Wayne Koestenbaum: The Desire to Write

August 22, 2011  |  By
Filed under: Essay

Henri Matisse, _Interior with Aubergines_, 1911; Musée Grenoble, gift of the artist, 1922; © 2011 Succession H. Matisse / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

The Desire to Write about Interior with Aubergines

Writing about Matisse’s Interior with Aubergines, 1911, seems the antithesis of the stupor incarnated by the five-petaled blue flowers that Matisse has plastered (with distemper) over floor and wall equally, in a room whose mood of reverie and escapism is Moroccan by proxy — the patterned, imageless universe of the Alhambra. Does the term “all-over” describe the abstract expressionist version of this Alhambran impulse, which, appropriated by Matisse, authorizes stasis and meandering as two sides of one ethereal coin? Matisse’s blue flowers, courtesy of Novalis, repeat. Their mandate to erase depth perception in favor of an entranced flatness allows me to become that giddy flatness by writing about it; writing about the proliferating, block-print-like flowers, I side with them. I ingest the flowers, and take on their no-nonsense wish to totalize, to level distinctions, to bliss out. I’ve lied; depth exists in this painting, but these mini-tableaux of depth are framed vistas that resemble flat panels. By writing about Interior with Aubergines, I want to legalize my own blue-flowered interior — my word-cave, the brainy hollow behind my eyes, where jasmine petals in my childhood house’s front yard are still unpicked and fragrant. Those flowers, in 1962, weren’t jasmine; of unknown genus, they embodied the numberless, the oppressively uncommunicative.

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