another poem question: death to modifiers
May 10, 2022 3:09 PM   Subscribe

Who is "the man" who said "all forms tend toward blur" in this poem by Diane Suess?

I like this poem. It's I Look Up from My Book and Out at the World through Reading Glasses by Diane Suess.

Is "the man" in the final line a reference to something specific? I've tried googling variations on the phrase and am not coming up with much.
posted by Ideal Impulse to Media & Arts (1 answer total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here is a link to a different article by Bryson about Chardin, that also includes the phrase:

Chardin and the Text of Still Life by Norman Bryson. Critical Inquiry, Winter 1989, Vol. 15, No. 2. (jstor)

The specific reference is on page 243 - the quotation below gives a lot more context to what Bryson is talking about with that particular phrase:
Chardin's solution to the problem of defamiliarisation is to cultivate a studied informality of attention, which looks at nothing in particular (figs. 13 and 14). He shows no signs of wanting to tighten up the loose world of the interiors he presents. On the contrary, his own intervention is unassuming, and seems so ordinary as to relax rather than heighten attention. This is clearest in his compositional technique. Usually com- position involves a staging of the scene before the viewer, a spectacular interval or proscenium frame between the subject and the scene. The placement of the wafers in Baugin's Dessert with Wafers, for example, is calculated with immense and evident pains. But Chardin avoids composition of this self-conscious kind. He does not want to disturb the world or to reorganise it before the subject, as though to do so would be to keep the viewer at arm's length and to push him or her out from the scene, when what is valued is exactly the way the scene welcomes the viewer in without ceremony, to take things as he or she finds them. For the same reason his compositions tend to avoid priorities: one thing is not intrinsically more important than another; to suggest otherwise would be to upset the evenness of regard as it moves with equal interest and equal engagement across the visual field. Chardin undoes the hierarchy between zones that composition normally aims for, by giving everything the same degree of attention, or inattention; so that the details, as they emerge, are striking only because of the gentle pressures bearing down on them from the rest of the painting.

For the same reason also, all the forms tend towards blur--perhaps Chardin's greatest formal innovation--as though he were trying to paint peripheral as well as central vision, and in this way to suggest a familiarity with the objects in the visual field on such intimate and friendly terms that nothing any more needs to be vigilantly watched. The scene contains no surprises and harbours no shocks, and vision can relax its grip. The blurring of the forms marks a kind of homecoming of the subject into the ground of being: the sign that we really are at home in this world is that we no longer have to strain our eyes.

The balance between 'Medusal' vision and 'anti-Medusal' vision is a delicate matter, and Chardin's preference for an informal blurring of forms can be thought of as a critique of still life's tendency to dwell for too long on the face of familiarity, and thereby to produce visual unease. But the balance can be upset by another potent force, that of display. (pp. 241-244)
It looks like the article and the book both include very similar content - just re-worked a bit to fit different contexts. Here is another link to the full text of Bryson's book (same one that esmerelda_jenkins linked above): Norman Bryson, Looking At The Overlooked: Four Essays On Still Life Painting (NB - that link might be a bit sketchy)

Altogether it looks like a very interesting article/book, poem, and topic - thanks for bringing it all up!
posted by flug at 11:09 PM on May 10, 2022

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