Friday, July 27, 2012

Asja Lācis

1891 -- 1979

I'm mentioning Lācis because...well...look at that photo above. How could I not try to write something about that face, those eyes?

Asja Lācis was an early witness to the Revolution and a believer in it. This Latvian actress, theater director, and writer combined the aesthetic with the political in Soviet Russia. She met Brecht in 1924 and collaborated with him. She had an affair with Walter Benjamin, which some say led to the assimilation of Marxist ideas into his (always somewhat ambiguous) thinking. She and Benjamin wrote an essay together -- "Naples" -- about the porosity of a city. Here's an excerpt: 

"At the base of the cliff itself, where it touches the shore, caves have been hewn... As porous as this stone is the architecture. Building and action interpenetrate in the courtyards, arcades, and stairways. In everything, they preserve the scope to become a theatre of new, unforeseen constellation. The stamp of definitive is avoided. No situation appears intended for ever, no figure asserts it 'thus and not otherwise'. This is how architecture, the most binding part of the communal rhythm, comes into being here..." 

Lācis must have been an intellectual of a rare order. Or at least someone with a rare sensibility. Was Benjamin drawn to her mostly from erotic impulse or from the seductive shape of her philosophical thinking? Or was it that he found someone whose form of sensibility was as fluid and deep as his own? 

It appears that most scholars have defused and made diffuse the explosive power of the sexual aspect of their relationship. That it was less opposites coming together in an erotic combustion than the fact they shared an attraction to the theater. I prefer that evaluation. I like to think that Lācis and Benjamin were kindred spirits. Floating on a mutual aesthetic stratum, they could confess anything to one another -- dreams, visions, neuroses, existential bafflements. 

But it seems that she was quite set in her Revolutionary thinking, so maybe she wasn't as dreamy or existentially bemused as Benjamin. Maybe it wasn't a balanced relationship. She saw the world through a definite Marxist lens, while Benjamin construed reality via more abstruse, ambivalent forms. So it's sort of delightful and charming after all to think his late-blooming Marxism was, at root, influenced and stimulated by chemical romance. Her presence -- the aura of the work of art Lācis -- sent him down a new philosophical boulevard, perhaps one that he walked half out of his love-ruffled mind.  

1 comment:

  1. I, too, would myself susceptible to the attempt to write something about such a face and eyes. :-)