SPLENDOUR AND POWER

Miniatures for my maîtresse 16

Frank Lloyd Wright wanted his buildings to be homogeneous, even organic; everything on and in them had to harmonise into splendid concord. Houses he designed were offered to the future owner under one condition: that nothing should be changed. Furniture was designed to suit the house; colour patterns were all fixed. Someone, wanting to repaint the prairie-brown with for instance brick-read, awaited the wrath of F. L. Wright, or for that matter, the legal anger of those who were administering his estate.

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When he planned a house for his wife and himself, Wright went even further in this. Here he also designed the clothes for his spouse, which she had to wear in their home at Oak Park, Chicago. There is no mention whether, with the passing from one room to the next, she was supposed to change her dress – time and again…

Reading all this, I was thinking of my own little architectural utopia: a legal obligation of prescribed mono-colour for all curtains in Highrise apartment buildings. This would guarantee that the aesthetic quality of the building as well as that of the urban landscape around it could not be fucked up by the disastrous curtain variation which the taste of the animal-species of mankind is capable off. I was also thinking, how salutary it is for mankind, that I am exceptionally ill-suited for wielding such political power.

However, a problem it is: Splendour or Power? Are the dresses prescribed for Mrs. Wright the expression of a male urge to occupy her, perhaps even his urge to blot out the Second Sex, using his masculine power and a virile gaze, obsessively and anxiously seeking harmonious unity? Or, is it rather a loving request to wear those grandiose dresses, so beautifully designed especially for her? In fine: Love for her splendour as well as well as for the splendour of his building

Sierksma, Haarlem 12.10/1989

ON MONOTHEISM

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French farmers,

God-fearing men they were,

Or, rather more or less – or even worse,

Their candles’ both ends burning,

They placed their bets on every horse.

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On heathen blessings,

Dripping from the heavens high,

In horse-shoe good-luck hinges,

On which the heavy doors are turning,

That guard the summer harvests,

Stocked in large-beamed barns,

Rains, offerings from the many gods,

Who populate the fringes,

Of their pagan universe.

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And on the showers,

Prayed for in church,

Each blessed Sunday,

Singing psalmed verse,

Fraught with the solemn obligations,

To their One and Only God.

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Sierksma, La Roche 7.7/2021

GENESIS OF EVIL

Curiously enough, when you ask someone a question about genesis in Europe or in the USA, most people take it for granted that you are referring to the first book of the Christian bible, Genesis. This, of course, is sheer cultural prejudice. Go anywhere, or go back in the past of peoples almost eliminated or already vanished, and you find notions of the origin of mankind galore. Many of these stories also involve some notion of the genesis of evil.

I personally like the Hopi version. Man and woman surface from an opening in the earth, reminding one somehow of Courbet’s Origine du Monde, the source of all existence.

Mankind, according to the Hopi, originated in the depth of our earth, subsequently escaping this womb in a gentle manner. Evil comes to play its part only much later, that is when life on earth given to man and women gets ‘out of balance’ – when, somehow, the delicate intercourse between civilisation and nature is beginning to hurt nature. The movie Koyaanisqatsi, filmed by Godfrey Reggio, carried by a series of magnificent compositions from Philip Glass, took its cue there – a both beautiful and sublime critique of the unbalancing effect of modern technology on Mother Earth.

What strikes the reader of these two stories of Genesis – the one of the Hopi Indians and the one of the Christians – is that the Indians’ version of evil comes in later, long after man’s being born. It also has a cosmic rather than a moral quality; the bible’s book of Genesis, by contrast, is utterly moralistic, so to say to the apple’s core, literally containing the seeds of evil from the outset of God’s creation of Man and Woman. Immediately, their God is forbidding something, thus, Evil coincides with creation. Don’t eat from that tree!

Most religions do contain a notion of hubris, man having the guts to take over the position of his maker, or at least vying with the godhead’s powers. Why the serpent did it, who knows? Perhaps, God testing himself by testing his creation, the serpent as his go-between…

Anyway, the serpent is instinctively sure that he must not approach Adam the Man; it must be Eve the Woman: she is the weak one. In the very first verse of this fatal biblical sequence, God has specifically forbidden Eve, not Adam, to eat from the tree planted in the midst of in the Garden. One might ask God: why then plant it there? As we know, the ways of the Lord are mysterious.

Thus, the Serpent spoketh to Eve about eating an apple: “Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.” Pure logic it is, soothing logic so to say, or rather seductive – a promise of life after mortal sin. But damn it! These Middle-Eastern bricoleurs of myths had a vicious mind: To be a god, you must know of good and evil; God planted in us this urge to vie with the gods; thus, poor Eve was set up.

What is worse: whereas in most genesis stories sex is considered pretty good and nice, as without it there would not be Love, the Christian version – an off-shoot of those rude nomadic tribal notions – immediately comes to the point. You eat an apple from the tree of good and evil, and lo and behold: “The eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked…” All this comes down to a rather ridiculous plot. Before eating the apple, Adam and Eve had been the Emperors in Paradise, emperors without clothes – that famous other story of ridicule.

To top it up, the inventor of this so-called Evil immediately punishes Adam and Eve for merely having perceived their nakedness – they have as yet done nothing. He instantly announces that Woman will suffer while giving birth, thus punished for fucking while knowing that fucking is evil – and she will be bossed by her superior master, Adam. Thank you, Lord!

Your writer has recently bought himself a little orchard in Nowhereland. Almost coinciding with this acquisition came the divorce from his maîtresse whom he has known – yes, in the biblical sense as well – for some eight years. Thus, where the purpose of buying the little plot, nicely secluded, had been to reinstitute Adam and Eve’s bliss, having no apple tree but one that bears peaches, it will now have to serve as a one-man’s siesta plot.

Contemplating the new-born fruits, I wonder whether I have unwittingly eaten one of those apples, infected with the serpent’s curse – or worse: that these peaches are very much like that apple in Paradise; they may even be apples, what do I know…. Even without my sinful Eve, I would have to be thrown out of it, not even having a chance to follow that other order of the gods: to multiply.

Then again, such contemplation may bring us to our senses. Schopenhauer, that wise man, found the solution for getting out of the Valley of Tears, i.e. rid us of our existence. Not by actual suicide. Just have one generation of men and women be disciplined enough not to fornicate, and mankind would simply die out. But such contemplation always comes too late; one should have reflected on this when one was young. What use is this knowledge now, being without a woman, and being an old and decrepit man, not even fit for the act any longer…

I shall just enjoy my little orchard.

Sierksma, La Roche 12.7/2021

FRANCE: STATE OF GODS

It is written: God created man in his own image.

That may be the case.

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France is a State of Gods. The Brit Hobbes christened it: Leviathan. Already since the days of Louis XIV did the body of that Prince coincide with the body of the State. Whoever attacks the State, attacks Him: Lèse-Majesté

The same God ordered Man: Go forth and multiply. Thus, it came to pass.

The Body of the French State divided itself in an endless series of State Organs – a immense chain of offices filled with desks, each one of them manned by a mini-god, a functionary who, of course, is also multiplying. The Revolution topped this up: the French State Bureaucracy had been born.

These Functionaries of State, these small prothesis-gods, these so-called Civil Servants, are doing what befits a god: in their turn they create citizens in their image, French citoyens tamed into subjects.

In France, each god-forsaken resident is permanently bombarded with a never-ending barrage of documents which he must fill in and sign, often in triplo. Thus, of necessity, each citizen becomes a little civil servant himself, risking to commit Lèse-Majesté by filling in all these documents wrongly, mistakenly or even falsely – or by simply getting angry at one of his colleague civil servants. Such anger would be considered a serious offense against His Majesty The State.

Endlessly making telephone calls to State Organs plus the filling in of documents have thus become a Frenchman’s existential obligation, his life task. What, in their creative urge, seems to have escaped these little Functionary-Gods of State, is that their creatures – the Citizen-Civil-Servant – has yet another task to perform, besides filling in documents and telephoning with State Organs: they must provide for their livelihood, which for the real Civil Servant, the lucky ones, coincides with being a Civvil Servant. Here in France, the miserable citizen needs to have a second job. Moonlighting is what the Americans call this – beside the day job, also a night job…

Sierksma 27.6/2021 Montmorillon

A MILITARY MAN

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A military man,

Generally full with feelings of a general,

A bloated spirit, if spirit is the word,

Filled with emotions of a little sergeant,

Perhaps, the passions of a corporal,

Bursting with orders, ready to command.

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The vast barracks of a shopper’s Paradise,

Napoleon of the couch division,

Endless furniture on show,

Divans disciplined in military rows,

Roman cohorts,

Awaiting orders from their client.

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His camouflage shirt and shorts as Pantzer.

The enemy, invisible, is everywhere.

He instructs the silent settees to defend him.

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Sierksma, La Roche 6.7/2021

NO LAND ART

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Looking at this photo, taken in my hamlet on a spoiled summer’s afternoon, depicting the little meadow with the mound of garden debris to be burnt in autumn, one might have a whiff of an association: Land Art!

No, it is not.

Let me first of all tell you a little secret, about a mystery for those who like the clandestine ways of the world. The pile of debris observed here, is built over a rather large hole in the rocky floor. Rock indeed, after all we are living in and on La Roche, thus no surprise. That hole, though, must be cause of some amazement for the reader. Shaped like a vagina-like funnel, it wriggles its wet ways downwards, towards the river bed of the River Creuse. In olden times, endless gusts of water must have grinded it through the chalky stone. There might be even a little grotto – somewhere down there…

This way, after the seasonal burning of leaves, grass and branches, the autumnal rains will gently flood the ashes down this natural drain – without a stain left. One might, of course, see this prehuman funnel as ‘land art; then again, one would have to accept the notion of The Hand of God the Artist or, for that matter, believe in Natura as Artis Magistra. I consider it merely an antediluvian gift.

Back to the picture. Perhaps the reader might suspect that the man handling his newly bought grass mower, also having taught aesthetics for quite some time, has indeed been after such ‘land art’. The effect is rather nice. However, make no mistake: this image is keenly obeying that famous Modernist Adagium: Form follows function.

Those two, overlapping circles, one smaller that the other, are the result of the Gardener’s Rationale. He does not want to endlessly mow all the grass, as he has to ‘do’ three other meadows… Yet, as prescribed by law, there needs to be an open circle around a pyre; thus, he mowed one. The little tree in view will soon shed its fruit, to be handpicked from the empty floor. High grass would make this impossible, surely very unhandy; thus, the smaller circle.

And, of course, I need a little path toward my two circles – to endlessly repeat the mowing job. Ca se pousse! Thus the French: there is no stopping grass and weeds growing and growing.

Sierksma, 25.6/2021 La Roche

PROFESSSIONAL VOYEURISM

In his cute little story Chagrin in Three Parts – grafting a branch of his own gentle criticism of a Trollope novel on both the trunks of a less gentle chiding of French female manners and his own professional self-reflection – Graham Greene observes that he has, like most of my fellow writers, the spirit of a voyeur. His voyeurism refers, of course, to the two French women he is eavesdropping on, discussing the naughty habits of their ex-husbands.

It seems that Greene more generally considers the writer’s professional defect of voyeurism pertaining only to the rather sneaky observation of other human beings. Now, I do not deny that my own intense observation of the species does indeed have an aspect of voyeurism in that it is kind-of shamefully shameless. However, the victims of my voyeurism are first of all objects, more particularly what I like to call orphan objects, forlorn as they are in a huge cosmos of surrounding more normal things.

So, in a rather unscientific manner, I propose a distinction within the class of the writer’s professional voyeurisms; one being obsessed more by humans, even observing such fellow beings as objects, if not now and then as insects; the other one, that version of voyeurism on the lookout for the epiphany of an often-sublime orphan object, however quite often treated as a… human being.

Permit me to quote, as an example of this second kind of voyeurism, a poem written for an as yet unpublished collection of little essays: Orphan Objects: ways of being

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HEAVY HAND

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Coated in the rags of paint,

steel frills around its wrist,

as if Time’s heavy hand,

is dressed up as His Lordship,

quaint reference to history,

fogged in a pre-electric mist –

for days on end at rest,

guarding the realm of an abode,

a globe to serve as knocker,

perhaps obeying simple codes,

to warn its humble habitant,

of all unwanted guests.

Sierksma, La Roche, The Longest Day of 2021

CONSTRICTORS

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Flora – Fauna,

What difference does it make,

When dark-green climbers,

Strangle, suffocate my cherry tree,

Boa constrictors,

Throttling the ocelot.

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I slaughtered the malicious snakes,

Cut off their rancorous heads,

Alas, their morbid job is also done,

Death in life, life in death,

Never-ending vicious circle.

Sierksma, 23.6/2021 La Roche

BANGING DOORS

Anno 1970, in Jean-Pierre Melville’s masterpiece Le Cercle Rouge, Alain Delon is closing the doors of his enormous American Cadilac smoothly, almost soundless.

Theodor Adorno – in Don’t Knock, one of the mini-essays collected in his Minima Moralia – writes a cynical piece on one of the American ways of life. At the time of writing, 1944, the German philosopher was in exile in the United States. He is complaining about the brutal noise that his ‘fellow’ Americans are making when banging the doors of their car, or those one of their Frigidaire. He is convinced that, in this way, people have lost the tact and even the capacity of shutting anything gently. “The ‘technicalisation’ of everyday life chases any hesitation from man’s gestures – all attentiveness, all morals…” Adorno is not shy with his conclusions…

By contrast, the same nation invented a whole series of mechanisms which prevent one from even trying to shut a door or a window: they open and close at their own bidding, and silently so… Here, however, the effect is that nobody looks over his shoulder any longer, to see whether there is someone else wanting to enter or to exit. In short: generalised rudeness and a lack of tact are the result. Where are the days – thus Adorno – when you had to use your tact to gently open and close doors or use a handle to get into a shop? What all this does: it results in a mortification of experience, which is the essence of human life.

The reading of Adorno made me decide to practice my tact as well as my manners. My wife had complained that – after I had been on my own long enough in my little house in French La Roche, and after she had joined me there for a holiday – I had acquired the unpleasant habit of intensely banging all doors. To my moral rescue came that, in that old house, many a door did and does not close all too easily… Nevertheless: tactless I had become, as well as paining also my own ears. So, I trained myself, hitting me on the knuckles each time I failed, to unlearn my door banging.

When in 1971 the same wife and I came to live in the USA, from sheer nostalgia and aesthetic intoxication, we bought a two-decades-old Buick from an old lady who had not used it since her husband died, that is: immediately after it was bought in ‘50. It had stood in her garage ever since. More or less like this one:

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In short: it looked brand-new – and in a way it was. What we did not count on was the deterioration of the oil in the motor. Thus, once in the new car with gasoline fetched at a station in the tank, on our journey back home my wife pointed out that in her rear-view mirror she saw the whole of America going up in smoke. The exhaust of our car it was – of course – fuming an enormous cloud of burning oil into outer space, worthy of an atomic plant gone awry. We decided to bring the beautiful machine back; the old woman believed in fair play and paid us back our money.

Now, to return to the crucial issue touched upon by Adorno, those Buick doors had indeed to be banged severely; no force used, no closure… So, the rather abstract German philosopherdid observe factually what he wrote about in the abstract. If we take Delon’s Cadillac to be prototypical for 1970, this means that in a mere 20 years the Americans solved Adorno’s problem. And – if his reasoning is right – as a consequence, the Americans must have become very tactful ever since…

 Sierksma, Montmorillon 19.6/2021

PIGEONHOLING

I am not disheartened. What then is it,

That can be collected from all this unruly dust?

Nothing, at best beauty…

Czesław Miłosz, No More

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In the beginning, I did not even know what it was that I had passed or even seen. Then someone explained: a dovecote, an aristocratic dovecote, here in France called pigeonnier. Why aristocratic? Because in this utterly formalistic country, with the most bureaucratic state of them all, in the mediaeval past even dovecotes were ruled and thus inspected by organs of that state. Only someone with a château of some variety, thus owning many thousand acres of land, was allowed to have a dovecote, only with just as many pigeon holes inside it as the Lord owned hectares…

So, when travelling, I started to really look for them, harvesting their beauty from the already beautiful landscapes of France. That is: if you could see them. Many are hidden, as the castles they belong to are concealed: On ne visite pas…!

Now and then, you do not know exactly what it is you see: is it a pigeonnier, out there in the fields, or perhaps a bread oven? For quite a while I was convinced that all French aristocratic dovecotes were round, inside of which the niches for the birds were equalling the hectares owned. This partiality must have been the result of actually experiencing a pigeonnier for the first time in my life, one that was, and still is round: the dovecote of Château de Ceré in the Département de L’Indre, by now entirely roofless, though still splendidly circular and of an awesome size.

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As this was my very first visit to and into a pigeonnier, its imprint on my mind was impressive, from that moment on directing my search for, and the actual viewing of other dovecotes. That later in life I did not all so easily recognize an actual dovecote in what at first seemed to be a ‘bread oven’, was the effect of this first imprint: Ceré’s pigeonnier is enormous in all its aspects.

This effect of a first, powerful experience reminds one of young geese after they have exited their eggs, following the first moving object that appears before them. The biologist Konrad Lorenz, their student, was even trailed by such geese children when going into his house; they had met their inspector as the first object around. Thus, I was hooked to my first impression of the Ceré pigeonnier. Only later did I spot such an oven, or for that matter something which, at first, I considered a tool shed, as actually a pigeonnier.

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Epistemologically there is a self-referential paradox at stake: How to pigeon-hole the great variety of pigenonniers? However, as I am quite convinced of the primacy of the Aesthetical over anything Epistemological or Ethical, I will leave this thorny issue aside for the moment, confining myself to the pigeonnier’s sublime beauty. Yet, at the back of one’s aesthetic judgement there still lurks that pigeonholing paradox. What – for instance – to think of this sequence of pictures, shot while approaching from afar the building shown in them? This is what it looked like at first:

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High up there – very high and forlorn in the wide countryside – a truly ancient château-farm, the building dating from hundreds and hundreds of years back. It was so impressive, I stopped the car, took the photo. Then, I stopped again, having come closer:

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Still, an impressive house it was and nothing else. Only when having circled the road, till I came finally at the bottom of the hill on which it stands: a miracle, if not an epiphany.

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Under the eaves one observes rows and rows of pigeon holes. The house itself embodies the pigeonnier, which normally would be residing outside it. Even the keen searcher for dovecotes might have easily missed this one. Who is expecting a château cum pigeonnier in one? And quite a spread it must have been, the territory owned by the Laird of the Manor: one keeps counting the holes.

Sierksma, Montmorillon 17.6/2021