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The Persistence of Memory: Christian Boltanski and Memory
In an exhibition currently at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City, a crane reaches into a mountain of clothes and pulls out at random a selection of shirts, pants, etc., only to release them to flutter back to their brethren. “No Man’s Land,” Christian Boltanski’s latest art installation, moves to the soundtrack of a thousand human heartbeats. The uninhabited clothing recalls the Holocaust, and Boltanski’s invites that connection. Memory, both personal and cultural, pervades all his work. A new monograph on the artist examines Boltanski’s career and the persistence of memory in both playful and humorous as well as dark and disturbing ways.
“There’s a story,” Catherine Grenier, director of contemporary collections at the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Paris, titles her essay on Boltanski. Whenever called upon for an explanation of his art, Boltanski famously replies with a favorite story. Grenier sees this narrative impulse as one of Boltanski’s “profound beliefs”: “the sole condition for the existence of reality is fable (i.e. storytelling), since narrative is its only means of transmission.” In other words, we can never touch some pure form of the elusive concept of “reality”; instead, we are left only with the stories we tell to transmit that concept of reality.
Many early works of Boltanski’s construct a personal fable of autobiography through minutiae. These “inventories” of personal objects project the illusion of obsessive individual detail, but the items themselves are bogus, clearly unlikely to belong to Boltanski the artist’s past. “In subjecting such contemporary and nondescript material to a treatment usually reserved for the ancient or exotic,” Grenier argues, “the artist reaffirms the ridiculous and pointless nature of the biographical project.” But, if biography is always absurd, and therefore pointless, what is the point of self-examination and self-commemoration, either of the individual or the masses?
Boltanski often recreates fables of childhood in his work. Childhood, in his hands is “the bedrock of humanity” that “defuse[s] all nihilism,” Grenier believes. “For Boltanski,” she continues, “the crucial importance of childhood and a belief in the redeeming power of memory constitute an antidote to despair.” In the end, memory persists because we know that the opposite of memory is not forgetting but, rather, despair over the void of storylessness. Boltanski asks the big questions that the art of Duchamp often asked, while also asking the small questions set in miniature that the art of Cornell often asked. Duchamp played like a child with reality, while Cornell preserved the childlike in his precious boxes, but Boltanski both plays and preserves childhood to make use of it as a panacea for the modern condition. Boltanski becomes the last romantic holding onto the idea of childhood “trailing clouds of glory,” and hopes that those fleeting glimpses are enough to keep us sane into old age.
“The artist is somebody who has a mirror in the place of a face,” Boltanski once said, “and each time somebody sees it, he says ‘that’s me.’” When you read this monograph and ponder the generous offering of images from every stage of Boltanski’s career, you can’t help but see these false autobiographies and think, “That’s me.” Boltanski’s story compels to tell our stories, if only to ourselves. The persistence of memory allows us to persist despite the long odds against the erasure of the self in the vast, empty void of modern life post-Holocaust. A glimpse into this monograph and the work of Boltanski is a glipse into a mirror upon which we should long reflect.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.