My Father′s House

On Will Barnet's Painting

My Father′s House

Book Pages: 144 Illustrations: 10 color illustrations Published: September 2014

Author: Thomas Dumm

American Studies, Art and Visual Culture, Politics > Political Theory

In My Father's House, the political philosopher Thomas Dumm explores a series of stark and melancholy paintings by the American artist Will Barnet. Responding to the physical and mental decline of his sister Eva, who lived alone in the family home in Beverly, Massachusetts, Barnet began work in 1990 on what became a series of nine paintings depicting Eva and other family members, as they once were and as they figured in the artist's memory. Rendered in Barnet's signature quiet, abstract style, the paintings, each featured in full color, present the ordinary and extraordinary aspects of a twentieth-century American family.
Dumm first became acquainted with Barnet and his paintings in 2008. Given his scholarly focus on the lives of ordinary people, he was immediately attracted to the artist's work. When they met, Dumm and Barnet began a friendship and dialogue that lasted until the painter's death in 2012, at the age of 101. This book reflects the many discussions the two had concerning the series of paintings, Barnet's family, his early life in Beverly, and his eighty-year career as a prominent New York artist. Reading the almost gothic paintings in conversation with the writers and thinkers key to both his and Barnet's thinking—Emerson, Spinoza, Dickinson, Benjamin, Cavell, Nietzsche, Melville—Dumm's haunting meditations evoke broader reflections on family, mortality, the uncanny, and the loss that comes with remembrance.


"This meditative book . . . is not so much art criticism or art history as 'a written narrative accompanying a visual biography of a family.' . . .In captivating fashion, readers are invited into this uncanny space of nostalgia and loss." — Publishers Weekly

"[Dumm] makes you look beyond what the actual paintings physically represent and dig deeper to what the artist was saying in the painting. The questions about loneliness, dealing with the ghosts of our past, what can you see beyond the obvious." — Suzanne Levin, Chick with Book blog

“The principle behind My Father's House is extremely laudable in that it encourages us to get used to really looking at visual artworks in detail, to question their reasons of being, how we perceive them or simply to enjoy a visual hunting. Repeating this approach with other artworks will, over time, teach us to take the responsibility of interpreting artworks ourselves without relying on stories that curators and art historians tell us about them.” — Florence Martellini, Leonardo Reviews

"My Father's House is a genuine and rare accomplishment. Art criticism is often at its best when, rather than dissecting objects, it follows their rhythms, twists, and turns. Thomas Dumm does just that. One of this book's many strengths is the variety of ways that he evocatively relates the experience of Will Barnet's paintings. Another is the magnificent introduction, which brings Emerson, Melville, and Cavell, and others into conversation with the spirit of Barnet's work and with Barnet himself." — Tom Huhn, author of Imitation and Society: The Persistence of Mimesis in the Aesthetics of Burke, Hogarth, and Kant

"Thomas Dumm's unique intelligence, perceptual clarity and philosophical erudition inform this powerful homage to the artist Will Barnet and his series of paintings, My Father's House. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walter Benjamin and Stanley Cavell are among those summoned to assist Dumm as he meditates on questions of place and person, loss and love, past and present, conjured for him by Barnet's haunting and haunted works. This is a deeply moving account of how an encounter with art might allay the turbulent loneliness of our age." — Ann Lauterbach, author of Under the Sign

"In this beautiful book, Thomas Dumm invents a new genre of writing, neither art criticism nor memoir nor philosophy nor psychology but something drawing from each of those, something that tries to show more than describe how works of art have power, a disseminating, productive power that exceeds any biography. Dumm is an extraordinary writer and courageous thinker." — Jane Bennett, author of Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things


Availability: In stock
Price: $29.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Thomas Dumm is William H. Hastie '25 Professor of Political Ethics at Amherst College. He is the author of Loneliness as a Way of Life, A Politics of the Ordinary, Michel Foucault and the Politics of Freedom, and Democracy and Punishment: Disciplinary Origins of the United States, and a coeditor of Performances of Violence.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii
Preface ix
Introduction. The Living and the Dead 1
1. My Father's House 35
2. The Dream 45
3. The Family (The Kitchen) 55
4. The Mantle 65
5. The Vase 73
6. Three Windows 83
7. The Mother 91
8. The Father 99
9. The Golden Frame 107
Conclusion. Becoming Human 115
Notes 121
Index 123
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5558-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5546-5