a bouquet of dark matter

Many thanks to Scott Esposito of The Quarterly Conversation, who brought Daniel Bosch’s recent essay on William Kentridge to my attention. Those of you who read Sergio Chejfec’s My Two Worlds will remember Kentridge’s appearance toward the end of the book, and how his explicitly rendered lines of sight echo the narrator’s particular way of looking, the bidirectional “gaze in the process of continuous renewal” that at once brings the outside world in and lays the inner world bare. Bosch’s sweeping essay, grounded in the lectures Kentridge gave earlier this year at Harvard, touches on the concepts of fate, justice, and futility; it also includes a striking anecdote that brought Chejfec’s narrative style, in a broader sense, to mind:

In the closing moments of lesson one, Kentridge spoke as we watched the projected image of a kinetic sculpture rotate on its vertical axis, from which sprouted a bouquet of dark matter, fragments of black paper or metal or plastic or charcoal. As these fragments moved in their orbits, fixed by armature wire about that axis, their silhouettes seemed, momentarily, to combine, to come unglued, and then to recombine in greater forms, each haunting, suggestive, but inarticulate. Quite quickly we understood that the rotating axis of the sculpture, though it stayed in one place, was headed somewhere, fated for some destiny. And voila! Precisely as Kentridge fell silent, the black elements in motion on the screen slowly passed their mark, then gently rotated backward into place, the place, so that we could see, finally, how his carefully disposed fragments came together to make a whole—in this case a drawing of a manual typewriter. (Kentridge had reminded us moments before that such machines, metonyms for the development of mass communication in the late 19th century and its explosion in the 20th, were built in the same factories where the Remington corporation had made the rifles used in U.S. Civil war.) The initially incomprehensible—the in-motion, the fragmentary, the disjointed—had come, in its time, to rest, at representation and thus recognition. It was a bravura gesture, an admonition to remember the distorting and defining powers of perspective, anamorphosis, and point of view.

Bosch’s essay can be read in its entirety here; video of all six Kentridge lectures (not to mention other treasures… Eliot! Borges! Trilling!) is available here. For Scott’s reflections on My Two Worlds, click here.