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


Author: rjsiersk

Sierksma was born in Friesland, a 'county' in the northern part of the Netherlands with its own language which he does not speak and with an obstinate population to which he both belongs and does not belong. A retired Professor of Social Philosophy and Aesthetics, as a Harkness fellow he taught at Rutgers and Berkeley Universities in the USA, and at GUAmsterdam and TUDelft in the Netherlands. In 1991 he was awarded his PhD from Leiden University on the subject of 'Surveillance and Task: Labour Discipline between Utilitarianism and Pragmatism'. His books include Minima Memoria (1993), Lost View (2002 with Jan van Geest), and Litter Scent (2013). He has published poems and articles in Te Elfder Ure, Nynade, Oasis and the Architectural Annual. Half the year he lives in Haarlem, the other half he spends in la France Profonde, living ‘in his own words’ as the house out there was bought with the winnings from his essay Eternal Sin, written for the ECI Essay Prize (1993). In this blog, Sierksma's Sequences, written in English, he is peeping round his own and other people’s perspectives. Not easily satisfied with answers nor with questions, he turns his wry wit to a number of philosophical and historical issues. His aim in writing: to make parts of the world light up in his perspective - not my will, thine! Not being a thief, he has no cook, one wife, some children, one lover and three cats.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s