Eclipse of the Black Sun (1)?

Waiting for the sun to return, for my leg’s bone-fragments to join properly again and for my muscles to de-contract (2) – it is good to reconnect with old acquaintances, lovingly gathered (in that wonderful Hopper catalogue) because of their shared melancholy bent.
When discussing Hopper’s poignancy of places,for instance, Emily Dickinson is aptly quoted with these lines:

"One need not be a Chamber – to be Haunted
– One need not be a House –
The Brain has Corridors – surpassing
Material Place

And the tension in Hopper’s paintings between the sombre inertia of solitary figures and the formalist balance of their surroundings graced by light, calls of course for ample quoting from Julia Kristeva ‘s “Black Sun” ( “an oxymoron she coined as a metaphor for the negative-positive pull of melancholic creativity”).
Indeed, how not to agree with her assertion that “beauty constitutes the [melancholic’s] other realm” :
“fullness and formal order arising from some potent lost focus of longing, visual grace wrested from dejection” .

Margaret Iversen's essay (“ Hopper’s melancholic gaze”) echoes Walter Benjamin’s reflections on Atget (the obsessive photographer of empty street scenes) and on the flâneur :
“someone passing by, withdrawn from engagement in the world the better to observe and understand it”
[...] “finding meaning in the fragments” (3)

Straying away from the Hopper catalogue I then stumble upon a little book in my library, with the unassuming title “What is Baroque?”. And there I find a phrase I‘m most eager to borrow (rashly pulled out of its context) as a personal definition of the flâneur :
“C’est un homme parmi les autres, un peu incongru seulement” - “it’s a man amongst others, just a tad incongruous perhaps”(4)

In these essays about “the baroque ” the author, the dazzlingly erudite Henriette Levillain, does not shun the contradictions & tensions of the period and compellingly explores the reverse side of a triumphant aesthetics.
“the baroque age presents the paradox to be the moment when a force, vital for exuberant expressions, reverses into a profoundly pessimist contemplation of life” (5)

There’s for instance the paradox of the “vanity- paintings” with their virtuoso rendering of the sensuous delights of a material world while inserting the memento mori of decay (or, not so subtle: a skull).
“Thus the ‘vanity’ resumes the contradicting pre-occupations of the Baroque age: the disquiet in front of the fragility & frailty of all earthly life, on the one hand, but, on the other hand, the faculty of wonder, faced with the generosity of the world and the talent [of artists to render it](6) .

But still, being Flemish and brought up with Rubens (7) , I do continue to associate the Baroque, in painting at least, with jubilant apotheoses... So, how about the melancholy and the anguish of the Baroque period then .... ?
In painting there would be Rembrandt I suppose, and Caravaggio, and yes, in a way, those Dutch still lives & vanities.
In literature and poetry there’s Shakespeare of course (Hamlet - “Thus the native hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought” ), and apparently (I didn’t know them) the French Baroque poets – witness this poignant solitary complaint (Antoine Favre):

“ If the soul is but fire, why am I without flame?
If the soul is but wind, what breath do I have? “(8)

Nods & Notes
(1) Nod towards a blog (now alas) hidden from view: Black Sun
(2) Note of impatience
(3) Nod to self
(4) Note & Link : “Qu’est-ce que le Baroque?” by Henriette Levillain – a brilliant little book containing effortlessly erudite texts which calmly explore and explain the many contradictions of “Baroque” , be it as a general notion , or as a style, or as a particular (art ) historical period encompassing not only the visual arts but also poetry, theatre and music.
(5) Henriette Levillain: “l’âge baroque présente le paradoxe d’être le moment où un élan vital aux expressions exubérantes s’inverse en une contemplation profondément pessimiste de la vie”
(6) Ibidem: “Ainsi la “vanité” fait la synthèse des préoccupations contradictoires de l’époque baroque: l’inquiétude devant la fragilité et la corruption de la vie terrestre, d’une part, mais, d’autre part, la faculté d’émerveillement devant la générosité du monde, et le talent [des artistes pour décrire ce monde]”
(7) One of Levillain’s many interesting insights, contrasting the protestant and the catholic “vision” : “Loin d’être le support materiel d’une idolâtrie, ‘La Descente de Croix’ de Rubens demande en effet au spectateur de compatir à une souffrance qui, tout en s’exposant sous les traits de la meurtrissure du corps abandonné, porte déjà l’éclat de la Résurrection. Elle revendique, par ailleurs, par l’exemple donné de l’action conjuguée des personages regroupés autour de la croix, femmes et hommes, jeunes et vieux, pauvres et riches, la possibilité pour tout homme de coopérer à sa façon au salut du monde. [...] Mais, au delà [de ça, le message] s’opposait au pessimisme des calvinistes quant à la possibilité donnée à l’homme d’ajouter de la beauté au monde”
(8) “Si l’âme n’est que feu, pourquoy suis-je sans flamme? / Si l’âme n’est que vent , quel souffle est-ce que j’ai? “


Anonymous said...

Prachtig Flâneur. Geestige voetnoten ook! En dank voor die link naar Franse dichters. De barok is voor ons, Belgen die eventueel nog aan de hand van onze grootouders naar de mis gingen, wellicht ook het visuele vertrekpunt voor alles? En in dat opzicht soms ook te vanzelfsprekend. Veel om over na te denken.

Swann Ffflaneur said...

"aan de hand van onze grootouders naar de mis" - zo is dat echt! :-)
En ja, de Fransen hebben blijkbaar een heel andere houding tov de barok dan wij Belgen , maar ja, hun 17e eeuw was dan ook eerder classicistisch.

Anonymous said...

Een paar jaar geleden las ik Bert Treffers, Een hemel op aarde. Extase in de Romeinse barok. (SUN 1995) Ook een mooi boek, maar misschien minder essayistisch. Het Frans classicisme, met La Tour, de Champaigne, heb ik ook altijd mooi gevonden ... ik denk hardop, misschien moet ik nog eens naar Rome.

Swann Ffflaneur said...

Bert Treffers - bedankt voor de tip!

ach, een barok-herbronningstrip naar Rom...! (of meteen een sabbatical voor een Europese Grand Tour)

billoo said...

That's so sweet of you, fff! :-)))
Love the Hopper...

A vision of the world without us, not merely a place that excludes us, but a place emptied of us. The light, now a faded yellow against sepia-toned walls, seeming to be enacting the last stage of its transience , its own stark narrative coming to a close.
---Mark Strand on Hopper's Sun in an Empty Room.


Swann Ffflaneur said...

just noddin' dear b.! :-)

and that's a stark but beautiful quote (... enacting the last stage of its transience ... - so much for our longing for some sort of transcendence, instead of transience, thanks to the light)

billoo said...

Longing for transcendence. Hmm. Maybe! :-)

hope you're feeling better now.

Take care,


Swann Ffflaneur said...

thanks for the concern, b! still hobbling, far from any transcendent walk.
but hey, i see the black sun is shining again!