Saturday, October 15, 2016

Just Finished Rereading "The Paintings Of Giocometti" by Jean Paul Sartre

[Sketches from Giacometti's sketch books]

"He rejects promiscuity, the casual relations of proximity..."

"Diego is not solidly stitched, but, in the language of dressmakers, only basted...."

"Emptiness seeps in everywhere, between the eyes and eyelids, between the lips, into the nostrils. A face becomes an archipelago."

- Jean Paul Sartre, "The Paintings of Giocometti"

Just finished yet another read of one of my favorite essays, period. Jean Paul Sartre's The Paintings of Giocometti in his book of essays, Situations. I first read it in a Steak n Eggs, downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee near the U of Tn, in self-exile from the Christan college I had attended, alienated by and from the Southern culture I had inherited and so very much needed to flee. Amidst the grease stains, the hash browns, King James, Pall Malls, and weak coffee, to make matters worse an agonizing case of chilblains, also known as pernio, had me on the wrack and the hard booth seat, a naugahide special ripped and filthy,, this essay soothed and siren called me eventually Northward to NYC, to museums where I could embrace Giocometti and more who bore my inner burdens no ill will though artists, writers, were all spilled, and spilling still, out of Western cultural seams, thank god, but even god was in question thus Jean Paul and the tenderness with which he wrote of Giocometti, his paintings, for all ourselves:

"The small statue at my feet is a pedestrian seen in the rear-view mirror of an automobile--about to disappear. In vain do I approach him: he keeps his distance. These solitude repel the visitor with all the insuperable length of a room, a lawn, a glade one dare not cross. They bear witness to the strange paralysis which grips Giocometti at the sight of a fellow creature. Not that he is a misanthrope. This numbness is the effect of surprise mindgled with fear, often admiration, and sometimes respect. True, he is distant, but distance, after all, was invented by man and has no meaning outside the context of human space; it separated Hero from Leander and Marathon from Athens, but does not separate one pebble from another. I first understood distance one evening in April, 1941. I hadspent two months in a prison camp, which is like saying, in a sardine can, where I had experienced absolute proximity. My skin was the boundary of my living space. Day and night I felt the warmth of a shoulder or a thigh against my body. But it was never disturbing, as the others were a part of me. On my first night of freedom, a stranger in my native city, not having yet reached my friends of former days, I pushed open the door of a cafe. Suddenly, I experienced a feeling of fear--or something close to fear. I could not understand how these squat, bulging buildings could conceal such deserts. I was lost; the few drinkers seemed more distant than starts...If these men, shimmering comfortably within their tubes of rarified gas seemed inaccessible to me, it was because I no longer had the right to place my hand on their shoulder or thigh, or to call one of the "fat-head." I had rejoined bourgeois society, where I would have to learn to live once again "at a respectful distance." This sudden agoraphobia betrayed my vague feeling of regret for the collective life from which I had been forever severed. The same is true of Giocometti. For him, distance is not voluntary isolation, nor even a movement of withdrawal. It is a requirement, a ceremony, a sense of difficulty, the product--and he says this himself--of powers of attraction and forces of repulsion. If he was unable to cross those few feet of shining wood separating him from those nude women [the paintings Sartre is discussing], it was because poverty or shyness nailed him to his chair. But if he felt the distance insuperable, it was because he yearned to touch that luxuriant flesh. He rejects promiscuity, the casual relations of proximity, because he wants friendship and love. He dares not take for fear of being taken. His figurines are solitary, but when placed together, in whatever combination, they are united by their solitude, to suddenly form a magical society...

- Jean Paul Sartre, "The Paintings of Giocometti"

A sampler on google here


A face becomes an archipelago.

[All photos by Warren Falcon]

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