Self Portrait In A Convex Mirror Analysis

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“Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror” by John Ashbery is a work of convoluted reflections engaging Renaissance painter Parmigiano, his painting “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror”, Ashbery himself, and the soul. The poem’s source of inspiration is a physical piece of art, suggesting the poem belongs in the ekphrasis tradition. Immediate tension arises as the painting and the poem belong to vastly different traditions. The technique of ekphrasis in a postmodern tradition has challenged scholars as it appears the muse and the product regard different things. However, rather than consider the works as dichotomized entities, the shared titles suggest the two must coexist and function together despite appeared incongruity. The paradoxical nature causes …show more content…
The poem is defined by abstractionism yet it is rooted in the unchanging entity of the portrait from which the poem departs and returns. The syntax of “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror” diverges and wanders from Ashbery’s initial inspiration as a way of including that which is left out of the portrait – the effervescence and elusively of the soul. The half globular shape of inspiration - a wooden sphere cut in half - suggests there is a half missing. Ashbery’s poem is the completion of the sphere, creating a microcosmic globe representative of all art and life. Textual discrepancies – the merging of syntax, paradoxes, and a delineation of time – serve to deconstruct typical ekphrasis to merge the painting and the poem together and invite viewers into active …show more content…
Due to the poem’s length, vague syntax and semantics, and author’s history, there is an array of interpretations and critiques. Scholars often fall into two camps regarding “Self Portrait in a Convex Mirror”: deconstructionist or meditatives. As Looper says: “the words of the poem are not synonymous with or tantamount to that spoken of – any more than the painting is equivalent to that which it depicts” (451). The question then is if there is any true meaning or if meaning is created; the latter being the answer implies that all meanings have validity if there is no objectivity to return to. Looper believes the paradoxes within the poem are not working in relation to the painting, but working to implode the poem and make it incomprehensible to the reader and himself. (451). The reality of the poem is that poem still exists and readers find meaning despite confusions, nullifying possibility of a neat answer to this poem. Likewise, Davidson views the paradoxes and subordinate syntax as an attempt to defer closure (75). These perspective looks at the poem outside of the context of the painting when the two exists symbiotically. Heffernan points out” the poem has begun by suggesting that Parmigiano’s way of representing himself might serve as a model for the poet’s own project in self-representation” (185), suggesting there has to be visible relationship

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