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Enlightening -Isaiah Berlin’s Letters from 1846-1960

A stenographer unscrambles taped musings of the polymath
A stenographer unscrambles taped musings of the polymath

Isaiah Berlin wrote in tribute to the memory of Dorothy de Rothschild of her personality, ”…..overwhelming charm, great dignity, a very lively sense of humour, pleasure in the oddities of life, an unconquerable vitality and a kind of eternal youth and an eager responsiveness to all that passed…” Reading this second volume of letters, now available in paperback, covering Berlin’s most creative period, these same characteristics might be aptly applied to Sir Isaiah himself. However, as this most self-aware of intellectuals recognised, his loquacity and compulsive socialising were driven by a persistent need to escape a sense of unreality, an inner void. In these letters he writes, ‘’my quest for gaiety is a perpetual defence against the extreme sense of the abyss by which I have been affected ever since I can remember myself…’’

He is at his clearest when actually writing rather than using the Dictaphone. His use of this device adds interest to the resulting text, transcribed by a sometimes confused stenographer. Here he is writing from Harvard to another editor of letters, in what he elsewhere termed his wretched Colefax-like hand,’’…my blindness to Mrs W’s true character makes you think of me as gazing through a telescope at remote, dimly distinguishable, dwarves round whom I construct mythologies which sometimes fit & sometimes don’t but always smother the subjects: I do that a little: I like rounded vignettes:& I cling to my hypotheses: it is the only sense I attach to understanding about people as opposed to moment-to-moment reactions to, or impressions of them…”

Berlin’s tendency to construct an overarching, grand scale view of people is interesting, indeed notable. When it comes to political philosophy it is the construction of universal systems, Marxism and Monism, theories he later studied and to coin the term, the ‘’counter-enlightenment’’, which overarching theories Berlin most deplores. The hesitancy and multiple qualifications in his communication, often results in a diffuse and difficult prose style. However, the thick impasto and layering of shades of meaning can also reflect, like some sort of rich expressionist painting, the intention of conveying a lasting and deep impression. If you can tolerate very lengthy sentences, laced with subordinate clauses, which are richly punctuated with colons and semi-colons; then memorable and multifaceted observations on the people, politics and those interesting times, emerge.

These were indeed both interesting and difficult times.The move from diplomatic service in the States to the daily grind of teaching and lecturing in post-war Oxford, Berlin found particularly irksome. Advising Chaim Weizmann and defending the newly found state of Israel in the period after the King David Hotel attack was a duty on which he focussed his considerable abilities and influence. Later he was to meet and to like Ben Gurion. However, as his interest turned once again to Herzen and Russian intellectual history, he was careful not to get side tracked. He was involved in Paris with the setting up the Marshall plan and frankly admitted his limitations when it came to discussions on economic practicalities. Yet he began to translate his beloved Turgenev and still found opportunities to advise government propagandists on what he saw as the dangers of mentioning Hegel and the imperative of countering Russian territorial ambitions. In addition to this involvement with high level politics he was pleased to be consulted by Churchill on his memoirs. When it came to making predictions, he agreed with his fellow don, Trevor-Roper on the accuracy of those proposed by that interesting Swiss cultural historian Joseph Burkhardt based on his study of the Italian renaissance.

At Oxford his coterie included brilliant talkers that included his mentor, Maurice Bowra, the witty Warden of Wadham; here described as having felt jaded in Greece, found Athens heavenly, full of jolly poets, and himself adored there. Sir Isaiah found a warm spot for that ‘’loveable scamp’’ Bob Boothby, talking over appeasement with which he recalled All Souls to be more than a little complicit. Then there was the scintillating company at lunch of the novelist Elisabeth Bowen. He entertains with the witty and erudite Lord David Cecil at New College, the renowned conversationalist and author of the brilliant biography of Lord Melbourne. We have only just begun the alphabet of Berlin’s extensive and amusing friends which extended far beyond the University to journalists, politicians, policy wonks (as they are termed in a less deferential age ), diplomats and heads of state. One of the pleasures of reading these letters lies in this investigation of this, the social hinterland of this philosopher of secular pluralism.

A supplementary reason for reading these letters is the insight they afford into Berlin’s relationship with women and otherchanging social attitudes. In 1956, he married Aline Halban, an exile from Russia, at the relatively late age of 46. There are indications of a developing maturity but there are also lapses into donnish backbiting, for instance A.L.Rowse is repeatedly characterised as a Malvolio in the fractious atmosphere of All Souls. This kind of gossiping is ultimately a sign of inanition and unworthy of an esteemed philosopher. However, it was a feature of the academic ambience at the time and Leslie, as Rowse is known amongst his Cornish friends, would probably have relished Berlin’s further remarks about his open emotionalism, ‘’Curious. In a way better than the stiff English upper lip, & stoicism, hypocrisy and inner rages..’’

Reading ‘’’Enlightening’’’ is no substitute for the study of Berlin’s works if you are interested in his approach to the history of ideas. On the other hand, given the range of his achievements, from founding Wolfson College to his friendship with Pasternak(he smuggled out ‘’Dr Zhivago’’ to the West) and also with the great poet Anna Akhmatova, these letters shine an interesting light on the author’s effervescent persona. In this splendid tome, his peculiar sort of Englishness, his fondness for vigorous debate and his concern to counter and defeat the monster of totalitarianism are sparklingly displayed.

Puvis De Chevannes The Poor Fisherman – Oil on canvas, 155 x 192.5 cm (5′ 1″ x 6′ 3 3/4″); Musee d’Orsay, Paris

The Poor Fisherman - Oil on canvas, 155 x 192.5 cm (5' 1

According to the Web Museum in Paris,”He had only modest success early in his career (when a private income enabled him to work for little payment), but he went on to achieve an enormous reputation, and he was universally respected even by artists of very different aims and outlook from his own. Gauguin, Seurat, and Toulouse-Lautrec were among his professed admirers. His reputation has since declined, his idealized depictions of antiquity or allegorical representations of abstract themes now often seeming rather anaemic. He remains important, however, because of his influence on younger artists.

His simplified forms, respect for the flatness of the picture surface, rhythmic line, and use of non-naturalistic color to evoke the mood of the painting appealed to both the Post-Impressionists and the Symbolists.”

The influence of Jan Mateyko in Kraków; (June 24 1838 – November 1, 1893)

An influence upon Stanislaw Wyspianski (1869-1907) whose self portraits and  literary works were produced in Kraków, Jan Mateyko focused  on major themes in Polish history. As Wikipedia says,”Stanisław was adopted by his aunt Joanna Stankiewiczowa and her husband Kazimierz. The Stankiewicz family belonged to a bourgeois and intellectual class. In their house Wyspiański became acquainted with painter Jan Matejko, who was a frequent visitor. Matejko soon recognized that the boy had artistic talent and gave him the first artistic guidance.”…….It continues,” As far as literature was concerned, Wyspiański created a dramatic interpretation of Matejko’s painting Stefan Batory pod Pskowem (Bathory at Pskov).”

Stefan Batory pod Pskowem 1872 (Matteyko)

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Again Wikipedia comments,”During the Livonian War (1578-1582), between Ivan the Terrible of Russia and Stefan Batory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the city was besieged by Polish forces. Poland failed to capture the city, but forced Russia to return other territories and gained Livonia. The siege was the setting of this painting. The siege of Pskovfrom the Polish perspective: Batory at Pskov, 1579. Painting by Jan Matejko in 1872. Matejko’s allegoric painting illustrates the concept of romantic nationalism: the Muscovites are represented doing homage to the Polish king, which appear victorious, although in reality Pskov never fell to the Poles, as the conflict ended with negotiationsbefore the siege was concluded.”

An impression of Wyspianski’s work may be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yc_jSeibnUE and with the accompaniment of Chopin at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQQC-H7lXFc&list=FLoIY4Tgwcvs1qr51MdHS5Zg&index=3&feature=plpp_video. Enjoy!

Two other influences on Wyspianski in France were Gaugin and Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

Copernicus, in Conversation with God, (1872) by Jan Mateyko
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Self-Portraits 1900-1912 (3) Zinaida Serebryakova

This portrait, At the Dressing Table was painted in 1909 and is remarkable for the dynamism of its composition; it also looks thoroughly modern as does Zinaida, who having been born in 1884, was then just 25. The sweep of the hair which extends from the mirror behind, combined with the arms adds to the energy and sense of novelty in the portrait. The hat pins in the foreground are splayed and are perhaps a reminder that this is a painting that according to the fashions, is indeed some hundred years old. This is a candid and charming, beguiling portrait. The lightness of the colours, the contrast and the surrounding items all engage the attention as does the intimacy and immediacy of the artist herself.

At the Dressing Table 1909

Zinadia Serebryakova was born on  December 10, 1884into what is now the Ukraine, on the estate of Neskuchnoye near Kharkov. Her maiden name was Lanceray. She was born into the cultured and artistic family known as the Benois – a fascinating family of architects, musicians, painters and sculptors. Her name in Ukranian is Зінаїда Євгенівна Серебрякова; and the Benois were the descendants of the French confectioner Louis Jules Benois, who came to Russia in 1794 after the French Revolution. More information can be easily found  about the talented Benois at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benois_family. There is also a moving piece about her on another wordpress blog at http://01varvara.wordpress.com/tag/zinaida-serebyakova/

Self-portrait 1921

In 1901, Zinadia studied painting under the famous Russian artist, Ilya Yefimovich Repin, also a Ukranian artist perhaps most famous for the grandeur of his panoramic realistic paintings like the “Religious Procession in Kursk Province“, 1880–83. He also painted an interesting portrait of Tolstoy and the chemist, Dmitry Mendeleyev, who made the discoveries which led to the Periodic Table. After studying under other portrait painters, Serebryakova, went to Paris in 1905 after visits to Italy. It was the year in which she married her first cousin, Boris who became a railway engineer.

Maxim Gorky reading in “The Penates” his drama Children of the Sun. Compressed charcoal and sanguine on paper. 28 × 49.5 см.(1905)
Medeleeff by Ilya Repin

She must have felt stimulated and perhaps at home in Paris, where she was later to return and forced to stay when exiled in 1924. In the intervening period she was to experience the full force of the repression following the October Revolution. Her husband died in a Bolshevik jail in 1919. However, the period of 1906 to 1916 were happy and productive. She lived in St Petersburg and Moscow  as well as upon her country estate. She was a wonderful painter of the countryside and of children, especially her own. Having been widowed and with the family estate plundered she was sadly left responsible for raising her four children and caring for her mother at a time of penury and impinging civil strife.

On the terrace in Kharkov-1919

In fact what is remarkable about Serebryakova’s work is its variety and its elegant peacefulness. It would seem that her work has become much more recognised in Russia with more frequent exhibitions. She lived in Paris without seeing her older two children for some 36 years and only achieved recognition in the Soviet Union in 1966. However, her innate zest for life and her inner serenity shines through her work and in the treatment of her sitters. An awesome selection of 411 of her works may be seen as a slideshow at http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/zinaida-serebriakova.Another interesting website in French may be found at http://femmes-russes.russian-women.net/femmes-russes/Zinaida-Serebriakova.shtml. There is also an intriguing short photographic sequence in colour circa 1910 at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJ8VRxS4nkE.There is a very useful and detailed link at http://artoftherussias.wordpress.com/category/ukraine/zinaida-serebriakova/-enjoy!There is also a short new You Tube Clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?NR=1&feature=endscreen&v=Wo8v6EWrUmk If you are interested in her ballet paintings and want to improve your Russian there is also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ot17l5na1Zw

Portrait of Katya the Artist
Soviet Union Stamp 1988

Sketch of Anna Akhmatova

Krowji at Christmas Continued

At Krowji creativity is by no means confined to the painters, however splendid these may be. One of the most intriguing workshops is that of woodworker and  furniture designer Tom  Raffield http://www.tomraffield.com/. His skills in the controlled forming of wood create geometrically interesting objects from elegant chairs, flourishing lampshades to plant pots. His pendants fashioned in ash are particularly decorative and captivating.

 
Lounge Daddy Chair by Tom Raffield
Pendants in ash

When it comes to prints, petroglyphs and paintings it is worth recalling what Peter Fox says about his inspiration that appears,” to grow from some substratum of myth and rough magic quite outside the currents of his time.” Drawing on Norse mythology such as that concerning the wolf child Fenrir, child of the trickster Loki, Fox has produced a series of captivating gouaches, which can be seen at www.peterfoxartist.co.uk. He has also used slate and wooden frames to produce the petroglyphs and made many woodcuts on a variety of types of paper. Peter has  a lyrical approach to composition and colour; it is not surprising to discover that he is a member of the Latin-Cuban dance band, Quijada (Spanish for jawbone apparently),a five piece group playing irresistible salsa rhythms.

Loki by Peter Fox

Further down the corridor Naomi Singer’s translucent glass panels and tiles in lustrous olives, blues and aquamarines. She has perfected a technique which combines digital photography and water transfer paper to make stunning plates, bowls and coasters. Unfortunately, Naomi has recently broken her ankle in three places but is still turning out magnificent work which you can read about on her blog at blog.naomisinger.co.uk/. Walking around her studio feels a little like being a fish swimming amongst underwater reeds, although these are mostly the botanic forms created from fennel, allium and ivy. Her satellite and other slumped dishes are particularly captivating as may be seen at www.naomisinger.co.uk/.

Coasters in Naomi Singer's workshop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sharing display space with Naomi was the resin and silver jewellery of Hannah Mary whose inspiring rings have been displayed in Vogue magazine. These eye-catching pieces may be viewed at http://www.hannahmaryjewellery.co.uk/ Hannah works in the inspiring setting of Gallery 2Wo in an ingenious collective at Jubilee Wharf in Penryn.

Lastly, no visit to this kind of event would be complete without a chat with and a viewing of the outré and individual prints  and book collections of Ros Williams www.keap.org.uk/visual-artists/ros-williams-printmaking-and-book-arts or Marie-Louise Denny’s brilliant and original textile collection at www.100-metres.co.uk/

crazyladder from 100 Objects

Bird outside a cage by Ros Williams

Christmas at Krowji Open Studios

Driving back through the darkening countryside, the hillsides and hedges are deepening shades of willow and viridian. The sky to the west is overcast in varying and subtle shades of violet which clear and allow a penetration of light onto the motorway. Yet I find myself recalling a dream of a thousand roses. A few minutes before I had been looking at the bright and bountiful pictures of Siobhan Purdy, housed in an outbuilding of the complex of buildings at Krowji, which as is well known by locals, Redruth Grammar School. The bright interior contrasts with the dilapidated exterior of this marooned classroom exposed on three sides to the cold December winds just mounting in strength as the light fell.This is room W35 and her delightful pictures including “One Thousand Roses” may be seen at http://www.siobhanpurdy.co.uk/.

Painting by Siobhan Purdy

Throughout the early December Sunday afternoon the corridors and stairways resonated with melodies, airs, wassails and the sublime singing of Thomas Merrit’s Cornish carols by the Riverside Singers. This choir called visitors, artists and children from the studios to hear again the inspiring words:-

“He comes the broken heart to bind,
The bleeding soul to cure;
And with the treasures of His grace
To enrich the humble poor.”

The choir energetically led by their Musical Director and composer, Claire Ingleheart, who describes herself as a musical magpie, can be heard at http://www.ingleheartsingers.co.uk/mp3/music.htm

Riverside Singers led by
Claire Ingleheart

Part of the pleasure of a visit to an Open Studios event at the OldGrammar Schoolis a visit to the Melting Pot café where the sandwiches are stylish and the soup outstanding. The atmosphere is great, this could be out of a novel by Hermann Hesse and the proscenium arch of the gilded theatre provides a grand background to enjoy the accordion. Father Christmas and his wife in striped scarlet and emerald green make their entrance to the masque.

http://www.themeltingpotcafe.co.uk/

More of the excitement about visiting Krowji derives from the opportunity of viewing such a wide variety of work. The large and dramatic portraits by Chris Anthem repay close consideration. His colourful paintings are executed with oil graphite on dress pattern demand such attention. These are serious and intriguing and questioning works that derive their psychological depth from Anthem’s experience and concerns in Addis Ababa, and elsewhere, together with his interest, along with Jean Baudrillard, in the relationship between the” carnivalesque and cannibalistic”. This is indicated on his website at http://chrisanthem.co.uk/

focus-baby-one-more-time by Chris Anthem

Wandering along the main corridor, I came across a wall of illustrations by Anna Cattermole. These were delicate, attractive sketches mostly of boat construction with annotated information. Her work may be seen at http://www.annacattermole.com where I also discovered her series, Fish Tales based on her work at Newlyn.Of the series on display she writes there,” These drawings are a visual diary documenting the building of Freja, a 42ft wooden pilot cutter, by Luke Powell of Working Sail. “In relation to her own observational drawings she quotes Rodin in support of her style of reportage;” It is the artist who is truthful, while the photograph is mendacious; for, in reality, time never stops cold.”

Fitting-the-Garboard-Plank by Anna Cattermole
      
Fitting-the-Bulkhead-Posts
crane

Self-Portraits 1900-1912 (2) James Bolivar Manson

James Bolivar Manson (26 June 1879,London –3 July 1945,London) was to become the Director of the Tate Gallery for some 25 years up to 1938. Unfortunately, his time at the Tate was not entirely happy and not, in general regarded as a great success. Manson was unable to spend as much time as he wished on his own painting and essentially appears to have taken the job to pay the family bills. He was a close friend of Epstein with whom he shared a studio inParis and of Lucien Pissarro, son of Camille Pissarro. He painted Lucien’s portrait in 1913.

The successes and failures of Manson’s life seem to have taken place either in Parisor London. There is something reminiscent of Charles Pooter about Manson who was born and brought up in the middle-class environment of South London. He lived close to BrockwellPark, between Brixton and Herne Hill and attended Alleyn’s School not far away in Dulwich. Pooter in Diary of a Nobody lived in Holloway. Manson, whose father was a literary editor for the News Chronicle, then took a series of clerk and other office jobs and acquired a taste for practical jokes. Around this time he continued his studies at Heatherley’s School of Fine Art http://www.heatherleys.org/ and Lambeth School of Art http://www.cityandguildsartschool.ac.uk/.

James Manson was married to a professional musician who became the music director of the NorthLondonCollegiateSchoolfor Girls. Upon his return from Paris and the Académie Julian and his young family moved to Hampstead. J B M  became a member of the post-impressionist Camden Group and a friend and associate of its Leader William Sickert. The group was limited to just sixteen members but included such illustrious figures as Robert Bevan, Henry Lamb, Duncan Grant and Augustus John and Wyndham Lewis.

The self-portrait shows a thoroughly English fellow with pipe and the determined expression of a proper chap. It is perhaps not surprising to learn that later put on a show of popular cricket pictures at the Tate, during the 1934 ashes tour when critics felt he should have been promoting the European avant-garde. Henry Moore and Matisse were out and Burne-Jones, whose exhibition was opened by his relation Stanley Baldwin, and Constable were decidedly in. If JB Manson were around today, he may well have subscribed to The Chap Magazine! See http://www.thechap.net/

The latter part of Manson’s life was very sad due mostly to a growing problem with alcohol. He appears to have been unsympathetic to German Expressionism, Surrealism and many other aspects of Modernism at the Tate. Famously, he was harsh in his assessment of the sculpture of Arp, Duchamp and Constantin Brâncuşi‘s work which he roundly denounced.  His career came to a hilarious climax at a dinner in Paris, in 1938, at the King George V hotel. Kenneth Clark described him as having, “As having a flushed face, white hair and a twinkle in his eye; and this twinkling got him out of scrapes that would have sunk a worthier man without trace.” However,Clark had arranged the dinner at which Manson was to meet his unfortunate demise. Clive Bell, theBloomsbury aficionado and art critic, perhaps uncharitably, described it thus:-

“Manson arrived at the deepener given by the minister of Beaux Arts fantastically drunk—punctuated the ceremony with cat-calls and cock-a-doodle-doos, and finally staggered to his feet, hurled obscene insults at the company in general and the minister in particular, and precipitated himself on the ambassadress, Lady Phipps, some say with amorous intent others with lethal intent………… the guests fled ices uneaten, coffee undrunk…” I hope an example will be made, and that they will seize the opportunity for turning the sot out of the Tate, not because he is a sot, but because he has done nothing but harm to modern painting.”

So Manson retired early at 58 and devoted himself to splendid flower painting!

Self-Portraits 1900-1912 (1) Sir William Orpen

 

This painting of around a hundred years ago has a very striking quality and feels distinctly modern, almost contemporary. It was painted when the artist was about 32 years old. Sir William Newenham Montague Orpen, KBERARHA (27 November 1878 – 29 September 1931) was an Irish portrait painter and a friend of Augustus John whom he had met at the Slade where he had trained under Tonks and was a friend of Hugh Lane, a Cornishman who established Dublin’s Municipal gallery of Modern Art. He is considered to be a realist painter influenced by Spanish Art and deriving inspiration from French nineteenth-century painting. It is clear that in his training he had closely studied art history, was interested in interiors where Dutch painting was one influence.

Looking at this dramatic self-portrait of 1910, the viewer is struck by the posture and demeanour of the figure and the strong composition; a frame within a frame, with the Venetian blinds behind. Here the artist assumes a pose and is dressed in a bowler hat and riding habit. The artist is holding gloves and a riding crop which might easily be taken for one of the long brushes that are visible at the bottom of the painting. There is a certain romanticism about this powerful composition which conveys a superabundance of creative energy and assertion. Yet there is also a hint of self doubt about this somewhat adolescent expression. Here is the Celtic and the equivalent in painting to the poet, the writer and the dramaturge. The facial expression has been described as puckish and yet the features rather remind one of Franz Kafka. The stance may be confident but here is a person whose self-searching reveals an element of self-doubt.

This painting is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the website comments, “A shelf below the mirror holds paintbrushes and rags, the tools of the artist’s trade, as well as several bottles of liquor. Various pieces of correspondence, including an I.O.U. signed by Orpen, are tucked behind the frame of the mirror, further testifying to the pleasures and distractions of the painter’s early career. The space of the picture is shallow but complex, with Orpen using his skills as a draftsman to resolve the challenges of surface, lighting, and reflection that he has set for himself.” The composition appears vigorous partly because of the geometry. Orpen’s arm and crop point to the decanters in the foreground. The diagonals of the floor offer an intriguing contrast to the oblongs that dominate the picture. Greens and yellows dominate and there are subtler tones of intermediate whites and greys. The attention is focussed on the black hat and bowtie and in the direct expression of the eyes.

Orpen was certainly a productive painter and worked at an astonishing pace throughout his career. This painting was executed some seven years before he was to travel to the Western Front where his experiences were to deeply alter his perception and where he became a famous portrait painter of the military and the foremost politicians. The contrast between the statesman in the relative comfort ofVersaillesand the devastating landscape of the trenches and the slaughter of ordinary soldiers did not escape his notice. He was to bravely point up these differences in his controversial work. 138 pieces were donated, on the understanding they were to be displayed in simple white frames, to the British Government. These are in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

Orpen became a Royal Acaademician in 1919 and there is a considerable amount of information about him on the internet. One very interesting website is to be found at www.articlesandtexticles.co.uk/2006/06/ where more discussion on his self-portraits may be found in part1 of Painters I Should Have Known About (006), part1. Below are three further self-portraits Orpen completed.

 

 

Heidegger Reframed By Barbara Bolt


 

Martin Heidegger (September 26, 1889– May 26, 1976is renowned for the complexity and subtlety with which his thoughts on the philosophy of being (ontology) is expressed. His ideas are inspired by numerous sources from the pre-Socratics, Plato, Aristotle and much of his thought dependent upon his early training as a Jesuit. He read and imbibed St Augustineand Duns Scotus. He trained under the phenomenologist, Edmund Husserl at Freiburgand his approach is deeply engaged with German philosophers like Kant, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. He also read Kierkegaard with close attention.

His ideas about the nature of being are in stark contrast with those of Descartes which involve a split between consciousness and the external world. This Cartesian framework or dualism is embedded in modern science and Western thought generally. One result of Descartes philosophy is that Nature is subject by the mind to measurement and calculation and also to manipulation. This borders on what is termed instrumentalism and indeed the consequent exploitation of the environment. This, Heidegger with his alternative view of the direction of philosophy, he deeply and radically opposed. The implication of Heidegger’s thought for the creative artist and the making and meaning of art forms the thrust of Barbara Bolt’s text. His project is illustrated with specific reference to international artists like Sophie Calle, Anish Kapoor and Anselm Kiefer.

Generally considered as a great classic of Twentieth Century philosophy Sein und Zeit, 1927 is not an easy book to read even if you are thoroughly fluent in German. Concerned with existence and the nature of being, it is equally interested in associated questions about time. This central text focuses on the nature of reality and the being-right-there of existence for which Heidegger uses the term Dasein. Part of the difficulty of understanding this central work is that language almost seems to break down under the pressure of difficulty in communicating the awesome nature of human existence, which many would see as essentially spiritual. Barbara Bolt provides a thoroughly useful glossary to such terms in support of her guide.

This glossary contains some eighty terms; it is relatively clear but illustrates some of the difficulties in expounding Heidegger’s collected work, Gesamtausgabe, which itself runs to more than eighty volumes. Barbara Bolt explains in her early chapters concepts associated with Dasein which involve care for the self and other beings, Sorge, and in the face of personal and certain knowledge of death, the termination of existence on Earth, anxiety or Angst. For Heidegger there are two possibilities, it seems either falling into immersion in the day to day, which he terms ontic existence or striving with resoluteness for authenticity. This bears upon artistic endeavour in several ways; the acceptance of strife when faced with unsettling artworks, the necessity of praxis in art education and research which hopefully produces a practical and respectful understanding of materials by a heuristic approach. Bolt is interesting and thought-provoking in her exposition on this.

A perhaps greater difficulty in appreciating Heidegger, which Bolt mentions, perhaps too briefly, continues in current debate. This was his active involvement with Nazism and his eulogy of Hitler involving praise for his moral regeneration of the Fatherland. This has been, not surprisingly, a sticking point in the appreciation of the Heidegger canon. A discussion of this may be found in Inauthenticity: Theory and Practice, contained in JP Stern’s essays on literature and ideology, The Heart of Europe. There is particular concern over his treatment of his German-Jewish teacher, a Christian convert and former colleague, the proponent of phenomenology Husserl, to whom Sein und Zeit had initially been dedicated. He also took a renowned student, Hannah Arendt as his mistress and she it was who later to testified on his behalf at a denazification hearing in opposition to Karl Jaspers.

In a key chapter, Barbara Bolt uses two central concepts of Heidegger to evaluate particular art works. These are ‘enframing’ (Gestellung) and ‘poiesis’-a Greek term for making from which the word poetry is derived. Enframing, according to Heidegger, has negative connotations and is applied to methods like those of modern technology which treats nature solely as a means to an end and shows Heidegger to be an early proponent of environmentalism and certainly a critic of agribusiness. This seems to be echoed by concerns about the manner in which the business of art has been cheapened and debased by commercialisation and celebrity culture. There is, she explains an unholy alliance developing between advertising in late capitalism as evidenced, for instance, by Tracey Emin selling Bombay Sapphire Gin. Enframement also appears to include a criticism of managerialism; disapproval of the manner in which humans are treated often with statistical techniques as mere available resources. Before examining the concept of ‘poesis’, it is worth noting that this book is actually entitled ‘Heidegger Reframed’ and is one in a general series. This tends to give framing a different, presumably positive connotation that sits uneasily with the particular use of the term by Heidegger. Unfortunately, there appears to be no general series editor that could add guidance and cohesion to this demanding project of applying the thought of modern philosophers to art.

Bolt sometimes writes convoluted sentences in a somewhat orotund style which may be an understandable effect of propounding the concepts of this demanding, intriguing philosopher. Nevertheless, the style invites the reader to question some of the propositions expounded. There is no doubt that Heidegger had a particular view about the dominance of the scientific method as he conceives it. Also mathematics seems deemed uncongenial, whereas language, and also history with its different conception of time and certainly etymology are viewed by Heidegger as more relevant to his project. It is interesting to speculate how much he might have responded to philosophers of science like Thomas Kuhn whose views on paradigm shift, and those too of Paul Karl Feyerabend, might have influenced him had he been fully aware of them. Heisenburg, a contemporary and also a controversial figure, might have influenced Heidegger on his notion of how preconceived theories operate in science.

Heidegger as Bolt explains was inspired by poetry and must have been sensitive to its lyricism. This makes the reader question his apparent failure to respond to the beauty of mathematics which is in a sense a universal language. In general he was at pains to oppose certain notions of aesthetics associated particularly with the Enlightenment and Romanticism and the artist as an inflated, self-dramatising subject. In his conception of poesis, Heidegger approaches another mode of artistic appreciation and indeed gratitude which is guided by sympathy. The term, as Bolt makes clear is Greek in origin and involves openness to the bringing-forth or unconcealment of being. It is, for example, the sense of wonder when a butterfly emerges from a chrysalis or in the transformation when a flower blossoms from a bud. Heidegger spent a year in 1942 lecturing on Hölderlin’s Hymn “The Ister” which relates to theDanubeand examined the limitations of a metaphysical interpretation of art and appears to argue the case for spiritual values in art together with a feeling for place attained by intimate journeying. George Steiner emphasises elsewhere how Heidegger’s titles are those of peregrination and comments, “He has been an indefatigable walker in unlit places”.

Barbara Bolt has written an interesting book on a difficult topic. The publishers might have supported her with somewhat better illustrations than the few disappointing images provided. However, she has shown how Heidegger can illuminate the work of prominent international artists. She has provided an introduction to a highly influential and controversial thinker supported with a sound biography. This work encourages the reader to bravely question art and promote radically innovative ways of observing and researching related issues.

The Runcimans- Liberals in St Ives (Part two)

Viscount Runciman of Doxford
Viscount Runciman of Doxford

Runciman managed to slightly increase the share of the liberal vote and majority in St Ives in 1929. The total turn out had risen by some 4,700, due to the fact that this was the first election where women under the age of 30 voted; it was termed the “Flapper election” The Liberals had promised to tackle the growing levels of unemployment, with a program of public works  in these bitter years after the General Strike. Now fewer in number, the Liberals had only 59 MPs as against Labour with 287. As the Conservatives had 287, the Liberals held the balance of power if they could stay together.

Runciman acted in close concert with the other Cornish Liberal MPs. In general, they were opposed to Lloyd George-especially his Land Policy- and in favour of policies of self-reliance and were keen to alleviate unemployment, especially inCornwall. They were opposed to constraints upon business and against any development of socialism. In this second objective, they received the full support of the West Briton.  As Hilda Runciman was to comment of the Labour administration it was, “curious how Liberal they seem to become when they are in office. Their Socialism seems to fall away from them. This, indeed, is inevitable” Their common ground with Labour, especially with influential figures like Philip Snowden, as Garry Tregidga has pointed out, was over temperance, free trade and foreign policy.

Runciman’s father, a wealthy shipping magnate, loved the sea, and had written a number of popular books about sailing and shipping. These included titles like “Drake, Nelson and Napoleon”, “The Shellback’s Progress”, and “Windjammers and Sea Tramps”. These are reminiscent of the Edwardian period, the era of Georgian poetry of Walter de la Mare and Masefield. The life described in one book, “Collier Brigs and their Sailors” was very tough on the merchant sailors whose conditions were quite unregulated. His grandfather in turn had fought with Nelson at Trafalgar. He was also a founder member of the Royal National Yacht Club and  rumoured to have made a hefty profit from his   Union and Castle line during World War 1. Runciman Senior was well aquained with Hain (Lord of the Manor in St Ives.). As far back as 1910, Sir Edward Hain became Chairman of the UK Chamber of shipping in the same year as Sir Walter became Vice-Chairman.

The Hain family had been grieving the loss of his son in the 1914-18 conflict, and kept his memory alive by the building of the Edward Hain Hospital. Walter, the son, also came to own several shipping lines. The Runcimans owned a most superb yacht called  “Sunbeam 11” purchased  from Lord Brassey, she was some 535 tons and 155 feet in length and, “with her well-proportioned spars and sail plan and powerful yet graceful lines, she was one of the ablest and most comfortable –looking craft of any type”. When it arrived in St Ives Bay in 1931 it might have somewhat impressed local fishermen concerning the nautical talents of the man at the helm. The townspeople would have respected their MP as a fellow traveller on the sea; equally it would have illustrated the social distance between Runciman and his constituents. The “Sunbeam” was to be a spy-ship  employed by Special Forces in World War 11.

Hilda had carefully nursed the constituency, but Runciman now 58  had to fight hard to increase the majority, throwing himself into the task. In St Ives he told packed audiences at the Fisherman’s Institute and at the Palais de Danse of his views against protectionism, for temperance and in support of Women’s Rights. In Asquith’s cabinet before World War 1 he kept to the collective cabinet line against suffrage. There is an account of a bottle being thrown at his car by a woman demonstrator in Newcastle, with which he had many business connections and near which was the country home of Doxford.

Walter Runciman must have been used to hectoring and heckling at lively meetings. St Ives constituency kept itself well informed on political issues, a tradition that went back at least as far as the Chartists, who had held meetings on the Promenade- nearby   Oswald Moseley was to receive a memorable and vigorous rejection later in the same decade. Runciman was a keen supporter of women’s rights and his views in general were in line with the enlightened even Gladstonian opinions of the  Asquith/Grey faction of the Liberal Party against Lloyd George.There was no appeal by Runciman, along the lines that Lloyd George made to his fellow Celts at the famous meeting in Falmouth. Runciman had recently written a pamphlet on the issue of female rights. However,in the local press, the advertisments in relation to scullery maids and domestic servents show that to aspire to the status of governess was about independent as a  woman might become in the town. The influx of independent wealthy women, including art students had not yet made a significant impact upon religious belief or cultural norms. Later, Baldwin, with whom Runciman eventually reached  good terms, confided his own views on difficult women like Wallace Simpson during the divorce crisis. A point which Hilda recorded in her fascinating and busy diaries, which are in the archives of Newcastle University Library.