Friday, November 21, 2008

On Fragility and Humility

In a world of muscular posturing the quiet and gentle speak loudest of all, and the invisible presences burn most strongly into the retina. This recent conversation which swirls around the work of Mantegna amplifies that which is threatened and lost within this age. Michael Tweed's paraphrasing of Michel Henry evokes the very real crisis of contemporary subjectivity, that of the "detrimental effects that the dominance of Galilean science has had due to suppressing our subjective lives, our lived experiences and feelings, reducing the profoundest of emotions and actions to nothing more than chemical reactions and the mere interaction of molecules." These words resonate profoundly with those of Giorgio Agamben, in his warning words on the 'destruction of experience', "Nothing can convey the extent of the change that has taken place in the meaning of experience so much as the resulting reversal of the status of the imagination. For Antiquity, the imagination, which is now expunged from knowledge as ‘unreal,’ was the supreme medium of knowledge."
The recognition of the suffocation of subjectivity and that imperative to reclaim the self, the emotional repertoire which is submerged beneath the might of objectivity, the cachet of capital, is evoked within the calls for 'fragility' in architecture. While the term might suggest the negative connotation of frailty and impotence, instead there is, as Juhani Pallasmaa puts it, a "power of weakness." Pointing to such fragmentary modes as the nouvelle roman, which sets out to defy or resist closer, objectivity, linearity -- or the films of Michelangelo Antonioni and Andrei Tarkovsky which subvert the monolithic nature of narrative to achieve instead a "field of clustered images" -- Pallasmaa describes how such fragile structures embrace the participation of the viewer. He speaks of the "humbled gaze" and the "listening eye" as the conduits for emotion. The aesthetics of erosion, abandonment and decay in architecture parallel this, in proposing a weakness of structure that might be colonised by emotion.
It is the eye which has driven this notion of strength in architecture, in art, and it is within the haptic that the counter must be found. The visual is complicit in the instantaneous, the immediate ... to get beyond this we must return to our other senses, re-engage them with humility. To listen for silence, succumb to the telluric push of gravity, to become fully engaged in our existence.

Steps, Sydney, J Bowring


billoo said...

Wonderful post!

Hope you like this


jacky bowring said...

Thanks Billoo - and love the image, looks like the three wise men taking a break ... with an angel saying, 'oi, look yonder'...

billoo said...

I like the gentleness of the touch..reminds me of one of rembrandt's paintings (the jewish bride) where Schama asks: has there been anything that represents the delciateness of human sensibilities better. I like the agamben stuff you talked about. I've got a similar post somewhere on the 'disappearing world'.

btw, wanted to ask you J, can you recommend anyhting on the Baroque (as in Baroque space)? [Just listened to a radio programme on it].


No, no "oi"s" ! :-) Just the hands connecting, being "touched".

Keep well,


* said...

oh this very much reminds me of this book by Edward Reed, "The Necessity of Experience" which somewhat relatedly not examines frailty but people's exceeding inability to deal with the insecurities (and that can be frailties) that come along with firsthand experience. Those insecurities then become so threatening that there is an increasing tendency to replace firsthand experience with secondhand experience and surrogates and what not (example 100 years ago you slaughtered your own chicken in the backyard, today: no no, think of all the bacteria and people buy plasticflesh from the supermarket that certainly won't contain any bacteria whatsoever). of course not an altogether new tendency....

jacky bowring said...

Yes, the delicate nature of the touch, and in the Rembrandt ... at the edge of sight. Which reminds me of Derrida's Memoirs of the Blind.
Re Baroque space, have you seen Allen S Weiss's The Mirrors of Infinity ... fantastic.
(And, well, apologies... we have a tendency to 'oi' down here, including the angels ... the transposition of angels into 'other' cultures is intriguing, there's a marvellous Angel
of the Annuciation by McCahon which is in the outskirts of Nelson, with golf club building in the background..)

jacky bowring said...

Thanks Antonia, agreed ... also along these lines The Resurgence of the Real, perhaps. (Charlene Spretnak's book).

billoo said...


thanks for the recommendation. will check it out. I shudder at the thought of an angel speaking Punjabi! Every third word is a swear word relating to one's sister or mother! :-)

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Hi Jacky
I can't help but be reminded of the following:

‘And here are the trees and I know their gnarled surface, water and I feel its taste. These scents of grass and stars at night, certain evenings when the heart relaxes – how shall I negate this world whose power and strength I feel? Yet all the knowledge on earth will give me nothing to assure me that this world is mine. You describe it to me and you teach me to classify it. You enumerate its laws and in my thirst for knowledge I admit that they are true. You take apart its mechanism and my hope increases. At the final stage you teach me that this wondrous and multicolored universe can be reduced to the atom and that the atom itself can be reduced to the electron. All this is good and I wait for you to continue. But you tell me of an invisible planetary system in which electrons gravitate around a nucleus. You explain this world to me with an image. I realize then that you have been reduced to poetry: I shall never know. Have I the time to become indignant? You have already changed theories. So that science that was to teach me everything ends up in a hypothesis, that lucidity founders in metaphor, that uncertainty is resolved in a work of art. What need had I of so many efforts? The soft lines of these hills and the hand of evening on this troubled heart teach me much more. I have returned to my beginning. I realize that if through science I can seize phenomena and enumerate them, I cannot, for all that, apprehend the world’.

Camus, "The Myth of Sisyphus"

jacky bowring said...

Aha Bruno!! Long time no see! And that brings back many a fine conversation. Will reply 'properly' in a bit, but just to say quickly, wonderful to see you appear on the radar!