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July 25, 2007


magritte not to be reproduced.jpg This is Magritte's Reproduction interdite (1937). It is to be an image of a man with no face. Or rather an image of a man whose face the painter insists on concealing from us and, if we accept the fiction embodied in the painting for a moment, a man whose face the painter also sadistically insists on concealing from the man himself. Paradoxically, though, don't we learn something important about this creature's existence and identity from not being able to see him "face to face", something that a predictable, frontal encounter would not allow us to glimpse? It makes me imagine a literary critic's prayer. It might run something like this: "Please God [lots of stuff to do with mendacity, vanity, self-pity etc etc are omitted here for the sake of my argument], and finally, please let me write a serious essay on the poetry of Adrienne Rich without allusion to the fact that she is American, and another one on Seamus Heaney that does not contain the words 'Irish' or 'Ireland', and one as well on Maria Tsevtaeva that mentions neither the Soviet Union or Stalin. Thank you." Would God (if He exists) allow such requests? Perhaps He already has but we are unaware of His permission. Would such an ascesis be feasible? Current norms and protocols suggest that it wouldn't be. That would be all the more reason to attempt it. My intuition is that such essays (try to imagine the experience of reading them) would be revelatory. They would be revelatory in a pleasurable way about the poetry concerned. Perhaps they would also tell one something slightly less palatable, something which one didn't know before, about what goes on behind the face of that increasingly sour and irritating stranger who glances silently at one from the mirror each godforsaken morning?

Posted by njenkins at July 25, 2007 07:57 PM

With the exception of interspersed quotations, all writing is © 2007-09 by Nicholas Jenkins