Nothing like a sunny Summer Saturday in Belgium to watch humankind’s stubborn pursuit of happiness (1) in action. It had been raining for days with temperatures nearing winter levels, but now, 25 degrees were imminent. So overnight the inundated staying-at-homers had switched from coats & pullovers to sprightly summer attire, and found themselves optimistically thronging the train platforms to board a train for a suitable summer day trip.(2)
Luckily, from my commuter days a long time ago, I still knew how to manoeuvre to get a seat in a chock-full train. The elderly couple opposite me looked equally content to be seated – he was spelling out the sports-pages, regularly sharing comments with his wife who made approving noises without for a moment letting her intent gaze stray from the pictures in the Ikea-catalogue.
Jealously, I tried to emulate this woman's unperturbed concentration amidst the clamour of elated people on a summer train. In order to contribute to the happiness of this summer day, I carried with me a small booklet: “The Beautiful” “Het Schone” - a stately Dutch translation of an un-apologetically convoluted analytical German philosophical text (3) .
Mustering all my (rather fading) powers of concentration, here's what I read about the work of art:
“Wat betekent het dat hier niet iets werkelijks wordt vervaardigd, maar iets waarvan het ‘gebruik’ geen werkelijk gebruiken is, maar wat zich karakteristiek verwezenlijkt in het beschouwend verwijlen bij de schijn? “ (4)
What a lovely phrase to dwell on indeed. And the perfect permit for my contemplated day of happiness!
While everybody was storming beaches, forests, amusement parks and zoological gardens, I was going to stroll through the deserted summer streets of Antwerp; I was going to do dwell in (for sure) deserted art galleries; losing myself and finding the world in images. (5)
And indeed it was happiness: to walk aimlessly through a city that had slowed down, with people lazing about on terraces, sharing an illusion of carelessness - with summer stillness reigning outside the shopping streets and with the elation of hearing cyclists whizzing by rather than cars roaring by.
reading) looks like: an intense yet introverted presence.
Happiness it was, to look at the photos in the exhibition (7) which boldly claims to want to instil in its visitors the same disinterested elation as experienced by a walker “bevrijd van de druk van werk, zorg en haast”. (8)
And then, of course, this being Antwerp – there is always the river. The grand river Scheldt – bringing the ways and the smells of the great outdoors. A huge Russian ship lay moored to the quay, a container boat chugged along, a speedboat speeded up. There was the sun, the water, the wind – fragments of music drifting from the other side of the river (ah the wistfulness of Arab music), mingling with the screeches of seagulls, with the deep bass of a ship’s horn, and, faintly, coming from the city, the sound of a church’s carillon joining in.
- Happiness depends on shutting off empathy, I recently read. Or just shutting off global newsfeeds.
- It would be really bad taste to compare the storming of trains by frenzied day-trippers to the storming of the Calais channel tunnel by frantic migrants.
- “Het Schone” – Hans-Georg Gadamer
- "What does it mean that not something real is manufactured here , but something of which the “use” is not an actual use, but the contemplative dwelling on a mere appearance/image” [translation suggestions are very welcome]
- " Dankzij het schone lukt het op den duur zich de ware wereld opnieuw te herinneren. Dat is de weg van de filosofie." “Thanks to the Beautiful, one can in due course again remember the real world. That is the way of philosophy”
- Exhibition TourDeFrance (Antwerp Museum of Fine Arts Extra Muros)
- Fotomuseum Antwerpen Exhibition Fotomuseum Anwerpen ;
- "freed from the pressure of work, care and haste”