Deformation of Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”

And we realize this only at a point where they lapse

Like a wave breaking on a rock, giving up

Its shape in a gesture which expresses that shape.

The forms retain a strong measure of ideal beauty

As they forage in secret on our idea of distortion.

Why be unhappy with this arrangement, since

Dreams prolong us as they are absorbed?

Something like living occurs, a movement

Out of the dream into its codification.

 

Distortion:

and we realize this only at a point where they lapse like a wave breaking on a rock giving up its shape in a gesture which expresses that shape the forms retain a strong measure of ideal beauty as they forage in secret on our idea of distortion why be unhappy with this arrangement since dreams prolong us as they are absorbed something like living occurs a movement out of the dream into its codification

When a dream or vision is brought to be in reality, as when an artist attempts to execute his vision, he often finds that his attempt to match the form he has created in his mind results in something entirely unlike what he intended.  One of the most important aspects of this passage is the idea that a wave gives “up its shape in a gesture that expresses its shape” (528).  Similarly, a work of art or literature breaks away from the intended idea by imitating the form of the idea.  In this act of imitation, it is transformed into something entirely different.

This passage calls attention to the importance of the form, which also draws the reader’s attention to the structure of the poem.  The removal of punctuation and line breaks emphasizes the role of these choices within the original text.  Ashbery’s choice to split sentences between lines as he does may be likened to the text “breaking on a rock” as the waves do in this passage (528).  In the deformed version, the text continues without disruptions, but Ashbery’s breaks in the original create waves which signify the move from the dream or idea to the realization of the dream.   The distorted passage, without the pauses provided by punctuation, seems to read as a stream of consciousness, as it is a direct reflection of the artist’s intentions.  The original text, however, features a structure that was established during the act of creation.  Ashbery calls attention to these breaks, which is especially evident in the line break that immediately follows “lapse.”  He creates a physical lapse to draw attention to the lapse between the ideal and the actual.  Because the line breaks in the original text occur at points which seem to be unnatural, they almost read as if they were a mistranslation of an original piece of text, which further emphasizes this idea that an artist’s original vision and the resulting product are not identical.

Leave a Reply