Friday, January 18, 2013

on Vincent van Gogh

The literature is vast in scholarly appraisal and sensitive perception of Van Gogh. I also want to say a little something.

Besides the startling colors and expressive forms, I detect something else in Van Gogh's works -- the uncanny. According to Freud, the uncanny occurs when what is familiar begins to seem unfamiliar. We are momentarily detached from the usual mode of experience and from the normal matrix of connections. You might say that we are, briefly, un-metabolized within the body of being.  

“The Uncanny is something hidden which ought to have remained missed but which is brought to light.” – Freud after Schelling

Freud characterizes such an episode as a frightening one. Among other things, he postulates "the double" as an instance of the uncanny, harking back to the macabre stories of E.T.A. Hoffmann.

I think the uncanny can also manifest in a way that is not exactly frightening but that has  more of an eerie quality. Or maybe a heightened ambivalence (with the root-sense of a split, a subtler mode of doubling than a Romantic phantasm or doppelgänger; yet, how strange and unsettling it is sometimes to be looking into a mirror!). 

I think Van Gogh was seeing and then painting the double of the world.

But not in any sense of mere representation. I'll not elaborate at this point on what, exactly or vaguely, I mean by this. I'll simply let the statement stand as it is, for better or worse. Maybe later, I'll continue. And attempt to write about how -- in what ways -- I think the uncanny is urged to presence in the art of Van Gogh.

The Sower, Arles 1888

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