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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Driedger's Madonna Revisited

(c) St Peters Basilica .org

   I reread Driedger’s collection of poetry in response to some critical observations received following my review.  The criticism the original review received is definitely valid from an art history perspective regarding the facts of the Pieta’s history, yet the review itself, as an interaction with the actual text as distinct from the Pieta and the sculpture’s history outside of the poem, remains valid.  The facts regarding the Pieta are that there were indeed several incidents of vandalism and that the term Pieta does reference a certain form of artwork portraying Mary holding the body of Christ as a composite work.  Often an emotional aspect of the work is also included in the definition of the term.  

Regarding the text, I would offer the following further observations:
  • Driedger makes is clear that she is referencing the vandalism of 1972, and she specifically mentions the vandalism to the face and “the finger” as reported in Time Magazine.
  • The Madonna’s fingers (four of them) were actually broken off in a separate much earlier incident and controversially restored in 1736 by the Italian sculptor Giuseppe Lirioni.  Details are relatively difficult to come by apart from the fact that Lirioni has been criticized for possibly changing the sculpture to affect a more “rhetorical” flourish to the position of the fingers.  It is this flourish to which Driedger responds.  (How much of the repair is readily apparent today?)
  • While Driedger attributes specific import to the incident of 1972, her poem addresses the artwork as she viewed it later in person, in Rome, after the repairs to the 1972 incident were made.
  • By referring to the statue as “she,” I believe that Driedger is making a common colloquial error by non-Catholics of confusing or failing to differentiate between the Pieta and the Madonna component of this pieta.  This error could derive from traditional Mennonite usage of the term, or she could be intentionally playing with these references.
    Given these clarifications, I think that my original essay retains its credibility and is a pertinent reading and engagement of the text.  The poem itself does not follow the historical timeline of the sculpture and Driedger seems to take some artistic license with its factual history.
Other things became somewhat more apparent in the rereading:
    There are no further references to the Pieta or to Catholicism in general in this collection, so the term Madonna is not within itself a direct unifying concept.
Without referencing any scholarly articles, I, lacking any further qualifications, have found in dealing with poetry that there are at least four types of titles (my labels and differentiations):  
-  The Thesis Title – conveys the main explanatory premise of the collection  
-  The Unifying Title– Indicates the unifying themes of the poetry 
-  The Indicative Title – points to the poem that most clearly demonstrates the themes tying much of the collection together. 
-  The Non-sequitur or Arbitrary Title – has no direct, intended relationship to the individual poems

    I believe that Driedger’s title is no 3 – Indicative.  

        I would also augment my ideas somewhat with the following points:
    There are at least five possible ties between the Pieta and the title “Madonna”:
1.      The Pieta – the Madonna is portrayed as an element within the work and it is clearly on the female figure that Driedger focuses.
2.      Her grandmother Katharine – and her need to sustain and nurture Johann (a sort of literally defined Pieta) – acts of nurture and sacrifice (a bit of a stretch maybe).  Does Katharine as a “Madonna” carry and nurture the fallen identity of her husband, Johann, during the shunning?
3.      Dreidger herself – a theme of strength and becoming (overcoming?)
4.      A Reflection on Womanhood or the Feminine in general (other poems reference additional idealized cultural icons of womanhood such as Barbie dolls, secretaries… – in that vein, was Toth, the vandal, acting out on an anti-feminine attitude, anti-Female, anti-Goddess, anti-mother (the masculine Christ figure was apparently untouched)?  Was Michelangelo any of those things (by idealizing the form)?  Were either the sculptor or the vandal pro-feminine in contrast to the other?  Is there an odd sort of conversation occurring between the sculptor and the vandal that Driedger is inserting herself into?  If so, did Michelangelo and Toth both exclude Mary and/or the feminine from this conversation?)  Elaborate.
5.      Iconoclasticism – Laszlo Toth, the vandal, was seemingly described alternatively by the press as a terrorist, as an iconoclast and as simply insane (outside the acceptable variance of normative behaviors).  Is Driedger an iconoclast?  Was Johann?  How do the poems reflect differing concepts of normative behavior, or of social conformity?  Could Driedger be criticizing society’s inability to appreciate and uphold diversity?  Could there be a neo-Marxist interpretation of Driedger’s poetry?  Is labeling and defining individuals an act of violence or oppression?  There are numerous questions to explore in this direction.
     I also find in the Pieta a cycle of three themes effectively bind the collection together and are seemingly referenced in most of the poems:
  i.     An Act of Aggression (Vandalism, Abuse, Bullying, Sex, Shunning)
 ii.      An Attempt at Restoration (or its absence)
iii.      Defiance or Resistance (challenging the status quo, creating your own identity)

     I would not see this a merely a movement from gemeinshaft to gesellshaft, but rather a critic or analysis of the self within the gemeinshaft
    This needs further thought and elaboration – more that can be explored in a blog post.
Detail of Mary's fingers.  (c)

Other notes:
    Driedger’s poem only focuses on the blow to her face and the repair to her finger (it appears that her entire arm was actually broken off at the elbow in 1972 and I have found most reports to claim that the statue has been restored to its exact previous condition to that point – in other words, that the strangely curving finger is the genius of Michelangelo, not the result of vandalism.  Yet, we also have the controversy over Lirioni’s much earlier repairs – did he change the pose or did he faithfully recreate the original?)  – regardless that finger remains a viable focus then for the book – so the review is entirely valid and my reading is definitely consistent with what Driedger wrote.  The comments, I believe however, are great conversation points on which to elaborate.
    Usage of the term “Rome,” which Driedger clearly uses to describe or situate the Pieta, may be cultural also.  To many Anabaptists, the term Rome is synonymous with Catholicism (remember, we are pretty much cultural hold-outs from the late-Medieval, pre-Modern Radical Reformation).  Geographically, Michelangelo was Florentine – but the Pieta was commissioned for a tomb in Rome and remains in Rome (it was later moved to St Peter’s).  So the comments reflect my clumsy wording, and Driedger’s use of the term ... but again, I mentioned that we do not have a "Madonna" in our tradition – so I think that Driedger is using the traditional Mennonite understanding of Rome as indicating both the Renaissance and Catholicism while referencing the Pieta as a Madonna and incorporating many aspects of the statue’s genre, geography and history into those references.

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