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This article is taken from PN Review 186, Volume 35 Number 4, March - April 2009.

Living with the Living Marcia Brennan

Flowering Light: Kabbalistic Mysticism and the Art of Elliot R. Wolfson (Houston: Rice University Press)

As a modernist art historian, I spend most of my time with the dead. Typically, this entails engaging with the artistic works of key historical figures, their accompanying exhibition histories, and their relations to significant developments in contemporary intellectual and cultural history. Working with these established subjects means not only reconstructing an extensive base of primary visual and archival source materials, but negotiating a well-developed historiography, and with it, a corresponding set of accepted interpretive strategies. Thus in various ways, working with the dead means engaging with the collective voice of the discourse on the discourse.

This study represents something different; as such, the text marks a departure that is also an arrival.1 Because of the unique nature of the subject matter - the concordance of mystical and aesthetic expression in the scholarly, painted, and poetic works of a living author and artist, Elliot R. Wolfson - familiar templates of thought are not always readily available, or even aptly applicable. Instead, Wolfson’s artworks invite viewers to reconsider what it means to work with the living. Not only are his books and paintings the products of a living artist, but at the core of the corpus lies a set of ideas that sometimes seem to take on a life of their own.

In turn, this book is designed to reflect some of the complexities of its subject matter, in ...

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