Portrait, Lyric, Code: Reading the Face Before and After Laura Riding Jackson’s Body’s Head

By | 1 June 2022


That bridge. Le nez. Her nose. Of the forty thousand paintings in the Louvre and the millions of paintings in museums all over the world, why do people want to see her particular, singular nose? Can an objet de cult really have such an unassuming beak? Her nose does not compel us to act in any specific manner. It does not incite. It does not betray. It does not tell an exciting story or communicate a spiritual ideal. But alas, the ‘face is a politics … assemblages of power require the production of a face.’1 What kind of nose makes this so? For Vasari in 1550, she has a nose with ‘beautiful nostrils, rosy and tender,’ which ‘seems to be alive.’ But Vasari had never seen her, so by all accounts had never actually witnessed her nose. A theory of substitution. Falsified, disingenuous prose. Perhaps it is the forgotten feature. The unprovocative, self-effacing hook. All the better to smell you with. The little nose that got away. Madonna in Munich. Sweet repose. Yet, it remains her great connector, that holds the cheeks and chin in a harmonious mode. The dark horse of body’s head. ‘Eyes, nose, mouth—that simple triangle—and yet how could it contain such an infinite number of variations?’2 All the ‘thoughts and experience of the world have etched and moulded there’ on her ordinary little nose: ‘The animalism of Greece, the lust of Rome.’3

If I could resist the humorous temptation,
The wry inducement of the follow-your-nose thought,
I might deal with anatomy and arrangement only
And forego the privilege of my subject.
But humour is the truth a little giddy —
I cannot confront my nose with a lie.
So let me introduce my nose derisively
Or be derisively introduced by it.4

‘DALL·E 2 has learned the relationship between images and the text used to describe them. It uses a process called “diffusion,” which starts with a pattern of random dots and gradually alters that pattern towards an image when it recognises specific aspects of that image.’5

  1. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus. Continuum (2004), 195.
  2. Tove Ditlevsen. The Faces. Translated by Tiina Nunnally. Fjord Press (1991), 7-8.
  3. Walter Pater. The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry. London (1910), 124-125.
  4. Jackson, ‘Nose.’ Poetry (1925), 64.
  5. DALL·E 2 OpenAI, online.
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