Wednesday, August 22, 2007

the gorgon's head

I saw this in Southampton City Art Gallery last week. It's really the distance these things have from us now that justifies considering them as fragments of a dead culture. It would surely be an exaggeration to declare capitalist culture in general fragmentary, but there's no doubt some validity in Benjamin's method in Arcades, say.

Anyway, we can be sure Burne-Jones's picture is very symbolical of something or other. It suggests perhaps that the reflected image is the real one and the "natural" image somehow counterfeit (or something else).


catmint said...

"Interest in "atmospheres" is a critical attitude designed for, and particularly suited to, the poets of the nineteenth century; this may tell us something about them, and in part explain why they are so little ambiguous in the sense with which I am concerned. For a variety of reasons, they found themselves living in an intellectual framework with which it was difficult to write poetry, in which poetry was rather improper, or was irrelevant to business, especially the business of becoming Fit to Survive, or was an indulgence of one's lower nature in beliefs the scientists knew were untrue. On the other hand, they had a large public which was as anxious to escape from this intellectual framework, on holiday, as they were themselves. Almost all of them, therefore, exploited a sort of tap-root into the world of their childhood, where they were able to conceive things poetically, and whatever they might be writing about they would suck up from this limited and perverted world an unvarying sap which was their poetical inspiration."


"In that age, too, began the doubt as to whether this man or that was "grown up," which has ever since occupied so deeply the minds of those interested in their friends. Macauley complains somewhere that in his day a man was sure to be accused of a child-mind if no doubt could be cast "either on the ability of his intellect or the innocence of his character"; now nobody seems to have said this in the eighteenth century. Before the Romantic Revival the possibilities of not growing up had never been exploited so far as to become a subject for popular anxiety."

- William Empson Seven Types of Ambiguity

ktismatics said...

This painting presents a "mirror image" of the headless torso. The deadly gaze of the Gorgon can be deflected only by looking upon her reflected image. Today does the internet function as a mirror, obliquely exposing the terrible head of the Woman, making her vulnerable to any would-be "hero" who feels mortally threatened by direct exposure? Or, as you say, does the reflection present a truer image -- a depthless world populated by disembodied heads?

catmint said...

There's a whole series of these paintings, depicting all the stages of the Perseus story (I think) in this provincial art gallery

In this one Medusa's freshly decapitated, but she seems oddly unpeturbed by this (considering). I maybe prefer this one and wish I'd put it up instead. I wonder if its meant to show inaccessibility, perhaps of the adult world the nineteenth century was anxious of never reaching. An unfortunately Zizek-ish idea.

I think the Woman can look after herself quite well, ktismatics, but yeah, the internet is, come to think of it, like "a depthless world populated by disembodied heads".

catmint said...

...if the link doesn't work it's also here

these are very big picures, six or eight feet high, and quite pastel-ish