SHIRTS AND LADDERS
It is my opinion that each of us is solipsistic as well as social; these are just different locations inside the frame that is each self is. The solipsist holds solitary court at the center and the socializer hovers closer to an ill-defined edge. While the solipsist contemplates the evasive mind/body gap below or the possibility of an eternal soul above, the socializer constantly scans the horizon, checking for invader or refugee among the moving shadows out there.
Shown are some of the uniforms we wear to make us one of the many, as well as disguise our individual selves as such. The ladders extend from the hidden, solipsistic spaces within the uniforms to social, exposed spaces outside of them, allowing a point of view that’s neither one nor the other, but both.
So are we unique individuals hidden in in these uniform uniforms? Or are all of us really all the same, and our only variety is that of the hierarchical, socially determined outfits? Well, we surely see ourselves as unique individuals, but in spite of that, we tend to see others as nothing but their uniforms. “[W]e are quick to judge others by their acts, but we judge ourselves by our intentions.” So said Montague Jocelyn King-Harmon way back in 1917.
The boundary between the self and other is nebulous, neither fixed, nor a line, more a fuzzy-edged space, really. We generally try to keep it between our skin and the uniform, but it doesn’t always stay put. It can move outward in a good way, like when we embrace a loved one. But that expansion is not always for the best, as it can also allow any of us to become part of a mob. The boundary can shrink too. When we become sick, or even misstep, our bodies become an other.
Art: true or personal?
Does art give us an escape from this liminal conundrum? Can any of us, by art, become an objective subject on the periphery of all this self and other conflict and see the real truth? A trio of essays—Martin Heidegger on a Vincent Van Gogh painting of an old pair of boots, Meyer Shapiro on Heidegger and Jacques Derrida on Shapiro and Heidegger—discusses this.
Heidegger imagines a pastoral romance in the painting, “Under the soles slides the loneliness of the field-path as evening falls” and much, much more. Shapiro complains that this is “grounded in his [Heidegger’s] own social outlook” and not to “close attention to the work.” He researches to find a more fact-based scenario, where he says he finds, the shoes painted are Vincent’s shoes and he declares the painting is about how Vincent feels about them not what some unknown peasant feels about hers.
Now let’s let Derrida add his 0.02 euro’s worth. He says, since Shapiro talks of the painting as an illustration (of Vincent’s shoes) and Heidegger’s take on the thing is that it is an interpretation (of peasants’ lives) the two professors are not talking about the same thing. Derrida attempts to tie it all up—yes, he uses a shoe lace metaphor—he seems to try to define and relate polysemous terms loosely meaning “illustration,” “interpretation” and “self-sufficient-art-in-itself.” He says, “a work like the shoe picture exhibits what something it lacks in order to be a work, it exhibits—in shoes—its lack of itself.” he asks, then, how can it be self-sufficient?
Does Derrida answer this question? I don’t know, I can’t figure him out. I think, as much as anything, he just liked to listen to his own voice. For fun, I try to imagine his works being read aloud by the likes of Louis C.K. It might make more sense then.
Where was I?
The uniforms are frames for the selves they confine and define, kinda like those on art in a gallery. But the gallery itself is also a frame and its frame is in another frame as well. Sorry if I sound too Derridean here. The gallery’s first frames are Shapiro’s, they are the frames of the artist/illustrator—me in this case—so, of course, I’ve drawn them for you. The ladders which go outside the uniforms, allowing the solipsist selves a look around, also interact with these frames. In each frame, a solitary self escapes on his or her ladder, while the others’ ladder stay confined. Selves and other remain different.
Heidegger brought his presentation to our attention anachronistically, well after the fact of Van Gogh’s re-presentation (1935 v. 1886) of his own shoes. Shapiro wrote his essay in 1968 and Derrida weighed in after that in 1978. So the second frame—your frame—is like Heidegger’s, an interpretation of my post, after the fact. What your interpretation will be I can only guess, unless you chose to post it as a comment, of course.
- Heidegger, Martin; “The Origin of the Work of Art” (1935).
- Schapiro, Meyer; “The Still Life as a Personal Object: A Note on Heidegger and Van Gogh” (1968).
- Derrida, Jacques; “Restitutions of the Truth in Pointing [Pointure]” (1978).