10 May 2016

Translation: Art Is Emotion without Desire

Excerpt translated from French from "L'Elégance du Hérisson" by Muriel Barbery, Gallimard edition, p. 253-255.

What is the purpose of Art? To give us the brief but dazzling illusion of the camellia, enabling an emotional breach in time that cannot be reduced to animal logic. How is Art born? It is born of the mind’s ability to sculpt the sensory domain. What does Art do for us? It shapes and makes our emotions visible, and in so doing places on them the seal of eternity found in all works of art that are capable of embodying the universality of human affects through a particular form.

The seal of eternity … What absent life do these meals, dishes, carpets and glasses suggest to the heart? Beyond the edges of the painting, most probably, there’s the chaos and boredom of life — that endless and vain race worn out by projects; but within, there’s the plenitude of a moment of human covetousness suspended in time. Human covetousness! We cannot stop desiring, which both gives us glory and kills us. Desire! It transports and crucifies us, leading us back to the battle field each day — where we lost the previous day but that in the sunlight appears once more like a terrain full of conquests. While death is certain, desire makes us build empires destined to turn to dust, as if our knowledge of their impending doom did not affect our thirst to erect them now. It moves us to continue to want what we cannot posses, and in the early morning tosses us onto the grass strewn with dead bodies. Until our death, it bequeaths us projects that are reborn as soon as they are completed. But it is so exhausting to desire nonstop … We soon aspire to pleasure lacking quest. We dream of a blissful state that does not begin or end, and where beauty is no longer an end or a project but becomes the evidence of our very nature. Yet, this state is Art. 

Did I have to set this table? Do I have to covet these meals in order to see them? Somewhere, elsewhere, someone wanted this meal, aspired to this mineral transparency and pursued the joy of caressing with his tongue the silky saltiness of a lemony oyster. This project was necessary. It was contained in 100 other projects and made 1,000 others spring to mind. This intention to prepare and enjoy a feast of shellfish, this project belonging to someone else in real life, was necessary for the painting to be realized. 

But when we look at a still life, as we enjoy without pursuit the beauty that carries the glorious and unmovable portrayal of things, we rejoice for what we did not have to want; we cherish what we did not have to desire. Then, because it portrays a beauty that speaks to our desire but is born of the desire of another, because it indulges our pleasure without being part of any of our plans, because it gives in to us without our making the effort to desire it, the still life embodies the quintessence of Art, the certainty of timelessness. Without life or movement, the mute scene embodies time exempt from projects, perfection removed from duration and its weary greediness, pleasure without desire, existence without duration, beauty without will.

Because Art is emotion without desire.

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