum, University of Miami, 1994), 12–17. [BACK]


25. In “Eastward Journey,” in the only statement of which I am aware that Pereira explicitly tied the physicality of her triplanar glass pieces to her philosophical concerns, she wrote that these paintings had taught her that there are “three systems in operation; one positive, one negative, the other neuter. The neuter system unites the opposites making multiplicity a unity” (“Eastward Journey,” frame 76). [BACK]

26. Diane Long Hoeveler, Romantic Androgyny: The Woman Within (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990), 7; Carl G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, vol. 12, The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, trans. R.F.C. Hull (New York: Bollingen Foundation, 1953), originally published as Psychologie und Alchemie (Zurich: Rascher, 1944); Virginia Woolf, A Room of One's Own (1929; New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1957), 108. See the excellent discussions of the problems inherent in woman's seeking transcendence using romantic models in Rose, Haunting of Sylvia Plath, 148–64, and Judith Butler, “Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex,” in Simone de Beauvoir: A Critical Reader, ed. Elizabeth Fallaize (New York: Routledge, 1998), 29–42. See also the discussion of the mind-body split in Enlightenment discourses and its impact upon women's autobiographical writing in Sidonie Smith, “Resisting the Gaze of Embodiment: Women's Autobiography in the Nineteenth Century,” in Culley, American Women's Autobiography, 75–85. [BACK]

27. Regarding Pereira's sexual orientation, there is documentary evidence of relationships with a number of men within her archive at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Massachusetts, and elsewhere. So far, I am aware only of anecdotal evidence of her lesbian relationships, although this evidence is sufficiently extensive and corroborative to have convinced many people, including myself, of her bisexuality. [BACK]

28. Orton and Pollock, Avant-Gardes and Partisans, iii–iv. [BACK]

29. See note 18. Excerpts from this biography appear under the title “‘Independent Women’ and ‘Narratives of Liberation,’” in Fallaize, ed., Simone de Beauvoir, 72–92. [BACK]

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