I met him in the dining room of a hermitage I was visiting. He was mopping the floor as I was waiting alone for my lunch. Sun was blazing outside, letting know all beings of its ominous presence. From where I was sitting, I could see across the green meadows, until my eyes hit the dry shrubs and mountains beyond. From inside, it was a hermit’s retreat. From the outside, it was a group of stone caves.
The lush green campus with few stone cottages was perched atop a small hill, one of the countless hills and mountains that constitute the Sahyadri range in southwest India near the city of Pune. I came here once before.
Later I came to know his name as Shantaram. He remembered seeing me four months back taking photos of the place. This would have been totally fine until he ventured, “four minutes to ten on the thirteenth day of February.” I was amused, “How do you know?” But he was a stone-deaf idol, simply dressed in a khaki shirt and a bluish-grey trouser which started showing signs of wear. He continued mopping. His docile face was expressionless. Deep down, I knew it had to be unperturbed even in the event of a great storm.
Finishing my lunch, as I was about to leave, he said, “I just know.”
It was bizarre to have a response to a question asked long back. Nonetheless, I pretended not to be amused this time. I had only about an hour’s time in hand to explore this place before I had to drive back to the city.
My fascination with the place came long before I visited it. A cover of a best-selling book had a picture of a square concrete window jutting out amidst the rustic stone rubble masonry. It had a contemplative effect. When I read it, a few years back, it never occurred to me that I would visit this place one day in person. When I had the chance of visiting -it struck me, why don’t I spot the same window that was made into the cover of the book? The windows looked all the same, but they were different in the context of stones that were around them. I hoped to find my desired one soon.
Now, as I roamed around, I found myriad square concrete windows, projecting out of the bluish-green moss-covered stone wall. It was impossible to go through them all, matching them with the book cover to identify the desired one.
Exasperated and hopeless as I was about to leave, cursing my wild wish, I encountered him again. This time he was pruning plumeria plants at the courtyard. I couldn’t suppress my curiosity. I went up to him from his back. While approaching, I could hear him murmur. When he sensed me, he turned back and stopped watering.
Taking the book out of my sling bag, I showed him the cover. He nodded. He started without any prompt as if he knew what I was looking for, “Cottage No.13, southern face.”
He continued, sensing my bewilderment, “I know all the stones, their arrangements, subtle texture, color, and smell. For you, it may look all the same. But I have given names to all of them. I know all the leaves of all trees here. I have regular chat with them.”
I felt his vivacious voice emanating from innermost dark crevices of consciousness. I remembered Vladimir Nabokov attuned it as oneness with sun and stone, before defying time. Perhaps Shantaram also didn’t believe in time.
“How do you remember everything?” His face, I didn’t notice before, looked older than Mohenjo-Daro, the mound of the dead. He had a halo emanating from his face, or I imagined it to be. He paused. It seemed an eternity had passed before he responded, “I don’t only remember what I see, but I also remember every single time I imagine. I just keep it to myself.”
He requested me to follow, and I tailed him as if I was under a chant. I do not remember how long we walked. When he stopped, it broke the spell of hallucination. I realized dusk was setting in. I was standing in front of what looked like a clearing in a dense forest. What astonished me was what lied before – it appeared like an archaeological ruin- seven stepped layers of stone forming an ancient stepwell descending into fissures down. Surrounded by forest, it was yearning for discovery. [Déjà vu?] I transported to a memory of the past. I was attending a lecture by a scholar specializing in medieval memory. He showed a seven-stepped theatre of Giulio Camillo used for the art of memory. The words of the scholar reverberated in my ears:
The Theatre presents a remarkable transformation of the art of memory. The rules of the art are clearly discernible in it. Here is a building divided into memory places… The mind and memory of man are now ‘divine’, having powers of grasping the highest reality through a magically activated imagination. The Hermetic Art of memory has become the instrument in the formation of a Magus; the imaginative means through which the divine microcosm can reflect on the divine macrocosm can grasp its meaning from ‘bottom’. The art of memory had become an occult art, a Hermetic secret. Humankind now has lost the key to it.
The scholar, I remembered, argued that there was no evidence of such theatre’s existence.
But witnessing the stepwell in front of me, I was bamboozled. I looked at Shantaram – who I now feared, can read my mind. He broke the silence first, “Yes, this is what you think”, confirming my anxiety. “What are you doing in the hermitage?” I asked. “Who are you?”
I realized these words did not come from my lips. I was speaking through my mind. I received a strange response in the same way, “I think, mirrors and copulation are abominable, for they multiply the number of mankind. This hermitage is the place where there is no mirror and hermits perform celibacy.”
I was about to ask him more, but I stopped. I felt there was a lump forming in my throat. It was intolerable. The infinite solitude was enveloping me. Sweats were coming down my temple. Like camphor, Shantaram was gradually evaporating before me. I felt the earth was slipping away and it was pulling me down.
I opened my eyes in a local health clinic. I heard from the nurse, that I was found by a group of local woodcutters in a dense forest, with nobody around. I wasn’t surprised. The presence of Shantaram was overwhelming for me. I needed the soothing touches of time to recover, not only physically, but mentally as well.
In monsoon, I visited the hermitage one last time before leaving the city. I was alone, looking at the bust of a woman standing amidst the lush greeneries with lots of plumeria blooming this time. I spotted groves of jasmine nearby.
Then, I heard the voice booming from behind. “Sir, you have come back.” There was no need to turn.
I was prepared this time, “You need to drink the water of forgetfulness from river Lethe. You must know where to find it”. He stopped for a moment to comprehend, “You are right sir. My memory is like a garbage heap.” He couldn’t have spoken a truer word. I inferred he could not lie or deceive. It must bring unbearable agony to him.
I identified him as Homer, the ancient bard, father of all poets. Thousands of bohemian rhapsodes formed his epics. He was a vase for all strands of memories. Nature and its creatures had confessed the ancient sacred truth to his ear. He takes many forms to communicate. Our kinds have grown too fast, in numbers as well as devising fatal plans positing an irreversible threat to natural world order.
Drinking from Lethe would wake him up from his slumber. The world needs to hear him one last time before he falls asleep.
 (Latto 1991). Memory theatre of Giulio Camillo was a sixteenth century project which was conceived as an instrument to improve memory. The seven-tiered theatre opens up into seven boxes in each tier, totalling into forty-nine chambers. The idea was to walk through them and contain memory in these chambers. When orators, would deliver speeches, they would revisit these places to bring out fragments of their speech. Scholars such as Frances Yates, in Art of Memory associated it with the hermetic tradition of Marsilio Ficino and his student Pico Della Mirandola. Before the age of printing, it was art of rhetoric, which orators and scholars rigorously practiced and memory formed an integral part of the tradition. Jeff Letto argues the memory theatre a model prepared to comprehend the order of the cosmos. The seven is a symbolic number as seven colors of light.
 I take this notion of mirror and copulation from Jorge Louis Borges’ short story, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius. See (Borges 2007) for the full story.
 Ivan Illich says water is a shifting metaphor for mirror. It reveals and hides at the same time. See (Illich 1985, 25). River Lethe is one of the four great mythological river of Greek epics. Drinking its water is supposed to make oneself oblivious. The word Lethe literally means oblivion.
 Meticulous memory can be a pain was iterated by Jorge Luis Borges in his short story Funes the Memorious. See (Borges 2007).
 Eighteenth century Neapolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico in his book The New Science speaks extensively on Homer and poietic wisdoms of humankinds. Particularly the frontispiece of The New Science, where divine lights illuminates Homer reflecting from the metaphysics was important in forming identity of Shantaram.
Architectural photographer Hélène Binet’s new book capturing her photographs of Suzhou Gardens of China, a UNESCO World Heritage Site has portrayed something which very few photographs can convey- the transcendental meditative qualities of these gardens. While paging through the photographic essay, I found myself immersed in the tranquil nature of the gardens around the stucco walls, telling stories of yesteryears.
It reminded me of the importance of shadow. With modern aesthetic obsession with everything neat and clean and white, we have lost the charm of growing old with ageing. The walls of Suzhou Garden are reminiscent of graceful ageing and that is what make them so timeless. The ephemeral quality of photographs have a dream like imagery which take the viewers beyond what is seen. It is upto us to dream, imagine and dwell in what Gaston Bachelard has called revery.
There are things, some of them passing strange, what happens when one confronts a work of art: (i)unfolding of the heart; (ii) its expansion; (iii) its agitation; and, finally, (iv) vibration.
— from a reading of Kavyartha (Theory of Poetry)
Vincent van Gogh was a complete and utter failure in everything that seems important to his contemporaries. He was unable to start a family, earn his own living, or even keep his friends. Yet in his paintings, he was able to establish his own concept of order against the chaos that apparently surrounded him. His art was an attempt to come to terms with a world in which he was endlessly ridiculed and laughed at. In the face of harsh criticism and bare recognition, his aim was not to escape the real world or suffer by renouncing it, but instead to make it tangible in an inclusive sense. In this way, his art enabled him to accept the once so hostile world as his own.
His artistic talents were only recognized after his death. The bourgeoisie, whose ideas of value has been so repellant to him all his life, now used the term ‘genius’ to describe him. He became the embodiment of the worldly discontent which overcomes us now and again.
Impressionists, a circle of similarly minded artists emerging in the nineteenth century rendered a new world to be conceived by art. “They tried to capture, in the very painting” as Merleau Ponty said, “how objects strike our eyes and attack our senses. Objects are depicted as they appear to instant perception, without fixed contours, bound together by light and air.” This intention is best summarized by the conversation between Emile Bernard and Paul Cezanne. Bernard, himself a noted painter, reminded Cezanne, that each stroke of the artist must “contain the air, the light, the object, the composition, the character, the outline, and the style.” Cezanne replied, “They created pictures; we are attempting a piece of nature.”
Nature as Inspiration:
Vincent van Gogh, a relatively unknown Dutch painter who lived in France, belonged to a post-impressionist group of artists of the late nineteenth century. The post-impressionists supported impressionists (that favored painting in the open air) but believed that color could be independent of form and contain a whole set of aesthetic and emotional meanings. Albert Aurier, a young art critic and the only critic to write and publish an article on Van Gogh during his lifetime wrote: “Never had there been a painter, whose art appealed so directly to the senses: from the ‘indefinable aroma’ of his sincerity to the ‘flesh and matter’ of his paint, from the brilliant and radiant symphonies’ of his color to the ‘intense sensuality’ of his line.” I would claim thatVan Gogh’s symbolism lies in the immediate experience, in the richness of everyday life and objects from the observation as well as in the imaginative mind.
The German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, after seeing the “astonishing” portfolio of Van Gogh’s works in Paris in 1907, wrote to his wife:
I believe I do feel what Van Gogh must have felt at a certain juncture, and it is a strong and great feeling: that everything is yet to be done: everything. But this devotion to what is nearest, this is something I can’t do as yet, or only in my best moments, while it is at one’s worst moments that one really needs it.
Rilke recognized the difficulty of what Van Gogh wanted to achieve in his life: “a devotion to what is the nearest”. One could argue that nature, in its all form and beauty was “nearest” to him. Van Gogh in one of the letters from the Hague, in 1882, wrote to Theo about their encounter with nature:
The question is, has everybody also been thoughtful as a child, has everybody who has seen them really loved the heath, fields, meadows, woods, and the snow and the rain and the storm? Not everybody has done this way you and I have: a peculiar kind of surroundings and circumstances must contribute to it, and a peculiar kind of temperament and character must help it take root.
Later in life, when he painted The Night Café, he hoped to unify the experiential element of his life with his work. He once again wrote to Theo:
If we study Japanese art, we see a man who is undoubtedly wise, philosophic and intelligent, who spends his time doing what? In studying the distance between the earth and the moon? No. In studying Bismarck’s policy? No. He studies a single blade of grass. 
It is this blade of grass that lead him to draw every plant, seasons, the wide aspects of the countryside, the animals, and the human figure. He wrote to Theo of his efforts:
I see in my work an echo of what struck me, I see that nature has told me something, has spoken to me and that I’ve written it down in shorthand. In my shorthand, there may be words that are indecipherable — errors or gaps — yet something remains of what the wood or the beach or the figure said — and it is not a tame or conventional language which does not stem from nature itself but from a studied manner or a system.
In this same letter, Van Gogh had told Theo, “I am glad I have not learned painting”, and gave credit to the unconventional mentor that had taught him, “nature itself.” Nature as a mentor and companion did not exhaust its role in Van Gogh’s life. To paint nature, as one who heard its voice, was to open the door of understanding of humanity. For Van Gogh, “art is man added to nature,” the artist revealing nature’s inner character “which he disentangles, sets free and interprets.” For him, the very act of painting was learning to see with feelings for the world, and learning to live deeply and compassionately.
A Layered World in Van Gogh’s Strokes:
In Vincent’s reality, images evoked emotions. Vincent looked into images not to be instructed or inspired but to be moved. He claimed that art should be “personal and intimate” and it should concern us only with “what touches us as a human being.”
These were the simple images that peopled Vincent’s world: “unpolished” peasants with faces “broad and rough” (Head of a Peasant Woman with White Cap), fine-featured young ladies( Agostina Segatori and La Mousme, sitting); old men (Postman Joseph Roulin) and sturdy labors (Loom with the Weaver). “The secret of beautiful work,” he wrote, “lies mainly in truth and sincere sentiment.” In Vincent’s reality, both the search for significance and the search for sentiment demanded simplicity. In his own work, he pledged to seek images “that almost everybody will understand”—to simplify each image “to the essentials, with a deliberate disregard of those details that do not belong.”
Taking two paintings of two cafes that Van Gogh created around the same time in 1888, I maintain that with the essentials he mediated the effect of imminent atmosphere to the viewer’s lives in an idiosyncratic “layered” manner.
“The painting is one of the ugliest I’ve done.” This is what Vincent Van Gogh told his brother in a letter referencing The Night Café. This is a jarring image, even for Van Gogh, especially compared it to his other famous painting done around the same period of a café in Arles, Café Terrace at Night.
In Café Terrace at Night, Van Gogh captures the romantic sense of European cafes on Summer evenings, where friends gather to talk and laugh. The blue starry sky compliments the pool of orange and yellow gas light under the terrace, which spills out over the cobblestones touched with violet and blue.
Compared to this, The Night Café is a painting of anxiety and alienation. If the exterior is the dream of French nightlife in Café Terrace, the interior is depicted dire. If the exterior is a place to talk and laugh, the interior of the cafe is a place where one can ruin yourself, go mad, commit crimes, as Vincent wrote in a letter to his brother. From these letters, it is understood that the odd, uncomfortable quality of The Night Café painting was intentional. In the same way that he used color to capture his emotional response to natural beauty- in many of his landscape painting, here Van Gogh used color to convey the uneasiness of a low-class bar room after midnight. So, how did Van Gogh achieve this effect? And to answer these questions, maybe, the first place one should look is back in those letters. About The Night Café, Van Gogh wrote, “I`ve tried to express the terrible human passions with the red and the green. Everywhere it`s a battle and an antithesis of the most different greens and reds.”
Color plays a significant role in our perception of the world. The impressionist painters used this theory to push the effects of color further than ever before. By using “antithesis between greens and reds”, the two complementary colors, he deliberately colored the painting nervous. Whereas blue and orange, two complementary colors, have a pleasing quality (see the orange floorboard and blue sky of Café Terrace at Night); there is hostile nature about green and red. Van Gogh intentionally played with these two colors to communicate eeriness in the atmosphere.
Apart from the color combination, there are a number of other factors that add to the strangeness of the painting. The man standing in white shirt- the café owner Joseph Ginoux’s legs are absent. Furthermore, despite the presence of so many objects, there is one single shadow, spreading beneath the table. The other objects in the painting surprisingly do not have any. What was Van Gogh trying to portray?
He went from painting a comforting view to a rather dark disquieting moment of living. The lamps of the ceiling are painted with circles of halos around. They are creating a mystical radiance over the room. Later reflecting on this instant, Van Gogh wrote, “I have tried to express as it were the powers of darkness … and all this in an atmosphere like a devil’s furnace, of pale sulfur.”
In his account, Van Gogh did not speak about one of the most powerful effects: his absorbing perspective which draws us past the empty chairs and tables into hidden depths behind a distant doorway— an opening that repeats the silhouette of the standing figure of the café owner. The doorway leading to another room is brightly lit compared to the gloomy atmosphere of the room.
Painted during September 1888, same as The Night Café, this colorful outdoor view is less dramatic, more scenic. It is a depiction of a more relaxed outdoor environment in which a spectator enjoys surroundings sitting in an outdoor café while participating in the city life. It is a scene of a casual public life where spaces seamlessly merge into one another. The luminous glow of the lamp is reciprocated by the sparkling stars of the night sky. There is a progression from light to dark in this painting, in a reverse manner when compared to The Night Café.
What is common between these two paintings are that they both seem to be waiting in time. The chairs in the café terrace are anticipating guests from the street under the starry sky. The windows to the left of the painting are ajar- reinforcing the spatial openness. The silhouette exists in between the contrast of illumination of the café and the night sky. This contrast is rather peaceful and coexisting. The café table tops are imitating the disks of the stars. There is a sense of ephemerality that is persistent throughout. Van Gogh attempted to capture the transience of happiness.
The paintings of two different cafés- one interior and another exterior- both in their way mysterious and beautiful- produces vastly different effects. Van Gogh employed the tools at his disposal to create an ambiance to produce contrasting emotions.
Lived Spaces in Van Gogh’s Paintings:
To Van Gogh, this painting is an expression of “perfect rest” or “sleep in general”. The perspective vision of the walls and the bed is as exciting as one of his best landscapes. For Van Gogh’s edgy nature, even the sense of “rest” in his paintings become restless, or eventful. The Bedroom signifies movement through an inventive play of scattered objects in the room.
The lines of the floor invite the eye to follow the convergence, and then abruptly deny the pleasure of following it up with a thick stroke of wall floor intersection. The bed appears as able to sliding down at any time. The partial ceiling visible only at the top right corner and the hanging photos add to the complexity of the painting.
One could argue that The Bedroom appears to be telling a tale of lived presence. Hanging towel and shirts, faded floor, worn chair seats – all allude to this very presence of the lived character. Yet, under the veil of striking naivety, there is a layered world in this painting.
Despite Van Gogh’s intention of portrayal of “perfect rest”, the painting does not give a sense of total calm. The objects do not relate to each other and they are rather isolated. All the objects are considerably foreshortened, floorboards lurch steeply forward, giving the impression of almost lifting over each other; the window is half open, the slanting furniture- the table and chairs near the bed- as well as the paintings hang over into the room. The sense of ambivalence prevailing in the atmosphere lends a tense aura to the room. It is the wish for coziness, comfort, care of a home which contradicts the reality. Unlike Night Café where Van Gogh intended a ruinous atmosphere, the Bedroom leaves an unintended uneasy feeling.
Act of Participation in the Object of Art:
A great painter always invites his viewer to participate in the painting. As Café Terrace at Night, Bedroom in Arles is also expecting someone to participate in the theatre of life. Van Gogh in his Bedroom invites the viewer to imagine the presence of the occupant and his interaction with mundane objects in their cavities of mind. The viewer is asked to feel the space with his own body. This imagination calls for an embodied memory of the viewer—which is to be felt and lived. These spaces have very specific temperature and odor. Van Gogh invites the viewer to feel the texture of the floorboard or the coarse grains of the bed. The Bedroom at the end goes beyond the capacity of description or language and demands an experiential and emotional reading. The street in the Café Terrace does not end in at the edge of the painting; it expands all around the viewer as a network of streets, buildings and at the end life situations. I claim that this activation of imagination is an invaluable function in Van Gogh’s paintings.
The Architecture of Lived Reality:
Place and event, space and mind, are not outside of each other. Mutually defining each other, they fuse unavoidably into a singular experience. Experiencing space is dialogue, a kind of exchange- I place myself in the space and space settles in me. This identification of physical and mental space is intuitively grasped by artists like Van Gogh. “I see a world,” he said, “which is quite different from what most painters see.” The poignant contrast of two café settings confirms the claim of the painter.
In the lived experience, when one is engaged in action, the place is given. The contents of the present moment arise or deplete at varying rates depending on the nature of the atmosphere. Buildings themselves are more of permanent nature which acts a storehouse for memories. Scientists have studied Van Gogh’s The Yellow House or The Bedroom subjecting to a more analytical framework of Euclidean space. However, the more effective way to understand the temporality of the architectural space and atmosphere is to effectively engage bodily with space. When the viewer connects with the brushstrokes of the worn chair or becomes familiar with the hanging towels in The Bedroom, the true nature of such paintings is revealed.
The ephemerality of the lived presence surprisingly well in Van Gogh’s work which offers a fleeting instance of time captured. His paintings, which doesn’t offer neatness of a photograph, but more of a fluid, temperance of the lived reality, yearns for emotional reading. The immense popularity of his artworks, I would claim, stems partly from its tactility and ability to correlate with the viewer’s activated imagination. In other words, the painting and the perceiver are not separate, and they do not exist independently. They are codependent and actual lived experience coming out of the coemerging nature of this collaboration. In experiencing the lived space, the memory, and dreams, fear and desire, value and meaning fuse with actual perception. In intertwined conditions of mental and physical space, one experience lived presence. “Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined?”, asks Italo Calvino and continues, “each life is an encyclopaedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.” The modes of experiencing painting and architecture become identical in this mental space, which meanders without fixed boundaries. In painting, a mental image is transferred from the experiential realm of the painter to the mental world of the perceiver.
As one sees from the dimly lit room in Night Café or fromthe perspective set in The Bedroom, the essence of space as determined by an artist is free from functional demands, technical restraints, and limitations of the professional practice of architects. The architecture conceived by an artist is often a direct reflection of mental images, memories, and dreams; the artist creates an architecture of the lived presence. The lived spaces in Van Gogh’s paintings are a testament to this effect. Places with which he was tormented and where he was peacefully attuned, are reflected in his artwork. On deeper engagement, the paintings provide the observer the hints about it.
“How would the painter or poet,” writes Merleau-Ponty, “express anything other than his encounter with the world?” Vincent van Gogh’s art illustrates his encounter with his world in an apparently simple but profound way. In order to immerse oneself with such worldly experience from art, one has to be patient enough to look for a clue. Like architecture, a work of art is an exchange of experiential feelings and meanings between the space and the mind. Art like architecture impregnates space with the meaning and gives back its essence. It articulates the boundary between the mind and the world. It questions some of the basic assertions and emotions that one take for granted. Construction of our time has normalized the emotions and censored human emotions: darkness and fear, elation and ecstasy. These extreme scales of emotional contrast are set free by great work of art. Anxiety and alienation as seen in Night Café are undone by Café Terrace at Night with dreams and reverie. Architecture becomes a container for these emotions at the end and it manifests itself in all the things that we partake in. Such is the nature of the layered world we live in.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Hubert L. Dreyfus, and Patricia Allen Dreyfus. 1964. Sense and Non-Sense. Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy. [Evanston, Ill.]: Northwestern University Press.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Galen A. Johnson, and Michael B. Smith. 1993. The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader: Philosophy and Painting. Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press. http://www.gbv.de/dms/bowker/toc/9780810110731.pdf.
Naifeh, Steven. 2011. Van Gogh : The Life. London : Profile,.
Rilke, Rainer Maria. 2002. Letters on Cézanne. New York : North Point Press,.
Schapiro, Meyer, and Vincent van Gogh. 2000. Vincent van Gogh. New York: Abradale Press : H.N. Abrams.
Walther, Ingo F. 2012. Vincent Van Gogh 1853-1890: Vision and Reality. Köln; London: Taschen.
Helvey, Jennifer. 2009. Irises: Vincent van Gogh in the Garden. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum. http://bvbr.bib bvb.de:8991/F?func=service&doc_library=BVB01&local_base=BVB01&doc_number=018740543&line_number=0001&func_code=DB_RECORDS&service_type=MEDIA.
Leymarie, Jean. 1968. Who Was van Gogh? Who Was–? Geneva: Skira; distributed in the U.S. by World Pub. Co., Cleveland.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, Hubert L. Dreyfus, and Patricia Allen Dreyfus. 1964. Sense and Non-Sense. Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy. [Evanston, Ill.]: Northwestern University Press.
Naifeh, Steven, and Gregory White Smith. 2011. Van Gogh: The Life. First U.S. Edition. New York: Random House.
Noë, Alva. 2004. Action in Perception. Representation and Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
 (Merleau-Ponty, Dreyfus, and Dreyfus 1964, 11)
 (Merleau-Ponty, Dreyfus, and Dreyfus 1964, 15)
 I find it interesting, since Rainer Maria Rilke in Notebook to Malte Laurids Brigge wrote on similar vein: “In order to write a single line, one must see a great many cities, people and things, have an understanding of animals, sense how it is to be a bird in flight, and know the manner in which the little flowers open every morning.”
 (Merleau-Ponty, Dreyfus, and Dreyfus 1964, 12)
 (“Impressionism and Post-Impressionism | Oxford Art” n.d.)
Autumn Sonata (1978) cuts deep into a woman, even if she recoils from it. We are all some mother’s daughter, whether we were cherished or abandoned, spoiled or abused. Both of the film’s stars, Liv Ullmann and Ingrid Bergman, had daughters as well as celebrated careers. But when Bergman left her husband for Roberto Rossellini, she went years without seeing her daughter from her first marriage. As for Ullmann, just the year before she had written, “Success in one’s profession and trying to write a book do not compensate for domestic shortcomings as obvious as mine.” She was referring to her relationship with her daughter, Linn, whose father was Ingmar Bergman. The director later said that when he conceived Autumn Sonata, he considered no other actresses for the two main roles. He didn’t say why, nor did he need to.
Filmed by Sven Nykvist in the haunting palette suggested by its title, Autumn Sonata uses Bergman’s signature technique of tightly focused close-ups in an almost claustrophobically small setting to tell the story of a daughter, Eva (Ullmann), who invites her mother, Charlotte (Ingrid Bergman), for a visit. Charlotte is a famed pianist whose glamorous life hasn’t included a visit to her daughter in seven years. In that time, Eva has married a minister, Viktor (Halvar Björk); has had a son, Erik, who drowned before his fourth birthday; and has been caring for her sister, Helena (Lena Nyman), who is dying, slowly and horribly, from a degenerative disease. Charlotte arrives, vivacious as ever, and seems to think that her debts have already been paid. That isn’t the case.
Bergman’s closely observed account of how one daughter’s disabling rage builds to a devastating all-night confrontation with her mother was created during his self-imposed exile from his native Sweden. In 1976, that country’s most famous filmmaker had been picked up by the police for tax evasion. He was released after five hours, and the courts eventually dismissed the case, but the lèse-majesté had been more than he could bear. From his exile, he had already made The Serpent’s Egg (1977), which didn’t find much success. And after Autumn Sonata—filmed in Norway, Ullmann’s home country, in about fifteen days—he would also make From the Life of the Marionettes (1980) outside Sweden. In retrospect, this part of his career seems as much like a long, slow transition from screen to stage as an exile. Autumn Sonata’s close quarters and big confrontations seem to anticipate the director’s later focus on the theater. And it was also his last work made expressly for the cinema; From theLife of the Marionettes, Fanny and Alexander (1982), and Saraband (2003) were made for television.
But Autumn Sonata also connects back to Bergman’s earlier seventies films. Up until the tax controversies, he had been spending the decade making some of the best films of his career. And Autumn Sonata represents another variation on the intimate family miseries of his other pinnacles from that period—preoccupied with physical and moral frailty, like Cries and Whispers (1972), full of recriminations for crimes the other person doesn’t recollect committing, like Scenes from a Marriage (1973).
For Autumn Sonata, Bergman built his screenplay around exposition. Each revelation about Charlotte comes like another page of the indictment. She wasn’t just absent on tour for much of Eva’s childhood, leaving the girl to keep vigil with her father (Erland Josephson); Charlotte had an affair that resulted in her leaving both husband and children for eight months (the child Eva, shown in flashback, is played by Linn Bergman). She didn’t just leave Eva and her son-in-law alone; Charlotte didn’t show up for Eva’s pregnancy or her one grandchild’s birth (“I was recording all the Mozart sonatas. I hadn’t one day free,” she reminds Viktor). Evidently, Charlotte never came even after Erik died, although no one bothers to throw that at her. There’s so much else to choose from, like putting Helena in a home and never visiting.
It may seem quixotic to bring up these films when discussing the resolutely un-Hollywood Ingmar Bergman. But these old studio tropes reflected attitudes, they did not produce them, and those attitudes cross borders more readily than even cinema itself. In Autumn Sonata, there’s the essence of many a maternal melodrama, concentrated by telescoping events into a couple of days, and deepened by Bergman’s ability to find reasons within reasons for what people do.
Surely, too, the director knew what he was getting when he insisted on Ingrid Bergman for his Charlotte. Cast a Hollywood star and she brings to a role memories of her past films, as well as her public image. The actress didn’t play mothers during her peak years in Hollywood—scandal cut short her career before she got old enough to do so. But she understood that playing Charlotte meant tapping into her own choices and the reams of newsprint from the 1950s accusing her of being unfit for motherhood. And there’s another tidy irony here, one that would scarcely have escaped her director’s notice. Ingrid Bergman’s American stardom began with Intermezzo: A Love Story (1939), a remake of her Swedish hit. She plays a pianist who falls deeply in love with a married violinist played by Leslie Howard . . . and gives him up for the sake of his child.
She’d made splendid movies with her husband Roberto Rossellini (they appear to be the roles that impressed Ingmar Bergman the most) and had had a triumphant return to Hollywood with her Oscar for Anastasia (1956). But from the 1960s on, despite another Oscar (for 1974’s Murder on the Orient Express), Bergman focused on stage work because the movie roles were mostly fluff. Perhaps that’s why, in 1973, when she was presiding over the jury at Cannes, she found time to slip a note into Ingmar Bergman’s pocket, reminding him that when they’d last met, he’d said he would give her a part.
In Images: My Life in Film, Ingmar Bergman wrote that he’d come up with a near-complete outline for Autumn Sonata in one day, after a period in which his accumulating woes had left him temporarily bereft of ideas. The primary difference between it and the finished film is that after the fight, in his original conception, “the daughter gives birth to the mother.” How this might have looked on-screen is an intriguing mystery, but it’s one Bergman himself couldn’t solve, and he abandoned the idea.
Autumn Sonata contains no such mystic scenes, but it’s not without its odd touches. Bergman opens by breaking the fourth wall, to have Eva’s husband, Viktor, tell the audience about his wife, whom we see serenely writing at her desk. Eva is mousy and plain, Ullmann’s considerable beauty hidden by the clothes and hair of a woman twice her age. She seems gentle, but there is calculation beneath the facade. Eva knows that Charlotte will be confronted with precisely what she prefers to avoid: the past. If the film is a chamber piece, as is often said, it’s one played against the sound of a buzz saw coming from far offstage, the thrum of years of pent-up agony.
When Charlotte arrives, she sweeps in with matched luggage, wearing a chic pantsuit and letting her daughter carry her bags into the house. Much has happened to Eva in the seven years since she last saw her mother, but it’s Charlotte who can’t go for more than a few sentences of conversation without turning matters to herself. Eva tells of holding musical evenings for her parishioners, and Charlotte rushes to mention that she has given five school concerts and they were wildly successful.
Charlotte is a performer, but she’s on her best behavior until Eva reveals that Helena is there. Then Charlotte is openly aggrieved; she has just escaped the presence of death, when her lover, Leonardo, passed away after a long illness. In Autumn Sonata, like in Cries and Whispers, death is constantly in the house—in the photographs of little Erik, in Helena’s ravaged body. It’s no wonder a person as self-absorbed as Charlotte backs away; a child’s mortality is the ultimate reminder of your own. Still, Charlotte is not a performer for nothing. She steels herself to see Helena, and when she does, her charm is once more in place.
As Helena, she is there to remind Charlotte of the cost of self-indulgence. Her expression on seeing her mother—pure joy so intense it seems to cause her physical pain—is the most heartbreaking moment in the movie.
And Ingmar Bergman is too great an artist to go the route of utter villainy with his character by suggesting that Charlotte is unaffected. Next she’s shown alone and pacing around her room, full of emotions she doesn’t want to have, planning an early end to her visit so she can avoid them. Neither is the so-far-saintly Eva above signaling some resentment. She sarcastically predicts to Victor that her mother will show up in the appropriate widow’s weeds. Instead, Charlotte sweeps in wearing a flowing red dress.
Dinner is dispensed within one cut, the better to emphasize the aftermath. Eva shyly lets herself be persuaded to play Chopin’s Prelude no. 2 in A Minor. She renders it softly and hesitantly, seemingly with a missed note here and there. Bergman’s camera lingers on Charlotte, her face at first indulgent, then gradually more and more discontented. We expect a mother to be supportive, and Eva’s yearning for approval is so tangible it almost seems to be sitting on the bench between them. But it’s inconceivable to Charlotte that, presented with a mediocre performance, she should do anything other than try to improve it. Chopin, she tells Eva, is about “feeling,” not “sentimentality.” Unqualified praise for your child’s best efforts falls firmly in the latter category.
Painful as this scene at the piano is, it is not entirely about maternal callousness. Ingmar Bergman, wrote journalist Simon Hattenstone, “used to say, almost boast, that he didn’t know the ages of his children, that he measured the years by his movies, not his offspring.” And throughout this film, Charlotte begins reminiscences by citing what she was playing—Mozart, Beethoven’s First, Bartók. It’s hard to say how much Bergman’s own paternal attitudes are being invoked here; a man who puts art above his children is considered normal in a way that a woman is not. Clearly, though, when Bergman shows repeatedly that Charlotte does not know what it is to be a mother, he is also showing that neither does Eva understand what it is to be an artist.
That gap becomes a chasm later in the evening, when the fight begins with the simplest of questions from Eva: “Do you like me?” Here Ullmann’s performance gains its fullest force; her face screws up uncannily like a child’s, but she’s so devastated it’s impossible to mock. “I was a doll you played with when you had time,” Eva continues. Charlotte protests; she felt guilty, her work was suffering and it made her life seem meaningless. Here, at last, one may feel some real sympathy with Charlotte’s bitter laugh. Eva’s fury is relentless now, and Charlotte never seems more human than when she confesses, “I’ve always been afraid of you . . . I was afraid of your demands.”
Eva answers that she had no demands, but that is clearly not true. She swerves to another time, before Helena’s illness got worse, when Charlotte and Leonardo visited, and Helena fell in love with her mother’s lover. Somehow, Eva has worked this out to be her mother’s fault, although how could anyone believe that maternal duty extends to sharing your man with your daughter? “I caused Helena’s illness?” asks Charlotte. “Yes, I think so” is the reply. It’s unfair, childish logic, but then the whole conversation has been a regression.
As the scene finally closes, Charlotte is asking Eva to hold her; we don’t know if Eva does, nor do we know if they are capable of reconciling. The movie cycles back around to Eva writing another letter to her mother, convinced she’s driven Charlotte away. Bergman, for his part, wrote that “their hate becomes cemented.”
Autumn Sonata was Ingrid Bergman’s swan song in the theatrical movies; when she filmed it, she already had the cancer that would kill her. Her Charlotte ended up as a triumph of emotional rawness, but the director and star fought bitterly during rehearsals. He said she’d mapped out every facial expression in the mirror and was stuck “in the 1940s.” It seems clear she was grasping for anything that could soften Charlotte. The actress pleaded for a joke or two. No jokes, she was told. (Autumn Sonata, outside of some wan sallies from Charlotte, is indeed a joke-free zone; Scenes from a Marriage, arguably a depiction of even greater emotional damage, is a laugh riot in comparison.) They clashed over whether Charlotte had been absent from her children for seven years, as the director wrote, or five years, as his star insisted, which does sound less biblically harsh. “So to keep me quiet,” wrote the star in her memoirs, “he cut it to five—even though I noticed seven came back in the finished picture.” He won that battle, and by the time cameras rolled, he’d won the war. The finished film exposes not only a mother’s mistakes but also her searing terror of what those mistakes have wrought.
Actress told the auteur, “Ingmar, the people you know must be monsters.” With Charlotte, Ingmar Bergman got the fully human and ultimately tragic monster that he wanted.
Michael Sorkin, the noted architectural critic and educator who passed away last month in covid-19 wrote about 250 things that an architect should know in his book What Goes Up . I have to admit that I myself don’t know probably 50 percent of items listed. but it’s fun to go through this list once in a while and assess our knowledge and position in this regard.
Hold your breath. Here are the 250 things:
1.The feel of cool marble under bare feet. 2.How to live in a small room with five strangers for six months. 3.With the same strangers in a lifeboat for one week. 4.The modulus of rupture. 5.The distance a shout carries in the city. 6.The distance of a whisper. 7.Everything possible about Hatshepsut’s temple (try not to see it as “modernist” avant la lettre). 8.The number of people with rent subsidies in New York City. 9.In your town (include the rich). 10.The flowering season for azaleas. 11.The insulating properties of glass. 12.The history of its production and use. 13.And of its meaning. 14.How to lay bricks. 15.What Victor Hugo really meant by “this will kill that.” 16.The rate at which the seas are rising. 17.Building information modeling (BIM). 18.How to unclog a Rapidograph. 19.The Gini coefficient. 20.A comfortable tread-to-riser ratio for a six-year-old. 21.In a wheelchair. 22.The energy embodied in aluminum. 23.How to turn a corner. 24.How to design a corner. 25.How to sit in a corner. 26.How Antoni Gaudí modeled the Sagrada Família and calculated its structure. 27.The proportioning system for the Villa Rotonda. 28.The rate at which that carpet you specified off-gasses. 29.The relevant sections of the Code of Hammurabi. 30.The migratory patterns of warblers and other seasonal travelers. 31.The basics of mud construction. 32.The direction of prevailing winds. 33.Hydrology is destiny. 34.Jane Jacobs in and out. 35.Something about Feng Shui. 36.Something about Vastu Shilpa. 37.Elementary ergonomics. 38.The color wheel. 39.What the client wants. 40.What the client thinks it wants. 41.What the client needs. 42.What the client can afford. 43.What the planet can afford. 44.The theoretical bases for modernity and a great deal about its factions and inflections. 45.What post-Fordism means for the mode of production of building. 46.Another language. 47.What the brick really wants. 48.The difference between Winchester Cathedral and a bicycle shed. 49.What went wrong in Fatehpur Sikri. 50.What went wrong in Pruitt-Igoe. 51.What went wrong with the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. 52.Where the CCTV cameras are. 53.Why Mies really left Germany. 54.How people lived in Catal Huyuk. 55.The structural properties of tufa. 56.How to calculate the dimensions of brise-soleil. 57.The kilowatt costs of photovoltaic cells. 58.Vitruvius. 59.Walter Benjamin. 60.Marshall Berman. 61.The secrets of the success of Robert Moses. 62.How the dome on the Duomo in Florence was built. 63.The reciprocal influences of Chinese and Japanese building. 64.The cycle of the Ise Shrine. 65.Entasis. 66.The history of Soweto. 67.What it’s like to walk down Las Ramblas. 68.Backup. 69.The proper proportions of a gin martini. 70.Shear and moment. 71.Shakespeare, et cetera 72.How the crow flies. 73.The difference between a ghetto and a neighborhood. 74.How the pyramids were built. 75.Why. 76.The pleasures of the suburbs. 77.The horrors. 78.The quality of light passing through ice. 79.The meaninglessness of borders. 80.The reasons for their tenacity. 81.The creativity of the ecotone. 82.The need for freaks. 83.Accidents must happen. 84.It is possible to begin designing anywhere. 85.The smell of concrete after rain. 86.The angle of the sun at the equinox. 87.How to ride a bicycle. 88.The depth of the aquifer beneath you. 89.The slope of a handicapped ramp. 90.The wages of construction workers. 91.Perspective by hand. 92.Sentence structure. 93.The pleasure of a spritz at sunset at a table by the Grand Canal. 94.The thrill of the ride. 95.Where materials come from. 96.How to get lost. 97.The pattern of artificial light at night, seen from space. 98.What human differences are defensible in practice. 99.Creation is a patient search. 100.The debate between Otto Wagner and Camillo Sitte. 101.The reasons for the split between architecture and engineering. 102.Many ideas about what constitutes utopia. 103.The social and formal organization of the villages of the Dogon. 104.Brutalism, Bowellism and the Baroque. 105.How to dérive. 106.Woodshop safety. 107.A great deal about the Gothic. 108.The architectural impact of colonialism on the cities of North Africa. 109.A distaste for imperialism. 110.The history of Beijing. 111.Dutch domestic architecture in the seventeenth century. 112.Aristotle’s Politics. 113.His Poetics. 114.The basics of wattle and daub. 115.The origins of the balloon frame. 116.The rate at which copper acquires its patina. 117.The levels of particulates in the air of Tianjin. 118.The capacity of white pine trees to sequester carbon. 119.Where else to sink it. 120.The fire code. 121.The seismic code. 122.The health code. 123.The Romantics, throughout the arts and philosophy. 124.How to listen closely. 125.That there is a big danger in working in a single medium: the logjam you don’t even know you’re stuck in will be broken by a shift in representation. 126.The exquisite corpse. 127.Scissors, stone, paper. 128.Good Bordeaux. 129.Good beer. 130.How to escape a maze. 131.QWRTY. 132.Fear. 133.Finding your way around Prague, Fez, Shanghai, Johannesburg, Kyoto, Rio, Mexico City, Solo, Benares, Bangkok, Leningrad, Isfahan. 134.The proper way to behave with interns. 135.Maya, Revit, CATIA, whatever. 136.The history of big machines, including those that can fly. 137.How to calculate ecological footprints. 138.Three good lunch spots within walking distance. 139.The value of human life. 140.Who pays. 141.Who profits. 142.The Venturi effect. 143.How people pee. 144.What to refuse to do, even for the money. 145.The fine print in the contract. 146.A smattering of naval architecture. 147.The idea of too far. 148.The idea of too close. 149.Burial practices in a wide range of cultures. 150.The density needed to support a pharmacy. 151.The density needed to support a subway. 152.The effect of the design of your city on food miles for fresh produce. 153.Lewis Mumford and Patrick Geddes. 154.Capability Brown, André Le Nôtre, Frederick Law Olmsted, Muso Soseki, Ji Cheng, and Roberto Burle Marx. 155.Constructivism, in and out. 156.Sinan. 157.Squatter settlements via visits and conversations with residents. 158.The history and techniques of architectural representation across cultures. 159.Several other artistic media. 160.A bit of chemistry and physics. 161.Geodesics. 162.Geodetics. 163.Geomorphology. 164.Geography. 165.The law of the Andes. 166.Cappadocia firsthand. 167.The importance of the Amazon. 168.How to patch leaks. 169.What makes you happy. 170.The components of a comfortable environment for sleep. 171.The view from the Acropolis. 172.The way to Santa Fe. 173.The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. 174.Where to eat in Brooklyn. 175.Half as much as a London cabbie. 176.The Nolli Plan. 177.The Cerdà Plan. 178.The Haussmann Plan. 179.Slope analysis. 180.Darkroom procedures and Photoshop. 181.Dawn breaking after a bender. 182.Styles of genealogy and taxonomy. 183.Betty Friedan. 184.Guy Debord. 185.Ant Farm. 186.Archigram. 187.Club Med. 188.Crepuscule in Dharamshala. 189.Solid geometry. 190.Strengths of materials (if only intuitively). 191.Halong Bay. 192.What’s been accomplished in Medellín. 193.In Rio. 194.In Calcutta. 195.In Curitiba. 196.In Mumbai. 197.Who practices? (It is your duty to secure this space for all who want to.) 198.Why you think architecture does any good. 199.The depreciation cycle. 200.What rusts. 201.Good model-making techniques in wood and cardboard. 202.How to play a musical instrument. 203.Which way the wind blows. 204.The acoustical properties of trees and shrubs. 205.How to guard a house from floods. 206.The connection between the Suprematists and Zaha. 207.The connection between Oscar Niemeyer and Zaha. 208.Where north (or south) is. 209.How to give directions, efficiently and courteously. 210.Stadtluft macht frei. 211.Underneath the pavement the beach. 212.Underneath the beach the pavement. 213.The germ theory of disease. 214.The importance of vitamin D. 215.How close is too close. 216.The capacity of a bioswale to recharge the aquifer. 217.The draught of ferries. 218.Bicycle safety and etiquette. 219.The difference between gabions and riprap. 220.The acoustic performance of Boston’s Symphony Hall. 221.How to open the window. 222.The diameter of the earth. 223.The number of gallons of water used in a shower. 224.The distance at which you can recognize faces. 225.How and when to bribe public officials (for the greater good). 226.Concrete finishes. 227.Brick bonds. 228.The Housing Question by Friedrich Engels. 229.The prismatic charms of Greek island towns. 230.The energy potential of the wind. 231.The cooling potential of the wind, including the use of chimneys and the stack effect. 232.Paestum. 233.Straw-bale building technology. 234.Rachel Carson. 235.Freud. 236.The excellence of Michel de Klerk. 237.Of Alvar Aalto. 238.Of Lina Bo Bardi. 239.The non-pharmacological components of a good club. 240.Mesa Verde. 241.Chichen Itza. 242.Your neighbors. 243.The dimensions and proper orientation of sports fields. 244.The remediation capacity of wetlands. 245.The capacity of wetlands to attenuate storm surges. 246.How to cut a truly elegant section. 247.The depths of desire. 248.The heights of folly. 249.Low tide. 250.The Golden and other ratios.
On October 18,1708, the start of the school year at the Royal University of Naples, Professor Giambattista Vico, who occupied the chair of Rhetoric, gave a stunning speech to his students, eloquently criticizing Cartesian ideology. This speech would be published later as On the Study Methods of our Time. But the time of the intellectual atmosphere of Europe in the eighteenth century was so much dominated by the Cartesian logic and thinking, that Vico’s thought was not popular. This is perhaps the reason why Vico’s magnum opus La Scienza Nouva published in 1725 went unnoticed. Vico was disheartened with the reception of the book and written a letter to local priest expressing his disappointment. He also sent a copy of the book to Sir Isaac Newton. There was no evidence whether Newton read the book, or even if he had received it. Scholars suggest, even if Newton would have read it, he would have no understanding of the content.  Convinced it is a masterpiece- Vico made a revised second edition in 1730. The result was same. There were correspondence between Father Carlo Lodoli and Vico to publish it and Vico sent his six hundred pages of manuscript in Venice but ultimately there was some misunderstanding and the project failed. Still undaunted, Vico published the book third time in 1744, dying shortly thereafter.
The third edition of the book was published six months after Vico’s death and the full name was Principles of New Science of Giambattista Vico concerning the Common Nature of the Nations. Vico referred to this work as “Principles of humanity.”
Frontispiece: It offers a guide to this reading in the “Idea of the Work,” which is formulated as a commentary on the elements of the dipintura, the engraving of its frontispiece. In the opening line of the New Science Vico compares this engraving to that described in the text of the Tablet of Cebes, which was held in such high regard in Renaissance humanism. He notes that as the Tablet of Cebes offers a scheme of morals, the dipintura of the New Science offers a scheme of civil things. This tablet “may serve the Reader to conceive the Idea of this Work before reading it, and to bring it back most easily to memory with such aid as the imagination [ fantasia] may provide him, after having read it” (NS 1).In the “Idea of the Work” the whole of the New Science is presented in microcosm for the reader. In the last lines Vico writes,“to state the idea of the work in the briefest summary, the entire engraving represents the three worlds in the order in which the human minds of the gentiles have been raised from earth to heaven” (NS 42). To grasp this work as a whole, the reader must perceive how the worlds of the divine (the divine mind and the human mind understood as the divine element in man), the civil, and the natural intersect. Human wisdom for Vico has two parts, civil and natural. The former is that in which the ancients excel; the latter is that over which the moderns have developed mastery. This central idea or theme serves as the ultimate principle guiding the specific transitions of the work. Vico explicitly informs the reader what this principle is: “We find that the principle of these origins both of languages and letters lies in the fact that the first gentile peoples, by a demonstrated necessity of nature, were poets who spoke in poetic characters. This discovery, which is the master key of this Science, has cost us the persistent research of almost all our literary life” (NS 34). These poetic characters, he says, are imaginative genera or universals whereby the first figures of the gentile nations organized the particulars of their world. These genera are expressed in fables that tell first of gods and then of heroes. Vico writes, “the first science to be learned should be mythology or the interpretation of fables” (NS 51). The New Science depends upon the discovery of a new science of mythology that allows Vico to discover and present his new science of history of the common nature of the nations.
Vico says this New Science or metaphysic, studying common nature of nation sunder divine providence, discovers origins of human institutions among gentile nations and thereby establishes a natural law of the gentes. This natural law passes through Egyptians and they handed down three ages that world has passed through. These are:
Ages of gods- when gentiles believed they are living under divine providence,
Ages of heroes- where heroes reigned in aristocratic commonwealth believing in their superiority over plebs and
Ages of men- where all men regard themselves as equal in nature and establishes commonwealths as well as monarchy- both being a form of human government (NS31).
Book I: Establishment of principles
Vico asserts that in human institutions, mental language must be common which is capable of expressing so many diverse aspects (NS161). This common mental language is the basis of Vico’s New Science and this is supposed to be foundation stone of constructing a mental vocabulary shared by all the articulate living and dead languages (NS 162).
Man lost in ignorance, makes himself the measure of all things. When men have no idea of distant and unknown things, they judge them by what is familiar.
For Vico, wisdom of the poets- their poetic metaphysics was the earliest wisdom of the mankind. It was unrationalized, as primitive men were not capable of abstract thoughts.
“Poetic wisdom, the first wisdom of the gentile world, must have begun with a metaphysics, not rational and abstract like that of learned men now, but felt and imagined as that of these first men must have been, who, without power of ratiocination, were all robust sense and vigorous imagination.”(NS 116)
To write good poetry, said Vico, one must feel as children. “Children have a remarkable gift of imagination. When the world was in its childhood, all nations were nations of poets, for poetry is simply imitation. Primeval man had a special kind of poetic thought and whole civilization stems from there. Poetry was the source of the civilization. (NS 215,216,217)
Vico’s thesis about poetry being first and foremost knowledge is based on the following reasonings:
Poetry is a collective product,
Language of Poetry is in constant flux,
It is not scholars or savants, but simple people who are the true judges of poetry,
Poetry uses myths to attain the truth, for general and profound truth is best expressed in myths,
Poetry stems from imagination, but its basis is experience- its function is transmission of this experience,
“if the criticism of our time is inculcated in children, their poetic abilities are damaged. Their imagination is dulled and obscured, and their memory is impaired and yet the best poets are those who are guided by imagination…I would venture to affirm that by instinct they [poets] seek out the truth in same measure as philosophers. But the philosophers address himself to the learned people. The poet, on the other hand, addresses himself to the masses, and for this reason, speaks about particular examples furnished by splendid deeds and words of characters of his devising. Thus poets depart from the everyday truth in order to create a more perfect one…They speak falsehoods in order to be in a certain sense, more veracious still.”
Philosopher and philologists have given us the “principles of humanity.” This principle of humanity is equivalent to the phrase “common nature of nations” as quoted in the title (J2). These principles are the principles by which creatures who are not human, are humanised.
To discover how human thinking arose, Vico said, he spent twenty years (NS 338). Vico claims his New Science as history of human ideas, on which metaphysics of human minds must tread (NS 347). The time and place for such a history must be determined by the common sense of human race.
The New Science attempts to describe “an ideal eternal history” experienced in time by each nation from its “rise, development, maturity, decline and fall (NS 349).” For Vico, the world of nations is certainly a human construction and its reflection can be seen within the human mind (NS 349). The New Science creates reality greater than the geometrical world, by its association with institutions dealing with human affairs, which are far more tangible (hence more real) than geometrical elements of points, lines, surfaces and figures (NS 349).
If the creator also becomes the narrator, then history for its sake is certain. For God, creation and knowledge are one and same thing (NS 349).
Principles of New Science:
Divine Providence: this makes up law and divine institutions,
Marriage and thereby moderation of passions:
Burial and therewith immortality of human souls:
Vico opines that since these characters are felt by the majority, it should be the basis of social life.
Book II: Poetic Wisdom
Vico while investigating the source of wisdom of ancient gentiles, finds that it began with the metaphysics, that “seeks its proofs not in the external world but within the modifications of the mind of him who meditates it. For, as we have said above, since this world of nations has certainly been made by men, it is within these modifications that its principles should have been sought. And human nature, so far as it is like that of animals, carries with it this property, that the senses are its sole way of knowing things.” (NS 374)
Hence poetic wisdom, the core of this book, have begun with metaphysics, which is not rational or abstract reasoning of our times but it was rather felt and imagines by the first men. (NS 375)
When first men created things, their ideas were their own and inherently different from God. “For God”, Vico says,“ in his purest intelligence, knows things, and by knowing them, creates them; but they [first men], in their robust ignorance, did it by virtue of a wholly corporeal imagination.” (NS 376) Because of the corporeality, the ancient men dealt it with sublimity. This sublime treatment perturbed the creators to a great extent, which turned creators as poets.
Poetic Logic concerns the imaginative foundations of speech and language, rooted in the four tropes of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony (NS 404-409).
Metaphor: It is most useful when it can give sense and passion to inanimate objects (NS 404). In all languages, Vico notes, metaphor has anthropomorphic associations with objects, for example, head for beginning, hands of clock, flesh of fruits, blood of grapes, bowel of earth (NS 405). This further proves Vico’s first claim, that ignorant man makes himself the measure of the universe. Faced with incomprehensibility, man makes things out of himself and becomes them by transforming himself into them (NS 405).
Metonymy springs from the first poets who had to describe most particular and sensible ideas (NS 406). When we want to utter our innermost spiritual and sensible understanding, we have to take refuge of metonymy. Metonymy, according to Vico, “drew a cloak of learning over prevailing ignorance of these origins of human institutions.”
Synecdoche refers to a part of the whole being. “Head” commonly used in vulgar Latin, means the whole man- its origin lies as ‘head(s)’ were the only thing that could be identified in a forest (NS 407).
Irony comes in the period of reflection, fashioned on falsehood as “first men of the gentile world had the simplicity of the children, who are truthful by nature.” (NS 408)
These four tropes, as part of the poetic wisdom are modes of engaging with the world, follow each other in a historical sequence, with residues of the former remaining “figuratively” in the domain of the latter.
The decadence of human age, and the ultimate return to the bestial behaviour giving rise to the new age of the gods, is the result of an ironic distance in which one comes to recognize disparities between figurative representation and “literal” reality, in which literal reality is considered the truth.
Book III: DISCOVERY OF THE TRUE HOMER
Tradition says Homer was blind and from his blindness, he took his name. In Ionic dialect homer means blind (NS 869). As historians conclude, Trojan War, an epoch-making event, did not take place, there was great doubt if Homer existed in real (NS 873). With some surviving poems of Homer, Vico takes the middle ground saying, “Homer was an idea or a heroic character of Grecian men insofar as they told their histories in song (NS 873).”
Homer was the reason that Greek people competed with each other for the honor of their fatherland and claimed for being citizen. Opinions are diverse as Homer, lived in the lips and memories of the people for a span of 460 years (NS876). Each of the poem (constituting the epics, Illiad and Odyssey), were called homeros, being sung by poor rhapsodes who had to make living by singing them throughout Greece. Vico opines these rhapsodes are authors of poems as much as the people (or Homer if he was a person) who composed the histories in them (NS 878).
Homer (or the idea of Homer) being an incomparable poet, living in the age of “vigorous memory, robust imagination and sublime invention” cannot be a philosopher. (NS 896) This idea of Homer being incomparable can be traced in the frontispiece of the book as Homer receives the divine light, reflecting from the breast plate of metaphysics and hence any human made ideas cannot be come close with it.
Aitken, R. James (Robert James). 1995. “Piranesi-Vico-II Campo Marzio : Foundations and the Eternal City.” M. Arch., McGill University.
Bayer, Thora Ilin, Donald Phillip Verene, and Giambattista Vico. 2009. Giambattista Vico: Keys to the New Science : Translations, Commentaries, and Essays. 1 online resource (xi, 209 pages) : illustrations. vols. Cornell Paperbacks. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=3138065.
Danesi, Marcel, and Frank H. Nuessel. 1994. The Imaginative Basis of Thought and Culture: Contemporary Perspectives on Giambattista Vico. Media, Communications & Culture Studies ; v. 3. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.
Vico, Giambattista, and L. M. Palmer. 1988. On the Most Ancient Wisdom of the Italians: Unearthed from the Origins of the Latin Language : Including the Disputation with the Giornale de’ Letterati d’Italia. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
The link between Architecture and Memory is quite ancient. Numerous accounts have been written on how architecture was used as a memory tool. We learn from stories of the Greek poet Simonides, who identified from his memory every visitor in a banquet associating them with architectural setting. This art of memory often called “memory palace” was transmitted from Greeks to Romans and then into European tradition of storytelling. It was common to rehearse speech associating it with the landscape, the porch, the steps, the bedroom or balcony. Hypneretomachia Poliphili, a fifteenth-century Italian text shows Poliphilo in a dark forest, describing ancient marvels “deserving of a place in the theatre of memory” who encounters ruins of classical buildings in search for his beloved Polia in his dream. After the invention of the printing press, with books readily available, memorization techniques were less in demand. Later, memories were distrusted and frowned upon as an unreliable source. Frances Yates claims in Art of Memory that we, moderns, have no memory at all. Giordano Bruno, a sixteenth-century Italian polymath, espoused architecture, art, and poetry as a very few special disciplines, which require disciplined imagination which sprouts from memory. I argue in our more heuristic architectural discipline, architects must depend upon their memory as a tool to imagine.
I argue in our more heuristic architectural discipline, architects must depend upon their memory as a tool to imagine.
While we tend to associate memory as a complex electrochemical process taking place inside our brain, Juhani Pallasmaa claims that memories are also stored in our skeletons, muscles, and skin. Philosopher Edward Casey argues in a similar vein concluding in his book Remembering: A Phenomenological Study, “there is no memory without body memory.” Marcel Proust’s protagonist in In Search of Lost Time constructs his own identity through this bodily memory.
I would argue that architecture alone cannot produce any emotion unless we associate it with our memory. Our childhood memory is a fertile ground for our imagination. From this seed of memory, the tree of imagination takes shape. Imagination is vital to make architecture that is essential to the lived experience. Neuroscientists have found evidence that our fundamental perceptions don’t generate in the brain alone but is produced from the encounter between the body and the world. Through our interaction with the world, we create bodily memory. Architect Peter Zumthor makes this bodily memory speak through his architecture. He believes places and landscapes act as memory banks and an architect should actively interpret the memory stored in these landscapes to design that would be responsive beyond the spectacular form.
Every landscape and building are condensed memory and with memory we associate our microcosmic experiences with the world. Our existential space is built with multisensorial perceptions. The crucial question is, standing on our time, acknowledging the circumstances of our technological world, how can one imagine a palace to store memories which would safeguard the authenticity of human experience?
The crucial question is, standing on our time, acknowledging the circumstances of our technological world, how can one imagine a palace to store memories which would safeguard the authenticity of human experience?
Bachelard, Gaston, and M. Jolas. 1994. The Poetics of Space. Boston: Beacon Press.
Brodsky, Joseph, and Poets Laureate Collection (Library of Congress). 1995. On Grief and Reason: Essays. 1st ed. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Casey, Edward S. 2000. Remembering: A Phenomenological Study. 2nd ed. Studies in Continental Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Dutton, Denis. 2009. The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, & Human Evolution. 1st U.S. ed. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
Fisher, Thomas. 2004. “What Memory? Whose Memory?” In Memory and Architecture, 11. University of New Mexico Press.
Hurst, Rachel, and Jane Lawrence. n.d. “(Re)Placing, Remembering, Revealing,” 25.
Jackson, John Brinckerhoff. 1994. A Sense of Place, a Sense of Time. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lyndon, Donlyn., and Charles W. Moore. 1994. Chambers for a Memory Palace. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice, and Donald A. Landes. 2012. Phenomenology of Perception. Abingdon, Oxon ; New York: Routledge.
Mertens, Manuel. 2018. Magic and Memory in Giordano Bruno: The Art of a Heroic Spirit. 1 online resource. vols. Brill’s Studies in Intellectual History Ser. Boston: Brill.
The Poem. The Poetic Revelation. Poetry and History.
Why poetry is important in everyday life. Taking a leaf out of Octavio Paz’s book to make a strong case for poetry in our daily life, culture and society.
Octavio Paz, the author of this book was a Mexican poet, writer, and diplomat, recognized as one of the major Latin American writers of the 20th century. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1990. This book The Bow and the Lyre contains timeless and profound ideals for our life, society and culture.
Images are product of imagination. We use the word image to invoke several different meanings. Each image or a poem consisting of different images contain many kinds of opposite or disparate meanings. Saint John speaks of Silent Music where two incompatible terms are put together. According to Paz, the image is key to human condition.
A child is surprised to know that a pound of stone and a pound of feather has the same weight. It is the character of the matter that appeals to the child. Paz calls it poetic reality. The poetic reality of the image cannot have its claim to the truth. The poem never says what it is, but what it could be. The realm of poem resides not in the realm of being but in Aristotelian “likely impossible”.
In dialectical process, the image of stone and the feather are completely opposite. Sometimes first term devours the second and vice versa. But some of the best images are where stone and feather continue to be ‘this is this’, ‘that and that’ and ‘this is that’ at the same time. In poetic terms, the stone is stone, the feather is feather as well as the stone is feather. This violates laws of thought and dialectic approach as dialectic proceeds with a string of reasons.
Since pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides, the uprooting of Being from primordial chaos, constitute the basis of our thinking. “Clear and Distinctive ideas” come from this difference between what is and what is not. The banishment of poetry and mysticism from western history has diminished its value. Western metaphysics ends in solipsism, i.e. the idea that only one’s own mind is sure to exist. Hegel’s attempt to go back to Heraclitus was futile.
Despite Husserl’s call to “get back to the facts”, his idealism leads to solipsism.
Heidegger’s effort to go back to Parmenides’ era to find an answer hits the stone wall. Despite Western history going to an astray, Paz is optimistic about finding a way into the world and starting all over again.
On the contrary, Oriental thought has not suffered the same defeat. When Western World conceives ‘this or that’, the Eastern World pitches ‘this and that’ or even ‘this is that’. The fundamental texts of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism reiterates the opposition amid the terms but at the same time mediates the necessary reconciliation between conflicting forces. In the most ancient Upanishad, a fundamental text of the Sanatan Dharma or Eternal Order, it is stated, “Thou art woman. Thou art man. Thou are the youth and the maiden… Thou are the seasons and the seas.” “There is nothing that is not this and there is nothing that is not that” says Chuang -Tzu. He elaborates, “Life is life in relation to death and vice versa. Affirmation is affirmation in relation to negation and vice versa”. It is this very moment when stone and feather fuse together. As per Eastern philosophy,:
Truth is an experience, and everyone must attempt to it on their own.
Learning cannot be just accumulation of knowledge or facts, but it is the attuning of body and spirit. Meditation teach us to let go of things, to unburden ourselves of the knowledge. To think is to breathe as thoughts and life are not separate entities but the same communicating vessel. The ultimate quest for identity remains between man and the world, consciousness and being, being and existence. All our endeavors remain to rediscover the old path between magic and poetry, science and religion; the forgotten way of communication between the two worlds.
In principle, Tantric systems consider body as an image of cosmos. Sense centers are knots of energy. Triple rhythm of sap, blood and light rules each posture of the embracing bodies.
In Eastern thought, truth is a personal experience and cannot be communicated. Who knows does not speak and who speaks does not know. Hence the Sage preaches without words. The condemnation of words come from the inability of language to transcend the world of this and that.
The words point to meanings which in turn shows to objects. Objects are beyond the grasp of language. The wordless preaching the Chinese philosophers refer to a language that is more than a language, a word that expresses the inexpressible.
Image and Language:
Each word has a certain number of meanings. When they are used in a sentence, they make a coherent sense. This time, the other meanings of the word disappears. In the case of Image, the multiple meanings remain present. For a poet, meanings of images dwell on different levels. The first one is the authentic one- the poet has seen or heard them. In second case the images are objective reality- the landscape painting by a painter and the actual landscape are not the same. They are two different parallels of the same order. Poetic images have their own logic.
Finally, the poet’s images tell us something about the world and about ourselves, and this something reveals to us what we are in this world.
All things that we represent through syllogism, descriptions, scientific formulas limit themselves to representing or describing it. They do not re-create what they are trying to express. If we see a chair, we would try to analyse its material, color, texture, shape etc. In poem, the chair is present in its totality. The poet does not describe the chair. He puts it in front of the reader.
“The poem does not represent, it presents” says Machado.
The meaning of the image is image itself. It is self explanatory. It can’t be said with other words. Commentaries, explanations and analysis are superfluous. The poet does not try to say. He just says. Unlike sentences and phrases, images are not means. In a similar vein, the sense of poem is in poem itself. Image causes words to lose their mobility and interchangeability. When Language is touched by poetry, it ceases to be a language. Poem transcends the language. The poetic experience cannot be reduced to words though only word expresses it. Truth of poem relies on the poetic experience. This experience is unutterable. Poetry puts man outside himself as well as makes him return to his original being.
The Poetic Revelation
Poetic experience, like religious experience is a mortal leap. It makes us forget where we are, who we are, only to be rediscovered later. Man reveals to himself though poetry. Religion on the contrary, aims to reveal a mystery alien to us.
According to Rudolf Otto, Sacred is a priori category. But Paz questions, the idea of perfection as a prerequisite of the priori category. The super powerful God must rely on sacrifices of human blood to keep the cosmos in order. God moves the world, but the blood moves the God! Religion is terra incognita for reason.
Paz insists, the experience of sacred does not lie outside to us – but in the opening of heart so that the hidden Other may merge. Religion allures us to an eternal life. It promises to redeem s from death, but it makes the earthly life a punishment.
As life and death is inseparable, death is present in life and we live dying. Each moment that we live, we die. Religion offers death of this life by promising eternal truth. To live is to die. Death is not something that is created in the void of life, but it completes it.
Heidegger pointed out joy in the presence of the beloved is a mean of access to reveal ourselves. He says what is all know with our prior obscure knowledge is love, the joy of love which is a revelation of being.
When man suddenly realizes, there is no meaning other than dying, the fall I the chaos is inexpressible. In the face of the world we are reduced to nothing– but at the same time the nothingness illuminates us to the light of being. “We ourselves annihilate ourselves in creating ourselves”, Paz goes on “we create ourselves in annihilating ourselves”.
Poetic word is a rhythm and being in rhythm is to embrace life and death in a single utterance. Poetry is not a judgment or interpretation of our existence but it is a revelation of our original condition.
Being is born of nothing. The same rhythm moves us, the same silence surrounds us.
Japanese poet Buson puts it:
Before the white chrysanthemums the scissors hesitate for an instant.
True poetry recreates man and makes him assume the true condition, that is not being in dilemma, but understanding the totality of life and death at a single instance.
Before the white chrysanthemums
the scissors hesitate
for an instant.
True poetry recreates man and makes him assume the true condition, that is not being in dilemma, but understanding the totality of life and death at a single instance.
Signs in Rotation
What is the place of poetry in Society? There is no poetry without society- poetry simultaneously affirms and denies speech which is very social at its root. Also there is no society without poetry as it will lack a language – where everyone will say the same thing or nobody will understand anyone.
In a universal society as it was envisioned that every human’s radical difference, singularity and freedom of thought will be celebrated, similarly at one time or the other, all the great poets believed that poem would cease to bring the contradiction of the human society that simultaneously affirms and denies history. In the new vision, it was expected that poetry would be at least practical. However, some traits of contemporary society are : degrading standard of life yet improving standard of living , evaporation of sympathy for fellow men, annihilation of personal communication but raising standard of communication system.
Technology is not an image nor a vision of the world. It is not an image because it cannot reproduce the world and it is not vision because it is unable to conceive the world as shape and its occurrence is more or less shaped by human will. Disappearance of the image is making technology possible. A mosque or a roman cathedral are impregnated with so many meanings. They endure not only because of the material property, but the significance of the meanings they produce. On the other hand, technological apparatus ceases to function and loses its significance when a higher efficient system is put in its place. Technology has not given us new world image and instead made it impossible to return to old mythologies. Technology’s philosophical virtue contains in the absence of philosophy itself. In absence of thousands of years of history and philosophy, Paz notes sarcastically that human being can find its own way with technology.
For Heidegger, we were too late for the Gods and too early for the being, whose poem already begun is being. Our historical situation is defined by too late and too early. We are lost in things; our thoughts are circular, and we hardly perceive anything.
Poetry, music and dance were originally perceived as a whole. Poetry reading is now a private activity. We don’t hear poetry but see it. We read poetry for ourselves. The transition of reading poetry from a public act to a private act has made the experience solitary. Now thanks to the technology of making sound from the word, we are hearing the world again.
If man is transcendence, poem is a sign of that transcendence- going beyond himself to discover through the otherness. If Man wants to be himself, without losing a key to this world, to unite with the other, then Poem is the key to it.