Saturday, August 5, 2017

Anniversary Recollections.

G. E. Norman at 13 years old in 1911.

'.....If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.'

Major John McCrae – 1915 - Boezinge

Kathe Kollwitz sculpture Vlaslo German Cemetery
It seemed appropriate that a week which began on Monday by raising the ghosts of the past in a road trip across West-Flanders with P. commemorating the 100 year anniversary of my great uncle George Ernest Norman's death on the 31st July 1917 at the beginning offensives of the Battle of Passchendaele in WW1, ended with a performance of Montiverdi's 'Orfeo' in Brugge as part of the MA Festival based around the theme from Dante's 'La Divina Comedia'.

'Monteverdi’s iconic opera articulates Orpheus’ attempts to soothe the keepers of Hades with his voice and his lyre. He is allowed to release his beloved Eurydice from the realm of the dead, on the one condition that he does not turn around to look at her. Leonardo García Alarcón and his musicians are the fitting performers for this story about life and death, longing and recollection.'

We attended the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate on which he is commemorated with his name and regiment - 2nd/5th Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers. I also uploaded information and pictures to the names list at the museum in Ypres based on the paintings I made for the exhibition 'Memory and Metaphor' in which he features in two paintings, 'Ancestors' and 'Ghosts'.

Past and future are experienced as recollection, action and projection in the present moment, internally and externally in relationships between subject and object perceived through the senses and mind. This reflex continually creates both visible, invisible, mental, physical, real and imagined 'worlds' and 'structures' which condition future present moments. These transitory 'worlds' in time and space, infinity great and small, preserve and remember even as they discard and forget the past in ever changing cycles of growth and decay, creation and destruction, birth and death.

 F. gave me photos made by Nottingham visitors to Brugge and Ypres in 1920.

In W.G Sebald's 'Austerlitz' time is experienced in dreamlike recollections that form monologues by the main character, Austerlitz as his story is related by the almost invisible narrator in the first person. Austerlitz both remembers and reconstructs out of fragments of recollection and detective like research ( he is an art historian ) his own mysterious identity which as a Czech Jewish orphan sent into war time exile into Wales is both a personal as well as collective history.  The act of remembering, of piecing together fragments to create a meaningful narrative around personal identity in Sebald's novel is both a creative and imaginative act - like that of the novelist himself creating his fictional characters- as well as a convincing version of 'real events' reconstructed from actual experience. The book is illustrated with old photographs, rather like the ones of F's Nottingham visitors to Brugge, that punctuate the narrative and act as catalysts for creative and imaginative 'musings' as well as anchoring the text with a kind of visual evidence from the camera's apparently objective eye.  The interpretation of dreams, which are not 'real' can, like fiction in literature, provide a key which allows us to approach, deal with and understand indirectly through metaphor and allegory those things which we cannot deal with directly. This is a kind of archeology of deeply buried emotions and experiences - which is what Freud, an obsessive collector of Greek, Roman and Egyptian antiquities, compared psychoanalysis to.

Perhaps house renovation is actually a kind of a metaphor - fearlessly but thoroughly opening up, pealing back, stripping bare and revealing all the secret and damaged places, and when the symptoms of the problems have been fully understood and diagnosed, solving them.  Making everything good again by repairing and replacing and/or integrating old with new materials, strengthening and reinforcing everything, cleaning, breathing, healing, letting in light and space, neutralising harm, bringing health, warm, comfort, peace, calm.........

Removing the rotten floorboards and the thin and damaged beams in the attic floor.
Replacing them with solid reclaimed ancient oak beams.

Reusing sourced, found and excavated old stones and bricks in the courtyard to make a pavement.
The past is always a creative invention of the present but this imaginative act is constructed from the real fragments salvaged from the surviving debris. Memory and loss, desire and longing play a part in the ongoing project of self-invention and/or deconstruction of identity. Whether building up or breaking down all states, however permanent they may appear, are ultimately conditional and provisional and the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness, dreams and reality, often less rigid and defined than we think.
Self-portrait after a painting by Jan Van Scorel. oil on wood panel
Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, a veritable butterfly, enjoying itself to the full of its bent, and not knowing it was Chuang Chou. Suddenly I awoke, and came to myself, the veritable Chuang Chou. Now I do not know whether it was then I dreamt I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man. Between me and the butterfly there must be a difference. This is an instance of transformation.

Translated by James Legge, and quoted in The Three Religions of China: Lectures Delivered at Oxford (1913) by William Edward Soothill, p. 75

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