astonishing poetic secret
deeper humanist sympathy
Elective Affinities, Rene Magritte, Oil on Canvas, 1933 41 cm X 33 cm
One night, I woke up in a room in which a cage with a bird sleeping in it had been placed. A magnificent error caused me to see an egg in the cage, instead of the vanished bird. I then grasped a new and astonishing poetic secret, for the shock which I experienced had been provoked precisely by the affinity of two objects -- the cage and the egg -- to each other, whereas previously this shock had been caused by my bringing together two objects that were unrelated. Renet Magritte quoted in Paquet, Marcel, Magritte. Cologne, Germany: Taschen (2006), p. 26.
Note to Reader
Before anything else, and after all, this is not a paper; it is a project.
Content for this project has been collected over the course of the semester. Since I first read Goethe's Elective Affinities and Benjamins essay on the novel in February, I have been searching for ways to decipher the text and open it up to various thought processes. Each week, in moments of thinking about how to better understand the two texts, I ended up collecting a series of imagery, borrowed, adapted, and or found from fields of fine arts, mass media, and literature.
It is a key interest of this project to try to deconstruct the idea of research, or what constitutes academic research. How do we make connections between ideas, or how similar is an artistic production to an academic research? How plausible is it to try to construct academic research merely through an understanding of conceptual affinities that exist between different media and fields of study?
In most of the discussion, the connections between the analytical literary text and the visual imagery are highly blurry.
However, it is with this blurry motive that these affinities can become rhetorical harmonies, and stimulate ever-changing reactions between concepts and ideas, which may otherwise be completely irrelevant, indecipherable or inaccessible.
The list of exercises discussed, are not contained or restricted. There are many other alternatives out there that can cause similar reactions allowing one to experience timeless affinities on a weekly basis, either consciously or subconsciously, both at the individual and the societal levels.
This has been a very uneasy, full-circle research process, which lead itself into a studio production that will only bring more struggle, and more need for research.
Is this beautiful sophistication behind creative thinking and critical seeing, or is it the early death of a writer?
TEXTS IN CONSIDERATION:
Goethes 1809 novel, Elective Affinities is based on the metaphor of marriage as an institution that is governed or regulated by human passions, which at their basic core, are also regulated by chemical reactions. The plot revolves around four characters. Originally, Eduard and Charlotte is a married couple. Later, they invite the Captain, Eduards childhood friend, and Ottilie, the beautiful, orphaned, coming-of-age niece of Charlotte, to live with them. The decision to invite Ottilie and the Captain is described as an "experiment." Over the course of this experiment, it turns out that the chemical reactions between
Charlotte and the Captain grow stronger, while Eduard also falls in love with Ottilie. Pretty much, the experiment results in an exchanging of spouses, while the new couples can never be united by marriage. At the end of the novel, Ottilie kills herself, Eduard dies from grief shortly after her death; Charlotte and Captain will never feel relieved from these two tragic deaths that they will never be able to get married, either:
Provided it does not seem pedantic, the Captain said, I think I can briefly sum up in the language of signs. Imagine an A intimately united with a B, so that no force is able to sunder them; imagine a C likewise related to a D; now bring the two couples into contact; A will throw itself at D, C at B, without our being able to say which first deserted its partner, which first embraces the others partner.
Furthermore, Max Weber has made use of the term elective affinities, as he borrowed it from Goethe, to conceptualize the coincident interaction of components from different sociocultural systems in comparative analysis, especially in his major written work from 1905; The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Webers affinities searched for causal relationships that determine societal regressions and/or developments. Finally, in 1924, Walter Benjamin wrote a critical essay titled Goethes Elective Affinities. Benjamin especially highlights that his essay is not a commentary but instead, a critique on Goethes Elective Affinities. Therefore, he defines his task to seek the truth content of a work of art, whereas commentary seeks its material content.
Even though my weekly exercises are especially structured around juxtapositions between sections from Benjamins essay and various visual and textual examples, my overall argument reflects on all three theoretical interpretations of the term elective affinities. My focus is on similar chemical reactions between visual and textual elements resulting in new combinations of meaning, as well as audience attraction and/ or reaction to certain contents. My main question to answer is whether these reactions are the result, or the cause of such affinities in understanding visual and critical culture. How do we accept visual effects, rhetorical techniques, and at times manipulative ideologies as mundane cultural traditions; how are canons of thought constructed? What are degrees of visual literacy; how do we familiarize our visual senses to things that are exceptional, abnormal, or to a certain degree, crazy and idiotic? Finally, how do we make?
Week 1: WARM-UP
Our exercises consist of "considering" the following quotations, sleeping on them for about a week, and moving on.
The man of understanding finds almost everything ridiculous; the man of thought scarcely anything (From Ottiellies Diary, Elective Affinities, Goethe, 140).
Just as the form of a seal cannot be deduced from the material of the wax or from the purpose of the fastening or even from the signet, and just as it can be grasped only by someone who has had the experience of sealing and becomes evident only to the person who knows the name that the initials merely indicate, so the content of the matter cannot be deduced by means of insight into its constitution or through an exploration of its intended use or even from a premonition of its content; rather, it is graspable only in the philosophical experience of its divine imprint, evident only to the blissful vision of the divine name. In this way the achieved insight into their truth content of subsisting things finally coincides with insight into their truth content. The truth content emerges as that of the material content. Nonetheless, the distinction between them and with it the distinction between the commentary and the critique of the works is not futile (Goethes Elective Affinities, Benjamin, 299-30).
Week 2: TAKE A WALK
In the element from which the goddess arose, beauty appears truly to be at home. The mobile element, as it first of all washes round the foot of the walker, moistens the feet of the goddesses, dispensing beauty; and silver-footed Thetis always remains the model for poetic imagination of the Greeks when they depict this part of the body in their creations (Benjamin, 342).
Week 3: WATCH SOMETHING
Goethe keeps the poetic technique as his artistic secret, through which he strives to construct a mythic meaning. All mythic meaning strives for secrecy. The poetic rights of a work of art, in Goethes case, are owed to the poetized. Mythic content is the poetized content. Hiding behind the poetized, Goethe stands vis-a-vis- all literary criticism as Olympian. Mr. Phenomena is his archetype. (Benjamin, 313-314)
Week 4: READ SOME POETRY
The canon that corresponds to the life of the demigod is embodied in the conception of the poet. The poet, like the hero, his work as a task; hence, his mandate is considered divine. The poet, however, is a more provisional manifestation of human essence than the saint not, as might be supposed, in the sense of degree but in the sense of type. For in the essence of the poet, the relation of the individual to the communal life of his people is determined; in the essence of the saint, the relation of the human being to God (Benjamin, 323).
Like an eagle that one sees always
Whether flying in the middle airs
Or alighting on some rock
Give piercing looks on all sides
To fall so surely on its prey
That one can avoid its nails
No less than its eyes.
Teasing the blowing light
With its ultimate assurance
Severity of its curved smile
Like the eagle
That hangs and hangs, then drops.
Week 5: READ SOME NEWS
The complete uncertainty as to the significance that works can have in the life of a human being has led to this: peculiar types of content are attributed to the life of creative artists, reserved for it and justified in it alone
Work, essence, and life are mingled equally without definition, attributing unity to these three. In this way, the appearance of the mythic hero is constructed
In it the pragmatic is at the same time symbolic
The artistic human life is rendered superhuman, demigod
This is a thoughtless linguistic confusion, which leads to a fatal error of heroizing (Benjamin, 322-324).
Week 6: GET SOME DRINKS
It is, after all, precisely these figures in which the ideal of philosophys problem appears. The totality of philosophy, its system, is of a higher magnitude of power than can be demanded by the quintessence of all its problems taken together, because the unity in the solution of them all cannot be obtained by questioning.
The concept of this non-existent question seeking the unity of philosophy by inquiry functions in philosophy as the ideal of the problem. The work of art does not compete with philosophy itself it merely enters into the most precise relation to philosophy through its affinity with the ideal of the problem. The formulation of a works truth content becomes the highest philosophical problem when an appearance of the ideal transforms itself into the existence of the ideal an existence that is never given (Benjamin, 334).
Week 7: VISIT A MUSEUM
Confronting the episodic figure of the Greek woman, Goethe maintained perfect mastery, since he illuminated in the form of dramatic representation even the conjuration
In it, however, the daemonic principles of conjuration irrupt into the very center of the poetic compositions. For what is conjured is always only a semblance in Ottilie, a semblance of living beauty which strongly, mysteriously and impurely imposed itself in the most powerful sense as material (Benjamin, 339).
Week 8: BUY SOMETHING
Conjuration intends to be the negative counterpart of creation. It, too, claims to bring forth a world from nothingness. With neither of them does the work of art have anything in common. Artistic creation neither makes anything out of chaos nor permeates it; and one would be just as unable to engender semblance, as conjuration truly does, from elements of that chaos. This is what the formula produces. Form, however, enchants chaos momentarily into world. Therefore, no work of art may seem wholly alive, in a manner free of spell-like enchantment, without becoming mere semblance and ceasing to be a work of art (Benjamin, 340).
Week 9: READ SOME MORE POETRY
Goethe deals with objects that without being wholly poetic had awakened in him a certain poetic mood. He says: I have therefore precisely observe the objects that produce such an effect and noted to my surprise that they are actually symbolic (Benjamin, 318).
WEEK 10: MAKE UP YOUR MIND; MAKE SOMETHING
Johan Wolfgang von Goethe, Elective Affinities, 1809
Walter Benjamin, Goethes Elective Affinities, Neue Deutsche Beiträge, 1924
John Ashbery, Self-Portrait In a Convex Mirror, Penguin Books USA Inc, 1976
Cumhur Alp, Telefon, in Garip Siirler Antolojisi, Bilgi Kitabevi, Istanbul, 1958
With References to:
Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1905
Elective Affinities, Rene Magritte, Oil on canvas, 1933
Apollo of the Belvedere, 350-325 BC
Leni Riefenstahl, Olympia, 1938
Alfred Hitchcock, Psycho, 1960
Swoon, Anthropocene Extinction, 2011
Hans Holbein, Portrait of Jane Seymour, Oil on wood, 1537
United States Department of Defense Website, Superheroes at the Pentagon