Janet Malcolm, author of The Journalist and the Murderer and, most recently, Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers, is also a collage artist. Her most recent collection, “The Emily Dickinson Series,” juxtaposes clippings of Dickinson’s “fragment” poems, taken from scholar Marta Werner’s 1996 book Emily Dickinson’s Open Folios, with pieces cut from astronomy textbooks, found photographs, and other ephemera.
Alice Gregory pointed out in Slate last year how heavily Malcolm’s writing leans toward quotation and allusion. The collages do much the same work, with the images excavating meaning from the slim Dickinson poems. “Something in Dickinson’s words evoked the night sky,” Malcolm reflects in Granta’s Winter 2014 issue, where some of the collages appear. “It seemed almost obligatory that images of stars and plants and moons accompany her gnomic utterances.”
Malcolm writes about the process of collaging with mystical reverence (see: that “obligatory”). For one collage, she chose a photograph of a “bearded, depressed-looking man”—David Peck Todd, an astronomer—only to find out from Werner that Todd was the husband of Mabel Loomis Todd, who edited and popularized Dickinson’s poems after her death. (Loomis Todd was also Dickinson’s brother’s longtime mistress.)
Malcolm and Werner, who struck up a correspondence in the process of Malcolm’s work, mulled over the coincidence. Malcolm wrote to Werner that her choice seemed to be emblematic of something “occult” moving her hand. Werner wrote back: “I have my doubts about the invisible world, but something strange and lovely may be at work.”
The collages are on view at Lori Bookstein Fine Art in New York City, through February 8. Click on the images below to enlarge.
The summer that we did not prize
TODAY IN SLATE
The World’s Politest Protesters
The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.
The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans
The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You: It Spreads Slowly
The Feds Have Declared War on New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google
These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative
How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.
Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.