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

By | 1 June 2022


Before her, the French novelist Arsène Houssaye observed, ‘we feel as if alone on a mountain top with, at our feet, a dizzying abyss in which we are about to fall, into which we do fall. It is the infinite abyss of a dream.’ Enter: the mouth. Enter: her most mysterious zone. Smooth, deceive and cog. ‘Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa? Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?’ How to deconstruct the mouth? How to apprehend her cryptic smile? Old English smearcian, ‘to smile.’ Smieron. Simper, fawn. It turns up slightly at the left. Asymmetric smiles almost always tell lies. To create the optical impression of virtuosity is to work at the intersection of art and science. ‘Thin and tiny strokes and then very slowly, over months and sometimes years,’ an ‘additional layer upon thin layer.’1 An interplay between light rays that dart and bounce before our eyes. A most distinctive feature. A puzzle so sly. She is, ‘the magician’s cat, a familiar, who is none the less perfectly detached, and whose smile is the smile of derision.’2 For some, it is incontrovertibly a mother’s smile. To err is human. To smile is divine. Her mouth tells a thousand stories. Her mouth will stand the test of time.

This might be a seal set on me,
The last kiss of whatever made me,
Red and warm and shaped to remember
That first impression of finality.
Here is my open court.
What would feed me,
What would be beloved,
The last breath rushing to leave me,
All must pass the ultimate test of this.3

‘Our hope is that DALL·E 2 will empower people to express themselves creatively.’4

  1. Walter Isaacson, ‘The Science Behind Mona Lisa’s Smile.’ The Atlantic (2017).
  2. Kenneth Clark. ‘Mona Lisa.’ The Burlington Magazine (1973), 148.
  3. Jackson, ‘Mouth.’ Poetry (1925), 66.
  4. DALL·E 2 OpenAI, online.
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