Friday, May 18, 2012

Use your words/Loose your words

Its been an overwhelming few weeks.  The semester completely got away from me and I was running just to keep up.  Kalamazoo was amazing, which it never is, especially not the art history sessions.  Then I went straight to Jury Duty, which was just mostly sitting around and at least allowed me to finish up my grading, but then ended suddenly after I got called up for a criminal case and the defendant decided to plead guilty - to kidnapping, rape, and assault.  Finally my personal life seemed to fall apart around me and I still don't know what the resolution to that will be.  To make a first reference to the title of this post - the problem is something I said, compounded by the person to whom I said it, whether or not she said something to someone else, and so on.  I'm really not supposed to talk about it.

Instead I'm trying to get back to that new awesome new Kalamazoo spirit by writing about some problems I had while I was working on my paper for the conference, which was about Gothic Virgin and Child statues and statuettes and so I'll be showing a few here even if I don't talk directly about them.  To tell the truth, I'd done the work that this paper was based on several years ago and had even presented very similar papers at other conferences, to other audiences. My problem in working on this version, then, wasn't with the ideas contained in the paper, but with the words I used to present them.

To put it simply, I suddenly wasn't sure how I was supposed to write about sculptures.  Here for example is the first paragraph from my Kalamazoo paper and all of the problems I suddenly had with it:
Images (or sculptures? what's the difference or the relationship between those two words?) of the Virgin and Child, from the  thirteenth through fifteenth centuries, and in stone, wood, and ivory - such as the selection shown here - share a visual emphasis on the Virgin's clothing (or the forms of her clothing?  Or the forms that form her clothing?  Or the form that form what appears to be clothing?  Because those aren't really clothes, of course, and that's not really the Virgin.  This is just stone, wood, and ivory, not fabric and not flesh).  Her (or the?) garments (that aren't really garments) make up the majority of these images (or objects?) for the fabrics form the majority of her body (except those aren't fabrics, that's not a her, and not a body), with her (or the) flesh (which is isn't really flesh) exposed (or appearing, because its not being exposed, not coming out from underneath the clothes, since these are solid forms and those aren't clothes) only for her (but that's not a her) hands (which aren't really hands) and face (which isn't a face) - and sometimes a breast  (that's not a breast). Furthermore her (the?) clothing (which isn't really clothing) provides much of the visual interest in these images as the mantles and veils (or the combinations of shapes and lines that appear as mantles and veils) in particular (appear to) wrap and drape (since they don't really) around Mary's body (that isn't Mary and isn't a body), creating visual movements that (seem to) animate her (its or the) form.
As you can tell, I got myself into some deep trouble here.  And I could go on like this, troubling every reference in the paper to clothing, bodies, Mary, and the Christ child, by refusing to allow myself to name them as clothing, bodies, Mary, or the Christ child, and instead insisting on their status as as images and as objects.  I could, but then the paper would get to be about three times as long (if I have to replace the word "mantle" with the phrase "the combination of surface and lines that forms what appears to be a mantle") without actually saying anything more.  Is the slip from images and objects to clothing, bodies, Mary, and Christ, o.k. as a convenience, then, because we all know what I really mean?  Because we all I know that I know those aren't really clothes or bodies... I'm just using those words so I can get on with what I really want to do here, can get on with the work of interpretation.  Or is there something to be gained by refusing that slip?  Refusing that convenience? Refusing to get on with it all so easily? 

Or at the very least, is there a way of meaningful differentiating between the words, so that this same ivory might sometimes be an object and sometimes an image, sometimes an it and sometimes her.  When I look back at my previous post, I notice that I made a change in how I wrote about the Aphrodite of Knidos, from her to it, when I wrote about it refusing the man who tried to have sex with her, and so about its sincerity as an object manifesting itself in its refusal to perform as he desired.

2 comments:

  1. "Or is there something to be gained by refusing that slip? Refusing that convenience? Refusing to get on with it all so easily?" Yes! This is fabulous, M! Carry on! :)

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  2. I fall into this hole sometimes, too. How can you not, once you tune your antennae to register the materiality of things? It's magic, it really is: that a bit of large mammal tooth can be carved with a blade just the right way to trick us into calling it garment, flesh, woman, and Virgin. Sometimes I think every other question in art history falls out of this one.

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