death. week 11.
city. malaga, aix-en-provence
In reference to a truly strange piece named, “A Minotaur Caressing a Sleeping Woman”, Picasso writes:
“He’s studying her, trying to read her thoughts, trying to decide whether she loves him because he’s a monster.”
And while the name of the drawing is certainly not inaccurate, the piece can perhaps be better described as a cloud of anxious darkness hovering over a calm sea of light.
It is out of these two primordial forces that Picasso's characters emerge: a beautiful restful woman and an ugly horrific beast.
Obviously, Picasso identifies as the monster. Obviously, we all do.
Disgusted by our own ugliness, we hide behind careful facades, peering lustfully at all that is good, loving, and beautiful. We desire the Other. We desire anything -- everything -- other. Other than ourself.
But equally so (and herein lies the struggle), we maintain the impossible faith that we, too, belong to the Light.
Barely believing his luck, the minotaur crouches beside his idol in anxious disbelief. He allows himself only the faintest of caresses, so as not to awake her to his presence. If she knew he was there, she’d turn away in disgust, horrified by his dirty gaze.
He must live in the shadows.
Caught in a ray of Light, we can’t help but cower, enraptured by its definite impossibility. Can we be blamed for pinching ourselves, convinced that it's all a dream? Surely, (but surely!), there's been some sort of mistake. Me? With her?? Impossible.
On second thought though, the minotaur does have one other option (if he can stomach it). Faced with absurdity, laughter erupts.
If only he could see himself as we do, the minotaur might cackle at the ridiculousness of it all.
It cannot be! And yet, so it is.
Disbelief is the father of all love. It is impossible to love that which simply is.
Credo quia absurdum - I believe because it is absurd.
(Don’t forget, both Abraham and Sarah laughed at God. But only Sarah was punished for doubting.)
But Picasso takes it one step further. The monster, he tells us, wonders if he is loved because of his darkness.
Every now and then, in a dark silent quiet moment, in the very middle of the night, as we begin to drift off into sleep, and our thoughts grow muddled and dreamlike, we allow ourselves to ponder that most absurd notion. We whisper it in our thoughts:
Maybe this isn't a mistake. Maybe my lover is not asleep. Maybe she’s even wide awake. Maybe I, too, am worthy of love.
Perhaps, wonders the monster, this is exactly the way things are meant to be.
No one quite knows why we spend a third of our life asleep.
And yet we all do. We all must.
In the absence of sleep, we rapidly begin to die.
Being awake is an incurable disease.
The bodies of lab rats, once they've died from exhaustion, still look perfectly healthy. As one writer describes it: “they seem simply to have given up on life.”
Dreams are equally mysterious. At the very height of sleep, when the body lies paralyzed, the mind suddenly bursts to life. While we sleep our mind plays host to truly the most amazing experiences we'll ever have.
Once again, scientists are at a complete loss to explain why.
We are advised not to make much of our dreams, an instruction that is made mercifully easy by the rapid amnesia that sets in immediately upon awaking. Within moments of waking, our dreams are completely wiped from conscious memory, as if nothing at all had ever occurred.
The younger we are, the more time we spend asleep, and a larger portion of our sleep is spent dreaming. Fetuses spend about 80% of their time dreaming. Again, no one knows why.
But the simple truth, the intolerable truth, is that we don’t need to sleep in order to live, we need to live so that we may sleep.
The purpose of life is sleep.
And God rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.
Copernicus displaced the Earth from the center of the universe. Darwin, the human. And Freud, the mind. Now, life itself must be displaced. Life is not the goal, but the preparation for, our nightly rest. We live so that we may dream.
As the jewish legend relates, our soul leaves the body each night and ascends to the heavens, so as to delight in god’s brilliance. They understood, far better than we, that waking life is only a long and narrow hallway, a prozdor. The banquet hall (traklin) can only entered once our conscious mind has gone to sleep.
To awake, then, is not to return to our self, but to forget, over and over again, that which we truly are.
R. Akiva says:
This world is like a hallway (פרוזדור, prozdor) before the world to come.
Prepare yourself in the hallway,
so you can arrive in the great hall (טרקלין, traklin).
But the artist is no mere dreamer. Dreams, left unrealized, draw us away from life. Tantalizing us with their brilliance, life is left pale in comparison.
The artist possesses the rare ability to travel from reality to dream, and then back to reality again.
We are told that man is created in the image of god. And what is god other than that force which lovingly and ceaselessly shepherds dreams into existence.
Artists, like god, are not dreamers, but creators.
Creation guards the gate that stands between freedom and reality.
Joseph’s brothers had it right. To dream is not enough. Better to suffer here on earth than to live blissfully in a dream.
Moshiach ben Yoseph can do nothing on his own. He must wait for Moshiach ben Dovid to arrive.
Jewish law dictates that men and women must be separated by a wall during prayer. Much better, I think, is the way of the Church. While in the presence of god, it’s best to be distracted by some real flesh. Prayer must not be protected from life, cordoned off behind a red velvet rope. It must constantly be interrupted by the small and dirty facts of animal existence.
Only then may god descend upon earth. Only then may god come to life.
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life."
Bread is always god's body. Wine is always his blood. It is we who wish to distinguish between them.
My eyes gaze upon the Virgin Mary, but my heart longs for a virgin named Mary. God must always remain a dream. But we can step beyond possibility, into reality. We must become god-like. We must create.
Through toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.
To desire god, I must never cease desiring man. And isn't that the most difficult challenge? To wake up each morning and once again desire life?
Luckily for me, the cold breasts of a marble Madonna offer no competition for the soft supple breasts of the French girl sitting over on the next row. (Unfortunately for women, Jesus’s abs are far more convincing.)
Prayer always takes place in a dead language like Hebrew or Latin.
The land of dreams has no use for a living language. For thought to transform into word, it must first be kissed by the lips.
“A dream is not reality, but who's to say which is which.”
- The Mad Hatter
As for life, it is well beyond any wakefulness. Life is not conceived, the body catches nothing of it, it simply bears life.When Freud says: life aspires to death, it is in as much as life, to the extent that it is incarnate, to the extent that it is in the body,
would aspire to total, full consciousness. One can say that it is there that it is designated that even in absolute wakefulness, there is still a dream part which is precisely a dream of wakefulness. One never wakes up: desires sustain dreams.
Death is a dream, among other dreams which perpetuate life, that of sojourning in the mythical. Life is something quite impossible which can dream of absolute wakefulness. For example, in the nirvanesque religion, life dreams of escaping from itself. Nonetheless, life is real, and this return is mythical. It is mythical, and forms part of those dreams which are plugged in only to language. If there were no language, one would not begin to dream of being dead as a possibility. This possibility is all the more contradictory that even in those aspirations, not only mythical but mystical, one thinks that one is reaching absolute real which is modeled only through a calculation.
-- Jacques Lacan