‘I am not Jackson Pollock’ by John Haskell

In John Haskell’s story, an unnamed narrator inhabits the persona of Jackson Pollock, who himself did not feel like the Jackson Pollock. We’re suspicious of the narrator’s pop psychologising, even as we’re compelled by his depiction of the internal struggle of being Jackson Pollock (which is analogous to the narrator’s struggle of pretending to be Jackson Pollock). On re-reading, I’m struck by the boldness of Haskell’s attempt to enter the mind of such a famously inarticulate icon. The artful imprecision of the writing captures a kind of yearning:

Two opposing impulses dominated [Pollock’s] life: the desire to reach out into the world and touch some thing, and the desire to keep that thing away.

We’re retold seemingly formative episodes, such as the loss of the tip of his index finger and his first meeting with Rita Kligman, but none of them explain this schism. And it doesn’t matter in the end. In 2006, Peter Schejedahl wrote of Pollock: ‘Sometimes a new, renegade sensibility really takes hold only when somebody is seen to have died for it’. The story captures the gap between his violent death and its abstraction:

The tree didn’t move so he died. And that was the end. It wasn’t the beginning. You could see that he was dead, and the girl in the backseat was also dead. That was the end. You’d have to be looking from some very great distance to see that was the beginning.

First published in I Am Not Jackson Pollock, Canongate, 2006