Deformation of “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”

Original Passage

“That is the tune but there are no words

The words are only speculation

They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music.

We see only postures of the dream.

Riders of the motion that swings the face

Into view under evening skies, with no

False disarray as proof of authenticity

But it is life englobed. ”

Remove the word “word”

“That is the tune but there are no

The  are only speculation

They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music.

We see only postures of the dream.

Riders of the motion that swings the face

Into view under evening skies, with no

False disarray as proof of authenticity

But it is life englobed. ”

When the word “word” is removed from the passage selected, a great deal of ambiguity arises. To me, the passage appeared to be a description of some sort, especially something related to writing. When “word” is removed, the passage could be describing an entirely different concept. Namely, painting/illustrating.

When unaltered, the passage appears to speak on the dichotomy of the concept of writing. The passage states that writing is “only speculation” and is unable to “find the meaning of music”.  Ashbery appears to be rueing the inability of words to always capture the truth and image/concept desired. However, the pure truth is not necessarily always desired. It is important to note that imaginative writing is a significant part of Ashbery’s style. The line “we see only postures of the dream” further creates an image of only a  broad, general outline being visible of a more sophisticated, detailed whole. Ashbery may be asserting that words alone are not precise enough to create a vivid image. The line, “with no False disarray as proof of authenticity” adds another interesting dimension opposite to the list of shortcomings of writings that has developed over this section. The notion that authentic/realistic things (anything really) are inherently flawed in some way is relatively common. Ashbery begins his support for writing with this line, as it can be inferred that the words do not have false disarray, but true disarray, an indicator of authenticity. Lastly, he adds that it is “life englobed”, and encompassing. In summary, Ashbery praises and denounces both the factual and fictional parts of writing, but appears to claim that the summation of each portion is what really matters.

The previously described characteristics can be applied to painting/illustrating, or other forms of art. When “words” is omitted, and the subject of the descriptions become ambiguous,  art becomes a fairly good fit. It can be imaginative (abstract) or factual (still life, portraits, etc.), and reflects many of the aforementioned qualities affixed to writing.

It is possible to speculate that Ashbery believed that art and writing were not so different, perhaps even that they were equivalents. By describing “words” with features that are also characteristic of art, Ashbery reflects on the similarities between the two: especially how the blend of fact and fiction truly encompasses their overall value.

 

 

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