Toteninsel

Inspired by an evening, roaming through the second floor of the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin

 

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In the morning I went to the gym and trained as usual, carefully.  I felt relaxed, the dizziness was gone. Back home, the most important person had gone to her own class. We would meet later, and I had time to prepare breakfast. First I sorted the gym clothes, making sure the wet towel and T-shirt were hung out to dry. The air was still cold but the sun was shining. The clear new bright sun of February. I closed the door of the balcony. Suddenly the dizziness had come back, like a small cloud out of nowhere. I laid out the breakfast table, poured a cup of coffee. The pain in my left arm was now sharper. I was used to it. The price for keeping fit was to be in permanent pain, or so I had told myself, long ago. I sat down, breathed deeply. The apartment was silent, I could only hear the deep growl of traffic, down on the avenue, and the crows exchanging gossips, up there on the roof. I had time. The most important person would not be back for another hour. I decided to write a short note: “Feeling a little tired, if I am asleep when you come back, just wake me up, softly! Xx”

I decided to lie down on the sofa, pulled the light blanket over the pain, smiling. The crows had gone silent. The traffic noise seemed to recede. The pain had moved from the arm to somewhere  between the shoulder and the middle of the chest. All at once it grew even sharper. There was no surprise, I had long expected this: not a question of if, merely when. My vision had gone vague, all sounds had receded. I felt a great calm, just the pain, invasive, and I knew I was going. Soon it was dark. A last thought was how simple this was.

The separation came later. How much time had gone by then, I could not even imagine. The pain had gone, only remained utter lightness. The light was dimmed. The room and the surface where I had rested were gone. Moving felt easy. Was it really moving? Exploring without motion, rather. Was this still me? These questions felt unimportant. I sensed, rather than looked, around. There was a shore, an expanse of water. No sound.

Then I saw him. I knew immediately who he was, although he looked much younger than I had expected. Charon’s eyes betrayed his apparent youthfulness. He was deaf, but his benevolent words came clear to my mind. “I was expecting you earlier, and I am pleased to see you.” Then a little later – but what did that mean now? – “Take place when you are ready, there is plenty of time.”

I stood at the front of the boat, exactly as in the painting. Standing, I was aware of the long white robe, of the hood. I felt somehow very dignified, at peace. Charon sat at the back, his muscular arms in evidence under the medieval shirt. Without moving I could see his calm face, the kindness of his eyes, and yet the absence of smile. The boat was now moving effortlessly, or rather gliding on the surface of the water. I could see the rudders cutting through in silence. The light was now brighter, under a cloudless but rather dark sky. I had the feeling we were immobile and that it was  the water that was flowing under our boat. 

Then the island was there, at first a small icon, and then the cypresses came into view. The sight of them was a sheer pleasure, a feeling of fulfilment. The dark green contrasted with the pale face of the high walls and rocks at the water edge. A faint mist surrounded the vision. “We have arrived,” said Charon without a word, “don’t worry about your luggage, it will be taken care of.” I only then notice the ancient coffer at my feet. I looked up, saw the small windows on the face of the cliff. Scents: the trees, sea water, salt in the air. I knew there was a cell for me, somewhere deep in the immensity of the island. Lightheaded I turned to the sea: Charon and his boat had gone. Small waves were crushing on the narrow shore. Did I hear sea birds in the sky?

“Wake up lazy bones!” said the most important person, her crystal laugh resonating in the room. The crows were back, and so was the traffic. Why did those legs feel so heavy?

Photo: Arnold Böcklin, die Toteninsel, Alte Nationalgalerie

Die Toteninsel, in Deutsche Wikipedia

Arnold Böcklin, Artikel in Deutsche Wikipedia

Das Gästebuch ist noch immer ein beliebter Weg für Museumsbesucher, sich selbst zu Ausstellungen oder Werken zu äußern.”

The search for Cesárea, a #reading of “The Savage Detectives”, Roberto Bolaño

Roberto bolaño.jpg
Roberto Bolaño” by FarisoriOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

From the Golden Fleece to The Two Towers, from the Holy Grail to Heart of Darkness, great works of world’s literature are often stories of quests. So goes for Roberto Bolaño‘s masterpiece, The Savage Detectives, which follows two young poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, in their odyssey in search for the mythical Cesárea Tinajero, great priestess of the “Visceral Realists”.

We follow them, often under the bemused eyes of Juan García Madero, seventeen when he joins the visceral realists (no initiation ceremony), from the streets of Mexico City to the Sonora desert, via Chile, Nicaragua, California, Barcelona, Rome, Angola, Sierra Leone, and other places in history, meeting biblical whores, murderous pimps, corrupt policemen, incorruptible generals, and, of course, lost poets.

This is a story of poets, fugitives, witnesses… perhaps apostles? Its roots are in the horror and miracles of a continent, steeped in literature and death.

“Bolaño,” writes his translator, Natasha Wimmer, “took seriously the idea of literary immortality – never more than when he turned it into a joke. Failed writers are frequent characters in his stories and novels; so are lost writers, whose legacy must be preserved. In ‘Photographs’, the only published story in which Arturo Belano reappears, he comes upon a kind of illustrated encyclopaedia of forgotten French poets from the 1960s and ’70s. As he looks at their pictures and reads their biographies, remote and irrelevant now, he sees a line of birds on the horizon, ‘an electrocardiogram that flutters or spreads its wings in expectation of their death, thinks Belano, and then he shuts his eyes for a long moment, as if he’s thinking of crying with his eye closed.'”

Geography is equally important for Bolaño, who describes meetings, encounters, love affairs and murders with a careful labelling of time and place: “Rafael Barrios, in the bathroom of his house, Jackson Street, San Diego, California, September 1982.”

I went on to read “Distant Star”, and hope to read “2666” soon. An important writer, a genial novel.

#WritersWednesday: Blank Page, a reflection on Gustave #Flaubert

Albert CamusI read that Gustave Flaubert thought the “Communeux” – the revolutionaries who fought the losing battle of the Paris Commune in 1871, and got massacred – had wanted to “return to the Middle Ages”. Yet he was a discerning writer and observer of the French society…

This prompted some musing on the role of writers in our troubled times. But then, when was a time of real peace? The page stays blank, for if there is a lot to say, it would be pointless to write. This is what Flaubert avoided: he scored on impersonality, a detachment from associating himself with his characters, let alone exercising judgement on their actions or circumstances. He wrote that he was bored when writing Madame Bovary, so remote was he from his “ordinary” subject. His carthagenese rump – Salammbo – a story of a slave revolt against the ruler of Carthage (the super-power of the time), was high in colour, rich in gore, and outraged the bourgeois commentators of the mainstream press. Later his “Education Sentimentale” stripped the hypocrisy of the 2nd Empire’s society bare, all a few years before the catastrophe of 1870.

Maybe it takes a national defeat to reveal the true nature of contemporary literature: Remarque, Proust (who thought Germany’d have won the war), the French existentialists, the great Japanese novelists of the 50’s…

Image: Albert Camus laughing, from “Philosophers’ quotes & photos

#AtoZChallenge2015: Pulchritude

Female pulchritudePulchritude is synonymous for (great) physical beauty. The Wikipedia article defines beauty as a “characteristic of a person, animal, placeobject, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction. Beauty is studied as part of aestheticssociologysocial psychology, and culture. An “ideal beauty” is an entity which is admired, or possesses features widely attributed to beauty in a particular culture, for perfection.

The experience of “beauty” often involves an interpretation of some entity as being in balance and harmony with nature, which may lead to feelings of attraction and emotional well-being. Because this can be a subjective experience, it is often said that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”[1]

There is evidence that perceptions of beauty are evolutionarily determined, that things, aspects of people and landscapes considered beautiful are typically found in situations likely to give enhanced survival of the perceiving human’s genes.”

Eli Siegel asked: Is Beauty the Making One of Opposites?

“1   FREEDOM AND ORDER DOES every instance of beauty in nature and beauty as the artist presents it have something unrestricted, unexpected, uncontrolled?—and does this beautiful thing in nature or beautiful thing coming from the artist’s mind have, too, something accurate, sensible, logically justifiable, which can be called order?

2   SAMENESS AND DIFFERENCE DOES every work of art show the kinship to be found in objects and all realities?—and at the same time the subtle and tremendous difference, the drama of otherness, that one can find among the things of the world?

3   ONENESS AND MANYNESS IS there in every work of art something which shows reality as one and also something which shows reality as many and diverse?—must every work of art have a simultaneous presence of oneness and manyness, unity and variety?

4   IMPERSONAL AND PERSONAL DOES every instance of art and beauty contain something which stands for the meaning of all that is, all that is true in an outside way, reality just so?—and does every instance of art and beauty also contain something which stands for the individual mind, a self which has been moved, a person seeing as original person?

5   UNIVERSE AND OBJECT DOES every work of art have a certain precision about something, a certain concentrated exactness, a quality of particular existence?—and does every work of art, nevertheless, present in some fashion the meaning of the whole universe, something suggestive of wide existence, something that has an unbounded significance beyond the particular?

6   LOGIC  AND EMOTION IS there a logic to be found in every painting and in every work of art, a design pleasurably acceptable to the intelligence, details gathered unerringly, in a coherent, rounded arrangement?—and is there that which moves a person, stirs him in no confined way, pervades him with the serenity and discontent of reality, brings emotion to him and causes it to be in him?

7   SIMPLICITY AND COMPLEXITY IS there a simplicity in all art, a deep naiveté, an immediate self-containedness, accompanied perhaps by fresh directness or startling economy?—and is there that, so rich, it cannot be summed up; something subterranean and intricate counteracting and completing simplicity; the teasing complexity of reality meditated on?

8   CONTINUITY AND DISCONTINUITY IS there to be found in every work of art a certain progression, a certain indissoluble presence of relation, a design which makes for continuity?—and is there to be found, also, the discreteness, the individuality, the brokenness of things: the principle of discontinuity?

9   DEPTH AND SURFACE IS painting, like art itself, a presentation of the “on top,” obvious, immediate?—and is it also a presentation of what is implied, deep, “below”?—and is art, consequently, an interplay of surface and sensation as “this” and depth and thought as “all that”?

10  REPOSE AND ENERGY IS there in painting an effect which arises from the being together of repose and energy in the artist’s mind?—can both repose and energy be seen in a painting’s line and color, plane and volume, surface and depth, detail and composition?—and is the true effect of a good painting on the spectator one that makes at once for repose and energy, calmness and intensity, serenity and stir?

11  HEAVINESS AND LIGHTNESS IS there in all art, and quite clearly in sculpture, the presence of what makes for lightness, release, gaiety?—and is there the presence, too, of what makes for stability, solidity, seriousness?—is the state of mind making for art both heavier and lighter than that which is customary?

12  OUTLINE AND COLOR DOES every successful example of visual art have a oneness of outward line and interiormass and color?—does the harmony of line and color in a painting show a oneness ofarrest and overflow, containing and contained, without and within?

13  LIGHT AND DARK DOES all art present the world as visible, luminous, going forth?—does art, too, present the world as dark, hidden, having a meaning which seems to be beyond ordinary perception?—and is the technical problem of light and dark in painting related to the reality question of the luminous and hidden?

14  GRACE AND SERIOUSNESS IS there what is playful, valuably mischievous, unreined and sportive in a work of art?—and is there also what is serious, sincere, thoroughly meaningful, solidly valuable?—and do grace and sportiveness, seriousness and meaningfulness, interplay and meet everywhere in the lines, shapes, figures, relations, and final import of a painting?

15  TRUTH AND IMAGINATION IS every painting a mingling of mind justly receptive of what is before it, and of mind freely and honorably showing what it is through what mind meets?—is every painting, therefore, a oneness of what is seen as item and what is seen as possibility, of fact and appearance, the ordinary and the strange?—and are objective and subjective made one in a painting?”

Image: Female Pulchritude by Kenney Mencher

Art as the Exquisite, by Eli Siegel: http://www.aestheticrealism.net/essays/art-as-the-exquisite.html