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Dirk van Nouhuys
- Publié sur Amazon.com
This is a brilliant, stimulating, frustrating book. It is an intelligent and ingenious and stimulating discussion of the role of analogy in our thinking about the world and about one another as exemplified in several works of art and philosophical writings that took the author's interest. Lurking in the background is the thought that if we dwelt more on the resemblances among ourselves and between our selves and various things than we dwell on the differences, we would live more harmoniously with one another and with the universe. She stresses the difference in our attitude toward mortality that follows from our emphasis on distinction, (roughly put) because mortality, or finitude is something that unites us with all others. She takes the position that up until the renaissance art and literature tended to emphasizes resemblance, whereas since then, with notable exceptions, which interest her, it has stressed difference.
In full disclosure I should say that by temperament I am more interested in distinction than resemblance; for that reason writers like, say, Joseph Campbell, with his tireless highlighting of resemblance, tend to bore me.
The subjects of her discussion are selected rather than inclusive. For example she explores mainly Ovid's, Virgil's, and Rilke's use of the Orpheus myth but omits e. g. Gluck's Orfeo, Cocteau's Orpheus, and Marcel Camus' Black Orpheus, and Levertove's A Tree on Orpheus. Again, she explores the insights of several early theorists of developmental psychology, notably Freud and Lou Andreas Salome, but largely drops psychodynamic literature after the early years of the 20th century. Object relations theory seems more relevant than early analysts, but is not discussed except for a brief reference to Winnicott.
Reading over the Orpheus myth is a good example of what is so stimulating about this book. I, and all the people I've checked with, take the episode of the myth leading to Eurydice's second death to be about the irony of loving too much or about uncontrolled passion. While she points out that, like other myths, it is open to widely varying interpretations, she stresses Orpheus' backward glance as a rejection of Eurydice, hence of connection, of the feminine principal, and of our common mortality. It's fascinating to turn your mind back to these stories and try them with her perspective in hand. For example I would love to chat with her about the Gluck opera Orfeo, which ends with Amor reuniting the lovers (And Gluck is a composer who can deal firmly and passionately with conflict as in Iphigénie en Tauried). Gluck's ending seems to me an embracing of wholeness at the height of the Enlightenment, but what would Silverman say?
Because of reading this book I got Terrence Malick's Movie The Thin Red Line from Netflix. I don't normally watch war movies and probably would never have seen it otherwise. Having read her subtle account of the levels of meaning of this richly allusive movie made it fun and meaningful to me, which I'm not at all sure it would otherwise have been.
On he other hand I happened to go to the same show of Gerhard Richter's paintings that stimulated her to study him. At the time I found him a technically accomplished painter who painted things that didn't much interest me. If I had read the chapter that resulted from her visit and which points out layers an layers of meaning centered around the Baader-Meinhof Gang and the issues she is discussing, would have been much more pleasurable and meaningful to me.
Let me complain a bit about the frustrations. First the book has many illustrations it depends on for detailed analysis of graphic works. The illustrations are scattered, have no captions, and there is no list of illustrations. Consequently you spend a good deal of your time first figuring out the location of an illustration, then switching back and forth between discussion and illustration by means of fingers or slips of paper. Another problem is willful distortion of language. On the level of mere irritation she is fond of ugly academic revisions of meaning and syntax such as "privilege" and "valorize" as transitive verbs meaning, "prefer" or "like". I think when she uses those words she believes that they are more precise or at least more portentous than "like," but I do not believe that is the case. That stuff is grating but easy to decipher. More of a problem is when she bends a word out of meaning to make a point but only becomes obscure. A common example is "correspond". I know of two distinct meanings of this word, one is intransitive and means to be equivalent; the second is transitive and, construed with "with", means to exchange letters over a period of time. But she frequently uses it to try to force the action of a human relationship on pairs of things where neither or only one is human. For example on page 13 she is speaking of an installation that James Coleman made at an exhibit of Michelangelo. She says, "...the exhibition included the painting that led Freud to conclude that Leonardo, unlike the `normal' male subject, never turned way from his mother: Virgin and child with Saint Anne. Coleman corresponded with this painting by doing what it does: linking things to each other through their similarities" This is nonsense language. Paintings don't write letters. As a metaphor it is forced and awkward.
She also tends to get drunk on resemblances. For example she has a footnote, "through one of those uncanny coincidences that point to a profound ontological connection Freud's daughter and Rilke's mother had the same birth name [Sophia]." I'm sorry; sometimes a coincidence is just a coincidence.