Robert Irwin Exhibit At The Hirshorn Museum

After opening with one of his later, convex disc sculptures, the exhibit moved on to a series of thickly painted, mannered pieces, with a three dimensional effect caused by the thickness of the layers of paint and the areas carved out of the three dimensional layers (some seemingly carved with a palette knife). The appearance, then, of his classic, geometrical, and spare line paintings was like a Stendahlian explosion (as in the syndrome). In some, the lines were so narrow and precise that I had to look closely to convince myself that they weren’t glued on. The dot paintings that followed, though, left me cold. Even though close examination allowed me to see the diffusion. shapes, and patterns, they felt contemptful of the viewer. Likewise, his ‘light and space’ sculptures – mostly convex discs (like the first item) and a couple of columns only made me want to walk back and see the line paintings again. At the end was a massive, site specific trompe l’oeil installation that has to be seen to be understood, so I won’t try to describe it. If you can’t get here to see it, well that doesn’t feel much like a ‘me’ problem, now does it?

Contemplation, No Contemplation

While working for my better half at Eastern Market, I read Tseng Ts’an’s The Hsin-Hsin Ming, a poem illustrating some principles of Zen Buddhism. At the same time, I’ve been doing some very casual, very unsystematic tasting of some ancient, classical philosophers: Aristotle (The Rhetoric), Marcus Aurelius (Meditations), Plato (Gorgias), Plotinus (glancing at, but by no means understanding The Enneads), Quintillan (Orator’s Education), and Cicero (On Duties). None of these particular works address the particular issue I was thinking of, though. However, in other works, all of them do express very clearly that, in some way, shape, or form, the best life (good life, virtuous life) is a life of contemplation and philosophy, through a combination of reading, study, and dialogue with others. Tseng Ts’an expressly forbids seeking ‘Englightenment.’ He expressly tells the reader not to meditate nor contemplate. He doesn’t want you studying, nor reading, not engaging in dialogue on things.

Ecce Homo

Re-reading Ecce Homo after reading Gros on Nietzsche has given me a new perspective. In my mind, Nietzsche was urban or housebound or almost an invalid. A cantankerous, mustachioed German. But Gros opened me up to Nietzsche the walker, the nature lover. And now, I can see his relationship with and affection for the natural world and he seems more like Thoreau than the Underground Man.

Also, as per Gros, rejects bookishness here, claiming he would travel with just a few books (this weekend, I refused to travel a mile to Eastern Market without three books). Later, when commenting on his earlier book, Human, All Too Human, he writes:

I was redeemed from the ‘book,’ for years at a time, I read nothing – the greatest favour I have ever done myself! – That deepest self, as it were buried and grown silent under a constant compulsion to listen to other selves (- and that is what reading means!) awoke slowly, timidly, doubtfully – but at length it spoke again.

Don’t know how I didn’t remember this, but he consistently rejects all things German and proclaims himself Polish and Poland his fatherland. He also constantly returns to Zarathustra, clearly rating it as his greatest work. While Birth of Tragedy does not get so much attention, Dionysos does, with the dionysian aspect being referenced again and again.

I’d been wanting to pick up the companion of my teens and twenties again, but Ecce Homo was probably not the best choice, especially since much of it is a commentary on earlier books by Nietzsche – books that I hadn’t read in a while (else a revisiting to him would be unnecessary).

Farewell To Old Siam/Nana Thai

A sad moment. I won’t say it was the best Thai restaurant, but it was good. Even when they changed the name to Nana Thai, it remained Old Siam to me. And so it shall in perpetuity, I reckon.

I didn’t even get one last meal in. By the time I had made up my mind to go, the furnishings were on the street and the staff were inside eating pizza.

This place was pleasantly close to my old apartment in DC, but after we moved to a house in the Atlas District, I apostasized and switched my loyalties to a Thai place called Imm on H.

The world keeps moving, I reckon.

‘District Merchants’ At The Folger

DistrictWIDE2Written by frequent Folger production director, Aaron Posner, District Merchants is new take on The Merchant of Venice which seeks to tackle to elephant in the room: Shakespeare’s unforgiving and cruel and anti-semitic take on Shylock, the titular merchant.

Posner keeps the names, but shifts the action to Washington, DC and the time to the months just before and just after the Panic of 1873. He mostly keeps the original names, or else uses something very close (which sometimes seems jarring – especially the continued use of ‘Shylock’), but plays with race and ethnicity, making the majority of the non-Jewish characters black. This does create a more nuanced view of discrimination and prejudice (especially in the form of a young mixed race man who ‘passes’ as white), as does the addition of topics like the pogroms in Russia and war profiteering during the Civil War. Muddies the waters, those last two, though I’m not always sure to what end. I mean, I know to what end, but I guess that I’m not sure if it really succeeded.

But the play does succeed, sometimes, in spite of itself. But The Merchant of Venice, when it succeeds, does so in spite of itself, does it not? And, as a DC resident, references to places like Eastern Market made me smile with pride/recognition.

The Ladder In The Sky

The Ladder in the Sky, one half of an Ace Double (the other half being The Darkness Before Tomorrow) is an oft told tale of an ordinary man given amazing intellectual, including mystical/psychic/super-science powers.

It does nothing very well, but nothing badly and I was entertained for an hour or so. If there was something, not exactly new, but different, was that it took place in ‘the future.’ Normally, the ordinary person lives in more or less modern times, but in this case, it was already a science fiction setting with interstellar travel and what not.

That day I’d brought two books with me to read while I was working for my better half at Eastern Market. Unfortunately, I’d misjudged the speed of my reading and found myself bookless by noon, so I ran to Capitol Hill Books during a lull and grabbed this Ace Double – mostly because it was an Ace Double and I just think the idea is cool – for four dollars twenty-four cents, including tax.

It’s A Mystery!

…was the corny name of a fun little event put on by WETA, one of our local public radio and television stations. Professor Rebecca Boylan from Georgetown spoke about (primarily) British mysteries and the distinction between truth and justice, insider and outsider, etc.

It wasn’t as academic as I would have liked, but she did talk about three philosophical ‘truth theories’ and how various detectives use them to reach the ‘truth.’

First was the correspondence theory, which is building relationships or correspondences between facts to arrive at the truth. She mentioned Wallander of the detective show (and books) of the same name, though the classic Sherlock Holmes would have been a more obvious one, I think.

Secondly was the coherence model, which is less observational and more introspective; more about building a internally consistent model for the truth, for which the models were Luther (love Luther!) and Poirot.

Finally, was the pragmatic model, which was less about absolute ‘truth,’ than what worked.

Also, a neat and counter intuitive comparison of Luther and Morse, with Luther posited as the urban Morse and both being primarily representatives of the detective as outsider.

And they gave me this cool mug!