Hopper - Chop Suey

The rarity of the other

Les Demoiselles d’Avignon of 1907 is considered the first Cubist opera, although not all critics agree on this. It is clear that Cubism was born around 1906-08 thanks to the friendship between Braque and Picasso, but probably neither could have imagined the transformation of space without the contribution of the last Cézanne, true inspiration of Cubism.

Fr. Cézanne, La carrière de Bibémus, 1895

Cubism fascinates me. Passionate about space – as a Kantian category – I consider Cubism the best possible expression of what space is and how it influences perception (even before any possible transcendental schematism). I often refer to Cubism and some paintings in class, when I address the subject of the appearance of the other in Husserl’s phenomenology and Ortega’s criticism of Husserl. Husserl believed that the appearance of the other was only a matter of spatial distance; Ortega goes further, introducing the existential theme of radical reality. But even Ortega recognizes the decisive role that space has in people’s lives. The human being is for him “a spatial character”; all the words are first and foremost “adverbs of place”. Ortega’s laws on the structure of the world, especially the former, define space as an indefinite articulate of things in the foreground – presence – and things in the background or even beyond the horizon – coexistence.

José, Ortega, y Gasset

But before Ortega y Gasset, the best reading of the relativity of perception had been provided by Bergson, in his Introduction to Metaphysics, of 1903 (by chance with the years we are there). Bergson explains that certain things cannot be known, but only intuitive. Because there is an unbridgeable distance between intuition and intelligence. It is not only the basis of his distinction between an internal and an external time, but it is the idea of something greater, which Ortega will grasp beyond Husserl: the other is not really knowable, because it is not in fact intelligible. I can hope to guess something about his intimacy, but I can hardly say that I knew him. As in Picasso’s portraits, who is the real painted person? Which side is more authentic? The one caught from the right, from the left? The one caught by me or the one found by someone else? Who’s really the other one? And who am I really for the other?

G. Braque, Tete de femme, 1939

Bergson writes: “Everything I am told about the person gives me as many views on it. All the traits that describe it to me, and that make me known by comparisons with characters or things that I already know, are signs with which it is expressed more or less symbolically. Symbols and points of view therefore place me outside it; they reveal to me what the person has in common with the others and not what belongs to him in a singular way. But what it is properly, what constitutes its essence, you would not know how to perceive it from the outside, because it is by definition internal […] . Description, history and analysis remain here in the relevant. And only coincidence with the person himself would give me the absolute. It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that the absolute is synonymous with perfection.” And that applies, to Bergson, to everything outside of us. He famously celebrated his next passage: “All the photographs of a city, taken from all possible points of view, however they are infinitely complete with the other, would not be at all equivalent to the real model of the city in which you walk. All translations of a poem in all possible languages, however detailed details and each other are corrected, will never return the inner meaning of the original.”

London, Portobello Rd.

Two factors determine the value of things in the market: demand and rarity. The more something is required or the rarer it is, the more precious it will be. Capturing the authentic essence of another person is complicated and exhausting and one can only rely on intuition; no intelligence will ever be enough to understand the other, because the other one does not understand it, one understands it. That’s why it’s a rare occurrence. And therefore valuable.

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