Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City


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Nietzsche, Modernism, Paris


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Painted in Paris on the eve of World War One, the Metaphysical cityscapes of Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) redirected the course of modernist painting and the modern architectural imagination alike. Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City examines the two most salient dimensions of the artist’s early imagery: its representations of architectural space and its sustained engagement with the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche.  Centering upon a single painting from 1914 – deemed by the painter “the fatal year” – each chapter examines why and how de Chirico’s self-declared “Nietzschean method” takes architecture as its pictorial means and metaphor. The first, full-length study in English to focus on the painter’s seminal work from pre-war Paris, the book places de Chirico’s “literary” images back in the context of the city’s avant-garde, particularly the circle of Guillaume Apollinaire.  Merjian’s study sheds light on one of the most influential and least understood figures in 20th-century aesthetics, while also contributing to an understanding of Nietzsche’s paradoxical consequences for modernism.

Ara H. Merjian is associate professor of Italian studies at New York University, where he is an affiliate of the Institute of Fine Arts and the Department of Art History.

‘Merjian writes engagingly and with warmth. . .This title deepens our understanding of an artist who is of rare complexity.’—Alexander Adams, The Art Newspaper

"Friedrich Nietzsche's influence on modernist art and poetry was as vast as it was profound. And no painter owed Nietzsche more than Giorgio de Chirico - reason enough for art historians and philosophers to turn to Ara H. Merjian's thought-provoking study: a reconsideration of painter and philosopher alike, a rethinking of the enigmatic being of time and of architecture." -- Karsten Harries, Yale University

"Ara H. Merjian's book offers an original and highly nuanced reading of Giorgio de Chirico's Nietzschean approach to the representation of the Metaphysical City and its enigmatic objects, focusing especially on the key year 1914. Drawing on a rich reservoir of visual sources and texts, Merjian casts new light on paintings that have thus far resisted interpretation, while heightening our sense of their purposeful ambiguity. Engaging and beautifully written, this book will be essential to anyone interested in the prewar avant-gardes and their ambivalent relation to both the archaic past and the post-humanist future." -- Christine Poggi, University of Pennsylvania

"Ara H. Merjian's 'Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City' is a work of genuine exegetical brilliance and deep learning. Whether from the standpoint of its overall reading of de Chirico in a Nietzschean key or its richly textured account of the artist's pictorial practice, it reshapes our understanding of de Chirico's architectural imaginings in ways that are at once compelling and original." -- Jeffrey T. Schnapp, Harvard University

“The author’s prose is all one could hope for. . . . Poetic, precise and illuminating, Merjian writes in tune with the intricacies of de Chirico’s metaphysical city. . . . The book successfully captures ‘de Chirico’s notion of the metaphysical city as an immense museum of strangeness.’. . . This is an impressive and deeply rewarding book. Merjian’s path through the metaphysical city culminates in a new understanding of de Chirico.”—Karen Lang, Burlington Magazine

‘…an impressive and deeply rewarding book. Merjian’s path through the metaphysical city culminates in a new understanding of de Chirico.’—Karen Lang, Burlington Magazine.

"[A] deft and entertaining inquiry"—Roger Cardinal, Times Literary Supplement

“… a profound and rewarding read and an important contribution to de Chirico studies.”—Robert Radford, Cassone
ISBN: 9780300250770
Publication Date: June 24, 2014
352 pages, 0.0 x 0.0
83 color + 160 b/w illus.