Collecting published and unpublished drawings, and meticulously arranged by Steinberg himself, the book begins with a horizontal line, bisected initially by some geometry, and then providing a platform for one of Steinberg’s trademark ragged crocodiles (he was nearly eaten by a crocodile on a trip to Kenya with Saul Bellow). What we can expect, turning the page, is to not know what on earth we can expect. As a writer who draws, he might be about to wrangle this line into a letter and then into a line of words; or it might become a horizon, the reflecting surface of a lake, a washing line, a collar, the edge of a room, a strand of a labyrinth exploding up and down the page. But then you turn the page to a procession of talking heads, each producing vast, abstract yet baroque speech-bubbles. This is so much more than Paul Klee’s ‘taking a line for a walk’: Steinberg takes it on a forced march, a drunken lurch and a frenzied fandango.
The Labyrinth is available from New York Review Books. In December, The Paris Review published the new book’s afterword, which originally appeared as an essay by art critic Harold Rosenberg in 1966. Read Rowson’s whole piece at Apollo.