Time Religious and Artistic

R.B.Kitaj has provoked me to look into a book by A.J.Heschel which happens to be on my
library shelf. It’s about the sabbath as a day apart from the noise and strife. That’s how I’ve always thought about my studio—a place and a time—but Heschel is concerned to privilege time over space, which he sees as the realm of things. He is right—things, or objects, are space, and are there to be struggled with. They can get in the way of our life, but we can also make art, so they do have potentials. He’s also right that we think and talk about time using spatial words and concepts. “Before” and “after,” for example, are spatial relationships. What’s new to me at least is that he sees our fixation on space as an attempt to escape from confrontation with time, as a defense:

“Time to us is sarcasm, a slick treacherous monster with a jaw like a furnace incinerating every moment of our lives. Shrinking, therefore, from facing time, we escape for shelter to things of space. The intentions we are unable to carry out we deposit in space; possessions become the symbols of our repressions, jubilees of frustrations.”

This idea of time deposited in objects is pretty interesting, though I might give it a more positive valence. But more interesting is the way that Heschel denigrates imagination:

“The primitive mind finds it hard to realize an idea without the aid of imagination, and it is the realm of space where imagination wields its sway. Of the gods it must have a visible image; where there is no image there is no god.”

So the Jewish god is abstract. So much is well known, but this kind of abstraction I don’t want. He might as well be the god of conceptual art. I’m happy to have a primitive mind. In any case, nothing is gained by fighting it.

RBKitaj, The Listener (Joe Singer in hiding) 1980

RBKitaj, The Listener (Joe Singer in hiding) 1980

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