Posted by: glue | June 13, 2012


Isenheim Altarpiece


Continuing inventory of relays for mystory and wide image:  W. G. Sebald, After Nature.  Most of Sebald’s works manifest some aspects of mystory:  parallel stories juxtaposing an autobiographical tale with accounts based on biographies of figures drawn from other popcycle discourses.  After Nature collects three “poems” (in translation they read like prose poems):  on the 16th-c painter Grunewald, creator of the Isenheim Altarpiece; the 19th-c botanist Georg Steller who participated in Vitus Bering’s polar expedition; an autobiographical text. The mystorical Moment is expressed in this passage:

I grew up, despite the dreadful course of events elsewhere, on the northern edge of the  Alps, so it seems to me now, without any idea of destruction.  But the habit of often falling down in the street and often sitting with bandaged hands by the open window between the potted fuchsias, waiting for the  pain to subside and for hours doing nothing but looking out, early on induced me to imagine a silent catastrophe that occurs almost unperceived.  What I thought up at the time, while gazing down into the herb garden in which the nuns under their white starched hoods moved so slowly between the beds as though a moment ago they had still been caterillars, this  I have never gotten over (AN, 89).

Markus Zisselsberger identifies this passage as marking the event of crossing a threshold into an imagination of disaster, a world of destruction and catastrophe that informs Sebald’s stand, his art project, or, in electrate terms, his wide image.  Part of the interest in our context is the resonance with Blanchot’s Writing of the Disaster, specifically Blanchot’s epiphany, which also involves a childhood vision through a window, experienced as a revelation of catastrophe.  In the term “catastrophe” in both cases we hear the meaning of “threshold” codified by Rene Thom’s topology. 

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