Showing posts with label Muriel Barbery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Muriel Barbery. Show all posts

18 May 2016

Translation: Art Is Life but on a Different Rhythm

Excerpt translated from French from "L'Elégance du Hérisson" by Muriel Barbery, Gallimard edition, p. 188-189.

As we walk, through the continuity of our movement without spurts, and because our culture demands it, we try to restore what we believe is the essence of life: unimpeded efficiency and fluid performance that through the absence of rupture portrays the vital élan with which we accomplish everything. Here, the cheetah in action is the norm; all its gestures are harmonious; we cannot distinguish the first one from the one that follows, and the racing great beast seems like a single and long movement that symbolizes the deep perfection of life. But as Japanese women break up the powerful deployment of natural movement with their intermittent steps, at a time when we should feel the torment that overcomes the soul at the sight of nature affronted, on the contrary, we experience a strange bliss, as if rupture had given rise to ecstasy and the grain of sand to beauty. We perceive a paradigm of Art in this offense to the sacred rhythm of life, in this impeded walk, in the excellence born of constraint.  

And so, propelled beyond a nature that demands for it to be continuous and becoming both renegade and remarkable through its discontinuity, movement attains the level of aesthetic creation. 

For Art is life but on a different rhythm. 

17 May 2016

Translation: Flavor of Green Tea over Rice

Excerpt translated from French from "L'Elégance du Hérisson" by Muriel Barbery, Gallimard edition, p. 186-188. 

Two reasons, both related to Ozu’s films. 

The first rests in the sliding doors themselves. Since I saw my first film, “Flavor of Green Tea Over Rice,” I have been fascinated by space in Japanese life and by those sliding doors that refuse to slice through the air, sliding gently on invisible rails. When we open a door, we transform our surroundings in tiny ways. We introduce an obstacle into their full extension and an ill-advised breach of inadequate proportions. If you think about it, there is nothing uglier than an open door. Like a rupture, it introduces a provincial interference in the room that breaks the unity of the space. In the adjoining room, it foments a depression, a gaping yet stupid fissure, lost in a section of wall that would have preferred to have been whole. In both cases, it disturbs continuity without any other benefit than the ability to circulate, something that is possible through other means. The sliding door avoids pitfalls and glorifies space. Without altering its balance, it allows for its metamorphosis. As it opens, two places communicate with one another without offending each other. As it closes, it restores integrity to each. Division and coming together take place without intrusion. Life is a calm promenade, whereas otherwise, it resembles a series of break-ins.        

“It’s true,” I say to Manuela. “It’s more practical and less brutal.”

The second reason comes from an association that led me from sliding doors to women’s feet. In Ozu’s films, there are numerous shots where an actor pushes aside a door, enters, and takes off his shoes. The women, especially, demonstrate a special talent as these actions unfold. They enter, slide the door along the wall, and in two small, rapid steps inch their way to the foot of the elevated space found in living rooms. Without bending over, they remove their laceless shoes and, through a gracious and fluid movement of their legs spin around after having climbed the platform they approached with their backs turned. Their skirts swell lightly. The bending of the knee, necessitated by the ascension, is energetic and precise. The body effortlessly follows this pirouette performed on the feet. As if the ankles were tied together, a curiously broken gait ensues. However, while usually, impeded gestures evoke a sense of constraint, the small steps animated by an incomprehensible halting gait grant the seal of a work of art to the women’s feet as they walk.  

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.

29 April 2016

Translation: Are There Universals or Only Particular Things?

Excerpt translated from French from "L'Elégance du Hérisson" by Muriel Barbery, Gallimard edition, p. 314-316.

However, it is fascinating in principle. Are there universals, or are there only particular things? As I understand it, that is the question to which William [of Ockham] devoted the crux of his existence. I think it’s a fascinating question. Is each thing an individual entity — in which case, the similarities between things are just an illusion or an outcome of language, which works through words and concepts; through generalities that designate and incorporate many particular things? Or are there really general forms, in which singular things participate and which are not simple effects of language? When we say a table, when we call the table by name, when we form the concept of the table, do we only refer to the table in front of us, or do we really go back to a universal table entity, which is the basis for the reality of all existing particular tables? Is the idea of the table real or just part of our minds? In which case, why are certain things alike? Does language artificially group them into categories for the sake of making them convenient and understandable to humans, or are there universal forms in which all specific forms participate?

For William, things are singular, and the reality of universals is erroneous. There are only particular realities; generalities exist only in the mind. Believing that there are general realities complicates the simplicity of things. But are we so sure? Just last evening, I was asking myself about the congruence between a Raphael and a Vermeer. The eye recognizes in both a shared form. Both participate in it. It is the form of Beauty. And I believe that that form must be grounded in reality, that it is not simply an expediency of the mind categorizing in order to understand, discriminating in order to apprehend. You cannot classify anything that is not classifiable, group anything that cannot be grouped, or bring together anything that cannot come together. A table will never be a “View of Delft.” The human mind cannot engender this dissimilitude, in the same way that it does not have the power to give birth to the profound solidarity that unites a Dutch still life to an Italian Virgin and Child. 

Everything, like each table, has an essence that gives it its form. All works of art are part of a universal form that alone seals them. Sure, we do not directly perceive this universality. That is one of the reasons why so many philosophers have objected to considering essences as real — because we never see anything but the table in front of us and not the universal “table” form; we only see the painting in front of us, and not the essence of Beauty itself. Yet … yet, it is there, in front of our eyes. Each painting by a Dutch master is an incarnation, a striking apparition that we can only contemplate through the singular, but which gives us access to eternity, timelessness, a sublime form.

Eternity is looking upon the invisible.

27 April 2016

Translation: The Grace of Art

Excerpt translated from French from "L'Elégance du Hérisson" by Muriel Barbery, Gallimard edition, p. 116-117.

Eternity escapes us.

On those days when all of our romantic, intellectual, metaphysical and moral beliefs — which years of instruction and education have attempted to inculcate in us — capsize on the altar of our profound nature, society — that territory charged with sweeping hierarchies — drowns in the nothingness of Meaning. Gone are the rich and poor, thinkers, seekers, decision-makers, slaves, good and evil, creatives and conscientious, union supporters and individualists, progressives and conservatives. They become no more than primitive hominids whose grins and smiles, posturing and finery, language and codes, written on the genetic map of the average primate, boil down to this — maintain your social standing or die.

On such days, you desperately need Art. You ardently strive to reconnect with spiritual illusion. You passionately hope that something will save you from biological destiny, that poetry and greatness will not be ousted from this world.

Then, you drink a cup of tea or watch an Ozu film in order to withdraw from the rounds of jousts and battles, the daily fare of our dominating species, and bestow the grace of Art and its major works to this pathetic theatrical show. 

26 April 2016

Translation: Exercise Without Love

Excerpt translated from French from "L'Elégance du Hérisson" by Muriel Barbery, Gallimard edition, p. 116. 

Sometimes though, life looks like a phantom comedy. As if torn from a dream, we look at ourselves acting, and stunned to realize how much of our lives we expend in maintaining our most primitive needs, we ask ourselves stupefied, what is Art? Our frenzy of grins and glances suddenly seems utterly insignificant; our cozy nest, the fruit of a 20-year indebtedness, a pointless barbarian custom; and our position in the social ladder, so painstakingly acquired and so eternally precarious, an unsophisticated vanity. As for our progeny, we contemplate it anew, and we are horrified because without the guise of altruism, the act of reproduction seems profoundly displaced. We are only left with sexual pleasures, but gone down the river of primal abjection, they flounder accordingly — exercise without love does not fall within the bounds of our well-learned lessons. 

25 April 2016

Translation: A Thirsty Tick on a Large, Warm Dog

Excerpt translated from French from "L'Elégance du Hérisson" by Muriel Barbery, Gallimard edition, p. 115-116.

So, how do we go about life? Day after day, we bravely strive to maintain our role in this phantom comedy. Since we are primates, the basis of our daily activity is the maintenance and upkeep of our territory, so that it may protect us and flatter us. We strive to climb rather than fall in the hierarchical ladder of the tribe and to fornicate in all possible ways — even as phantoms — as much out of pleasure as for the promised progeny. Also, we use a significant part of our energy to intimidate and seduce. These two strategies alone ensure the territorial, hierarchical and sexual quest that animates our conatus. But we do not realize any of this. We speak of love, good and evil, philosophy and civilization, and we hang onto these respectable icons like a thirsty tick on large, warm dog.

24 April 2016

Translation: What's an Illusion, Power or Art?

Excerpt translated from French from "L'Elégance du Hérisson" by Muriel Barbery, Gallimard edition, p. 114-115.

I am sitting in the kitchen in silence. The lights are off, and I soak in the bitter feeling of absurdity. My mind slowly drifts. Pierre Arthens … brutal despot, thirsty for glory and honors. Yet, torn between his aspiration to Art and his hunger for power, he strove to the bitter end chasing after an elusive chimera through his words … Where lies the truth after all? And what’s an illusion — power or Art? Isn’t it through well-learned discourse that we admire the creations of man while denouncing the thirst for domination, which drives us all, as a crime of illusory vanity? Yes, us all, including a poor concierge in her tiny loge, who having given up ostensible power, still pursues dreams of power in her mind?