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The Wallflower Avant-GardeModernism, Sexuality, and Queer Ekphrasis$
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Brian Glavey

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780190202651

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780190202651.001.0001

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John Ashbery’s Shyness, or, Lateral Ekphrasis

John Ashbery’s Shyness, or, Lateral Ekphrasis

(p.131) { 5 } John Ashbery’s Shyness, or, Lateral Ekphrasis
The Wallflower Avant-Garde

Brian Glavey

Oxford University Press

From the title poem of Some Trees onward, the impersonality of John Ashbery’s work has been conceptualized as primarily defensive in nature. This chapter argues that Ashbery’s use of ekphrasis involves identifications with the visual give way to a sort of shyness that is generative rather than repressive. This bashful aesthetic is evident in Ashbery’s art criticism, particularly his writing about Joe Brainard. The latter’s work offers Ashbery a way of imaging a queer artistic subjectivity that transforms experiences of shame into a means of connection. Rather than reading the aesthetic in repressive terms, as something that hides the secret of sexuality, Ashbery offers a way of thinking about the aesthetic in more generous terms. This lesson sheds light on contemporary work in queer theory focused on the role of shame in the formation of identity.

Keywords:   John Ashbery, shyness, ekphrasis, queer theory

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