Seagull Press, 2016.
On 5 October 2015, the German newspaper Die Welt published their daily edition as usual, but everything looked different. More calm. Gone were the latest news, forgotten as soon as they are read, replaced by a remarkable calm brought out with care for the chaos of contemporary times. This calm was created by the painter Gerhard Richter, who had been given a free leash on this one day to fill the paper with his personal statement: Dispatches from moments of calm during restless times. The pictures privileged the personal and specific impression that moves from the intimate to abandoned houses and desolate landscapes. The pictures were like short pauses, small exercises in attention, and spaces that smashed holes into a different kind of reality. Even in his most personal work, Richter had attained something crucial and therefore general and common. With this printed newspaper on this one day, he created a piece of mass art.
Blowing up the present.One of those who hailed the work, was the German film director and author Alexander Kluge, who started writing small stories accompanied by Richter’s pictures. This book brings Kluge’s 89 small stories together with Richter’s 64 pictures. The result is a strange, beautiful and meditative book – but it is more than just that: It is also a suggestion of what it means to understand history, something that has always concerned Kluge. History is not only the linear news story, which often coincides with the history of elites and rulers. Dispatches from Moments of Calm pulls the emergency brake at an uneasy time, in the linear time of progress, and brings out a present that is torn between a lived and a non-lived experience. Richter’s pictures made Kluge pause, think and wonder. None of Richter’s pictures are sensations or recognizable, but they are also not abstract. But rather invitations to wonder, to be amazed, to go crazy, as if this was the most enlightening thing. Like the eye watching a blue tit spending 23 attempts trying to salvage a biscuit, which really looks as if it’s thinking about every little detail. Like the dog Leica (from the name of the camera) lying in the morning sun, who is a dog as good as any, but who has nothing in common with the dog astronaut Laika. Laika, too, lay calmly in his space capsule, trained as he was to ignore stress. The dog died from over-heating before the poisonous pill that was supposed to kill it. Kluge writes that «this noble dog could never be said to lie calmly in his basket while circling the Earth at 18,000 miles an hour. The dog lying there in the morning son has nothing in common with the dead space traveller, he shares neither his fate nor his name.»
To «see».In 1946, the Russian astrophysicist Georgiy Gamov was flown around the U.S. and Canada to give lectures – and suddenly, at a noisy café in New York, he sees with his own eyes, during one of his few, calm moments, rotations of atoms and subatomic particles, their spin, the constant revolution of molecules and particles, the rapid spin of galaxies. He experiences this snapshot as one collected movement, like a complex piece of music, like something he had heard in the cathedral in Venice in the 1930s, which he was allowed by Stalin to visit. Rudolf Steiner was once asked how he understood chance, the random event. He avoided the question, but Kluge comes to his aid: In the summer of 2002, a group of children from the Russian city of Ufa, who had been honoured with a trip to Spain because of their good grades, didn’t make their flight, which arrived late to Moscow. They all died in the unauthorized flight used to reach their destination. But immediately before boarding, two representatives from Ufa arrived to take their children off the plane. They refused the children to fly on a plane that hadn’t originally been scheduled for this trip, and took the two disappointed children back to Ufa, where they were met with open arms (the accident had happened in the meantime). Kluge writes that «in anthroposophical science, this is an example of sensing chance […] They know about these (future events), not because they can trace their cause, but because they can «see» the density signalling danger.»
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