The sandmartins’ nests were loopholes of darkness in the riverbank.
Seamus Heaney, Nesting-ground
[read also Anti Stuff, 28.1.17]
Why does a person collect all those things around him? Few individuals are living the Benjaminian way, in so-called ‘Modern’ rooms, bare apartments with sterile, hospital white walls, now and then decorated with a piece of so-called ‘abstract art’.
However, such Modern living is as dead as the ornate interiors that Walter Benjamin lashed with his pen. This critical philosopher railed against an overdose of stimuli, but he forgot that biologically speaking under-excitation comes down to the same thing.
Could it be that all this stuff scattered throughout a person’s living space – from works of art to ‘objects’ and knickknacks – merely confirm him in his existence, only affording him the impression of ‘existing’ and thus tangible as are these things he cherishes?
Certain is that the eye must hit on something, as without such resistance of things a ‘Self’ will not result, however fleeting this may be. Like a body is requiring the touched of another body in order to be able to feel itself. If only by lightly stroking or by feeling someone else’s body heat – or even his or her smells.
Ai! The great compassion that you feel for The Last Emperor, that last Chinese emperor, so poignantly depicted by Bertolucci. The boy – because he’s only a child in this scene – as an emperor may never be touched by anyone else.
A ruthless taboo.
To still be able to live and exist through such contact, to still be able to feel his own body, in a hall a huge, very thin sheet of silk cloth is stretched out. On one side thereof his servants, on the other side the little emperor-boy, voluptuously wallowing against their hands and bodies, exalted by this contact while the others are touching him all over.
Without the resistance of things the ‘I’ and thus the body are dull and eventually even numb and dead. Put one hand on your thigh: you feel both parts of your body ‘arise’ into conscious existence. Let someone else’s hand rest too long motionless on your thigh: both disappear from consciousness.
The aesthetics of the environment is an existential issue. Not only Nietzsche’s adage is true:
Beauty – lest we perish of the truth.
One may add:
Irritation through what charms or irritates – lest we quench.
In his novel Suspended Sentences Modiano may dedicate a tribute to ‘the emptiness and silence’ as indispensable for escaping the daily overdose of stimuli that bombard us. However, the other side of the coin is formed by a void and a too long lasting emptiness and a too long continuing silence.
Consider the Isolationsfolter with which the German state once terrorized its terrorists. In cells with padded, totally white walls, so they could not hear their own voice properly, neon light all over the room and permanently on, this in a completely silent isolation… Such emptiness makes you crazy and cries out for stuffing – a stuffing of one’s world with the Other and with other things.
Hence the ‘furnishing’ of our environment, that interior which constitutes the exterior of our Self. Call it a dialectic of Being and Non-being, call it something else. But that’s what it is.
Sierksma, La Roche 1.4/2016