Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Cezanne's Doubt

In La peal de chagrin Balzac describes a "tablecloth white as a layer of fresh-fallen snow, upon which, the place setting rose symmetrically, crowned with blond rolls." "All through my youth," said Cezanne, "I wanted to paint that, that tablecloth of fresh-fallen snow."... Now I know that one must only want to paint 'rose, symmetrically, the place settings' and 'blond rolls.' If I paint 'crowned' I'm done for, you understand? But if I really balance and shade my place settings and rolls as they are in nature, you can be sure the crowns, the snow, and the whole shebang will be there."

"The landscape thinks itself in me," he would say, "and I am its consciousness." Nothing could be farther from naturalism than this intuitive science. Art is not imitation, nor is it something manufactured according to the wishes of instinct or good taste. It is a process of expression. Just as the function of words is to name – that is, to grasp the nature of what appears to us in a confused way and to place it before us as a recognizable object – so it is up to the painter, said Gasquet, to "objectify," "project," and "arrest." Words do not look like the things they designate; and a picture is not a trompe-l'oeil. Cezanne, in his own words, "writes in painting what had never yet been painted, and turns it into painting once and for all." We, forgetting the viscous, equivocal appearances, go through them straight to the things they present. The painter recaptures and converts into visible objects what would, without him, remain walled up in the separate life of each consciousness: the vibration of appearances which is the cradle of things. Only one emotion is possible for this painter – the feeling of strangeness – and only one lyricism – that of the continual rebirth of existence.

— Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Cezanne's Doubt (1945)
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