Where did you find so many stories, Master Ludovico?

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Finally: what is it, in general, that returns in such a transition? Neither dynasties, nor images of animals or gods, nor grandiose conceptions of the world. Absolutely nothing visible or nameable returns—and this is a major point—since nothing returns. Therefore, he wants to say: neither images nor conceptions, but empty concepts, absolute ingenuousness. For an instant the door opens in silence. Then, everything seems to be possible. Hence the restlessness, the expectation, the hopes.
Great purifications help create blank spaces. Dynasties fall like old trees, like dying forests. They are concomitant phenomena; as their simultaneity indicates. Here, no change is worth anything; the time of the princes has passed. The religions have also gone into decline—not only in the West, but all over the world. Such are the epochs of the downfall of the Fathers, of revolutions and demystification.
The purification ritual forms part of the festival and its preparations: the old image of the world must fall, before a new one can be born. Such times are also the epochs of those who bring fuel to the fire, of despots without dignity or benevolence, but disposing of a monstrous and merciless energy. Colossi with iron faces are either the objects of demoniacal fear, or else they are venerated as gods. These are erroneous inferences: it is not their feet of clay that are making the world tremble.
How can the silence, the lack of ideas and the lack of expectations of our times be reconciled with the hurricane of history and with the Gnostic anxiety that returns every thousand years concerning the possibility that the world will perish? But the world also returns to the bottom, that is, it submerges, for an instant, in the timeless.99
In principle, we can reply that where past and future are concentrated in an instant, it hardly matters what might happen in its vicinity. Archimedes traced his circles while Syracuse burned.
The symbol of John of Patmos is a great one: from the heart of the apocalyptic storm, the Eternal City rises. “Eternal” is only a synonym for that instant where past and future are concentrated.
When the wave of time recedes, it is comparable to a great exhalation—the word comprehends both temporal liberation as well as liberation from time. In that instant, the seed pod bursts, that is: the presupposition for the return of the nameless, which aspires to be embodied in the word.
The wave must unfold its entire impulse until it is completely exhausted. If the crest of a new wave reaches the previous one too soon, a sad mixture of names and images is produced, “new wine in old bottles”, which in the political world is called restoration. This would necessarily be an adulterated return.
We shall not spend any more time here addressing theological questions. Nonetheless, we shall add yet one more comment: the prophecy of Schubart regarding a Third Christianity, based on the Gospel of John the Baptist, harbors the danger of a falsified return.100
Demystification is as improper for the priest as high treason is for the soldier. But this kind of prophecy has a positive feature: the strength inherent to the power of Eros. Here, too, the embers of names and dates are slowly burning, while the pure vein of the event comes to light. This also yields, immediately, a profit in time. On the one hand, a disencumbering; on the other, approach.
The surrealist advance patrol
We have already mentioned the fact that Great Transitions are connected with a destruction of forms. In this, they are distinguished from revolutions, where what exists takes a new direction; in Great Transitions, being is affected at a much deeper level than the strata where the change takes place. Formless and indivisible power is extracted from the reserves of the depths and begins to work in its virgin force; in our epoch of change, this is manifested even with respect to matter.
We also mentioned the danger that is associated with the reception of the substance coined in forms. This is not true of revolutions, since here the power of tradition is acting as a retarding moment, as Christianity has always done. In Great Transitions, with the masses of energy that they unleash, the clash and finally the destruction are more violent. It is true that the hope that surprising and totally novel phenomena will occur is more justified. Which is the reason why, precisely, political and artistic power must not be implicated too prematurely in definitive formulations.
In such new directions one might expect more from the artist than he is capable of delivering; when the cosmos becomes transparent one can no longer call the constellations by their old names. Here we touch upon the essence of The Case of Wagner…. According to Nietzsche, Wagner conjures by magical arts the oldest female of the Earth, Erda, only to leave her in the lurch because he was not equal to the experience of her presence.
It is a recurring motif; Djudar the Fisherman could not enter the final chamber, either, the chamber of the ring, without first having ordered the Mother, to whom he was presented, to take off her clothing.
The unease with which the elites of society also close their eyes to this transparency is surprising—the elites today are no longer princes, heroes and priests, but the great minds of the physical sciences and the entourage that participates in their spirit. It is self-evident that for them, transparency—as Baader, and to some extent Nietzsche, had already discerned—is an illusion of “the beyond”.
Meanwhile, matter has increased its power and it has been a long time since its depths were finally plumbed; it becomes transparent wherever the spirit manages to approach its immanent power. Transparency can shine, for example, while meditating on a thermodynamic fact like the identity of the melting point and the freezing point.
Knowledge implies approach—we approach the source of the miracle, without ever reaching it, and beyond the field of the nameable. If, as is the case with our epoch, knowledge expands until it attains the dimension of a gigantic sphere, then enigmas are not reduced, but are instead multiplied: the number of reference points that border on the inexplicable, along with the miracle, never ceases to grow.
It has been said that the Greeks should have been able to produce certain results of great utility in the field of experimental physics. Their failure to do so was not due to inability, but to their scorn for a kind of production that, like artisanal labor, was judged to be inaccessible to the Muses.
They were interested in that part of physics that had to be studied in a “sedentary” way, above all by way of mathematical reflection and by astronomical observation in a finite and well ordered universe. Here, too, esthetic intuition still reigned. The stars move according to the harmony of the spheres, and in numbers is concealed divine power.
A grandiose idea, particularly alien to our contemporaries, is that the stars do not exist by themselves, but that they represent emanations of the cosmic light that penetrates the celestial vault as if it was radiated throughout its pores and eyes and that, in its plenitude, exceeds our sensory capacity. We would be consumed by it, like Phaethon. There is still a place where the higher reality of this image of the world is communicated to us: the Pantheon in Rome. Let us hope that it will someday be rid of its Christian ingredients.
Hephaestus—Vulcan to the Romans—was counted among the lesser gods; he was thrown out of Olympus because of his deformity. His lame foot also constituted a motif that goes beyond the anecdotal. It is one of the far-sighted or telluric-sighted coordinates by which myth is distinguished. Lameness is, among other things, a stigma of blacksmiths, who in part even belong to the subterranean world and on whose smoke-blackened doorsteps they forge many types of a surprising variety of weapons and tools. They are also magicians, capable, like Daedalus and Wieland, of the mastery of the air under their wings, but their works become doubtful in the light of Apollo, as is the case wherever one knows how to distinguish between art and prestidigitation.
It is true that the power of the world of automated machines should not be underestimated; the pleasure that it arouses is reminiscent of primitive dances in their naive happiness and their spiritual onanism.
The mythical figure of the cripple maintains relations of correspondence with the one-eyed figure of the Cyclops, which does not exclude a particular sharpness of vision, despite the fact that his depth perception is limited. The Cyclops sees, thinks and works along a single simple path and, despite his good will, is hardly skilled in questions of law and morality. This is visible in his quarrels with his kind, for even though the solution is obvious, they are indefinitely prolonged.
I was recently reminded of this question of lameness during a re-broadcast of the second moon landing. As everyone knows, one of the astronauts stumbled as he was making a leap that was not foreseen by the computers. This suggested related combinations. They often occur precisely due to technical malfunctions, as if caves were opened up for pseudo-metamorphoses. The raw material vanishes, but it preserves its form. The sinking of the Titanic constitutes the model.
Otherwise, how does one explain the feeling of unreality due to which, during such broadcasts, we find ourselves more absent than present? The actuality is insuperable, and just for that reason devours reality. After long lapses of time I had to call myself to order, like someone who participates in a spiritual séance, even preferring to read a book instead.
The fantastic character of such phenomena is even more powerfully reinforced by their extraordinary faithfulness. This faithfulness does not reside in nature, or in the Moon, or in the Universe, but in vision. It is not the desert that is ugly, but that which “conceals deserts”.
The beauty of the desert has been recognized by many spirits of our century, particularly by the French troupiers who spent long stretches of their lives there and were deeply affected by the experience.
This beauty still reflects or projects the reticulum distinctly enough, that is, the constellation of the smallest particles that repose on the very bottom of the undifferentiated. Here one finds the grains of sand. The wind works with them like an artist who sculpts a statue. Their secrets are revealed when they are expanded to a disproportionate scale. It is a general precondition for all esthetics that the reticulum contributes the criterion for measurement. The wave is the same both in the ray of light as it is in the wave emitted by the eruption of Krakatoa. This identity is the ineluctable presupposition for all representation.
Beauty and reason are still related by an intimate bond; the forms are rigorous, and often even of a mathematical precision. The same principle prevails for the peoples of the deserts, for the way they think, for the way they move, for their weapons, for their tools, and also for the wells they meticulously dig in the depths of the subsoil.
How is it possible that the new kinds of wells, whose platforms have sprouted up in the desert like mushrooms, have not been adopted? The world of beams, of steel girders and empty jam jars, with its lights, its odors and its sounds, is foreign to the desert.
In the landscape of workshops, the reticulum is projected obliquely. Which is where the uninterrupted attacks come from, which radiate in all domains, particularly in that of higher intuition. Undoubtedly the force field will oscillate, with or without the collaboration of the human being. Science, which also serves as orientation for theology, is incapable of that.
Only the artist remains, who still has to entrust himself to the production or, more accurately, to the radical creation of valid models. In the poet, nature even bursts from the wellspring of the undifferentiated and dispenses wealth, while science establishes itself on wealth and consumption. These are distances.
The inclusion of technical substance fixed in the work of art represents a particular problem, the domain of the rational structure by way of the spirit of the Muses. From a theoretical point of view it would not be impossible, since art drinks from deeper springs.
The dissolution, the incipient destruction, but also the peculiar rejuvenation, of technical phenomena now takes place, wherever the uncanny begins to glow beneath the value of utility and comfort. The seal of the bottle has been broken; the genie rises, like a cloud of smoke, to the firmament. I have among my correspondence a sketch by Magritte, the depiction of a landscape over which atomic mushroom clouds sprout like the jets of geysers, Titanic brains in the form of grayish clouds, in a majestic solitude.
In this respect, magic and surrealism offer, in general, a gold mine of discoveries. When De Chirico attempted to destroy the works of his pittura metafisica period, this was not directed against his own power. Thus, we are not pleased to recall a love affair that almost cost us our skin. We notice the élan prematurely. We bet too much on a single card. Here, the transparency of technology shows through—a new millennium of glacial and irreversible urbanization. Against this, Mexico is good, as is announced in a long walk through the halls of images.
In the surrealists, the sinister did not take long to spread. This is already true of their Patriarchs: Poe, Lautremont, Kleist, Emily Bronte, Sade. Their magazine, Minotaure, provides a good overview. If such spirits represent the law, evolution has already come to an end. Artists recognized this very early; this recognition also marks their fates.
This must not be understood as a pejorative comment; to the contrary. Surrealism offers the example of an approach that certainly leads, precociously, to crystallization. It is a first attempt by the man of art to tame the world of technology and its ugliness, returning to the spirit—an attempt that does not exclude the landscape of the workshop in order to preserve an idyllic vision, but which incorporates its constructs, its physiognomy and its dangers. The power of this enterprise can now be recognized because it knew how to charge the fixed fragments of this world with the spirit of the image, and to grasp them (and not only by way of color). Thus, for example, the montages of Max Ernst (1891-1976). The history of culture indicates that in his work “irrational associations are established between forms of nature and the accessories of civilization”. This can also be expressed more simply.
The drilling rig in the Sahara, its skeleton, its girders or, in Heidegger’s terms, its “positional structure”, its Gestell, can be tamed and, of course, by way of intuition, in such a way that it acquires the necessary density and sovereignty. This precedes the phenomena, it guides their dance. Not in vain did the surrealists pay so much attention since the beginning of their movement to ecstatic intoxication and dreams. There, the spirit reaches a frontier in whose vicinity time begins to splinter and to tremble on its foundations. It thus becomes dubious and, therefore, rich as a mine: such perceptions precede the dissolution of images and therefore the change of style. The internal clock now keeps a different kind of time. Hence the fact that it is not even images—images in the sense of works of art—that are the first phenomena that one notices. It is, rather, the old and eternally new way through which life represents time and the temporal and to which it must be limited, without entailing any loss: the dance. Even in our days there is nothing that makes us as profoundly uneasy, or which is understood so superficially. With the growing monotony it is becoming more difficult to follow the impulse of the heart; hence the increasing incidence of accidents, heart attacks and psychoses.
Once again, we have touched upon a topic that threatens to lead us far astray; it would be better to just add a note on the work of Max Ernst. To make the foundations of time tremble, you need only unite in a single image two strata that do not fit together. This gives rise to an antichronistic current. This explains the influence of the woodcuts, old and in part absurd, in the papier collés.
This effect is of a very universal and primitive nature. It causes surprise wherever the world is beginning to undergo an inversion—in the penumbra previous to the immersion in dream and in the change of seasons, particularly wherever the death of the winter and the imminence of the spring are celebrated with masquerades. Being masks itself with time and times, but we do not discover what is hidden behind the masks, for when we unmask it, we are left with a mask in our hands. It tricked us, now we are dazzled by a new fashion, a new face.
This, however, i.e.: to put ourselves into a position to reach the place from which to see, if not what changes, at least its changes, is approach. Here the paths diverge: one is upset by the fall of the mask, or makes fun of it; the other succumbs to the fascination of the new mask. Meanwhile, as in the Etruscan tombs, there is still a third perspective: the serene contemplation of the ephemeral.
What is included today—with fashionable verbiage—under the term of “demystification”, is in fact contemporary in the highest degree, but only insofar as the problem of time is represented as such—the sphinx which has asked its question and will pose it, yesterday and today, and tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. Here there are neither plans nor programs, neither safes nor recipes; at any time, in a solemn hour, when being is stripped of its mask, this question is directed at the individual. It cannot be a bad thing that, now and then, his ears prick up before the door leading to the antechambers.
The triumph of the power of the spirit over time, its incorporation on a first plane, is an endless task. Before all claims it is necessary to examine to what extent a breach has been made and, thus, an approach. A history of culture that disposes with this consideration leads, most of the time, to esthetic differentiations.
In fact, it is not true that the power hidden behind the questions of time and fashions was not perceived, even when the ability to locate it was lacking. Frequently, the artist himself is hardly conscious of it. However, it is in the public domain that “something has happened to him”. This “something” can shock some and instill others with enthusiasm, and it can also spread by word of mouth like a new secret.
Where is this “something” that moves far below differences, and which the enemy himself compels us to admire? In any case, it must be stronger than time—it now speaks in its favor that, like salt that does not lose its taste, it assures the duration of the work of art; which—and here we approach once again the indeterminate and the uncertain—does not always have anything to do with the rank of the work. It can happen that a single painting or a single poem survives, and perhaps not the best one. It can shine in the fragments, in the weak points, like a reminiscence of instants when the universe confirmed its validity. It can also remain in the invisible: in dreams, in nostalgia, in failure, and, nonetheless, act—precisely there. Brilliance can accumulate and concentrate in certain individuals, but there are vestiges shared everywhere. Grace, rather than merit, pertains to achievement.
Naturally, sooner or later every work of art must perish. However, that which passed silently by the word and the image, as by the tombs of Tarquinia, remains inaccessible. This touches us. That which we call immortal is ephemeral, but is nonetheless a reflection of the immortal.
When we walk through the snow on a sunny day like today, February 1, 1970, sometimes we can see one of the crystals of snow glitter like a diamond. In one of its myriads of forms we get a glimpse of the reserves of heat that lie dormant in the eternal ice.
The advance patrol of surrealism is instructive; painters and poets are very capable. If a painter like De Chirico could manage to empty any house on the shores of the Mediterranean, strip it of its meaning through the reduction of its chromatic quality to pure white, he not only demystifies it, but also dehumanizes it, he dissociates it into its atoms and then recharges it, at the same time that he does this, he throws a magic net over the skyline of New York. He would have then returned to the reticulum and would have exchanged an entire truckload of limestone and bricks for an atom of color. This is still a model on paper or on canvas, but behind it there is something more than cities and works of art.
Dilated pupils
From Europe and the East to Mexico—the leap is notable not only in space but also in time; and also from a biographical point of view, for it entails a distance of thirty years—for that was the interval between the temporary cessation and the resumption of the experiment.
Thirty years had passed since I dropped the red hot frying pan with which I had scorched myself. In every life there are cliffs whose precipices paralyze us, with greater or lesser violence, and then cause us to come back to the edge again; they make us savor, in anticipation, the final “plunge”. That is when we throw the superfluous ballast overboard and “pull ourselves together”, as Hamann did after his nervous breakdown in London. Morally, the maladie de relais is also created. We fill our sails with a fresh wind.
My unfortunate experience of excess in Halle caused me to have a brush with catastrophe and, thus, one of the most profound points of the spring of health. Some fortunate circumstances made their contribution. Thus, to mention one detail, it was favorable for me that food poisoning caused by fish should call for the prescription of strong coffee as an antidote. Such intoxications are lethal, and they are all the more perfidious to the extent that the toxins are already present even before the fish has begun to smell bad.
Only at that moment did I discover from practical experience that coffee is also indicated to treat cannabis intoxication, although I only understood it theoretically after reading about it in a book. Since both the drug and the remedy are stimulants, one would instead have presumed that this would produce an extremely disastrous synergetic effect. The paradox is probably explained by the fact that various depressive currents enter into play under the surface of such intoxicated states.
There was another favorable circumstance: on that afternoon, an atmosphere that was in part agitated and in part depressed reigned among the guests at the hotel, which is why I was protected by a kind of sociological camouflage that mitigated the inopportune turn taken by my reaction; it made it less suspicious. I had already witnessed such scenes on several occasions, without participating in them, and it cannot be said that one would find edifying reasons for their occurrence.
When we deviate from the dominant opinions of society and its behaviour,101 we should keep it secret. An easy precept to follow when one is planning to rob a bank, but one that is hard to follow when it is a matter of excursions, voluntary or involuntary, to the border lands of the spirit. Collective rejection is certainly softer, but also more consistent, than rejection due to violations of the law. The individual is subjected to close scrutiny, and his career choices and opportunities are severely constrained. All that is needed is a minor transgression to transform him into a suspect or to ruin him.
This experience will be corroborated by anyone who has worked in an office for years or decades, and who has become integrated into a circle of intelligent co-workers. Fates are allocated, as when a fleet whose departure from port is carried out in good order weighs anchor. The ships have already been inspected and selected. Then, however, one of them deviates from the line and can no longer remain in formation, and others disappear forever. Every Christmas, one or two of the old comrades fails to attend the party. Illnesses, traffic accidents, amorous or matrimonial conflicts, sudden or simmering breaks—when it comes right down to it, each person is the craftsman of his own ruin, although in his own particular way.
It is in this context that I must mention the chief of the department, who kept a bottle of cognac hidden in the lower left hand drawer of his desk, and continued to do so right up to the day he retired. As the years passed, his ideas and his character unraveled. He performed many tasks cheerfully enough; but his confidence in his own forces with respect to certain operations diminished. His nervous secretary, whom he thrilled with his ideas at noon but depressed by evening, soon became unbearable to him. Then, he would often disappear for a moment and return in a cheerful mood; which would not last for very long. A case like that of my friend, Dr. Zerner, who dealt with his schizophrenia until he was sixty years old, and even acted with restraint, constitutes an exception.
When and where one may drink is something that one knew quite well long before there were any Volkswagens. Compared with this knowledge, the question of quantity was considered as one of little importance—“he can really hold his liquor” was an expression that connoted praise. That drinking reveals character, that is, “real” character, and that ultimately it makes the type appear from the phenotype, is an unquestionable fact.
Drinking at the wrong place and wrong time has always been viewed as if it were a crime. “He came to work after one glass too many”: this might be allowed to pass once, but not again. That is how Johann Christian Günther made his own job as Court Poet the butt of his jokes.
“He wasn’t drunk, he’s just crazy.” Often, this is also the case. Anyone who, amidst the affairs of everyday life, loses his sense of spatial and temporal orientation for a few seconds, or who disturbs others because of his absurd actions, usually disappears forever, or is repatriated to the common consciousness in the most disagreeable way. In this sense, too, it is worth it to read the second chapter of The Demons: “… the wild beast showed his claws.”
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