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The New York Review of Books Volume XLVII, Number 2
posted October 10, 2001
Various, Edited by Robert B. Silver and Barbara Epstein
NYREV, Inc., $3.95
If you're a fan of quality drawing, you're probably already looking at the occasional New York Review of Books to enjoy the work of former TCJ interview feature and one-time cover artist David Levine. And this issue contains the usual Levine gems: Vladamir Putin, Astolphe de Custine, Arthur Koestler, and a particular amusing one of David Foster Wallace. There aren't many artists whose work can appear on a cover with imagery -- even incidental imagery -- from Gustav Dore, and you don't even notice.
What recommends this specific issue is an article by the writer Norman Manea entitled "Saul Steinberg: Made in Romania." A dissection of the writer's seven-year relationship with the New Yorker cartoonist/collage artist immediately preceding his death last year, it offers a compelling portrait of the artist which greatly adds to the fulsome obituary-writing following Steinberg's death.
There are a number of compelling insights. The through-line of the essay is how Romania remained a repository of childhood imaginings for Steinberg, an important resource for this very child-like artist. In this view, America in its newness and its essential immaturity becomes the perfect home for Steinberg's career. A more potentially interesting observation Manea shares is that Steinberg's separation from his native language -- in itself drawn from several sources -- drove the artist to a vocabulary of pictures over words. The image Manea shares of late-night phone calls, Steinberg with a Romanian dictionary on his lap dissecting the origin of unfamiliar words, brings to mind the icon-play in works like The Passport and The Inspector.
Anyone with a passing interest in Steinberg should seek this piece out.