https://bobostory.wordpress.com List

  • 13 Things I Found on the Internet Today (Vol. CCXCVII) - [image: 13 Things I Found on the Internet Today (Vol. CCXCVII)] 1. NYC Cab Driver Spends 30 Years Photographing His Passengers In 1980, aspiring photograp...
    2 hours ago
  • 包錯石訃告 - (來源:Kin Wai Lau臉書二O一八年七月廿一日,同日刊於《信報》。) (來源:陸離臉書二O一八年七月廿二日)
    11 hours ago
  • 夏日水果 - 夏天,來日本的最大收穫是買水果。 我們吃完岡山最好最成熟的白桃之後,到桃園的小賣店,可先訂好,到時送到機場,包 […]
    12 hours ago
  • Greetings from Twin Peaks (pictures & a small status update) - Last week I had the exciting opportunity to travel to Snoqualmie, North Bend, and Fall City, Washington for the first time. My cousin and I visited the f...
    18 hours ago
  • 關於《劉以鬯全集》的建議 - 《失去的愛情》書影 《幸福》雜誌內的《失去的愛情》 《差半車麥稭》 孫毓棠的信 六月八日下午,我們:鄭明仁、陳 … 繼續閱覽 關於《劉以鬯全集》的建議
    1 day ago
  • 巴金的明星效應──讀周立民有感 - 巴金1984年10月中至11月訪問香港,接受中文大學授予榮譽博士學位。周立民說, … 繼續閱讀 →
    1 week ago
  • 巴金的明星效應──讀周立民有感 - 巴金1984年10月中至11月訪問香港,接受中文大學授予榮譽博士學位。周立民說,巴金在香港引起了明星般的效應。但他視線所限,只引述了香港《文匯報》和《大公報》的新聞;而對香港情況稍有認識的,都知道這兩份報章銷量有限,沒有甚麼代表性。倘若他願意又有機會多參考其他報章,答案可能不一樣:巴金訪港,並不十分轟動。 ...
    1 week ago
  • Video: Economic Update: Criticizing Capitalism. Prof. Richard Wolff interviews David Harvey. - Economic Update: Criticizing Capitalism. Prof. Richard D. Wolff interviews David Harvey. Democracy at Work July 4, 2018 In this episode of Economic Update,...
    2 weeks ago
  • 采銅于山,照見日影 - 采銅于山,照見日影 讀《日影之舞》讓我想起明末清初學者顧炎武(1613—1682):「嘗謂今人纂輯之書,正如今人之鑄錢。古人采铜于山,今人則買舊錢,名之曰廢銅,以充鑄而已。所鑄之錢,既已粗惡,而又將古人傳世之寶,舂銼碎散,不存于後,豈不兩失之乎?承詢《日知錄》又成幾卷,蓋期之以廢銅,而某自别來一...
    3 weeks ago
  • 楊國雄、古兆申(古蒼梧)、馮偉才、也斯、黃俊東、劉以鬯、小思、李文健(杜漸)、黃繼持一九八六年照片 - 馮偉才: 小思和楊國雄的文章都提過香港文學研究會的成立經過。在舊物中找到這張照片,後面寫著:「香港文學研究會成立日」。 左起楊國雄、古兆申、馮偉才、也斯、黃俊東、劉以鬯、小思、李文健(杜漸)、黃繼持。 (香港文學研究會於1986年9月成立。劉以鬯、黄繼持任正副會長,小思任秘書長。但這個會之後並沒有官方活...
    1 month ago
  • 翻译:阿甘本《论可说之物和观念》5-7 - 5.短语“物自体”出现在柏拉图的《信札七》(*Settima lettera* )的一个关键段落中,我们长期以来忽视了这个文本对哲学史的影响力。塞克斯都·恩披里柯在斯多葛学派与《信札七》中的哲学话题之间做了一个比较,其中的亲缘关系昭然若揭。为了让人心服口服,我们在这里引用一下这段哲学话题的文本: 对于...
    2 months ago
  • 杭寧遊記 - 我的藏書裡有二部古籍和西湖相關,一是《御覽西湖志纂》,一是《西湖志》。
    2 months ago
  • Travel (驛馬) - 驛馬犯流年,十八個月三級跳升,在飛機上睡的時間比上床睡的時間還多。 今天工作需要的,已不再是知識與經驗,而是體力而已!
    3 months ago
  • 蘇賡哲:城寨和大學 - 12月5日多倫多明報 據説日本人最喜歡的香港特色地區是已消失了的九龍城寨,改建成公園已久,他們仍出版一本又一本追憶書籍。 以前家在九龍城賈炳達道,城寨自然也是熟悉的。所謂三不管黃、賭、毒集中地,髒亂無序不難想像。中共智囊強世功稱之為「一切人類道德所鄙視的東西,在這裏可以合法存在」。其實這話是有語病的,因...
    7 months ago
  • 釐清香港議員取消資格案的法律概念:又名「跳出跳入打我呀笨蛋」然後被打 - 好多人真的不懂法律又要講法律。又有好多人以為只有香港才會有「人大釋法」。任何一個 … 繼續閱讀 →
    1 year ago
  • 照顧與創作 - 月前為谷淑美的攝影詩文集《流光.時黑》做了中文部分的編輯工作,實在因為是一種唇亡齒寒感。谷淑美的書,是關於她照顧年老患病的母親,過程中進而對母親生命、自己生命的發掘,轉化為攝影與文字創作。自己進入中年,身體開始變差,也進一步想到將來要照顧家人的責任,暗暗畏懼其龐大。於是,也就想通過進入谷淑美的歷程,讓自己學...
    1 year ago
  • - 暗夜小巴像搖骰,我們每個橫切面都刻了字,不知我們在終站會變成甚麼。或者是上帝,或者是狗。或者倒轉的日歷。紙張一天一天倒著依附,雨中有人望過來問:為甚麼不可以?聽到問題的人,心裡又虛又慌,因為撇除了時日的制裁,也沒有多麼費力。耗費也是不足夠的。如果真的有努力過的話,根本不會站在這裡。喂,他其實一早...
    1 year ago
  • 《別字》試刊號第二期出版﹗ - 立即下載:《別字》試刊號第二期 《字花》的網上純創作誌《別字》登場了! 「別字」一名,既有別冊之意,更寄望透過網上平台,另闢傳播門徑,開拓閱讀體驗。 暫定三個欄目,「透光」的作品從自由投稿中特別挑選,「有時」配合《字花》徵稿或另設新題,「極限」則專載萬字長篇。 試刊號第二期,以PDF形式呈現,供各位下載...
    1 year ago
  • - 今晚和倩去百老匯看Antiporno. 如果這部片子要跟誰一起看,我只要她,不然就自己看。獨自欣賞是至高享受,看電影聽音樂於我不是社交活動,我最厭煩聽完即討論,太嘈雜。 倩是有negative capability的女孩。夜晚我們走在公園,一陣風吹過,樹葉沙沙作響,她會由衷感歎:風的聲音真好聽,然後我們沉默...
    1 year ago
  • 南海十三郎 - 南海十三郎是上一代粵劇界的傳奇人物,他創作力強,是個多產編劇家,在上世紀三、四十年代編寫超過百齣粵劇劇目,還攝製導演過好幾部粵劇電影。他本名江譽鏐,是前清末翰林江孔殷霞公的兒子。江孔殷是晚清最後一屆科舉進士,曾進翰林院,故又被稱為江太史。江孔殷由翰林院辭官後歸粵,居住廣州,以廣東地方士紳名流身份活躍,與友儕名人文...
    1 year ago
  • “舔舐自己的生命,仿佛那是一颗麦芽糖” - ​ “舔舐自己的生命,仿佛那是一颗麦芽糖” 顾文豪 1、《加缪手记》 加缪 浙江大学出版社·启真馆 如果在接下来的两个月里,没有特别巨大的阅读惊喜的话,我想三册的《加缪手记》,将会成为我今年的阅读首选。 从1935年5月到1942年2月,《手记》记录了加缪的读书杂感、生活随想、情感波动,以及写作...
    1 year ago
  • 酒足飯飽。酣然入夢——江戶子的老派追求 - 東京適合散步。出了名的散步文士,堪稱達人者有二:二次大戰前,搞不定老婆,不想吵,遂攜著一把蝙蝠傘,四處趴趴走的永井荷風;戰後,老婆、老母擺得一平二穩,隨身帶著幾張江戶古地圖,這邊那邊亂亂踅的池波正太郎。 *正港的江戶子* 池波是正港的「江戶子」,淺草出身,愛玩愛熱鬧愛美食。父母親很早離異,跟著...
    2 years ago
  • 乌托邦遗迹 - [image: uploads/201510/18_114414_s1.1973peterderret.jpg] [水瓶节,宁宾,1973年。摄影:Peter Derret] 乌托邦遗迹 欧宁 宁宾(Nimbin)是澳大利亚新南威尔士东北部山区的一个小镇,因1973年举办水瓶节(Aquarius Fes...
    2 years ago
  • 「馬拉松 看世界」專頁 向世界馬拉松出發 - 如無意外,本周日我應該身在三藩巿,跑今年第五個外國比賽,也是人生第三十個馬拉松比賽(廿九個在香港以外)。雖然Blog有好一段日子沒有update,但跑步仍是繼續下去,這兩年尤其多,也去了俄羅斯、澳洲這些新國家、新大陸跑,是另一個飛躍期。 這些年的跑馬路上,有幸認識一些志同道合、見識廣博、洞察力強、對比賽有要...
    3 years ago
  • 烏蘭巴托的夜 - 《烏蘭巴托的夜》是首蒙古歌曲。蒙古的作曲家寫的,賈樟柯重新填了詞,左小祖咒改編,電影《世界》插曲(湖南台的字幕打錯了)。左小原版的就好聽,他少有的比較「正經」地演唱。譚版也不錯,大氣,聲情並茂。 左小改編演唱的《烏蘭巴托的夜》 賈樟柯電影片斷(趙濤演唱) 蒙古族樂隊杭蓋的版本 烏蘭巴托的夜 作詞:賈樟...
    3 years ago
  • 莉娜骑士在盘子上 - 1874年12月25日,一个女孩诞生在罗马北部小城维泰博的贫民窟,迷信说,这一天诞生的人有特别的命运,父母为她取名“娜塔莉娜”(Natalina ),因为“natale”是意大利语里的“圣诞节”。12 岁开始,她当过卖花姑娘、包装女工,生活虽然贫寒,好在她天赋歌喉,每天从早唱到晚。邻居一个音乐教师给她上...
    3 years ago
  • 欲望的事故 - *欲望的事故 顾文豪 * 特里林在《知性乃道德职责》一书中引述亚里士多德关于悲剧的定义,认为悲剧的主人公具有某种程度的、可进行自由选择的可能性,他“必须通过自己的道德状况来为自己的命运进行辩解”,而其道德状况并非十全十美,也非一无是处,其中“有某种特定的错误使得这份错误与命运一起导致了个体的毁灭”。由此使得...
    4 years ago
  • 欲望的事故 - 欲望的事故 顾文豪 特里林在《知性乃道德职责》一书中引述亚里士多德关于悲剧的定义,认为悲剧的主人公具有某种程度的、可进行自由选择的可能性,他“必须通过自己的道德状况来为自己的命运进行辩解”,而其道德状况并非十全十... *博客大巴,你的个人传媒早班车*
    4 years ago
  • 給《明報》 - 一口答應寫一篇給《明報》,箇中心情,猶如「償還」。 明明我沒有欠這報甚麼,稿債沒有,瓜葛沒有。 都是人情吧。多老套。 這些年來,跟《明報》的這些年來,救命,怎麼細數。 第一次認真寫稿刊登,已是2003年的事了。正是馬家輝博士邀請,給世紀版寫一篇關於「網上飄流的香港家書」。(私人回憶:先生有份跟我寫的。)一年過...
    4 years ago
  • 那一身華美的曲線 - [image: 那一身華美的曲線] 她就站在落地窗邊,回眸對我笑了笑。我沒說話,什麼話都不想說。能說什麼呢?在她的笑容裏早就透露了對我些微的輕視:你總歸只能沈默吧!她似乎視我的沈默為一種必然的結果,像是看透我的一切。其實,我想了想,和她也不過就一面之緣。甚至在之後的好長一段時間再見到她,她根本就不記得我。自然,要...
    4 years ago
  • 偶然的發現 - 很久沒在facebook上看到湯正川的post,早上偶然看到他與另一DJ的對談,發現這首歌,先放上來,待電腦回復正常,再仔細欣賞。
    5 years ago
  • - *Chapeau...!*Cock your hat - angles are attitudes (Sinatra) By Heinz Decker Hats seem to stimulate the imagination; maybe because they are a prolongatio...
    5 years ago
  • 閱讀讓我質疑制度 - [本訪問稿乃〈不可能所有的真實都出現在你的攝影機前──賈樟柯、杜海濱訪談〉的第一部份。訪問稿全文網上版見以下網頁: http://leftfilm.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/jiaduinterview1/ http://leftfilm.wordpress.com/2012/07/17...
    5 years ago
  • 蜚聲卓越在書林──蘇州文育山房 - 蘇州的氣候溫潤,步調舒緩,水道與巷弄縱橫交錯,教人一來到此便安下心來。城裡的平江街區,從宋代便已經存在,以今日留存的巷弄來看,八百年來的格局規劃變化並不大,只是範圍縮小許多。而就在這僅存的街區裡,留下的不只是悠悠時光,亦有不少哲人賢士駐守的痕跡。書癡黃丕烈的百宋一廛、史學家顧頡剛的顧氏花園、清代狀元洪...
    6 years ago
  • 當世界留下二行詩 宣傳BV - 當世界留下二行詩瓦歷斯.諾幹Walis.Nokan本書以極簡的形式,現代詩行的排列,挑戰詩藝和語境的實驗風格觀察視角從台灣的土地與家園,擴及到族群、社會乃至世界的關懷。動情至深,引發共鳴,為作者近年來最新創意力作!短短的二行詩,宛如「芥子納須彌」激起無限想像空間,是一本趣意盎然、值得珍藏的現代詩集。向陽、李...
    6 years ago
  • 《辩论中国模式》(【读品】110辑·荐书·经济) - 丁学良 著,《辩论中国模式》,社科文献出版社,2011年1月,35.00元。 当前世界,经济的影响力与日倍增。伴随着中国经济三十年高速发展,中国GDP 最近终于超越日本,昂然迈入全球第二行列。与此同时,关于中国社会、政治、经济等等领域的研究也层出不穷,浪头潮流几经变故,从最初的“中国崩溃论”...
    7 years ago
  • V城系列明信片 - 圖:by 智海 and 楊智恆
    7 years ago
  • 《般若波罗蜜多心经》印存 - 《般若波罗蜜多心经》印存 般若波罗蜜多心经 35*35*138mm 薄意山水巴林红丝冻石 观自在菩萨 26*35*80mm 貔貅钮巴林黄冻石 行深般若波罗蜜多时 30*38*90mm 貔貅钮巴林冻石 照见五蕴皆空 33*33*114mm 螭钮巴林黄彩石 度一切苦厄 25*2...
    9 years ago

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Weirdist libraries In the Memory Ward

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/03/16/in-the-memory-ward

At first, the library of the Warburg Institute, in London, seems and smells like any other university library: four floors of fluorescent lights and steel shelves, with the damp, weedy aroma of aging books everywhere, and sudden apparitions of graduate students wearing that look, at once brightly keen and infinitely discouraged, eternally shared by graduate students, whether the old kind, with suède elbow patches, or the new kind, with many piercings.
Only as the visitor begins to study the collections does the oddity of the place appear. In the range-finder plates mounted on the shelves, where in a normal library one would expect to see “Spanish Literature, Sixteenth Century” or “Biography, American: E663-664,” there are, instead, signs pointing toward “Magic Mirrors” and “Amulets” and “The Evil Eye.” Long shelves of original medieval astrology hug texts on modern astronomy. The section on “Modern Philosophy” includes volume after volume of Nietzsche and half a shelf of Hume. The open stacks—exceptional in any gathering of irreplaceable books—are, in the European scheme of things, almost unknown. In the Bibliothèque Nationale, in Paris, the aim seems to be to keep as many books as possible safely out of the hands of people who might want to read them. In the Warburg Library, the books are available to be thumbed through at will.
History is here, ancient and local. An old edition of Epictetus, opened, turns out to bear the bookplate, complete with glaring owl, of E. H. Gombrich, perhaps the most important of modern art historians, who directed the Warburg Institute in its high period, in the nineteen-sixties. Beside each elevator bank, a chart displaying, in capital letters, the library’s curious organization helps guide the bewildered student: “FIRST FLOOR: IMAGE,” “SECOND FLOOR: WORD,” up to “FOURTH FLOOR: ACTION-ORIENTATION,” with “ACTION” comprising “Cultural and Political History,” and “ORIENTATION” “Magic and Science.” Mounted in the stairwells are uncanny black-and-white photographic collages of a single female type—a woman dancing in flowing drapery—that is seen in many forms, from classical friezes to Renaissance painting.
It is a library like no other in Europe—in its cross-disciplinary reference, its peculiarities, its originality, its strange depths and unexpected shallows. Magic and science, evil eyes and saints’ lives: these things repose side by side in a labyrinth of imagery and icons and memory. Dan Brown’s hero Robert Langdon supposedly teaches “symbology” at Harvard. There is no such field, but if there were, and if Professor Langdon wanted to study it before making love to mysterious Frenchwomen and nimbly avoiding Opus Dei hit men, this is where he would come to study.
Begun at the start of the last century, in Hamburg, by Aby Warburg, a wealthy banker’s son, the Warburg Library has been often expanded, but the original vision has never really been altered. It is a vast and expensive institution, devoted to a system of ideas that, however fascinating, are also in some dated ways faddish, and in some small ways foolish. Warburg, who died in 1929, spent part of his adult life in and out of mental hospitals—at one point, he lived in fear that he was being daily served human flesh. Yet he was the spirit behind the “iconographic studies” that dominated art history for most of the second half of the twentieth century—the man who reoriented the scholarly study of art from a discipline devoted essentially to saying who had painted what pictures when to one asking what all the little weird bits and pieces within the pictures might have meant in their time.
In the past several years, the Warburg’s future has been fiercely contested. It is in some senses a small and parochial struggle, right out of Trollope’s Barchester novels, and in others about something very big—about the future of private visions within public institutions, about what memory is and what we owe it, about how to tell when an original vision has become merely an eccentric one. It is the tale that has been told, in another key, about moving the Barnes Foundation from Merion to Philadelphia, and about expanding the Frick Collection, in New York. The question is what we owe the past’s past, what we owe the institutions that have shaped our view of how history happened, when contemporary history is happening to them.
The fight over the future of the Warburg Institute came to a climax in the past few months, but it started seven years ago, when the Warburg Institute and then the University of London began to seek legal counsel in order to clarify the terms of the trust deed that, in 1944, as the Second World War raged, had brought the institute into the university. Last year, the university initiated a lawsuit, thinking to “converge” the Warburg’s books into its larger library system, and to continue charging the Warburg a very large fee for the use of its building. Warburg-shaped scholars sought to rally the academic community in the pages of journals and on humanities Listservs. “If the university’s plans succeed,” the Princeton historian Anthony Grafton and the Harvard art historian Jeffrey Hamburger wrote, in The New York Review of Books, “the institute will have to abandon Warburg’s fundamental principles, lose control of its own books and periodicals (many of them acquired by gift or by the expenditure of the institute’s endowments), and shed, over time, the distinguished staff of scholars and scholar-librarians who train its students and continue to shape its holdings. . . . A center of European culture and a repository of the Western tradition that escaped Hitler and survived the Blitz may finally be destroyed by British bean counters.”
After smoldering within academia, the affair was ignited in public by a petition launched by an American Ph.D. student at University College London named Brooke Palmieri, a Warburg visitor who had come to London first to work in the rare-book trade, then to write a thesis on the pre-Pennsylvania Quakers. “I started the petition on Change.org last July,” she said recently, in that special lilting drawl of East Coast Americans long resident in London. “And within a couple of months it was just shy of twenty-five thousand signatures. It was an astonishing number for a library. But the Warburg has an amazingly vibrant intellectual history. I think what’s probably most interesting to me is that it runs on what they call ‘the law of the good neighbor’—it’s not based on what librarians alphabetically catalogue. Instead, it’s catalogued according to themes. The methodology of serendipity is what it’s all about, and the methodology of serendipity is responsible for most great ideas.”
Visiting London last fall, I found that while many people were exercised about the future of the Warburg, and had much to say about the approaching judgment, what they offered was more complicated than a simple picture of philistine university administrators assaulting virtuous scholars. Some people had their mouths firmly shut: those within the institute by the pending decision; the historian Lisa Jardine, who is Palmieri’s thesis adviser, and who had at first been publicly passionate in protest, by the sudden possibility that she might, in an emergency, be called on to run the Warburg if it lost the case and had to rebuild.
Others could speak more freely. Over dinner with Charles Saumarez Smith, the chief executive of the Royal Academy of Arts, formerly the director of the National Gallery, and a Warburg Institute alumnus, certain things became clearer. The story of the library and its migration to London, at least, seemed simple enough: at the end of the nineteenth century, Aby Warburg, a scion of the Hamburg Jewish banking family, had fallen in love with Italy, and with the idea of the Florentine Renaissance as the great, gone, golden time. In formation he was more German than Jewish, having fled family Orthodoxy as a boy, and he had begun to construct a library devoted to the Italian Renaissance and then, more broadly, to the way that the classical past had migrated into Renaissance humanism and beyond, into European culture. (At the precocious age of thirteen, Aby made a deal with his brother Max: he would surrender his interest in the firm if Max would pay for all the books he wanted to buy.)
With the onset of Nazism, enemy to learning and to Jewish bankers both, the library, still staffed by Warburg’s disciples, looked elsewhere for a home. In 1933, it found one in London, where, after much last-minute maneuvering, the books, documents, furniture, and staff, including Fritz Saxl and Gertrud Bing, who had been Warburg’s most important collaborators, were all sent, finding space temporarily in Millbank and then, for twenty years, in South Kensington. Toward the end of the desperate war, the Warburg family, in a succinct document, deeded the collection permanently to the University of London, on condition that it be housed in a “suitable building in close proximity to the University” and kept intact.
Saumarez Smith tried to explain how the Warburg’s approach was different from the connoisseurship-based practice of conventional British art history. “It was the idea that art stood, and stands, for something more important and more fundamental than just the work of artists on their own,” he said. “This was the atmosphere of the Warburg Institute when it was in South Kensington. It was a cell of chain-smoking German scholars who stood entirely apart from the English academic establishment.”
Then, in 1958, Saumarez Smith noted, the Warburg was institutionalized in a grand building in Woburn Square. In some measure, it was victimized by its own influence. “When I was a postgraduate student, the Warburg still had, and it probably still has, considerable intellectual clout,” he observed, “but, as the rest of the scholarly world became more interdisciplinary and more Warburgian, the Warburg itself turned into a center for narrower Renaissance scholarship, believing in professional academic expertise and profoundly suspicious of newer scholarship.”
Even paranoids have enemies, as the saying goes, and even philistine university bureaucrats, it seems, do sometimes become reasonably exasperated by overprivileged and insulated academics. The word on the Barchester Street, so to speak, was that the reality of what was going on was more complicated than its representation in the popular press. The “convergence” policy that the university was said to be forcing on the Warburg had, at its heart, the unavoidable logic of modernization. (The university was, of course, also being squeezed by budget cuts from the British government.) “The Warburg now faces a crisis,” Saumarez Smith went on, “because it has assumed that it can carry on regardless, ignoring what has been happening over the past twenty years in university administration—the creation of the School of Advanced Study at the University of London, the systematization of library catalogues, which the Warburg has vigorously resisted, the need to engage in fund-raising, which the Warburg has not done, the need to engage with the outside world as a center of scholarship.”
The real fight, in other words, was over money. To create the School of Advanced Study, the University of London, in 1994, brought together ten research institutes, including the Warburg. It wanted the Warburg, like the other institutes, to raise its own money, while the Warburg thought that the university ought to support it indefinitely, because that was what the trust deed said it would do. It was, in a way, a mordant echo of the bigger controversies rocking Europe, not entirely unlike Germany’s efforts to force Greece to behave more “responsibly,” while Greece claimed that responsible behavior was not captured by a bottom line but lay in being responsible to its true constituency. Supporting humanistic ventures that could not be expected to support themselves was exactly the point of having churches and universities—or so the clergymen with their sinecures and the professors with their tenure like to insist. One irony among many, of course, was that Aby Warburg, the man who started it all, was able to do so only because his family had, for so many generations, thought that the only way Jews like them could flourish would be if they made lots of money, and could do what they wanted with it.
Few words are as overused in our time as “icon” and its variant “iconic.” Any celebrity whose face is still recognizable a decade after her death is, as Clive James once suggested, an icon. Soup cans and Coke bottles are icons, as are the faces of the men who made soup cans and Coke bottles into icons. Aby Warburg, as much as anyone, is responsible for that turn. Before him, “icon” was largely a religious term, for what Byzantines were always quarrelling about; Warburg, and the practice that he founded, took it over to mean the potent symbolic images of Western art.
Warburg first visited Italy in the late eighteen-eighties. It was a time when the history of Renaissance art revolved either around connoisseurship—the craft of saying who painted what when—or, in Germany, around a tradition in which the art of one epoch or another was shown to reflect the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age. In the case of the Florentine Renaissance, that spirit was assumed to be one of humanist materialism trumping medieval symbolism. Botticelli’s naked Venus rose above the waves to indicate the reborn triumph of pagan flesh over prudish pedantry.
Warburg, immersed in the Florentine libraries and their documents, began to discover that much of the painting he loved was deeply rooted in more ancient practices, particularly in astrology and other kinds of semi-magical beliefs, and in religious doctrines, some of them very esoteric. A new idea of the Renaissance began to emerge in his mind: not a burst of materialism and humanism against cramped learning but an eruption of certain recurring ancient ideas and images—icons. In 1912, he dubbed this new “science” of art history “iconology.” Half anthropology, half aestheticism, it took the material of art to be a parade of symbolic images, proliferating, crossbreeding, evolving. Botticelli’s mythologies, including “The Birth of Venus,” weren’t a humanist rejection of the medieval for the affirmation of lived experience; they were dark philosophical codes, which needed to be broken in order to be enjoyed.
In 1895, Warburg, with an intrepid spirit for so fragile a being, travelled to the American Southwest, where he immersed himself in the culture of the Hopi Indians. Or thought he had: inevitably, his vision of the Hopi was colored by the expectations of a nineteenth-century German. (“If Nietzsche had only been familiar with the data of anthropology and folklore!” he wrote, typically and touchingly, some years after his Southwestern sojourn.) But his experience of the “indigenous” deepened and universalized his instincts about the role of images across cultures. The Hopi were really not that far from Renaissance Florentines. They, too, “stand on middle ground between magic and logos, and their instrument of orientation is the symbol,” he wrote. The symbol is the primitive enduring virus that temporarily makes art its home.
Warburg’s ideas are often not just bafflingly inbred but expressed in crunchy impenetrable German compounds. It is a brave man who would attempt to simplify them too sharply. Nonetheless, his theory of pictures might be summed up in three words: Poses have power. The repeated poses of art—young girls dancing, snakes entwining, the moment of the kill in the hunt, the confrontation of sea and single figure—are parts of an ongoing inheritance, a natural language of visual meaning that we all understand without having been consciously instructed in it. Warburg’s favorite illustration was what he called the “Nympha” figure: the young woman in flowing drapery who gives the illusion of rapid and graceful movement and can be found dancing through Western art for two thousand years, from Hellenistic sarcophagi to Botticelli’s “Primavera” and Isadora Duncan.
Like all powerful things, such poses are double-edged. There is a white image magic that feeds humanism and infuses art with healthy Dionysian passion, and there is a black image magic that causes us to surrender reason to ravishments of our own fixations. Although Warburg died before Nazism came to a head, he knew very well the appeal of “Dionysian” imagery to modern people desiccated by rationality. As the long “memory traces” of mankind—Warburg referred to these as “engrams”—reach us through recurring images, we can be overwhelmed by them or we can organize them. The constellations of astrology are a perfect illustration of his point. There are no rams and bears and heroes in the sky, controlling our behavior. The patterns aren’t real, but they trap us into imagining that they are. Yet the act of organization that the constellations represent proved to be essential to rational science, giving us mathematics through imagination.
Cartoon
“Ow! Ow! Hot! Hot! Hot! Ow! Hot!”BUY THE PRINT »
Warburg’s ideas about images were so complex and self-cancelling that, as time went on, he felt they could be expressed only as images. He created large collages of maps, manuscript pages, and photographs taken from many sources, high and low alike, including his beloved Nympha figure, and arrayed them on black linen screens. Although the originals did not survive, photographs of his “Mnemosyne Atlas” are what decorate the Warburg Library’s stairwell.
Original systems are usually organic and improvisational in nature. Most often, the immediate followers of the organic master cannot quite absorb the system; they can only axiomatize it. Warburg’s system was axiomatized by his colleague and sometime student Erwin Panofsky, who moved Warburg’s iconology in the direction of the academic study of “iconography,” the demanding but ultimately simpler decoding of the set symbols that filled Renaissance and post-Renaissance painting up to the time of Manet: dogs were a sign of fidelity, unlit candles of virginity about to end, and so on. But anyone who looked into the turbulent, shifting waters of Warburg’s actual beliefs knew that there was something more, and much stranger, there. At a minimum, there was something compellingly incongruous: on the one hand, his vision was haunted by half-clothed women dancing ecstatic Dionysian dances; on the other, it was devoted to minute archival research meant to record their choreography through time.
London last fall, or some circles of it, was filled with rumors about the decision that the judge in the lawsuit, one Dame Sonia Proudman, who had been considering the case for several months, would make. The betting was that she would break the deed, since it was so clearly burdensome to the university, and because it had been made in such strange and hurried circumstances. Charles Hope, a recent director of the institute, and the leader of its “loyalists,” told me that, in his view, the deed, far from being the hastily scribbled wartime gift of legend, was in truth a much considered and political act on the part of the British establishment, merely endorsed by the final paper. “What people don’t understand is that the decision to absorb the library wasn’t simply an act of absent-minded philanthropy,” Hope said. “It was made at very high levels of British government, and was intimately connected to other decisions about art, including the beginnings of the Courtauld Institute.”
Among those who might be called the semi-loyalists, the sense arose that the real problem was not in fact monetary but intellectual—that the Warburg had lost its way for the paradoxical reason that its greatest director had been out of sympathy with the library’s founding premise. Oscar Wilde says that every great man has disciples and that Judas writes the biography. Gombrich, the institute’s director from 1959 to 1976, and the official biographer of its founder, was hardly a Judas, but he was certainly a Josephus—a doubter of the obsessional causes of his time, including Warburg’s.
Gombrich’s great work involved mapping the methods of the sciences, their search for new knowledge through self-correcting experiment, onto the history of painting. Art, he thought, progresses rationally, as science does. He had a horror of romantic irrationalism of all kinds; it was, he thought, at the heart of the Nazism that had destroyed Germany’s intellectual heritage and sent a generation of European scholars, himself included, into exile. The implicitly “Jungian” nature of Warburg’s later work—with its call to shared cultural spirits, to archetypes in the sky and engrams in the brain—bore for him too close a resemblance to ideas of blood and racial memory.
It’s clear that Gombrich, although he doesn’t quite say so in his “Aby Warburg: An Intellectual Biography” (1970), believed that by the end Warburg’s thinking had many obviously loony aspects, and that his collages of poses had some of the indiscriminate, free-associating character of schizophrenic art. (Warburg’s son, Max, who suffered from many of the difficulties that had afflicted his father, was often at the institute in the sixties and seventies, and some felt that Gombrich was less than perfectly sympathetic to him. “Of course, you couldn’t expect the director to have much time for the troubled son,” one witness to the time says, “but when Max appeared at the Warburg teas, I was always dismayed by the way Gombrich paid so little attention to him.”)
For Gombrich, the continuities of art were not the result of engrams stuck in the mind. They were traditions near at hand, hypotheses attempting to solve problems, rather than recurrent images haunting the collective unconscious. The Nympha kept coming back for the same reason that every musical comedy has a second lead who sings soprano: it is a convention. “Gombrich did not create a school or attract scholars to succeed him,” Saumarez Smith told me. “I remember him at his eighty-fifth-birthday dinner being very contemptuous of those who came after him, a Grand Old Man who had had no succession plan and, like some grand intellectual figures, felt that no one was up to the job of succeeding him.”
In the years since Gombrich’s biography of Warburg, however, what once seemed suspicious or wacky in the Warburg tradition has become cool, and even trendy. In the past two years alone, at least ten scholarly books on Warburg and his work have been published. There are fashions in academia as in everything else, and Warburg has never been more fashionable. The contradictions, the fragmentary achievement, the image-mongering: crazy scholars with strange ideas now attract rather than repel us, and we are sufficiently far from the disasters of Romanticism to once again be open to its joys. Free association liberates us from the canon, and contradiction fires weapons against the logocentric mind. We can even look at the German Romantic fascination with a shared unconscious without immediately thinking of Auschwitz.
As a consequence, Warburg is now seen increasingly as an early master of modern disorder, a bookend and rival to Walter Benjamin. But where Benjamin famously saw mass reproduction as separating art from ritual, mystery, and “aura,” Warburg’s vision was more like that of a banker: images were a currency, circulating freely through time, and even collecting compound interest as they aged. We reaped the profits as images proliferated, growing in intensity and varieties of possible meaning: Nympha, born on a sarcophagus, could, multiplying through the ages, end happily on a stamp.
Warburg’s most influential student in the English-speaking world was, of all people, Kenneth Clark, the mandarin overseer of the British art establishment from the thirties through the seventies. In fact, one of the most living reminiscences of Warburg is a short one in Clark’s autobiography “Another Part of the Wood.” Clark was the prize pupil of Bernard Berenson, the master of connoisseurship. Hearing Warburg lecture in Rome in 1928 altered Clark’s entire world picture. “Warburg was without doubt the most original thinker on art-history of our time, and entirely changed the course of art-historical studies,” Clark wrote. “He had, to an uncanny degree, the gift of mimesis. He could ‘get inside’ a character, so that when he quoted from Savonarola, one seemed to hear the Frate’s high, compelling voice; and when he read from Poliziano there was all the daintiness and the slight artificiality of the Medicean circle. . . . Warburg, who preferred to talk to an individual, directed the whole lecture at me. It lasted over two hours, and I understood about two thirds. But it was enough.” Though Clark remained outside the faculty of the Warburg Institute proper, his beautifully lucid writings, in popular books like “The Nude,” brought Warburg’s ideas to a broad audience.
Clark, in the second volume of his autobiography, mentions in passing his 1961-62 Slade Lectures at Oxford, on what he called “Motives”—recurrent patterns of poses in art. I wondered if the lectures survived in some form, and, recalling that Clark, elsewhere in his memoirs, writes that he had never given an “improvised” lecture, decided, while I waited for the Warburg judgment to come down, to seek them out in the Clark archives, at the Tate.
The manuscript did indeed survive, complete and unpublished, and I spent hours turning over its pages at a carrel there. The “Motives” lectures were perhaps the best thing of Clark’s I had ever read: a Warburgian investigation of a set number of poses—“where the fusion of form and subject . . . has taken a recognizable shape, either because it recurs with unquestionable power over a long period, or because, over a short period, it is used with compulsive intensity.” Clark set out to explain where the poses began, where they went, and why they mattered. The motives that he examined included the child (almost invariably the infant Jesus turning in contrapposto toward its mother’s breast and face), two figures embracing, the image of a wild beast devouring a horse, and the “ecstatic spiral,” a form that unites primitive decoration and the epiphanies of Baroque ceilings.
There was something pleasingly archaic about reading lectures given so long ago, and still full of the speaker’s housekeeping notes: “Next Thursday it will be the motive of Encounter—the experience of two people meeting in love. On the 16th it will be the motive of the Pillar and the Trunk—the act of defying the law of gravitation; and on the 23rd it will be the Recumbent Figure—the act of accepting the law of gravity. I shall not give a lecture on the 29th.” What gives the lectures their force, though, is their easy Warburgianism. “Motives are states of mind which have taken visible shape,” Clark explains. “They are thus very similar to the subject of a lyric poem or a piece of music; with this difference that the poem or musical composition can develop in time, whereas the visual motive has to compress all conflicting or amplifying associations into a single symbol. This intense concentration seems to explain why recurring motives are so few and so tenaciously held.” From Warburg, Clark had taken over not only the core idea that poses have power but a sense of how they communicate from generation to generation. Popular imagery could “carry” an image more effectively than art: “Indeed, it often seems as if the ‘carrier’ of a motive needs to be artistically worthless in order that the artist who uses it should feel a greater urge to bring it to perfection.”
Perhaps the most beautiful set piece in the lectures comes in the one on the “ecstatic spiral,” a lecture obviously haunted by Warburg’s Nympha: “We twist in agony, we twist in ecstasy, we twirl in the dance. A leaf in an eddy of wind rises in a spiral, so does a waterspout. Flames curl upwards, to comfort or destroy, as matter is transformed into energy.” Clark ends this last lecture with the note that this spirit “now can find expression only in music and dancing. Although our buildings are as rigid as gridirons, we still find release and emotional satisfaction in the Twist.” Clark may have been making a donnish jest—you can almost hear the dry laughter in the lecture hall—but he was also on to something real: Warburg’s engrams of energy are now more often pop than not.
There were, of course, no images attached to the manuscript, and the “lantern slides” that Clark used I assumed had been lost. So, as I read, I had the thought that, with the Tate archive blessed by Wi-Fi, I could search for the images Clark was citing right on my laptop. I went to Google Images, and there they were, the embracing emperors and brides and the ecstatic spirals of the Baroque. Indeed, there were motives from far more sources than one could have imagined. The Google Images search instantly brought forth embraces in Rembrandt and encounters in Facebook photographs, ecstatic spirals not just in rococo ceilings but in Robert Smithson’s “Spiral Jetty” and in fusilli pasta with spiral-cut zucchini. It occurred to me that there was a broader visual likeness here: the Google Images page eerily reproduces the form of the Warburg “Mnemosyne” screens—the horizontal rows of similar images, neatly framed in long boxes, and the vertical distribution of them irregularly across a surface.
Warburg’s essential insight—that imagery is viral, communicable, contagious, and crossbreeding—was, I realized, right. Reproductions, like the black-and-white photographs that Warburg himself used, don’t serve as stoppers to meaning; they serve as carriers of the force of symbols from imagination to imagination. This process, already accelerated in the Renaissance, goes still faster in our time, and is not just the primary dynamic of our visual experience but also the primary matter of our art. We live now on Mnemosyne screens. For good or ill, the methodology of visual serendipity is our own.
The decision about the fate of the Warburg, endlessly delayed, came down in early November. It was, remarkably, almost entirely in favor of the institute. The judge found the University of London responsible for the Warburg’s upkeep, its continuation, and its integrity. Charles Hope wrote a triumphant piece in The London Review of Books: “The effect of this judgment has been to establish that the university has been in serious breach of the trust deed for many years. The Warburg Institute must now be adequately funded by the university.”
Last month, it was announced, in a short statement, that the Warburg and the university had arrived at a “binding agreement” allowing them to “draw a line under past disagreements and look to the future.” Then, just last week, it was announced that a new director had been chosen, from outside the institute: David Freedberg, a distinguished art historian who has been resident for many years at Columbia University, had agreed to take over the directorship, at a considerable reduction of salary; he will live in a small apartment in walking distance of the library.
Freedberg spent many formative years working at the library, and, like every newly created boss of an old institution with a high opinion of itself, he is obviously tactful about seeming to want to change the institution too radically. But he also makes it clear that he feels the Warburg has departed from some of the richer intellectual paths it pioneered. “In the past thirty years, the Warburg seemed, I think it’s fair to say, to have become wary about exploring the lower and more basic levels of cultural formations—those rougher sides of culture, the superstitious and even the barbaric, which fascinated Warburg himself,” he said the other day. “Warburg was interested in the engines that sustained imagery in human minds and caused symbols to recur, rather than wanting to simply collect archival evidence of its persistence. There’s been a reluctance to explore the sides of Warburg that were concerned with the irrational and the universal. We need to get back to thinking about the Urformen and the engrams in contemporary terms—to the study, including the neurological and scientific study, of culturally modulated gestures. The failure to understand that task contributed to the decline of the Warburg, even while, paradoxically, the public interest in Aby Warburg has grown.
“My dream of reviving the Warburg is a dream of making it the center of vigorous and vital cultural history in our time. It needs to engage with current debates, however dismaying. The Warburg is very well positioned to take a stand on crosscultural ethical issues, on cross-disciplinary issues—even questions of human rights. It can be, and, I hope, will be, more engaged with contemporary issues than it has ever been before.”
Brooke Palmieri says that she feels “optimistic,” but no more than that. “I think that the court case was really great as a wakeup call for the University of London,” she says. “We’ve got twenty-five thousand more sets of eyes on the Warburg Institute than I would have thought possible. But there’s a button on the Change.org petition page—you press it to declare your petition a success. Well, I haven’t pushed that button. ” Lisa Jardine, for her part, notes, “I have a hard time believing that in the next five to ten years the situation will not arise again. Unless, of course, a major benefactor is found.” Freedberg recognizes as well that the future will depend on ambitious fund-raising, a daunting task in a country where state funding is still more the norm for higher education than American-style private endowment. As bankers know, sooner or later someone will have to pay.
The decision was, in other words, a perfectly Warburgian event: conservative and reassuring to a pedantic degree, it was also potentially destabilizing. For the time being, the books are still there, open on their shelves, and in the stairwells the nymphs rejoice. 

No comments:

Post a Comment