Platonics and Neo-Romanticism

The parable of Plato’s cave is an interesting one for Neo-Romanticism. The idea, that all we perceive with our brains are shadows of a higher, more perfect reality which exists in some ethereal realm in (perhaps) a parallel universe, fits in perfectly with the sometimes gratuitous gorgeousness of Philadelphia’s architecture. If Philadelphia’s architecture amounts to shadows on the wall of the proverbial cave, echoing a more perfect reality, then Neo-Romantic art, if it is to fulfill its task and obligation to Philadelphia’s architecture, must embody a similar sense of the gorgeous. The duality inheres: Neo-Romanticism has on one side Philadelphia’s architecture, on the other side deep-set engagements with English Romanticism and French Neo-Classicism. All of this is involved, in Neo-Romanticism, in an unbounded sense of idealism around the potentialities of serious art. Our idealism, in fact, was and remains a kind of ghost for us; the sense of channeling worlds which must remain ghost worlds on earth, of translating the untranslatable, of manifesting the sublime as a mode of echoing a higher, inaccessible sublime. Art’s illustrious past is thus so well-worn in Philadelphia’s consciousness, from PMA on out, that Philadelphia artists must get used to the ghosts, the way citizens of Phoenix get used to the tarantulas. Idealism and the past form part of the mind’s architecture in and for Neo-Romanticism, and the Platonic which girds up the buildings which form our landscape become built into our mindscapes as well. This Apparition Poem attempts a co-opt move of Platonics, towards a realization of irony towards absurdity amidst the sturm und drang of the domestic:

You can’t
get it when
you want it,
but when I
want it I get
it; she rolled
over on her
belly, which
was very full,
and slept; its
just shadows
on the wall, I
thought, dark.

The idealistic idea that somewhere in the universe hovers a more perfect pregnant wife or mistress hangs heavy here. If the juxtaposition here— Greek philosophical gravitas with down-in-the-dirt domesticity and sexually charged strife— is a rich one, it is because the “ghosting” or apparitional process has happened in an unusual context or at an unusual moment. It has also erupted from the brain of an unusual protagonist. Abby’s Lost Twins is even richer, creating a scaffolding of allegories over parables under allegories about art history, gender, queerness, form (engagement, importantly, with David), and also the sense of dislocation, of being “ghosted,” through alienation alternating with familiarity to art’s past. The idealism in Neo-Romantic art is also a conceit, as in The Lost Twins— that the works of art we create can encompass everything, from pop culture to Duchamp to David, all at once, and put together in a novel formal package as elaborate and maze-like as anything on Broad Street or Pine Street in Center City Philadelphia, for example, or Fayette Street in Conshohocken, which is its own Narnian paradise. Somewhere, says the Neo-Romantic narrative, there exists a perfect universe of perfect works of art, which permanently capture and embody all important forms and themes. The ghost of this perfect, spectral world holds us in thrall as we attempt to channel it. We have our hint of it in Philadelphia’s architecture, Keats, Ingres, David, and now we become psychic lightning rods to bring it down to earth again. If this sounds Romantic, good. The idealism of Neo-Romanticism has as one of its foundations the belief in a shuddering, resonant, inter-connected and interstitially linked world, not just the shards and fragments of Modernism and post-modernism. What they chopped to bits, we impose wholeness and unity on.