Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Tree of Unknowable Noumenon

Gazing Upon the Ding-an-Sich
Beckett and Giacometti

I've borrowed this image from the site of Paul McVeigh, who tells us:
Beckett and Giacometti in the latter's studio in Paris in 1961, looking at the Tree that Giacometti has just made for Waiting for Godot. Ironically, there is no photo of the Tree itself and, since it ended up being stolen, we can only guess at what it looked like.
Or perhaps, as in Kantian philosophy, the two were envisioning the Tree as the Ding-An-Sich -- the Thing-Per-Se, the unknowable noumenon -- the object as it is in itself, independent of the mind, as opposed to a phenomenon, which can be apprehended, and that is why we cannot see the Tree. Where did McVeigh obtain this photograph? Perhaps from Mary Ruefle:
One photograph I adore, and keep always by me, shows Samuel Beckett, Albert Giacometti, and a young critic/admirer whose name I do not know standing in a gallery where Giacometti's set for Waiting for Godot is on display (though you can't see it) -- a single tree. If you know Giacometti's work, you can imagine it. The photo was taken in the early sixties, before Giacometti died, and in it Beckett and Giacometti are looking up, up, up at the tree: Beckett has the look of someone praying before a crucifix, and Giacometti has a slightly more self-conscious look, as if admiring the thing but also hoping someone else might see in it what he sees in it -- which is only natural, as he himself made the thing; and the young critic/admirer is not looking at the thing at all, he is looking at Beckett and Giacometti. He is much, much younger than they are, and he does not see the Thing; he sees the two men instead, because it is obvious he mistakes them for the Thing, and he is not there to see the Thing, he is there to see what he takes for the Thing, the two men. While the two men are looking at the Thing. (Ruefle, Madness, Rack, and Honey, page 301)
We do not see "the young critic/admirer" described by Ruefle. We will have to take her word for the fact of his merely phenomenal existence. But Ruefle's 'word' is at times hard to take since she plays with them and their meanings. For example, why does she write, "The photo was taken in the early sixties, before Giacometti died"? Look at the photo. Does Giacometti not look alive? He of course is not yet dead! If she had written, "The photo was taken in 1961, five years before Giacometti died," the statement would have been readily understandable. Also banal, mundane, quotidian. She would never have written such words. Instead, she wrote something far more baffling . . . and intriguing.

I reached the end of Ruefle's book, page 309, yesterday evening -- actually, just the end of her lectures, for she has a bit more to say after those. But page 309 is end enough to recall beginnings, such as pages 1-2, where she writes:
Paul Valéry also described his perception of first lines so vividly, and to my mind so accurately, that I have never forgotten it: The opening line of a poem, he said, is like finding a fruit on the ground, a piece of fallen fruit you have never seen before, and the poet's task is to create the tree from which such a fruit would fall.
You have found here only the fruit left by Giacometti's missing Tree, and if you are a poet, you know the task that lies before you now . . .

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2 Comments:

At 1:58 PM, Blogger dhr said...

Beckett was my favorite writer when I was a teenager, I read basically everything by him: plays, novels, short stories, poetry, as well as seeing his only film, called "Film." I even wrote stories 'after his manner' (and Lovecraft's, all together). So, many thanks, for this photo + caption + your comments is the best Beckett tribute.

I recently happened to rediscover him as a sci-fi writer, hinting at post-apocalyptic scenarios ("Sans"), Distopias or negative Utopias ("Le Depéupleur"), and maybe even alien abductions ("All Strange Away").

 
At 2:12 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I owe it all to McVeigh and Ruefle.

Jeffery Hodges

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