Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Sunday, December 14, 2014
Saturday, December 13, 2014
Oh what joy, in the open air
Freely to breathe again!
Up here alone is life!
The dungeon is a grave.
We shall with all our faith
Trust in the help of God!
Hope whispers softly in my ears!
We shall be free, we shall find peace.
ALL THE OTHERS
Oh Heaven! Salvation!
Happiness! Oh Freedom!
Will you be given us?
Ihr wandelt droben im Licht
Auf weichem Boden selige Genieen!
Rühren Euch leicht,
Wie die Finger der Künstlerin
Schicksallos, wie der Schlafende
Sӓugling, atmen die Himmlischen;
In bescheidener Knospe
Ihnen der Geist,
Und die seligen Augen
Blicken in stiller
Doch uns ist gegeben
Auf keiner Stӓtte zu ruh’n;
Es schwinden, es fallen
Die leidenden Menschen
Blindlings von einer
Stunde zur andern,
Wie Wasser von Klippe
Zu Klippe geworfen
Jahrlang in's Ungewisse hinab.
--Friedrich Hölderin, "Schicksalied" (Song of Fate)
Above us you walk in Light,
on soft soil, you blessed!
Luminous godly airs
touch you lightly
like a harp player's fingers
on holy strings.
As timeless as a sleeping
infant the Heavenly breathe;
in a flowerbud, to them
their minds blossom eternally
and their blessed eyes
view in quiet
But we are given
no place to rest;
blindly from one hour
into the other,
like water thrown
from cliff down to cliff,
down our years, into the unknown.
--translation by Gerrit Tijink
Thursday, December 11, 2014
I'm not very glad to be a Yank these days. Cops have been killing unarmed black guys as long as I can remember. And yet it still happens, and the punishments for jay-walking continue to be worse than for killing a black kid. Everyone on the planet knows that the CIA tortured people (and killed some of them) in the years following the September 11th attacks even if they didn't know all the details. What I find so new and shocking is the eagerness of so many people these days to defend the indefensible.
The problem with policies driven by revenge is that eventually you find that when you look into the face of your enemy, you look into a mirror. And let's face it, what really drove these CIA policies was fury and hatred, not any real desire to extract useful information. Dark passions like revenge have always driven government policies, especially when dealing with hostile foreigners. There are a lot of people defending our huge sell-out of our own founding principles as a "necessary evil." Somehow by doing evil we prevented evil from happening to us, which in the end makes us evil and twin to the very evil we are trying to stop. If this is what we want, some primordial chaos of perpetual warfare of all against all, then why bother to even pretend to have anything like the rule of law? Why not just have a state ruled by over-awing power? The jackals with sharp teeth won't bite us anymore because the state is our tiger.
We would no longer be bound together as free citizens, but as subjects in fear and partners in crime. In such a world, it hardly matters who wins and who loses since everyone, including us, would be a predator. Is that what we really want? Benjamin Franklin famously said that those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither. Those who would throw out the rule of law for revenge must take their chances with the sword and become the crime that was done to them.
I've always defended this country in the face of its many detractors (certainly on this blog), and now, I quit. What I thought was really the "last best hope" of humankind in the end is nothing more than another empire destined to go the way of all other empires. In my heart of hearts I really believe, and continue to believe, in all those founding principles outlined in the Declaration of Independence and so eloquently restated in the Gettysburg Address. But we don't believe in our own founding ideas any more than the Chinese really believe in their ideological crap. There are times when I think that the Decline and Fall can't come fast enough. Maybe out of the ruins of the Empire we can recover and rebuild something like the American Republic. But, I'm not so sure anymore. Great crimes were committed and no one will be held to account for any of it. So who gives a rat's ass anymore? We've crossed a line and have no interest in backing away. Bring on the imperial corruption and decadence. That's what everyone seems to want anyway.
At this point, I'm not voting for anyone in 2016, and I'm feeling sorry I wasted my time for the last 38 years.
Goya, Saturn Devouring His Children, circa 1821 - 1823
Posted by Counterlight at Thursday, December 11, 2014
Monday, December 1, 2014
Did I mention that I finally got to Paris on this trip in July? There's not much to add about Paris that greater minds and talents than mine have already written about it. So, I'll just share pictures.
I'll start with the most famous of all Parisian landmarks, the Eiffel Tower. I loved the big piece of iron, an opinion not universally shared. The author Guy de Maupassant famously hated the tower. And yet, he had lunch in a restaurant at its base daily. When asked why, he said that it was the only spot in Paris where he didn't have to look at the tower. A lot of people I know think the Tower is really ugly. I don't. I agree with generations of engineers who've long praised the design for its grace and its sound structure.
It may seem odd coming from someone from New York, but the Tower really impressed me with its height and size. In New York, a huge tall building is but another tree in the forest, even the new World Trade Center. The Eiffel Tower stands alone over the otherwise ground-hugging city of Paris, and looks comparatively immense.
All of these pictures are mine except where noted otherwise. As always, my own pictures are freely available especially to educators.
The optimism that shaped and built the Tower is still palpable after more than a century. I always begin my modern art survey classes with the Tower and use it to discuss what makes modernity distinct from earlier ages. I compare it with the Great Pyramid of Khufu in Egypt. Both the Tower and the Pyramid were each the tallest buildings in the world at some point in their histories. The Pyramid was built of stone as a tomb for the Pharaoh and embodies certain truths that people at the time (and for millennia afterwards) assumed would never change and last forever; that bread would be won only by toil and sweat, and that kings and queens shall be our nursing parents. Armies of workers labored to build the Pyramid. The entire Egyptian economy had to be adjusted to construct so immense a monument.
The Eiffel Tower went up in less than 2 years, required only a small group of specialized workers to build, and was made from prefabricated parts made of an industrially produced material, tempered cast iron (steel construction would be invented in Chicago only a couple of years after the Tower was finished). Whereas the Pyramid is made from tons of stone, most of the Eiffel Tower is air. Its footprint on the ground is very light (even compared to most modern skyscrapers). The Tower was built to demonstrate what new industrial technology could do before an amazed public. The Tower gave the Parisian public the unprecedented experience of looking down on the city and seeing it turn into a map of itself; a view formerly available to only a handful of courageous balloon pilots. The optimistic message of the Tower is that the ancient human condition of toil and servitude is not permanent, that it can be changed, that living conditions for masses of people can be improved and that, given the opportunity, human beings can govern themselves.
Writers may not have cared for the Eiffel Tower, but a lot of artists loved it.
Robert Delaunay especially loved the Eiffel Tower and featured it in many of his paintings.
I visited that other most famous landmark of Paris, Notre Dame.
Works like this:
Sainte Chapelle separately, but here's an encore.
I've said this before, but I'll say it again. Paul Lane was a most valuable travel guide to Paris. He speaks French like a native, and lived in the city for 5 years and knows how to get around Paris and the public transportation very well; something necessary for transporting the disabled Bill Paulsen around the city. I'm not sure this trip to Paris would have been nearly as successful as it was without Paul.
The reason I suspect that Louis originally intended this building to be his tomb is because in de la Fosse's painting in the oculus of the dome, a figure of the king with his sword kneels before the Risen Christ, not before the Trinity. In very Baroque fashion, the whole church, architecture, sculpture, and painting together presents the king's reception into Heaven as a massive operatic spectacle.
I'm kinda proud of this photo, especially the way the lighting turned out.
Visible on the entablature on the upper left (and throughout the church) is the monogram of King Louis XIV.
For me, the man most honored in this huge glorious monument is the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart.
the Louvre, but here is a little bit of an encore.
I had a great lunch of escargot on Montmarte, and I passed the Lapin Agile, a favorite hang-out of the young Picasso and still in business.
The Saint Denis honored by the Abbey church of the same name was the first bishop of Paris and the Apostle to the French. The Middle Ages conflated three different people into the single figure of Saint Denis. The first Bishop of Paris was thought to be identical with Dionysus the Areopagite who was a Greek protege of Saint Paul, who in turn was thought to be the same Dionysus (the "Pseudo-Dionysus") who wrote an early work of Christian mysticism, The Heavenly Hierarchies. The "Pseudo-Dionysus" is now thought to be a 5th century Syrian monk. The Heavenly Hierarchies may have played a role in the creation of the Gothic style at Saint Denis under the leadership of the Abbott Suger in the mid 12th century. From the beginning of the book, light plays a central role as a metaphor for the nature and workings of the Spirit:
Invoking then Jesus, the Paternal Light, the Real, the True, "which lighteth every man coming into | the world," "through Whom we have access to the Father," Source of Light, let us aspire, as far as is attainable, to the illuminations handed down by our fathers in the most sacred Oracles, and let us gaze, as we may, upon the Hierarchies of the Heavenly Minds manifested by them symbolically for our instruction. And when we have received, with immaterial and unflinching mental eyes, the gift of Light, primal and super-primal, of the supremely Divine Father, which manifests to us the most blessed Hierarchies of the Angels in types and symbols, let us then, from it, be elevated to its simple splendour . For it never loses its own unique inwardness, but multiplied and going forth, as becomes its goodness, for an elevating and unifying blending of the objects of its care, remains firmly and solitarily centred within itself in its unmoved sameness; and raises, according to their capacity, those who lawfully aspire to it, and makes them one, after the example of its own unifying Oneness. For it is not possible that the supremely Divine Ray should otherwise illuminate us, except so far as it is enveloped, for the purpose of instruction, in variegated sacred veils, and arranged naturally and appropriately, for such as we are, by paternal forethought.
Abbott Suger took aesthetic experience very seriously as a path to religious contemplation. He had the Abbey church of Saint Denis rebuilt to be more than just a bigger church to hold more pilgrim traffic. He wanted the church to be beautiful. He writes, "I see myself dwelling as it were in some strange region of the universe which neither exists in entirely in the slime of the earth no entirely in the purity of Heaven; and that by the Grace of God I can be transported from this inferior to to that higher world in an analogical manner." The interior of the church was to be that "strange region of the universe" where heaven and earth would meet. Suger wanted the church interior filled with light and minimized the structural use of walls and employed ribs and buttresses to expand the size of windows. Out of these ideas and ambitions, Gothic art was created at the Abbey of Saint Denis.
Reproduction from here.
Francois was the king who cared for Leonardo da Vinci in his old age and was there at the artist's bedside when he died.
I took most of these pictures with art history classes in mind. Instead of wasting so much digital memory trying to photograph paintings in the Louvre or the Musee d'Orsay, in retrospect I should have taken more pictures of the city itself from its numerous ancient back streets to Baron Haussmann's boulevards. Paul Lane and I took a very pleasant summer twilight walk through the very beautiful 16th century Place de Vosges and through the old Marais district where Paris' gay nightlife spills out into the streets as it once did on Manhattan almost 20 years ago. Alas! I have no pictures of any of that.
All the photos of the streets of Paris below are by Paul Lane on a return trip to Paris in October. I wish I had take more photos like these
I look forward to my return trip to Paris.
It's a little late, about 5 months later, but I still have material from my trip. I've yet to get to Amsterdam and Oslo in these posts. More slide shows to come. probably into next year.
Posted by Counterlight at Monday, December 01, 2014