Memory’s Wound Is a Space With-in Me. To Rethink the Crystalline with the Humane, to Rethink Abstraction with Depth

“If there is a modern age, it is, of course, the age of the cosmic” say Deleuze and Guattari. “The assemblage no longer confronts the forces of chaos, it no longer uses the forces of the earth or the people to deepen itself but instead opens onto the forces of the Cosmos.” The essential relation is no longer matter-forms but material-forces. The material is a molecularised matter that “harness[es]” forces, and the forces to be harnessed are “no longer those of the earth, which still constitute a great expressive Form, but the forces of an immaterial, nonformal, and energetic Cosmos. . . . When forces become necessarily cosmic, material becomes necessarily molecular,  with  enormous  force  operating  in  an infinitesimal space. . . . We thus leave behind the assemblages to enter the …plan of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed. . . . How does Paul Klee present this last movement, which is … a cosmic ‘breakaway’? And why so enormous a word, Cosmos …? Klee says that one ‘tries convulsively to fly from the earth,’ and that one ‘rises above it … powered by centrifugal forces that triumph over gravity” (A Thousand  Plateaus, 372). The artist turns his attention to crystals, molecules, atoms, and particles, not for scientific conformity, but for immanent movement. Now, different from the abstract of the beginning of the twentieth century, the challenge is to think beyond this abstraction and also beyond the division between abstraction and empathy articulated by Worringer, and attend the abstract subreal: through working toward compassion—beyond empathy—and beyond the pure abstraction that has rejected the organic and the space of depth.

In this paper I present the meeting between the translucent fore-image and traces of trauma (in my own painting) and link this to the realm of subreality. I will talk about my experience of working a dynamically formed colouring-lighting painting and why I feel that the morphed colours touch memory’s wounds both during the process and within the painting as object. Fore-images arise from ephemeral configurations of vibrating elements that are somehow sensed and even trans-sensed beyond the senses’ capacity. Though the translucent fore-image in the mind is ephemeral and spontaneously appears and  fades  away, it  attests  to  the  realm  of  subreality  where  crystalinity addresses the humane and the human shares in it. This means going beyond the cleavage between the crystalline and the humane and rethinking abstraction for today: with the human. “BLACK, / like the memory-wound, / the eyes dig toward you” wrote Paul Celan (in “Schwarz / Black”). The same poet also wrote, however, “WE ALREADY LAY / deep in the underbrush, when you / finally crept along. / But we could not / darken over toward you: / there reigned / lightduress” (in “Wir lagen / We already lay”). Still humanising, always humanising—like Eurydice, the erotic antennae of the psyche is searching for a light—a sign of possibility for being-toward-life. Is it possible to work through art toward  a being-toward-birth in a world that massively enjoys its own Death-drive? We can look in the pain’s eye and connect to the sorrow of the other and to the wounds of its oblivion by fragilising our own self. Beauty is one of the names of the transformation of trauma  in the space opened by affective trans-sensing, when the memory of oblivion emerges and takes shape as abstract research meets the traces of trauma. In Abstraction and Empathy, Wilhelm Worringer writes that the dimension of empathy must vanish from the sphere of  abstraction in the visual creation. He presents a split between empathy that concerns the human, and abstraction that concerns the inanimate. For me it was crucial to invent abstraction that relates to the human and to move from empathy toward compassion. When the abstract meets the wound’s traces in order to affect them, it is possible to think of beauty-with-sublimity and overcome the split between the human and the crystalline, at a level that I have named “subreality.” When the painting reverberates the subreal strings it transports and transmits and humanises its knowledge. The same space that carries us, rocks us, and puts us to sleep (and I paraphrase here Bachelard who speaks about water), the same space that can be a matter of  despair, is also what gives us back our mother, the one who according to Celan is looking for some grains of light. My presentation is based on two earlier papers, “The Art-and-Healing Oeuvre” (2005) and “Translucent Fore-images: Glowing through Painting” (2017).

No Voice Is Lost

In A Thousand Plateaus, Deleuze and Guattari write that “There is always a woman, a child, a bird to secretly perceive the secret. There is always a perception finer than yours, a perception of your imperceptible, of what is in your box.” Our proposition is concerned with the perception of this imperceptible through the practice of the refrain (ritournelle) and how this is able to make visible long-hidden experiences and reunite scattered memories. The core argument is that the ghosts remaining after a catastrophe such as a genocide are still active as long as their role has not been properly worked out. One way of doing so is to let the ghosts speak through the gestures and words of the living, and the way they speak can be described using the notion of refrain, introduced by Deleuze and Guattari. Our project tells the story of Gülizar (1875–1948), an Armenian girl who became a legend during her lifetime because she was abducted by a powerful Kurdish tribe chief as a fourteen-year-old girl, but resisted him and managed to return to her village. Gülizar’s story lives on not only in Armenian communities but also among the Kurdish people living today in the area where she lived, in the Plain of Mush (Eastern Turkey). We have explored different ways of letting her presence be felt, and found that the different versions of her story, from the Armenian or Kurdish oral traditions, formed a territorialising refrain that asked many important questions connecting the unconscious, memory, and the politics of resistance.

The legacy of historical collective traumas has been widely discussed in psychoanalytical contexts. The works of Abraham and Torok, or of Janine Altounian, among many others, have shown that collective traumas can be transmitted through several generations. But this approach is centred on the individual perspective; the collective dimension of the traumas requires an approach to memory free from the individual psychic space and on another plane. On this question, Deleuze and Guattari’s suggestions in the “Refrain” chapter of A Thousand Plateaus, as well as Guattari’s own developments in his Machinic Unconscious, are useful. They understand the notion of refrain as both the intimate and the collective “temporalisation of our relation to landscapes and to the living world”; as such, it seems to be a necessary component of collective memories.

The issue is then on two levels: first it is about bringing a collective unconscious to the foreground; second, it is about mobilising a vivid memory in order to favour social change. The contribution will show the video No Voice is Lost, featuring the memory of Gülizar’s story through the testimonies of different people (Kurds and Armenians) for whom this story is important, along with the landscapes where she lived before 1915. The song (lament) about Gülizar is the refrain able to reconnect the living and the dead with this space, with this landscape, and cast a bridge over the breaches of time.