Theory Literature

There still is a lively debate at the margins of literature and the commerce around it about theories of literature. Even if the best of years of theories about literature have passed, in 2024 we see several revivals of theoretical perspectives on literature. Travelling in Europe we celebrate, for example, the 100 years of Belgian and international surrealism in Brussels. The French artist and theorist André Breton was preparing in his thoughts the art and literature of surrealist inspiration. Of course, we think of Magritte as one of the eminent figures of the painted surrealism. Franz Kafka, who died relatively young in 1924, was the author in the spirit of the surrealist movement. The powerful impact of literary theory and theory of art to form communities of practice have had lasting effects, which fascinates large audiences in 2024. Exhibitions across Europe reflect the importance of these art movements to understand European culture, inspirations and aspirations.
Not least through this revival of the surrealist artists in the broadest sense we are returning to a more theory-driven view of literature a bit like 100 years ago. I find it remarkable to read in “Le Monde Livre” of 2024-4-12 the article on “Défense de la théorie” by Tiphaine Smoyault (p.8 see quote below) with a comment on the book by Florent Coste on the usefulness of a theory of literature to understand the world around us. Reworking of language is the contemporary concern of literature: pluri-linguistic experiences, re-discovering oral performances, irony in language and digging into archives are the major strands of contemporary literature. Theory of literature reflects on the past and allows to synthesize the present. For some it also enables to project into the near future of what is going to be published. In any case the theory of literature provides orientation in a huge ocean of published oeuvres. Writing or painting with ideas ahead of your time has been a painful experience for most of these artists. Some artists or authors are lucky to become famous during their lifetime, but lots have struggled for years or never learned that their contributions advanced humanity for more than a hundred years.

Ne pas rire

The exhibition of surrealism in Belgium at Bozar has the inviting title “Histoire de ne pas rire”. Even the booklet of the exhibition guide does not translate this into English assuming everybody has at least that much of interest in French and the willingness to learn about these 5 words that are a reference to the understanding of the surrealist art movement. You are explicitly invited to allow yourself to laugh when looking at the images. Reflection comes second. Caught by surprise and making new connections of seemingly unrelated images and words, that’s the essence of it. The comparison of the 2 versions of the exhibition guide teaches language and translations beyond the simple words. Sometimes it is best to not translate the text as in the title of the exhibition guide.

Surrealist 100

Belgium celebrates 100 years of surrealism with a special exhibition in Brussels at Bozar in 2024. The arts movement has much more to offer than just paintings from Magritte. Many other painters and intellectuals that were instrumental to create and perpetuate the movement are represented there. The French philosopher Breton as spiritus rector of the movement contributed innovative ideas and challenged the artists to do further and further on their journey to explore freedom of expression and freedom of association. The exhibition is centered around the surrealist idea to explore the association of words and images. This time the words are on the walls of the rooms and the images put up in the rooms as kind of obstacles on your journey. Keep challenging, keep questioning the sense of things and our imagination. The journey goes on and there are many artists who are still influenced by surrealism, for example Folon. The texts and images take you along on the journey into the surrealists’ world. If you want to challenge your own way to see things and the associative world, this is the place or catalog to refer to.

Bozar, 2024 100 years of surrealism

Korallenriff

Kinder verstehen direkt, dass es sich lohnt, Korallenriffe zu erhalten. Plastikmüll in den Meeren gefährdet die Korallenriffe und die bunte Vielfalt an Fischen, die darin leben. Ein kleines Theaterstück dazu von Kathrin Brunner begeistert Kinder, weil es sie erleben lässt, wie einfach Lösungen aussehen können. Den großen Leuten zeigen, wie traurig die Welt aussieht ohne die farbenfrohe Pracht der bunten Fische, wird sie schon zu Veränderungen bringen. Das Theaterstück und Buch dazu wurde am 16.3.2024 im FEZ in Berlin aufgeführt. Das Figurenspiel mit überleitendem Refrain, das vom Publikum gleichsam der Promenade in den „Bildern einer Ausstellung“ (Mussorgsky) mitgesungen haben, bildete jeweils eine gelungene emotionale Überleitung und Aufmerksamkeitspause. Wir wünschen uns noch viele kleine und große Besuchende für diese Aufführungen. Die Kinder werden es uns schon lehren, den blauen Planeten noch zu retten.

Magritte Symbol

“People always search for symbols in my works. There are none.” For those familiar with the work of Magritte, they know that he means precisely the opposite of what he is stating there. He applies well-known symbols like the white pigeon representing peace in his paintings to represent and make us think about peace. The image becomes surreal in the sense that we go beyond the real world of violence and war to lift our attention to the other surreal version of the world as it currently appears to us.
In times of war, it is more difficult to image a peaceful world and yet, this is the time we need to believe in the possibility of peace beyond the reality of aggression. In 1966 Magritte has painted “L’oiseau de ciel”, the year the peace movements became more than a surreal dream across the world. It remains a challenge to think beyond the cold war at the time and the hot war initiated by Russia in Ukraine. Surrealism helps us to think beyond the real state of affairs.
In Magritte’s own biography the “dove of peace” occurs towards the end of his own life. Whereas at the onset of his career as painter he dealt with depression and suicide in his family, towards the end of his career he moves beyond the autobiographical topics. Globally valid symbols gain the upper hand. The life course seems to have come full circle.

 

Symbol

What is it that makes an object a symbol? Probably, it is the widely shared perception of the meaning of a symbol that turns an object into a symbol. The etymology of the word symbol refers back to the Greek word σύμβολον. The earliest philosophical refer back to the Greek philosopher Aristoteles who deals with symbols when he writes about interpretations. Written words have become powerful symbols in the ancient world. We still have them all around us today. The interpretations of the words as symbols, however, may change considerably over time. Some symbols keep their designation and significance over centuries. Maps are well known to contain lots of symbols for roads, railways, tunnels or height. We learn about these symbols and interpret them in a specific societal context. Science is making ample use of symbols, e.g. chemistry. Different cultures define and apply their own symbols. Colonialism has been a form to impose symbols upon other societies. Throughout history symbols of power have changed as well. Each of those topics is an interesting field of application in itself. Young generations create their own symbols to establish a specific cultural identity or subculture. Urban spaces have been invaded by graffiti that tend to spread symbols as messages or symbols for their own sake.
Sociology has taken up the challenge to identify “status symbols” of groups of society. Possession of gold and silver have long ago been symbols of being rich. Maybe, even today such easily visible symbols play a role in how a person’s role is perceived in societies. Not only for priests etc. dresses have been applied as a symbol. Modern fashion is full of symbols as well. Interpretation of the meaning or even no meaning is an act of becoming conscious of the world around you. From the seriousness of symbols, we have come to the playing around with symbols as expressions of ourselves.
No matter whether we use the word, like water, we all know the chemical symbol H20. An image or art work using the symbol in whatever form will be decoded by us accordingly. However, the meaning we attach to water depends on the environment as well as specific context we (or the artists) are using it in. Cross-cultural competences consist in the awareness that symbols grow out of contexts and need to be interpreted accordingly. It needs a lot of openness, willingness to learn about differences and careful consideration in our everyday world to handle symbols. Doing culture is doing symbols.(Image of art work by Anderegg, Andi taken in 2016)

Biographies

The biographies of painters, composers or artists in general can be reconstructed by use of their major works. The biography of René Magritte by Eric Rinckhout (2017) has chosen this way of a retrospective in images and explanatory texts. The biography is built around 50 major images starting with the first one by Magritte at the age of 28. “Les réveries du promeneur” (see below) deal with the confrontation of Magritte with death, suicide and the difficulty to find rational answers to all those questions of why this happens and what becomes of people who experience such a tragedy.
His own childhood was affected by such an event concerning his own mother who suffered from depression. Coping with the evolution of psychic illness over years and the absence of a supportive father have posed a steep challenge for the young person. Creation of art became a coping strategy as well as a relief for those who manage to eventually cross the bridge into their own life leaving behind the bad experiences. J.J. Rousseau was an influence on Magritte as well.
Finding your own destiny and your own style is a process. This process evolves over years. The chronological sequence of 50 images allows to follow the path taken. Thereby, it becomes possible to open up the personal learning and working trajectory of the artist. In retrospective perspective it seems often logical that one style or period of painting follows on from another one. However, in the forward living of the creative life many choices are heavily contingent on other circumstances. Influences of friends, exhibitions, reading, cinema, private or financial situations may determine the creative choices simultaneously or one at a time.
The chronological path of images writes a biography of a special kind. It allows to think in sequences just like in a sequence analysis as sociological methodology. Description, reconstruction, analysis, causality remain a challenge in our attempts to learn and understand more about biographies or the construction and reconstruction of life courses.

Paris 1830s

The music life in Paris in the early 19th century, almost 200 years before now, was incredibly rich. In 1828 the young Flotow arrived in Paris to receive lessons. The pianists Liszt, Chopin, Fields and Czerny passed or lived for longer times in Paris. The innovation in this period of romantic music and operas saw also a fierce competition among those talents. It was no easy task to find your niche to thrive in composition or in both performing and composing.
The 1830s had a rich urban bourgeoisie, which animated and indulged in festive events of live music and social life. Friendships of Chopin and Sand are a testimony for this. Similarly, the young Flotow and Offenbach paired to find their place in the Paris music salons and society of that time. The biography of John Field, written by Patrick Piggott (1973, p.73-81) supports this density of musical experience. The period is also characterized by the fast industrialization and the rise of the global trade. The musical life found refuge in the romantic period and more and more artistic performances by musicians. Theatres, opera houses, concert halls and private salons were meeting points of the upper social class which practices networking in rather closed circles with rather rigid routines and admission at the time.
In architecture the Operas became meeting points and a matter of national pride with National Operas contributing even to national identities. The opulent “Palais Garnier” in Paris was started in 1861 to become an iconic place in the new Paris with the huge boulevards à la Haussmann. The wealthy citizens cultivated a new lifestyle of a networked upper class that had the leisure to participate in the masses of modernity. Cultural events of all kinds filled newspapers and specialized editions. There were inner and outer circles of influence in the economic, military, political and cultural spheres.
Recommendation letters were a real currency for entry in each of these circles. Some of these social practices, have still a lot of currency even in 2024. In short, in the 1830s Paris was the place to be. Compositions of that time still fill concert halls today and their music is abundant on the new music platforms and streaming as well.

Folon Magritte

The exposition in Brussels on Folon and Magritte demonstrates the impact the latter had on the former artist. Both developed an iconic style of painting. Folon paintings apply pastel colors on paper. This style transforms images through the softened sometimes slightly blurred representations near a dream like realization. On the contrary in his sculptural work he uses hard materials to stimulate imagination and abstraction from reality. The side by side representations of Magritte and Folon is more a study in tracing influences and motifs across decades. The honor is just as much to Magritte as it is flattering Folon. Magritte had changed the life of Folon with his paintings and perspective on life beyond realism. Magritte‘s legacy lived on and Folon developed surrealism into a widely recognizable style with his paintings as well as sculptures. In walking around Brussels in 2024 you will inevitably come across some of the sculptures reflecting the work of Folon. The Folon foundation is continuing the pedagogical journey of the surrealist art movement well into today and tomorrow.

Folon Magritte Exposition Brussels MRBA 2024

Paper and Pastel

Sometimes the art is in the material. At least this could be a rapid conclusion of the exhibition presented in London at the Royal Academy of Art in 2024-1. From the informative Catalogue the importance of material is demonstrated. The ease of taking your equipment with you, like a sketchbook and out into nature have been an important feature of the impressionists’ movement. With artists challenging traditional techniques of painting and paintings as such even the apparently less noble material as paper had become a statement of being different from the established art academies making use of more noble materials. The impressionists made a convincing point with their additional use of materials accessible to all. Capture the moment and capture your very own impression of it. This is one way to immortalize the emotion and essence of the scene. In the catalogue of the exhibition I spotted “The Swimmer” drawn by Caillebotte with pastel on paper. Freezing the moment, freezing the motion and emotion is evident here, too. Testing different materials is part of the journey to find your artistic impression, expression or materialization of imagination. The ways and means are manifold.

Royal Academy, 2023: Impressionists on Paper. p 32

Memory Flashes

The title of the exhibition in the Museum of Photography in Berlin was “Flashes of Memory”. The collaboration of the Kunstbibliothek with the “Yad Vashem – The World Holocaust Remembrance Center” prepared a photographic memorial of the murder of 6 million of human beings with Jewish origin or family ties. The images represented in the exhibition constitute a carefully curated selection of the photos taken as part of Nazi propaganda, the secretly produced photos by inmates and the Sowjet and American soldiers who prepared documentation of the horrors. It becomes clear throughout the different sections of the exhibition that the motivation of the photographer introduces more than just an individual perspective on the scene.
In the age of fake news and fake images it becomes more and more important to be able to read and interpret photos, taking into account the motivation of the photographer and its influence on the photo taken. In order to limit the spread of mischievous representation of the past, it is good to know that the use of AI as image creation does not allow with simple prompts to produce false documentation. It needs more sophistication and more human intervention to trick the algorithms. Additional use of photoshop will, however, increase the risks of abuses. Hence, it will be more important as of now to be able to differentiate images according to sources and authors. Our trust in photos has been shattered, and this is an important lesson in itself. It is a huge task for schools and adult learning to re-build the competence to distrust photos and images at first, then deconstruct the messages and motivations.
Flashes of memory” is in some way linked to the “struggle of memory” exhibition. Both, obviously deal with the way historical events are and have to be present in our “collective” memory. Memories come back in flashes, sometimes, certainly for victims. Conscious and unconscious selections of images might come back at times and haunt victims for years. The correction of biased messages, is an important task for historians, social scientists and artists alike. It is all too easy and common to forget (Luhmann, 1996 Reality of mass media) and the difference between “Documentation” and “Decoration” (Lewis, 2001) or simply illustration needs to be scrutinised always anew. “Bildung” has some common roots (only four letters really) with “Bilder” in German language. It may be “une liaison dangereuse”, but the spurious link can also be turned into an educational or learning approach.
A permanent exhibition based on the material used in the exhibition would be a real asset to accompany and learn about the flashes of memory. A reading list of literature was also available at the exhibition (see image below) encouraging to dig deeper into this immensely important topic.

Postmodernism

The grand narratives of the modern world, like modernism itself, are under serious criticism. Deconstruction of the modern way of thinking has become philosophical mainstream. Economics as a science is in the middle of the behavioural shift and changing or at least complementing its narratives. Sociology has embraced postmodern thinking in theoretical as well as empirical forms (Mirchandani, 2005). The empirical measurement focuses a lot on the groups and people who hold postmodern beliefs and values. The discussion in the social and literary sciences continue. In the arts reading on modernism and postmodernism is a must in order to understand much of contemporary art or art from the 19th and 20th century.
Bookstores in art galleries that cover long spells of history can make surprising links between historical periods of art. Books of postmodernism appear next to books on romanticism. A lot of the ideation of postmodernism rejoins romantic depiction about nature, re-naturalizing or the emotional connotations of wildlife, isolated places and stillness.
On the other hand, we are confronted with the brutal world of war, drugs and crime. Classical warfare and strategies are back in Europe with tanks and rockets killing like in previous wars. The Russian empire of a specific version of modernism strikes back as if it were to stop the postmodern turn of the 21st century. Neo-fascism tries to build on the losers of the transitions to the socio-ecological economy and society. There are manifold backlashes of modernism, but the postmodern world is under continuous construction, most of in our mindsets.

Memory Struggle

The struggle of memory is also the memory of a struggle. The exhibition in the Palais Populaire in Berlin doesn’t leave spectators untouched. It is a struggle to recover memories which were attempted to be eradicated. This is the univeral message of this exhibition. The colonial past and crimes are part of the struggles of artists from these cultures to re-establish their rights to their own views, traditions and memories. Grass and plants may cover the shelled soil and people, but traces or mortars are often left behind. Light from different angles needs to be shed on these places to reveal the shadows of the wounds. The atrocities and exploitation linked to colonialism and imperialism keeps us struggling with those memories. Just before we jump to the conclusion that it is a memory of a past struggle, we are reminded that consequences are still haunting the present and with the Russian aggression in Ukraine we have to realize the fight against imperialism continues in the 21st century. Thanks for memorable moments and impressions in view of a global arts and history experience. (Image of art work installation by Sammy Boloji, untitled 2018, exhibition Palais Populaire, Deutsche Bank foundation)

Sammy Boloji, untitled 2018 exhibition Berlin 2024

Ideal City

Ideal City

Even beyond humans the issue of what constitutes the ideal city is a matter of historical as well as experimental significance. Science has recently uncovered a city like organization of habitats in the Amazon region (Link Science.org). The organization of the Greek city states has been the model for the development of democratic ideation. The Roman imperialism has thrived through the splendor of its cities and city lifestyle. No surprise that this continues to be a constant concern for humanity.
Rapid urbanization continues in Africa and Asia. Europe also struggles to keep pace with infrastructure development in every growing cities. Whereas the ideal city in the early Italian Renaissance was imagined without trees, we witness a renewed interest to bring back nature-like environments and architecture back into cities. Combining the best of 2 worlds seems possible. Redesigning inner cities remains a continuous challenge. It is much more than thinking about bricks and mortar. It is mostly about how we want to live, work and communicate together. Therefore, it concerns all of us. Paintings help us along in our ideation about where and how we want to live together. The linear views of the Renaissance appear hardly convenient after the experience of the 20th century.
(Image Gemäldegalerie Berlin, 2024-1, Raum XVIII, Ident Nr. 1615 “Ideal city” from ca 1490 attributed to Francesco di Giogio Martini and next to well-known ideal “Venus” painting by Sandro Botticelli 1490).

Stock taking

From time to time it is necessary to take stock of production and to review the material that has accumulated. As I have been working in archives, official book depositories and libraries for years, it comes almost naturally to deal with questions of how to keep track of all that content. Digital solutions are excellent devices in this regard. I do not have to deal with digitalisation, a huge issue for all historic archives and many recent small museums as well. I have to deal with backups at regular instances. To be sure, each engineer will assure you, better make a backup of your backup … . Yes, I do this as well. Now the ultimate backup of digital work is ? Got it, a printed copy of your digital work. The best advice I received on this comes from a computer magazine “ct” gadget mug with imprint advocating “No backup, no mercy“. To facilitate my printed archive I start with monthly collections of blog entries (Link to pdf-file December 2023 ->Brainstorming 23-12). The simple conversion yields 63 pages, a printer friendly version 56. Hence the expected yearly volume (60*12) will be somewhere near 720 pages. That is for the archive only or in case my eyes do no longer support online reading on screens for too long.
Digital archives have, of course, many other advantages. It is possible to reassemble my collection of entries by subject through a more thorough editing. Specific edited volumes will surface from this, which I have in my mind but only careful long-term followers of the entries might see already. Political economy and sociology are obvious candidates. Public health, labour, the world of arts and music could constitute other edited volumes. Lots of branches grow out of the trunk of content.

Poster Design

The effective use of posters in visual communication is a specific craft. Artists have been associated with poster design for more than a century. Cinemas continue this practice. For each movie produced there is an announcement posted in print or digital form. In combination with the Berlinale 2024 film festival the Kunstbibliothek in Berlin shows milestones of the history of movies and their representations in form of posters. Besides the historical approach there are many hints how to interpret the design language of posters throughout the 20th century. The encouragement to try to produce one yourself not only reserved to children is an additional activating feature of the exhibition (Link here). Cats and dogs will always catch attention and the playful approach chosen might be a start into a graphic design interest. Overall the exhibition offers a low threshold entry into the world of art and design. Instagramable image on posters evolved into short preview clips, just like instagram paved the way to tiktok video clips. In retrospect posters also provide shortcuts for our memories to recall whole movies that have accompanied us growing up and growing older.

Time6

Time that has passed, is subject to evalution and re-evaluation. Our memories work continuously on various representations of time in our mind. Memory management is one such example. Artist have also coined a phrase for a particular form of time management. “The assault of the present on the rest of time”  Alexander Kluge had chosen this as the title of a movie on film-making and Katya Inozemtseva had chosen this as the title for the exhibition in Berlin 2023-24. Pieces of art may serve as evidence in court as testimony for war crimes. This is one of the challenging issues of this exhibition. The present uses evidence from the past to illustrate what happened. Re-interpretations are part of this process as well. It is not too rare, that in the present a reframing of the past may occur. Some try to alter the representation of the past (crimes committed long ago) as of minor importance. Such intentional misrepresentations represent the assault of the present on the past. It may eqaually be attempted to limit the scope of future options. The diesel engine is not the best technical solution for mobility of 8 billion people living on this planet in 2024. The reflection on time needs to take care of the “back shadow” and “forward shadow” of the present. On the individual level, today’s action might be largely determined by past events, experiences and transitions, but they pre-determine to some extent also future events.
Conditionalities shall occur and accumulate, for some more than for others. Some call this scar-effects, others the narrowing down of options. Life reviews may apply a reframing exercise, sometimes even to liberate yourself from the boundaries of the past to open up new or more future options. The time-space subject which ranges from experience to fiction is the matter of literature and cinema. Some people seem to choose to live in a fictional world for whatever reasons.  Rather than a linear concept of time, the artists appear to imagine time in some form of a spiral: from the present you turn backwards in time to project yourself into the future. Maybe, we are caught up in some unresolved narration of the past, to try another projection into a different future. We see one or many movies grow out of this fictionalisation of the present.
The study of the life course remains a formidable challenge. Testing the reliability of sources to separate fact from fiction has overriding importance. Biographies derived from facebook or instagram entries over decades have to deal with this fictionalisation of the self even more than we were used to from other data sources. The basic challenge of the representation of time throughout the life course, however, remains the same.
Source: Kluge, A., Evans, T., & Liebman, S. (1990). The Assault of the Present on the Rest of Time. New German Critique, 49, 11–22. https://doi.org/10.2307/488371 (Image: Exhibition Brücke Museum, Lea Grundig, Unterm Hakenkreuz: die Hexe 1935, Zentrum für verfolgte Künste, Solingen).

Richter

Gerhard Richter ist kein Richter. The painter Gerhard Richter is of cause not a judge. But somehow he is. In the representation of his 100 works for Berlin in the Neue Nationalgalerie he judges the horror beyond imagination of the Nazi concentration camps, reflects on the role of his own family in this and finds his own way to deal with it. Colors cover the black and white documentary fotos as if a new imaginary has to grow again to overcome the painful memories. He deals with the most difficult kind of confrontation with evil in an astonishing way. The horror as underlying fact remains present in our mind and at the same time we open up to light at the end of the tunnel and abundance of colors. Color is the way forward. Underneath, we tend to or like to forget about the many killing fields. Scratch a bit on the surface and you’ll find lots of unresolved issues again. All those fancy colors might just cover up the demons of the past and present. Maybe this is a grossly biased interpretation of his Auschwitz Buchenwald series of paintings, but only time will tell if we are successful in 2024+ to stem the tide of right wing extremism (again).

Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin 2024-1

Museum Orga

The cathedrals of modernity are under permanent scrutiny. The discussion in Germany was sparked by a recommendation of the scientific advisory council to the federal government (Wissenschaftsrat) to separate the Prussian heritage museums and institutions (SPK) in Berlin into separate entities that have higher autonomy to shape their individual profiles. Too much hierarchy blocks innovation and openness to new approaches that might not fit an overriding instance of decision making. The arts and sciences as well as their libraries need substantial degrees of freedom to flourish in their specific cultural and societal environment. The same discussion is currently occupying Paris and France, since overall the visitors after the Covid-19 crises have not yet come back to the same levels. Digitalization has opened up new opportunities and potentials to reach new audiences. This needed new resources even at a time of budget constraints. Museums have started to take their social functions more seriously besides their role to preserve the cultural heritage. Economic thinking in terms of scarcity of art works, competition between museums and cities or countries for tourism have entered the stages as well. Prices of entry and quantities of visitors have become additional concerns in the organization of the museum landscape. A lot to cope with and to balance multiple policy targets. Accessibility of those treasures is key. Opening up to broader audiences is costly but crucial to provide the justification of the public funds allocated. Great to see more complementary private investment in this exciting field. The prominent archers in front of the Berlin museums have moved ahead into a new round of competition in the organization of museums.

Only for Kids

We all have, hopefully, fond memories of children books. Sometimes authors are not so keen to tell that they are just writing books for children. This is often present in many biographies of authors of books for children. This is grossly unfair. Not only is the book market for children’s books one of the best- selling part of literature, but there are lots of interesting collaborations between authors and illustrators. Most books are expensive to produce, particularly if, additionally, translations are needed to reach more children and their parents. For small countries this might be a barrier. The Scandinavian countries have a tradition to translate and publish some selected children’s books in multiple Scandinavian languages and beyond. Therefore, it is no surprise to find a children’s book entitled “Kant” by Norwegian author Jon Fosse, illustrator Roj Friberg with the text translated into Swedish and published by the Danish Editor Carlsen, all in 1990.
The illustrations allow to understand the “bilderbok med text av Jon Fosse” using an enlightening imaginative visual language. From the cover already It is clear we deal with the universe and endless open space. There are black holes in it as well. Jon Fosse deals with “möjliga och omöjliga”, possibilities and impossibilities. Tackling such philosophical questions with children needs the best authors to address these issues. How to speak of the unspeakable, things we have hardly any words for remains a challenge. Relating to the world of dreams, appealing to children and their parents, does the trick. After all, you just need to close your eyes and you start to travel the universe and make lots of exciting encounters. The book has no page numbers, interesting. The image below is from page 25, just as an appetizer.
For more insights of how to deal with “nothingness” I refer to Friedrich C. Heller (2020) “Towards nothingness. Ideen der Reduktion in zeitgenössischen Bilderbüchern” (in Benner et al. editors 2020). Susan Sontag (2005) „die Ästhetik der Stille” (in Eugen Blume 2005, editor) will also help us along on the subject of stillness and minimalism. Maybe it is these essentials we should talk more about especially with our kids.
To continue the exploration of space and stillness just go to the webpage of the hubble telescope or the James Webb Space Telescope. The journey of your dreams will be hard to stop.

Tears mastered

Not many authors find decent ways to write about sad moments and the mastering of tears. Can we master tears? Should we even try to? For authors the question poses itself of a different kind. How do I write about emotions in which a person bursts in tears or sheds a single tear. Even mastering tears or the delayed unmastered tears give rise to ample drama. Have you found a poet or author to whom you relate through the sorrows s/he expresses? Reading itself is a process of mastering tears due to the possibility to go through a wide spread of negative and positive emotions.
Towards the end of her life Cata Dujšin – Ribar wrote a poem that links to the imagery of the Norwegian poet Jon Fosse. Thanks to the exposition of her paintings and writing in the Zagreb City Museum Cata can become known to a wider audience. Hardly any traces in the internet of her writings in English make her even more of a local hero and an early female role model. The windmills are powered by the nothingness of our illusions.  The beauty of futility is revealed in our dream. She puts it so much better. The biography and work of Cata Dujšin – Ribar summarises to some extent the whole history and misery of the 20th century beyond the Balkan region in a few words.

City Museums

Some city museums have a difficult time to present the richness of their historical heritage. Additionally, the question of city heritage maybe entangled with a process of nation building and citizenship altogether. The focus I advocate is on the evolution of democracy and the process of civilisation. The Zagreb City Museum on the top of the hill comes pretty close to such a perspective on history or historical perspective. Due to the recent efforts to excavate remains of the iron age underneath the more recent City Museum the historical line of Zagreb civilisation can be traced back even longer. The tumuli are worth a whole new section in the Museum. The process of civilisation with “burying cultures” are more than 2600-3000 years old in Zagreb. Democratisation as a process can also be studied with all its ups and downs over the history of the city and the Croation nation building. Capitals and city live play an important driving force in this process. Zagreb has experienced a bombing of the city centre as recently as 1991 (Banski Dvora) and again in 1995 (city of Zagreb) in the Croatian war of independence.
It is a real pleasure to walk through centuries of historical evolution beginning with the recent excavation of the iron age as well as the arts and crafts since the medieval times. Even passing the horrors of the 2nd world war through the eyes of the author and painter Cata Dujsin (image below from 1944) speak to us even today.
There is no linear process of civilisation which is improving over time. There have always been backlashes and there will be. It is even more important to be aware of the continuous risks to independence and democracy. The current setup of the Zagreb City Museum seems to focus on the Croatian population to remind them of their great heritage. With more English and foreign language subtitles and inscriptions the example of civilisation and democracy will be more accessible for even larger crowds of visitors. The online visit accessible in English is already an excellent appetiser.
The City Museum is moving from the internal Croatian function more and more to additional external function to offer learning experiences beyond the Croatian visitors in this tourist attraction that is internationalising in its work force at a rapid rate.

Selfie Museum

We have learned that games are not only played for fun. So-called serious games have found their way into health applications where we might learn while playing a game of how to integrate more walking into our life in the city. While walking after work I happened to pass the Selfie Museum in Zagreb. In fact despite carrying the name of museum it is more an assembly of scenarios in which you can realize many selfies in different settings that have been prepared for that purpose. Hence your production of photo shooting with yourself as the major character is facilitated and you no longer have to spend a lot of time on the setups. Call it a museum and you’ll have more visibility and visitors.

Styles of selfies have changed and shooting very short videos to post on tiktok is of course easy there. A real threat to huge and expensive cinema studios considering the enormous reach some of these selfies can reach. It is a bit like a theatre with multiple stages for everybody to use at moderate costs. Before long we shall come to realize the potential for many more interested in theatre to become actors and directors themselves. Democratize the world of theatre is the new social dimension here. Test yourself in another profession through playful interaction. Test and learn about other competencies. We are in the middle of the next wave of “gameification” previously reserved to people ready to accept higher risks of likely failure. The young can now take their parents to the museum and show off their culture and skills. Intergenerational learning has a new aspect as well. The sociology of the virtual has another phenomenon to evaluate.

Zahgreb 2023-12 Selfie museum

Mating Birds

Mating birds have astonishing capabilities. Some songbirds can expand areas of their brains during the mating season. Apparently this helps to outperform other birds in singing contests. The expansion of the brain in the preparation for mating is not so much of an interesting phenomenon in view of the fact of subsequent decline of the capacity. Of course in human engineering the expansion might be useful and the hope to repair a damaged brain is worthwhile as well. In a few years we might know how to expand brain irrespective of brain functions. The naive hope that we might just sing more beautifully in preparation for mating is probably misplaced. While everyone is talking about AI new horizons for HI as human intelligence or hybrid forms become more feasible. Meanwhile we continue to focus on our preparation for mating songs. It seems to exercise parts of the brain with the best intentions in mind. Composers have created fantastic arias and singers impressed audiences across the globe with melodies in preparation of mating like the birds. Art is full of such extraordinary examples. Let’s keep up the preparation as long as the season lasts and before climate change kicks in more forcefully. The mating season might be prolonged a bit, it might be too hot or too wet to prepare for mating as well.

VR to AI to HI

Meta-language

Some writers accomplish the formidable task to draft a text that encompasses more than one language. Samuel Beckett surely is one of them. Arnaud Beaujeu (2011) exposes the meta-language that Beckett creates through his reductionism and minimalist style. It is first a deconstruction of language or languages expressed in French and/or English at times. There is an underlying discourse dealing with the link and sometimes opposition, but always a relationship between at least these 2 languages. Beaujeu reveals 2 other languages: « the trivial and the spiritual ». The reductionism of Beckett leads to a conscious expression of the obvious, the trivial in conversations. This, however, he turns in the theatre piece “cette fois” (original “That Time”) into a ritual, spiritual version of 3 persons A, B, C in a prayer like liturgy. In taking out the sentence structure and obligations of grammar more generally the text becomes a rhythmic reading of words. Today we might say a Rap-version of a text.
The meta-language is the spiritual experience and another kind of access and questioning of memory, eventually even reconstructing a collective memory. Maybe the meta-language is the attempt to collectivise and internalize the dialogue that has turned into a trilogue.
It is out of the memory of persons or historical evolutions that Beckett builds his meta-language. Adorno (1974) put this in a relationship to Shakespeare’s dramatic work and the experience of the horrors of Nazi-Germany.  Sarcastically put, the question to Adorno was not ” to be or not to be”, but “to die or to die”. Beckett travelled in Germany extensively in the year 1936 and faught in the 2nd World War with the French resistance.
„Paroles, musique, mémoire“ (Beaujeu, 2011) span a triangle which allows for a profound, albeit mostly empty space. Beckett offers a safety net to bridge the gap by way of reconstructing a language reduced to basics as well as meditative silence. The script lies in the meta-language and poetry is the more common access to this meta or essential level of our existence. Listening to the meta-language is like listening to polyphonic music. Some find it very disruptive, others a spiritual experience. Meta-language is all around us, like it or not. (Image: Französische Friedrichstadtkirche Berlin, Exhibition Princesses, 2023)