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Saturday, July 31, 2010

TRAVEL DIARIES: Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie


Gottlieb Schick (1776-1812) "Head of a youth."
Berlin, Alte Nationalgalerie

July 11, 2010

Plato has famously suggested in his Symposium, that Eros is the young boy that seduces you into the contemplation of the Ideas. According to Diotima, the midwife from Mantinea who speaks last before the arrival of Alcibiades in Plato's dialogue, the love for a woman is the particular form of love required for the purpose of procreation, but the love for a boy, on the other hand, has no biological outcome, and becomes therefore a sort of womb of knowledge and wisdom, presumably because such a love is based on admiration. Such is the notion of Plato, as presented in both his Symposium and in the Phaedrus, that the love that arises from pederasty, which is according to him a love of knowledge, is an alternative to the animal love of man and woman, and that the love of boys leads to philosophy, and is, in fact, philosophy, for which pederasty is the maieutic.

The portrayal of Eros in ancient Greek, and in modern Western Art, is informed by this text, and ultimately calls for a consideration of the method of idealization, as Plato intended. The process by which knowledge and wisdom arise in the love of a boy, in the overall schema of the Symposium, is a synecdoche of idealization. For Plato, to know is to idealize.

I do not see in Gottlieb Schick's portrait of the head of his unknown youth the pure mechanism of Eros that Plato wrote about. I do not find here the maieusis that Diotima described as the locus of the birth of knowledge and wisdom, when she spoke at the party in Agathon's house. There is something pornographic about this image, particularly as the boy, with an expression of innocent wonder and anticipation, appears to be turning around, still giving us his back. There is a sensuality here that prevents a recognition of Plato's Eros at work, as a conduit to the higher realm of Ideas. However, the more I am withdrawn from this image, from the moment of its initial perception, the colder it becomes in my imagination, the more it leads me to think about it, in particular, and about the things that it beckons and betokens. And hence this boy becomes Eros. Plato seems to me to be correct in thinking that beauty leads us to the search for contemplation of a higher idea, which in this case may very well be the dynamic, both psychic and cultural, both phylo and onto-genetical, of idealization. Why do we idealize in Art? And what do we idealize? And why? These are the questions that this anonymous portrait raises.

It is not sufficiently satisfying here to quote Marx, or Feuerbach before him, to the effect that we idealize what we want to become. The old Greeks carved out of hard stone the image of what they were, not what they hoped to be. Modern European idealization of the Romantic type is born out of a lack, a need for beauty that was absent from its own historical time and circumstance. The ugliness of a growing and grasping bourgeoisie, and of the world it was creating, sought after beauty, and hence idealized it. It was an idealization born of a lack, not out of a plentiful feeling of adoration for the human form, as in the case of the old Greeks.

Can knowledge, as Plato argued, therefore be born from a contemplation of the beautiful portrait of Gottlieb Schick's anonymous boy? Can knowledge be an outcome here, as opposed to a mere satisfaction of the senses? Yes. I think that is what I seem to have concluded.

TRAVEL DIARIES: Nietzsche's Birthplace

Röcken, Sachsen-Anhalt, July 3, 2010

Lutheran parish church in Röcken: Altar

Röcken is the birthplace and burial ground of Nietzsche: The photograph above is of the altar of the Lutheran Church in Röcken.

The photograph shows the altar of the small parish church in Röcken, where Nietzsche's father was minister of the Lutheran Church until his death in 1849. Note that above the table of the altar there is the preacher's pulpit, and nothing else. The Word has replaced all the Icons.

At the root of Nietzsche's perspectivism lies the genealogical evolution and the historical malleability of the Word. Nietzsche grew up under the influence of the Word, as preached from this pulpit by his father, at the small Lutheran parish church of Röcken. His philosophy is a perpetual re-evaluation of the Word he heard before this altar.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega. The First and the Last." Book of Revelations, 22.13" (Wood panel in the Parish Church of Röcken)

The psychoanalyst and historian Erik H. Erikson wrote the following, in his book Young Man Luther, (Norton, 1962 pb ed., p. 107):

"After 1505 Luther had made no bones about the pernicious influence which “rancid Aristotelianism” had had on theology. Scholasticism had made him lose faith, he said; through St. Paul he had recovered it. He put the problem in terms of organ modes, by describing scholastic disputations as dentes and linguae: the teeth are hard and sinister, and form words in anger and fury; the tongue is soft and suavely persuasive. Using these modes, the devil can evoke purely intellectual mirages (mira potest suggere in intellectu). But the organ through which the word enters to replensish the heart is the ear (natura enim verbi est audiri), for it is in the nature of the word that it should be heard. On the other hand, faith comes from listening, not from looking (quia est auditu fides, non ex visu). Therefore, the greatest thing one can say about Christ, and about all Christians, is that they have aures perfectas et perfossas: good and open ears. But only what is perceived at the same time as a matter affectionalis [of affection] and moralis [of morality] as well as intellectual can be a matter sacred and divine: one must, therefore, hear before one sees, believe before one understands, be captivated before one captures. Fides est “locus” animae: faith is the seat, the organ of the soul."

Portrait of Martin Luther, painted by the Protestant painter Lucas Cranach, and now at the Schlossmuseum in Weimar.

Nietzsche, as a little boy, listened to the Word from the pulpit at Röcken. His intellectual path thereafter, a long departure from Martin Luther's teachings, was a journey from believing to understanding, from the ear to the eye, from listening to looking, from Luther and Paul to the ancient Greeks in the Lyrical Age of Tragedy, discovered as a student of Prussian 'Bildung' and in his boarding-school at Schulpforta, where he first saw all the color of Hellenism while distinguishing himself as a Classics scholar.  And along that path he lost the Faith of his father.

Röcken, in Sachsen-Anhalt. The church tower is visible in the center-left of the photograph.

Below: Approach to Röcken. The church tower is visible above the trees in the center-right of the photograph.

[right-click on images and open link in new window to enhance the size of the picture]

The Parish Church in

The tower

Nietzsche's gravesite next to the church, and next to that of his father.

Interior of the Church in

Gravestones of local worthies, no doubt awesome to the little boy.

Wood panels and organ at the rear of the parish church of Röcken. Nietzsche's first exposure to music.

Tomb of Nietzsche next to the Röcken Parish Church

Nietzsche's birthplace

Nietzsche's birthplace: Pfarrerhaus

"My father born in 1813, died in 1849. Previous to taking over the pastorship of the parish of Röcken not far from Lützen he lived for some years at the Castle of Altenburg where he had charge of the education of the four princesses. His pupils are the Queen of Hanover, the Grand Duchess Constantine, the Grand Duchess of Oldenburg and the Princess Theresa of Saxe-Altenburg. He was full of loyal respect for the Prussian King Frederick William the Fourth from whom he obtained his living at Röcken; the events of 1848 saddened him immensely. As I was born on the 15th of October, the birthday of the king above mentioned, I naturally received the Hohenzollern names of Friedrich Wilhelm. There was in any case one advantage in the choice of this day: my birthday throughout the whole of my childhood was a day of public rejoicing." (Nietzsche, Ecce Homo).

TRAVEL DIARIES: Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans van Beuningen

Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam

The Muse stares at me from around the corner of the Museum's wall. She asks, are you seduced?

July 22, 2010

Jan van der Ploeg, Wall Painting No. 155 (2006)

Williem Claesz. Heda, Still life with Oysters, a Rummer, a Lemon, and a Silver Bowl (1634)

Paul Delvaux, La Ville Rouge, (1944)

Jan van Goyen, Sailing boats on a lake (1639)

Paolo Veronese, Portrait of a Boy, 1588