Persuasion of the surround. by Gerardo Muñoz

The friend Andrés Gordillo has generously sustained an ongoing conversation in light of the talk delivered in Mexico on institution and immanence (a first reaction could be read here). In a recent note he brings many elements to the table, and his versatile writing makes it difficult – alas, this is a wish come true for any reader – to locate an univocal point of entry. This is perhaps because there is none. Andrés wants to keep us at the edge, and so he enacts the set up: there is communication, and because communication is the event of language, there is still the possibility of mystery. Many things already pop up here, but this might be doing injustice to Andrés’ elaborate draft. So, for the sake of the exchange, let me open the route by running through a moment that impacted my first reading. It is this moment: “El desencuentro que aviva la amistad de ambos personajes [Narcissus and Goldmund] es el de haber decidido resguardarse en la exterioridad de sus elecciones, ahí donde son obra del amor”.

This is a condensation of what the Hesse’s novel means to him; or, rather, how it speaks to him in light of a discussion regarding the dominance of the civil principle, and the question of an experiential dimension that we defined provokingly as a minor transcendence. I am not sure I am in the position to unpack Andrés’ thesis, if it is a thesis at all. I do remember a couple of years ago an exchange with Alberto Moreiras on the logic of the encounter and the misencounter related, precisely, to the problem of the eclipse of experience. This is the problem that keeps soliciting thought; it is the problem of thought itself.

However, I am getting ahead of myself. Andrés stages a complex framing: there is friendship as absolute difference (or in virtue of a fundamental misencounter), and then there is an exteriority of their existential decisions; that is, in the manner that they are irreductible to their being in the world. I spoke of framing purposely, since I find myself these days with Pablo Picasso’s “The Blue Room” (1901) from the early period that I encountered in Washington DC. It is a rather small picture – and to the viewer, the semi-statue like nude, a female figure it seems, comes to the forefront sliding downwards. A mysterious resonance dilates between things – and indeed, the objects in the room (the sheets, the rug, the bouquet of flowers, the paintings, the half-open window) feel like things. This is an intimate surround at the threshold of catastrophe, where things could be lost at any moment. And we know that epochally they soon were.

We are in a strange setting – and if it is strange to us it is because there is a sense to which alienation and solitude here is the fundamental harmony of dwelling. This is not yet the assumption into plain and continuous historical time that will amass things into objects. The “Blue Room” (1901) inscribes esoterically the thematics of pain – it is a work in which Picasso responds to his friend Carles Casagemas’ suicide that very same year. No metaphorical or allegorical reading will do the job to put us in “The Blue Room”. In the wake of an elliptical death, pain stands in, like the nude the water basin, as the irreductible to history and the menacing social sphere. I will bounce this to another moment of Andrés’ text: “Por ahora me siento inclinado a conversar: avanzar hacia un umbral que se desploma”. This ‘crumbling threshold’ now appears to me as a sound and prudent description of what “The Blue Room” (1901) was able to achieve. An experiential awakening against the conflagration of modern historical time: soon enough – and boy was it soon – the interior space of “The Blue Room” will multiply into infinite cells of the planetary designs in which social man will be just a potential inmate. This is why Picasso in 1901 speaks still today a strange language for us – it discloses a surround, an exteriority that we have been deprived of. It is a surround that is fully folded within.

If pictorial practice is not mere representation, but also, more fundamentally, a form of thought, then we can claim that “The Blue Room” (1901) attests to the proximity of the misencounter of friendship that outlives in the experience of the surround. And here the painter had no privileged position – he is no figure of genius, no commander of historical destiny, no magician of forms. He is also a befallen figure because he is the cipher of life. But to overcome the rhetorical surplus of socialization requires techniques in the face of the irruption of pain. Nothing less solicited Carlo Michaelsteadter when criticizing the reduction of the “man of society” to the pieties in “exchange for the tiny learned task and his submission, the security of all that human ingenuity has accumulated in society, what he would not otherwise obtain except by individual superiority, the potency of persuasion”, he wrote in Persuasione e la rettorica, another masterpiece of the 1900s. Yet, persuasion requires to be vigilant at the moment where things enter the historical penumbra and its rhetorical artifice; the reign of endless confusion amidst the most transparent and disingenuous computations.

How one becomes persuaded within a tonality, and remaining to be so – this is also a surrounding mystery of “The Blue Room” at the outset of the century. We still dwell in its dissonance.



*Image: Pablo Picasso, “The Blue Room” (1901), Philipps Collection, Washington DC. From my personal archive.