Art works as children

 . . . [A]  wealthy oilman, Calouste Gulbenkian, accumulated a fabulous art collection and called the works ‘my children’. Mostly ignoring his flesh-and-blood son and daughter, he lived to serve his art. Claiming that ‘my children must have privacy’ and ‘a home fit for Gulbenkians to live in’, he built a mansion in Paris with barricades, watchdogs and a private secret service. He routinely refused requests to loan his art to museums, and did not allow visitors, since ‘my children mustn’t be disturbed’. But even this extreme of a collector who prefers art to people shows the importance of the social role of collecting, since Gulbenkian simply treated artworks as if they were people. And, when Gulbenkian left his collection to found an eponymous museum in Lisbon upon his death in 1955, he showed that he cared about people after all – just not the ones he happened to know.

Erin Thompson, Why People Collect Art , Aeon magazine

(from here) 

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A felt strangeness

He had this year, on the eve of his anniversary, as happened, an emotion not unconnected with that range of feeling. Walking home at the close of a busy day he was arrested in the London street by the particular effect of a shop-front that lighted the dull brown air with its mercenary grin and before which several persons were gathered. It was the window of a jeweller whose diamonds and sapphires seemed to laugh, in flashes like high notes of sound, with the mere joy of knowing how much more they were “worth” than most of the dingy pedestrians staring at them from the other side of the pane. Stransom lingered long enough to suspend, in a vision, a string of pearls about the white neck of Mary Antrim, and then was kept an instant longer by the sound of a voice he knew. Next him was a mumbling old woman, and beyond the old woman a gentleman with a lady on his arm. It was from him, from Paul Creston, the voice had proceeded: he was talking with the lady of some precious object in the window. Stransom had no sooner recognised him than the old woman turned away; but just with this growth of opportunity came a felt strangeness that stayed him in the very act of laying his hand on his friend’s arm. It lasted but the instant, only that space sufficed for the flash of a wild question. Was NOT Mrs. Creston dead?–the ambiguity met him there in the short drop of her husband’s voice, the drop conjugal, if it ever was, and in the way the two figures leaned to each other.

Henry James The Altar of the Dead 

(from here) 

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The obscure, the enigmatic, the elusive

One might think that, if Heidegger had anything worth saying, he could have communicated it in ordinary language.

The fact is that he does not want to be ordinary, and he may not even want to communicate in the usual sense. He wants to make the familiar obscure, and to vex us. George Steiner thought that Heidegger’s purpose was less to be understood than to be experienced through a ‘felt strangeness’. It is something like the  ‘alienation’ or estrangement effect used by Berthold Brecht in his theatre, which is designed to block you from becoming too caught up in the story and falling for the delusion of familiarity. Heidegger’s language keeps you on edge. It is dynamic, obtrusive, sometimes ridiculous and often forceful; on a page of Heidegger things are typically presented as surging or thrusting, as being forced forward, lit up or broken open. Heidegger admitted that his way of writing produced some ‘akwardness’, but he thought that a small price to pay for overturning the history of philosophy and bringing us back to Being.

Sarah Bakewell, At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

(more here) 

 

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The gaps left within us by the secrets of others

The belief that the spirits of the dead can return to haunt the living exists either as a tenet or as a marginal conviction in all civilizations, whether ancient or modern. More often than not, the dead do not return to reunite the living with their loved ones but rather to lead them into some dreadful snare, entrapping them with disastrous consequences. To be sure, all the departed may return, but some are predestined to haunt: the dead who have been shamed during their lifetime or those who took unspeakable secrets to the grave.  . . .  the theme of the dead—who, having suffered repression by their family or society, cannot enjoy, even in death, a state of authenticity—appears to be omnipresent on the fringes of religions and, failing that, in rational systems.

It is a fact that the “phantom,” whatever its form, is nothing but an invention of the living. Yes, an invention in the sense that the phantom is meant to objectify, even if under the guise of individual or collective hallucinations, the gap that the concealment of some part of a loved one’s life produced in us. The phantom is, therefore, also a metapsychological fact. Consequently, what haunts are not the dead, but the gaps left within us by the secrets of others.

Because the phantom is not related to the loss of a loved one, it cannot be considered the effect of unsuccessful mourning, as is the case of melancholics or of all those who carry a tomb within themselves. It is the children’s or descendants’ lot to objectify these buried tombs through diverse species of ghosts. What comes back to haunt are the tombs of others. The phantoms of folklore merely objectify a metaphor active within the unconscious: the burial of an unspeakable fact within the loved one.Here we are in the midst of clinical psychoanalysis and still shrouded in obscurity, an obscurity, however, that the nocturnal being of phantoms can, paradoxically, be called upon to clarify.

 Nicolas Abraham ,  “Notes on the Phantom”  Nicholas Rand, assistant professor of French at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, is the English-language editor of Abraham’s works

(from here) 

 

 

 

 

http://www.lamarre-mediaken.com/Site/EAST_493_files/Abraham%20Notes%20on%20the%20Phantom.pdf

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The question and the answer

Unlike beings, Being is hard to concentrate on and it is easy to forget to think about it. But one particular entity has a more noticeable Being than others, and that is myself, because, unlike clouds and portals, I am the entity who wonders about its Being. It even turns out that I have a vague, preliminary, non-philosophical understanding of Being already otherwise I would not have thought of asking about it. This makes me the best starting point for ontological inquiry I am both the being whose Being is up for question and the being who sort of already knows the answer.

Sarah Bakewell, At The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails

This is from the chapter on Heidegger

(from here) 

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The prodigal son

An elderly father and Glory,  his daughter anticipate a visit from  his  son, her brother who has kept away from the family for many years.

‘What followed were weeks of trouble and disruption, dealing with the old man’s anticipation and anxiety and then his disappointment, every one of which made him restless and sleepless and cross. She spent the days coaxing her father to eat. The refrigerator and the pantry were stocked with everything he thought he remembered Jack’s having a liking for, and he suspected Glory of wanting to give up too soon and eat it all on the pretext of avoiding waste. So he would accept nothing but a bowl of oatmeal or a poached egg, while skin thickened on cream pies and lettuce went limp. She had worried about what to do with it all if Jack never came. The thought of sitting down to a stale, humiliated feast with her heartbroken father was intolerable, but she had thought it anyway, to remind herself how angry she was, and with what justification. She had in fact planned to smuggle food out of the house by night in amounts the neighbour’s dogs could eat, since it would be too old to offer the neighbors themselves, and they would no doubt feed it to the dogs anyway, tainted as it was with bitterness and grief. ‘

Marilynne Robinson Home, Picador, p 29

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The language of film criticism

Hitchcock  hated the language of film criticism which evolved with the century; when Hitchcock helped his granddaughter with an essay she was writing on Shadow of a Doubt, his favourite of all his films, she only got a C grade. “That’s the best I can do,” he shrugged.

(from here)

http://europe.newsweek.com/hitchcock-artist-anxiety-who-instilled-fear-his-actresses-and-audience-319302?rm=eu

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Standing on one’s father

Aboriginal Landscape

BY LOUISE GLÜCK

You’re stepping on your father, my mother said,

and indeed I was standing exactly in the center

of a bed of grass, mown so neatly it could have been

my father’s grave, although there was no stone saying so.

You’re stepping on your father, she repeated,

louder this time, which began to be strange to me,

since she was dead herself; even the doctor had admitted it.

I moved slightly to the side, to where

my father ended and my mother began.

The cemetery was silent. Wind blew through the trees;

I could hear, very faintly, sounds of  weeping several rows away,

and beyond that, a dog wailing.

(from here) 

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Standing in a painting

In his old age, James McNeill Whistler used to walk down to the Atlantic shore carrying a few thin planks and his paints. On the planks he painted, day after day, in broad, blurred washes representing sky, water, and shore, three blurry light-filled stripes. These are late Whistlers; I like them very much. In the high Arctic I thought of them, for I seemed to be standing in one of them. If I loosed my eyes from my shoes, the gravel at my feet, or the chaos of ice at the shore, I saw what newborn babies must see: nothing but senseless variations of light on the retinas. The world was a color-field painting wrapped around me at an unknown distance; I hesitated to take a step.

Annie Dillard, The Abundance

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Story: The gift of the roses

           Birthday

Every year, on her birthday, my mother got twelve roses

from an old admirer. Even after he died, the roses kept coming:

the way some people leave paintings and furniture,

this man left bulletins of flowers,

his way of saying that the legend of my mother’s beauty

had simply gone underground.

 . . .

After ten years, the roses stopped.

But all that time I thought

The dead could minister to the living;

 . . . Louise Gluck (from here) 

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