Cézanne, Murder and Modern Life offers an original approach to early French modernism, one informed by the art’s unprecedented psychological intensity. Focusing on the early work of Paul Cézanne, it offers a competing version for modern painting rooted in the evocation of emotive “expression,” emblematized by scenes of murder, sexual violence, and anxious domesticity. Mobilizing contexts rarely brought to bear on our understanding of art in the age of Impressionism, let alone the work of Cézanne, this book investigates the “culte du moi” and the conceptions of authorial function in art and literature, theories of neo-romanticism and early symbolism of the 1860s, as well as psycho-physiological analyses of the human mind and other positivist theories of modern sociality and instinctuality popularized during the Second Empire and early Third Republic.
1. Violent Beginnings: The Murder
2. “I Is Another”: Self-Portraiture and the Modernization of Olympia
3. Poetry, Portraiture, and Interiority: Paul Alexis Reading to Émile Zola
4. Art Arranged for Piano: The Overture to “Tannhäuser”
5. The Emperor’s Last Clothes: Cézanne, Fashion, and L’Année terrible
Epilogue: The End of Violence
List of Illustrations
Andre Dombrowski is an Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania. This book is winner of the 2009 Phillips Book Prize
"Cézanne, Murder and Modern Life changes the way we think about—and see—Cézanne’s entire oeuvre. Dombrowski’s arguments are convincing and bold, especially on the theme of murder as a vehicle for representation. Modern Olympia has never before been so satisfactorily analyzed."
Susan Sidlauskus, Rutgers University, author of Cezanne's Other: The Portraits of Hortense
“Exciting and intelligent, Cézanne, Murder, and Modern Life will be important for modernists, and essential for scholars of Cézanne, early Impressionism, and painting in the 1860s. Dombrowski shows us a Cézanne we did not know.”
Nancy Locke, author of Manet and the Family Romance
Cruelty and sensual pleasure are identical, like extreme heat and extreme cold.
Charles Baudelaire, "My Heart Laid Bare"
No other themes were so consistently embraced in Cézanne's early oeuvre as murder and sexual aggression. Violence was the vehicle for Cézanne's emergence from the shadow of Manet and the early impressionists, and this chapter will address why this was so. Murder offered Cézanne an antiaesthetic subject, one that paralleled a transgression of the law with his flagrant violation of the artistic, and even the avant-garde, standards of his moment. But, just as important, the topic opened onto the most defining problems of Cézanne's early work: the conflict between ethics and aesthetics, nature and culture, freedom and constraint; the anxious and often violent origins of human agency and creativity; the traces of the primal (and precultural) in modernity; the uncontrolled and uncensored elements of experiential immediacy. Murder, for Cézanne, was a highly charged scene in which the fraught binary of nature and culture exploded into modernity's most blatantly atavistic signs. He returned to the theme so frequently in paint because the nineteenth-century spectacularization of murder allowed him to represent how modern culture continually undid its own illusions of progress.
Violence, and especially murder, offered Cézanne the most explicit means to represent the juncture between the will and the body, for flesh rests at the border between the two. This chapter offers the range of intellectual models mined by Cézanne to make atavism a prominent feature of early modernist art, from the contemporary definitions of animality, instinctuality, and prehistoricity to the psychophysiology underwriting Zola's naturalism. The intellectual circle of Cézanne's youth, in which Zola figures prominently, strongly favored a physiological, materialist explanation of human behavior. Its collective belief in a materialist account of human subjectivity-in which the body's somatic functions, and especially its nervous system, are the exclusive sources of all human action, emotion, and thought, including both artistic creation and violence-is fundamental to understanding Cézanne's work of the late 1860s and early 1870s. Here murder and love, digestion and art making, are radically continuous, if not interchangeable, and to paint the conditions and consequences of such a scientific model-so close to Zola and, more to the point, so far from Manet-became Cézanne's particular challenge.
In representing murder, Cézanne attempted to circumvent the civilizing order, to return the act of painting to the primal urges of creative impulsiveness-a return that promised art's rejuvenation. As Joel Black has argued in The Aesthetics of Murder, "Often, however, the violence depicted in works of art seems directed against the idea of art itself, and should be seen as art's suicidal attempt to pass beyond its culturally conditioned self-image of falsity, and to achieve some transcendent or nihilistic-but, in any case, pre-aesthetic-'reality.'" This is only partly a contradiction, or a primitive fallacy, since Cézanne explored precisely the signs and expressions within modern culture, where the natural, instinctive, or precultural still seemed to emerge into representation. He was not after a return to a precultural order or a primitive state of nature in representation, but rather the deeply modern forms of cultural deterioration and regression. The subject of violence therefore allowed Cézanne to work through some of the central objectives and contradictions of his early practice at large: to show culture at the moment it is undone, to make art that partly negates itself as it takes shape. At the least, paintings such as Cézanne's early scenes of murder set out to unmask impressionism's propriety, as well as the limits-perhaps even the blindfolds-that the style placed on modernity's full array of experiential irrationality. Paintings that seek to challenge the standard rules of art should not allow any other rules, artistic or cultural; art that seeks the immediate and phenomenal should allow room for actions and thematics as rich, as uncontrolled, as life or death itself.
At a time when much modern painting endorsed a vision of modernity shaped by normative understandings of bourgeois leisure, paintings such as The Murder (plate 2) partly worked toward reminding their viewers that modernity had other faces. The Murder is an exploration of forms of sociality, or rather asociality, produced and not always successfully quelled by the same conditions of alienation, fragmentation, and distancing we find in Manet. But to represent murder is not the same as to commit murder. As much as Cézanne tried to naturalize artistic representation through the depiction of violence-to make art equivalent to crime-he was also aware that he was constructing violent imagery, and not violent acts, as connected (but not interchangeable) as the two may be.
In the late 1860s, Cézanne would have had at his disposal two distinct ways to understand the intersection between violence and art as a key site for marking the boundaries between the uncivilized and the cultured. The first version-Manet's-continually suspended death and nature in (or as) cultural codes, while the second-Cézanne's-sought to bring to the surface in painting the prerational features produced and only partially repressed by art and culture. On the one hand, murder was perhaps the best test case for the ways in which art could subsume nature, in that every act of brutality is always already fully part of the historical and citational vocabularies through which it takes place and is thus not antithetical to culture, but deeply structured and mediated by it. On the other hand, the relation between nature and culture can be thought of in more codependent terms: culture can be understood to desublimate nature and violence, allowing elements of "preaesthetic" naturalness, otherwise successfully suppressed, to linger and explode into visibility.
Two textual traditions readily available to Cézanne make the distinction more evident: crime as an "artful" and citational act that is fully part of the cultural order (as proposed by Thomas de Quincey and Hector Berlioz) versus Baudelaire's definition of violence as the resurgence of uncivilized, precultural bursts of expression briefly interrupting the processes of acculturation. These two strands of thought on violence provide a preliminary entry into the nineteenth-century crime imaginary that fed Cézanne's representations of murder, perhaps confirming for him how murder could find artistic form. In Berlioz's autobiography, the impulse toward an all-encompassing artful culture of violence was powerfully represented in a pivotal episode. In 1831, while in Italy, the musician received a letter from the mother of his fiancée, Camille Moke, breaking off their engagement. She announced that Camille instead would marry Camille Pleyel, the son of Ignaz Pleyel, the wealthy music publisher and manufacturer of pianos. When Berlioz's Mémoires were published in 1870, a year after his death, his reaction to the letter was made public: "I was beside myself with passion, and shed tears from sheer rage; but I made up my mind on the spot what to do. My duty was clear. I must at once proceed to Paris, and kill two guilty women and an innocent man. After that, it would, of course, be incumbent on me to commit suicide." He had a maid's costume made for disguise on his journey back to Paris and bought poison in case his pistol jammed. Days later, he was "still in a rage." But nothing quite prepares the reader of the musician's recollections for the rhetorical acrobatics that accompany the sublimation of his murderous urges, which follow in the same paragraph:
Still in a rage, I set out on my way to Nice, rehearsing on the way every point of the little comedy I intended to play in Paris. I would go to my friends' house, about nine o'clock in the evening, when the family would be assembled for tea, and send in to say that the Countess M.'s maid is waiting with an urgent message; I am shown into the drawing-room; I hand over a letter, and, while it is being read, produce my pistol and blow out their brains, first of number one, and then of number two; and, seizing number three by the hair, throw off my disguise, and finish her off in the same manner, regardless of her shrieks. Then, before this concert of voices and instruments attracts attention, I hasten to deposit the contents of the remaining barrel in my own right temple, and if the pistol misses fire (which has happened before now), I shall at once resort to my small bottles. A charming comedy! It is a great pity it was never put upon the stage.
And yet there were moments when, in spite of my wrath, I could not help feeling sorry that my plans, excellent as they otherwise were, involved my own suicide. It seemed hard to bid farewell to life and art, to go down to posterity merely as a brute who could not get on in the world; to leave my unfinished symphony, and all the other greater works which were seething in my brain.
Berlioz had doubtlessly read one or another fait-divers and channeled his desire to kill through the mingling of fact and fiction in such sensational news stories. That the whole event had to be "theatrical" from start to finish seems a reflexive conclusion, the default mode of murderous action. Committing suicide was the only ending possible for such a tale, or the one most frequently supplied by the patterns of murder and its representations. But then, slowly, Berlioz tells us, he reasoned himself out of his plans and stayed behind in Nice for a month: "I write the overture to King Lear. I sing. I believe in God. Convalescence!" Berlioz regulated his impetuous passion and rage by submitting them to artistic form, creating an overture in which such emotions perpetually forebode King Lear's madness and jealousy, but not his own.
Seemingly reflexive human impulses are anything but untouched by questions of art and the spectacular. The brutal, "uncivilized" urge to kill is generally fully sublimated into art: it is aggressively repressed by the social, and should it escape constraint, it ideally should transpire according to an artistic logic or it will be labeled senseless. "Rage," as Berlioz termed it, when taking textual or visual form, will be judged by the operations and standards of art as much as by those of morality: murder as a scripted play with its own theatrical rules of decorum; the murderer as actor who should be judged on the artfulness of his role. In this sense, Berlioz's autobiographical sketches participate fully in the growing (and perhaps distinct) nineteenth- and early twentieth-century sense of an "aesthetics of murder," as Joel Black and Jean-Michel Rabaté have called it, exemplified by the musician's keen desire to kill artfully and theatrically. Berlioz was supported in the writing of his diary entries by Thomas de Quincey's famous 1827 essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts." De Quincey's polemical critique of Kantian aesthetics and art's disinterestedness considered the circumstances under which the ethics of killing are less important than the beauty and skillfulness of the act: "Murder, for instance, may be laid hold of by its moral handle, (as it generally is in the pulpit, and at the Old Bailey); and that, I confess, is its weak side; or it may also be treated aesthetically, as the Germans call it, that is, in relation to good taste." De Quincey based his distinction on the difference between acting and observing: if we can do something to prevent a murder, we are bound by the demands of ethics and active intervention; but if we are too late to intervene, we should participate "aesthetically" as spectators at a performance, as judges of the beauty and convincingness of the spectacle unfolding in front us.
Cézanne's The Murder is deliberately unconcerned with the artfulness of the murderous act and the social powers of its repression. His is not a de Quinceyian image, or one close to Berlioz's memoirs. Cézanne was obviously aware that he was making a painting, but he sought at the same time to sever the act of murder in representation as much as possible from its theatrical accoutrements. Cézanne, instead, took the kind of primal, and not yet censored, fiction and fantasy Berlioz provided as his primary subject and wanted to show the act as not fully part of the drama and theater of culture, but residually attached to the primal mechanics of physical (re)action. In his scenes of violence, Cézanne tested the representability of murderous impulse before the operations of guilt and sublimation (of which, paradoxically, art was one) set in, or after they had broken down. The self's sense of futurity that slowly gained control of Berlioz was, for Cézanne, momentarily suspended or not yet put in place, enabling a return to the reflexive, the instinctual, and the unmediated as a central feature of contemporary life. Cézanne made paintings concerned with the antiformalist aspects of brute reactiveness, which sought to represent impetuousness as not inevitably and completely sublimated by the procedures of art.
It is time to deliver the second textual tradition promised at the outset of this chapter: Baudelaire's imagining of violence. We know that Cézanne revered Baudelaire's writings deeply and that his Oeuvres complètes, published in the late 1860s, likely moved through Cézanne's hands repeatedly. The essay that perhaps most exemplifies the topic-and that is closest in conception to the relation between crime and art, nature and culture, staged in Cézanne's The Murder-is "The Wild Woman and the Affected Coquette," one of the short prose poems in The Parisian Prowler, first published in 1862 and edited in their entirety in 1869 in the second volume of the collected works, shortly after Baudelaire's death. The prose poem is made up entirely of the interior monologue of an anonymous male narrator who takes his mistress or wife to a fairground in order to show her another model of the Feminine and another battle between the sexes. We are left uncertain as to the nature of their relationship, and do not learn much about their past or future. Trying to cure her from the "exhaustion of leisure" and what he perceives as her generalized disaffection, recalcitrance, and ingratitude, the narrator seeks to teach her "what real unhappiness is." He takes his "coquette" to a cage in which a woman is held by her husband, who feeds his "wild woman" live prey and regularly beats her for pure performative value. The fairground is a metaphor for the world at large; and their act has full cultural and legal sanction, since the caged woman is her violator's "legitimate wife" and he acts with the "permission of the authorities." We do not learn much about the coquette's reaction to what she is forced to observe, and the story concludes with the narrator's promise that he will treat her "like a wild woman" if she continues her whining, or-with a final eye on the complete objectification of the Feminine he desires-will throw her "out of the window, like an empty bottle."
The short story is harrowing, in part because Baudelaire's famed misogyny here works in high gear: "That monster is one of those animals generally called 'my angel!' that is to say, a woman." But only Baudelaire could have conceived of the story's false opposition between nature and culture in which neither term can maintain precedence. Rather than contrasting the realm of the natural or the primal to the overly refined sphere of cultural affectation, as the title might at first suggest, the tale turns on how "nature" appears precisely as an artificially induced expression-taking place in a fairground after all-and "culture" as an almost natural sign. We get to know the "affected coquette" only through her visceral reactions: she is almost petlike, sighing continually, waiting to be caressed, and conveying only the "satiation of well-being." At the same time, the "natural" appears only as part of the spectacularity of the stage performance: the woman, a "hairy monster," copies "to perfection" an orangutan, a tiger, or a polar bear; she tears apart her living prey "voraciously (perhaps not feigned!)"; when she is beaten, "she howls more naturally." Baudelaire has come full circle: nature is a product of the fairground, and overacculturation finds its best expression in the elemental terms of nonverbal, corporeal communication. These are complex destabilizations of originality and its imitations that refuse to grant logical or temporal priority to either nature or culture: is she an animal? Is she acting or not? Does the pain inflicted during the performance unleash expressions more natural than any the precultural realm could be imagined to produce? Such are the contradictory cultural conditions, Baudelaire claimed, that produce the "natural" as a countersignifying practice in modernity. Baudelaire in fact established a more anxious and reversible relationality between the two terms than did de Quincey or Berlioz: the woman's "natural instincts have been unleashed by the performance itself"; she enacts a "hyperbolical naturalness," as Debarati Sanyal argues in her study on Baudelaire.
Baudelaire differs from de Quincey in his conception of the role of violence in art. For de Quincey and Berlioz, murder is always already a performance, and thus fully part of the realm of art. Even the act of murder does not escape or momentarily transcend the reach of culture, for nothing can. For Baudelaire, prefiguring Freud, violence and nature are expressions of the primordial within the realm of culture, its genetic origin and governing code. And even if they are fully induced by culture-like a fairground performance-they nonetheless have the power to shatter, if only momentarily, the link between repression and civilization. I insist in what follows that these contradictory views of violence in art mattered for Cézanne when he repeatedly considered murder as a subject. It is moments such as the one described by Baudelaire-a moment in which culture becomes its own primordial and unrepressed other-that Cézanne too sought to picture. In making such pictorial terms his own, Cézanne simultaneously marked Manet as a painter upholding (rather than dismantling) the sets of rules, sanctions, and limitations that over the centuries have been placed on the realm of culture and the act of painting. Murder was Cézanne's surest countersign to Manet, one that branded the painter of Olympia as an old-master academician.
Cézanne's depiction of Zola's universe of natural determinism-best expressed in the 1860s in Thérèse Raquin and other novels whose crime scenarios The Murder certainly sought to approximate-demonstrates modernity in opposition to Manet's paradigm. For Manet, the body is under the mind's control, and mind-at least while a tense pose is held-triumphant. The blasé attitude, in Manet's understanding of modern subjectivity, is a calculated refusal to act on bodily demands, and thus becomes an exteriorized sign of the mind's superiority over the body's expressive and impulsive potential. For Cézanne, the opposite is true. In a painting such as The Murder, the intellect seems to have lost its power and control over bodily impulses, and, as a consequence, a governing conscience that could reflect upon and, if necessary, censor the body's desire for instinctual expression cannot be located. Instinct and passion, so absent in avant-garde painting of the 1860s and 1870s, reemerge here more strongly than any other forces. Cézanne's is a bleaker picture of the modern condition than Manet's, and even less subject to amelioration or "progress." In his choice of themes, he created a vision of contemporary life (and its new forms of sociability) far less confident in the possibility of individual agency.
Murder and the Making of Painting
Cézanne would have found the belief that human nature is prone to violence prominently propounded in Baudelaire's writings. Baudelaire maintained that human nature was evil-that in the state of nature, not in civilization, a human being is at its most cruel. In his notes "My Heart Laid Bare," he fantasized about a future piece of writing as follows: "As for torture, it has been devised by the evil half of man's nature, which is thirsty for voluptuous pleasures. Cruelty and sensual pleasure are identical, like extreme heat and extreme cold.... A chapter on the indestructible, eternal, universal, and ingenious ferocity of Men. Of delight in bloodshed. Of the intoxication of bloodshed. Of the intoxication of the mob. Of the intoxication of the tortured." The last couplet, uniting victim and victimizer in an orgy of violence, is evocative of The Murder's flat choreography of bloodletting. And in "The Painter of Modern Life," Baudelaire stated similar views about the evil and selfishness of human nature-if in less graphic terms than in his journal. This led Walter Benjamin to summarize Baudelaire's antihumanist vision as follows: "Nature, according to Baudelaire, knows this one luxury: crime." Baudelaire wrote:
But it is she [Nature] too who incites man to murder his brother, to eat him, to lock him up and to torture him; for no sooner do we take leave of the domain of needs and necessities to enter that of pleasures and luxury than we see that Nature can counsel nothing but crime.... Crime, of which the human animal has learned the taste in his mother's womb, is natural by origin. Virtue, on the other hand, is artificial, supernatural, since at all times and in all places gods and prophets have been needed to teach it to animalized humanity, man being powerless to discover it by himself. Evil happens without effort, naturally, fatally; Good is always the product of some art.
If, as Baudelaire maintained so importantly for the rise of modern-life painting, modernity finds its best expression in our most ephemeral desires and is embodied in fashion, prostitution, and flânerie, then murder is the ground, the eternally recurring antithesis to the temporality of the fashionable. As in Cézanne's The Murder, violence is primal, always the same, never specific to any singular situation or moment. Thus murder offers the most compelling picture of the "natural" of any: an unconverted state within the State, raw and uninhibited, its layers of decorum and repression peeled away. But what pictorial problems did the choice of murder as a quintessentially modern theme open for Cézanne, and how did he solve them?
Cézanne worked on the theme of murder from the late 1860s to the early 1870s, yet his medium-size painting The Murder-at roughly 26 by 31 inches a standard drawing-room format-remained his most elaborate treatment of the theme of violence. A man-anonymous, his face covered by his right arm-raises a knife to plunge it into his female victim on the ground. A female accomplice, holding (pressing) down their victim with her substantial body, abets the act. Her face turned toward the ground, she is hardly more individualized than her partner in crime. Night has fallen over their actions, offering cover. Engaged in a crime without witnesses, they have left civilization and its imperatives far behind: there are no lights in the background, no street leading off into the distance. All we can glean is that the murder must be taking place on a sloping hill, and that there is a distinct drop-off behind the accomplice. The victim, stretched out in front of us, is turned toward us on the slope. Only after we have settled on those minimal characteristics of the territory do the strange angles and acrobatics of the two murderers-pushing their victim into the mud while standing-make some rudimentary perspectival sense.
In general, however, the painting refuses to construct much distinction among land, water, and sky-air is here as heavy and substantial as dirt-leaving the impression that this violence is "nowhere in particular and thus potentially everywhere." In Cézanne's painting, we confront both an antilandscape and an antitopography. No landscape Courbet or Monet ever painted is this unspecific. There seems to be a Styx-like river in the dark background, but the site does not open itself much to the viewer. Finding a universal form for an anonymous act, Cézanne sets his particular scene of murder at once anywhere and nowhere, a generality despite its graphic particularity. The Murder refuses to provide the identities of actual perpetrators and victims that could locate the crime in favor of a ceaseless, faceless cycle of human violence. What matters in this world is not who killed whom, or when, but rather that killing and dying happen, transcending the local and the specific. His color choices, too, become legible in this context: that the killer and his victim wear the same blue, that his shirt replicates the color of her skin, and that the victim's hair has a yellow tone similar to the accomplice's blouse, can hardly be coincidental. Cézanne does everything to deindividualize the figures and strip them of sentience; the killer's back is turned, and, fully immersed in the action, both he and his accomplice are unaware of the viewer. That the defenseless female victim can summon little resistance makes the extreme violence of this crime all the more senseless, its savage execution all the more driven and impulsive. The poor victim hardly requires this energetic debauchery-she has the look of a corpse even before the knife has struck home. Her left hand simply hangs, mere matter subject to gravity, at the edge of the lower picture plane, which seems to prevent it from free fall. To distinguish between her body and the ground is difficult: where her dress ends and the dirt begins is hard to establish with certainty; her hair is depicted as if already dissolving into earth; and her skin is grayer and muddier than that of her attackers.
A comparison to how death figures in Manet is instructive. Lying on a monochrome gray ground like Cézanne's female victim, and with an arm likewise outstretched, Manet's Dead Toreador of about 1864 (figure 8) seems the ultimate counterimage to Cézanne's victim. Even though the two figures share much in terms of posture and positioning, their demeanors in the face of death could not be more different. While the victim in Cézanne is an unresponsive lumpy flesh, Manet's bullfighter's left hand is still flexed, grasping a pink cloth, while his right hand rests dramatically, and fully posed, on his chest. Minimal blood has been spilled in Manet's painting; we see only a little on the toreador's shirt and some on the ground (but it could easily be mistaken for a shadow). Even in death, Manet's protagonists are depicted as if alive; the animating will has not yet flown the body. Moreover, Manet's limited range when it came to imagining death and violence is nowhere better evidenced than in the fact that he recycled The Dead Toreador's posture for his 1871 print of a dead Communard, and that the composition of The Execution of Maximilian had to double as his tribute to the execution of Communards. For Manet, death had only a delimited expressive potential and gestural range; it was merely the cessation of sociality that interested him. The drama of violent death was unrepresentable, for being was equated with the exercise of bodily control, and death was mere endgame. Indeed, the body in death figured in Manet only as an extension of life, a self-aware maintenance of one's composure before others. In Cézanne's depictions of death and violence, by contrast, life comes to an abrupt and impulsive end. Life gives way to death not as its opposite, but as its companion, through the eruption of instinctuality and aggression onto an uncomposed-almost decomposed-body.
It is noteworthy that Cézanne's scene is not exactly "dramatic" either, or filled with theatrical details, but is pared down to a sense of ritual. Some ingredients of this theme would remain constant throughout his years of preoccupation with murder: a female victim, often passive, lies on or close to the ground, strangled or stabbed by a male aggressor towering above her. A female accomplice usually aids the murderer. These general features of composition, which Cézanne adhered to religiously, reinforce the theme's unconscious immediacy, as if there is something unstoppable to this course of events: like planets in their orbit, these bodies do what they were made to do, the murderer coming down hard on the passive female victim-all trapped by natural laws not of their own making.
Cézanne's painting of murder is in part an antipictorial endeavor and an antiartistic project, one out to sever the connection between painting and the processes of culture and civilization. In a sense, this aim made his works all the harder to pull off as pictures: what is murder's best pictorial form when it occurs instinctively; how can modern painting compose such a scene of murder? For Cézanne, to arrive at murder's most emblematic and generalizable form required an active rejection of other figurations of killing. Cézanne's preparatory drawings and watercolors for The Murder are a useful means to discern the process by which he distilled the theme (it is also one of the few paintings of the period for which we have a range of related drawings, testifying to the centrality of the theme to his early oeuvre in general). In the painting, Cézanne stayed clear of the effect he produced in a related watercolor showing a man attempting to murder, or rape, a woman (figure 9). Here the scene is grounded-anchored, almost-by a large wash of sepia that mimics a pool of blood, blurring the line between victim and ground. Cézanne avoided in the final painting the drama of spilled blood and distanced himself from any possible equivalence between its substance and that of paint. In the most accomplished painted version of the theme, the knife has not yet inflicted a wound: blood has yet to be spilled.
To qualify as murder in Cézanne's sense of the term, the painting also needed to sidestep expressions of surprise and pain-astonished faces, arms raised in horror-that are central to the drawing briefly discussed in the introduction, showing two men walking into a room and discovering two bodies, one female and one male, lying contorted on the floor and falling almost into the viewer's space (see figure 5). The scene almost begs for a literary background or source; it can be read as an imagining of the never-written thirty-third installment of Zola's Thérèse Raquin, when Laurent and Thérèse's bodies would have been found the day after their suicide. The drawing is overstuffed with narrative detail: chairs have fallen over, a picture is off-kilter, and although the table is still set for a last supper, a bottle, too, has ended up on the floor. Had Cézanne followed the direction in which this drawing pointed him, the resulting painting would perhaps have looked more like Degas's Interior (The Rape) (see figure 3), and we would likely be more engaged in the same literary source hunting and decoding of objects that Degas's unusual painting invites us to do.
Instead of adding such details, Cézanne undertook a careful calibration of the most imbricative relation among the three figures (as well as between figure and ground, human and animal, consciousness and death) in order to erase any clear sense of distinction among them. The sheet of several small drawings most closely related to the painting testifies to this effect (figure 10). In the drawings, the composition is linked to The Abduction (figure 11): this time, two men carry off a female victim, who, in the drawings on the upper right and center left, gradually moves farther down to the ground. At the beginning of the pictorial conception-if it is fair to reconstruct a linear order for these small sketches-the study on the lower right of the sheet includes a dandyesque figure with top hat who looks on as his accomplices carry off a female body, an invitation to voyeuristic participation that Cézanne dropped from the painted version. The figure is repeated, arms folded, at the very center of the sheet, where he is a kind of stage-manager ego. This figure of contemplation-standing in too explicitly for the viewer and offering too easy a place of identification-could not survive for long in a painting of impulsive action. [figref 10] [figref 11]
This scene is accompanied by one at the upper left in which a murderer is shown bending toward his victim, who is crouching on the ground and whose torso is lifted by the accomplice in order to aid the act of stabbing. Just below this tangled group is a drawing of a seemingly dead figure fully outstretched on the ground, the left arm at a ninety-degree angle and its hand falling toward the ground, very much like the victim in the painted version. Below this study is a sketch for the murderer, now bending farther toward the ground-a sketch in which Cézanne tried to study the appropriate angle of the killer's raised arm, ready to inflict the wound. This series of small drawings and watercolors testifies to the development of a composition in which Cézanne progressively lowered the victim toward the ground until she lay fully flat, becoming part of the earth.
Finally, a drawing now in the Hamburger Kunsthalle (but not included in Adrien Chappuis's catalog of Cézanne's drawings) shows again how carefully Cézanne studied the relation-front/back, left/right, top/bottom-between murderer and victim, but now a large hand reaches into the scene of action from the upper right, almost as if to insist on a necessary third term, or third figure, to complete it (figure 12). The grouping of the three figures thus had to be precisely positioned and equilibrated. It is remarkable how much Cézanne, in the final painting, insists on the equal presence of his three characters, giving stabber, accomplice, and victim identical weight, even if their relation of power is so unbalanced. He achieved this by placing the stabber and accomplice as opposing yet equally forceful players, and positioning the victim below them but closest to the viewer. Cézanne thus presents his spectators with three viable subject positions: the murderer becomes our Rückenfigur, the victim our closest point of entry, and the accomplice the figure we identify as pushing her way most directly into the center of action. Again, Cézanne arrived at this solution only gradually: the watercolor with the pool of blood still shows the killer head-on and behind the victim, and another preparatory drawing-the scene now filling a full sheet-shows the murderer entering the scene from the right and almost completely obscuring his victim (figure 13).
To insist this explicitly on the equal import-and almost the interchangeability-of victim, killer, and accomplice must have carried more than formal and compositional weight for Cézanne. The figuration he invented became through such equivalences a statement not just about the meaninglessness and ubiquity of crime, but also about the ultimate homogeny of all action and reaction, no matter how brutal or extreme. Cézanne's The Murder differs in this regard from its closest artistic precedents, Francisco Goya's prints of callous violence. Goya's Disasters of War, No. 9: No Quieren/They Do Not Want To-first published in 1863-is perhaps The Murder's most trusted visual source; it, too, triangulates victims and aggressors, and a knife is in the air, to be plunged into a body momentarily (figure 14). But motives and causes seem much clearer here than in The Murder: a young woman is about to be raped and an older one steps up to defend her by stabbing her aggressor from behind. That Cézanne made an image about violence with less causal cohesion than Goya did speaks volumes; he evacuated even the traces of a war between the sexes (by giving his male aggressor a female accomplice) that had provided Goya with the reason for his image.
Cézanne also insisted on an unparalleled level of painterly expressivity and idiosyncrasy-through his manière couillarde of thick paint application-in order to render the relation between content and form at times equivalent, at times problematic. He used the application of paint as another means to interrogate the pictorial mechanisms through which a painter can inscribe signs of selfhood into his painterly process. In violating his material through crude and thick brushwork and the use of a palette knife, Cézanne nurtured a vision of society stripped bare, in flux-a society with neither time for nor interest in the painstaking finish characteristic of most actual social surfaces, be they pictorial or behavioral. Such a technique was a particular affront to traditional painting of the Salon kind. Cézanne's friends knew this well, and even shared their knowledge with defiant pride. Antoine-Fortuné Marion, for instance, transcribed the following passage into a letter to Heinrich Morstatt, sent on April 12, 1866, which he had earlier received from Antony Valabrègue: "Paul will without doubt be refused at the exhibition. A philistine in the jury exclaimed seeing my portrait, that it was not only painted with a knife but with a pistol as well." By the late 1860s, the young avant-garde artist had become something of a stock character in art criticism, often painting in unrefined fury-as in Albert Robida's caricature for Paris-Caprice in 1869 (figure 15). Robida created the ultimate bohemian painter, shooting at his canvas with a pistol while painting a portrait (note Manet's black cat looking on from the left): "Things are coming along! Feverish activity, energetic shots of the brush!" A painting such as The Murder-and especially the paintings in Cézanne's early career marked by a heavy use of the palette knife-therefore united extremity in technique with a parallel extremity in theme, employing violence as a knife to cut through layers of social convention.
Cézanne did not merely open his pictorial field to the perversions and crudeness of paint applied thickly and without refinement, but also by opening his imagination to mass media images of murder. This fact in particular has already been brought to the study of his painting, especially in Robert Simon's thoughtful account of Cézanne's adaptation of popular imagery and broadsheets depicting violent crime. The Murder relies heavily, in its depiction of murder as deeply faceless and in its generic typology of victims and perpetrators, on the popular illustrations, broadsheets, and Épinal prints of some of the most spectacular murder cases of the late Second Empire, such as the infamous Troppmann affair of Pantin. A comparison between one image circulating in the late 1860s-Georges Pilotell's cover "Crime de Pantin" for Le Monde pour rire of October 2, 1869 (figure 16)-and The Murder proves the point. An illustration such as this shares with The Murder a focus on details such as knives, striking landscapes, and night skies, as well as the staging of the most dramatic moment at the expense of narrative clarity. In popular prints, too, every murder looks similar to the one preceding it and the one that inevitably follows. [figref 16]
That the painting bears a resemblance to the realm of the popular-as so much of early Cézanne does-is undisputable. But what that fact implies for the representation of murder in painting, where it sheds even the last indexical traces to the realm of actuality and the everyday that the popular image still required to be newsworthy, remains to be fully explored. The popular culture surrounding murder and crime-the rise of detective novels and faits-divers, the proliferation of images of murder in the period's illustrated press-offered Cézanne the ideal source material for his violent early work. These are concerns I will bracket for the moment, as the question of why popular culture proved so useful to Cézanne in the 1860s will be central to the last chapter, where The Murder will return. Suffice it to say for now that the popular image was suspended between endlessly rehearsed and repeated iconographic formulas of criminal activity and the apparently novel thrill it could ceaselessly elicit.
The Science of Murder
The Murder is a painting that imagines modern subjectivity in purely materialist terms: there is no god, no morality, no law, no "humanity" to speak of. Innate drives and animality propel the action. Paradoxically, Cézanne felt that the representation of figures compelled to act in ways beyond their own full control and understanding promised the most radical redefinition of modern human agency. In so doing, he recast Manet's version of modern life as being inherently out of touch with the modern human sciences: Manet worked to preserve the notion of a self-governed subject, for as nonexpressive as his figures may appear, it is precisely their refusal to express that is the modern agent's most eloquent sign of self-possession. But Cézanne, along with Zola, questioned such a distinctly bourgeois individualist idea of successful self-control; that was The Murder's most potent message. In fact, Cézanne chose topics such as animal brutality and mechanical reactivity for demonstrative purposes: what consequences, he seems to have asked, did a radically materialist understanding of consciousness have for the depiction of the subject in the modern world?
That there were structural similarities between painting and physiology was a common idea in Cézanne and Marion's Provençal circle and beyond it. In December 1867, Sélim-Ernest Maurin, a fellow scientist and physician from Marseille, delivered a lecture at the local Cercle artistique on the relation between science and art:
The painter and the physician scrutinize the human form: the latter in order to discover on the body's exterior the perceptible signs of hidden internal ailments, the former in order to reproduce the harmonious traits of the masterpiece of creation.
This point of correlation between the two arts would be mostly tangential if the common studies would end there; but the painter does not only have to represent the external lines of the body, he has to study the agitations to which those lines submit through the presence of passions, temperaments, heredities, and abnormal effects of bodily functions. How would he acquire those elementary ideas for the representation of reality if he didn't appeal to the aid of medical psychology, ethnology, physiology, those important branches of medicine?
Art and science, in Maurin's sense, arrive at the same goal from opposite ends: the painter exposes the exterior signs of the body's interior workings, while the scientist lays bare the beauty and order of those interior mechanisms to the painter. Art can benefit from the achievements of science and gain a better understanding not just of the body's shape, but also of the underlying reasons-physical, historical, and sociocultural-for those observable forms. The Murder is a painting out to give Maurin's claims visual weight, out to show the degree to which the painting of modern life can improve its procedures when augmenting the visual observation of modern typologies and scenarios with an understanding of the underlying psychophysiological traits that inform all human action, character, and outer expression. The painting, in that sense, is an experiment in finding the most persuasive visual metaphors for the connection between art and the physiological, in which the statuses of victim, killer, and accomplice are no longer segregated by an imposed ethical hierarchy.
While we have little direct evidence as to the extent of Cézanne's knowledge of and interest in scientific debates over the mind/body duality, we can assume that Cézanne would have been familiar with the terms and conceptions of materialist psychology and physiology through Zola's intellectual pursuits. We know Zola's reading habits of the late 1860s in great detail, a period during which he wrote numerous scientific book reviews and also outlined the Rougon-Macquart cycle on the basis of such knowledge. That Cézanne was still in frequent exchange with Zola in these years, and sometimes even stayed with the author in Paris, underscores a likely shared investment in materialist science.
In the late 1860s, Zola had started to theorize and put into narrative form a Tainian definition of modern subjectivity as being entirely driven by somatic functions-themselves a product of heredity-within a social milieu. The individuals in Zola's novels never act upon their own volition, but are constantly driven to action by forces beyond their conscious control. How Zola developed his definition of an automatic and reflexive modern selfhood can therefore shed some light on Cézanne's paintings. Already in 1860, Zola had envisioned an epic in the Darwinian spirit about the origins of our planet and of humankind, likely inspired by Marion's scientific interests, to be entitled The Chain of Being. He never wrote such a text, and had, by the mid-1860s, instead started to focus his attention on the consequences of Darwinism and physiology for modern man and society, as his first two successful novels, Thérèse Raquin and Madeleine Férat, testify. In 1868, while preparing to write his cycle of novels about the Rougon-Macquart family-"the natural and social history of a family under the Second Empire"-Zola took up a host of physiological treatises, both popular and scientific, most of which centered on the hereditary nature of human behavior, including violence. He hoped to find there a rational account of the human psyche governed in its actions, desires, and morality by physiological processes alone: a version of mental activity understood in "plain materialism," as he said.
An interest in the visual manifestations of what could be called impulsive or materialist forms of bodily presentation is evident in much of Cézanne's early paintings. Despite their distinctly different scenarios and contexts, in each of these images the human body appears as no more than base flesh, uncontrolled by higher thought. In his Negro Scipion, for instance, the model is suspended between two incommensurable states, without even the slightest pretense of motivation or will (figure 17). His torso slumps over a big white mass-perhaps a pillow-his left hand dangling as if dead, his head resting inertly on his arm. Yet his right arm is tensely pushing against the stool on which he sits: the left and right hands could not be more distinct, and this impression of peaceful unself-consciousness on one side and nervous energy on the other produces a sense of the figure as unaware or unable to control his body, which seems to act of its own free will. The same holds true for the victim in The Abduction, who, rather than reacting against her aggressor, has resigned herself to utter inaction, her arms, legs, and even head simply hanging down (see figure 11). Cézanne's central female figure has no will at all; even her extremities seem to fly in the wind like her hair, the dark cloth behind her, and the branches at the right of the scene.
And in his Portrait of the Painter Achille Emperaire-a sitter who could hardly seem less concerned with the self-dramatization that a full-length portrait in the spirit of Ingres might offer-Cézanne depicts his long-term friend in one of the most relaxed, if not careless, poses imaginable (figure 18). There are few left hands in the history of art with less control than Emperaire's. In a remarkably prominent sign of mere matter, his left hand simply hangs off the armchair like the housecoat he wears, or like any heavy piece of cloth, and his right hand rests limply on his lap. What unites these very different paintings is the fact that their subjects (or, perhaps better said, their bodies) seem incapable of willful self-presentation, and unlike Manet's models are curiously unaware of their audiences, despite the fact that, at least in the case of Scipion and Emperaire, they are clearly sitting to be painted.
Cézanne's depiction of the human figure as nothing but specific arrangements (or derangements) of flesh does not stop there. In the Preparation for the Funeral (or L'autopsie), again dating to the very last years of the Empire, he offers up a dead, naked male body, stretched out like the dead Christ about to be entombed (figure 19). The aura of sacral profundity is ruptured by two workmenlike characters who treat the corpse as nothing more than meat and bones assembled on a table. The male figure in the center-whose visage and prominent baldness mark him as perhaps another stand-in for the artist himself-plunges his bare hands under, or perhaps into, the dead body in front of him. The boundary lines between bodies are deliberately erased: the corpse's abdomen rhymes (viscerally) with the male figure's lower arm next to it. That dead body, in turn, is gray and pale, simply held up by the table and the wooden block on which its head rests.
Cézanne's pictorial universe is shot through with the same psychophysiological ambitions as much of Zola's writing. The site of the body-its mechanisms and materiality-is crucial to both their practices, and Zola's scientific self-education is central as well to an understanding of Cézanne's choice of subject. As a novelist, Zola focused his literary universe on one extended family and therefore needed a philosophical system that allowed him to see the most universal laws realized in individual, hereditary terms. As his preparatory notebooks of 1868 testify, Zola read selected treatises carefully and took copious notes. These texts included Prosper Lucas's Traité philosophique et physiologique de l'hérédité naturelle (1847/1850), Ulysse Trélat's La folie lucide (1861), and Jacques-Joseph Moreau's La psychologie morbide (1859), among others. The limited thematic range of these publications alone should give pause, for they draw a materialist picture of the human mind-its desires, needs, and thoughts-as entirely directed by transgenerational heredity and the nervous system. Referring to the nerves as the "theater and organ of psychic life," Zola indicates the complete reduction of art and culture to their organic origin.
In 1868, moreover, Zola read Charles Letourneau's Physiologie des passions, just published.Here Letourneau stated that all mental life-all that metaphysicians had earlier ascribed to the human "soul"-was in fact only a product of the body's organic structure and nervous system. All human desires, emotions, and intellectual capacities-from needs as basic as hunger to what seems as elevated as ethical choice and the practice of painting-function and are accessible to us only through the transmission of sensorial data. What must have seemed shocking about Letourneau's account, and what made it so attractive to Zola, was that now the desire to defecate was synonymous with the desire to assist the poor, that the need to sleep and eat arose from the same organic center that holds the impulse to kill.After reading Letourneau, Zola took down the following lines into his notebook: "One has to claim for the nervous system everything that metaphysicians have previously attributed to an abstraction, the soul.... A moral inclination is a tendency that pushes us to love, to hate, etc.,-a tendency that is as organic as our nutritive need," adding in a brief review of the book that "for him [Letourneau], there is no essential difference between will and desire." Thus there is nothing more elevated than the body itself, the mind is a mere muscle and humanist fiction, and ethical deliberation, like eating, is simply a product of an individual's nervous reactions.
Violence and murder, in such accounts, are no longer a response to specific causes, but a generic reflex provoked by stimuli and unchangeable hereditary facts. Murder provides a special and extreme case for psychophysiology, because a propensity to kill, while often unexplainable from an ethical standpoint, can now be determined on purely physical grounds and thus differently rationalized. In seemingly unprompted brutality in particular, the relation between violence and morality is severed, for the somatic has no truck with ethics. And this was the point, for if the individual is not endowed with moral agency but merely enacts somatically prescribed codes or reacts to physiological impulses, then naturalism is the proper language for the realization of what is, after all, but natural compulsion. When reading another book on the laws of heredity in 1868, Lucas's Traité philosophique et physiologique de l'hérédité naturelle, Zola added: "Often, in hereditary cases, murder is committed without cause, and the act often touches on an extreme passion close to madness (affair Bédu and Romain, March 1, 1846). The heredity of crime makes fathers kill their children and vice versa (Gazette des Tribunaux, June 24, 1846). A novel to write (a crime novel)." Crime provides the ultimate material for realist art and literature-"a novel to write"-because what appears most basic and foundational to human behavior becomes here a dramatic visible fact. That it can be precisely an action with no apparent cause-fully autonomous and self-sufficient in its moment of occurrence-is violence's attraction as an artistic thematic.
In painting murder as an animalistic act of innate human brutality, a mechanical performance, Cézanne referenced a world in which subjects do not think and consciously act, but follow what their physical apparatus dictates. For Zola, as for Cézanne in The Murder-and in distinct contrast to Manet-modernity did not imply a continual refinement of the means used to control and construct one's own self. The Murder includes a range of visual references to animality that are meant to drive home the point, defining human nature-visually as much as conceptually-as innately ferocious and violent, and making aggression normative. The perpetrators are ferocious animals, hunkering over their victim like carnivores over their prey. Indeed, the accomplice's posture-crouching as if on all fours, her hands not dissimilar from paws, broad of shoulder, with her head lowered beneath the line of her back-mirrors Antoine-Louis Barye's popular and widely circulating sculpture Lion and Serpent (figure 20), as well as some of Delacroix's late studies of wild animals, which Cézanne copied in the late 1860s (figure 21). By referencing such easily readable and widely known prototypes for his group, Cézanne imported more than their compositional structure: he linked his painting to the long romantic tradition of animal violence and struggles for survival, thus naturalizing the urban culture of murder he chose to depict. With knife as tooth-the better to butcher the meat below-Cézanne's protagonists murder in order to fulfill an animalistic need, a hunger more than any other easily discernable desire. That the accomplice's mouth is so close to her victim's neck further underlines the point.
Prehistories of Murder
One psychophysiological analysis of the late 1860s offers an especially poignant understanding of instinct's ethical and aesthetic implications: Henri Joly's L'Instinct of 1869. Even though we have no evidence that this text was among those read by Zola at the time, its theme is sufficiently close to the others' that it could have figured on his list of things to study. Joly defines the meanings and functions-both physical and cultural-of instinct to human life. To Joly, "infallibility" and "perfection" characterize an impulsive act, and make it perfectly adapted to its aim and thus beautiful: "Those acts [instinctual acts] ... are uniform in all individuals in a given society; they are necessary; they are specific; they do not call for any progress; they are infallible; they are immediately perfect; finally, they are blind and heedless." Instinctual activity is, furthermore, deeply imagistic: "As sleep seems to make him fall for a while under the yoke of animality, even the human being submits to the domination of the image, and here the history of our dreams could serve to comment upon the history of our instincts." For Joly, instinct is the one human faculty in which no element of the rational interferes, stops, or delays, where no energy at all is wasted, where aim and result perfectly match.
Instinctual action is beautiful action because its pure automatism is geared, blindly, to fulfill one need and nothing else. The human being acts in full accord with its most basic behavioral elements. Moreover, instinct and imagination are deeply bound together, the one feeding on the procedures of the other. Art, in contrast to instinct and the imagination, is a trained "habit" and can only be learned and studied, Joly claims, but that practice ultimately leads the practitioner-a painter or a pianist, for instance-back to an instinctual, automatic relation to his craft. "Substitute instinct for habit. In fact, the desire to live and the desire to use one's specialized faculties are confounded; when the mechanistic nature of a human act is raised completely, reflection and calculation are no longer mixed with the movements." These propositions, as we saw in Baudelaire, are complex and at times contradictory reversals of nature and culture, instinct and art, in which the latter term of each pairing can return to the utter perfection and reflexivity of the former as its most elevated state. This, in a sense, is the attraction for Cézanne to paint impulsive behavior and instinctual reaction in the first place: not just because they promise the utter utopian unity-oneness-of self and world, but also because art here will always remain in thrall to instinct. For Cézanne, the best painting is that which realizes its own instinctual ground as a cultural practice and flaunts, rather than suppresses, that fact.
At the same time that Zola was studying psychophysiology and Joly writing on instinct, another of Cézanne's childhood friends from Aix, the natural scientist Antoine-Fortuné Marion (who would go on to become a prominent member of the Marseille scientific community), began studying the nervous system. Marion received doctorates in both zoology and geology in the late 1860s before ascending to a professorship in zoology at the Faculté des Sciences de Marseille and, in 1880, to the directorship of Marseille's Museum of Natural History. When Cézanne painted Marion's bust-length portrait in the late 1860s, he selected a very unusual pose in which his sitter emerges from the lower right corner of the frame, lowering his head toward the ground, possibly a nod in the direction of the scientist's materialist worldview and his fascination with things "below" (figure 22). In a portrait of a scientist who was an avid and early believer in the theory of evolution, the choice of pose mattered, following well-known associations in the popular mind of idealism's fixation on the realms above and materialism's focus on the ground level.
Himself an amateur painter, whom Cézanne referred to as a "geologist and painter," Marion coauthored with Gaston de Saporta, a fellow Darwinian zoologist, an 1872 essay on hybridity in which they set out to prove that hybridization is generally applicable throughout all fauna and flora and even occurs naturally, as "spontaneous hybridization," without human interference. In 1867, Marion began to study the saltwater nematodes of the Bay of Marseilles, especially their simple nervous systems and sexual organs. He sought to prove that the simplest living beings function, reproduce, and are stimulated by instinctual responses to touch, light, and sound. The basic physiological mechanisms and processes that were at work in these organisms, he held, could also be found in seemingly more complex mammals and even humans. He published his findings in the late 1860s and early 1870s, including illustrations of primitive nervous systems (figure 23). His point was that life, of any order and at any level, is largely an instinctive reaction to outside stimuli, that all our decisions and actions-like those of the smallest organisms-are governed by the physiological processes of our body and nerves. Marion even named a newly discovered sea species Thoracostoma zolae. Cézanne would have found Marion's studies confirmed by the other prominent scientist in his circle, Jean-Baptistin Baille, who published an influential book on electricity in 1868, coedited a number of atmospheric atlases, wrote a dissertation on optics, and, on occasion, reviewed natural history texts. Baille's book on electricity includes as its first illustration an image of Luigi Galvani's experiments with the muscles of frog legs: "Electricity became the agent that transmitted the will to the muscles," Baille wrote, emphasizing the mind's dependence on the electrical patterns of the nervous system.
The "theater" of the nervous system could thus easily become the subject of art. Paul Alexis, in his early poetry from Le Grognon provençal, frequently mobilized the nervous system's reactivity as a literary trope as well. Here are the concluding lines from "Celle que j'aime [She Whom I Love]," in which he fantasizes dissecting his lover's body in order to take a better look (with "feverish" eyes) at the "true" nature of her affection:
I hesitate to rummage through your flesh,
In order to find secrets of such strange charm;
When you sleep next to me, you don't know, my angel,
That I dream of cutting open your body with a metal blade.
I would like to expose your bloody red heart.
Fiber by fiber, I would dissect it with a scalpel
And with my eager and feverish eye, I would see
If it is a palace built of gold, or but a little, dirty hovel.
[J'ai des hésitations de fouiller dans ta chair,
Pour trouver les secrets de tant de charme étrange;
Quand tu dors près de moi, tu ne sais pas, mon ange,
Je rêve d'entamer ton corps avec du fer.
Je voudrais mettre à nu ton coeur saignant et rouge.
Fibre à fibre, au scalpel, je le dissèquerais
Et de mon oeil avide et fiévreux, je verrais
Si c'est un palais d'or, ou si ce n'est qu'un bouge.]
The underlying expectation that the emotions could somehow leave their visible traces on the body's organs-and on the texture of the heart in particular-perfectly dramatized the notion that the spirit is nothing but flesh intersected by veins and nerves. Such explicit connections among psychophysiology, evolution, literature, and painting were not restricted to Cézanne, Zola, and Marion's circle alone, but were more widespread. As is well known, Edgar Degas, too, was deeply influenced by the theory of evolution. And his colleague Vicomte Ludovic Lepic, besides his forays into painting and printmaking, was also an archaeologist, with special interest in prehistoric tools and weapons. After excavations in the Ardèche and the Vallée du Rhône in the late 1860s, he donated a substantial number of his re-creations of such weapons, together with other ethnographic objects from his family's collection, to the newly founded Musée des Antiquités nationales de Saint-Germain-en-Laye. His 1860s discoveries were published-although interrupted by the Franco-Prussian War-in 1872. In the introduction to the series of prints illustrating the various tools and weapons, he described in detail how he had reconstructed both their shape and their use, as well as how their wood and stone parts were attached to one another. In a revealing passage, he suggested that nerve-strings or gut tissue from cats and cows would have done the trick best: they are flexible when soaked, and he used them to attach sharpened stones to wooden handles. "When it [the nerve] is dry, it acquires an extraordinary rigidity." Lepic thus emphasized the materiality of nerves, insisting on their strength, use-value, and centrality to human culture.
Cézanne's The Murder prominently stages such a conflation between nature and culture as one of its central visual tropes: here is a murder where crime and sky perfectly mirror and echo each other. The shape of the dark clouds, for instance-seemingly as thick and heavy as the soil below-seems to follow the contour of the accomplice's bent back, and the cloud formation on the left mimics precisely the murderer's fluttering shirt. Such pictorial maneuvers blur the horizon and help to break down the difference between ground and sky. But they also naturalize this murder visually, emphasizing that there is no fundamental difference between the material world and the crime.
The Murder doubly underscores the naturalness of violence: by locating it as a mere bodily reaction, and by positing it as an originary and primitive human urge. That so few tools are employed in this murder is indicative in this regard. We can barely make out the small knife in the murderer's hand, and much of the crime is committed with bare hands. The knife is, of course, an intimate weapon to begin with, and it forces close contact between murderer and victim. But it is also the most old-fashioned and traditional way of killing, and closely related to butchering. Therefore the scene does not just align nature with violence, but also primitives the act, and thus connects violence to the very origins of culture-making violence almost central and originary to culture-as exemplified by Lepic's and Marion's discoveries.
Marion again provided Cézanne with visual and conceptual links between violence and human prehistory. Judging from human skulls, bones, and tools found near Aix-en-Provence and Mont Sainte-Victoire during his research into prehistoric civilization in southern France, Marion tried to prove that the ancient cave inhabitants of the Bouches-du-Rhône region were habitually anthropophagous-that cannibalism was an entirely normal part of their life. Marion thus attempted to establish murder as our genetic inheritance. He illustrated his findings in an 1867 essay entitled "Premières observations sur l'ancienneté de l'homme dans les Bouches-du-Rhône," in which he drew primitive tools that looked similar to the knife wielded by Cézanne's murderer (figure 24): "Station de Saint-Marc.-The elongated midsize bones show a state of breakage from percussion analogous to that found in animal bones eaten by primitive peoples. The radius and cubitus bones have on their surfaces clear grooves and other marks left by teeth.... From the preceding observations, we can conclude that the people of the Station de Saint-Marc were, if only for some stretch of time, anthropophagous. However, the predominance of human bones seems to suggest a preference and a habit." [figref 24]
More than this, Marion had ideas specifically on the place of art in the first patterns of human behavior. For him, the history of art did not start with the first human-created images, but with the first knives and tools-destruction, not creation, was our first work. Marion, like Cézanne in The Murder, normalizes-one could say naturalizes-the taking of human life:
All these particularities-the considerably minor thickness of the blades and their fine retouchings-show an art already very advanced. One should not be surprised to see the word art used in this context. At the beginning, to draw a distinction between worker and artist is impossible. Only this feat matters: to become a worker is an artistic act and requires genius. A history of the origins of art, in order to be complete, must preoccupy itself first of all with the size of the tools used by primitive people before considering the remarkable images they have traced.
Two early sheets of notes by Cézanne, probably dating from the late 1850s, superimpose geological terms, likely written in Marion's hand, over Cézanne's figure studies, testifying to the close association of the two men's intellectual and creative processes (figure 25). Cézanne's drawings, and especially The Murder, testify to the fact that Marion's findings were worth painting, for the archaeologist demonstrated-through material evidence and traces-the longevity and continuity of primitive human behavior into the modern age, where it found new expression in the kind of murder Cézanne chose to depict. [figref 25]
Murder and the Social
That we are given no clues as to the reasons or motivations behind the crime in The Murder adds to the scene's senseless quality. There are no immediately recognizable family ties, nor does this seem a murder born of class inequity, as no financial gain seems promised. Victim and aggressor are almost interchangeable, born of a similar social stratum. Modernity and contemporaneity are therefore as much present in The Murder as atavism and primitivism, even if the former's signs-the detective's clues of milieu and motive-are minimal. Cézanne made sure that the viewer could not mistake the scene as taking place at any other time in history than the 1860s. For only against the foil of the here and now, and in the midst of the modern social order, could the premodern and the instinctual be recognized as such. In this regard, The Murder differs profoundly from The Abduction (see figure 11), in which violence is made central to our myths of cultural origins, almost a commentary on another, if less historically concrete, rape: that of the Sabine women. But the figures in The Abduction are naked in an arcadian surrounding, and therefore expressly not modern. To make the precultural appear amid contemporary social formations as a fact and a regular occurrence of modern life-without archaizing the scene too explicitly, and without grounding it too much in contextual detail and thus explaining its aggression as social rather than psychophysical-was therefore one of the key challenges for Cézanne when painting The Murder.
To make visible such complicated degrees of naturalization and contextualization-and their temporalities-Cézanne established another, distinct set of references for his murderous scene. While he, in part, based his figures on the evocation of nature and animal instincts (à la Barye), other pictorial precedents, too, fully support The Murder's impulsive, mechanistic elements, placing the scene squarely in the present. The painting's power lies in part in its depiction of murder as simply another act of strenuous manual labor, with no beginning or ending, more a cycle than an event. The murderer's position is roughly the same as that of the right figure in Gustave Courbet's The Stone Breakers of around 1849 (figure 26), which was on display in Paris in 1867 at Courbet's solo show opposite the World's Fair. The two figures' similar position-raising the right arm, resting weight on the right leg-and ground-heavy orientation can make The Murder seem pendant to The Stone Breakers. There is a shared anonymity to both faces, turned away and covered by hats. The stabber acts with as little conviction as the worker. This is not a crime of passion, but its obverse: the brutal act shown in Cézanne's painting becomes emblematic of the banality of labor, devoid of the exceptional quality a murder scene should carry. [figref 26]
This fact posits Cézanne's scene squarely within the modern social order-its conditions, shifts, and institutionalized inequalities-that is the central driving force of most realist art and literature. Cézanne, we can safely say, desired that proximity. That he chose to depict subjects that came much closer to Zola's literary universe than anything Manet ever depicted was, of course, very much the point. Cézanne sought to make a work of art that could rival, if not trump, the close artistic affiliation between Zola and Manet that the public witnessed around 1868. Many of Cézanne's early paintings were meant to manifest his greater proximity to Zola's thought and writerly milieu. Cézanne's exercise indicated his desire, above all, to create the "true" Zolaesque painting of modern life, to represent human nature and social bonds in the way Zola conceived of them. Even if we fail to find a precise passage that The Murder might illustrate within Zola's oeuvre (or in that of another writer of his generation and interest), the painting nonetheless sits squarely within Zola's conceptualization of the modern social and psychic fabric. That the figures in Cézanne's early paintings shadow those in Zola's novels can hardly be accidental-if they were not meant to illustrate modernity as Zola narrated it, they certainly emerged from the same discursive context. This fact also implies that Cézanne was well aware of the criticisms leveled against realist literature and its propensity for violence, and that he anticipated and perhaps even countermanded them in his painting.
In the later 1860s, Zola had already fictionalized his conception of the corporeal roots of violent passion in his novel Thérèse Raquin. First published in serial form in L'Artiste and then as a book in December 1867, Thérèse Raquin tells the story of two lovers, Laurent and Thérèse, who murder the adulteress's husband, Camille, but kill themselves in the end because they cannot escape their conscience. While it is often claimed that the book inspired Degas to paint Interior (The Rape) (see figure 3), it has also often been cited as a source for Cézanne's parallel image, The Murder, even though it is hard to locate a specific relevant scene within the text. But the novel's pivotal murder scene, unfolding on the Seine in the outskirts of Paris, is reminiscent of Cézanne's painting, albeit with victim and killer transposed: "[Laurent] held [Camille] up like a child in his powerful arms. As he bent his head forward, leaving his neck uncovered, his victim, mad with fear and fury, twisted round, bared his teeth and dug them into the neck. And when the murderer, choking back a cry of pain, briskly threw Camille into the river, his teeth took away a piece of flesh."
These are descriptions of human extremity-of a human nature literally "red in tooth and claw"-born of our instinct for self-preservation. Camille's body understands what his mind cannot yet formulate. And early in his novel, well before the killing of Camille, Zola described Thérèse's nature as one in which inner emotional turmoil and outer bodily expression constantly contradict each other and refuse to act in tandem; neither seems under Thérèse's control. When Zola contrasted the two women within Thérèse so dramatically against an animated backdrop, he gave form to the difference between automatic self-composure and its obverse: "She had an immense capacity for coolness and an appearance of calm that hid violent fits of passion." The Murder gives visual form to precisely such descriptions of the irreconcilability of human interiority and its outer expression.
Discussions of the nature of violence were a prominent part of the criticism of realist literature, if not of realism itself. Zola had to continuously fight the accusation of promoting violence in his novels-in part because violence was constructed as a counterforce to the processes of acculturation and therefore was antithetical to literature-and his writing, like Flaubert's, was frequently accused of being indecent and inciting crime. Zola, along with other realist writers, insisted that there could be no immorality in the simple depiction of truth, that he reported things plainly as he found them. Critics insisted otherwise. Here is Firmin Boissin reviewing Thérèse Raquin in a not entirely unfavorable manner: "In fact, it appears as if crime, violence, and assassination are more than ever in fashion for the realist school. Would you like a sample of the genre? Read Thérèse Raquin, by M. Emile Zola. Never before has realism shown off with this much violence and, we must admit as well, with this much power."
If the novel and painting were now to focus on contemporary society, its actions and desires, then literature and art needed, critics claimed, a stronger understanding of human nature and its drives. In one of the Nouveaux essais de critique et d'histoire, for instance, Hippolyte Taine analyzed Balzac's achievements and social vision (Zola reviewed its second edition in 1866). At stake is the exact ratio between an essential, selfish human nature and its socially constructed obverse. For Taine, there are two possible models for today's society. On the one hand, Taine explained, there is the perception that human nature is inherently asocial, if not antisocial, and that society and its laws are but customary constraints on the primary egotism and self-interestedness of mankind. Colin Davis has called the view that humankind is at core murderous "altericidal." On the other hand, humanity can be seen as profoundly social by nature, so that social orders arise naturally from the human need to form cooperative and lasting bonds of exchange. Walter Benjamin, in the introduction to his "Critique of Violence," put the distinction thus: "Perhaps these views have been recently rekindled by Darwin's biology, which, in a thoroughly dogmatic manner, regards violence as the only original means, besides natural selection, appropriate to all the vital ends of nature.... This thesis of natural law that regards violence as a natural datum is diametrically opposed to that of positive law, which sees violence as a product of history."
The fact of violence and conflict in society can, in Benjamin's and Taine's views, be understood from a similarly twinned perspective: either the human condition is violently selfish or it is good and peaceful, with violence only a necessary response to the violation of social laws and customs. Murder is either a purely natural, animalistic, even ritualistic impulse or a purely cultural phenomenon born of social ills and the unjust distribution of resources. These are, of course, age-old debates. But the still embryonic influence of Darwinian evolutionary theory in France, the growing dominance and popularization of positivist and materialist thought in the 1860s, and the debate about the moral implications of realist art and literature brought new urgency to such questions and gave them currency far beyond their initial, highly specialized audience. When, for instance, Maxime du Camp published his guide to life in Paris in the mid-1870s, he felt prompted to add the following reflection on the state of civilization:
The human being is born neither good nor bad: [s]he is born as animal. Moreover, in growing bigger, he can yield to a need for vengeance, and to schemes of resentment, that the other animals do not know at all. He is born with instincts; and then all the efforts of religion and law are directed toward modifying these instincts and turning them into manners.... The human being is today better than he has ever been. That is not to say that he has forgotten his genetic instincts; far from that, when he can without fear, he throws himself at them with a kind of ferocious frenzy. It is because of them that he likes war so much, which allows him to kill, steal, and violate without punishment and even with glory.
For du Camp, Paris was the modern site where civilization and humanity were constantly put to the test, engendering their most vibrant, if unstable, manifestations. But his reflections also testify to the fact that, by this point, it was taken for granted that human beings are born with instincts and passionate drives, that they are "animals" first and foremost, and that it requires effort to hold these instincts at bay. It is such an explanation of violence-as innate to the human race, a sign of our base animality, recurring without reason or specificity-that The Murder seems to favor as well.
In the above critical accounts of realism's propensity toward violence, two main points emerge: first, that violence was indeed a crucial part of the modern social world, common if not emblematic to it, and therefore deserved a prominent place in realist art, even if it undermined the strong bind between civilization and repression, art and morality at large. Second, authors such as du Camp pointed to the complicated status of instinctuality in contemporary culture, as undecidedly situated between the precultural realm and modern overstimulation. Some of modernity's most aggressive practices-such as warfare and its "glory"-are precisely the sites where the instinctual still continues its hold over the social. As Baudelaire claimed in "The Wild Woman and the Affected Coquette," modernity cannot be uncoupled from the presocial; it regresses into the presocial repeatedly and habitually, and even produces visions of the precultural as one of the most vitalizing signs of the modern order.
But this equilibrium was hard to achieve, in both painting and literature. Cézanne knew of the sharply pointed critique Zola received for Thérèse Raquin, shortly after it was published, by one of the most influential critics of the time, Charles Sainte-Beuve, whose opinion Zola had solicited himself. When Sainte-Beuve, famously, critiqued Zola's novel for parading characters that were not "true," Zola, in his rejoinder, succinctly stated his belief that the human being was nothing but instinct, and had no governing conscience to speak of. Here is Sainte-Beuve, in a letter written to Zola over the summer of 1868: "And first of all, you take an epigraph that justifies nothing within the novel itself. If vice and virtue are nothing but common products such as vitriol and sugar, it would follow that a crime explained and motivated in the ways you outline would not be an event that miraculous and monstrous. One asks oneself therefore why that apparatus of remorse that is nothing but a transformation and a transposition of ordinary moral remorse, of Christian remorse, and a kind of recurring hell." To which Zola replied, simply reiterating his aesthetic position more or less unchanged, on July 13, 1868: "The drama is above all physiological; the murder is for these temperaments an acute crisis that leaves them bewildered and acting like strangers ...; I believe that every violent act, in cowardly and vulgar characters, is committed in a mechanistic manner and leads to an almost complete forgetting of causes and aim."
But Sainte-Beuve's point struck home, and even Zola could not fully argue with it: he had attempted to portray the reactions of human beasts but, in the end, had shown only how much they suffered-until relieved from life by suicide-under the restraints the social order imposed on murder and adultery. That there is a contradiction between Zola's famous preface to the novel and the novel itself, that Zola's conceptual frame was given the lie by his narrative, has often been claimed: why the remorse, the endless feelings of guilt and alienation, if Thérèse and Laurent were indeed precultural animals who had reacted to nervous impulses? To be sure, it would have been rather difficult to imagine a novel that would continue, chapter after chapter, to portray nothing but immediacy, viscerality, and motiveless reaction, that would write lives lived utterly in the present, with no sense of past or future, without the linear time that is central to the unfolding of a story. Such a novel could consist only of impressions of unaccountable human bestiality, much more easily achieved in (prose) poetry, as Baudelaire did, and in the utter presentness, the at-once-ness, of painting. Cézanne surely must have been aware of this conundrum when he chose to depict a murder with such close resemblance to Zola's stories and characters. He could take advantage of the fact that he, unlike a novelist, worked with artistic forms as sheerly incidental, as utterly present, as neural immediacy itself.
Murder and Modernity
During the late 1860s, the accelerating rise of mass media coincided with a climate of widespread political and social unrest, exemplified by murder cases such as the Troppmann affair and the shooting of Victor Noir (a left-leaning journalist) by the emperor's great-nephew in 1870, which was fitfully countered by the Empire's faint-hearted attempts at liberalization. In late September 1869, Jean-Baptiste Troppmann, an Alsatian worker, killed all seven members of the bourgeois Kinck family, from Roubaix, in the suburban fields of Pantin, northeast of Paris. The full details of the atrocities committed by Troppmann came to light only gradually as, almost one by one, the bodies were found. Troppmann was later tried and executed-an event that drew a large crowd. The case became infamous. In an unintended echo of Zola's desire to write a mystery novel turning on ineffable animal lust, the discoveries of the bodies (the father's body was found several days after the rest of the family's) and the subsequent arrest unspooled like a novel. The court proceedings, published in the Gazette des Tribunaux in late December 1869, adopted a grand guignol tone: "It seems as if fate wanted to realize we don't know what monstrous dream of a delirious dramatist, arranging the effects, keeping curiosity in suspension, and developing in the spectators, just up to the hour of the final unraveling, that passionate and painful interest that appeared to have reached its paroxysm first and could do nothing but abate from there."
The line between reality and fiction seemed tenuous here, with even the paper of legal record hovering between fantasy and documentation. The Murder is partly an echo of the sensationalist culture in which cases such as the Troppmann affair loomed large. During the search for the bodies, more than fifty thousand curious onlookers came to watch. According to Le Nord, Troppmann received ten thousand francs for the rights to his photograph, which circulated widely along with those of his victims. Some of this popular fascination with crime, and the money machine that promoted it, appears in Cézanne's painting: part of its seeming generality and refusal of specifics can be traced back to the conditions of mass media. Such features already had become the guarantor that kept the presses running quickly, recycling and reusing the imagery of crime, while maintaining the suspense to which complete knowledge and closure would be fatal.
Baudelaire, in "My Heart Laid Bare," assessed the spectacularization of crime in and by the media for domestic consumption in the 1860s: "Every journal, from the first line to the last, is nothing but a tissue of horrors. Wars, crimes, thefts, lecheries, tortures, the evil deeds of princes, of nations, of private individuals; an orgy of universal atrocity. And it is with this loathsome appetizer that civilized man daily washes down his morning repast. Everything in this world oozes crime: the newspaper, the street wall, and the human countenance. I am unable to comprehend how a man of honor could take a newspaper in his hands without a shudder of disgust." Crime, for Baudelaire, is simply any kind of news-or the news itself: omnipresent, ubiquitous, indistinguishable from other facets of life. It is taken in like a meal, then digested, and that process is repeated ad infinitum. Violence, for Baudelaire, is interesting not at the time it is committed, but at the time it is consumed. That readers cannot take their hands off the material makes the consumption of violence as impulsive an act as murder itself, and the one's impulsivity is the guarantor of the other's reflexive nature. The modern world "oozes crime"-which pervades everything-and Baudelaire refuses to maintain a difference between murderer and spectator. The latter is as implicated in the violent act as the former for his need to observe it and read about it, even while otherwise perfectly distanced from it. Here, again, we find the complicated meaning of violence for the modern age that we already detected in Baudelaire's Parisian Prowler. The reader of crime news or novels is not a killer (impulse and culture are not fully collapsed and collapsible), but violence is again incited in order to fulfill the need for, and pleasure in, its consumption. The cycle is closed, and perfectly circular. Where crime starts and its spectacularization ends-or where spectacularization begins and crime ends-are distinctions endlessly referring back to each other, one term canceling out the other's seeming originary status.
In this regard, Baudelaire takes a position toward violence in modern culture perhaps comparable to the one we find in Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's 1820s Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, in which he defined the function of violence in representation:
The savageness of passion consists, therefore, in the oneness of the I as universal with the limited content of its desires, so that the man has no will outside this particular passion. Now, such brutality and untamed violence of passion is softened through art, to begin with, by the mere fact that it brings before the man as an idea what in such a state he feels and does. And even if art restricts itself to merely setting up pictures of passions before the mind's eye, or even if it were actually to flatter them, still this is by itself enough to have a softening power, inasmuch as the man is thereby at least made aware of what, apart from such presentation, he simply is. For then the man observes his impulses and inclinations, and whereas before they bore him on without power of reflection, he now sees them outside himself, and begins already to be free from them, in so far as they form an object which he contrasts with himself.
For Hegel, representing violence offers a civilizing utility. But he refuses a clear distinction between art and impulsive action: the latter lends itself to representation that will, in turn, slowly carry impulse over into its self-reflexive sphere of culture and try to annihilate it. But impulse will never fully go away, even though it may perhaps be "softened." Like Hegel, Baudelaire, and by extension Cézanne, tested the line between reactive immediacy and the socializing power of representation-tested that line's concreteness and irrevocability-offering their viewers and readers the complexities of both the image of an impulsive act and the impulsive act as image. Cézanne did so in order to see whether "image" (or "painting") is always already antithetical to impulsive action, or whether it can still produce some rudimentary resemblance to the mechanical reflexivity that makes the creative act at times a violent struggle rather than an exclusively rational and willed expression. Of course, this is an artistic experiment, nothing more-he had to be aware that an impulse represented is always also an impulse civilized-but that fact cannot, and should not, imply that impulse has no truck at all with representation.
For Baudelaire and Cézanne, art needs continually to attempt-even if only incompletely and in approximation-a return to impulse and unmediation; it needs to continue to establish at least a rudimentary connection to the "oneness of the I as universal with the limited content of its desires." Only then can art continually speak not just to the mind's eye, but to the body's that contains it. Painting murder, then, is not so different from trying to capture light on water: both themes promise a continual reinvention of art and a permanent renewal of artistic creativity. Of course, Cézanne's attempt at representing the "oneness" of the I with its desires is one of the greater early modernist fallacies, but then, certainly, it is not that fallacy's most unreasonable, or utopian, form. The difference from impressionism's immediacies, however, lies in Cézanne's attempt-and here Merleau-Ponty was certainly correct (even though he expressly distinguished Cézanne's early from his later work)-to infuse the codependence between eye and painting with the true viscerality, instability, and passion of the I and its physical grounding. And that is why, finally, Cézanne's deliberately unskilled manière couillarde and the representation of murder walk hand in hand over the surface of his paintings, both guaranteeing the other's bodily-meaning unrefined and unstructured-origins.
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