Picasso’s Normal Bodies

Recently Picasso’s Jeune fille endormie was donated to the University of Sydney “on the strict understanding that it would be sold and all the proceeds directed to scientific research.” (see)

The painting will be auctioned tomorrow (21st June) in London with the proceeds going toward the new Centre for Obesity, Diabetes and Cardiovascular Disease.

The irony of this event is depressing in the extreme. Placing the utilitarian approach to art and the myopia over the sciences to one side. The fact that a Picasso is being auctioned to fund a centre targeting obesity is absurd.

Obesity is a category created to define the body that exceeds normality. Obesity science is on a quest to find a way to normalize bodies the exceed regulatory measures such as BMI.*

Picasso however is notorious for his depictions of the body as anything but normal. For example see Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avigno

(From the Art History Archive, here)

Across the different periods of Picasso’s work he depicts the body as anarchic, excessive and unbridled. To auction one of his works to advance a science – however well intended – that seeks to confine, constrain and regulate the body is a disgrace and embarrassment.

* I am not focusing on a critique of obesity science here. Merely stating that it seeks to normalize bodies. For a critique see Michael Gard’s work. He is interview here.

Tree of Life: An instant classic in every way that Inception was not

A mix of Job, Romans, Nietzsche and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Not a lot of dialogue. Quite a number of people walked out.

As suggested by the opening quote, Job is the interpretive key. Like Job this is more prayer than narrative, more poetry than theology, and raises more questions than answers.

Not quite sure what to make of it all; still digesting. I would love to watch it again…soon.

Obama and Springsteen on Solidarity, Love and Justice

Bruce Springsteen’s 2002 album, The Rising, reflects on the impact of the 9/11 attacks on the New York city landscape, national consciousness, and the lives of ordinary people performing sacrificial acts.

The album in its entirety provides an important window into the emotion and sense of solidarity felt among New Yorkers (and the rest of the world with America) in the days following the attacks. In a similar vein President Obama’s speech announcing the assassination of Osama Bin Laden recalls the solidarity of the time.

On September 11, 2001, in our time of grief, the American people came together. We offered our neighbors a hand, and we offered the wounded our blood. We reaffirmed our ties to each other, and our love of community and country. On that day, no matter where we came from, what God we prayed to, or what race or ethnicity we were, we were united as one American family.

Amplifying this solidarity and sacrifice is Springsteen’s song “Into the Fire”. Drawing heavily on 1 Corinthians 13 “Into the Fire” entwines the sacrificial heroism of the fire fighters with the redemptive love of Christ. In a repeated refrain Springsteen sings of the fire fighter leaving loved ones, as ‘love and beauty called you someplace higher, somewhere up the stairs, into the fire.’ Through sacrificial love the darkness of the terrorist act is overcome. Springsteen underscores the sacrificial act with ‘you gave your love to me, lay your young body down.’

The hope placed in the fire fighter’s sacrifice is that it will transform grief, anger and hate. That death and hate will give birth to life and love. The chorus cites the three ‘theological virtues’ of faith, hope and love, proclaiming: ‘May your strength give us strength, may your faith give us faith, may your hope give us hope, may your love give us love.’

However, listening to this song post-5/2 the sentiment of “Into the Fire” and incantation of these ‘virtues’ undergoes a hollowing transformation. Rather than demonstrating faith, hope or love – the non-virtue of Springsteen’s quartet was expressed.

Rather than the solidarity, sacrifice and love of “Into the Fire” it is Springsteen’s “Empty Sky” that most resonates in President Obama’s speech and the assassination of Bin Laden.

Evoking the grief and pain felt at the time President Obama describes the horror of the plane’s tearing into the towers yet acknowledges ‘that the worst images are those that were unseen to the world. The empty seat at the dinner table.’ Taking a pained and angered turn from “Into the Fire” Springsteen brought the ‘unseen’ emptiness to view in “Empty Sky”.

From the perspective of someone suffering the loss of a loved one Springsteen gives voice to the hurt and fury: ‘Just an empty impression in the bed where you use to be. I want a kiss from your lips I want an eye for an eye. I woke up this morning to an empty sky.’ The sacrificial love of the fire-fighter/Christ figure is transfigured into Old Testament rage wanting ‘an eye for an eye’.

Having staged two wars and an unknown number of extralegal raids, attacks and assassinations it appears that the US could not and did not follow ‘love and beauty…someplace higher’, but rather the desire of an eye for an eye has dictated the response from 9/12 through to the present.

Hyper Obedience – NYC Cycling

In Security, Territory, Population Foucault provides an analysis of a number of themes of counter-conduct in relation to the Christian pastorate in the Middle Ages that “redistribute, reverse, nullify, and partially or totally discredit pastoral power in the systems of salvation, obedience, and truth”.

Foucault suggests that as a pastoral counter-conduct asceticism functions as an “exaggerated and exorbitant element” of obedience. Rather than disobedience against an authority, asceticism is an intimate work of the self on the self that excludes the pastor; “a sort of close combat of the individual with himself in which the authority, presence, and gaze of someone else is, if not impossible, at least unnecessary.” Through a hyper-obedience the ascetic is able to counter the conduct affected by the pastor. Ascetic produces a different conduct that “stifles obedience through the excess of prescriptions and challenges that the individual addresses to himself.”

see Foucault, Michel. Security, Territory, Population: Lectures at the Collège De France 1977-78. Translated by Graham Burchell. Edited by Arnold I. Davidson. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. (p. 200 – 201)

Here is a contemporary example: