Written in the Stars
When the subway jerks it’s the fixed stars that throw you down1. But indeed, the North Star is no fixed star. In other words, it is, though merely in relation to us and our microscopic existence. Which means that while this is true, it also is not, and so it is, as many things in this world seem to be, relative. How is one supposed to navigate, given these imprecise, deceiving coordinates, and whereto? One shall simply rely on one’s own body as a system of reference. Expanding on the divide between the physiological and the geometrical space, some ideas from the year 1906 would suggest so:
The sensible space of our immediate perception, which we find ready at hand on awakening to full consciousness, is considerably different from geometrical space.
The space of the Euclidian geometry is everywhere and in all directions constituted alike; it is unbounded and it is infinite in extent. On the other hand, the space of sight, or “visual space”, (…), is found to be neither constituted everywhere and in all directions alike, nor infinite in extent, nor unbounded.
The visual space in its origin is in nowise metrical.
The skin, which is a closed surface of complicated geometrical form, is an agency of spatial perception.
The fact that our sense of space is not developed at points where it can have no biological function, should not be a cause of special astonishment to us. What purpose could it serve to be informed concerning the location of internal organs over the functions of which we have no control? Thus, our sense of space does not extend to any great distance into the interior of the nostrils.
[Yet, if I may remind, is not the spleen an indication of Saturn?]
The biological needs would not be satisfied with the pure relations of geometric space. “Rightness,” “leftness,” “aboveness,” “belowness,” “nearness,” and “farness,” must be distinguished by a sensational quality.
The perfect biological adaptation of large groups of connected elementary organs among one another is thus very distinctly expressed in the perception of space.
Every sensation is in part spatial in character (…).
Although every single feeling due to a sensory organ (feeling of space) is registered according to its specific character between those next related to it, a plurality of excited organs is nevertheless very advantageous for distinctness of localization, for the reason that the contrasts between the feelings of locality are enlivened in this way. Visual space, therefore, which ordinarily is well filled with objects, thus affords the best means of localization. Localization becomes at once uncertain and fluctuant for a single bright spot on a dark background.2
Horror vacui, the terror of the empty space. The unthinkable Emptiness.
Where was I? The change. In what did it consist? It is hard to say. Something slipped. There I was, warm and bright, smoking my tobacco-pipe, watching the warm bright wall, when suddenly somewhere some little thing slipped, some little tiny thing. Gliss-iss-iss-STOP! I trust I make myself clear. There is a great alp of sand, one hundred metres high, between the pines and the ocean, and there in the warm moonless night, when no one is looking, no one listening, in tiny packets of two or three millions the grains slip, all together, a little slip of one or two lines maybe, and then stop, all together, not one missing, and that is all, that is all for that night, and perhaps for ever that is all, for in the morning with the sun a little wind from the sea may come, and blow them one from another far apart, or a pedestrian scatter them with his foot, though that is less likely. It was a slip like that I felt, that Tuesday afternoon, millions of little things moving all together out of their old place, into a new one nearby, and furtively, as though it were forbidden. And I have little doubt that I was the only person living to discover them. To conclude from this that the incident was internal would, I think, be rash. For my – how shall I say – my personal system was so distended at the period of which I speak that the distinction between what was inside it and what was outside it was not at all easy to draw. Everything that happened happened inside it, and at the same time everything that happened happened outside it. I trust I make myself plain. I did not, need I add, see things happen, nor hear it, but I perceived it with a perception so sensuous that in comparison the impressions of a man buried alive in Lisbon on Lisbon’s great day seem a frigid and artificial construction of the understanding.3
For all we know, the structure of a table could be that of a temple. With the temporal bone and its muscle; the cyclops’s gaze venturing inside and out; and organs without bodies. And will – itself an inarticulate muscle, twitching. For all we know, Saturn could be a grain, one of a million tumbling away when no one is looking.
Indeed, the spleen. One cannot but commiserate with the foolish melancholic Geometrician, the false Earth-Measurer. It has been claimed that it was not sluggishness that marked her face and posture, not lethargy or boredom; instead, super-lucidity in front of a problem which could not be solved. The lie is in our understanding, and darkness is so firmly entrenched in our mind that even our groping will fail,4 a mournful Dürer had come to realize. In that portrayal, he may have reflected himself, the artist-geometrician, embodied by a morose celestial being paralyzed by its renunciation of what it could reach because it cannot reach for what it longs5. Set within the boundaries of spatial and corporeal quantities, admittance to the metaphysical would be denied.
Pursuit of Wisdom whilst Saturn devours his sons.
Therefore, back to the body.
Accidentally, Werther’s finger touches Charlotte’s, their feet, under the table, happen to brush against each other. Werther might be engrossed by the meaning of those accidents; he might concentrate physically on these slight zones of contact and delight in this fragment of inert finger or foot, fetishistically, without concern for the response (like God – as the etymology of the word tells us – the Fetish does not reply). But in fact Werther is not perverse, he is in love: he creates meaning, always and everywhere, out of nothing, and it is meaning which thrills him: he is in the crucible of meaning. Every contact, for the lover, raises the question of an answer: the skin is asked to reply.6
While wisdom remains fragmentary, yet another sort of geometry unfolds here.
1 Attributed to the Austrian physicist and philosopher Ernst Mach (1838-1916) by fellow scientist Philipp Frank.
2 Quotes taken from Ernst Mach’s essay On Physiological, As Distinguished From Geometrical, Space, in: E. Mach, Space and Geometry in the Light of Physiological, Psychological and Physical Inquiry, Chicago and London, 1906, p. 5–17.
3 Samuel Beckett, Watt, New York, 1953, p. 42-43.
4 A quote from Albrecht Dürer translated by Erwin Panofsky, in: E. Panofsky, The Life and Art of Albrecht Dürer, Princeton, 1955 p. 171
5 Erwin Panofsky, (see note 4), p. 170
6 Roland Barthes, A Lover’s Discourse. Fragments, New York, 1979, p. 67
Martin Ebner, Kitty Kraus
Brochure, 84 pages, English/Lithuanian
CAC – Contemporary Art Centre, Vilnius, 2016
With contributions by Tenzing Barshee, Mihaela Chiriac, Haytham El-Wardany, Monika Kalinauskaitė, Valentinas Klimašauskas, Ariane Müller, Audrius Pocius & Nicholas Matranga