Labor histories

Ingmar Bergman, in his introduction to Four Screenplays:

There is an old story of how the cathedral of Chartres was struck by lightning and burned to the ground. Then thousands of people came from all points of the compass, like a giant procession of ants, and together they began to rebuild the cathedral on its old site. They worked until the building was completed — master builders, artists, laborers, clowns, noblemen, priests, burghers. But they all remained anonymous, and no one knows to this day who built the cathedral of Chartres.

Bertolt Brecht, ‘Fragen eines lesenden Arbeiters’ [‘Questions from a Worker who Reads,’ trans. Michael Hamburger]:

Who built Thebes of the seven gates?
In the books you will find the name of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock?
And Babylon, many times demolished.
Who raised it up so many times? In what houses
Of gold-glittering Lima did the builders live?
Where, the evening that the Wall of China was finished
Did the masons go? Great Rome
Is full of triumphal arches. Who erected them? Over whom
Did the Caesars triumph? Had Byzantium, much praised in song,
Only palaces for its inhabitants? Even in fabled Atlantis
The night the ocean engulfed it
The drowning still bawled for their slaves.

The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone?
Caesar beat the Gauls.
Did he not have even a cook with him?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada
Went down. Was he the only one to weep?
Frederick the Second won the Seven Years’ War. Who
Else won it?

Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors?
Every ten years a great man.
Who paid the bill?

So many reports.
So many questions.

Untimely meditations

We know something about Wittgenstein’s architectural designs, and about Schoenberg’s paintings. Perhaps there’s a book to be written on philosophers who composed music: Rousseau, Nietzsche, Adorno.

More on Nietzsche: in this month’s Atlantic Monthly, Terry Castle’s brief omnibus review of “astonishing memoirs by (and about) deeply repellent people” recommends Forgotten Fatherland: The Search for Elisabeth Nietzsche. Its author, Ben McIntyre, “took a boat trip into the Paraguayan jungle in 1991 in search of the surviving inhabitants of Nueva Germania — an abortive ‘Aryan’ colony founded in the late nineteenth century by the ghastly Elisabeth Nietzsche, racist sister of the philosopher. He found a weird village of unreconstructed white supremacists — inbred, half mad, many of them still speaking a kind of zombie German — and heard some curious and frightening stories Josef Mengele. A true-life Heart of Darkness.” As Friedrich’s posthumous PR, the book argues, Elisabeth retrofitted his ideas for an unambiguously anti-semitic agenda and secured for him a place in the Nazi canon Nietzsche himself (in his later years, at least) would have denounced. For no good reason, imagining this village in the jungle brings to mind Fitzcarraldo; if anyone were to make a film about all this, Herzog should.

Serra, 1988

Weight is a value for me… the balancing of weight, the diminishing of weight, the addition and subtraction of weight, the concentration of weight, the rigging of weight, the propping of weight, the placement of weight, the locking of weight, the psychological effects of weight, the disorientation of weight, the disequilibrium of weight, the rotation of weight, the movement of weight, the directionality of weight, the shape of weight. I have more to say about the perpetual and meticulous adjustments of weight, more to say about the pleasure derived from the exactitude of the laws of gravity. I have more to say about the processing of the weight of steel, more to say about the forge, the rolling mill, and the open hearth.

It’s hard to convey ideas of weight from the objects of everyday life, for the task would be infinite; there is an imponderable vastness to weight. However, I can record the history of art as a history of the particularization of weight. I have more to say about Mantegna, Cezanne, and Picasso than about Botticelli, Renoir and Matisse, although I admire what I lack. I have more to say about the history of sculpture as a history of weight, more to say about the monuments of death, more to say about the weight and density and concreteness of countless sarcophagi, more to say about burial tombs, more to say about Michelangelo and Donatello, more to say about Mycenaean and Incan architecture, more to say about the weight of the Olmec heads.

We are all restrained and condemned by the weight of gravity. However, Sisyphus pushing the weight of his boulder endlessly up the mountain does not catch me up as much as Vulcan’s tireless labor at the bottom of the smoking crater, hammering out raw material. The constructive process, the daily concentration and effort appeal to me more than the light fantastic, more than the quest for the ethereal.

— Richard Serra, “Weight.”