TLS October 23 2009
I had not read Laura Cumming's book A Face to the World when I wrote my poem "Seven Studies for a Self-Portrait." Reading Elizabeth Lowry's review of the book, I am amazed by the connections and coincidences between Cumming's Durer and mine. The divine in the human is exactly the theme not only of the Durer study of my "Seven Studies," but also of my next book, to be titled the same as its opening sequence. The book will begin with the Christ-like Durer, and end with a ghazal sequence, in which the last ghazal compares me to God: "Jee, the unlikely initial for God." According to Cumming, Durer also painted his self-portrait based on his trademark initial, A. The initial A also begins and ends a sequence in my book called "I Am My Names," in which A stands for Anonymous.
Furthermore, Lowry points out that Durer's finger in the self-portrait says, "Ecce Homo." That is, of course, also Nietzsche's last book published when he was still sane, the same writer whose Zarathrustra gives me the epigraph for my book: “I walk among men as among the fragments of the future—the future which I envisage. And this is all my creating and striving, that I create and carry together into One what is fragment and riddle and dreadful accident.” Needless to say, Durer, like Nietzsche, was German. I have bought Cumming's book to read. According to the review, she writes about the other self-portraits I did--Rembrandt, van Gogh, Schiele, Kahlo--but not Warhol and Morimura.
From Elizabeth Lowry's review of Laura Cumming's A Face to the World: On self-portraits:
The most immediately recognizable of these [self-portraits] is Albrecht Durer's full face self-portrait of 1500, with its fur collar and long streaming hair, "a triangle of metal bright locks, not a single tendril out of place". Cumming is excellent at annotating the picture's "peculiar golden radiance", its charisma and almost oppressive vitality. It is the defining advertisement for Durer the man and artist, an icon rather than a representative image . . . . And it seems to have been worshipped as an icon by future generations of German artists, appearing in numerous later prints and in Georg Vischer's "Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery" as the face of Jesus.
Cumming argues with great brio that this most pictorialized of self-portraits in fact embodies the fusion of art and artist. The serenely detached pose, shoulders squared, the finger of Durer's right hand pointing meaningfully at his own chest, is baffling until we look at it closely. The triangular mass of hair, the crossbar of the beard: what are they other than the counterpart, writ large, of the A of Durer's own trademark initial in the top left-hand corner of the painting? The maker and his image, the product of his prodigious talent, are one. Yet Cumming perhaps dazzled by the self-confidence of that face, stops short of drawing the obvious conclusion. If the face is Christ-like, it is a Christ meant for a humanist age, exalting the divine in man. "Whatever he feels, whatever he senses in his fingers, ought to connect straight up to the face, but when you get there all explanations are frustrated." Really? Look again. The finger, the face, are quite clearly saying "Ecce Homo", Durer's is, as Cumming rightly claims, the alpha and omega of self-portraits.