Art After Auschwitz

Jan 25 2015 @ 8:35pm


Ryu Spaeth reviews Suspended Sentences, the recently-translated collection of works by Patrick Modiano, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, noting the author’s interest in Paris during the Nazi occupation. He considers how Modian exhibits “the postwar generation’s wariness of the redemptive power of art”:

Modiano expresses this in an episode in “Afterimage” in which [a character, the photographer Francis] Jansen, newly released from the transit camp for Jews that should have sent him to his doom, searches for the relatives of a fellow detainee who wasn’t so lucky. He finds none of them, “[a]nd so, feeling helpless, he’d taken those photos so that the place where his friend and his friend’s loved ones had lived would at least be preserved on film. But the courtyard, the square, and the deserted buildings under the sun made their absence even more irremediable.”

In other words, there are only so many people the artist can save. It is as if the sum effect of Suspended Sentences is a gesture at a silence that rings far louder than the words on the page — the silence of the millions of souls who died in the Holocaust, and broader still, the silence of a ceaseless loss that stretches across millennia and defines our time on Earth. Suspended Sentences, then, is a purposeful act of misdirection, a candle that only serves to emphasize the surrounding darkness. As the narrator in “Afterimage” says of Jansen, “A photograph can express silence. But words? That he would have found interesting: managing to create silence with words.”

(Photo by Flickr user slgckgc)

Playing God

Jan 25 2015 @ 7:29pm

Will Wiles explores the phenomenon of “god games,” like Banished, “in which the player guides a small group of people in building a small village, which with careful guidance can become a small town.” He contemplates what their growing popularity suggests about players:

Post-apocalyptic scenarios often have undertones of amoral consumerist wish-fulfilment, in which we roam the shopping malls and other treasure houses of the modern world and take whatever we want, blasting anyone who gets in our way. Survival games are, at least, a little more honest about the challenges of such a situation and an individual’s chances within it. But perhaps it’s better just to focus on what this phenomenon means for this immature art form. With technological limitations falling away, game design might be exhausting the possibilities of more and increasingly discovering the power of less.

At the heart of the new digital melancholy – wrapped in all that beauty – is primal simplicity, the basic animal equation: eat, don’t get eaten, keep going. The value of that simplicity, the playability of it, perhaps we could even say the fun of it, is watching the unexpected ways this elemental calculus can work itself out. And there is more watching involved. Vulnerability imposes a measure of passivity – in some situations, for instance, the only workable strategy might be to wait for danger to pass, to hide behind a hedge, to stay in the shelter until dawn or nightfall – so the environment and the atmosphere become more important, they are not just a Niagara of garish detail to be rushed past. There is a world to be experienced, and we must learn our place in it.

The Landscape Of Loss

Jan 25 2015 @ 6:21pm


In an interview worth reading in full, the poet Christian Wiman explores how being raised in West Texas has shaped his thinking:

Loss is conspicuous in “Keynote”: “I had a dream of Elks, / antlerless but arousable all the same, // before whom I proclaimed the Void / and its paradoxical intoxicating joy.” The “infinities of fields” also bring a “satisfaction of a landscape / adequate to loss.” Did West Texas instigate this obsession of a recursive Void?

Addicted to loss? Maybe once, long ago. Then I got a good, deep miasmic draught of the real thing and have been nauseated ever since. But the connection between that landscape and loss is, for me, quite real. I wrote a novel once (it died in a drawer) in which a character says that the landscape of West Texas is a terrible landscape for depression, which is a “moist” emotion (she’s a psychiatrist). The desert just crushes that, makes it seem somehow impossible. Grief, though, has its place in such emptiness, that endless sense of something missing—God, for instance. You wonder why there’s so many right-wing wing-nuts grieving God in the deserts of the world (righteous wrath is simply the fumes of unacknowledged grief). I’ve solved the quandary, I tell you.

Subscribers can read our Deep Dish essay on Wiman here, and listen to a podcast with him here.

(Image from Edward Musiak)

A Poem For Sunday

Jan 25 2015 @ 5:05pm


“Report to the Mother” by Etheridge Knight:

Well, things / be / pretty bad now, Mother—
Got very little to eat.
The kids got no shoes for their tiny feet.
Been fighting with my woman, and one / other
Woe:—Ain’t got a cent to pay the rent.

Been oiling / up / my pistol, too—
Tho I / be / down with the flu,
So what / are / You going to do . . . ?

O Mother don’t sing me
To the Father to fix / it—
He will blow-it. He fails
and kills
His sons—and / you / know it.

(From The Essential Etheridge Knight © 1986 by Etheridge Knight. Used by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. Photo by Phil Warren)

Mental Health Break

Jan 25 2015 @ 4:20pm

Go full-screen for this, and don’t worry, you don’t have to watch the whole thing:

From the description:

80 Minutes from the Bow of the Gunhilder Maersk as she traverses the South China Sea from Vietnam to China. Shot and assembled in 4K as a single take with no frame-breaks.

(Hat tip: Kottke)

Quote For The Day II

Jan 25 2015 @ 3:28pm

“Faith is sensitiveness to what transcends nature, knowledge and will, awareness of the ultimate, alertness to the holy dimension of all reality. Faith is a force in man, lying deeper than the stratum of reason and its nature cannot be defined in abstract, static terms. To have faith is not to infer the beyond from the wretched here, but to perceive the wonder that is here and to be stirred by the desire to integrate the self into the holy order of living. It is not a deduction but an intuition, not a form of knowledge, of being convinced without proof, but the attitude of mind toward ideas whose scope is wider than its own capacity to grasp.

Such alertness grows from the sense for the meaningful, for the marvel of matter, for the core of thoughts. It is begotten in passionate love for the significance of all reality, in devotion to the ultimate meaning which is only God. By our very existence we are in dire need of meaning, and anything that calls for meaning is always an allusion to Him. We live by the certainty that we are not dust in the wind, that our life is related to the ultimate, the meaning of all meanings. And the system of meanings that permeates the universe is like an endless flight of stairs. Even when the upper stairs are beyond our sight, we constantly rise toward the distant goal,” – Abraham Joshua Heschel, “The Holy Dimension,” in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays.

Remains Of The Day

Jan 25 2015 @ 2:28pm


Oliver Morton, pausing before a reconstructed gorgosaurus at the Manchester Museum, marvels that “absolutely all that remains of that creature’s life is this scarred skeleton”:

We often think of fossils as being in some way ancestral relatives, if not of humans, then of some other aspect of nature, parts of some great unfolding story. But for the gorgosaurs, the tyrannosaurs and indeed all the dinosaurs of the Cretaceous period, this simply isn’t true. The most fecund of their matriarchs has left no deeper imprint than a hatchling that died fresh out of its shell. No species alive today can be traced back to any of the dinosaur species except those few from which birds descended.

Fair enough; what everyone knows about dinosaurs is that they became extinct. What is not as well appreciated—but which, for some reason, the peculiar individuality of this one specimen brought home with some force—is this:

Read On

Yuval Noah Harari, author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, offers an answer:

Humanity’s greatest invention is religion, which does not mean necessarily mean belief in gods. Rather, religion is any system of norms and values that is founded on a belief in superhuman laws. Some religions, such as Islam, Christianity and Hinduism, believe that these superhuman laws were created by the gods. Other religions, such as Buddhism, Communism and Nazism believed that these superhuman laws are natural laws. Thus Buddhists believe in the natural laws of karma, Nazis argued that their ideology reflected the laws of natural selection, and Communists believe that they follow the natural laws of economics.

No matter whether they believe in divine laws or in natural laws, all religions have exactly the same function: to give stability to human institutions. Without some kind of religion, it is simply impossible to maintain social order. During the modern era religions that believe in divine laws went into eclipse. But religions that believe in natural laws became ever more powerful. In the future, they are likely to become more powerful yet. Silicon Valley, for example, is today a hot-house of new techno-religions, which promise us paradise on earth with the help of new technologies. From a religious perspective, Silicon Valley is the most interesting place in the world.

Face Of The Day

Jan 25 2015 @ 12:29pm


Alice Yoo captions:

Photographer Graham McGeorge won multiple awards for the photo above, including the Merit Prize for the 2013 National Geographic Traveler Contest. On his website he has more than a handful of photos that show these eastern screech owls doing what they do best, camoflauging themselves in their natural environment. McGeorge believes that photographers need to have a lot patience to get these shots, he himself visits local swamps and forests on a regular basis to know where and what to look for.

McGeorge follows a strict set of self-imposed rules. As he says, “Ethics is a must. There are many wildlife photographers that bait owls in order to fill their photographic needs. Baiting is very harmful to the health of an owl. To photograph owls in the wild and unbaited you must have a lot of patience, a keen eye and a good ear. Look for holes either made by woodpeckers or old decaying cavities. These are good places to start.”

See more of McGeorge’s work at his website,

Waves Of Grief

Jan 25 2015 @ 11:32am

Andrea Woodhouse, who was in Indonesia when the Indian Ocean tsunami hit a decade ago, reflects on the connection between grief and catastrophe:

In her book Upheavals of Thought, the philosopher Martha Nussbaum argues that emotion is bound up with intelligence: it is not opposed to rationality but rather at its center. Feelings such as love and sorrow are finely tuned responses to judgments about what is true and valuable in the world. As such, our beliefs about the outer world can condition the experience of the inner: they affect not only the way we behave, but how we feel. If I believe in God and an afterlife, for example, I might feel grief differently from someone who does not. The name we give our emotion will be the same, but my grief may contain some hope.

I wondered if this might be true too about grief in the face of catastrophe. Was it that in the face of social expectation people in [the province of] Aceh sought to overcome emotion and control how they behaved? Or did catastrophe overturn something about the emotion itself? I wondered if the vast weight of the tsunami made small the space for grieving. It was as if each person’s grief took the measure of itself and shrank to fit the space left over by the sorrow of others. And so the human spirit flourished instead, and in this there lived a kind of beauty.