“Shandies” and Witches: Notes for an essay on Art and Exile | CLAUDIA RODRIGUEZ PONGA

She snatched up a tattered cloak lying in the cattle-shed to cover her nakedness, took wings, so to speak, and before midnight struck, found herself leagues away, far from any thoroughfare, on a desert heath all thistles and brambles.

The heath skirted a wood, where, under the glimpses of an uncertain moon, she was able to scrape together a few acorns, which she munched and bolted like a wild beast.

Centuries seemed to have passed since yesterday; she was another woman altogether. (…)

Thoughts, scarcely human, were crowding through her brain, when she hears, or thinks she hears, a screech-owl’s hoot, followed by a shrill peal of laughter. (…)

It seems to issue from an old hollow oak. But now she hears words plainly articulated,

“Ah, ha! So you are come at last. …Very unwilling you were to come; you never would have come at all had you not found yourself in the extremity of direst straits…”

Jules Michelet, The Sorceress.

 

 

But how did these cheerful, skittish and crazy shandies become heroes of willpower?[1]

Enrique Vila-Matas, Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil.

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Sorcerers – like our artist, but also like the amiable figure of the village idiot – have enormous value as a unifying force.[2]

Manuel Delgado, La Magia.

 

Exile, in Said’s words, “originates in the age-old practice of banishment. Once banished, the exile leads an anomalous and miserable life, with the stigma of being an outsider”[3]. Exile is a phenomenon linked to the forced mobility of those who see their best chances of survival and/or subsistence in fleeing their homeland. Exile has also worked as “a regulatory mechanism for political systems unable to create pluralistic and inclusive models of participation.”[4] Exile has always existed, but the twentieth century has seen exile take root and become an institutionalized global tragedy and, on the other hand, a frivolous “Pantagruelian” affair.

There is also another sort of exile, which we may refer to here as internal exile and define as the alienation of individuals within their own country and culture, given that, in its wider sense, “exile is a perennial subject that signals the logic of political exclusion and displacement from internal public spheres.”[5] In this essay, I would like to explore how internal exile relates to Exile with a capital “E” and how the notion of exile relates to those of art and artist. In order to do so, we must first bring to the arena of the text a number of references which, within the logic of a myth-critical methodology, refer to exile as a topos, as a commonplace of western imagination.

EXILE AND THE ARTIST

Whether the artist belongs to society or not has proven to be a frequent matter of discussion. The first known example of this social friction is possibly to be found in Plato’s Republic, which describes a utopian city where the artist is a persona non grata. It might be thought that Plato despised certain artists because he considered them to be simple imitators of nature, essentially fraudulent. But Plato’s reasons for the banishment of the artist are not to be explained by a lack of admiration:

It seems, then, that if a man, who through clever training can become anything and imitate anything, should arrive in our city, wanting to give a performance of his poems, we should bow down before him as someone holy, wonderful, and pleasing, but we should tell him that there is no one like him in our city and that it isn’t lawful for there to be. We should pour myrrh on his head, crown him with wreaths, and send him away to another city.[6]

However worthy of admiration, the artist is seen as a threat to this utopia. Or at least, a certain type of artist is. The mimetic poet and mimesis in general is called into question and, in opposition to it, simple narration is praised for its pedagogic value. It has been assumed that mimesis refers to imitation, and that therefore Plato condemned representation, both theatrical and pictorial, as we understand it today, but it has been forgotten that mimesis also meant impersonation, and, furthermore, that impersonation was not an act of imposture as much as it was an act of invocation and incarnation. Plato was not rejecting bad poetry, or poetry which, through lack of talent, resorted to copying; on the contrary, he was rejecting the excessively poetic, the excessively Orphic[7]. He rejected not the artistic value of mimetic (dramatic or impersonating) poetry, but its educational and social value.

According to Peter Kingsley, Platonic philosophers found the fact that a philosopher should choose poetry instead of dialectics quite irritating, which is why they viewed Parmenides poem “Memoria Mundi” as folly. Parmenides’ poem was, as Kingsley explains, a journey: not the simple narration of the journey, but the journey itself. Parmenides’ words, says Kingsley, are not theoretical, as they do not hope to generate a debate: the language accomplishes that which it expresses. They are words, in sum, that are. The poet travelled with words, or with song, through performance. In those times, says Kingsley, the poet was a shaman or, in Plato’s own words, “a man who could become anything”.

So the mimetic, Orphic, artist is asked to leave our city or, indeed, cities in general, at least those that are models of progress and virtue. Nevertheless, we shall keep him relatively close at hand in case there is need of him – and there is always need of artists (and shamans), since the mirrors in which we recognize ourselves are the mirrors of otherness[8]. There are, indeed, as Manuel Delgado reminds us, certain people who, due to various factors which determine the singularity of their stance in relation to the rest, can best make up for those “blind spots” every social system has: weirdos, carnies, lunatics, comics, poets, artists and, naturally, magicians, who are so often confused with the other social eccentrics. Indeed, all social eccentrics overlap at one point or another, since sometimes they are asked to fulfill the same social roles. According to Delgado, this disparate group is allocated the task of performing “unlikely transits between spheres, impossible syntheses, (…) abhorrent ties, and concoctions of incompatible symbolic substances.”[9] In this sense, says Delgado, “‘normal’ thought – always lacking in resources – and ‘exceptional’, extraordinary, or even pathological thought – all brimming with meaning – do not in the least oppose each other, but are, rather, complementary.”[10] Yet what roles do this motley crew of spare parts play at different times? She who at one time would have been a priestess may instead be burnt at the stake: it will depend on what places have or have not been set aside for social eccentrics within the social fabric.

THE POWER IN THE SHADOWS

Exile enters into a dialogue with otherness, since otherness is the name the extramural as such receives. The artist is often seen frequenting such spaces and might even settle down there, but generally still within sight of the wall. The artist’s place is “to the side, in the shadow that accompanies the works of art and the artistic-communicative operations.”[11] We might say the artist depends on the source of light, because, as Perniola points out, the harsher the light, the denser the shadow becomes, and the denser the shadow, the better for art.

The more violent is the light which one pretends to shed on the work and on artistic operation, the darker is the shadow they project. The more diurnal and banal is the approach to artistic experience, the more what is essential withdraws and takes refuge in the shadow.[12]

Evidently, there is a key in darkness itself: probably, the key to otherness. The persecuted flee at night, witches (and every sort of evil conspirer) meet under cover of the night, and, at night, sleep may carry us off to the nether regions of the world, or, at least, suspend all reasonable thought. Even after enlightenment, more often than not knowledge (or is it wisdom?) is still likely to be found crouching low in “dark places”[13]. Last but not least, death – forever related to night and darkness – is the utmost otherness.

The artist has some similarities to mythical figures of otherness, such as Artemis, a goddess who by nature is always foreign, always on the “outside” (that is, from a symbolic Orient)[14], or Dionysus, who is only properly introduced to the secrets of magic and optical illusion (image-making) after an initiation trip to “the east”, from where he returns fully formed as an-other being. For Vernant, Artemis is, together with Dionysus, one of those divinities the Greek imagination located far from their own polis, as a foreign goddess[15], but who were, nevertheless, worshipped within the polis. As Jean-Pierre Vernant underlines in his study about alterity in Greek mythology, the most meaningful characteristic of these mythical figures is their capacity to mediate between the civilized and what is left on the outside, acting as a valve that allows for a certain permeability between “wilderness” and “civilization”. By turning the goddess of marginality into a conciliatory figure, by installing Dionysus (who in the Greek pantheon represents total otherness) at the heart of theatre, Greek culture incorporated alterity.

Where exiles are concerned, there are different versions as to how alterity was or was not part of ancient Greek culture. According to Kingsley, Greece was always more open to the outside than we would think. According to Julia Kristeva, in ancient Greece “travel caused fear and, if we are to believe what Homer tells us, preferably attracted marginals”[16]. For Kristeva, the change came after the wars with Persia, which brought about a sense of unity between the Greek city-states. Later, this sense of relative brotherhood facilitated the partial assimilation, during the Hellenistic period, of a small part of Stoic philosophy: universalism, that is, the idea that all humans are alike despite their cultural differences.

Stoic thought is greatly indebted to exile, travel, and otherness: its supposed founder, Zeno of Citium was probably of Phoenician origin, and, in any case, a foreigner in Athens. Other examples are: Meleager of Gadara in Syria (now in modern Jordan), who was educated in Tyre (Lebanon), and died on the Greek island of Cos; Chrysippus of Soli saw his inheritance confiscated by the king and he migrated to Athens, where he eventually died; Menippus of Gadara, who was a freed slave from Syria and who apparently died in Thebes (in Greece); Diogenes of Sinope, renowned for living in a barrel, who was exiled from his homeland for minting false coinage and who migrated to Athens, where he lived in indigence and eventually died; and Cleanthes of Assos, who took up philosophy at the age of 50, after a life of boxing, gardening, and water-carrying. All in all, quite a collection of exiles, travellers, and outcasts.

Kristeva looks in detail at the legal figure of the meteco, the established foreigner. Metecos were generally farmers, says Kristeva, but they could also be bankers, armourers and property owners. In Athens, some become illustrious intellectuals (such as Aristotle). Although the rights of the metecos were restricted, in Athens for example, they sometimes enjoyed tax exemptions, which demonstrates that their presence was valued. In short, there was a way to integrate foreignness within the culture, both when it came to the stranger within ourselves and the exile. We should not forget that a man that lived in a barrel was a contemporary philosophical authority, a major cultural figure. Otherness cannot (and refuses to) be banned, either through xenophobia or through universalism. It can, however, be respected. In general, the pagans were better at this than any of the three monotheistic religions of the book have proved to be.

Much like the extramural location we have allotted for artists, Artemis dwells in the mountains, the forest, the riverbeds, the seaside, the wetlands, and vacant lots that mark the limits of ploughed land. In other words, she inhabits the borderlines, the frontiers where contact with the other is established, where the undomesticated and the tamed mingle: to oppose each other, but also and simultaneously to interpret each other.[17] It is precisely this ambiguity which will allow the artist to take a privileged stance, from where she will derive her (magical, but alas also political) power. I would like to illustrate this by considering the painting known as The Tempest, by Giorgione, since this painting contains various key features that might help us gain an understanding of the artist’s relationship to power and Exile.

The lead, feminine, role in The Tempest has always been generically referred to as a “gypsy”, despite the fact that this was a spontaneous tag, attributed for cataloguing purposes, as a means of addressing the mysterious figure[18]. It has been argued that the “gypsy” was thus called because of her nudity and state of disarray, two traits which do not in the least define gypsies. It might make more sense to explain this attribution by observing her whereabouts: again, extramural. The vast majority of interpretations of The Tempest (and there are plenty) agree that this woman – whether she is a virgin, goddess, princess or nymph – is a victim of exile. Considering the precarious state she is in, it is reasonable to suppose there are powerful reasons for her giving birth, alone, half naked, far from home. This so called gypsy will be our Exile with a capital “E”.

la-tempestad-giorgione-1508

Giorgione, The Tempest, 1508

On the other hand, there is the masculine figure in this equation, the man who is shown holding a staff: he will be our “internal” or “voluntary” exile or, in other words, the artist. Indeed, several readings of the painting identify this figure with Giorgione himself, and this contributes nicely to our analogy. The figure’s main distinguishing feature, the staff, suggests he might be something of a nomad, though his outfit could not be less appropriate for leading a wandering life. On the other hand, that same attire rules out any possibility of him being a peasant or a farmer. Both figures, different as they are from one another, share a moment (the moment of truth?): both are outside the city, alone, among the ruins, suspended right between the light of the lightning bolt and the clap of thunder. The gypsy looks at us; the man looks at the gypsy. The outsider is the only witness of the condition of the gypsy. In other words, the artist becomes the sole observer and narrator (since a witness does not only see, but also tells of what is seen) of “naked life” as defined by Giorgio Agamben. Only from exile is one able to bear witness to Exile with a capital “E”, which is more or less like saying that “internal” or “voluntary” exile allows for the possibility of critical thought. This is why Said defines the performance of critical tasks as being characteristic of exiles in general[19].

However, the artist does also tend to gain a relationship to power, both political and economic (something which the man’s attire testifies to). Even though this might seem to be in flagrant contradiction with what has just been claimed, the artist’s relationship to power is the other side of the same coin, since the instability of exile places him in an endemic state of destitution. This might have something to do with the fact that, much like Said’s exiles, “no matter how well they may do, exiles are always eccentrics who feel their difference (even as they frequently exploit it) as a kind of orphanhood.”[20] Or, maybe, it is part of the artist’s nature as a mimetic animal: one who is able to camouflage (to incarnate) and mediate without “falling prey to petulant cynicism.”[21]

Again, Artemis may help us understand how the relationship between art and power occurs in parallel to the relationship between marginality and art. Artemis legitimates the intangibility of a border whose extreme fragility is revealed insofar as it is questioned. But, and here is the catch, if borders were not preserved, men would give in to savagery. This sort of alterity is, so to speak, a double-edged sword. Likewise, artistic identity is characteristically ambiguous – an ambiguity which is frequently used as pretext for a total lack of responsibility. Ambiguity, however, normally demands dexterity in a wider variety of skills, much as Artemis herself exemplifies – her abilities as a goddess being as diverse as her places of residence.

INTERLUDE: ON THE BANALISATION OF ARTISTIC EXILE AND TRAVEL AS ART

Said brings to the table the following question: “if true exile is a condition of terminal loss, why has it been transformed so easily into a potent, even enriching, motif of modern culture?”[22] The hypothesis that exile remains of artistic value can easily be demonstrated by mapping the increase in artist residencies, the majority of which are as brief and precarious as a weekend of couch hopping. Seeing as many artists pay for these gourmet samplings of exile out of their own pockets, we must infer that not only does exile provide cultural capital but that it also has significant career value.

However, precisely because exile places us in contact with reality – an intense contact with otherness – we cannot blithely validate the natural artistic tendency to exile, at least not totally and not on the current scale. I am referring, in short, to the absence of transcendence or risk in these brief, superficial and standardized expatriation processes. On the other hand, taking into account that, as Said points out, ours is the era of Exile (with a capital “E”), to think about exile merely in terms of cultural benefit and its impact on our CVs may trivialize its larger, gloomier (but also simpler and deeper) implications. This is not to say there should be no institutional place for artistic exile, but artists’ attraction to exile and mobility, and the importance of travel, have been taken for granted.

The value of Duchamp’s Boîte en Valise, considered in detail in a text by TJ Demos, lies in its ironic anticipation of this migratory compulsion whilst simultaneously self-administering institutional forces. In this process of miniaturization and voodoo, the work of art becomes independent: an example of artistic autarchy by means of which the portfolio museumizes itself and the artist becomes the master and sole collector of his own body of work. The work is suited to portability, but at the same time it becomes fully independent and, therefore, cuts the ties with institutionalized artistic compulsion to exile as a source of legitimation. The boîte is made for travel, but it is the only piece that need not travel anywhere, since it already has everything it needs: it has already travelled; it is travel. As TJ Demos points out towards the conclusion of the chapter about the Boîte, Duchamp solely regretted having had to spread his oeuvre so thinly over France and the United States, pointing out that every time he had to part with a piece he felt as though he were being asked for a finger or a leg.

duchampBoiteEnValise_foto1942

Duchamp, Boîte en Valise, photo, 1942

Another fine example of how a work can incorporate, or become, travel is Hello Oiticica’s unfinished book. The book was not only written during his exile in “Babylon” (New York), but as a consequence of internal exile. Indeed in “Livro ou Livro-me”, Fernando Coelho’s book about Oiticica’s, the author takes a moment to relate the death of the artist’s father and the artist’s discovery of the Mangueira community (a slum in Rio which would be crucial in his development as an artist) as coinciding with what he calls the eclosion of his poetic writing (which Oiticica himself refers to in his letters as “secret poetics”). Becoming an orphan goes, in this case, hand in hand with the discovery of otherness – indeed, the discovery of the stranger within us – and the surge of a specifically poetic vocation. The book is the trip; in exile, both internal and geographical, it becomes a home, certainly, but it is not so much a sedentary settlement as a nomad’s tent. The book remained unfinished because, amongst other things, only the artist’s death could finish it.

Travelling is part of art and has always been – ever since dreams illuminated[23] our waking lives, since the days in which sleepers travelled outside of their bodies, since Parmenides’ descent to Hades, and since Dante’s journey to hell. In fact, it probably has since the time when man was nomadic and had to carry his idols around with him. Many artists travel, not only to bulk up their ever expanding CVs, but also as an indispensable part of their creative process: they make of travelling the core significance and raison d’être of their production. But has this tendency to travel been understood in all its scope? Has it not been banalized? “We can travel the world without going anywhere”, says Kingsley. Travelling is also a technique, both when it comes to achieving a state of suspension that may allow for an extracorporeal voyage and when it comes to going somewhere on a map. Travelling is an art of initiation and, as such, it is not so much an art of moving about as it is an art of being changed: if you know how to, you can do it standing still on one foot[24].

TRAVEL AS WORK

As we have already seen, work and exile are related. When God cast Adam and Eve out, he condemned them to work. This is what, from then onwards, defined them as humans, and alas, as exiled humans, aware of good and evil: aware, therefore, of knowledge itself. While considering these biblical analogies – which do prove quite fruitful when it comes to the topic of exile – it should be noted that knowledge in itself is also directly linked to the exile of men from paradise and their being doomed to sweat and toil upon the earth and to give birth in pain. The exile knows; the exile works.

The foreigner is the one who works. As for the natives of the civilized world, of developed countries, we find work vulgar and we take on confident and whimsical aristocratic airs (when possible). You will recognize the foreigner by the fact that he still sees value in work. (…) Work: as if it were the promised land, the only possible source of success and, above all, the only inalterable and untransferable personal quality which can be taken across borders and lands.[25]

Paradise has been commonly pictured as an evergreen, lush, and therefore natural place. But is it really so natural that the sun should always shine and that, as in Isaiah’s prophecy, “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox”[26]? Paradise is a completely unnatural place, and in that sense it has much more to do with the utopia western cities try so unsuccessfully to resemble. This is why, as Salvatore Settis remarks in his work on Giorgione’s Tempest, there are many representations in which the door to paradise becomes a piece of complex architecture and, in some cases, almost a city itself. Sometimes, paradise even becomes a distant, walled city, which is why Settis actually considers that this might be an appropriate reading of Giorgione’s Tempest.

Hence, the city would be the paradisus voluptatis, and therefore a platform for life to develop in opposition to the precepts of divine condemnation through exile. That is: in opposition to the pain of birth, the ploughing of the earth, and the knowledge of good and evil acquired by means of first-hand experience. Expulsion from paradise was triggered by curiosity and consequent human contact with knowledge, represented by the forbidden fruit[27]. Also, for there to be exile, there must be a journey, and if civilian utopias do indeed intend to become platforms for life in opposition to the precepts of exile, real travelling must go too. What was Plato really banning when he barred the mimetic artist from his republic? Indeed, why did he speak of a man “arriving in the city”? Were there no resident mimetic poets in Athens?

For there to be exile, there must be a journey. Parmenides was a second generation immigrant who travelled, through his poetry and probably through his dreams, to the other world. Or is it that he was able to travel because he had already tasted the fruit of exile? Dante was an exile too, and as Kristeva reminds us, he wrote the totality of the Divine Comedy whilst living in exile. Strangely enough, Dante’s trip is also a trip to hell (and back). Again, the text itself (“that complete poem, which embraces the whole universe”[28]) is the voyage. Dante, says Kristeva, “looked for salvation in the paradise of writing”[29]. Another key, therefore, lies in the portability of a text, in its pleasure, as Barthes said, and, last but not least, in mimetic poetry and its Platonic prohibition, as Kingsley pointed out, and the journey it enables: its Orphic roots. This is probably why “to see a poet in exile”, says Said, “is to see exile’s antinomies embodied and endured with unique intensity.”[30]

La carte de L'enfer, la frontispice de l'u0153uvre de  Dante  par Sandro Botticelli 1496

Sandro Botticelli, La carte de L’enfer, la frontispice de l’0euvre de Dante, 1496

CONCLUSION: ABOUT SHANDIES AND WITCHES

According to Said, exile means loss or absence of community and, therefore, utter loneliness. In Reflections on Exile, Said wonders about how to overcome the loneliness of exile without falling into the clutches of nationalism. So, to conclude this essay, I would like to draw from Vila-Matas’ Historia abreviada de la literatura portatil[31], where the author documents the creation of a genuine community of artistic exiles. The formation of communities is, in fact, a common enough activity by exiles. Now, communities of exiles can be formed according to national or regional criteria, but they can also be formed around universalist values. There is, as Kristeva might say, a certain tendency to universalism in the fabric of the sort of communities which challenge borders, much as there was in Stoicism, in early Christendom, or in the humanist Enlightenment. Universalist communities can, however, prove more or less pluralistic (more or less dogmatic) depending on the sacrifices they ask social eccentrics to make as a requisite of belonging to them.

Vila-Matas’s shandies are members of an imaginary community of artists: a conspiracy without an aim, an association whose base precept is nomadism and portability. All of them are exiles: most of them voluntary exiles or internal exiles (like Duchamp), but there are also Exiles with a capital “E” such as Walter Benjamin, whose tragic story we are all familiar with. In this topsy-turvy novel the community meets in different countries, sometimes out of a mixture of sheer luck and pure will. The shandies lack structure or protocols, they invent their rituals as they go along, and they assume their own dissolution as an inevitable (and in some cases even desirable) circumstance.

In this sense, this delirious community of weirdos and voluntary ex-pats resembles the magical communities witch-finders imagined in their paranoid frenzy. We might argue that these prosecutors were right in sensing that all those isolated rural women formed some sort of intangible sect, that they must be linked, that they must have travelled far and feasted together during the night. Their prosecutors and detractors rightly felt that there was a bond between them which was as strong as, or stronger than, the idea of homeland.

The passage from sorcery to witchcraft follows the same premise as the passage from the portable artist to the shandy (an acronym which, by the way, stands for “Si Hablas Alto Nunca Digas Yo”: if you speak out loud, never say “I”). The substantial difference between sorceress and witch, between portable artist and shandy, is that the former is an individual whilst the latter is part of a community. This community is, however, far removed from any authoritarian, top-down grouping. The portable artist is an eccentric, loopy, displaced individual, but the shandy feels a part of something. The sorceress is a knowledgeable woman, but the witch is part of a larger enterprise (an evil enterprise, which is to say that it involves anti-social behaviour). Both processes imply a first stage of isolation that leads to the formation of an atypical community which, far from drowning out individual features, nurtures them, and which, however mythical, or even imaginary, cannot be deemed unreal.

Shandies are defined by their tendency to function as “single machines” (eternal bachelors or femme fatales). This draws them near to Artemis, Dionysus, or the Danaides, who Kristeva refers to as doubly foreign, since not only do they come from Egypt, but also refuse to form a family (the basic community) and thus murder their husbands during the night. In the description Vila-Matas makes of shandies, other characteristics of the exile emerge: mainly, the association between exile and work and the association between exile and otherness. Shandies are notoriously bipolar workaholics, and manifest a constant tendency to work that alternates with total inactivity.

Aside from the odd period of extraordinary idleness, the shandies were always very busy, always trying to work even harder, very often speculating on their lives as tireless artists (…) And one of the things which drove them to undertake the immense amount of communication, both written and spoken, with the others was always to make a record of the work being carried out, to report on this and to confirm it.[32]

These surges of creativity go hand in hand with periods of immense indolence, which are justified because only in a state of total inactivity can the shandies escape from the siege of the creatures they unwillingly share their working lives with: odradeks, golems, and bucarestis.

The way in which a shandy worked was by immersion and concentration on the task in hand. (…) But concentrating has its risks and it leads to the creation of odradeks, golems, bucarestis and all kinds of creature that populate the solitude of those who, living in tension with their doubles, isolate themselves in order to work.[33]

 rigaut-dream man ray

Man Ray, Jacques Rigaut, 1922

Coexistence with otherness is one of the main characteristics of shandies and this is manifested in their attraction towards blackness (again, darkness?) and their tense relationship with the notion of the double (often their own double). This of course contributes to shaping them as essentially ambiguous creatures. Artists are experts in being “strangers to themselves”[34].

We are always dual in appearance, and we are because of the way we embody the new and the old at the same time. We have our roots in the very same future which so honourably concerns us. We have two rhythms, two faces, two interpretations.[35]

To top it all, this duality is framed as a matter of past and present, a matter or roots, or rather, the intuition of roots: the intuition that art and exile are intimately related, and that travel and darkness are part of it all. A hunch which – tainted as it is by the modern notion of tourism[36] – is nowadays missing the knowledge needed to support it and turn travel into a proper, body-altering, cell-changing, initiation process[37]. If we are to believe Kingsley, this sort of knowledge once had its place within the city walls – it was, so to speak, institutionalized – in a melting pot called Greece, a mythical place that western imagination is a selectively amnesic product of. Though somewhat haphazardly, the powerful memory of these essential human traits still manifests itself in flesh and bone in witches and in artists – social eccentrics who have been allotted the task of travelling in the name and in the midst of a social fabric which provides no tools to do so.

In order to avoid becoming a victim of such a situation, another sort of travelling is required: time-travel. Time-travel might help to string together loose ends, to spin a new yarn. Orphans also have their traditions, and can adopt parents of their choosing. There are also remnants of the institutions of travel, new and strange neo-classical temples that have been built on the ruins of ancient Greece’s “phôleos”[38]. Kristeva proposes psychoanalysis:

A psychoanalytical therapy, or, more exceptionally, an intense, empathetic journey through memory and the body, can create the miracle of recollection which will bring together our origins with what we have learnt, resulting in one of those mobile and innovative syntheses which great scientists or exiled artists can produce.[39]

Even if I do not share Kristeva’s faith in psychoanalysis (or psychoanalysts) and am more inclined to the “empathetic trip through memory and the body”, I understand that, in any case, she is referring to a trip “to hell and back”: hell being the night, the abyss of the self, the “otherworld” of otherness within us.

All this might seem harmless, even inconsequential; yet in truth it constitutes the basis of a potentially threatening community, even if it is, at the same time, a potentially absurd one. Under the guise of a joke (and without denying that it could be exactly that, and a very serious one indeed), these communities (of shandies and witches), based on the idea of exile (from this world, from this god, from these set rules) and of travel as a magical/artistic practice, hold out the hope of finding contextualization in the midst of utter de-contextualization.

We hardly ever see each other, because as artisans we cling to our individuality, but sometimes an icy north wind blows which brings us all into the courtyard, where, wrapped up and smiling, we exchange knowing looks; sometimes, a word or two breaks the silence and we feel ourselves straighten like lances reaching upwards beyond the shadows; we cannot achieve victory, but with silence against silence, we keep on fighting, because we know that the sky never scorns ambition.[40]

 

Louise Bourgeois I've been to hell and back and let me   tell you it was wonderful

Louise Bourgeois, I’ve been to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful. 2007.

 

  

Bibliographical references:

COELHO, Frederico. Livro ou livro-me: Os escritos babilônicos de Hélio Oiticica (1971-1978). Rio de Janeiro: EdUERJ, 2010.

DELGADO, Manuel. La magia: la realidad encantada. Barcelona: Montesinos, 1992.

DEMOS, T. J. The exiles of Marcel Duchamp. Cambridge: The M.I.T. Press, 2007.

GINZBURG, Carlo. História noturna. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012.

KINGSLEY, Peter. En los oscuros lugares del saber. Girona: Ediciones Atalanta, 2014.

KRISTEVA, Julia. Estrangeiros para nós mesmos. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1994.

MICHELET, Jules. La Bruja. Madrid: Ediciones Akal, 2006.

NADAFF, Ramona. Exiling the Poets: The Production of Censorship in Plato’s Republic. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002.

PAJARO M., Carlos Julio. De Platón para los poetas: crítica, censura y destierro. Revista Eidos nº20, págs. 109-144, 2014.

PERNIOLA, Mario. El arte y su sombra. Madrid: Ediciones Cátedra, 2002.

SAID, Edward. Reflexões sobre o exílio e outros ensaios. São Paulo: Editora Schwarcz, 2003

SETTIS, Salvatore. La Tempestad interpretada. Madrid: Ediciones Akal, 1990.

SZNAJDER, Mario; RONIGER, Luis. The politics of exile in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

VERNANT, Jean-Pierre. La muerte en los ojos. Barcelona: Editorial Gedisa, 2001.

VILA-MATAS, Enrique. Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil. Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 2011.

__

[1] VILA-MATAS, Enrique. Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil. Barcelona: Editorial Anagrama, 2011. p. 87.

Translated by Greg Hunt from the original Spanish text: “¿Pero cómo se convirtieron los alegres, volubles y chiflados shandys en unos heroes de la voluntad?”

[2] DELGADO, Manuel. La magia: la realidad encantada. Barcelona: Montesinos, 1992. p. 64.

Translated by Greg Hunt from the original Spanish text: “Los hechiceros – como nuestro artista, pero no menos que la entrañable figura del tonto del pueblo – son, así pues, elementos de enorme valor cohesionador.”

[3] SAID, Edward. Reflections on Exile. Cambridge Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2000. p. 181.

[4] SZNAJDER, Mario; RONIGER, Luis. The Politics of Exile in Latin America. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009. p. I

[5] Ibid. p. I

[6] 397e-398a of Plato’s Republica, as cited in NADAFF, Ramona. Exiling the Poets: The Production of Censorship in Plato’s Republic. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002. p. 64.

[7] Orpheus was, “the magician who managed to travel through the power of song”. KINGSLEY, Peter. En los oscuros lugares del saber. Girona: Ediciones Atalanta, 2014, p. 65. Translated from the Spanish edition.

[8] Not for nothing does Josep Fontana reconstruct the history of Europe through its mirrors: the barbaric mirror, the devil’s mirror, the rustic mirror, the feudal mirror, etc.

[9] DELGADO, Manuel. La magia: la realidad encantada. Op. cit., p. 63. Translated from the original Spanish text.

[10] Ibid., p. 65-66

[11] PERNIOLA, Mario. Art and its Shadow. Madrid: London: Continuum, 2004. p. IX

[12] Ibid. p. XVI

[13] Hence the name of Kingsley’s book: “In the Dark Places of Wisdom”.

[14] GINZBURG, Carlo. História noturna. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras, 2012. p. 107.

[15] VERNANT, Jean-Pierre. La Muerte en los ojos. Barcelona: Editorial Gedisa, 2001.

[16] KRISTEVA, Julia. Estrangeiros para nós mesmos. Rio de Janeiro: Rocco, 1994. p. 55. Translated from the Portuguese edition.

[17] VERNANT, Jean-Pierre. La Muerte en los ojos. Op. cit., p.23

[18] The oldest reference to the canvas that today we call The Tempest is found in Noticia d’opere di disegno, by Marcantonio Michiel: in a page dated from 1530, where it is recorded that in the house of Gabriele Vendramin, in Venice, there is a landscape depicting a tempest, a gypsy, and a soldier by the hand of Zorzi da Castelfranco. See SETTIS, Salvatore. La Tempestad interpretada. Madrid: Ediciones Akal, 1990.

[19] SAID, Edward. Reflections on Exile. Op. cit., p. 174.

[20] Ibid., p. 182.

[21] Ibid., p. 183: “At this extreme the exile can make a fetish of exile, a practice that distances him or her from all connections and commitments. To live as if everything around you were temporary and perhaps trivial is to fall prey to petulant cynicism as well as querulous lovelessness.”

[22] Ibid., p. 173.

[23] Or cast a fresh shadow on them.

[24] …or whilst sleeping in a cave. Indeed, as Kingsley argues, here lies the key to a whole aspect of western philosophy which has been left in the shadows. According to Kingsley’s theories, Parmenides’ line does not live on in Platonic philosophy, but has instead been obscured by it. The rightful heirs of Pythagorean thought, to which Parmenides’ was related, were the Stoics. Their relationship can be traced not only `by means of scattered historical clues, but also by the practice of the art of stillness and quietism.

[25] KRISTEVA, Julia. Estrangeiros para nós mesmos. Op. cit., p. 25.

Translated by Greg Hunt from the Portuguese edition: “O estrangeiro é aquele que trabalha. Enquanto os nativos do mundo civilizado, dos países adiantados, acham o labor vulgar e assumem os ares aristocráticos da desenvoltura e do capricho (quando podem…), você reconhecera o estrangeiro pelo fato de que ele ainda considera o trabalho como um valor. (…) trabalho: como se fosse ele a terra eleita, a única fonte de sucesso possível e, sobretudo, a qualidade pessoal inalterável, intransferível, mas transportável para alem das fronteiras e das propriedades.”

[26] Isaiah 65:25

[27] Working the earth, or shaping matter is, therefore, an antiquated and contemptible activity – a savagery suited to less evolved forms of life in the Darwinian sense. Contemporary art searches for its place within this dream of paradise.

[28] KRISTEVA, Julia. Estrangeiros para nós mesmos. Op. cit., p. 112. Translated from the Portuguese edition.

[29] Ibid., p. 114.

[30] SAID, Edward. Reflections on Exile. Op. cit., p. 174.

[31] The English translation is forthcoming: A Brief History of Portable Literature, translated by Thomas Bunstead, will be released in 2015 by New Directions.

[32] VILA-MATAS, Enrique. Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil. Op. cit., p. 86-87.

Translated by Greg Hunt from the original Spanish text: “Salvo algún periodo de extraordinaria vagancia, los shandys, siempre se mostraron muy atareados, siempre tratando de trabajar mas, especulando, muy a menudo, sobre su vida de artistas infatigables. (…) Y parte del impulso de la vasta correspondencia que mantuvieron entre ellos, tanto oral como escrita, fue siempre la de hacer la crónica de la existencia del trabajo, informar sobre ella, confirmarla.”

[33] Ibid., p. 88.

Translated by Greg Hunt from the original Spanish text: “El estilo de trabajo del shandy era la inmersión, la concentración en el trabajo. (…) Pero concentrarse tiene sus riesgos y acaba creando odradeks, golems, bucarestis y todos tipo de criaturas que pueblan la soledad de quienes, en tensa convivencia con el doble, se aíslan para trabajar.”

[34] As in Julia Kristeva’s book Strangers to Ourselves.

[35] VILA-MATAS, Enrique. Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil. Op. cit., p. 84.

Translated by Greg Hunt from the original Spanish text: “Somos siempre duales en apariencia, y lo somos por cuanto encarnamos lo nuevo y lo viejo al mismo tiempo. Nosotros tenemos nuestras raíces en el mismo futuro que tan honradamente nos preocupa. Tenemos dos ritmos, dos rostros, dos interpretaciones.”

[36] Tourism being an inheritance of a Pantragruelian style of travel and other “marvellous journeys” which fail to incorporate the depth of the underworld.

[37] See KINGSLEY, Peter. En los oscuros lugares del saber. Girona: Ediciones Atalanta, 2014, p. 67: “El viaje que describe cambia el cuerpo; altera todas las células.”

[38] Pholeos were, according to Peter Kingsley, nocturnal incubation centers related to Apollonian cult where, in a dreamlike state of total motionlessness, secluded like animals in caves, the sick were healed from both physical and psychological ailments with the help of the pholarchos, physicians formed as Apollonian priests. See KINGSLEY, Peter. En los oscuros lugares del saber. Girona: Ediciones Atalanta, 2014, p. 78-79.

[39] KRISTEVA, Julia. Estrangeiros para nós mesmos. Op. cit., p. 39.

Translated by Greg Hunt from the Portuguese edition: “Um tratamento psicanalitico ou, de forma mais excepcional, uma intensa viagem solidaria pela memória e pelo corpo podem, contudo, produzir o milagre do recolhimento que unirá a origem ao adquirido, resultando numa dessas sínteses moveis e inovadoras de que são capazes os grandes cientistas ou os grandes artistas imigrados.”

[40] VILA-MATAS, Enrique. Historia abreviada de la literatura portátil. Op. cit., p. 81-82.

Translated by Greg Hunt from the original Spanish text: “Apenas nos vemos entre nosotros, pues como artesanos permanecemos aferrados a nuestra individualidad, pero a veces sopla un viento polar que nos reúne a todos en el patio central, donde, sonrientes y abrigados, intercambiamos miradas de complicidad; de vez en cuando, alguna que otra palabra interrumpe el silencio y sentimos que nos erguimos como lanzas que trepan hacia la altura desbordando la sombra; no alcanzamos la victoria, pero silencio contra silencio, seguimos combatiendo, porque sabemos que el cielo la ambición nunca desdeña.”