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PERSPECTIVE BY EMILY MEYER A Thesis Submitted to the Division of Humanities New College of Florida in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree Bachelor of Arts in Humanities Under the sponsorship of Dr. Robert Zamsky Sarasota, Florida May, 2013
ii TABLE OF CONTENTS .......... .iii .......... 1 Chapter One: The Transgressive Touch: Unstable Iconography in Try and Such Rich Hour ........ 11 Chapter Two: Ghosts in the Garden: Manipulations of Time and Perspective in Ours Chapter Three: Magnetic Fields: A Femini st Alternative to the Ekphrastic Encounter in Flare 64 67 ... 71
iii TOUCH THIS POEM : PERSPECTIVE Emily Meyer New College of Florida, 2013 ABSTRACT The contemporary American poet Cole Swensen has authored numerous books of poetry, each of which typically traces the history of a particular object or artifact of material culture, recreating and manipulating the historical narrative surrounding its produ ction. With varying degrees of emphasis, each collection addresses the relationship between the verbal and visual arts as it has evolved throughout Western civilization entering a dialogue with the ekphrastic tradition of poems written about paintings. Re sponding to the gendered subject positions historically a scribed to each art form in this relationship, the four books analyzed at length in this thesis Try, Such Rich Hour, Ours, and Flare present an alternate ekphrastic model based on a feminine structur e of desire which values reciprocity and intersubjectivity between the arts While, structurally, this may be more apparent in the later work, Flare, the impulse to destabilize a normative gendered relationship between the discourses is readily apparent ev en in her earliest works Dr. Robert Zamsky Division of Humaniti es
1 INTRODUCTION The contemporary American poet Cole Swensen has authored numerous books of poetry, each of which typically traces the history of a particular object or artifact of material culture recreating and often manipulating the historical narrative surrounding its production. Wit h varying degrees of emphasis, each collection addresses the relationship between the verbal and visual arts as it has evolved throughout Western civilization. Aside from the strong visual element of the objects which preoccupy her, each book varies widely in content. In Try for example, Swensen responds to an overwhelming number of religious icons from the late Medieval to early Renaissance period, paying particular attention to multiple different depictions of a single biblical narrative in relation to t he contemporary viewer who experiences these pieces in the museum. In the later collections Such Rich Hour and Ours, Swensen chooses the Tres Riches Heures, a fifteenth century book of hours, and the landscape designe r for the gardens of Versailles, respec tively, as her primary subjects of interest. Others books revolve around objects as wide ranging as the incandescent light bulb, hands, glass, and ghosts. Each of the four books to be discussed generates a commentary on the relationship between the arts, p resenting various models of ekphrasis verbal descriptions about works of art which challenge the previously accepted parameters between the arts. Before delving into her specific style of ekphrastic writing, it is important to note the streams of thought and practice surrounding this form of writing and the difficulties it presents. The first in depth treatment of the relationship between the arts is outlined in Gotthold Ephraim Lessing Laocon: A n Essay on the Limits of Painting and Poetry. As
2 that purpose of one cannot be conflated with that of the other, but in addition to ensuring their sep between the two. The primary difference that Lessing notes between painting and poetry is their relationship to time. Because painting can only depict a single moment and canno t change over time, it is an art of stasis. Poetry, in contrast, is an art of movement: language follows in sequence, necessarily occurring over time. The poem is more process than object, shifting and changing with each new word and line break. While it c annot necessarily depict objects or events in co existence in the same manner as painting, it does have the ability to describe a succession of events or narrative. Lessing makes this most pregnant moment of action and express it with co existing bodies or images. Poetry on the other hand, must limit the number of images it describes in order to present a cohesive series of actions (55). Where clari ty and precision of execution are ne cessary for the painter, they will not suffice for the poet. Invention is expected of him: The poet is not concerned merely to be intelligible, his representations should not merely be clear and plain...He desires rather to make the ideas awakened by him w ithin us living things, so that for the moment we realise the true sensuous impressions of the objects he describes and cease in this moment of illusion to be conscious o f the means -namely, his words (61). Lessing goes so far as to criticize overly descr iptive poets as lacking the proper technical skill. If the poet can only represent and not invent, he has chosen the wrong medium.
3 B ecause linguistic representation can transcend the social conventions of veracity which are tied to particular facts and ima ges, Lessing argues that the beauty achieved through mimesis of an object can reveal mo re truth than the object itself. While the painter can exaggerate, blur, shadow and highlight certain facts, he is bound by the materiality of his medium. Restricted to the two dimensional surface area of the canvas, the painter cannot employ movement or sound and has no means to depict the invisible or abstract. By contrast, Lessing argues that the superior art of poetry has the ability to mirror in language a particular mode of perception which encompasses both the visible and the invisible, ugly and beautiful, into a narrative whose allusive properties charm the world is reserved sol ely for the verbal arts, while the visual is bound to the realistic situated and refers exclusively to visual art which is realistic and representational his foundationa l work makes explicit a notion which will continue to haunt visual and literary theory: any comparison of the arts must account for the implicit power struggle between the two. arts, Murray Krieger, a 20 th century literary theorist and proponent of the school of New Criticism, writes extensively on the topic in Ekphrasis (1992). Krieger essentially condition of the painting by adapting the parameters of spatial form to the written work. Ars Poetica, which posits the often repeated
4 from and deserves the same mode of attention as painting. Such an ekphrastic project intends for the reader to apprehend the language of the poem spat ially rather than sequentially seeing mult iple images at once, unbounded by the serial movement of time. 70). New Critics posit that the movement of the poem can be stilled by its sonic resonances and intertextual unity, so that it achieves a containment or self sufficiency which does not take recourse to the painting as referent or to the sociohistorical co ntext of the poem. Thus the poem attains a status similar to that of painting as an art object which exists outside of time. Noting the contradictory impulses of theorists such as Lessing and Krieger, W.J.T. Mitchell, a contemporary scholar of media, visu al art, and literature systematically orders the different responses to the ekphrastic problem in three phases or basic assumption that ekphrasis is, strictly speak ing, impossible. No amount of descriptive language can conjure a concrete, visual object before the eye or adequately and comprehensively portray each aspect of the painted canvas. This indifference is the deceptively simple assertion that the arts operate as separate and distinct entities. The phase assumes t hat through the use of metaphor language can approximate a certain
5 unity gives rise to a third sta ge ekphrastic fear the terror that distinction will be lost, that self will dissolve into other, that the poet will lose those characteristics which distinguish his practice from the visual arts, and the need for separation again asserts itself as crucial can be closely aligned to the psychoanalytic concept which Jacques Lacan explores at length in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho Analysis Lacan defines the image screen as relative point of view, constituted of everything he or she sees in a given instance. He goes on to explain the moment when, as a young boy, he looked out from his seat on a fishing boat and spied a sardine can. As he looked on the scene, the light of the sun reflected off the can and into his eyes with a momentarily blinding flash of light. Lacan uses this anecdote to describe the relationship between self and other subject and object lied mastery over the object of his sight is called into question or threatened by that very object. Suddenly the object over which Lacan, as the seeing subject, presumed control, appears to be gazing back, exerting its own agency, rupturing his image scre en. revolves around this very question of who or what is in control. Situated as the entity with the capacity to gaze on and speak for the painting, the poem assumes the active role in the ekphrastic relationshi p w h ile the painting remains the passive object of desire. In positioning the arts thus, the gaze of the poem can become a vio l ent act of domination which in turn, is perpetually threated by the painting impossible to disregard th e fact that such a relationship and the languag e routinely used to describe it dominance and submission are implicitly gendered. Cole Swensen is acutely aware of t his facet of
6 ekphrastic history and seeks in her books of poetry t o destabilize a normative gendered relationship between the discourses As we will see, her later work is much more experimental and abstract in this regard, but the impulse to test the permeability of still readily apparent even in her earliest works. She repeatedly presents an alternate mode of ekphrasis which asserts an intersubjective relationship between verbal and visual discourses and in so doing questions the gendered implication of the ekphrastic process. Such a project is part icularly compelling when situated within feminist linguistic theory. The mechanism of language poses a problem for the female author due to the fact that its symbolic nature built around the relationship between signifier and signifie d is inherently phallocentric. Language is not simply a mimetic mirror of the visual world, but rather systematically constructs both the external world and the internal psyche of those who are bound by its relational structure. Insofar as we are trained t o view the world through the medium of language, we are formed in a way that is always already coherent ed stance which has been previously determined for her, weighted with an entire hi story of cultural connotations definitions, configurations. While these do not prescribe a necessary course of action for her as a writer, they unavoidably influence the position from which she writes. The French Feminists Luce Irigaray and Helene Cixous wrote extensively on this topic, reaching two very distinct and contradictory conclusions. Irigaray defends the creation of a female linguistic space which is defined largely in Freudian and Lacanian terminology by a deterministic relati onship to her biological makeup and the form of her
7 genitalia. In an effort to define a collective space of positive, difference based, female speak of women as a gro up may be necessary and even beneficial in this context, but too easily essentializing, too quick to discount the different life experiences of individual women. Cixous sets forth when he identifies with Napoleon in his article of 1933 on The Disappearance of the Oedipus Complex: death of physiology, Cixous presents the deconstructionist discourse that there is no such gendered identity; the only thing to base a feminine writing style on is a shared history of oppression necessarily feminist because of its formal refusal of closure this stylistic practice is employed by a number of modern and contemporary poets, many o f whom would reject nor is it explicitly interested in female identity as constituted describes a restructuring of the relationship between verbal and visua l arts, such that the two are no longer in a power struggle for dominance, but are mutually inflected by o ne e ekphrastic model positions painting and poetry as parallel discourses, thereby dissipating the sense of rivalry betwee n them and allowing for both to assume the role of subjects in relation to one another. This intersubjectivity maintains the
8 permeability of the arts and allows for new modes of sense to accrete i n the gaps where semantic sense fails. Procedurally Swens the contemporary poet and Gender Studies scholar Michael Davidson. Noting the problematic polarization of theoretical standpoints which privilege one art form over the other, Swensen and Davidson have attempted t o approach the issue from a different angle. In ut pictura poesis too narrowly defines the relationship between poetry and painting, limiting ekphrasis to reproduction and representation. He argues that the postmodern painterly poem focuses instead on language itself as a productive medium. In response to Krieger, Davidson presents a postmodern ekphrastic mode steeped in its own temporality. He to read contemporary poetry at all) we need to un do the rhetoric of spatiality that has evol ution in the mind of the poet, New Critics such as Murray Krieger have created a dichotomy between the artistic pract estimation, t he postmodern poem seeks to collapse this dichotomy by using language as a mode o f discovery rather than containment, presenting the poet in the act of thinking a temporal encounter m the proliferation of possibilities which arises from the intersection of the two.
9 s to enter the psychological space of the poem without strategies of composition equivalent to the painting, w ith less emphasis on mimesis The first focuses more closel y on specific content, the latter on the rupture of referential totality afforded by a particular procedural approach. The first grants the poet the age ncy to speak for the painting while t he latter posits a reciprocal relationship between the two, complic such an interpretation will not suffice. T he poems in Try and Such Rich Hour are primarily representational responses to late Medieval and early Renaissance iconography, but Swensen seems less interested in recreating a verbal picture of the icons than in refusing to allow the closure associated with the Biblical narratives these images depict. The first half of chapter one focuses almost exclusively on a set of poems within Try which respond to various paintings of the Noli Me Tangere scene, re envisioning it in terms of Orphic myth. Foundational to the tradition of lyric poetry, the thematic preoccupation with between Christ and Mary Magdalene as parallels that of the verbal and visual arts. The latter half of the first chapter focuses in more depth on the notion of the poem as an object of fait h. Structured as a verbal corollary to a 15 th century devotional breviary, this collection of poems focuses on the mode of attention that such a text demands of the reader and how it is replicated in the contemporary poem. The second chapter delves into o she meticulously researched and reconstructed the history of the gardens of Versailles
10 and their designer, Andre Le Notre. This ekphrastic project differs slightly from the previous by responding to a three dim ensional medium as opposed to painting but concerns over the relationship between the arts are still paramount Of particular interest are the ways that perspective wa s manipulated and constructed in the 18 th century garden, and the procedural parallels e Within this discussion the relationship between history and memory provides a framework for discussing the techniques of linguis tic repetition and difference which chara In t he final chapter printmaker Thomas Nozkowski, Flare, will be analyzed as an alternate feminist mode of the ekphrastic counter, wherein poet and artist assume a reciprocal relationship. This ekphrastic model draws its strength from the ambiguity regarding what order the poems and images were produced in and in what order they should be read. poems can be interpreted as enacting collaborators purposefully maintain this equivocation The final chapter will examine in depth how the ekphrastic relati onship changes when both visual and verbal art forms operate as abstract, procedural analogues for one another and how such an ekphrastic collaboration offers an ekphrastic model defined by a feminist structure of desire in a contrast to those proposed by previous theorists.
11 CHAPTER ONE THE TRANSGRESSIVE TOUCH: UNSTABLE ICONOGRAPHY IN TRY AND SUCH RICH HOUR In Try, Swensen responds almost exclusively to religious subject matter with an emphasis on early Renaissance iconography and the figure of Mary Magdalene. The centerpiece of the collection is a group of poems which repeatedly address paintings of the Biblical scene direct f requently described when he encounters Mar y Magdalene outside the tomb and tells her not to touch him. As Swensen responds to multiple different renderings of this same moment, the relationship between Mary Magdalene and Christ is repeatedly problematized according to the inability of the two to m ake contact with one another. Thoughout the collection, sight, touch, and their limitations draw concerns about the role of the senses in the ekphrastic encounter to the forefront. While treatments of the paintings are primarily representational, the language of the poems pushes signification beyo nd representation, foregrounding instead its own lacuna professor at the University of Chicago addresses the collection i ving with Paintings: Cole Swensen's Ekphrastic Try S Swensen writes about generally exhibit considerably less self consciousness about representation, yet she interprets the gazes and the subjectivities of the gaz ers as far less portrays the desire of the visual and verbal arts to touch and the impossibility of this act as a means to give shape to the empty space between them. Kell er argues that Swensen
12 writes at art so much as live with an equalizing gesture on the part of the poet, an attempt to dissolve the hierarchy between the arts and place them alongside each other as parallel discourses. Swensen structur es the book in groups of three, separating th e poems in groups of three and organizing them under nine subheadings, each of which begins with the prefix Swensen introduces the Noli Me Tangere scene which will p lay such an important role throughout the book. The three poems in this section respond to a piece which Swensen th century Because the painting she references at this point in the story is unknown, I have included several figures which she references throughout the book as examples of the various stagings of the same scene (Figs. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 ). The second poem in the series is separated into three parts which offer three different readings of the same image. She writes, Note the grace entirely based on precise. Sudden ballet as you back away from the depicted: Story One: If you touch the sky will turn blue (of our child to the tips of the fingers to the ceiling suddenly to the sight so Story Two: actions. This consequence may lack a sense of potency for the contemporary reader, but would have had strong implication s during the early stages of the Renaissance. Prior to 1300, the primary role of the painting was to represent the divine thus realism was subordinated to exaggerated techniques for displaying the grandeur and holiness of the subjects. The sky was plated with gold leaf in order to
13 emphasize the holiness of the heavens, and the figures increase in size as they approximate divinity. Thus the seemingly benign transition to the blue sky pioneered by Giotto di Bondone in 1306, implied a transition away from the technical dictates of religious iconography. While his paintings still display strictly religious subject matter, there is more of an emphasis on realistic representation: the sky is blue, bodies are fuller, more dimensional, and experimentation with pers pective begins to re arrange the size of the figures such that the holiest are no longer the largest or the focal point (Fig. 7 ). Thus principles which fueled the Renaissance and sparked the transition away from painting as even further: If you profane this is not flesh with your supple seething soon to be saintly and I with a loc k on the body and the sunlight cutting straight through me and I is not necessarily living not that I have left but leave my in your moth fingered hands, in your million fingered hands, a third story: The formal second link s the notions of physical connection and contamination or disgrace in an s body breath
14 resurrected body, trapped somewhere between pure physicality and pure spirit, is threatened by her million fingered hands and the sensuality they entail But the final story presented in the poem takes an unexpected turn: Now everything is sky a nd where the body joins the body a flickering solidity encounters the returning touch finding a different erring and recognizing the difference, which is how hands are formed and then lives: miles sewn back on each other and the seam some secret plenty. The Biblical narrative is abandoned as the speaker traces a thread of thought and imagines body joined to body: selves defined in opposition to or reciprocity with the other. And in the seam which binds them together, there is some secret, perhaps profane verbal and visual arts which Swensen goes on to analyze at length. are necessarily mixed media and that poetry hybridizes the information of all the senses, breaking down the divisions between art and daily life so as to generate a movement and interactivit y between them. The result of this hybridization is the multiplication of subject Such multiplication of unstilled positionalities emerges as a defining trait of this form of ekphrasis, reflecting a nonparagona l relation between word and image, a fluidity of boundaries between writer and work of visual art. This open ended and mobile intersubjectivity is explicitly announced in the first set of poems, in which
15 revising the nursery This multiplication of positions is heightened by repeated treatments of the same scene in a s lightly different way each time so that multiple figures of Mary and Christ are presented to the reader. In the following poems, Swensen places her discussion of these images within the context of a museum or gallery space, implicating a modern spectator different characters i n the past and present onto one another: 1 The guard peers closely at the painting. Count. The fingers. The figures. The strange sweep from waist to chest to head. His hand reaches out within a second of The guard, the very figure charged with the duty to keep viewers from touching reach out and touch her figure himself. The poem catches him just a second before contact is m l unravished bride of quietness ( Ode to a Grecian Urn ) Just before contact is made the poem moves from 2 She sweeps upward. Up to where the gold sky might What would the touch
16 if it did not first run up against a man who is in the end a man The gold sky reveals that the current scene is now occurring within the painting, elf. Due to the unfinished a hope which must remain hypothetical. But in the final section the transgressiv e touch is ultimately consummated with disastrous results: 3 She touched the painting as soon as the guard turned his back. Respond. I said turn around. I screamed, I drowned, I thought you were home. I touched the surface of the canvas. It was I, the sound of salt, And fell and is still falling through a silent earth. The narrative shuttles back to the museum space where a second woman enters the scene and it is she who violates the boundary line between reality and the painted world. In the final stanza of this section this female figure is aligned with a specific woma n from Old Testament narrative who is known only in relation to her husband as rah,
17 they we wife is overwhelmed by the need to see the city one last time, and instantly upon glancing over her shoulder is transformed into a pillar of salt. This notion of turning to see or turning to touch is repeated throughout the collection as the penultimate transgr ession and will be examined in more depth later in this chapter. The figure of the woman in the museum resurfaces a few pages later as she 5). The bright red coat of the female character who attracts the attention of strangers in a crowd is thematically linked to the hyper sexualized figure of Mary Magdalene in a bright red dress. The connection between the two is further strengthened by the out of p lace reference to Josef Albers on the following page: Josef Albers that no one is ever repeated or ever precisely named. She took the coat off the peg. Even to herself, she said it was her own. Of the many references to paintings throughout this collection, this is the first of on ly two from the modern period. The Interaction of Color is an in depth discussion of Color Theory. Simply stated, Albers argues that the tone and d epth of any given color will vary in relation to the other colors surrounding it. This was the basis for his series of paintings of squares of color on top of one another, demonstrating the extent to which a single hue can be altered thro ugh ju xtaposition with another (Fig. 8, 9 ). Try She traces what appear to be repeating patterns throughout history, mapping figures from past and present onto one another with the inten tion of pointing out both the
18 similarities between them, and their contextually determined differences. Thus we understand the woman in the red coat as a re presentation of the Mary Magdalene but not a repetition precisely named. Such implication of the p resent viewer in a historical scene is similar to the effect Fig. 10 ) In this hyper realistic portrait of Thomas placing his finger in the side of the resurrected Christ, Caravaggio turns to the sense of touch to verify his experience, the viewer must place his finger where Thomas has placed his in order to cement the knowledge that this wound is only a effect on the surface of the paint. What does Thomas doubt? He doubts the resurrection of the body; he doubts that what was dead can now be alive, that the presentation can contradict the inevitable unidirectionality of time as it is known through the inevitable death of the subject. Caravag and intransitivity of touch as well (Stewart 160). The poems in Try achieve a similar shuttle of the viewer back and forth before the images they describe. Focusing closely on small details of the whole and then stepping backwards to a viewpoint which encompasses not only the entirety of the painting but several paintings of the same scene with slight variations. The speaker of the poem is alternately given an impossibly wide perspective from which all variations are perceivable at once, and a keen eye for small detail within a single piece. Sight, and the accompanying desi re to touch are then translated into hyper interpretive representational
19 poems. revisiting a single scene repeatedly until the event itself bears less importance than the many ways it can be seen and written the many ways that touch, and by extension, mastery, is deferred. Many of the paintings to which Swensen responds were created prior to the invention of perspective in the visual arts, and thus are not organized around a single focal point, but portray all the objects in undete rmined relation to one another poems reflect this lack of mono focal organization, lacing together past, present and future, while flitting from one syntactic construction to another. According to Keller, progress linearly through time. It is stuck in the intersubjective space, lik suspended in midair, like the museum touching. Similarly, the proliferation of space and absence in the poems require the reader to play a part in filling the gaps between the loops of sense th at Swensen laces together. Keller states, visible fractures on the page, is always full of empty linguistic spaces of missing referents, absent explanatory or connecting phrases, unfinished clauses, vacated leaving out, of leaving spaces for readers to play at filling and emptying and refilling, is what currently sustains life through and in art. (190)
20 It is the space between them which Christ tells Mary Magdalene she must learn to love. The French philosopher and scholar of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Jean Luc Nancy, points out that in the scene at the garden Christ is telling Mary Magdalene that sh e is ultimately incapable of holding onto Him. He must leave and she must learn to love His leaving. Swensen adapts this concept in her work by essentially telling her readers that it is impossible for painting and poetry to touch. The two dimensionality o f the painting impedes this because it is bound by time and space. It is impossible for one art to dominate and master the other and so it is necessary to inhabit the space between them; to love the absences, the gaps in language and understanding. But S The Kiss, 1882 (Fig. 11 ). Sculpture, as a three dimensional medium, is a space which the viewer can touch. The poem and sculpture can enter into dialogue with one another; Mary Magdalene can touch, can even lace her body round that of Christ. Swensen writes, Taking them from the unfinished Gates of Hell, he executed three in marble each nine feet tall, identical and entwined in two bodies that break down to a single point that lips. Which makes the bodies drape. Fall away in sheets. Repeat. The three They barely fit. Enumerate and yet at no point could a viewer stand and catch the echo of a single image splayed but other angles intervene. One times three equals one. Toujours pour la premiere fois etcetera. Give me your hands; they are cold to the touch and not one but all and if nothing new under the sun we say slightly stunne d who then who, carved from the same score and different are and a single lip from four seals the refraction. A fan
21 dimension ality of painting. The complete lack of attention to decorum or self conscious reflection revealed by their intertwined bodies literally cut from the same stone seems almost disgraceful in contrast to the extreme care taken by the painters in the prior section of the book to keep these two bodies separate. The speaker seems to yearn for such reckless abandon of boundaries, directly asking or even telling the reader to n separate. Try can be understood partly through the lens of iconography. Reacting against the lyric stance of the Romantics, much of which resonated powerfully in the figure of the poet hero heralded by many m odernists as well, the project of many postmodernist authors can be broadly described as a demystification of iconography de emphasizing the role of the poet as a spiritually enlightened, prophetic figure, and emphasizing instead the materiality of the tex t. While Swensen retains a distinctly postmodern attentiveness toward the experimental formal construction of the poem, her relationship to lyric is far less dismissive than many of her contemporaries. Her poems express a desire to retain a stable sense of the lyric speaker, questioning in depth not how she sees but what she sees. Thus her stance in regards to the visual arts is a complex mixture of descriptive exposition and quiet reverence. Unlike paintings are scientifically that the painting is shrouded in a mystery which even the poet cannot fully penetrate. While Williams sought to eradicate the notion of an e aspires, Swensen recuperates something of this romantic notion in her poetry by offering
22 a glimpse, however small, of some register of truth that exceeds scientific knowledge. The presentation and re presentation of the s ame iconographic moment instill a sense of movement into the paintings: a capacity for fluctuation and uncertainty which enhances their esoteric quality. In this way, the project of Try can be seen as a reanimation of iconography and an attempt to push it beyond the realm of conventional dogma and didacticism. Originally serving as a means for the illiterate to gain access to biblical narratives, iconography can be seen as an attempt to structure the perpetually incomplete and outward reaching realm of fai th. It is for precisely this reason that the production of images or icons was so controversial for the early church. As a visual symbol of an otherwise immeasurable and ineffable deity, icons were in danger of violating the second commandment, stated expl icitly in Deuteronomy 5: 8 10: You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God. The Old Testament God forbid the production of these images precisely because icons served as a foothold into the infinite, revealing a visible and thus know able god. A painted god is a vulnerable god a god located in time and space, confined not only to the physical world but to the limits of human perception; even when presented as floating over or bearing down upon the natural order, iconic depictions of God necessarily sacrifice his omnipresence and omnipotence in favor of the anthropomorphized and
23 infinite and unattainable to the iconographic world: her poems reach toward the truth of the historical moment while perpetually obs curing our vision of it through possible retellings of the same event. In the introductory essay to American Hybrid, an anthology which Swensen co edited with David St. John, Swensen states that the poets were selectively chosen as writers who bridge the gap between lyric and experimental. Each does so in a slightly different manner, but several share the notion that spirituality is the binding agent for these two seemingly paradoxical poetic styles. The underlying idea is that the act of poetry provides access to some registers of truth, yet this truth operates at the border of empirical knowledge and scientific fact in much the same way that faith itself skirts along the ambiguous edges of the rational. Lyn Hejinian writes, Like a dream landscape, th e border landscape is unstable and perpetually incomplete. It is a landscape of discontinuities, incongruities, displacements, dispossession. The border is occupied by ever shifting images, involving objects and events constantly in need of redefinition an d even literal renaming, and viewed against a constantly changing background. (Hejinian, Rejection of Closure). In Try Swensen responds to a series of icons which bely a very simple and coherent narrative message by pointing out the slippage, displacement, and incongruity between the the historical moment itself and the various ways it has been depicted both verbally and visually. This slippage is precisely located in t he placement of the hands of Christ and Mary Magdalene the ways they touch, seem to touch, refuse to touch, refrain from touch. Through repeated tellings of the same event the speaker of these poems develops a
24 visual domain and a field of language whose re ferentiality proliferates the possibilities for meaning. This same sense of an unstable history is evident in Such Rich Hour, a collection of poems thematically oriented around the historical setting and pictorial content of the Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, a French Gothic manuscript illumination Created in 1412 by the Limbourg brothers, but not published until 1489, the Tres Riches Heures was a devotional text consisting of short, illustrated prayers meant to be read at regular intervals during c anonical hours of the liturgical day. In addition, the book, commonly referred to as a breviary, includes illustrations for each calendar month of the year. Such strict observance of devotional exercises regulated by time in the form of months, days, and e ven hours was made possible only by swift advancements in science, astronomy, and the advent of the printing press in the mid 15th century. Throughout the collection Swensen weaves the themes of religion, time, astronomy, and technology with the history of the development of geometric perspective in painting and the progress of the Hundred Years War, all of which reached a climax in the middle of the 15th century. While such a mixture of themes and ideas may seem overwhelming, Swensen ties these disparate e lements together by calling into question the modes of attention and level of devotion assimilated into culture at a foundational level and as it informs the type of faith required by the poem itself. Though the paintings Swensen responds to in this collection bear similar religious content to those of Try she seems less interested in destabilizing a single Biblical moment through endless retellings than in questioni ng the way the systematization of
25 time categorizes experience in cycles. Repetition is still key to understanding this poetic project, but now it is repetition on a larger scale: a cyclicality defined by the endless rotation of the Earth around the Sun, by a liturgy which maps calendar years on top of one another through the recycling of specific prayers and religious celebrations. Tres Riches Heures rather than explicating their representa tive content. In this way, the disparate historical and philosophical concerns which filter through the discussion of this devotional text are drawn into a field of mutual interaction. The poems in Such Rich Hour are organized by titles in the same format of those of the original Tres Riches Heures overarching thematic preoccupations, and finally two poems on facing pages titled, poetic act with a progression, even propulsion, through time that is conspicuously teleological. But this sense of forward momentum generated by the movement of the text across the page, is complicated simultaneous backward looking sense generated formally within the text by rep eating discussed more fully at a later point, but at the moment it is crucial to analyze the text of Biblical terminology.
26 glass, darkly ; but then face to face: now I know in part; bu t then shall I know even as mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even Partial or mediated vision set in contrast to direct and corpo real sight surfaces as the operative theme in this text and dominates the poem as a whole. The poem begins, nunc we videmus see darkly darkly we through a glass (there was this once) emporality specific to his or her present moment in time. With every reiteration, the poem seems to offer a momentary glimpse into or capture of the present moment, but as we will find, this glimpse is always partial. In Lacanian terms, there is always som e aspect of the observed object that escapes the gaze or the gazer. This thought is emphasized in the following tically. The word darkly is repeated Thus, vision in the poem is so mediated by both darkness and reflection or refraction as it passes through or bounces off the glass to possess the power of sight at all except through the visualizing potential generated by
27 the invocation of the poem. Finally, the parenthetical at the end of the fourth line, a deviation from the verse i n Corinthians, seems to be a response to the sense of time in the first section of the poem. If we see darkly now the speaker implies, there must have been a time prior; the speaker stops here but the wistful tone forces us to think that there was a time when sight was clear. The poem reads as a sort of word scramble, with the Latin and English translations scattered across the page, weaving in and out of each other and continually repeating. lack of clarity described by the verse in question. The central section of the poem reads: Corinthia incunabula (adoration of) (inveterae) fa ci e derived from the notion of infancy and birth. This is likely a reference to the preceding verses of this same completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a c hild, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of infantile, anticipating a future in which maturity and sight are linked by the notion of a drive. But on a very different referential le
28 historical moment in the mid 15th century which will recur throughout the collection. Following the invention of the printing press in 1440, a series of small books and pamphlets were produced at a previously unhear d of rate. This technological advancement allowed for the production of devotional texts, the Tres Riches Heures among them, to the lower and middle classes whose access to the Bible was seriously becomes a reference to the original devotional text, a reflection on the desire which drives the poet to speak, and a self referential nod to the circumstances of production of the text from which this book of poetry derives its name and structure. are repeated more frequently than any other term in this poem. The completeness which the Apostle Paul posits as the is described as an all encompassing sight: sight f rom which no feature of either subject or object goes unnoticed. The tangible quality of this form of sight cannot be denied, and is even more compelling in the original Greek text of the verse, which, transliterated, reads technique of repetition and variation into her poetry, weaving together select words from a very specific lexicon of 15th century history, whose endless recycling and
29 reinterpretation can be understood as a desire for closure endlessly deferred. The notion of the mirror as an enigma which implies partial knowledge, forestalling clarity and completeness, pervades literary, religious, and art historical theory. Jorge Luis Borges comments on the relevance of the mirror as a Biblical metaphor in contemporary interpretation of Scripture as one in which the smallest, seemingly inconsequential actions of the men and women related in its sto ries each play a part in the acting out of an overarching salvific drama. Borges then states that it would be a reasonable step to assume, from such a starting point, the platonic viewpoint that all actions, choices, and are symbols which signify or mirrors which reflect a larger narrative structure unbeknownst to us. This idea is drawn from the earlier work of be all so many languages a nd ciphers that all have their corresponding keys -have their own grammar and syntax; and thus the least things in the universe must be secret mirrors boundless liturgic al text where each part is sacrosanct as the other and yet the extent of the impact of any single event evades our current senses. From this premise, Borges describes the exegetically rigorous mode of attention paid by believers to the text of the Scrip tures: analyzing each word in detail, attending to its form, even to the extent of counting letters and seeking anagrams. Their reason for which the collaboration of a idea in Such Rich Hour, a text driven by the inherent tension between content whose
30 referential value both inspires and rewards this style of close analysis, and yet a form which fissures the text with inexplicable gaps moments of contingency that frustrate all attempts to pinpoint a single, cohesive meaning. In a sense, the book reads like a set of jumbled hieroglyphs: pointing to a perpetually inaccessible symbolic order outside the words themse lves. The speaker sees in part, through a glass darkly, but never face to face. Throughout the collection, the theme of impeded sight comes to be embodied in a specific figure, often unnamed but typically female. As stated previously, the forward momentu m of the poem is repeatedly halted by references to a figure who either turns with the lines: thus onward could have died or called or stood any (act) but that you did not look back. This poem and many which follow restages the fundamental Orphic dilemma with slight variations on the original story. According to classical myth, Orpheus is allowed to descend into the Underworld to retrieve his love, Eurydice, under the one condition tha t he does not look at her as they depart. The mandate is particularly compelling in this case because Orpheus relies primarily on the sense of hearing for his vocation as both poet and Posthumous 169), calling his followers to poetic faith in the mysteries of which he sings. Nevertheless, although he can hear Eurydice, Orpheus suddenly and without reason
31 mistrusts his own sense of hearing in these dire circumstances and turns to ensure that she is still at his side. In doing so he violates the law of his own sense turning to vision as the final arbiter of truth and in so doing, betrays himself and casts Eurydice back into Hades. It is this very loss which fuels the invocatory d rive, securing his position as father of lyric poetry. this myth and becomes thematized throughout Such Rich Hour in much the same way as T ry gender in this turning, and in returning to the female figure a modicum of the agency in a quasi Orphic dilemm a, but here, rather than turning to see Eurydice, the speaker expects that she will turn to see him and she does not. While this would seem to solve the Orphic problem and allow him to remain with Eurydice, the not looking is presented as a form of betraya l rather than a solution to the problem. Swensen posits that neither party turning to look is itself as unbearable if not more so than eternal separation. Swensen restages the fundamental Orphic gesture throughout the book, repeating the motif of the figure of Eurydice as opposed to the speaker of the poem. As the book progresses, Swensen draws metonymic connections between turning as a key element of early 15 th Renaissance conc eptions of astronomy and time, and turning as a form of torture within the same time period. This becomes much clearer in the poem Wheels! (See page, yeah, sure first invented in and
32 St. Catherine how pale you are an d broken at your feet (cf. spinning lathe turning crank mill wheel and water mill a veritable fan escapement slowing time or a least the sound when the hour strikes and scrapes the air. (see here) (cf. a scar crossing an eye) (see, they say there;s a clock in every cell see: wheel of bells, cranked, one of the earliest uses, perfect meld of recognitions, to wit, wheels and clocks, and how they came to have faces. What they mean when they say Let me tell you what they did with wheels. Faces scraped against sky decrees, and he, in turn, ordered that she be tortured and killed by being strapped to the outer rim of a wheel studded with spikes and ground into the dirt as it turned. I n this poem, Swensen ominously aligns the turning wheels of time which progress slowly e bodies and faces of martyrs were literally crushed on giant wheels. Swensen repeatedly reference outside sources and images, to literally turn back to a prior page of the book. but, in the figure of Orpheus, the gesture from which lyric poetry originates, and the characteristic which sets it apart as an art form which takes plac e in and through time,
33 mapping past, present, and future onto one another in an interdependent referential field. In keeping with the historical specificity which binds Such Rich Hour together, e act of looking is a distinctly 15th century preoccupation. She devotes multiple poems to Brunilleschi and century development of perspective in painting, and the intensity with which these practices were attended to by future generations a nd still govern the way that three dimensional forms are rendered on flat surfaces to this day. She quotes J.V. Field: description of how to draw a picture of a cheque rboard floor has often been subjected to the kind of detailed, awe SRH 27). The intense mode of attention which Borges traces in devoted followers of Biblical teaching is reflected in and even rivaled by t he artists who follow after Brunilleschi. And yet Swensen repeatedly points out that in contrast to Biblical teaching, artificial perspective flaunts its own construction. It is an invention much like the invention of equal hours which structures the way w e experience time in the world. Perspective, numbered time, a phrase which can be obviously punning on and pointing instead to the role of poet and artist as inventor. And second, perspective, time, and the poem are all made in the image of the hand in that they extend outward not orthogon ally but in obliquely spreading rays from the self in the present moment. The emphasis throughout this book of poetry is on the way that we construct the ways we see the world: the way the world is coded with meaning or lack thereof and the way that
34 poetic language shapes this understanding of the world by demanding faithful devotion from the reader in much the same way as the objective truth claims of both religion and science. And yet, unlike the institutions of religion and science, the truth that the p oem between disparate ideas and images which are interconnected not linearly, but seem to specific point of view and academic interests are employed as organizing principles throughout both Try and Such Rich Hour but for her they are just that: a single perspective, a because of its universality, but by virtue of its specificity to one mode of perception. Iconography provi des a framework by which meaning is established not in discrete units means of reaching toward the fixity and structure available in the past the stability of the ly ric I, and the authoritative speaking subject while reasserting a place within that structure for the unexplained, discontinuous, and experimental. In doing so, she draws the arts into a reciprocal relationship delicately balanced between the desire to mak e contact and deferral of such consummation.
35 CHAPTER TWO GHOSTS IN THE GARDEN: MANIPULATIONS OF TIME AND PERSPECTIVE IN OURS history is remembered, principally, by t he vestige it leaves: those material deposits Swensen, Ours is not merely a collection of poems which share a thematic center, but a way of mining the significance of the 17 th century garden as a historical artifact and a representation of the mode of thought which led to its meticulous cultivation. As with any cultural artifact, there is no neat trail of breadcrumbs leading back to its inception, and no single way of comprehen ding its influence on future generations. Rather, Swensen seems interested in the myriad ways which both past and future can be inscribed on the 17 th century garden. By extension, the seemingly compulsive act of meticulously researching and re presenting t he vestige of a specific historical moment calls into question what exactly is transformed in the transition from historical narrative to poetic recitation. The poems in the collection follow a vaguely cyclical pattern: ceaselessly arriving at definitions of the garden which, while occasionally linked sonically or conceptually, the poems which surround them are a number of seeming paradoxes. Swensen is particularly interested in the place the garden held in 17th and 17th century society as a visual marker of status designed to
36 be seen from a specific angle and accessible to a re stricted number of patrons. As such, it was necessary for the grounds to be richly ornate and yet strictly governed by geometric exactitude. The principal figure in the history of landscape architecture and in this collection of poems is Andre Le Notre, the gardener for the French court throughout the 17th century and designer of the gardens of Versailles. The collection is divided into 9 parts which progress from the early history of the gardens and the development of the rules regarding their formal con structure: Orangeries, Parterres, and Statuary. Much like Try, the poems shuttle the viewer back and forth in time and space between the gardens as the exclusive property of royalty and their later transition to public property. After touching on a brief history of the garden, Swensen delves into the strict principles which guided early landscape archite cture techniques. In each poem the speaker touches on the different geometric principles which were worked into landscaping design from other disciplines such as astronomy, cartography and mathematics, as well as portrait and landscape painting. Here she a rgues that the garden metaphysics. Thus, the gardens of Versailles and the Vaux le Vicomte are indelibly marked by the cultural mindset which valued their production at so l arge a scale. Swensen writes, In an Effort to Make the Garden a Standing Proof of the ascendency of reason over nature, strict rules governed its layout: the principal north south axis must start at the back door and head straight toward
37 an illusion of infinity intersected by perpendiculars that divide all space into near and thus the chateau is set, a little jewel in a park, and the garden, a little halt in the nerve. A little unlikely order arcing though a forest always just about to pour over the wall, which makes the house fuse and the clouds adhere, leaf by leaf to the painted world (19) The title of this poem, which I have included here as the first line, rings with the language of geometric proofs, although the factor being proven is not a mathematic theorem but to construct through the m order to make the garden s appear as if they extended forever into the distance: a strategy particularly evident in the anamorphic perspective of the gardens of the Vaux Le Vicomte. The shortest parterres are planted close to the chateau and grow increasingly larger in size as the y recede into the distance. Similarly, the pools and grottos are trapezoids whose narrow ends lie closest to the chateau, from which viewpoint they appear to be much larger rectangles. Countering the depth cues of linear perspective, these manipulations of space cause the objects in the distance to appear closer than they are, and allow the eye to encompass what appears to be impossibly vast expanses of space. When thought of as an extension of the painted landscape, the architectural
38 principles Le Notre utilized are grounded in a long history of perspectival experimentation in painting which coincided with the transition away from strictly religious iconography toward depictions of the natural world. I will briefly examine important f acets of this history as they will influence not only the content of Ours, but its length critical analysis, Mirror of the Earth: The World Landscpae in Sixteenth Century Flemish Painting, published in 1989, is the f irst utilized only as a decorative backdrop or setting for human and divine figures, but developments in the art market paved the way for the painted landscape to become both accessible and desirable to the secular public. Gibson writes that the rise of Humanism accompanying the Renaissance in the fifteenth century opened up previously unknown or unacceptable possibilities for the artist within the marketplace. While the church was still a predominate patron of the arts during this period, commissioned altarpieces and illustrated devotional texts were no longer the only practical means of income for the artist. (Gibson xix). The development of printmaking technology made t he reproduction and distribution of images possible on a much larger scale than ever before, such that these images became accessible not only to the church and select wealthy patrons, but to the secular populace as a whole. Thus, the content of the images themselves began to change in accordance with this drastic shift in the market. As a result, while many of the paintings during the late 15th and early 16th centuries retain a sense of religious narrativity, the religious figures themselves begin shrinkin g in size and scale, occupying less and less of the canvas space, as the painters begin to focus more closely on the surrounding natural setting.
39 Three main schools of landscape artists Danube, Venetian, and Flemish developed during this time period and were beginning to experiment with varying depictions of pastoral scenes, most often including a religious figure or narrative. While arguments have been made for the superiority of one school over the other, the later developments in landscape architectur e which Swensen focuses on seem to draw primarily from the Flemish school. One of the key stylistic markers that separates the Flemish from both the Venetian and Danube schools is the utilization of perspective. the spectator is looking on the scene from the viewpoint of a figure within the image itself. The landscape depicts everything within the line of sight of that one character. The Flemish approached perspective in a significantly different way. Their vast panoramas exceed the reach of human vision, capturing wide swaths of varied terrain, reaching far back into the distance with a seemingly endless depth of focus. Gibson writes that ith meticulous realism, the view is not native topography experiment with an unnaturally high horizon line, adopted from Bosch, and a sweeping depth of focus that, togeth er, give the viewer a sense of all encompassing vi sion, o eye perspective This perspective implies the presence of the supernatural, while subtly substituting the spectator for God, seated in his place in the clouds, gazing down on the natural worl d. Such a viewpoint would naturally have appealed to the royalty who commissioned specifically the Sun King himself, Louis XIV, for whom Le Notre crafted the gardens of Versailles with the aid of architect Louis Le Vau and painter
40 Charl es Le Brun. Purposefully designed to appear to defy the laws of physics, the 17th flair for the extravagance and ornamentation so lavishly displayed by the French cour t. meticulously crafted expanses are neither a simple exhibition of topography nor a necessa rily religious visual experience, but an attempt to carve out a space for the supernatural within the natural, for order within chaos, for coherence made possible only through distortion, while giving humanity the godlike perspective to see both in conjunc tion. not uncommon in the history of modern poetry and composition. Key to the development of this idea were the operatic works of Gertrude Stein which she referred to as sought to emulate a flattening of multiple viewpoints in her dramatic works as they ollage different objects and textures, but to collapse time itself into a single space. For Stein, the trouble with drama was the seemingly un experience of time and the accelerated passage of time on stage; in a matt er of hours one may watch entire lives and generations pass by. She writes, In the first place at the theatre there is the curtain and the curtain already makes one feel that one is not going to have the same tempo as the thing that is there behind the cu
41 are or will be or will not be in the way when the curtain goes up that too makes for nervousness and nervousness is the cer tain proof that the emotion of the one seeing and the emotion of the thing seen do not progress together. Nervousness business of Art as I tried to explain in Composition as Expl anation is to live in the actual present, that is the complete present, and to completely express that complete actual present. (xxx,xxxvi) Unsettled by the incongruity between lived time and theatrical time, the viewer experiences a sense of precarious di splacement akin to vertigo. Thus, the cubist notion of stage. She created landsca pes with the express purpose of drawing the viewer into the two dimensional time scape of her constructed world. Swensen is interested in the garden landscape as a space specifically constructed to be seen from a certain angle. The garden in all its verdu re is only an approximation of the natural world mediated by human intervention and manipulation. Like the garden, the inhabited by others and reinvoked through their reading provide the reader a space to enter into, a line of sight, a position within the landscape. both historically and spatially specific. In this way her work draws parallels to that of her contemporary, Gustaf Sobin. An American born poet who moved to Provence, France in
42 1965 at the age of 27, Sobin regularly walked the streets and fields of Provence, finding along the way remnants of a lo ng buried yet re surfacing past. These findings quickly came to dominate his writing as he embarked on the archival project of unearthing the lost history of each object and drawing from it inferential conclusions about the cultural mindset which produced it. Although hard to associate with a single movement, Sobin seems to have inherited the drive toward precision and historical accuracy characteristic of Pound and the Objectivists. His reflections on the vestiges of a specific visual and material culture capacity to illuminate, to enlighten, to alter perception of both past and present. It is this same attentiveness to the vestige of a discrete historical moment with which Swensen ad dresses the 17 th century garden, but her interest lies primarily in the circulation of ideas and images around the event rather than the hidden truth of it. In the first section of Ours ( 13), but, as we will see in the following section, the poems display just how muddled and complex that metaphysics can be. The poems allow for the messy union of the religious superstition inherited from previous generations and a newly emerging emphasis o n scientific precision. Swensen depicts the garden as a space of convergence not only between rivaling metaphysics but also between past and future. A persistent concern throughout the collection is the transition over time of the royal garden from a dee ply personal portrait of the king himself and an expression of the exclusive wealth he commanded into a public park visited regularly by the general populace. Swensen seems less interested in the political ramifications of the separation between public and private property than in the
43 different poems find people out of place, or more specifically, out of time in the gardens. The majority of these poems revolve around the figure of Marie Antoinette as she reappears, ghostlike, in the gardens throughout history, witnessing their transition to public parks. Swensen writes, walking out on the first day of summer, 2007, Marie sees hundreds of people playing on the lawns and in the paths which have been completely redrawn, and the green metal chairs, full of people quietly reading paperbacks and newspapers, who look up, startled to see her. She stood a full minute, shocked, and then started screaming. sas has cut off the entire northwest sector, and half the trees are gone. The other half have unconscionably grown. (53) Marie Antoinette enters the gardens on the first day of summer, presumably unaware of the change in time period and her status as a g hostly outsider. While the people reading newspapers are startled by her presence, it is Marie who begins to scream. That which was once her private possession, inaccessible to the general populace is littered with layman and women, public benches and grav el paths. Her once precisely pruned topiaries have grown untended and the trees, ordered according to the aforementioned geometric principles, are no longer arranged in terms of height. Such a transition marks not only the passage of time, but the translat inhabited by masses of people. Marie Antoinette looks on in shock as the garden which comprised so much of her previously stable sense of self as an economic and social elite defined in opposition t o the layman is stripped away.
44 devoted an entire book to four years prior to the publication of Ours and which she will return to four years later in Gravesend. Even though n ot the singular focus of Ours ghosts haunt the perimeter of this collection, bringing with them a number of peripheral concerns which seem to be of perpetual interest to the author and which will enlighten the current discussion. In Gravesend Swensen des confusion in this sentence between subjects and direct objects conveys the blurred subject position of the ghost itself. Is the line between being and place being eroded, or is there a line somewhere within being itself whose erosion causes place to become a state of being within time? This convoluted syntax mingles several notions at play in the metaphor of the ghost ontological s tatus, spatial orientation, and temporal disruption all of which are Ours. Ghost stories linger on the margins of polite conversation, reserved for quiet nights around the campfire or the exchanged whispers of late night bedfel lows. Swensen writes, something you tried so hard (and failed) (in every Gravesend 26). Perhaps what makes them so hard to speak is the very fact that they occupy the liminal spaces of imagination: operating at the threshold of both perceivable and logical sense. They are boundaries between the past an d future, continually recurring in the present, disturbing our linear sense of time as well as refusing the human desire for physical contact. In a strange restaging of the Noli Me Tangere scene, the ghost becomes the figure who temporarily returns from th e dead, visible yet intangible, inciting both
45 terror and the inordinate desire for human connection. In Ours, the figure of the ghost draws together colliding temporalities into a single body. The presence of ghosts within the visual landscape and the lang uage of the poem unsettles the binary opposition between arts by eroding the notion of linear temporal progression which requires their separation. Landscape and poem grow and change in time together, yet despite this forward progression bother retain with in their scope a history of cultural associations which haunt the present. This terror is due in part to the fact that there is no set place for ghosts in the positivist doctrines of either religion or science. Each dictates specific methods and measures for determining truth, the rules of which ghosts regularly bend and break. In response to doctrinal objectivity, Ours proposes a much different and perhaps heretical form of historically accrued truth which allows for inconsistencies that yield multiple t garden as the articulating tissue between city and ocean, between building and barren, around a house, a jungle extends garden is rooted half in idea, rending the earth unstable (23) Swensen structures this small poem to convey the relative positions the garden occupies. literally enacts the motion of the jungle extending outward from around the house. The garden is the liminal space between structure and chaos, between the manufactured and
46 the natural; it ci rcles the home and creeps out toward the road, rooted half in the ground natural small poems, which sprawl laterally across the page, become structures contained, yet moving forward in time and space. historical moment, mining the significance of its linguist ic vestiges, and in so doing, allowing its phantoms to rise to the surface, to break through the neatly structured confines of historical fact and speak. Rachel Blau DuPlessis writes, There is a ghost in our sociocultural house whose specific outlines dep end on a particular set of identifications and histories but whose presence is palpable....It seems as if poetry is the institution (the conduit, the mouth) through which this phantom can speak. Can make sounds. It can recognize, and it can grieve. How? Be cause of the thick layering of implication that words in poetry generate, because feelings are trapped in the rich matting of language, and because poetry acknowledges silence. How? Because of words that recall words used before. Words that contain the mys teries of the unspoken (214). In a sense, the ghost is also representative of those gaps in language which generate not from the passive breath of the speaker, but an active silencing on the part of historical r in place of whatever a given people will Gravesend 65). This is particularly compelling when the ghost of Marie Antoinette is interpreted not merely as a vestige of the past but as a second Eurydice: a silenced female deprived of her agency by history textbooks. As DuPlessis states, the
47 sonic and semantic layering of the poem uniquely suits it to become the mouthpiece for alternative narratives. In rewriting this portion of history, Swensen provides just enough factual evidence as a foothold fo r the imagination, allowing the reader to entertain possible surrogate narratives. It is not surprising that the language of the revelatory and transgressive turn filters into this collection as well. The ghost of Maire Antoinette operates throughout the t ext as the figure who turns her gaze on the viewer but is denied the capacity to speak: Turning a corner or in glancing back, the length of each terrace is out of proportion to its width. And now farther. Throws a stone and wherever it lands, she disappears a disheveled woman but then suddenly declare, she had a birdgcage on her head and the birds said what she would have said, had there been time. The backward glance of the first line is what undermines the geometric precision of the gardens. This is true in a very literal sense because the gardens are designed to be seen from the specific angle of the chateau, and when approached from other directions, their manipulated proportions become more apparent. But in a different sense, the backward glance is the cause for the sudden and unexpected appearances of Marie Antoinette, the trigger for the remembrance of a traumatic past which denies Marie the basic ability to speak. geometric and intimate. Anamorphic perspective sets it apart as having been calculatin gly removed, and yet the presumed focal point, the place from which the entire landscape proceeds, is the very eye, or even lip, of the observer. Swensen notes that Andre Le Notre
48 took special care to design the fountains according to the range of human se nses: To every sense, every possible end. He planned the sound from a long way off that one fountain would fade at the precise edge of the next hearing field. We smell water exactly twenty five feet before we see it according to the average velocity of wind and its direction said Le Notre I am happy to have here in my hand the five senses win 9 times out of 10 Thus a garden must also taste and touch. (64) The gardens of Versailles thus mingle the acutely human and the scrupulously mathematical in an asymptotic relationship which may grow infinitely close but never y of difference in Difference and Repetition. In this seminal work the author argues against the stream of thought prominent in Western paradigms, which assumes the ontological presupposition that being is singular, univocal, and coherent. Such a mindset p rivileges the notions of unity and similitude, defining difference only in opposition to wholeness and completion. Deleuze, on the other hand, defines difference as an ontological status of itself. In order to do so he takes recourse to mathematical langua ge, describing difference as similar to the derivative dy/dx structure of a curve while nonetheless existing just outside the curve itself; that is, by essary to between reciprocally determined genetic elements" (173 4). The end goal is not a single,
49 whole or complete thought, but a system of different yet mutually infl ected thoughts. moment as the sum of its often contradictory parts. Any attempt to force a sense of causation or clear linear progression onto the facts is disingenu ous. Rather, memory inscribes the moments with relative weight in relation to the person perceiving them, drawing past and future into the present moment. Ideas are always multiplicities, haunted by memory and pieced together from overlapping lines of thou ght. Deleuze emphasizes that distortion is fundamental to thought in the way that the derivative of a curve defines its structure while remaining distinct from it. Swensen positions the arts in an asymptotic relationship, positively defined by their diffe rences. The weight of mimesis at work in landscape architecture is certainly inflected differently in poetic language, but distortion plays a key role in both as the speaker emulates in language the conditions of perception available in the gardens. It is important to note that while existing within the real, experienced world, the garden is not a human construction which, particularly in the case of Versailles, is a thing tended and cultivated. S to deliberately and precisely arrange the world, such that the distorting hand of the artist is nearly concealed by the structure it so carefully tends. Swensen reproduces this effect in the language of the poems, which are for the most part intelligibly representational, but which leave deliberate gaps in the historical narrative which are filled with the ghosts of the female figure which history h linguistic difference, to the key deviation from a given meter of rhyme, to the synonymity
50 that is never complete and the homonymity that produces puns, poetic language is the language that focuses o n delay the defining tension of ekphrasis is usually located in the difference between painting as a static art form and poetry as a temporal one, Swensen focuses instead on transcribing the condit ions of perception of the 17 th century garden particularly its manipulated perspective and liminal sense of space onto the poem itself.
51 CHAPTER THREE MAGNETIC FIELDS: A FEMINIST ALTERNATIVE TO THE EKPHRASTIC ENCOUNTER IN FLARE set us up to expect a similar project in Flare namely the lacing together of absences between poetry and the vi sual arts, whether painting or landscape architecture. While in Try and Ours such intersection of the arts is not uncomplicated, the representational relationship between the two assumes that some dialogue is at least possible. Flare, on the other hand, questions the very nature of representation. In it, Swensen partners with abstract printmaker Thomas Nozkowski to produce a collaborative ekphrastic work. The abstraction of the prints and the unconventional, disjunct syntax of the poems simultaneously encourage and frustrate efforts to define a single, comprehensive relationship between the two. As the culmination of a collaborative residency program sponsored by the Yale University Art Gallery and Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Lib rary, the poems and images printed in Flare were produced in tandem over the course of a year. This fact alone significantly alters the conditions of the ekphrastic encounter; the poems cannot necessarily be understood as a response to the images, but neit her are the images necessarily inspired by or responding the words -questions about which came first will not be rewarded with any explicit answer from the text. Taken as a whole, the piece seems largely concerned with the ambiguity surrounding this specif ic point. While each image is preceded by discrete segments of text and correlations can frequently be drawn between the two, neither poems nor images are titled, and the poems address none of the
52 technical aspects of the prints such as color, line, textur e, shape or contrast. In addition, no page numbers are printed in the book, and while in part this may be an aesthetic choice, it is one among many markers which distinguish this particular text as a non teleological unfolding of words an images one which subtly challenges the rigid notions of how each art form operates in time. The definitions of ekphrasis discussed in chapter one which assume an essential power struggle between the arts perpetuate a masculine structure of desire one in which the subject must master or submit to the object. Theorists have been quick to establish the this binary opposition, there is little room for mutual exchange or recipr ocity between the arts. Critic Jessica Benjamin states, The phallus as emblem of desire has represented the one sided individuality of subject meeting object, a complementarity that idealizes one side and devalues the other. The discovery of our own desir e will proceed, I believe, through the mode of thought that can suspend and reconcile such opposition, the dimension of recognition between self and other. (98) Benjamin seeks not to find a feminine symbol of power as counterpart to the phallus to substitu te a new ideal within the old hierarchy but to build a separate, feminine reality, integrating it with more contemporary feminist theory in order to develop a post Freud
53 meet as subject and subject rather than subject and object. It is useful to view Cole framing an alternate, feminine mode of desire between the verbal and visual arts, rooted in the concept of the intersubjective space. This mode of feminist aesthetic see s its goal as a radical revision of the way language is used. As a result, a certain set of stylistic features characterize her work which contribute to the destruction of linguistic hierarchies of importance and normative narrative structures. These inclu de but are not limited to paratactic motion, internal sonic resonances, the constant reference to outside sources, and the endless deferral of closure, all of which destabilize the text at hand. This is not to say that every poet who utilizes these techniq ues is necessarily feminist. For example, in the preface to Noise that Stays Noise Swensen expresses her debt to Ezra Pound, arguably the master of paratactic gave us t he Modernist model of the exploding book its readers neatly tucked within, but that wants instead to send them out into the world to e reveals a desire for a different type of logic, a different type of clarity, a form of writing which embraces porousness as opposed to structured, formal teleology. Swensen adopts this recursive and referential writing style as a means of restructuring t he historical relationship between the arts, and in so doing produces a feminist ekphrastic model which culminates in the collaborative work of Flare Flare opens with two lines of discursive text which read almost as an epigraph to The magnetic field of the human heart has actually been measured.
54 It has only a millionth the strength of that of the earth, but is a hundred times stronger abstract and non representational language of the book by stating that what seems to be at stake is the relationship between different modes of perception and the relative magnetic pull which they exert on each other and their surroundings. In addition, this short statement sets the parameters for the current project: while Flare is not historically confined to astronomical facts and a seemingly arbitrary group of other metap hors and signifiers including birds, salt, flight, sight, and falling, all of which are continually returned to and sonically explored or unraveled in the course of the book. poetry. Short lines roll down the pages driven by their rhythmic qualities and sonic The very point where sens e begins to break down is also where it begins to open little beyond. Daily language comprises a stable field of communally agreed upon sense, but out toward its edges, whe n language is used in unusual ways, that stable field begins to break up; it gets fissured through with gaps where no sense, or non sense, takes its place...And once [the gaps] come to our attention, we start to notice that new things, new kinds of sense, accrete in them (Swensen 230). Where representation is no longer utilized, the reader must be attentive to these new kinds of sense within an unstable field of language. She shifts the focus away from
55 semantic sense and toward a sense of unity that derives from the accretion of sound patterns. Rather than proceeding according the conventions of logic or speech, the syntactical constructions of the poems rely heavily on sonic patterns, internal resonances, and repeated imagery as organizing principles. Swens slightning sting / if laughing felt / in spine for thrall / all know to the hour / heard alternate wing / of ship that slipped / on sound that whips / a stone from awe to time. long poem, but sonical ly it appears as an interlacing whole. In place of a narrative arch or reigning metaphor, an aesthetic of plurality, metonymy, and montage gives shape to s formal structure. In such a text, repetition is used not so much as an orienting factor, but as a means to return to the same image, sound, or idea in new and different ways each time. This stylistic technique is reminiscent A thing that seems to be exactly t he same thing may seem to be a repetition but is it....Is there repetition or is there insistence. I am inclined to believe there is no there can be no repetition because the ess ence of that expression is insistence, and if you insist you must each time use emphasis and if you use emphasis it is not
56 possible while anybody is alive that they should use exactly the same emphasis (9). The interweaving sonic resonances produce a sens e of temporality not as a fixed, linear progression, but as a looping back onto itself. Linearity is replaced by a multidirectional unfolding, held together by strings of sound. This approach reflects back on the sense of history, as developed in Try and O urs: a continual re visitation of the same scene and the same images altered in slight ways so as to form an ever present wave of occurrence. horizontally across the oversized pages. These lines act quite literally as the horizons of intelligible sense, comprised of clearly stated scientific facts and statistics which contrast with the short, two or three word lines which dominate the poem sonically. While these long d iscursive lines ground the reader in a specific realm of concrete and complete thoughts, resembling an axis around which the rest of the poem spins, we find they are a less than reliable center. Swensen chooses two or three words from each long line to rep eat on the following page, removed from the context of the rest of the poem. The meanings of these long lines are fractured and changed by the erasures on the opposite side of the page: verbs become nouns, objects become subjects, and declarative statement s become imperative. These erasures draw the stability of discursive language into question while also showing how the loss of language can make it more poignant. The language of these poems is fissured with semantic gaps. The majority of the words Swense n chooses to repeat in each erasure are small, connective words: conjunctions, prepositions, demonstrative pronouns. Rarely are these large page spaces given to punchy nouns and strong verbs. Swensen breaks the rules set by every
57 introductory creative writ ing course by allowing the weakest words to occupy an entire Tender Buttons. Daniel Albright, author of Untwisting the Serpent, an in depth analysis of Modernist collaborations between t the whole capitalis t colonialist enterprise of the sentence, in which a gubernator, a key (319). This demotion of the noun has the readily obvious effect of allowing for more semantic conf usion: a possibility appealing to both Stein and Swensen. Stein writes, Verbs and adverbs are more interesting. In the first place they have one very nice quality and that is that they can be so mistaken. It is wonderful the number of mistakes a verb can make and that is equally true of its adverb. Nouns and adjectives never can make mistakes can never be mistaken but verbs can be so endlessly, both as to what they do and how they agree or disagree with whatever Swensen sh ares a preference for deictic signifiers, the ligatures and connective tissue of prose, because their meanings require contextual information or spatial orientation to other words. Her practice can be understood as the process of stripping these deictic wo rds from their familiar contexts. Viktor Shklovsky who utilized radical alterations of context within his work to make a familiar object or phrase seem strange. Shklovsky defines
58 connotations which obscure the wide referential potentia l of the words themselves. words or cutting them clean out, removing the aureoles that have been pasted about them 16) The objective, descriptive lines of text in Flare offer a specific context which the erasures quickly undermine. The lines implies a missed opportunity or lingering potential. All the speaker reveals is that there are eyes which presumably belong to som eone or something, but vision has somehow been impeded. Facing these three words is an image of white squares with a black center til ed across the page en masse (Fig. 12 ). These abstracted eyes seem to glare back at the viewer with their own striking sense of agency, and the text takes on a vaguely ominous tone: whose eyes are they and what would they do if they could? Regardless of the answer, Swensen and Nozkowski have successfully generated text and images cut from their greasy contexts. Together, Swen language to change and meaning to expand, unfolding temporally in the relationship between line and erasure, erasure and image, even while the recursiveness of the poems and lack of page numbers in the book as a whole enable reflection and simultaneity. As the long lines of scientific fact are stripped down to a single verb and pronoun or article,
59 contrasted to the printed image which typically consists of a single repeating shape and color, they se em to be approaching a still point, approximating the comprehensive unity cal standpoint in The Pink Guitar meaning is between. It is created in the relationship between, between the elements, they are put down at random, and they flare up, they are not said by chance; they know better. subjective and objective into dialectical exchange and mutua opposed to redemptive narrative structures which follow the glorious unfolding of apotheosis, climax, ending, and transcendence, there is, rather, in this form of writing a respect for narrative permeability for questions left unans wered, and problems unresolved, for meanings which proliferate where the text breaks from logical and semantic sense. to literally and figuratively connect the dots betwee n painting and and poem, and between again / what walks / at this hour / is the hour itself / and is that not / what the body forgot / that allowed a tiny door in the h eart to swing open with such abandon that one would the poem notes two lines of thought lacing together in time, opening a door in the heart by which the interior can communicate with the exterior, the self with the other, the poem
60 the only text The phrase is now an imperative directed toward the reader to abandon something specific. On th print of many grey dots (Fig. 13 ), parted in that the reader will perceive the sexual implications of the image, and preemptively orders them to abandon that single mode of interpreting the image. But there seems to be more at work here in the relationship between text and image. Because the image can be interpreted as either an eye or a vagina, it has the ability to assume both object an d subject positions. As the reader it is impossible to distinguish whether we are the agents of the male gaze or whether we ourselves are being watched. herently masculine approach of subject meeting object, and instead embrace a nd intersubjective space as a means of hybridizing the visual and verbal arts. As the language of movement and falling becomes more apparent in the latter portion of the book, the boundaries between the arts seem to blur even further. In one line, Swense arts in the entire book, and in it she infuses the drying color with a visible movement,
61 ra ther than the stasis so frequently attributed to painting. Not only is the color moving, but it dries into a world which is also moving, climbing slowly up the sky. On the t alongside a print separated into a grid of yellow re ctangles with one half of each pain ted a d ifferent shade of brown (Fig. 14 ). As the triangles shrink and stretch across the page they create an optical illusion, directing the movement of the eye to a p oint on the upper left hand side of the page where motion comes skidding to a halt in a patch of yellow and adopted from the abstract expressionists, purposefully mocks narrow definition of the visual arts as a static and self contained enterprise. indifference, hope, and fear, Swensen goes on to describe the fear which devel ops when the boundaries between disciplines are uncertain. Following the dizzying sonority of the hythmic patterning, Instability does not necessarily provoke fear so much as a deepl y buried and partially acknowledged longing to merge with, touch, leap into the other. The title of the collaboration derives from a long line of text in one of the last c orona, that vague halo that makes the sun points out the
62 From the earth the sun appears to be a perfectly spherical and self contained obje ct. But the solar flares occurring on its surface make the seemingly impossible leap through three phases (Tandberg Hanssen 6). Scientific research generally agrees with Einar Tandberg potential energy is released as the topology of a certain portion of the su field is rearranged. This simple definition of a complex principle of physics will suffice notion of interacting magnetic fields but this time they are in the process of, quite print appears to respond. The image covers the page in a grid of dots, imprecise as if hastily poked with a paintbrush rather than m eticulo usly spaced and ordered (Fig. 15 ). Seven of the dots have been covered over with slightly larger rectangles and connected have which we perceive from afar, but a bubbling, boiling, unbounded and unpredictable source of energy. As a metaphor for the practice of ekphrasis, the solar flare is far less hesitant than the suspended hands of Christ and the Magdalene in Try, and more provocative than the
63 reanimation of the 18 th century garden in Ours In this book S wensen sets both verbal and visual art in motion and watches as they generate a combustive fusion. But in their blatant magnetic fields, Swensen traces a parallel to the exultant consummation which could only be hinted at in her earlier responses to phallic model of relationship between self and other to the possibility of a space for mutual interaction of the arts as independent yet intertwined discourses. The procedural parallelism between the two undoes the historical power struggle between them because neither is aspiring to the condi tion of the other. Thus the sense of competition or rivalry between the arts dissipates and seems to even disappear in these poems. In the preface her collection of essays, Noise That Stays Noise, contained wi thin a given genre, a given technology, a given language, or even a given definition of language that has allowed contemporary poetry to rethink language into a Flare language molt linguistic practice as well as the parameters of the ekphrastic encounter.
64 CONCLUSION importance to the notion of a feminist ekphrastic mode, precisely because of the ways that language, even in its most basic conversational form, is ethically coded as described by Irigaray, Cixous, and Benjamin. In addition to their concerns about masculine structures of linguistic desire, it is important to note the temporally specific status of the contemporary female author. Theodor Adorno expresses this in his well known sta reading of this declaration is that the style and mode which pre war poets employed is no longer accessible to a modern viewer; the lyric assertion of selfhood is terrifyin g in a world where to be human is to be monstrous, or at least, capable of committing monstrous crimes. To seek after unified truth and stable, singular meaning in a fractured post war society would seem not only naive but also potentially threatening. As we have seen, implicit in the power of the gaze is a master object relationship which bears the real, violent potential to deny subjectivity to that which is perceived as other. In order to have stability, coherence, and unity, it would seem that multiplic ity and diversity must be sacrificed. By inversion, the poetic project which refuses to assert a singular meaning within a given text is also an ethically coded literary standpoint. Pioneering digital poet Brian Kim Stefans writes, T his refusal to stabiliz e meanings is, in the context of Auschwitz, ethically encoded, as it gives poetry "its enormous mobility and transformative strategies." The poet is a "rigorously attentive observer," the rough and tumble participant in
65 Bergsonian time, in which the percei ved permanencies of society are revealed to be ephemeral, provisional agreements among power wielders and the dispossessed. Poetry's social interventions thus become a kind of social unweaving. s one which bears weighty th century, the French philosopher Henri Bergson developed the theory of la dure intertwining notions of memory, temporality and subjectivity. He argues against the perception of existence as a constantly formed and molded by a rich overlapping and intertwining with the past. present, and it is into this which sense of time which the individual must plunge. Such l ections. In Try she treats a single moment in time with a fascinated, religious sense of reverie never quite allowing the portrait to settle in the the consummating touch endlessly deferred so that that Christ and the Magdalene, painting and poem, are bound together by their desire for identification with the other, and simultaneous repulsion from it. Such Rich Hour mimics this very cyclica lity by assuming the form of a liturgical text, while Ours allows the ghosts of the 18 th century to filter into our present. Flare adopts this notion of time and repetit ions, each word is animated anew with each retelling.
66 While Try, Such Rich Hour, and Ours seek to reanimate and thereby expand the visual culture of the past, the poems themselves are representationally mimetic of the visual. In Flare, realistic represen tation of the physical world is shown in the process of abandonment as the facts are slowly erased and abstract imagery and sonic resonances take their place. In so doing, the speaker makes a powerful statement about the ephemerality of socially constructe d meanings, and the passage of phallo centric models of desire. In their place Swensen and Nozkowski substitute this collaborative ekphrasis whereby the arts assume the relationship of asymptotic procedural analogues rather than a ranked hierarchy.
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71 IMAGE BIBLIOGRAPHY Fig. 1. Fra Angelico Noli me tangere 1440 41. Convent of San Marco, Florence.
72 Fig. 2. Nicolas Poussin Noli me Tangere or The Resurrected Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalen 1653. Museo del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
73 Fig. 3. Correggio (le Correge), Noli me Tangere 1525. Museol del Prado, Madrid, Spain.
74 Fig. 4. Angelo di Cosimo, called Bronzino Noli me Tangere 1561. Muse du Louvre, Paris.
75 Fig. 5. William Etty, Christ Appearing to Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection 1834. Tate Collection.
76 Fig. 6. Titian, Noli me Tangere 1514. National Gallery, London.
77 Fig. 7. Giotto di Bondone, T he Mourning of Christ. c. 1305 (300 Kb); Fresco, Cappella dell'Arena, Padua
78 Left: Fig. 8. Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square: From the Soil 1954 The Smithsonian. Right: Fig. 9. Josef Albers, Study for Homage to the Square: Last Century 1956. The Smithsonian.
79 Fig. 10. Mich elangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Doubting Thomas 1602. Oil on canvas. 42
80 Fig. 11. Auguste Rodin, The Kiss. 1882. 181.5 x 112.5 x 117 cm. Muse Rodin, Paris, France.
81 Fig. 12. Thomas Nozkowski, Flare. 2009. Etching with poems by Cole Swenson; printed on Magnini Pescia paper 8 1/2 x 11 inches.
82 Fig. 13. Thomas Nozkowski, Flare. 2009. Etching with poems by Cole Swenson; printed on Magnini Pescia paper 8 1/2 x 11 inches.
83 Fig. 14. Thomas Nozkowski, Flare. 2009. Etching with poems by Cole Swenson; printed on Magnini Pescia paper 8 1/2 x 11 in ches.
84 Fig. 15. Thomas Nozkowski, Flare. 2009. Etching with poems by Cole Swenson; printed on Magnini Pescia paper 8 1/2 x 11 inches.