218 We must add something important: the strings or the wires that move the marionettes. We shall call them the weft.91 Here the phenomenon becomes quite uniform.
One could object that its multiplicity resides in the actor from whom it is projected. Perhaps; but his nerve fibers also belong to the weft. And this brings us back, by way of greyish masses, from the reticulum to the undifferentiated.
Let us take a look at our shadow plays: the flows of images emitted from towers and satellites. The plurality appears on our screens. One could also call it the ephemeral or the futile, in comparison with what happens, certainly not in the studios, but behind the screens. There one finds the reticulum, there the weft; now the threads are waves that are transmuted into light, colors and sounds. They penetrate walls, even spectators, before they take part in differentiation. They travel through the bodies of human beings and animals without being perceived, albeit not without consequences.
The play becomes increasingly more uniform, more colorless and more profound; it approaches the pure action of weaving, just as the myths attributed weaving to the Fates and the Norns. Its theme is the spiritualization of the Earth.
The theme, but not the goal.
219 The screen that is interposed between the weft and perception also performs a protective function. Just as cosmic radiation would be fatal without the shield of the atmosphere, so, too, would this weft, the primordial material of tragedy, be unendurable without a solid epidermis, without the “blunting of the senses” that protects us.
It is true that science teaches that certain kinds of cosmic radiation penetrate us. This also happens with telluric radiation. It is not good to be irradiated in excess by the latter, either.
Art, if it must preserve form and essence, cannot become too dense. The human spirit has always striven to draw borders here; it constitutes an act of self-defense. With respect to the question of what is art, at the beginning of his principal work Blüher compared the song that is born from the human throat and the trilling of the nightingale. As for the former, it is often said, “That is music!”, and with respect to the latter, “Those are the sounds of nature”, like the roaring of stags; “there is nothing behind it except the well-known forces of the sex drive”. And furthermore: “music is, at its very root, art, and works with instruments; it has nothing in common with the trilling of the nightingale except sound”.
As for tracing borders, it can be accepted. But can one accept these claims with respect to valuations? Is music really art “at its very root”, or is it also something else, something different? What is the significance of the arrogance with which Blüher demotes the nightingale to the same category as the howling of a mastiff in heat? Is this arrogance not all-too-similar to that of the thinking artist whom Nietzsche also wanted to distinguish from Wagner?; is it not the same distinction he makes between the thinking artist and the traditional artist?
Ad notam: modern ornithologists have proven that the twittering of the songbirds sounds more beautiful when they sing without any reason—and therefore, when they are not in heat and not fighting over territory.
220 Meanwhile, we should clarify what we mean by Great Transition. It is revealed in the concentration of forces, which, certainly, never ceases to act in art and history, but which is not manifested in its pure state. Cosmic radiation is concentrated, the telluric weft works from the loom of the depths. It can happen stealthily or ostentatiously; it is likely that precisely the most decisive phases take place without being observed. Suddenly, the serpent appears in the house. Perhaps it has always lived there.
It is no longer a matter of the rank of a work of art, but of the definition and the fate of art in general. It is not clear what we must identify as art; the borders are not distinct.
It is evident that, now and then, the concept must be reconceived. After the battle of Jena, some Prussian generals said that a victory of that type (that is, one involving troops advancing in dispersed order) was not art. But they could not deny the reality of the victory. On the other hand, Blücher, after the battle of Katzbach, could say: “We have overcome that, too; now you will have to explain to me how we can make these people understand the clever way we did everything”.
221 The question of whether the considerations posed by Nietzsche in The Case of Wagner “correspond to the truth” is irrelevant here. They possess value in themselves as a model for thinking of a higher rank. To this we add the following observation: when a mathematician draws figures on a blackboard with a piece of chalk—circles, triangles, parallelograms—these are “types” that do not exist in nature. In a strict sense, they are not present in architecture, either. And, when it comes right down to it, if they can be successfully represented on a blackboard, this is only an approximation. They are nothing but representations. The point that is conjured from the depths of the boundless appears in the form of a small scratch of chalk.
However, it should not be said that nothing has happened once the sketches are erased. Something has happened that goes beyond simple comparisons and demonstrations; certain spiritual powers have been convoked before the tribunal of the intuition. A summons that, like applied geometry, has an impact on time and space, on the field of physical forces.
The eye has extracted energy from the non-extensive by means of the relay of figures, and there are analogous relays or transformers for the undifferentiated. In this way, it begins to move like fabric on the loom; it begins to shuttle like the weft of the Norns. Once seen, the figures can be erased.
222 Classification becomes more difficult as qualities become more indistinct. In the undifferentiated there is an immense reserve of force, but without qualitative differences. Especially with respect to valuations, we touch upon the infernal circle of “degeneration” and of the new energy that forms on the basis of this abyss.
The main reproach leveled by Nietzsche against Wagner is that of sickliness, decadence. It comes from his natural ill health, which, on the other hand, is propitious for prophesy. Nietzsche not only saw the sickness, but he also saw how the weft began to move, because both quivered in his own entrails. His genius was formed by both, and he has brilliantly affirmed and denied both.
The difficulty cannot be resolved; it resides in the climate, not in individuals. We may refer to it by way of an image. A frozen lake can be crossed; this is one of the symbols coined by Nietzsche. The ice forms the shell, a crystal of solid forms.
When a warm wind blows, then the ice breaks up and, finally, you cannot walk on it. The great form, consequently, the supporting form, becomes soft and deceptive. This state of affairs is reproduced, by analogy, in microclimates even in the formation of crystals, even of atoms. In a glass of water, right at the line around the freezing point, the crystals form and deliquesce following minimal fluctuations, so that confusion is produced. There is a border before which we can no longer decide whether this or that body is at the point of melting or of sublimating, if it is moribund or in statu nascendi.
We have seen the weft, this time in its crystallographic version. Here qualities and times melt and merge—even death and life. From now on we only have to wait.
Optical models 223 Thus, the judgment of value has become difficult, if not entirely impossible. It must be referred, if not reduced to a museum value, not only to the form, but also to the movement. A glance at our life, at our world, suffices to corroborate this.
We know perfectly well what is of “value” in an image up to the recent past. We even know it all too well. As long as we move within the history of culture we have information. When, however, supplied with such information, we seek to dominate objects that show themselves to be totally or partly evasive, we enter “no man’s land”. The bridges have been burned, now we have to cross by swimming; here no geometry can help us.
224 With respect to the judgment of value, I recall the phenomenon of crystallization around the freezing point, and with respect to method I think of the example of the chalk and the eraser.
Does Vincent van Gogh belong to the history of culture? Without a doubt, despite the fact that his work can also be contemplated from other points of view, such as from the clinical point of view. He belongs to the history of culture like Mabuse, Altdorfer, Hokusai, Pousin or even the anonymous painters of the caves of Lascaux. His work, including the colors, the curves, the undulations, can be sounded by means of information, if not with the help of computers, then at least with techniques of the “Great Office of Convergence” in Heliopolis.92 We must add, as a reservation, that a work of art always harbors a remnant that is refractory to any method. A great painting not only contains an esthetic effect, but also a completely internal effect, a magical effect. This effect was, in its origins, powerful, even predominant, and diminished as art acquired autonomous laws and rules. This must have taken place locally even in a very early epoch—even before Lascaux.
Nonetheless, this magical participation reaches even to our time. It is hard to define, because it does not belong to the work of art but is nevertheless concealed within it. A comparison may make this easier to understand, that is: the comparison of wine and its lees. This can be developed in various directions.
We can see the little that magic or enchantment has to do with a work of art in the “miraculous icon”. The latter attains, only on rare occasions, the rank of a work of art, for the more “capable” the artist, the more impenetrable will be the wall that separates him from that layer. In any event, there remains “nothing but art”, that is, virtuosity, if the lees are not completely filtered out. For this reason, all works of art contain not only a potential of esthetic charm, but also an immediate magical force. This opens up a vast field. The historian of culture, Erhard Göpel, who unfortunately died young, developed, above all in conversations, intuitions that transcended the frontiers of art as well as those of history.
225 If Vincent undoubtedly belongs to the history of art, there are, however, in his art, tendencies that lead directly beyond the line, beyond art. They must be distinguished from the technique of dissolution that he borrowed from the puntillistes (Portrait of Père Tanguy).
The last intoxication of color begins in 1888, when Nietzsche’s fate was sealed in Turin. Now it becomes dangerous; the magmatic force shines in masses of incandescent and liquid gold. In one case, the rain of gold on the Danae, in the other the golden wheat field over which the ravens fly as heralds of death. A few days later, he went to the countryside to “hunt ravens” with his revolver. Then, abundance was powerfully manifested, not only for the artist, but also for the mayfly whose wings were burned.
Woe to thee, Zarathustra!
You resemble one
who has swallowed gold:
you will yet have your belly cut open!
For a long time the thought sparked, like the flare of a match, before a great light was liberated. “What is drawing?”, Vincent asks. “How does one learn it? It is working through an invisible iron wall that seems to stand between what one feels and what one can do. How is one to get through that wall—since pounding against it is of no use? One must undermine the wall and drill through it slowly and patiently, in my opinion”.
True, and the danger becomes greater as this undermining is accompanied by an increase of physical debility. Thus it was in Arles, and in Turin. The image is a good one—it is prophetic, in the highest sense of the word, it leads far beyond the ephemeral existence of art and the artist.
Art works on surfaces—the eyes on the butterfly’s wings, the leopard’s mottled skin—but the models from the depths undulate within it.
226 The experts have debated the extent to which Vincent’s art should be attributed to a “conscious configuration”, and the extent to which it is due to a psychopathological state. Controversial questions of this kind could be debated with regard to many of the artists of that era, Utrillo, Gauguin, Toulouse-Lautrec; when it comes right down to it, there is no such thing as a normal artist. This debate is irrelevant and we should not waste any more time on it, for, to paraphrase a well known saying, it does not matter if one is sick or healthy, the only thing that counts is what one does with one’s health or one’s illness.93 We are not interested in clinical symptoms, but in microcrystals, wefts, reticuli, the effects of radiation: in short, signs of the Great Transition. Does the thread run towards the borderline, to lose itself there? Or are topographic details and lineaments of the Other Side already discernable, as if from the peak of Mount Nebo?
In this respect one must think, as I have already said, that the weft takes after both sides. It has been a long time since the alternative was sickness vs. health, and the same is true of the alternative, one quality vs. another. One loses one’s directions—like a compass in the eye of a hurricane. The particles do not tell us whether the wave is breaking or receding, if it is coming from above or from below.
227 A painting like Study of Pine Trees (Rijksmuseum) is already quite noteworthy in this respect. However, it produces a feeling of familiarity—familiarity in the sense that we are entering an estate, perhaps distant, but without thereby leaving our house. Through the windows we glimpse a landscape swept by the mistral. The wind brushes its lines towards the sky; there, they become more distinct than in the braided texture of the crown of a tree. Composition: the rein is still controlled by the hand.
Echoes of the modernist style. In Munch a similar tendency is discerned. The psychic substance is not accommodated within either the situation or the figures; it is distributed throughout the painting, as if it had dissolved and had been reapplied on the canvas. It is no less legible on the faces than on the branches of the trees and the lines of hands. The horror is undeniable, but the ghosts nonetheless form part of the furniture of the house. Many paintings from that era evoke spiritualist sessions and their manifestations. This is even more evident in the North (Munch’s The Scream and Whistler’s Study).
Viewed historically, Van Gogh figures, with his Study ofPine Trees, among the masters who have transmitted to us famous paintings of forests and trees. If we imagine ourselves in a museum devoted to these themes, we could, beginning with Fra Filippo Lippi and Altdorfer, walk though a series of rooms to reach, finally, that room whose window allows us to see the landscape swept by the mistral.
We enter. Nothing totally strange lies before us. Is there anything that could be “totally” strange to us, anyway? It is hardly plausible, not even on Sirius. Horror only overcomes us when powers from very ancient epochs or very distant spaces erupt upon us. This horror itself is a sign of recognition, a sign that we have already known it.
228 If, in this tendency, a movement concludes that for a long time has preoccupied art and artists—perhaps since the Renaissance, perhaps since the Gothic era, depending on how far we want to extend the boundary—one may ask if new elements arise beyond this very fine line.
In the final analysis, painting is nothing but an example, a model, of higher optics—and the latter is, in turn, a model of transformations that take place outside of optics. A new style is a proclamation. It is at the same time a response to previous works, whether as a rejection, or as an acceptance. It can be viewed as progress, or it can be seen as a dialectical, cyclical or rhythmic development.
229 The mechanistic vision of progress is the most simple, and therefore it is the one that has been imposed most vigorously—thus, for example, Darwin as opposed to Cuvier and Lamarck. But there is no progress without regression. Or, less paradoxically: the sum of the forces in the universe remains constant.
Evolution should also be represented more or less as a tapestry that is displayed over the substance. This presupposes an expenditure of energy. New forces compensate for this, forces that flow from the Other Side and supervene. We must not allow ourselves to be deceived by the decoration, for example, by scientific subtlety or by the artistic palette: the weft of the tapestry is colorless, on both sides, and is radically deprived of qualities by virtue of the proximity of the thing in itself.
230 To take an example from optical physics, X-rays and crystallometry are the latest refinements of the classical enhancement of vision. That was still the 19th century; atomic physics is the response of the 20th century. Roentgen and Rutherford represent two different types; the electron microscope does not presuppose any development of the optical microscope, but a new connection with the cosmos.
The new century now stands out with distinct outlines. Even more distinctly in forms than in people’s heads, since from a rational point of view, it does not seem to need more than a few more steps for the process to be perfected and reach a conclusion.
We are already capable of discerning with some certainty what must be located on this and that side of the line. “This” means (at least in this context): our side; and “that” means: the past.
On the other hand, the fact that in Vincent van Gogh the wave breaks, while in the Cubists it becomes choppy, constitutes an almost unanimous point of agreement among the specialists. Immediately before the First World War something must have happened in Paris, in La Roche-Guyon and in other places in the world, comparable to a rip in the curtain. It is not just another change in style, but a Transition of greater scope.
If we compare Vincent’s Study of Pine Trees (ca. 1888) and August Macke’s Two Girls in the Forest (spring of 1914) and adopt as a our point of comparison the forest in Altdorfer’s painting of Saint George (1510), then we can, without a great deal of effort, retrace the path that led from Vincent back to Altdorfer—but not the one that leads from Macke, one of our great hopes, back to Altdorfer.
Macke’s painting is a source of valuable suggestions, and therefore both its thematic as well as its expressive means possess a synoptic character. The color seems to have melted around the zero point and then to have crystallized again, undoubtedly over large areas.
It urges us to disencumber ourselves of the idea that something only happens in the realm of the absolutely small, in atoms for example. This affirmation also contains a point of truth; but a Great Transition supervenes in every dimension and in every discipline of science. Which sheds light on the likeness not only of apparatuses, which serve distinct ends, such as, for example, the telescope and the microscope, but also on the visual worlds that the former open up to perception. The existence of such similarities is less a question of fact than a question of style, as a configuration of a powerful will, both in the macrocosmic as well as in the microscopic domains.
231 A similar transition is manifested, consequently, both in the large and the small—it can also supervene with a figurative or abstract or non-figurative thematic. These are questions of technique and, as such, of transcendence for the history of art. What interests us, however, is not so much forms and their differences, as the forces that elevate forms in their totality. This happens outside of art and independently of it.
The concept of “Cubism”, like that of “Baroque” and other similar concepts, was born accidentally, on the occasion of Georges Braque’s premiere showing (Paris, 1908). It soon became evident that “the last bridges with materialism had been burned”, which, as I have said, cannot be claimed with respect to either Van Gogh or even the Fauvistes, who had already come close to the line. But on their side melting still prevailed, while with Braque, crystallization has been reached.
When one of the Cubists said that he wanted to approach the “thing in itself”, his desire expressed the same need as Vincent’s, that is: to undermine the walls that separated it from feeling. It is the same goal, but pursued from two opposite points.
The border can separate individuals (“young” and “old”), and can also be overcome within the individual. The transition from Fauvism to Cubism forms part of this context. The distance between Braque’s painting, The Door (1906) and The Guitar Players (1914) is almost unbridgeable; here something different must have supervened within the pure temporal sequence.
The fact is that there are artists whose work is an obstacle, rather, for reflection, whose point of gravity reposes in the nameless. Must we therefore choose models from other domains, for example, from physics, where the transition is especially obvious? This choice entails, once again, the risk that the phenomena fail to fit the figure. With regard to this point, the fate of The Worker has served me as an object lesson.
232 When contemplating paintings like Homage to J. S. Bach (1912), by Braque, The Scottish Girl (1918), by Juan Gris, or even The Surrender of Barcelona, by Wyndham Lewis, painted at a later date, our attention is called both to the marked affinity between these paintings as well as their total foreignness both with respect to the immediately preceding works of art and even contemporary ones. It is disconcerting; faces emerge from the bottom of clouds of confetti. They have little to do with art; it seems, rather, that the field of art has been abandoned, or is even in danger.
Winckelmann, the “guardian of noble innocence and serene greatness”, contemplated the small Sardinian bronzes as barbarous trash. Today they instead speak to us of a greatness, certainly not noble, but modest. This is not accidental.94 For Goethe, concerning whom one could say that he went as far as the East, but not as far as Mexico, the gods of Mexico were a complete atrocity, the absolute opposite of beauty. This how we must interpret the verses of his posthumous work:
For a Vitzliputzli would be
Talisman upon Thy heart!95
233 That it should be precisely images and affinities of this type that are presented to us is not, as we have said, an accident: they are prefigurations that come directly from behind the weft and are projected on the empty surface. They belong less to the abysses of time than to those of space, whose depths we can explore at all times. In this sense we still find ourselves underground, in the caves at Lascaux.
Montezuma was waiting for Cortez; the arrival of the White Gods had been prophesied. This explains many of their conquests, which only belong in part to history and in part to the realm of legend, as Stucken understood.
It is to be assumed that there is a movement in the opposite sense; Mexico acquires distinct traits in opposition to us. To the same extent, it flourishes within us. The signs begin to come to life; they still await their Champollion.
This case is similar to that of Goethe, who had a correct instinctive reaction against anything that might pose a threat to the culture of antiquity. He sensed the irreconcilable character of the Mexican world with respect to our culture. He could only glimpse an affinity with it when he reached the end of the road.
In the 21st century Mexico will play a more important role in archaeology, and not only in that discipline, than the one that has until recently been played by Egypt. It will surpass the domain of science. Compared with it, Egyptology has been all-too-scrupulously limited to its own specialty. In The Magic Flute the many possibilities it harbors have been hinted at. These possibilities vividly came to life for me during a nocturnal walk through the Temple of Karnak.
Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony is also worthy of comparison. There, something begins to stir in the shadows cast by the temple—in the shadows cast by the century of the Enlightenment.