have just finished jeanette wintersons’ ‘art and lies’. three characters handel – catholic doctor contemplating his body and the body of his women patients, picasso – woman painter abused at home and sappho the spirit of the lesbian poet whose independent narratives intermingle in distinct ‘themes’ to tell a story about identity, gender, art and love. a difficult prose-poetry novel.. disturbing, opaque and extremely beautifully written.. an extract below..
Curiosity and desire for beauty in equal measure. These are the flares that light her face. She is a light to see by, though not of trees and wood, wood with a gift for burning, the light that consumes her is her own.
On her face, the play of light is theatrical. Rapt effect, concentration, the arch of her eyebrows, the pageant of her hair. Here in subtle staging are the nuances of nature and the refinements of art. That a piece of work she is, at once original and well known. Applaud her? I will, and something more, offer her a beauty fit for her own. A gift of burning – The word.
What comes first? The muser or the Muse?
For Sappho (lesbian c. 600 BC Occupation: Poet), herself, always, muser and the muse. The writer and the word. Strange then, that what is left of her beauty should be interred under the commonplace of facts. And not facts. The search for truth is tainted with willing falsehoods. The biographer, hand on heart, violates the past. The biographer, grave robber and body snatcher, trading in sensational dist, while the living spirit slips away. The biographer, inventory of pots and pans, dates and places, auction house and charnel house in one room.
So little of her remains. Her remains are scandalous. The teasing bones that shock and delight. Yet, it is certain, that were every line of her still extant, biographers would not be concerned wither meter or her rhyme. There would be one burning question from out the burning book. Not Sophocles, but Savonarola, with his raging face . . .
What do Lesbians do in bed?
‘Tell them’ said Sophia, the Ninth Muse.
‘There’s no such thing as autobiography, there’s only art and lies’