Monday, July 30, 2007

on the origins of equity (a meditation on hegel’s phenomenology of spirit, iv.a)

Artimisia Gentileschi, "Susanna and the Elders" (1610)

the first experience of equality is the experience of violation. it is awakening from a dream where forces of which one is not conscious play about at their whim. awakening with a gasp, screaming, sobbing, in the night, in the bed of a stranger you thought you knew, but upon whom your eyes gaze now for only the first time

with violation there is for the first time an assertion against belongingness – belonging-to is not responsibility-to but ownedness: engulfment, a form of suicide where one has not simply given over one's will and body to another, but has annihilated the will so that the body is not one's own.

in violation, the first experience of equity, one stakes one's claim, forging the self as the labor of one's own hands. the gathering of forces which, however overpowered, are for the first time real in their desecration. violated, one gathers up the shards of self and tries to make sense.



koonj said...


And sometimes it seems as though it might be a better idea to remain in a state of relative solitude - one might love one's fellow beings better from a distance, being unviolated and unwronged.

Maybe this is why we are such virtual beings.

Funny how a Biblical story supportive of a woman's chaste spirit became such grist for the male fantasy. (of course not this one though)

Lawrence of Arabia said...

human beings are often much easier to appreciate from a distance. not only is that why we are such virtual beings, it is likely why we are academics.

it is very interesting, btw, to compare gentileschi's portrayal of her subjects to that of her contemporaries...or even those later than her. with susanna for instance, she avoids the idea that susanna is being actively sexual and focuses on the lasciviousness of the men. and then there is her portrayal of judith beheading holofernes in which judith is a very strong figure, not, as many of her contemporaries suggest, someone whose sexuality is the real instrument by which the man is murdered.

i am also reminded of my time at the center for british art last week where one of the 19th c. cartoons on display was a bunch of 19th c. men gathered around a painting of susanna at the tate looking very much like the predatory men in the painting as they obviously observed the painting with the eyes-of-fantasy that you just mentioned.

i will try to put up some comparatory pictures of artimisia and her contemporaries soon.

best wishes,