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Showing posts from August 26, 2012

montaigne: sketch and the portrait 2

VII. Montaigne What was Montaigne’s point in writing his Essais? Although the essays include history, philosophical meditations, literary criticism and something like reportage, Montaigne disclaims any ambition to be a historian, philosopher or poet. He recurs, again and again, to the notion of the self-portrait. Like the painters whose works he saw in Paris when he traveled there, he would paint himself. But he did not take this to mean that he would write his autobiography. Rather, most often, he talks about following his “fantasies”. This movement is in correspondence with a larger theme: that life is continually in motion. This motion is in everything – and Montaigne often seems to want to find stylistic equivalents for it, shocks for his audience. Thus, along with the dignified image of a man painting his own portrait, Montaigne would also describe his work in much lower terms. This is what he writes at the beginning of “On Vanity”:   “I cannot compose the register

role model liberalism and soap opera

As everyone knows, the best Danish tv program ever was Kingdom (Riget), the Lars van Trier weirdness. And in fact I’d go so far as to say that no other program featuring autistic, dwarfish dishwashers as a Greek chorus to the main events was as good as Lars van Trier’s version of an autistic, dwarfish pair of dishwashers acting as a Greek chorus to the main events in the show. My favorite character in Riget is, of course, the evil Swedish doctor, who comes to the Danish hospital trailing rumors of malpractice in his native Sweden. The show made his denunciations of Denmark a regular feature: as I recall, many episodes ended with him standing on the hospital roof, looking towards Sweden, and showering curses – like a Swedish Mephistopheles – down upon the incorrigibly backwards Danes. “Here is Denmark, excreted from limestone. There is Sweden, chiselled from granite. Danish scum!”   Here’s the Youtube link thatlines up all the curses. However, Kingdom was a one shot deal. Latel

character: between representation and cause

Character, unlike the soul, or the person, or the self, has never settled its ontological accounts, so that it can be said to exist in the “world” or in the “representation of the world”. Seventeenth century character books were written in the shadow of the ut pictura poesis – which gains its legitimacy not just in the tradition of the humors, but in the tradition of the portrait. Plutarch, at the beginning of his life of Alexander, makes the association between the picture and the character explicit: “For it is not Histories that I am writing, but Lives; and in the most illustrious deeds there is not always a manifestation of virtue or vice, nay, a slight thing like a phrase or a jest often makes a greater revelation of character than battles when thousands fall, or the greatest armaments, or sieges of cities.  Accordingly, just as painters get the likenesses in their portraits from the face and the expression of the eyes, wherein the character shows itself, but make very

Conceptual history, armed

In his Begriffsgeschichte – The history of concepts – Reinhardt Koselleck pays homage to a predecessor in the field of understanding intellectual history emically: Richard Koebner. The homage is also a parable. Koebner began, in the twenties, by looking at the medieval period in Köln, writing a book entitled 'Anfängen des Gemeinwesens der Stadt Köln”. In the book, Koebner examined what 12 century burgers of Cologne could have meant when they used such terms as “urbs” or “civitas”. But, as Koselleck points out, Koebner didn’t think as much about what a 1920s German might mean by “Gemeinwesens” – community. “In retrospect, today’s reader might of course stumble over the fact that Koebner used as his highest thematic concept for the republican conception of the city, “Volksgemeinschaft” (community of the people), not really a concept derived from the sources, but a modern concept of the 19 th and 20 th century that he projected onto the high middle ages. He was thinking pri