EJN Remembrance #10: Ierusalèm col suo più alto punto

Edward G. Nilges, “State of ‘Portrait of Edward J. Nilges’ as of 4:00 PM, 15 September 2010”, Mars Black acrylic wash on canvas, oval 16 x 20 cm.

Edward G. Nilges, “Detail of State of ‘Portrait of Edward J. Nilges’ as of 5:00 PM, 15 September 2010”, Mars Black acrylic wash with white highlighting on canvas, oval 16 x 20 cm.

Edward G. Nilges, “State of ‘Portrait of Edward J. Nilges’ as of 7:00 PM, 15 September 2010”, acrylic grisaille on canvas, oval 16 x 20 cm.

Già era ‘l sole a l’orizzonte giunto
lo cui meridïan cerchio coverchia
Ierusalèm col suo più alto punto;

e la notte, che opposita a lui cerchia,
uscia di Gange fuor con le Bilance,
che le caggion di man quando soverchia;

sì che le bianche e le vermiglie guance,
là dov’ i’ era, de la bella Aurora
per troppa etate divenivan rance.

The sun was nearly joined to that horizon
where the meridian circle at its zenith
stands straight above Jerusalem,

and night, circling on the other side,
was rising from the Ganges with the Scales
she drops when she is longer than the day,

so that, where I was,
the white and rosy cheeks of fair Aurora
were turning golden with time’s ripening.

Dante, Divine Comedy, Purgatorio II (from The Princeton Dante Project)

“So I saw that when they awoke, they addressed themselves to
go up to the city; but, as I said, the reflection of the sun upon
the city (for the city was pure gold) was so extremely glorious
that they could not, as yet, with open face behold it, but through
an instrument made for that purpose. So I saw, that as I went
on, there met them two men, in raiment that shone like gold; also
their faces shone as the light.”

John Bunyan

A harrowing time for I knew that when you go from wash to grisaille you cease writing and start painting, and my ancestor emerged like a ghost.

The first illustration is the final state of the wash.

The second, is a detail of the eyes right after the first scumbling was added using white.

The third is where the painting is now.

A life organized by light a world lit by fire.

Perhaps a torn Italian propaganda poster on the back wall sketched in faintly of cultural monuments being destroyed by Italian bombing. Yes, it was all rather soulless. But as Adorno points out, in those situations you put your heart and soul into being an object, into being “soulless” for the duration. Iraq and Afghanistan vets speak of putting what they have endured and done behind a door. Works perhaps in the field but there are a lot of problems when they return.

In working to support your family in the corporation you perform the same operation: use your subject-hood to achieve subjectlessness by means of will-power. You get into coding that program, and you think of the Baltimore Catechism’s injunction that man love God with “his whole heart, and soul, and mind”.

And then after many years, you emerge, like Dante and Virgil at the exit of Hell and the entrance to Purgatory in the half light of dawn. A pearly grey world lit only by stars.

The old welfare state was committed to full employment. In my experience in the 1970s, it meant that nobody ever got fired at places like Encyclopedia Britannica, that middle managers had three martini lunches as in Mad Men. But: you also had a shot at using your passion for something important. I blew that shot, and then in 1980, Thatcher and Reagan withdrew the implicit committment.

Turned out that all my committment during the Carter years was like the service between wars of the hardass Colonel in The Thin Red Line, played by Nick Nolte: “poured out like water on the ground”, which was his motivation for driving his men in a WWI style attempt to take a Japanese position.

Whereupon I rejoice, and give thanks for my rude health and ability to paint.

Note on mashing up John Bunyan, that old Dissenter, and Dante, that Romish man, as above, and in using Vanity Fair in my (very free) translation of Dante: Bunyan was called the greatest writer of simple English prose by George MacDonald Fraser, who ought to know (he’s underrated).

Yet: Bunyan uses an “indirect” method. Like the Old Masters on the Continent of his time, Poussin and especially Rembrandt, Bunyan piles upon gorgeous prose effects as if to give the simple folk a pearl of great price, from the pain of Bunyan’s depression and alcoholism (I cannot think of the very name of his spiritual autobiography, God’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, without great emotion).

Bunyan uses English complex grammar to magnificent effect to get to a simple result, as simple as the gesture of forgiveness given the Prodigal in Rembrandt, a gesture built with piles of careful paint by the Hollander.

Rembrandt van Rijn The return of the prodigal son c. 1662. Oil on canvas 262 x 206 cm. The Hermitage, St. Petersburg

But today, “simple” writing is supposed not to use Bunyan’s complex syntax. There is a deep contempt for understanding.

But I say, it takes what it takes.

My purpose in painting online is not so much to teach “technique”, since you can find people who, unlike me, stuck with art in a much more specialized way and know more.

It is instead to tunnel under the earth, like Milton’s Satan, Dante’s Vergil and Dante, or Hamlet’s father.

To be a worthy pioneer.

There is a deep contempt for labor afoot. I’ve worked for five years as a dedicated teacher six days a week, and it has been poured out like water on the ground. I wrote a lot of software as a mere employee, and it was poured out like water on the ground.

But I don’t care. Unum necessarium. My uncle was the better man and he was poured out like holy water on the ground. He’ll get this humble and unworthy memorial.


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