In response to:
Summoning Up the Kabbalah from the February 19, 1976 issue
To the Editors:
In your February 19 issue, Leon Wieseltier writes: “More recently, the art critic Thomas Hess made a great deal of Barnett Newman’s avid reading of [Gershom] Scholem, perhaps more than Newman’s paintings can support.”
I never wrote, in the 1971 monograph to which Wieseltier refers, that Newman read Scholem, avidly or otherwise. I did prove conclusively that the painter was conversant with Lurianic ideas and images. Why else did he title his noble, last sculpture Zimzum? And where else but in Luria’s Kabbalah will you find explanations for such titles as Day before One and Day One; other indications of Newman’s ranging interest in Jewish mysticism are in such paintings as White Fire, Black Fire, The Gate, The Way, etc.
I read Scholem to follow Newman’s traces, and, of course, gave credit to his texts. Newman might well have studied the sources for himself or some other exegesis.
I assume that Wieseltier never read my book, has no idea whether Newman’s paintings can support my interpretations or not, and simply was carried away by the hit-and-run tactics he ascribes to the brilliant critic he was busily savaging.
Thomas B. Hess
New York City