Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Thread: A Prologue

Below is the prologue to a project part memoir, part historical fiction, The Thread
Inspired by Helen Schjerfbeck

Inspired by Remedios Varos
We were the only family who ate corn on the cob and celebrated Christmas on the 25th of December instead of the 24th. We didn’t know the simple explanation to these peculiarities: our mother was American. One day, long before she came to Switzerland, she had taken a machete and cut her life in two. Did she open this gash over one day? A month ? A year ? My father, who met her when she was 20, knew little more than we did. She had already changed her name, did not see any of her family nor any childhood friend. She did not write to them, did not speak to them, did not discuss. Thus we knew her, born at twenty, all questions about her past taboo. This code of silence existed before I, the youngest of the family, started asking questions. Even friends of my parents seemed to be aware of the taboo and respected it.
“She must come from Britain because she speaks English and often travels alone to London. “ we whispered during one of our secret conferences. She sent us beautiful postcards from the British Museum, with sweet words that failed to touch us as her absence seemed further proof of her aloofness.
“She must have lived near the sea, as she talked about picnics at the beach. “ Reported my sister. “She mentioned a nanny. “I added. “ She didn’t. “ “ Yes, she did. “ I imagined a large Victorian house, a bit run down, near windswept dunes covered with brambles. And behind the shutters of the villa, the great secret, the deep mystery that was hidden from our sight. If she made any allusion to the past, we would freeze and pretend casualness, in the hope that, oblivious to our presence, she would inadvertently slip into confidences.

The day of the revelation, seated at regular intervals around the living room, hearts pounding, we waited. Now I wasn’t so sure I wanted to know, it was frightening. She started speaking. A childhood can not be restored in one or two hours. This narrative of her past would normally have been built over time by what our childhood terribly missed: by hearing touching and humorous anecdotes, stories from the grandmother we never met, looking at family photographs together, visiting relatives. We asked a few questions, as if stroking cautiously an unpredictable cat. She answered, describing the harrowing events that led her to cut all ties with her family in a manner as devoid of emotion as a notary reading one more will.

Inspired by Ana Mendieta
The burden of suffering which my mother had shed became mine. I filled not just with my mother’s pain, but her mother’s as well, and that of all her little brothers and sisters’, rippling down the generations. The only way to drain the overflowing vault was through the valve of my imagination. I began to make up the missing episodes in my mother’s life, and in her mother’s. Then I went back to my great-grandmother, the famous Lietta, who seemed the source of all our calamities. This emotional monster, what could she have gone through in her childhood? I had no reason to stop, and beyond this cruel grandmother, I went to listen to the story of each woman who miraculously gave birth to a girl who then in turn became a mother, a long meandering thread over the centuries, saved against all odds from being cut down by nature and men. I followed it back to the time when a handful of thinkers on their peninsula decided the important facts to remember would not be desires, births, jealousy, vanity, rape. Instead they came up with a discipline that would only record political events, thus excluding women’s memory: History was born.

To read the first story of 100 women talk to their daughters over 2500 years, click here.

All illustrations original works by Arabella Hutter, as are the texts.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Jasperse & King at BAM, a history of beauty? Not a review!

I have not followed dance the way I have with theater or visual arts. Therefore I would never call myself a dance critic, but then who is? So this is not a review either.

I thought about cheating and reading the New York Times review, the ultimate standard, to compare notes. But, no. Here it is, unstructured, uneducated, honest:

The beginning of the show brings up a whole cornucopia of images of all European art and the continuity of its ideas of beauty and masculinity/femininity: Greek vase art, Michelangelo, The Three Graces of Raphael turn into Matisse’s nymphs. It’s seductive (hey, we speak the same secret language!) and feels uncomfortable (hey, let's exclude everybody else!) This Game of cultural references implies a common Cultural Vocabulary but what If I grew up In Zimbabwe or in a working-class small town in Iowa?

Men replace women in a series of tableau with classical ideas of femininity, and vice versa. They were short tunic with skirts, the women severe grey tunics.

The choreography, as in a line of dancers moving fast over the stage on a waltz rhythm, is the work of someone at the top of his form, who is brilliant, intelligent and experienced. I think. The dancers must undergo grueling practice, from the way they control their body and the movements they are able to perform. Lighting imaginative and evocative. The music by John King, striking, adds a spiritual dimension to the visuals.  Usually, I prefer live music to recorded. But in this show, it sounded like it was played by the Gods and came down to us from the top of Olympus.

When the music, which arrives by dramatic bursts, becomes silent, the audience communes in its involvement with the show. Not even a cough, no kidding. 

As I was watching, I was thinking that maybe the reason I have followed dance less than other arts, is that I have two different reactions to it. On one hand, I wonder intellectually what the choreographer meant, what the references, context to images. On the other, there is a very gut reaction to watching another human dancing, a connection directly through the movement as referenced by our own body. Everyone dances or should. When we watch art, we automatically bring up other images, other art, landscapes, faces. When we watch theater, we are reminded of scenes of our lives. And when we watch dance, it’s through our experience of our own body we perceive the other’s movements. I think. I can’t reconcile these two reactions, one intellectual/visual, one kinetic, two far apart for my comfort. But I'm learning. I'm moving outside my comfort zone, and it's rewarding.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Performa 2015 - free drinks, expensive books, The Lament of the Financial District, that kind of general rant

Exchange went something like this:
I decided to get rid of my books to express how we don't live forever, we need to let go of our material goods, we need to realize we're not going to read that book again.
Young man:
How much are you selling this one for?
The books are lying on the floor, like at a stoop sale. Good books. Art books, philosophy.
How much would you like to buy it for?
The young man turns it around in his hands. He seems embarrassed. Haggling with the artist?
Young man:
I couldn't let it go for that. It's worth much more. What I do is I check on the Internet how much they go for. I think it should not go for less than $20, more like $30.
Older man:
So you are linking this to the existing market?
The books I don't sell, I will keep. I don't need to sell. You see, on the wall, that's the packaging.
Older man:
How about this one, how much?
Maybe $35? Let me check on the Internet. Some of these books are widely available, but others like this one are very hard to find, it took me a long time to unearth them in libraries. By the way, before I was able to buy art books, I used to buy postcards. They're $3 each. Look here. Ah, I found the book online. Let's see. $12.75! Well well. OK, how about $20?

As opposed to my poetic Eric the Hawker selling me his lovely keyring last week, I could not perceive any artistic dimension to this sale by Rainer Ganahl beyond the initial concept. He could have chosen to put arbitrary prices on the books: white ones $10, green ones $25, black ones $1000. Or, as Ed Schmidt did in one of his shows, give them away for nothing. After this unpleasant experience, I was getting truly discouraged by Performa 2015. There is an abundance of free drinks that's appreciable, and seems to attract a younger crowd, that's the only improvement I could see in this edition of the festival.

On Friday night, went to the Erica Vogt event at Roulette, Artist Theater Program.
I did not understand. I felt like someone from mainstream American culture, adept at Hollywood movies, mass paperbacks, who would come to an avant-garde event and would think it's all nonsense, because they would not have the tools to understand it, the references, the context. I don't know whether it was nonsense or not. But if it has a sense, I didn't have the tools to understand it. I did enjoy aspects of it, such as the sounds, some of the readings, some of the projections. Hated the props. And the last scene, where the artist came on stage, and all the performers sat at her feet. She asked:
What did you think of the imagery in the show?
The twelve of them all answered at the same time, with much earnestness and expressivity. Obviously it was a mangled chaos of words that could not be grasped by the audience. Then the lights went out, and the scene was repeated by the audience discussing amongst itself after the show.

But. At last. Jesper Just. Saturday November 14. A simply awesome show. Occupies the whole floor of a skyscraper near the World Trade Center. We're inside the building, can't see outside apart for tiny shapes scraped out of darkened windows, and it's all about the reverse of the space we're in. We watch from high up, on a video, the people who should be working in this space, but instead are roaming the wilderness, in anguish.
Several live projections of outside the building scattered around the place. It takes a while before we realize that the beautiful bass sound track is being played live and we can see the player on the projected live stream, sitting lonely on the floor of a large office building. Fleeting people get projected over a photo of the World Trade Center. In the next room, we realize these people are in front of a camera, and that we can also be projected onto that photo for the audience in the previous room. Then a woman took her place in front of the camera and sang to the accompaniment of the bass player who we know is there somewhere, but where? Her song is a poignant lament.
The poignancy in her song, and in the bass playing, their loneliness, the anguish of the employees looking for something in the wild, all really expressed to me what the architectural environment, and the human condition in these financial districts contribute to: a killing of the human soul.

Contributed by  - -  Arabella Hutter

Monday, November 9, 2015

Performa: deliciously fooled.

Performa is infusing New York City once again with its streak of wild creativity. Have only been to a few events. The anger workshop was a lot of talk, signing up release forms, and only 3 and half minutes of being angry. Then 4 minutes of loving someone, a stranger, but hugging them closely. An intriguing experience. Why should I love a complete stranger? But then anyone around me that I love is also there by contingence, out of the several billion people on Earth.I didn't review 8 billion people to choose my loved ones. That workshop took place within the tent of the Embassy, with awesome activist/artist Richard Bell.

The Wyatt Kahn show Work was sweet. The painter's paintings became puppets who articulated their pride or protest at the artist and art scene. The setting, the Swedish Marionette theater in Central Park, is even sweeter, and the hip audience sitting on benches, hip to hip.

The Heather Gibson exhibit, Final Days, http://15.performa-arts.org/events/final-days did not particularly grab my attention but maybe I was distracted myself and did not do it justice. And I was thirsty. There were beer bottles and cans floating in a plastic vault. I looked at them. A guy was standing awkwardly next to it. Short, pale, glasses, 50. Holding a plastic bag closely.
- Are you looking for a beer? he says, with a British accent.
- No, water actually. 
 - I don't think there is water, just beer. Which one do you want?
 -  Thanks, no, I really wanted water.
- Are you enjoying the show?
- So so.
- I'm an artist too. Kind of a failed artist. I've had quite a few mishaps in my life. I used to be quite a prolific artist.
- Really? I say politely. Is being prolific a good thing? I wonder.
- Yes. I wanted to open an art school in London, for people who can't afford art schools, and I put all my fortune into it. 
Hm, upper class guy, then, I guess.
- It failed, and I lost all my money. I decided to make small sculptures for all my mishaps, 
He pulls a keyring out of the plastic bag which is full of them. It has a rectangular structure.
- Here's the plan of the school, you see, it was a Victorian building. These are the trees.
- Aha.
He pulls another keyring which is a ballerina lying on her back, and another one that looks a bit like a jack. Meanwhile my phone rings, I have to join someone outside.
- This is a dolof, do you know what a dolof is? he asks. But maybe you have to go?
- I have a minute.
I'm intrigued.
- A dolof is something on the beach that holds it in place.
- You sell these key rings?
- Yes, he says, still awkward.
- How much, I ask, because I haven't got all the time in the world.
- $20 each.
A guy in his 30s approach while I'm on the phone.
- I said I would take 2 for $30.
- No, says the little guy, that won't work.
- OK, I say, I'll take the school one. 
Because I think they look cool, and $20 is cheap to avoid having to say no to the small, awkward guy. 
I pull a bill out, we exchange.
He says:
- My name is Ryan Gander.
- Nice meeting you. I'm Arabella. Bye.
2 days later, I find out in the Performa printed catalog that it is an act. I was deliciously fooled. Ryan Gander was performing. I believe it was Ryan, not an actor, but not 100% sure. In fact, I saw him two days later at the Performa hub playing it out on a young man who was trying to buy 3 for $50. But he looked genuinely sad while performing. I thought, maybe he's sad he's so good at peddling off his goods. Maybe he's a bit sad because the act works only if the buyer does not know who he is. Maybe he's a really good actor at playing the failed artist.

Contributed by -- Arabella Hutter

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Pécheurs par contingence

Un ami nous a prêté son appartement de vacances dans un complexe à St-George, dans l'Utah. Au coin de l'Arizona et du Nevada, ce Nevada qui, avec ses casinos et ses bars et ses "girls", doit offrir de graves tentations grave à la population mormone de St-George - aurait-ce un rapport avec l'expansion rapide de ce lieu de villégiature? Les appartements du complexe sont pratiquement tous occupés par des Mormons aisés de Salt Lake City. Cette secte, comprenant principalement des personnes d'origines nord européennes, a de grosses ressources financières, avec sa taxe de 10% sur les revenus de ses adeptes.

Nous les voyons depuis notre balcon, les rencontrons dans l'escalier, partageons avec eux le jacuzzi. Ils ressemblent et se comportent comme des Américains ordinaires, ce qui est bizarre, je m'attends des adeptes d'une secte qu'ils soient socialement inadaptés. Ils sont blonds et grand et beaux. Seulement, escortées par de nombreux enfants (une stratégie bien rôdée pour l'expansion de l'église que d'interdire la contraception), les femmes ne portent pas de bikinis, mais de prudes maillots. Les Mormons ne boivent pas d'alcool, ni de boissons caféinnées. Ils ne fument pas. Nous adonnant à presque toutes ces habitudes, nous étions des pécheurs de leur point de vue.

Je me surprends à planifier des cambriolages de leurs condos. Ce serait facile de grimper sur les balcons, peut-être quand ils sont à l'église le dimanche matin. On prendrait juste l'argent et les vélos, je rêve de sillonner à vélo les magnifiques paysages du Sud Ouest américain.

Je suis intriguée. En général, je ne donne pas dans le cambriolage, sans blague, ce n'est pas mon champ professionnel. Comment se fait-il que je songe, même en passant, à commettre un crime? Eh bien,  comme je suis une pécheresse pour eux de toute façon, pourquoi ne pas ajouter un péché de plus? Nombre de mes comportements et de mes habitudes appartiennent au Mal, d'après les Mormons. Je me retrouve dans la peau de tous ceux qui sont marginalisés dans notre société, tels que les minorités ethniques aux États-Unis ou les gitans en Europe.

Les individus appartenant à des minorités sont criminalisés avant qu'ils ne commettent un crime, parce qu'ils ne correspondent pas à la norme du citoyen respectable typique. En outre, aux États-Unis, le système juridique est biaisé contre eux, les médias les dépeignent généralement comme des criminels. A quoi bon essayer d'être un citoyen responsable, si on est de toute façon étiqueté et perçu et traité comme un malfaiteur?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Un agresseur ou une amatrice de framboises?

Émergeant de la station de métro près du World Trade Center à 17 heures, je me fais figure de petite paysanne de Brooklyn. Accablée par la foule. C'est une réaction viscérale. Je m'immobilise sous le choc, alors que les gens se précipitent dans tous les sens autour de moi. Il y a de nombreuses années, quand nous vivions en tribus, si nous tombions sur un autre être humain, soit nous la/le connaissions  soit elle/il était un ennemi. Les gens que nous ne connaissions pas étaient porteurs de danger. Ce qui est encore le cas de nos jours, voir le film "CRASH"Il nous fallait lire le visage de chaque nouveau venu: ami/ennemi? Maintenant, nous sommes sensés ne rien lire du tout, ni nous approcher, ni leur faire de croche-patte ou leur sauter au cou: nous ignorons nos congénères, ça s'appelle l'anonymat de la grande ville. 

Le bruit nous alertait également du danger. Il le fait encore, par exemple, si l'on entend une sirène hurler ou des balles exploser ou des éléphants tomber du ciel sur l'asphalte. Les sons nous avertissent des dangers qui ne sont pas toujours dans notre champ de vision et pourraient venir à notre rencontre. Dans une grande ville, nos sens nous fournissent des alertes que nous supprimons, parce que nous sommes soumis à des sons, dont certains non identifiables, toute la journée et toute la nuit.

C'est évident, je sais. Wow, je viens de découvrir que la vie dans une métropole est stressante.

Mais revenons à la foule. Pour remonter à l'époque où soit nous connaissions soit nous ne connaissions pas la personne qui arrivait en sens inverse. Si nous la connaissions, nous étions au courant de son histoire. Elle aimait à rouler en bas d'une pente quand elle était petite. Son père est mort lors d'une chasse. Ou elle était timide et ne jouait pas avec les autres enfants. Elle a refusé prétendant après prétendant jusqu'à ce qu'un visiteur d'une autre tribu l'ait convaincue de le suire. Elle aimait les framboises.

De même, avec toutes les personnes que je croise sur le territoire de la ville, je suis étourdie par la multitude de leurs récits inconnus. Je remarque des indices: leur âge, leur langage corporel, l'expression sur leur visage, leurs vêtements. Ça ne suffit pas. Je veux connaître chaque histoire de chaque personne, si elles préfèrent les framboises ou les fraises, si leur premier amour les a blessé, quelle partie de leur âme grimpe vers les nuages. Impossible bien sûr, mais, je travaille à quelque chose d'approchant: le Grand Projet Secret de Blog qui sera lancé à l'automne.

Pour le moment, je me pose la question: ai-je atteint le stade d'intolérance à la vie citadine où je devrais me réfugier dans une hutte au fond des bois et recevoir au maximum un visiteur par jour?

Friday, July 24, 2015

Metropolis vs shed in the woods

Emerging from the subway near the World Trade Center at 5pm, like the country bumpkin from Brooklyn I am. Overwhelmed by the crowd. It's a visceral reaction. I'm standing in shock while people rush in every direction around me. 


Many many years ago, when we lived in tribes, if we ran into another human being, either we knew him/her or he/she was an enemy. Danger mostly came from people we didn't know. It still does, see  "CRASH". But now we have to accept this multitude of strangers we rub shoulders with, it's called the anonymity of the large city. We can not fear them all, but at the same time, we should not stop them and try to befriend them,  nor wink at them, nor tell them we like the shape of their skull.

Sound also alerted us to danger. It still does, for example if one hears earth rumbles or bullets firing or elephants crashing down from the sky. It alerts us to the dangers that are not within our vision range, and might be coming our way. Living in a large city, our senses are always feeding us alerts which we try to suppress, because we are subjected to sounds, many unidentifiable, all day all night long.  Living in the city is a lot about suppressing the natural fear we should feel, and that takes its toll in the long run.

This is really obvious, I know. Wow, I've just discovered that living in a metropolis is stressing. 

But getting back to the crowds. Going back to that time when either we knew or didn't know the person coming our way. If we did know the person, we were familiar with her history. She loved to roll down a slope when she was a little girl. Her father died during a hunt. Or she was shy and did not play with the other kids. She refused suitor after suitor until a visitor from another tribe took her away. She liked raspberries. 

Similarly, with all the individuals I cross on the city turf, I am overwhelmed by the multitude of their unknown narratives. I see clues: their age, their body language, the expression on their face, their clothes. It's not sufficient. I want to know every story of every person, whether they prefer pears or apples, how much their first love hurt, what part of their soul reaches to the clouds. While unattainable, I am working on something approaching: the Big Secret Blog Project, to be launched in the fall. 

For the time being, I wonder: have I reached the stage of city fatigue where I should move to a shed in the hills and welcome just one visitor a day?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Not a review: Ibsen’s Ghosts at BAM

The reviewers of the Almeida production of Ghosts are wrong and I’m right: it was ABOMINABLE.  Still on the warpath with reviewers, allow me. When we walked into the theater, a beautiful set with layers of glass (Yes! Ghosts were going to be appearing and disappearing between these layers! Clever!) was waiting for us on stage. I was excited. Its style was respectful of the period and place, while inventive and elegant. And then the maid, (couldn’t find the name of the actor who played her on the BAM website, forgettable socially, forgettable theatrically) ran on stage. I have a rule about theater which has proved quite correct again and again: stay away from plays that have a sofa on stage. There are a few exceptions to this rule (Lepage, Ostermeier), but on the whole it's proven itself. I’m thinking of adding a new rule: no young ladies running around the stage with their arms loose. Why should young actresses run!? It’s another theatrical cliché. Young men don’t run, older men don’t run, older women don’t run on stage. Children run on stage, and they should, because they do in real life. Or everyone should run if that’s an expression of an inner state. That young actress was signaling acting, she had been informed they were all the correct signals.

I tried to hang in there, a little bit of irksome running should not be a source of panic, the production could still be good. Was hoping the other actors yet to appear on stage might still act rather than act acting.Maybe just be the maid got it wrong. But no. All the other actors followed suit, a sure sign the director was involved. They were so convinced that they were acting right. Everyone told them. The director. The Oliver Awards. Even the New York Times. Well I dispute. Good acting cannot be self satisfied. Every night, setting foot on stage should be a risk. The appropriately named stage fright. That's one of the contracts between the actors and the audience. The actor who played the priest, Will Keen, was a bit less liked, a bit less sure, and therefore he was just a little bit more bearable to me. It could well be all these actors are able to act, but they were misguided.

At the end of the play, the son, actor Billy Howle, goes into seizures, then becomes blind. His physical degradation, the whole night, unravels in a collapsed time frame, which has to be dealt with theatrically. Richard Eyre did not come up with an effective solution to that challenge. Treated realistically, the resulting production is massively over dramatic. The mother, actor Lesley Manville, decides to give to her son the pills he had gathered to terminate his own life when the time came. Her tears provoked an all time high in my embarrassment for the actors. Which turned into ill humor when they came back to collect their - oh so well deserved as far as they were concerned - applause.

The one thing I enjoyed was the head of the young actor. It was overdimensioned. That was really interesting, and oddly satisfying. His whole head was half a size larger than would be expected for his body size. His eyes, his nose, his mouth, his skull, freakish in a good sense. That is all I got out of this production, the oversized head and the blue glass set.

I actually like melodrama. Visconti. Zola. Dickens. But this production’s combination of cocksure acting and heavy drama rubbed me the wrong way. Richard Eyre is on my watch list now, I’ll beware. The production was 90 min long, clearly not its natural stage length. And without an intermission. Thank god for small mercies, as Fiona Shaw repeated memorably in Beckett’s Happy Days. On that same BAM stage.

Contributed by  - - Arabella Hutter

Thursday, March 5, 2015

This is not a review: Semele at BAM

What is to be done with an opera that has beautiful music and an atrocious libretto, most arias consisting of the same convoluted line repeated over and over?? Involving a complicated plot about humans and Olympian gods, that nobody in their right mind should care about? Is is possible to produce such an opera in a way that would allow a modern audience relate to it without resorting to a contemporary production which can get pretty annoying when people are singing 17th century music in US military gear, for example? (Yes, this is a long, convoluted sentence, because it's a blog, and it's not a review nor an opera)
In the Canadian Opera production of Semele, the curtain opens, - that dramatic moment every every opera lover relishes, to reveal a blank wall right behind, hitting us as if we had run into a concrete wall. Wait. It's not a wall, it's a screen. Projection of a short documentary about a 12th century temple in a small town in China, while orchestra plays overture. The temple was used to store grain during the Cultural Revolution. Later a couple lived there, but the husband killed his wife's lover, and was executed by a firing squad. The woman sells the temple to unknown entity to increase the chances of her son in finding a wife. Shot of temple in warehouse. The overture ends, the screen rises and the actual temple is on stage, under our very eyes,  all 17 tons of it, exactly in the place and dimension it was projected on the screen. One of the many dramatic, operatic moments imagined by designer artist director Zhang Huan.

I will not reveal every trick out of Huan's hat, but can't resist sharing the last one. After the opera has come to a close, a procession of Buddhist monks hum the communist hymn, l'Internationale, carrying the burnt corpse of Semele who died from looking at Jove/Zeus. The musical score to one of the 20th century disappeared gods: communism. Humans meet Gods, East meets West. Way out of the box inventive, dramatic, musical. Good ensemble singing, good orchestra, great score. Conductor Christopher Moulds, with his dramatic sense of timing, gets the everything out of the singers. Jane Archibald, soprano colatura, sings her guts out.

My suggestion for the next production of Semele or similar work is to completely rewrite the plot and lines, just keep the music. And forget English as a language for opera unless it's 20th/21st century, no offence meant. I don't think it can get better than this production with the existing Semele in lacklustre English verse. 

Nay only to the Sumo wrestlers: too cute. 

I didn't know Hilary could be a man's name.

Almost forgot: it's really funny too. There is sex on stage. Also a horse in pajama with a huge penis.

Too far out for Canadians, just right for New York?  The audience loved it.

I hope I'm not starting to sound like a reviewer, this divinely appointed opinion maker?

Published by  - -  Arabella Hutter

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Adorable Derrida

Je trouve qu'il n'y a rien d'adorable chez Jacques Derrida. Sauf ses parents. Trois anecdotes:

Les parents de Derrida l'ont nommé Jackie en honneur au petit garçon dans le "Kid" de Chaplin. Qu'y pourrait-il y avoir de plus adorable? Il a changé son nom plus tard en Jacques, plus distingué.

A un repas avec des amis, ceux-ci félicitaient Derrida de ce que "différance" avec un a était entré dans le dictionnaire. La mère de Derrida s'est tournée vers lui, avec ce reproche: "Oh, Jackie, tu n'as pas su écrire juste "différence"?!"

Sa mère gisait mourante dans son lit d'hôpital. Elle gémissait. Derrida s'est penché vers elle:

"Où souffres-tu, Maman?"
" J'ai ... mal ... à ... à .... ma ... mère."

Publié par  - -  Arabella Hutter

As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing adorable about Jacques Derrida. It's a different case when it comes to his parents. Here are three anecdotes:

His parents named him Jackie, after the little boy in Charlie Chaplin's "The Kid'.  How adorable is that? Later, Derrida changed his name to Jacques, which sounds more elegant.

At a dinner party, Derrida's friends were congratulating him on his "différance" having made it into the French dictionary.  Différance being a word that Derrida created to express a different concept from "différence", as it is usually spelled. Derrida's parents turned to him, upset: "Jackie, come on, didn't you know how to spell "différence" correctly?

Finally, as his mother was dying in her hospital bed, Jacques leant towards her and asked where she hurt. She replied, barely audibly:

"I ... hurt ... at ... my ... mother..."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Un petit bijou de kitsch/A gem of kitsch in Midtown, New York

On croit connaître sa ville comme la paume de la main, et c'est toujours un ravissement de découvrir un événement inattendu, un endroit unique. Je parcourais rapidement la 32ème rue entre deux rendez-vous, quand une étrange entrée attire mon attention, entre deux bâtiments. Placée à distance de la rue, elle donne l'impression d'ouvrir sur un bâtiment en sous-sol, comme la Penn Station qui est si vaste et pourtant semble ne pas avoir de surface: qui a jamais vu la Penn Station de l'extérieur?
Je n'ai pas vraiment le temps, mais la tentation est irrésistible: je m'aventure. On dirait l'entrée d'une clinique ou d'un bureau des services sociaux. Il me faut immédiatement choisir entre l'église du haut ou celle du bas. Friande de paradoxe, je descends l'escalier. Pour la suite, voir les photos. 
L'église du haut a très nettement un caractère XIXème penchant vers un mélange d'extrême gothique préraphaélisme romanesque flamboyant, mais l'église du bas s'apparente aux halls de gare années 50s, quand on s'est enfin mis à penser à la facture de chauffage et on a construit des plafonds bas, et aux cryptes moyenâgeuses pour le frisson. Dans les deux, beaucoup d'Asiatiques, Philippins je suppose, et de Latinos, jeunes et vieux. Les fidèles prient à genoux avec ferveur, puis quêtent les faveurs des saints par le contact de l'or, en caressant leurs têtes, en effleurant leurs pieds.
Mérite trois étoiles dans le Guide Bleu qui ne les donnera jamais, évidemment, soyons sérieux.

We think we know our city like the palm of the hand, and it is a delight to come upon an unexpected event , a unique place. I am quickly pacing 32nd street between two appointments, when a strange doorway between two buildings catches my attention. Back from the street, it gives the impression of opening on a basement, like Penn Station, which is so vast and yet seems to have no exterior shell : who has ever seen Penn Station from the outside?
I did not really have the time, but the temptation was irresistible : I ventured. The entrance looks like it would lead to a clinic or social services offices . I must immediately choose between the lower or the higher church. Fond of the paradox , I walk down the stairs. For more, see photos.
The upper church has very much a 19th Century character leaning towards the flamboyant , but the lower church is similar to a station concourse from the 50s, when thoughts went to the heating bill , and  to a medieval crypt for the thrill. In both, many Asians, Filipinos I suppose, and Latinos, young and old. The faithful pray kneeling with fervor and hope to gain the favor of the saints by the contact of gold, stroking their heads, worshiping their feet.
Deserves three stars in the haughty Guide Bleu which will never award them, obviously, soyons sérieux s'il vous plait.


Publié par / published by Arabella Hutter

Eglise du Haut/Higher Church

Friday, January 31, 2014

Un miroir au coin de l'Univers

J'écoutais à la radio un jeune philosophe américain anthropique affirmer que nous avons une raison d'être. Nous serions la conscience de l'Univers. Nous en serions les peintres, les poètes, les musiciens, les philosophes. Sans nous, l'Univers ne saurait pas qu'il existe.

 Cette proposition nous brosse les poils à rebours. Après des siècles où le Christianisme a mis l'homme au centre de l'Univers, enfant chéri de Dieu, nous avons fait le dur apprentissage de l'humilité, étape après étape. La terre n'est pas au centre de l'Univers et le soleil ne lui tourne pas autour. Les animaux ont aussi des droits. Nous ne sommes pas la création ultime de Dieu, mais un accident de parcours dans l'évolution biologique. Le monde est aléatoire et non voulu par Dieu. Voilà notre crédo, en tant qu'intellectuels européens. Il a été forgé au XXème siècle par Heidegger, Sartre, Lévy-Strauss et les autres.

Arrivent des penseurs et scientifiques qui bouleversent ces certitudes. D'anthropocentrisme, ils passent à l'anthropisme. Leur théorie peut être interprétée de deux manières. D'une part, on peut la prendre simplement comme une vision de la réalité, une optique. Il est indéniable que nous ayons une conscience qui nous permet d'avoir conscience, justement, de l'univers. J'apprécie le côté poétique de cette version de l'humanité, nous autres femmes, hommes minuscules sur notre minuscule planète dans une des innombrables galaxies du cosmos, que nous en soyons le miroir. Sans nous placer au centre de l'univers, au contraire, nous sommes dans un coin, à refléter l'émerveillement de l'univers. S'il n'y avait pas de conscience, l'existence de l'univers, ainsi que son essence seraient ignorés. C'est assez facile à accepter. 

Le second aspect de la proposition, que notre raison d'être soit notre rôle de miroir est plus difficile à avaler. Même s'il est intéressant d'aller à contre courant et de considérer la possibilité que nous ayons une raison d'être. Si notre existence a un but, cela présuppose une entité supérieure qui l'ait choisi. Evidemment, le candidat de choix pour ce poste est dieu, ce qui ferait plaisir aux Créationnistes. Dieu ou autre, il présuppose une conscience qui gère et alors nous ne sommes plus les seuls à être conscients de l'univers.

Certains de ces philosophes affirment aussi, statistiques à l'appui, que nous serions les seuls êtres dans notre univers, mais qu'il y aurait d'autres univers qui produiraient aussi des êtres conscients. Je trouve cette interprétation des statistiques douteuses. Par contre, assez sympathique d'imaginer ces autres univers avec ces autres consciences, comme nous voyons nos compagnons humains dont nous savons qu'ils ont chacun une conscience sans pouvoir jamais en faire l'expérience. Mais quant à moi, j'espère fermement que nous ne sommes pas les seuls dans notre univers et qui nous allons faire connaissance tout bientôt.

Cette théorie présuppose aussi que les animaux n'ont pas conscience de l'univers. Je consulte mon chat. Il est assis à la fenêtre. Il regarde l'univers. Peut-être que sa perception sans mots, sans imagerie, sans théories, dans une ontologie pure, est plus adaptée à ce qu'est vraiment l'univers que la nôtre.

Publié par  - - Arabella Hutter