Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Saul Steinberg

Photo by  Inge Morath
Saul Steinberg was famous for his drawings, but according to Deborah Solomon’s review of the new Deirdre Bair biography, Steinberg often crossed the line (“Drawing the Line, and Crossing It,” NYT, 11/21/12) “As Bair reveals,” Solomon says, “his love life was a string of infidelities, and crabbiness was his default mode.” The review quotes Steinberg’s wife, Hedda Sterne, as saying, “In a way sex was his life. He deprived himself of true union because he was not ever in love.” Bair, according to Solomon, also describes how Steinberg’s indiscretions which included “the teenaged daughters of his dearest friends” were often excused because “his work was manifestly first rate, and talent tends to foster forgiveness.” Steinberg’s mixture of talent and promiscuity places him in a long line of Lotharios that include Victor Hugo and George Simenon in literature, John F. Kennedy and his father Joseph in politics, and Wilt Chamberlain, the basket ball player who claimed to have slept with over 20,000 women. And one wonders about the relationship between talent and sexuality. Did the talent occur because of the sexuality (with the sexuality being a manifestation of a certain ambition) or in spite of it? Or is hyper-sexuality the reward bestowed on certain narcissistic geniuses,whose insights into human behavior don’t include a keen understanding of the effect they may have on others? On the other hand, can we say that love is an overrated emotion and that one of the products of Steinberg’s highly developed sensibility was to know a good time when he saw it? Hedda Sterne, who died in 2011, was interesting in her own right, as the sole female member of the Irascible Eighteen a group of abstract expressionists which included Pollock and Rothko.

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