Mere Beasts


Titus: An if your highness knew my heart, you were.-
My lord, the emperor resolve me this:
Was it well done of rash Virginius
To slay his daughter with his own right hand,
Because she was enforc’d, stain’d, and deflour’d?

Saturninus: It was Andronicus.

Titus: Your reason mighty lord?

Saturninus: Because the girl should not survive her shame,
And by her presence still renew his sorrows.

Titus: A reason mighty, strong and effectual;
A pattern precedent, and lively warrant,
For me, most wretched to perform the like:-
Die, die Lavinia, and thy shame with thee;
(He kills Lavinia)
And, with thy shame, thy father’s sorrow die!*

*Titus Andronicus (V.iii.38-51) by Shakespeare

King: This is the poison of deep grief;
… poor Ophelia,
Divided from herself and her fair judgment,
Without which we are pictures, or mere beasts.*

* Hamlet (IV.v.40, 48-50) by Shakespeare

1. Lavinia

Lavinia, a name haunted by shame
The daughter who loses all:
Dignity, hands, tongue, maidenhead, self
To receive mercy at her father’s hand
One more victim of life’s grave cruelty

This one born centuries later
Failed by the protection of a father
No husband or brothers to stand with her

She forges bold expressions in paint
With precision, a line well reasoned
And true – cutting through post-modern isms,
Edge of identity and visual field

Her work: prodigious, collected, critiqued
Viewed by the elite –
Discerning, argumentative, and informed

Yet she is gnawed away inside at the sacrifice
Required by her acceptance –
That which is like a man’s –
Hard edged, logical, demanding, and concrete
Where Eros’ sweet invitation is laid fallow,
By ego’s sharp curbing of her free expression
Complexity, variation – her creative forces:
Divergent streams, converging, are still

2. Ophelia

Ophelia, sweet child, dominated by powerful men
Abandoned to grief and madness
Her last moments, a watery slip
May have been unintended consequence
Or dire injury
Consecrated – and yet we wonder
Who is culpable?

A modern woman now faces
The same pernicious forces
That may divide her from her own precious reason
Professor of mathematics, her intellect, ratiocinative,
Attempts to quantify the carrying capacity of the earth
What can it hold, nurture, sustain
Without ruin, lack of renewal,
Or toxic inundation?

Her losses, both great and universal
Small and specific
Her shame-filled love
Will serve as the crucible
Over which her sanity may be fractured

3. Pictures

(Art Critic, Yves) Lavinia’s art is a concatenation
Of architecture, minimalism, post-modernism, and conceptual art
Her meticulous line acknowledges the reality
Of the restricted world in which we find ourselves:
Measured, under surveillance, scientifically dissected
Without irony

Unlike Julie Mehretu’s marks
Which work against a Fascist imposition of order
Conveying a fundamentally humanist message
Lavinia’s work shows the intense naïveté
Of such leanings

Like the steady, deft hand of a butcher
She cleaves idealism at its root!
Unlike women of the past
She shows no propensity to politicize gender
No weakness for sentimentality
No shying away from the cruelty of existence
This fearlessness, an emboldened stance,
A primary ingredient in her acuity
Leads her to a new vision:

A post apocalyptic world without nostalgia
The world as it is becoming:
Crowded, populated by individuals
mainly concerned with their own needs and desires

An open wound
Increasingly destroyed
Not to be made again into paradise
But simply to be destroyed
She is the bravest artist of the 21st century

4. Lavinia

Pre-figured symbols and signifiers
Are land mines of meaning and association
Figurative art remains reactionary,
Revealing underlying ideology
Nonrepresentational art isn’t the basis of a movement,
a call to action, or directive

Within it there is no agenda,
Cannon of aesthetics,
Or political ground
The visual language exists within its own independent logic
Unburdened by oppressive modalities

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