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This article is taken from PN Review 99, Volume 21 Number 1, September - October 1994.

Ashbery Patrick McGuinness

… the governing principle seems to be not so much automatism […] as self-abnegation in the interests of a superior realism, one which will reflect the realities both of the spirit (rather than the individual consciousness) and of the world as perceived by it: the state in which Je est un autre, in Rimbaud's phrase.
        ('Yves Tanguy', Reported Sightings)


Sidney Freedberg in his
Parmigianino says of it: 'Realism in this portrait
No longer produces an objective truth, but a bizarria
However its distortion does not create
A feeling of disharmony… The forms retain
A strong measure of ideal beauty,
        ('Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror')


Others declared it a self-portrait.
Finally all indications of a subject
Began to fade, leaving the canvas
Perfectly white.
        ('The Painter')


There is all the difference in the world, suggests Ashbery, between 'automatism' and 'self-abnegation'. The difference is between encouraging the illusion of the spurious autonomy of language and the altogether more productive desire to challenge the hegemony of its user. In taking up Rimbaud's often-quoted phrase 'Je est un autre', and by calling it a 'state' whether a condition suffered or a position taken - Ashbery also deflects attention from the subliminal, phonetically lingering, story of 'Je [pronominally emphatic, ensconced, asserting itself in a sentence where it is grammatically out of place] et un autre' - I and another. Grafting Freedberg's interpolation on Parmigianino onto ...


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