Thursday, December 06, 2012

Mimetic deities


Those of you who have been on the porch for a while will know that my favorite Caravaggio is "The Rest On the Flight Into Egypt". I love the way it captures the yin and yang of existence -- the feminine and the masculine, the dark and the light, the soft and the hard, the wet and the dry, the tender and the fraught. Each quality depends upon the other. The painting is all about balance, moderation, humility. Resignation. Acceptance. Grace.
Here is another Caravaggio, "Narcissus," a depiction of the story from Ovid of the beautiful youth who falls in love with his own reflection in the still water of a pool. (Click to enlarge.) So transfixed is he by his beauty -- look! his lips are poised to kiss -- he lingers and dies.

Not a painting I like. No yin and yang this. A bleak narcissism. Cold, dark, stasis.

Where are the apples and the pomegranates? The cedar and the myrrh? This young man is not in love with the world, but with himself. He has created a god in his own image. He worships that god with a fixed attention that frustrates growth and development. His arms and those of his image form a circle that turns round and round upon itself, enclosing nothing. Not a leaf or blade of grass, not a pebble or ripple.