As/Is







9.07.2015


Ingres and Text


The English Romantics were usually quite coy about sex and sexuality; Byron not that much, the others very much indeed. One of the odd facets of Neo-Romanticism is that the best bits of my poetry actually have as much to do with French Neo-Classicism, especially Ingres, as they do with the English Romantics, who I like to tease. Thus, this palimpsest over Wordsworth’s Solitary Reaper, who he quite chastely listens to in the ever-present Romantic enchanted forest, with its shuddering, resonant eco-system of sensations and thoughts:

I said, “I can’t
even remember
the last time I
was excited, how
can I associate
ideas?”
            She pulled
out a gun, a tube
of oil, and an air
cushion,
            and it was
a spontaneous
overflow,
            powerfully
felt, in which we
reaped together— 


Ingres, and his Odalisque, does a similar trick over Wordsworth’s coyness (they were contemporaneous), and also manages to create a chiasmus between architecture and sex. The way Ingres paints his nude, her architectural proportions, all the exquisite symmetries and scaffolding spaces, are what make her of permanent interest. She’s a building and, as the song goes, a brick house. Abby does a similar skyscraper trick in Meeting Halfway, which is frank on another level about sex and sexuality; not about the architecture and tactility of bodies, but about queerness, and how the body defines space in relation to its proclivities. That’s why Neo-Romanticism does not need to fall into a rut in which I am accused of being a predatory male in text, decimating women with my gaze; Abby’s presence redeems the whole package deal we offer with the sense of the bodies she paints, including also The Walls Have Ears, signifying the architecture not only of sex, but of the thoughts which sex builds in our mind out of the different, potentially queer, worlds we inhabit. The architecture, as it were, of sexual identity. All the ways sex can create ghosts or apparitions— that when two people sleep together, queer or not, a third entity is created which hangs as a ghost presence over the two; that being inside the body of another human being is potentially a dupe situation, in which you are really nowhere, if you have not also penetrated the other’s psyche; that bodily fluids around sexuality are ghostly or apparitional substances; and that every person you sleep with, if examined closely, creates another challenge of multiple meanings for those who wish to lead an aesthetically and socially examined life— are also ways sex has of putting up psychological scaffolding, which creates the phenomenological complexes which define our individuality in relation to the world. Wordsworth and the rest are too coy to get there; they remain in their own imaginations; Ingres and David, on this level, are richer, and so my translation (I cannot speak for Abs) of Ingres into text.