Maps of the Metaphysical Double: In the Footprints of de Chirico
All around me the international gang of modern painters slogged away stupidly in the midst of their sterile formulas and arid systems. I alone, in my squalid studio in the rue Campagne-Premiere, began to discern the first ghosts of a more complete, more profound and more complicated art, an art which was – to use a word which I am afraid will give a French critic an attack of diarrhea – more metaphysical. New lands appeared on the horizon. The huge zinc colored glove, with its terrible golden fingernails, swinging over the shop door in the sad wind blowing on city afternoons, revealed to me, with its index finger pointing down at the flagstones of the pavement, the hidden signs of a new melancholy.
-Giorgio de Chirico, 1918
Giorgio de Chirico, who was born in 1888 and died in 1978, is an artist who is widely, but not deeply, known. Perhaps the most important immediate predecessor to the Surrealists, who adopted and then abandoned him without ever managing to escape from the long arm of his shadow, he exerted a direct influence on Max Ernst, Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte, among others. It is certainly odd that we must thank the artist’s detractors for also serving as his most energetic advocates. It was they who first crowned him as a hero of High Modernism. It is equally odd that he was accused of pale self-imitation by the very group that had appropriated his techniques. No catastrophe had snuffed out the metaphysical flame. No anxiety had shut down his ability to reinterpret the strange geometry of the labyrinth, or to breathe the air of a city that had disappeared off the coast, or to follow in the footsteps of his daemon, as I do also. The thread in the artist’s hand led only to the next act of subversion, and then to the one after that, and then so on to the next. Trusting in the wheel of the Eternal Return, he was obstinate in his belief that he had not died at the end of the First World War. Many have preferred to replace the real artist with a simulacrum.
In any event, there are few histories of modern art that do not have at least a small section on de Chirico. His images of deserted squares and empty headed manikins are iconic, in the manner of Dali's soft watches, or Picasso's through the looking glass faces in which the jagged shards have been rearranged. Having inhabited a corner of our collective consciousness for over 90 years, the work is in some way recognizable to those who have no idea of who the artist was. It is possible, however, that its significance has never been fully assimilated or explored.
You could, until recently, search long and hard for an art historian with any original insight into the world that de Chirico created. Most have been content to recycle the comments of other art historians, who in turn have paraphrased – with a footnote here or an anecdote there – a handful of the artist's own pronouncements. Comments from detractors such as Andre Breton, the self-designated father of and mechanic to the Surrealist Revolution, may of course be introduced, but these do not significantly alter the structure of the symbolic language in question. Breton was the first of the many friends turned foe. In a rage he threw at the artist's later work the pronouncement of anathema, an act that clouds the minds of critics to this day. Such betrayals only confirmed the artist’s perhaps megalomaniacal but oddly accurate sense of himself as someone chosen by the fates, as a solitary seer with the mark of the infinite on his forehead.
There is little to be gained by a recitation of the common wisdom, as exemplified by critics such as James Thrall Soby and Robert Hughes, in which the early work is praised and the later work condemned, or by the throwing away of any parts of the puzzle that do not conform to our image. This is usually called cheating, and assumes that the judgment of a dozen or more bystanders is superior to that of one artist. Time will tell, as will the sea, from which the baby thrown out with the bathwater is one day scheduled to return. Said Heraclitus: Character is fate. Wrote James Hillman: Necessity’s implacable smile says that whatever choice you make is exactly the one required by Necessity. It could not be otherwise. The beginning of a closed curve is not different from its end, or telos, the goal of the magnum opus that is peculiar to each person. The end serves as a strange attractor, able to bend the laws of nature, like a network of knots, around itself. Thus the image of one’s character encompasses all later apparent detours and distortions.
It is only in retrospect that the pattern as once imagined by the daemon can be viewed, that the whole snaps into focus. For years critics have competed to display their almost complete indifference to this pattern. One de Chirico is good. The other is bad. Supporters of the artist’s early work would instead be better served by attempting to imitate its example, in the posing of new questions about the nature of reality, and in refusing to accept the most solid of illusions at face value.
The Philosopher’s Conquest, 1914
At once strange and familiar, as though deliberately crafted to illustrate Freud’s concept of the uncanny, the work has, Paul Valery argues, become part of the permanent furniture of our mind. And therein lays the challenge. It appears as though we have seen this all before. There is an odd circularity about the whole business of the commoditization of a set of symbols – a circularity prefigured in the work itself, whose logic is that of a pregnant but unmoving dream. It is only over the past ten years or so that the situation has begun to change.
A few recent critics have begun to wrestle with the work produced from 1920-1978, a period that encompasses two thirds of the artist's life. Unlike the more famous work, produced from 1910-1920, this self-contradictory oeuvre has seldom been treated with complete seriousness. It is in this later work that de Chirico attempts to make conscious and to integrate the energies of the prophetic vision that first picked him up and carried him off. There is certainly a lessening of the stark intensity that first characterized this confrontation with the infinite. (Chaos wept.) It is possible that the artist might have died of metaphysical exposure had he not replaced the incantations of the magus with the slight of hand of the stage magician, had he not crafted a method to insure the continuity of the human vehicle.
There is one question that we must always ask about de Chirico: Who or what is speaking or acting on any given occasion? For he is not one self-contained being.
At each turn, images of doubleness abound. There is simple doubleness and complex doubleness. There is the doubleness of the ideal distorted by the methods of reproduction. There is the doubleness of the object and its shadow. There is the doubleness that treats the artist like a child in his quest for occult potency. There is the doubleness of vision and the sunglasses of the seer. There is the doubleness of light at the end of the black fog of each tunnel that the artist turns in a labyrinth. There is the doubleness of transformation and the threat of actual death.
In The Lassitude of the Infinite, as in many other paintings from the period of 1910-1920, long shadows project from two tiny figures at the far end of a vast piazza, at an angle to the reclining stone Ariadne in the foreground, gigantic in comparison. The two figures stand or walk, in silence or in conversation, as Ariadne, wronged by Theseus, broods in melancholy transport on her plinth. Trailing a long plume of smoke, the locomotive of Theseus steams toward Athens in the background, behind a low brick wall that separates the piazza from the ocean. In paintings from this period there is almost always space between these two archetypal figures. They seldom touch, but instead display the formality of diplomats. So thinly has the artist painted them that they appear to be two spirits who have materialized from the aether, or two shades who have accidentally wandered from the underworld. Space consumes them. They are only just barely present in this dimension of existence.
The Enigma of a Day, 1914
In the later works, however, and especially in the long Piazza d’Italia series, the two figures are usually pushed much further toward the foreground. Wearing suits, they have turned their faces toward the viewer, and are far less spectral and more three dimensional. Anxiety is under control. The mood of wrenching loss has evaporated. Props in the background have been mass-produced, as minute variation plays the part of the epileptic seizure. By reproduction the artist has attempted to invoke but also to regulate the power of the symbols once broadcast from an alternate reality. All of these things are significant, but the crucial change is this: in almost all of these later compositions the two figures are portrayed in the act of shaking hands. Perhaps they are off to the Caffe Greco for a few cups of espresso and some pastry. A gesture seals the new understanding between the human and the infinite. For the moment, a truce.
The Great Game, 1971
It is certainly true, the opinions of dead friends and/or enemies aside, and whatever we might think about the period from 1920-1978, that the earlier work does reward the most intense of engagements. All themes are present in an embryonic form. The mature de Chirico approaches it like we do – as the product of a dangerous god. As though it were a weapon aimed at one's unconscious by the Other. Enlightenment is to follow upon death. In this world we make do with a course on Modern Art Appreciation.
The Avant Garde moves, while Alexandrianism stands still, wrote Clement Greenberg, the Torquemada of High Modernism. But the archaic can also move. Emily Braun, in her 1995 essay A New View of de Chirico, contends that de Chirico adopted Nietzsche’s perception of modernity as the age of comparison, wherein all styles, civilizations, morals, and habits can be seen side by side, and are available to the common man and aristocrat alike. The city beloved by de Chirico is a stage set, no more and no less, in which each term of a contradiction can be seen as provisionally real. If there is no true conflict between the early and the late, it may be possible to postpone one’s choice between them, to investigate the strategic threat posed by the silent but still dangerous god. Lines drawn between the stars have converged again on the Earth, as the double’s hand maps vertical time onto horizontal space. The same anew, wrote James Joyce. There is no lack of time or mutability on the wheel of the Eternal Return.
Inside a ruined temple the broken statue of a god spoke a mysterious language. For me this vision is always accompanied by a feeling of cold, as if I had been touched by a winter wind from a distant, unknown country. The time? It is the frigid hour of dawn on a clear day, towards the end of spring. Then the still glaucous depth of the heavenly dome dizzies whoever looks at it fixedly; he shudders and feels himself drawn into the depths as if the sky were beneath his feet; so the boatman trembles as he leans over the gilded prow of the bark and stares at the abyss of the broken sea.
Then like someone who steps from the light of day into the shade of a temple and at first cannot see the whitening statue, but slowly its form appears, ever purer, slowly the feeling of the primordial artist is reborn in me. He who first carved a god, who first wished to create a god. And then I wonder if the idea of imagining a god with human traits such as the Greeks conceived in art is not an eternal pretext for discovering many new sources of sensation.
-Giorgio de Chirico, 1912
Is there something in the nature of the work itself that frustrates all articulate interpretation? I would argue that there is. The images do confront us with inscrutable demands. Is the omnipresent sense of paradox an obstacle or a key to the works' power, its potential to obsess and fascinate? I will return to these issues in a moment. First, let me speak to how a system of obscure signs can activate the intuition and enter directly into the bloodstream of the unsuspecting viewer.
At the age of 16, I discovered the work of de Chirico – with a shock. It was not like leafing through the work of other artists, Van Gogh or Gauguin, for example, who had earlier transfixed me. It was instead more like discovering a new world, or being altered by a drug, which had the power to rearrange my entire way of seeing. I was possessed by an experience that was not my own. On the edge of sleep, all of the objects in my room would transform themselves into objects painted by de Chirico – that the master had projected from unknown coordinates. Should my mother pause at the door, she would instantly be changed into a manikin. My heart would pound. I would jump out of bed, ready, almost, to scream. Dead gods would hold a convention on my tongue. The room would spin. Whatever your interpretation, and against appearances, I was very clear and sober, and would watch in horrified fascination as my childhood grew strange.
Returning to the idea of the empty room unexpectedly occupied by people, I think that the metaphysical and strange appearance taken on by the occupants when we first behold them, is caused by the fact that all our senses and mental faculties, under the shock of surprise, lose the thread of human logic – the logic to which we have been geared since childhood. Or to put the matter in other words, our mental faculties forget, lose their meaning, the life around them comes to a stop, and in that halt of the vital rhythm of the universe the figures we see, while they do not change shape materially, appear as ghosts to our eyes.
-Giorgio de Chirico, 1916
My head spins, and I shake to remember how those ancient ghosts had once descended on my bedroom. As the years have drifted past, de Chirico has continued to challenge me at each turn of the spiral, at each new stage of creative growth – stages that he has sometimes helped to catalyze. Trust death, he says. It is the Archemedian fulcrum, the point of crossing, a platform for the lever of the metaphysical double. Chance liberates the mute connection between objects – a multidimensional labyrinth. Beyond good or evil, the One as imagined by Parmenides coheres, as a sphere that cannot be broken. The desire of each individual object is obscure. A gulf separates the One and the Two.
Furniture in the Valley, 1966
Hieroglyphs wear as camouflage the whole length and breadth of history. A rubber glove is looking for its hand. The past stores energy for future use, even when no action is apparent in the present, beyond that of the wind. Pain rises like a seismic shock wave through the feet, as a not yet declared war provokes an intestinal revolution. The auras expanding around each object speak of a great work against nature, of a cold sun, pulsing without love. The artist instructs me to greet the fears of the living with indifference. Always, it is time to go.
In de Chirico's work, something is always just about to happen. Behind a wall a ship is waiting to depart. Only the sail is visible. We infer that the ship, like the ocean that rocks it back and forth, is there. A locomotive whistles in the distance, appearing to speed. A puff of smoke from its stack is frozen in mid-air. There are towers and arcades. Freud might say that these were sexual symbols. There are the instruments of an architect, cannon balls next to a cannon, a spool of Ariadne’s thread that has been abandoned by a factory, the map of a distant coast, a clock whose hands have frozen at six minutes before three, a big bunch of bananas, a plaster of Paris foot and children's toys. Signs point in opposite directions, leading us, after great exertions, back to where we started.
Perspectives collide. There are multiple vanishing points. Of the six to be found in The Melancholy of Departure, for example, not even one is correct. Every element looks as clear as one of the principles of Newton. It is only the result that is contradictory. The lines are exact, but the space does not add up.
In revenge for hubris transformed by Medusa into stone, the statue of a patriarch still dominates the square. He can only dream of sleep. He has not halted his investigations. There is, no doubt, a spirit trapped inside this statue, or a god, who would appear to expect some service on our part – at some point soon to be specified – that might eventually lead to its release. The living and the dead change places. Shadows appear more important than the occluded objects that throw them. The unseen is more powerful than the seen. There is no way through or out of the beyond. Like a radio signal, close at hand but inaudible to those not tuned to the station, there is also a larger presence that inhabits the somewhat greenish atmosphere, where to his own ends he manipulates events.
By what extraterrestrial technology does this guardian curve time and space, so that, at the end of a long voyage, we find ourselves in the same autumnal square, facing the enigma, wrestling with a shadow that does not permit us to escape? The dream turns on itself. It has no beginning, and will have no end.
The Anxious Journey, 1913
When on the other hand a revelation grows out of the sight of an arrangement of objects, then the work which appears in our thoughts is closely linked to the circumstance that has provoked its birth. One resembles the other, but in a strange way, like the resemblance there is between two brothers, or rather between the image of someone we know seen in a dream, and that person in reality; it is, and at the same time it is not, that same person; it is as if there had been a slight transfiguration of the features.
One of the strangest and deepest sensations that prehistory has left with us is the sensation of foretelling. It will always exist. It is like an eternal proof of the senselessness of the universe. The first man must have seen auguries everywhere; he must have trembled at each step he took.
-Giorgio de Chirico, 1913
Is there a reason that critics have not successfully deciphered the challenge posed by de Chirico? Again, I would argue that there is. De Chirico's art not only presents us with an image of the enigma. It places itself directly in the viewer's path to reproduce the experience of the enigma, as first internalized by the artist in 1911, in the shadow of a smokestack, on the eve of the First World War, in such a way that the enigma issues ultimatums to the viewer – its newest protégé and victim.
Each picture tells a story, of a kind, in which every grammatical element is obvious but the overall plot of the story is opaque, and becomes more not less so after intellectual scrutiny. It is as though we had left behind somewhere the greater part of our memory, and continuously scanned the environment for clues as to where we might have left it. Emotions remain strong. Sensations once associated with the occluded content can without warning grow dangerously intimate. Omnipotence returns – as a symptom. The catastrophe that created our amnesia can never be too directly questioned or approached. It must always be viewed out of the corner of one’s mind.
Planets align. False harmony arranges them like a row of murdered gods. Smoke rises from the abstraction of the underwater holocaust. Death transports the living to a predetermined climax. There is nothing left but a fragrance – a souvenir from history, to be examined on a star. The gift is acceptable to the attendants of omphalos.
Quite suddenly, provoked perhaps by a shift in the constellations, what we know about our small part in the story breaks through in a flash – to just as quickly disappear. Our heads are hollow, as the head of every manikin should be hollow. We do not have mothers or fathers, but have been manufactured by a factory that has long since ceased to exist. Our heads continue to be as hollow as they were, in the mode of emptiness that an archetype has modeled, as the laws of nature have determined that they must be in the future.
Egyptian embalmers had little use for the brain, and believed the heart to be the seat of true intelligence. It is said that absence makes the heart grow fonder. There is an emptiness that is more articulate than the metaphors of Homer, than the laws of Hamnurabi. The good painter, also, should remove his eyes, in order to perceive the clockwork mechanism of the fates.
Metaphysical Muses, 1918
I have talked of all these strange things to suggest the degree of intelligence and sensibility at which an artist must arrive in order to conceive what I mean by a picture.
-Giorgio de Chirico, 1915
The energy trapped in the object is the record of our previous existence. Like the mushroom trapped in an atom, or like a star sentenced to 12 thousand years hard labor, the archaic spark desires to erupt out of unconsciousness, to return to the scene of the crime, to reenact the dance of its transgression. Black zigzags know what to do. Solid, almost painful to the touch, the energy as if out of nowhere now incarnates as a shadow. It is the psychopomp who remembers how to navigate by scent. Blowing in the viewer's ear, he points to the locomotive frozen in the labyrinth, with its puff of smoke that does not, for a century, move. As our hunt for occult wealth intensifies, the eyes of the inanimate stare back at us. The object takes on a new and subversive life. There is a genie in the lamp. There is a ghost in the machine.
The Remorse of Orestes, 1969
The unknown object can provoke as many flights of imagination as a cloud. Its lack of a set nature allows the average Joe to participate, to stoke the flames beneath the alchemic jar of transmutations. Through its sulfuric fumes the wings of a homunculus are visible. To dream is not an innocent amusement. There is a genius standing behind the genie of the lamp – who has visualized these phenomena a great many times before. If the dreamer wakes, his tongue then becomes a weapon. The music of a dream assaults the demiurgic spheres.
The incarnate watcher replaces his gross body with a double. The creator calls the object out of limbo into the clear light of existence. Every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. Shadows lengthen beyond measure, monstrously, crossing seas and continents to arrive at the land of the never born.
Every 26,000 years the Dioscuri, who are the immortal twins, draw lots. The loser must set sail. The genius standing behind the powers of manifestation is the daemon, who is neither good nor bad. He is something else – a dangerous presence, a force beyond the contradictions that one’s intellect imposes.
It is the daemon who projects the sensation of foreknowing. We may experience this as déjà vu, but such an accident of vision points not only to the future, to a set of symbols that we half remember from a dream, to events that have not yet taken place. No, the experience is more complex and less linear than that. It is our small glimpse at the wheel of the great Platonic year, at the paradox of the Eternal Return. We stare in stupefaction at a city that has also, in a different place, existed, both physically and metaphysically, and in many close variations. The concept of the series in de Chirico can in this light be seen as the reenactment of a myth. An echo of the technology that once existed before the deluge. A myth that no key can unlock. Time being what it is, the distant past may even now be present.
The disquieted muse mutters to herself. The creator gods again leave giant footprints in the lava. They are us. The object pursues a degree in higher education. Death provokes free association between this and the other Earth. Again, there is a green glow in the sky, like that before a hurricane. Clouds hang like distended stomachs.
In each statue’s prosthetic limbs the sensations from a world war have not ever disappeared. Fate’s victim, although conscious, is inanimate. Strength of will alone has empowered his nostalgia, as he goes in search of the great dream that exploded, of the beauty of the ideal, of the lands lost in a war against the alphabet of silence. North Asia crawls with obscene revolts. Average humans may one day deconstruct the black experiments that created them, as a boy laughs at the stone phallus of the Demiurge. Toys at the stroke of midnight will then riot through the laboratories of the Athens Polytechnic Institute.
Sun on the Easel, 1972
Above all a great sensitivity is needed. One must picture everything in the world as an enigma, not only the great questions that one has always asked oneself – why was the world created, why we are born, live and die, for after all, as I have said, perhaps there is no reason in all of this. But rather to understand the enigma of things generally considered insignificant. To perceive the mystery of certain phenomenon of feeling, of the character of a people, even to arrive at the point where one can picture the creative geniuses of the past as things, very strange things that we examine from all sides.
To live in the world as if in an immense museum of strangeness, full of curious many colored toys which change their appearance, which, like little children we sometimes break to see how they are made on the inside, and, disappointed, realize they are empty. The invisible tie that joins a people to its creations. Why for instance are the houses in France built in a certain style and not in another? There is no use citing history and the causes of this and of that; this describes, but it explains nothing for the eternal reason that there is nothing to explain, and yet the enigma always remains.
-Giorgio de Chirico, 1913
The artist’s shadow has declared his independence from the wheel of the Eternal Return. He obeys no law, but instead appears in the period he chooses. He is not a projection of the needs of either the living or the dead. Taking the sun with him, like a weapon aimed at the ego, he can no longer be bothered to imitate every gesture of the pedestrian. It had been years since the metaphysical revolution had attempted to subvert the myth of progress. The Bureau of Eugenic Purification had been closed. Fascism was born again as evangelical Cubism. Biotechnology was on the march. Always, the enigma remains. The thread that binds an artist to his history. The reason for the gulf that separates the two hands of a clock.
De Chirico was sad. The 1972 New York Cultural Center retrospective, called De Chirico by de Chirico, had not provoked any radical new theories about or reassessment of his oeuvre, as a hieroglyphic dream had once led him to expect. He had done what he could. Mocked by his enemies, the knot people, grouped with reactionary critics like Sir Alfred Mummings, a dinosaur, and his only source of applause in one lecture on the Baroque, his obsessions a test of patience even for his friends, he would leave any unmet challenges for some starving artist in the future to resolve. Perhaps, already, the clockwork mechanism of the fates had arranged for their introduction, or would do so at the earliest convenience of the daemon. It was time, again, to set sail, but in a boat no longer seaworthy.
Death would untangle the huge knot that was life. Death, in its turn, was a different type of knot. The metaphysician broods on the conundrum of the 8, that perfect figure, which a prehistoric hand had once stamped on his forehead, like a curse. It was this action that had generated the topology of his pictures, those faithful reproductions of the nonexistent originals, which he had first seen in a vision from 1911. Or perhaps it could be said that even at that time, in a kind of reverse perspective, the complete works of de Chirico were already in existence, waiting only for the artist who would claim them, and for a bit of blood to reactivate their symbols.
…Thought must so detach itself from all human fetters that all things then appear to it anew – as it lit for the first time by a brilliant star.
-Giorgio de Chirico, 1912
The Return of Ulysses, 1968
* * *
The following is one from a series of fourteen poems written in the persona of de Chirico:
Revolutions of new melancholy! The tie that binds a people to its creations. After all of our heroic efforts, we are only a bit closer to the artist who projected the first dream, and whose breath we inhale. The locomotive drove straight through the Atlantic. On that side is the other. Vast epochs of silence. In such an imperceptible fashion how everything is changed.
In the green sky marvelous islands pass – like a procession of immortal birds. Memory bites the gladiator’s ankle. Scents of clove and cinnamon are blown to me from North Africa.
Banners snap on the breeze, and the white sails are as hard and round as breasts filled with desire. The archeological institute has sent a team to excavate the still radioactive skeleton of the muse. Fear of the iron artichoke. Fear of the town clock. Fear of one’s own shadow.
Intestinal disturbances have the power to change consciousness.
They know nothing about anything. But perhaps I cannot tell if my fellow citizens are awake. They do not know me. For they have never met me. Bit by bit, the brush of the primordial artist has removed them from the picture. Fear of my fame. Fear of the girl running with the iron hoop at sunset.
Fear of my friends, who are also my detractors. Fear that 1 plus 1 is not 2. Fear of the increasing disobedience of the shadow. Fear of the solar plexus. Fear of the omnipotence of de Chirico. Fear that life is a variety of death. Fear of the common. Fear of occult pollution. Fear that lengthening shadows do not correspond to the gestures of the 2 hands of a clock.
Alternate futures incarnate and converge. Hieroglyphs assemble like a great barbarian hoard. The manikin's head turns inside out, taking with it the circumference of space, which a few, transformed by epilepsy, still see as their mother. It appears that Earth is hollow but inhabited by ultimatums.
Has the war started? Is the emptiness pregnant with the shape of things to come?
Thought must so detach itself from human limitations that all things will then appear to it anew. As if lit for the first time by a brilliant star. Fear of the cannon. Fear of distance. Fear of the inanimate.
3-dimensional humans are not needed at the factory.
Saturn – punch the clock! With their tools geometers have taken apart the weather. They steered the wind South. They have reconceived the great stadium of the Zodiac. For the spheres they have substituted simulacra. The square is quiet. So many ghosts are hungry. Watch the dead diagram the migrations of the antediluvian orders. Prehistory wept.
Spontaneous combustion of the architect Hebdomeros!
It is possible that the love of new sensations is what pushes the primordial artist, like a storm. The gods were an accident. The goal is simply to create or to destroy, or to play with archetypes for no apparent reason.
Fear of the amount of blood spilled at Omphalos, of the gifts that activate the navel of the Earth. Fear of looking the gift horse in the mouth. Fear of the weight of silence. Fear of the inner voice, that my other self answers to a different set of laws, or to none. Fear of the invention of the wheel.
At the laboratory the toys took charge. From a cattle car echoes the industrial lamentation. I know, but cannot prevent what is scheduled to exist. Sleep detests me. Dreams provide evidence of my election by the fates. A chasm opens in the soul of the genius who would celebrate the Eternal Return.
Who am I and what was I saying? Medusa with eyes that do not see.
Again, I depart from the iron train station that my father built at Volos, as at each hand rows an Argonaut. We are the male midwives to the joyous birth of tragedy. It is we who search the ocean for the key to the city of electromagnetism.
Again, I am sitting at my table at the café where in 1910 I had experienced a metaphysical breakthrough. I have just recovered from a long and painful illness, a kind of initiatory ordeal. This has left me in a state of near morbid sensitivity. The whole world then appears to be convalescent. Through my blind eyes the primordial artist is still staring at the autumn sun.
One instructs the other: I must put an end to the precession of the equinox. I must seed the archeological record with the solitude of the hermetic sign. Rust brings to a stop the clockwork of the planets. No time has gone by. All later multiple vantage points then converge upon that moment.
Over the shop door swings the huge zinc-colored glove, with its terrible golden fingernails. The sad wind blowing on a city afternoon. The beauty of tall red smokestacks, from which puff intelligent clouds.
1) James Thrall Soby, Giorgio de Chirico, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1966. All translations are from the Soby book. No translator is specified, and translations are presumably by the author.
2) Giorgio de Chirico, Hebdomeros, Exact Change (published by arrangement with Flammarion), Cambridge, 1992. This version of the novel was originally published by The Four Seasons Book Society, New York, in 1966. No translator was listed, and the publisher has proven untraceable.
A Publisher’s Note states: John Ashbery, whose introduction to the present edition originally appeared as a review in Book Week, December 18, 1966, recalls that no such publisher existed at the Fifth Avenue address supplied inside the Four Seasons book, which also carried a printer’s mark from Belgrade. Its provenance remains, as befits Hebdomeros, an enigma.
3) James Hillman, The Soul’s Code, Random House, Inc., New York, 1996.
4) Emily Braun, A New View of de Chirico, from De Chirico and America, Hunter College of the City of New York, Foundazione Giorgio E Isa De Chirico, Rome, Umberto Allemandi & C., Turin, 1996, pages 15-20.
5) Guy Davenport, Metaphysical Light in Turin, from Objects on a Table: Harmonious disarray in Art and Literature, Counterpoint, Washington D.C., 1996.
6) Michael R. Taylor, Between Modernism and Mythology: Giorgio de Chirico and the Ariadne Series, The Ariadne Series, The Piazza d’Italia Paintings, Warhol and de Chirico, from Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne, Merrell Publishers Limited, London, 2003.
7) Matthew Gale, Rewinding Ariadne’s Thread, from Giorgio de Chirico and the Myth of Ariadne, Merrell Publishers Limited, London, 2003.
8) Maurizio Calvesi, The “New” Metaphysical Period, from The New Metaphysics, Craftsman House, Edizione De Luca, Rome, 1996.
9) Magdalena Holzhey, Giorgio De Chirico, The Modern Myth, TASHEN, 2005.
10) Wieland Schmied, Giorgio de Chirico: The Endless Journey, Prestel, New York, 2002.Tweet