TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT Summer 2001

books

Balzac

FOR ANYONE INTO THE CREATIVE and/or obsessive process, The Unknown Masterpiece remains the ultimate nightmare. In Balzac’s 1831 allegory, newly translated by Richard Howard, the painter Frenhofer inhabits the gray area where inspiration and neurosis become indistinguishable. The traumatically unforgettable artiste is the demon of perfectionism who undoes the Work as quickly as it is inspired—and who haunts anyone afraid to start (or stop) working on something. Even Cézanne and Picasso (who illustrated a centenary edition of the novel and purchased the studio that is one of the story’s settings) were spooked by Frenhofer’s relentless, ultimately sterile quest for absolute truth: “Oh nature, nature! Who has ever plumbed your secrets?” he wails, “There is no escaping it; too much knowledge, like too much ignorance, leads to a negation. My work is . . . my doubt!”

In a Rod Serling–esque scenario

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