Tuesday, June 5, 2012
To tell the truth I'd been feeling a little guilty about coming this year, since I'm not doing any work here that I couldn't do at home - no research, just writing, reading, and thinking. And staying home I would have saved myself a lot of money.
But then I got here and went for a walk in the city - from the apartment where I'm staying near the Place des Voges over to the cathedral and back - and all of that guilt just disappeared. This is where I want to be. The money is so worth it.
Sunday I was planning on going to a group French language class, since I'm trying to do more in French when I'm here (and by the way, Blogger is in French right now and I don't know how to tell it to be in English). But the class was cancelled at the last minute and so I went to the Cluny museum instead. I've spent a lot of time at the Cluny in the past, when I was here looking at Virgin and Childs (Virgins and Childs? Virgins and Children?), but this time I just walked through, looking for whatever stood out to me.
And it was this statue of Adam from Notre Dame, which I've seen before but never really looked at. What struck me is Adam's belly-button. Or really, belly-buttons!
And then there is the second, the mark slight above and to the left here. I'm assuming it's actually a bit of damage, since there are nicks and missing bits all over the sculpture. Yet the shape is so similar to the belly-button below and the two marks are in such close proximity that I can't help putting the two together in my mind.
And doing so is helping me think through some of what I am here to write. I'm returning to the first chapter of this book that I've been working on for about 9 years now (yes, that's a long time, but its been an on and off thing, and a lot has happened in the meantime). While the book is about medieval sculpture and medieval women's experiences of motherhood, this first chapter was about medieval forms of "visuality," that is, how these sculptures would have been seen by medieval viewers. But that needs to change now, with the turn from visuality to materiality and from seeing to perception more broadly. Rereading the chapter as I originally wrote it, I was struck by just how little I had taken into account that the images I am writing about are sculptures and so not just images but also material objects. This is related to the issues I was having with my Kalamazoo paper that I wrote about in my last post, which was at least in part a problem with sorting through the relationship between sculpture-as-image and sculpture-as-object.
And so we have the two belly-buttons: the first, the original, the intended, the carved, as part of the sculpture-as-image; and then the second, the unintended, the accidental, a mark of this sculpture's history as an object in the world. To borrow some language from Graham Harman (who has it from Heidegger and that right now I have from Ian Bogost since I spent yesterday's rainy afternoon reading Alien Phenomenology at the cafe), the first belly-button is part of the sculpture-as-image's status as ready-at-hand, that is, as something that you don't really even think about since it's doing its job for you, in this case its job as a representation of a human body (and don't really think about to the degree that you don't even realize that it's weird for Adam to have a belly-button at all); but then the second belly-button makes the first seem strange and so the sculpture-as-object comes to stand out as present-at-hand, as an object in the world with a history - a story, a life - of its own. The two marks are juxtaposed on Adam's abdomen/the stone's surface, but they do not overlap: the sculpture-as-image and sculpture-as-object are related to one another, but they are not the same thing, and neither one can or should be subordinated to the other.
And I don't think I could have come up with that at home, since it took the chance of going to the Cluny and having Adam and his belly-buttons jump out at me. So Paris is paying off already.