Holding Fast to Laughter

Studies for the Heads of Two Soldiers in the Battle of Anghiari (1504-05) by Leonardo da Vinci.

Studies for the Heads of Two Soldiers in the Battle of Anghiari (1504-05) by Leonardo da Vinci.

But this laughter is the reason why the Tuscans invented science and the clear Tuscan drawing in their cool paintings; laughter means distance. Conversely: where laughter is absent, madness begins. Every time I’ve had a chance to observe an outbreak of psychosis or a first-rate clinical anxiety neurosis the signal has been given in the absence of humour – one is potentially insane. The whole art of learning to live means holding fast to laughter; without laughter the world is a torture chamber, a dark place where dark things will happen to us, a horror show filled with bloody deeds of violence.

*****

It is related of Leonardo da Vinci that he had a laughter which was so beautiful that those who had heard it could never again forget it.

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Of Leonardo we know that he laughed this bubbling laughter of gold, which was the Florentine laughter in the deepest sense. Yet Leonardo was not a happy man, and his laughter had nothing to do with happiness.

*****

Dante also has this laughter.

Jens Bjørneboe. Moment of Freedom. Norvik Press, 1999 (1966)

Nine Perfect “Products”

  1. Fuji X100 camera
  2. The Cure’s Boy’s Don’t Cry album
  3. Beckett’s “trilogy” of novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable
  4. Tony Scott’s film True Romance
  5. Dr. Marten 10-Eye steel toe-cap boots (Cherry Red)
  6. Sibelius’ The Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47
  7. Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci
  8. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining
  9. Cross “Townsend” black lacquer fountain pen (medium nib)

[Inspired by “Houellebecq’s” lament for three perfect products in The Map and the Territory. I’ve drifted beyond fungible manufactured commodities into performance: what can be manufactured with sounds, words, bodies and light.]

‘In my life as a consumer.’ he said, ‘I’ve known three perfect products: Paraboot walking boots, the Canon Libris laptop-printer combination, and the Camel Legend parka. I loved these products, with a passion; I would’ve spent my life in their presence, buying regularly, with natural wastage, identical products. A perfect and faithful relationship had been established, making me a happy consumer. I wasn’t completely happy in all aspects of life, but at least I had that: I could, at regular intervals, buy a pair of my favourite boots. It’s not much but it’s something, especially when you’ve quite a poor private life. Ah yes, that joy, that simple joy, has been denied me. My favourite products, after a few years, have disappeared from the shelves, their manufacture has stopped purely and simply – and in the case of my poor Camel Legend parka, not doubt the most beautiful parka ever made, it will have lived for only one season …’

Idées Fixes of the Week

Caspar David Friedrich – On the Sailing-Vessel (1818)

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*****

Anselm Kiefer: Heaven and Earth. SFMOMA

There is no history. Each human being makes his own history, has his own thoughts and his own world but everyone is alone with his own illusions, with his own methods…I think each human being tries to put themselves in a bigger context. You always create an illusion that you stay longer on earth than you do…That’s what a religion is…This reassures you in a sense in the work because in this world there is no sense. So the scientific process…doesn’t lead to any key to the work….the more we know, more we don’t know. It’s always like this only mythology…tries to explain the world in a logical sense.

*****

Jorie Graham – Untitled (2010)

Of the two dogs the car hit, one, two, while we were talking, and thinking about
how to change each
other’s
mind, the other people’s
survived – dark spot near the front
fender just hair blowing in low wind, a spot all wind’s, then
a stir in the ribs and everything’s rising slow-motion up from the tight small shoulders, the
chest, the
dragging hind end of itself on the dirt
road as if sewing a new strap
back
on, dragging, a long
moment, then the
division occurs and the wide perishing shrinks and the legs
are four again and
up. Not ours. Ours
is placed by gravity on the far bank, as if an as yet unbuilt unimagined house on the
empty field into which
one peers past mist
wondering how will or
concentration or want alone will bring the as-yet-not thing into view. What will it take to
build the
thing? The not yet, not anymore, not
again? That. Wouldn’t the beautiful field be best left
alone? unfilled? No. Now the children are folding
over it and sound
is restored and it is the only human
world, something perished on the road, it was its turn, you have your turn says the road I
stare blankly
at, white dust,
thinking there are words now
that must take the
place of this
creature, and I
am at the point in the road where I, who will have lived, no matter how many thousands
of years in the future come, if they come,
even if there are no more humans then or they have become unrecognisable, I,
even when no rain will have come down
in the memory of generations
so they think the story of such an element is one of the myths, the empty
myths, I still will have
lived this day and all the preceding ones of my
person, mine, as I rise now
to the moment when right words
are needed – Dear moon
this morning I woke up, I thought the room for an instant was a blossoming, then a
burning cell, then a thing
changing its clothes, huge transparent clothes, the ceiling part of the neck, where is
the head I thought, of the year, this
year, where are the eyes of
the years – the years, can we stay human, will we slow the end
down, how much, what do we have to promise, how think our way
from here to
there – and human life survived – and its world – ah, room, the
words – has it been just
luck, the room now wild with winds of centuries swirling floods tectonic plates like wide
bones shifting round me – elephants flow through, all gone, volcanoes emerging and
disappearing just like that, didn’t even really get to see them, pestilence, there, it took its
people, hurricane, there, it took its – ‘you’re a
martian’ I heard the angry child cry out on the street
below to the other
child, and the door slams, and the only story I know, my head, my century, the one where
187 million perished in wars, massacre, persecution, famine – all policy induced – is the
one out of which
I must find the reason
for the loved still-young creature being carried now onto the family lawn as they try
everything, and all murmurs shroud hum cry instruct, and all the
six arms gleam, firm, limp, all over it, caresses, tentacular
surround of the never-again, rush of blood and words, although look, you out there
peering in, listening, to see who we were: here: this was history:
their turn
is all they actually have
flowing in them.

******

Christa Wolf, City of Angels or Overcoat of Dr. Freud

Night thoughts have a different color than day thoughts, a different slant, more than anything else they know all the secret paths and chinks in the armor they can take advantage of to force their way into consciousness.

*****

Ovid – Metamorphoses

No species remains constant: that great renovator of matter
Nature, endlessly fashions new forms from old: there’s nothing
in the whole universe that perishes, believe me; rather
it renews and varies its substance. What we describe as birth
is no more than incipient change from a prior state, while dying
is merely to quit it. Though the parts may be transported
hither and thither, the sum of all matter is constant.

*****

I’ve posted Ginevra before, but she haunts me …

Leonardo da Vinci
Ginevra de’ Benci (1474)

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Bento’s Sketchbook by John Berger

In Leonardo’s Treatise on Painting (Tratatto) he advises a neophyte artist to ‘quicken the spirit of invention’ by observing walls stained by damp, or the coloration of rocks, and in them to see magnificent landscapes or scenes of battle. Commissioned to paint a mural in S. Maria del Grazie, Leonardo astonished the prior by spending three days contemplating the wall he was to paint.

[…] standing for days on end in front of the wall he was to paint, without touching it with his brush- an incident Croce quotes as evidence of this “inner” process of expression-we may suppose that the thoughts that occupied his mind were of painted surface, were perhaps images of ever-developing articulation of what he was to set down. Thus a work of art was created that was both in an artist’s mind and in a medium. (Art and its Objects – R. Wollheim)

Wollheim writes much of expression in his seminal 1968 book. The etymology of ‘expression’ is early fifteenth century, originally the ‘action of pressing or squeezing out.’ It is a word that came to mind frequently last night at a reading John Berger gave of his remarkable Bento’s Sketchbook. Interviewed by Sally Potter, Berger often struggled to unearth the precise words to respond to Potter’s questions. When, however, he disinterred a satisfactory articulation, Berger expressed himself with remarkable concision and ‘tender attention’.

Asked my a member of the audience to ‘sum up Spinoza in three minutes’, Berger took less time, explaining that Spinoza’s accomplishment was to pull down the Cartesian notion of a duality of body and spirit, yet retain space for the sacred.

Bento’s Sketchbook begins with plums, ‘the quetsch blue is like a vivid but vanishing blue smoke’. It ends with a broadside against economic fascism: ‘ Narrative is another way of making a moment indelible, for stories when heard stop the unilinear flow of time and render the adjective inconsequential meaningless.’ In this beautifully produced Verso edition, Berger juxtaposes Spinoza’s words with his drawings, and his deeply attentive stories.