Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
Viewer in the Painting, lecture 1, part 1, raw (more or less) transcript. Mainly about four minutes in "Mary Poppins"
Here is the question. How do you enter a painting? What does Mary Poppins say? “Bert, why do you always have to complicate things that are really quite simple?” And, even without Bert’s spell (or, rather, because she didn’t use it) she managed to get them all inside the painting. Because, you know, she’s magic, a witch or a fairy. (What is Mary Poppins anyway?)
You have all seen “Mary Poppins,” right? You know what happens next—or, not immediately next, but in the world of the painting, what famous song they sing? “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” of course. It’s part of the magic of that world.
Let’s move on.
What’s interesting is that, if Claude is the painter who most invited these fantasies, of entering his world, from the seventeenth through the ninetenth century, the one who seems to have most done so since the twentieth century has been Van Gogh.
[to be continued...]
Sunday, January 22, 2012
Only rarely can beauty and the je ne sais quoi be found together.
By the Je ne sais quoi I mean: that charm spread across someone’s face and figure, and which makes a person lovable, without our being able to tell what it owes its effects to [á quoi il tient].
I have read somewhere on this subject a quite interesting tale; it was written by a man who pretended to have found the abodes of Beauty and of the Je ne sais quoi.
Here is more or less what he said. It’s short, as I will only offer a summary of his tale.
One day—he said—as I was walking in the country, I was lost in thoughts about one of the most beautiful women in the world, whom I had visited for each of the last eight days out there in the countryside where I was staying. The first time I had seen her I had looked on her admiringly; I’d been less touched by her the second time; and I had finally ended up looking at her with indifference, no matter how beautiful I still found her to be, no matter how beautiful she truly was. I wondered why such beauty so worthy of admiration had grown so uninteresting to me, why Beauty in general, even, didn’t inspire longer-lasting feelings.
I was seeking out the reasons for such things when I noticed I was standing between two gardens, of which one seemed superb, and the other pleasant [riant].
The gates to these two gardens were right across from one another.
On that of the superb garden, these words could be read in golden letters: THE ABODE OF BEAUTY.
On that of the pleasant garden was written, in characters in which all sorts of colors were melded together, making a single one that could not be defined: THE ABODE OF THE JE NE SAIS QUOI.
The abode of Beauty! I first said to myself; oh, I must see it; for whoever says “Beauty” says something much more impressive than the “Je ne sais quoi,” something much worthier of being seen.
And so, carried along by the strength of the word, I didn’t hesitate to choose the garden of Beauty, and to leave behind that of the Je ne sais quoi, which I would return to enjoy later.
As determined as I was in preferring the former, I nevertheless threw another glance at the latter which seemed to me so pleasant, and wished it were possible to see them both at the same time. But apparently no side-by-side comparison could be drawn between the two; so one had to start with the most intriguing [curieux] one, which is what I did.
As I entered the garden of Beauty, I noticed the footsteps of several people who had walked in, but I also noticed as many belonging to people who’d walked out.
I walk on, and the more I observe, the more I admire.
I will not retell all the beautiful things I saw; the description of those sites is beyond my abilities; but I was astonished, I was struck. Imagine everything grand, superb and magnificent that can be placed in a garden; everything extraordinary that the most exact symmetry and the best thought-out arrangement can create; and you’ll barely picture what I saw.
But how can I describe to you what the palace that I found after walking for a while looked like? I couldn’t even try.
If I had to say something about it, I would tell you about the person I saw there seated on some kind of throne, around which stood several men who, according to what they told me, had only preceded me there by an hour, and who all seemed to be frozen in place, as if in ecstasy upon seeing the woman on the throne.
You be the judge of whether they were wrong: that was Beauty herself, in person, who, every once in a while and as if by chance [négligemment] cast on each of them, as well as on me, glances that made us all cry out: Oh! such beautiful eyes!, then, a moment later, oh! such a beautiful mouth! oh! such a beautiful face! oh! such a beautiful waist!
Upon hearing these exclamations, Beauty smiled and lowered her eyes somewhat, more out of modesty than out of embarrassment; and, without answering, started looking at us again, as if to reinforce [nous confirmer dans] the feelings of admiration we held for her. Now and then she also raised her head with a certain haughty air, which seemed to tell us: your admiration must be accompanied by respect. That was all she had to say for herself.
For the first quarter of an hour, the pleasure of contemplating her made us forget her silence; by the end of it, however, I began to notice it, and so did the others.
What! we all said, nothing but smiles, nothing but turns of the head, not a single word; that’s hardly enough. Will only our eyes be gratified? Are there no pleasures but the pleasure of sight?
Thereupon, one of us stepped forward to present her with a piece of fruit he’d picked in the garden. She accepted it while smiling all the while, and with the most beautiful hand in the world, but without opening her mouth; and her gesture was the only thanks she offered; we had to content ourselves with watching her.
Apprarently each one of us got tired of this, for, little by little, our group got smaller; I could see my companions walk away; and soon, of all the admirers amongst whom I had found myself, I was the only one left, and I took my leave as well.
As I crossed an alleyway heading back, I met a woman who seemed exceedingly proud, and before whom, as I passed her, I took a deep bow.
Where are you going? she asked me with with an air both disdainful and displeased. I have just admired BEAUTY, I answered, and now I am leaving. Now, now, why leave? she replied. Shouldn’t you be frozen in place before Beauty? What is there left for you to see, after having seen her?
You are doubtlessly right, I told her; but I have seen her long enough; I know her features by heart: they are always the same. It is always the same beautiful visage, over and over again, saying nothing to the spirit, speaking only to the eyes, and always telling them the same thing; thus, I had nothing left to learn from it. If only Beauty engaged her admirers in conversation a little, if only her soul played about her face somewhat, that would render that face less uniform, and more touching; it would please the heart as much as the eyes; but we only see it as beautiful, and don’t feel it to be so. Beauty should take the trouble to speak for herself, and to display her spirit [esprit]; for I don’t think she’s lacking in it.
Now, now! What does it matter to you whether she has or hasn’t any? asked me that woman then; does she need any, looking as she does? Go on, you don’t understand a thing; were you dealing with an ordinary visage, I would agree with you; it would be to its advantage that spirit animate it; that would enhance it, and make up for the graces that it lacked. But to wish that spirit play across a beautiful face is to wish for the alteration of that face’s charms; spirit may add something to unformed features, but it could only hurt features that are perfectly shaped; it could do nothing but disturb them. A beautiful face is as complete as it can be; it can do no better than to stay just as it is; whatever the movements of the spirit were to add to it would throw it off balance [en troublerait l’économie], for it is precisely in the state it is supposed to be in, and could not come out of it but to its own detriment. Thus, you criticize without thinking; it is I who tell you so, I who am the unmoved Pride of beautiful people, and the helpmate of Beauty. I never leave her side, and take great care to keep her spirit cold and tranquil, so that her face may stay at rest, and that her noble propriety be not lessened. It is fortunately true that it is not hard for me to temper Beauty’s spirit, which is generally quite peaceful of its own accord, or at least it’s perfectly aware how important it is for it to maintain gravity, and that it cause no disorder in that beautiful visage, whose interests it respects too much to think of its own.
Thus spoke to me the woman; and her words seemed to me so peculiar, that I only answered with a bow and took my leave, then quickly made for the abode of the Je ne sais quoi, where I caught up with all those who had left me behind in Beauty's dwelling.
There was nothing astonishing in this place, and, what is more, nothing that was purposefully arranged; everything looked as if it had been thrown down haphazardly; disorder, even, reigned there, and yet a disorder in the very best taste, creating a charming effect, and whose cause one could neither have understood [démêler] nor shown.
In short, nothing was left to be desired, there; and yet it must have been that nothing had been finished, or that not everything that one would have wanted to place there had indeed been placed, for at every moment we could see something new being added.
And, despite the tale that counts only three Graces, there were an infinity of them there, which, as they crossed the grounds, reworked them, retouching them everywhere. I say, "as they crossed," for they did nothing but come and go, but pass before us in quick succession, without allowing us the time to know them well; they were there, but barely could one see them that they disappeared, and that others took their place then passed by in their turn, making space for others yet. In one word, they were all over, and yet settled nowhere; and it was never just one, but a thousand of them, that could be seen.
Well then, gentlemen, said I to those who were with me, this place is charming; I'd willingly spend here my entire life; but he who inhabits it, the JE NE SAIS QUOI, where is he? Lead me to him, I pray you; for you must have seen him?
Not yet, they answered; and ever since we have been here, we have been seeking him without yet being able to find him; it is true that we seek him at our leisure; for, though we have the greatest desire in the world to lay our eyes on him, we are not in the least impatient to find his whereabouts; and even were we never to find him, we are resolved to seek him out forever.
And yet he must be here, I answered; and barely had I uttered these words, that we heard a voice telling us: Here I am.
We all turned around then, for we perceived nothing before us; and, as much as we kept turning, we still saw nothing.
Where are you then, kindly JE NE SAIS QUOI? we all asked as one.
Here I am, I tell you, answered the voice again.
And we kept looking around, expecting to see him, and seeing nothing still.
You tell us: here I am, I continued, but you shun our sight.
And yet you see nothing but me, he answered. In this infinite number of graces that pass ceaselessly before your eyes, coming and going, all different and yet all equally lovable, of which some are more virile and some more tender, watch them well, there I am; it's me you see there, always me. In these sights you love so much, in these objects of all kinds that hold for you so many pleasing touches, in the entire extent of the grounds, in all that you perceive here that is simple, fancy-free, unruly even, ornate or not ornate: there I am, I show myself in them, I constitute all their charm, I surround you. In the guise of these graces, I am the Je ne sais quoi that moves you in both sexes; there, the Je ne sais quoi that pleases in architecture, in furnishings, in gardens, in all that can be an object of taste. And yet don't seek me in one form, I have thousands, and yet not one of them that stays ever fixed; that is why one sees me without knowing me, without being able to either grasp me or define me; in seeing me, one loses me from sight, one can sense me and yet not understand [démêle] me; in short, you see me, and you seek me, and you'll never find me in any other way; therefore you'll never tire of seeing me.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Walked down to Times Square with Ari B. last weekend. We stood on the red lighted steps that give you a theatregoer’s view on the light show Times Square’s always been, though it’s “friendlier” now, and far brighter – supersized. One ad, repeating on one of the biggest boards, caught our attention; I’d been going on about my hobby horse, and Ari’s been following this blog, and we agreed, I think, that the ad proved my point, or at least substantiated it. It's the new Microsoft Windows Phone 7 ad:
The first third of the spot shows us typical modern consumer-type folks missing out on physically and aesthetically pleasurable and meaningful life-experiences (urban life, travel, the beach, shower, jogging, massage, coffee, family, sex, exercise, snorkeling) because we’re (too) absorbed in our hand-held devices. After each situation, the snarky refrain: “Really?” (The unspoken answer: “Not! Your (over)use of this medium is blocking your access to reality.") The ad’s second third turns the mode to slapstick when this absorption absurdly interrupts what may be greatest pleasure of all: taking a leak. (It also interrupts the buildup of the Peer Gynt suite, which, if this is an allusion to M, is pretty darn crafty: This is a compulsion, you can’t help yourself.) From here on it’s a loss not directly of pleasure, but of (social) dignity, somewhat in the old “BO” ad mode: we make fools of ourselves at the opera, at our wedding, in bed, at work (as a surgeon: high stakes, high pathos, big laffs), at the dinner table, as a Dad at the Little League game… and the dénouement? – A sweet blonde girl toddler in PJs, facing the camera in some perplexity, her oblivious well-heeled professional mom texting out of focus on the sofa behind, and the baby – get this – the poor mom-deprived past-bedtime baby is holding a sippy cup! Way to get at every working mom’s ambivalent anxiety about not being able to breastfeed/spend time with her children because she’s working! Way, also, to reiterate J.H. Campe’s equation of media with the pacifier, immediacy (“Be Here Now”) with The Breast… So QED. But that’s not all. Here comes my paradox again (that nostalgia seeks fulfillment in simulacra of experience produced by the very media perceived to be blocking access to it), except a bit in reverse: here, a variant of the media-object blamed for effecting distance is touted with the special ability to close it.
Over the sippy-cup sequence (moment of greatest pathos) is where the voice-over comes in: “It’s time for a phone… to save us from our phones.” Ooh, a paradox… So what’s the argument? “New Windows phone: designed to get you in… and out... and back to life.” Cut to romantic dinner for two. OK, first off, is this “in and out” thing a double entendre? Probably, but that can’t be the whole story. “In and out” of what, then? – One’s email, the internet, texting, and so on, is what I imagine is meant; in other words, all those things all those people were losing life to in the rest of the ad. So is the argument that (and am I expected to believe that) the special virtue of this new product is that it will allow me to execute all those personal-device activities that I am obsessively compelled to perform in say, half the time, leaving 50% more time for non-mediated activities such as sleeping with my wife or nursing my baby? Not only is this obviously bunk, it’s a self-contradiction: if our engagement with these devices is as irrational (obsessive-compulsive) as the ad suggests (and as it so clearly is), then the rational time-management argument is beside the point: we don’t text all the time because objectively we need to, we do it because there’s something about the medium that makes us want to. (Ask your average high-school student if she’d spend less time texting if texting went faster.) The interaction is itself a pleasure (though an ambivalent one); what we have in this ad is an array of conventional luxury pleasures set up rhetorically against one that the spot is attempting to sell. The interesting added factor is guilt. (You are ignoring your baby! Your wife! Your family! Your life!) A whole book could be written on guilt as a factor in marketing – maybe one has. But what’s more interesting than the simple presence of guilt as a factor is how the ad employs guilt so to speak dialectically: by letting us laugh at our own captivity to our devices (and also laugh socially: we’re all doing this, and we all can laugh at it, so really it’s not so embarrassing), it grants us permission to continue essentially as before; or as Siegfried Kracauer put it regarding certain cinematic “products of directorial artistry produced for the intellectual bourgeoisie”: “In the end, the audiences for such works read a radical magazine and pursue their bourgeois profession with a bad conscience, in order to have a good conscience” (“Kino 1928”). How then does the sell work? The product the ad allows us to identify with the feeling of catharsis and moral relief produced by its aesthetic solution of the problem is thus affectively tagged as a solution to a problem identified with “other” phones. – Really?
The whole strategy reminds me of the one used in the “Dove Evolution” ad:
about which I wrote about a year ago on one of Dove’s Facebook discussion pages, “What do you think of Dove advertising,”
on which the suckered cluelessness of people’s enthusiasm for the ad
really bothered me:
The Evolution video is a good video, and it makes a good point, and I'd certainly (maybe) recommend showing it to young girls and boys, but the "fan" comments all show that Dove is succeeding perfectly in its sales pitch: WE are the Ben & Jerry's of cosmetics; OUR brand is not appealing to the insecurities & vulnerabilities that others are. But as a matter of fact: it is – and then some; in fact, there's a special danger, I think, in the way Dove masks its self-interest in the form of a public-service announcement with which it's difficult to disagree. Not to mention that a) everyone knows this already, which adds the pleasant thrill of feeling confirmed in one's morally superior knowledge and b) "our" perception of beauty has ALWAYS been "distorted": perceptions of beauty have always been constructs, and "natural" is as much a construction as any (it dates in this form to the mid-18th century, thank you Rousseau).
Not to mention that the ad allows you to enjoy BOTH varieties of beauty, while also permitting you to assume the additionally titillating position of moral censor.
& not to mention also that in this case Dove's implicit promise is STILL that their products will make women more beautiful than they are naturally (i.e. without cosmetics). Which means that in fact they're STILL appealing to the same fears and insecurities that they would like to appear to be declaring obsolete.
Same tactic, no?
Friday, January 7, 2011
In any case, without any further prefacing, here is the text of my submission, all nicely dusted off and blinking in incomprehension as it sees the light of (some kind of) print for the first time in the almost seven years since it came into existence. In op-ed-ish, NYT-ish layman's terms (clearly, I was trying to hew as close to formula as I could) it expresses, or at least suggests, pretty well the ethical concerns at which I'm aiming:
THE NAKED AND THE NUDE AT ABU GHRAIB
The images of abused Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib prison disturb not only through their simple documentation of horrific acts; they also have a visual power of their own, though one that has little to do with the designs of their makers. After all, though details of the abuse have been known since January, it has been only with the publication of the photographs that the scandal has entered public consciousness. What accounts for the power of these images? One answer lies in their depiction of nakedness; thereby, the images unintentionally take their place in the complex history of representations of the nude, history that stretches back at least to the days of archaic Greece. Of the many art-historical images with which they resonate, we can select a few that can help us better understand the meanings these photographs suggest, and the reactions they elicit in us.
The pyramid of naked bodies seen in several of the photographs offers us a convincing image of hell. Indeed, very similar imagery was used to represent the damned cast into the netherworld in depictions of the Christian Last Judgment from the Middle Ages until at least the seventeenth century. In relief sculptures such as Lorenzo Maitani’s early 14th century façade for the Cathedral of Orvieto, or in frescoes such as Giotto’s at the Arena chapel in Padua, the damned are shown piled atop each other, naked and frail. They make up a seemingly undifferentiated, wriggling mass of flesh, condemned to be devoured by the infernal fire-pits. They are always contrasted with the saved, who more often than not are depicted clothed, and whose more idealized beauty is supposed to suggest their spiritual nature, as opposed to the unredeemed corporeality of the sinful lost souls. They are also always shown being controlled by the devils, who kick them, shove them, and gleefully manhandle them in many other ways.
Another image the photographs may recall, perhaps by way of contrast, is Jacques-Louis David’s Napoleonic-era “Leonidas at Thermopylae.” The large neoclassical canvas, which shows scores of nude warriors embracing each other tenderly the morning before the battle, makes explicit and celebrates the homoerotic bonds that hold an army together. It’s hard to imagine, however, that any modern military force would acknowledge such an explicit statement of the unconscious forces that hold it together; Napoleon certainly did not approve of David’s canvas, though its overt homoeroticism was never mentioned as the cause of his dislike. The behavior of the Abu Ghraib guards looks like a case-study demonstration of the repression and projection of similar psychosexual impulses. Forcing the detainees to simulate homosexual acts, as well as simply forcing them to lie nude against one another, the guards could project homoeroticism upon their demonized enemies, disavowing it in themselves while at the same time taking a very evident pleasure in its display.
Most importantly, however, the images invite comparison with other photographic representations of the human body. Since its invention, the photographic medium has been noted for its power to record the shock value of nakedness. Most photographers, however, have recoiled from this very power. One need only think of the aestheticization of the nude in the works of Imogen Cunningham or Edward Weston, where the naked body is converted into abstract plays of light and shadow, or of the parallel objectification that can be seen every month in the pages of Playboy. In such cases, formal abstraction or the deft use of the airbrush prevent the viewer from experiencing the actual corporeality of the naked body, and, implicitly, the subjectivity of the depicted individual.
A parallel kind of objectification can be seen at Abu Ghraib, carried out for the sake of neither aesthetics nor eroticism, but to strip the prisoners of their most elementary human dignity. Ironically, however, the guards’ own grotesque choice to commemorate their acts visually has helped to reverse that objectification. The deciding factor here was that the photographers were not professionals but amateurs, and thus incapable of, as well as uninterested in, shielding us by aesthetic means from the power of human nakedness. Looking at the photographs, we not only feel ashamed that our own troops have perpetrated such horrors. A further shame arises from our simple identification with those debased bodies, and from our realization that, as human beings, we are always in danger of ending up in the very same situation as theirs.
The French philosopher Emmanuel Lévinas thought that at the root of all ethics lay the simple encounter with the face of the other. In the Abu Ghraib photographs, in a further attempt to dehumanize the prisoners, all the faces are hooded. And yet, isn't there a sense that the process envisioned by Lévinas can still take place—that it is not the faces, but the humiliated, objectified, yet all too real naked bodies of the other that will force a sense of ethics upon us?
Thursday, December 30, 2010
Third attempt at theory.
Back to the problem of nylons. – Nostalgia for texture is fundamentally erotic. It’s driven by a desire for tactility, a desire to touch something that can no longer be touched; its peculiar paradox seems to be the construction of simulacra of touching precisely via the medium felt to prevent the touching. The lost object (or the object felt to be lost) is, I think, The Breast.
If I’m going to capitalize that, I suppose I shall need a theory to take things further; but which? My best guess is Lacan, but I’ve never been able to stand him long enough to understand him. There’s Piaget’s distinction between the sucked breast and the seen breast – as far as I understand it, the point here (as with Lacan?) is that human individuation occurs concurrently with a transition from an infantile feeling of physical identity with the mother (of which the breast is, or becomes, a metonym) to a sense of non-identity confirmed by the distancing quality of sight – but although I like this distinction as a heuristic, I don’t know Piaget’s theory (or his rep) well enough to follow it through to further theoretical consequences. In a bit, I’ll see what I can do with Alois Riegl’s distinction of haptic from optic styles in art… From this much alone, though, it’s clear that nostalgia for texture is psychologically regressive, involving a fantasy of identity with (or in) an object of desire perceived as lost in a transition to exile; Eden again. Where then has technological change been conceived as an expulsion from the garden? Prometheus, probably; which brings me to Goethe’s Faust in his study.
A few paragraphs from the same as-yet-incomplete elsewhere as before:
The Faust legend has been a means of expressing anxiety about sexuality since its conflation, by 1587, with the legend of Cyprian of Antioch, whose use of the Devil’s help to win his pious beloved Justina seems to have introduced the Helena theme to the scholar’s tragedy. Characterizing the Faust legend as “l’expression la plus parfaite de la Réforme,” in which we see accumulated many of its ideological traits – “la censure de l’imaginaire, la culpabilité intrinsèque de la nature et de son instrument principal: la femme,” Ioan Couliano observes, for one, the degree to which such anxiety is registered culturally, in Reformation Europe, by a trend in fashion to hide and flatten Nature’s favored metonym, the female breast; and, for another, by a surge of ambivalent interest in magic; a combination that would inform the European witch-craze of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Jane Brown identifies the same fashion trend in late sixteenth-century paintings of women, connecting it not with magic but with anxieties produced by the process of secularization as it affected the problem of representation. But secularization and early modern thinking on magic are linked phenomena, and if the one informs what Brown calls “the persistence of allegory” in later literature, so does the other.
The first study scene (“Nacht”) of Goethe’s Faust expresses related concerns, using similar tropes. “Welch Schauspiel! aber ach! ein Schauspiel nur!” Faust declaims in frustration, having sought direct contact with Nature in signs – in this case, a printed sign, in a book, of the Macrocosm. “Wo faß ich dich, unendliche Natur?/ Euch Brüste, wo? Ihr Quellen alles Lebens, /An denen Himmel und Erde hängt,/ Dahin die welke Brust sich drängt – / Ihr quellt, ihr tränkt, und schmacht ich so vergebens?” Oddly, Faust has just turned to books, directly following (indeed, as if in answer to) a violent rejection of them: “Weh! steck ich in dem Kerker noch? Verfluchtes, dumpfes Mauerloch! Wo selbst das liebe Himmelslicht/ Trüb durch gemalte Scheiben bricht” – this an image of media generally – “Beschränkt mit diesem Bücherhauf,/ Den Würme nagen, Staub bedeckt,/ […] Das ist deine Welt! Das heißt eine Welt!” Just as Goethe’s Werther, rejecting an early offer to have his books sent to him, can protest, paradoxically, that his heart “doch genug aus sich selbst [braust],” then declare: “Ich brauche Wiegengesang, und den habe ich in Fülle gefunden in meinem Homer”; and just as Werther, later, can soothe a soul troubled by social rejection with a carriage ride out to a sunset accompanied by Wetstein’s Homer, so also does Faust find himself looking to printed signs in the very act of seeking to escape them.
This would be another example of the paradox that has nostalgia seeking fulfillment in simulacra of (sensual) experience produced by the very technologies perceived to be blocking access to such experience.
Marlowe’s Faustus, too, has a problem with text: “I’ll burn my books!” This, his last-ditch effort to avoid hell, ends a final monologue whose central theme is not books, but what seems a problem of individuation. This Faust, to avoid damnation, would have the earth swallow him; the stars draw him up “like a foggy mist/ Into the entrails of yon labouring cloud,/ That, when you vomit forth into the air,/ My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,/ So that my soul may but ascend to heaven”; he envies the beasts, for “all beasts are happy,/ For when they die/ Their souls are soon dissolv’d in elements;/ But mine must live still to be plagu’d in hell. […] O soul, be chang’d into little water drops,/ And fall into the ocean, n’er be found.” The extended desperate metaphor of dissolution is, I believe, a response to the “feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual” – to the radical sense of aloneness with one’s own soul in the face of the problem of grace – that Max Weber saw at the heart of Calvinist Protestantism; precisely, Faustus’s loneliness. “He is not well with being over-solitary,” observes one of his students. The comment applies to both Fausts, Marlowe's and Goethe's. The connection, for both, of such loneliness with the problem of books is characteristic generally of German (perhaps European) reactions to media revolutions at two (or, perhaps, four) distinct points in history. One of these – Marlowe’s context and that of the Faust legend’s origins – is the sixteenth-century print revolution, occasioned by the invention of movable type around 1450 and greatly accelerated by Humanist scholarship and the pamphlet wars of the Reformation, in the 1520s and after. Another is the last third of the eighteenth century, the moment in which the German Mittelstand – Werther’s class – began to define itself as such, above all by construing itself as a reading (and book-buying and -publishing) public. In both eras, the positive value of printed texts as a medium of social and individual self-construction trailed a shadow in anxieties about the downside, the dangers of alienation in printing and reading.
From another sketch I wrote recently.
By the end of Doctor Faustus, Marlowe no longer needs the Good and Bad Angels of the morality tradition: they have changed fully from theological exteriorizations of conscience to moments of inward psychology, voices in Faustus’s head. What these voices enunciate is a terror of selfhood, of radical individuation; and what Faustus answers them with is a fantasy of dissolution, of de-individuation. If here selfhood is coded in terms of ethical conflict with God the Father, dissolution is cast as a flight from the angry father into the womb of Nature, the primal mother. Faustus, to avoid damnation, would have the earth swallow him; the stars draw him up “like a foggy mist/ Into the entrails of yon labouring cloud,/ That, when you vomit forth into the air,/ My limbs may issue from your smoky mouths,/ So that my soul may but ascend to heaven” (V.ii.86-90); he envies the beasts, for “all beasts are happy, for when they die/ Their souls are soon dissolv’d in elements,/ But mine must live still to be plagu’d in hell. […] O soul, be chang’d into little water drops,/ And fall into the ocean, n’er be found” (V.ii.103-105, 111-112). To repeat: the extended desperate metaphor of dissolution is, I believe, a response to the “feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual” – to the radical sense of aloneness with one’s own soul in the face of the problem of grace – that Max Weber saw at the heart of Calvinist Protestantism. The phantasmatic retreat to a state of non-differentiation in nature, coded female – with which the German romantics, too, answered their sense of the “fragmentary” quality of modern culture, which they blamed partly on Protestantism – is here articulated specifically in terms of a series of bodily fluids: implicitly, blood and tears; explicitly, milk and saliva. The aporia of Calvinist predestination is phrased in terms of a choice between bloods: Faustus’s own, used to seal the pact with the Devil, and Christ’s which could redeem him. This choice between bloods cannot be resolved without aid of tears: “Break heart, drop blood, and mingle it with tears,/ Tears falling from repentant heaviness/ Of thy most vile and loathsome filthiness” (V.i.39-41). Tears, a sign of repentance at an emotional level (not just the volitional, as are both bloods) are not forthcoming; in his desperation, unaided by tears, Faustus turns first to a vaporization of blood in what is implicitly the Milky Way: “See, see, where Christ’s blood streams in the firmament!/ One drop would save my soul, half a drop. Ah, my Christ!” (V.ii.74-75) and finally to images of integration into the natural water cycle: “O soul, be chang’d into little water drops,/ And fall into the ocean, n’er be found” (V.ii.111-112). Between these two fantasies of escape, we see Faustus distracted – seduced – by the saliva of a succubus, of womanhood marked as false, whorish, demonic: “Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss. [They kiss.]/ Her lips sucks forth my soul. See, where it flies!” (V.i.92-93) Tears and milk are the answer; blood and saliva are not. The difference seems one between a regression to primal unity – psychologically, the preverbal oneness of mother and child, so often imagined as a return to Nature (as Isis, she of the many breasts) – and the problematic entrapment in the guilts of family (blood) and sexuality (saliva, etc.) attendant on the development to individuated selfhood. “O, would that I had never seen Württemberg, never read book!” (V.ii.19-20). This recalls Nietzsche, quoting Silenus, companion of Dionysus: “What is best of all is utterly beyond your reach: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But the second best for you is – to die soon.” The problem, however, is not being born. It’s what comes after: the fall into language (“I’ll burn my books!”) and hence into selfhood and the Oedipal “law of the father” (Freud). From here (so it seems to Faustus), there is no way back to the mother, to the breast, to Nature, to Paradise.
I suppose that it’s no coincidence that Condillac’s ideal armature for the sensations was a (statue of a) nude woman, or that in Pygmalion Rousseau’s Galatea convinces herself of her individual selfhood by an act of touch:
Galathée se touche, et dit : Moi.
Pygmalion, transporté Moi.
Galathée se touchant encore C'est moi.
Pygmalion Ravissante illusion qui passes jusqu'à mes oreilles, ah ! n'abandonne jamais mes sens.
Galathée fait quelques pas et touche un marbre Ce n'est plus moi.
(Pygmalion, dans une agitation, dans des transports qu'il a peine à contenir, suit tous ses mouvements, l'écoute, l'observe avec une avide attention qui lui permet à peine de respirer. Galathée s'avance vers lui et le regarde ; il se lève précipitamment, lui tend les bras, et la regarde avec extase. Elle pose une main sur lui ; il tressaille, prend cette main, la porte à son coeur, et la couvre d'ardents baisers.)
Galathée, avec un soupir. Ah ! encore moi.
Rousseau’s fantasy, typically, resolves the non-identity involved in individuation with an identity recovered in erotic love for one’s own work of art; a Narcissist’s move that, equally typically, Goethe came to deplore. Why? (This will take some explaining, but it's a key point.) In any case, such regression, although Goethe felt it (see Werther) was not for him (see Werther). It’s not for me either, though the pull is strong…
In this context, it might be worth finding out how often early filmmakers used the conceit of the living statue; there are three examples in the Austrian Film Archive’s collection of early pornography Saturn, Filme 1906-1910: Die erotischen Anfänge der österreichischen Kinematografie, but I expect there’d have been many more. I must ask Gustav Deutsch and Hanna Schimek… Hauke Lange-Fuchs counts 160 silent Faust films between 1890 (a Zoopraxinoscope series) and 1933 (Faust im Film, 28-30). Méliès alone seems to have made five or six.
 That is, if one doesn’t include the accusations of sodomy levelled against the historical Faust in 1507 and 1532. Bates I and VI. On Faust & Cyprian see Ioan Peter Couliano, Éros et magie à la renaissance 1484 (Paris: Flammarion, 1984), 282-291. Note Aby Warburg’s inclusion of the “Raub der Helena” theme in his Mnemosyne-Atlas, as an “Antike Vorprägung” of the ninfa fiorentina (WIA, Kasten 12; Mnemosyne-Atlas, Tafeln 24.8, 33.63, 33.9, 35.2, 35.5, 35.72, 35.81, 35.92, 37.19, 37.20, 3.23, 37.24, 38.92) and hence as a Pathosformel for anxiety about women and the dangers they signify. See also Ernst Gombrich, Roberto Calasso & Ulrich Raulff on the ninfa.
 Ioan Couliano, Éros et magie à la Renaissance, 282-291. On connections of anxieties about breastfeeding with accusations of witchcraft in the early modern period, see Deborah Willis, Malevolent Nurture: Witch-Hunting and Maternal Power in Early Modern England (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1995), 18, 52, 66, 72-73, 156.
 Jane K. Brown, The Persistence of Allegory, 9. See also Hans Blumenberg, “Weltverlust und demiurgische Selbstbestimmung,” Säkularisierung und Selbstbehauptung (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1974), 158-166.
 Recent work on Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1926) – in parts, a reworking of the Faust theme – has made clear the extent to which anxieties about media change and the slippage of signs remain linked with gender anxieties in the cinema’s early years, while tending (in Lang) to allegory. See especially Tom Gunning’s chapter on Metropolis in The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity (London: British Film Institute, 2000), and Andreas Huyssen, “The Vamp and the Machine: Technology and Sexuality in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis,” New German Critique 24/25 (Autumn 1981 – Winter 1982): 221-237.
 Werther, Erstes Buch, Brief des 13. Mai
 Werther, Zweites Buch, Brief des 15. März; see Hans Rudolf Vaget, Dilettantismus und Meisterschaft. Zum Problem des Dilettantismus bei Goethe: Praxis, Theorie, Zeitkritik (Munich: Winkler, 1971), 51.
 “Am Ende plant er, wie jeder schwarze oder weiße literarische Magier der Renaissance einschließlich Faustus, seine Bücher zu zerstören.” Jane K. Brown, Ironie und Objektivität 108.
 Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, A-text, act 5.
 Max Weber, Protestant Ethic, 104; Pauline Honderich, “John Calvin and Doctor Faustus,” The Modern Language Review 68.1 (Jan., 1973), 1-13
 Weber, Protestant Ethic, 104
 See Pierre Hadot, Le Voile d’Isis. Essai sur l’histoire de l’idée de Nature (Paris: Gallimard, 2004).
 Note to self: There might be more to do here with the psychoanalysis of succubi. See Ernest Jones, “Incubus and Incubation,” On the Nightmare (London: International Psycho-Analytic Society/Hogarth Press, 1951), 82-97.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, in Basic Writings of Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Modern Library, 2000), 42.