Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Medusa

So - I have to do some of my actual job today. I'll post this in the meantime - it's a drawing of Francoise Gilot from 1946 by Picasso.

This face is fundamentally important to me. How can a face be fundamentally important? What can one even mean by saying a face is "fundamentally important"?

Well, let's compare it with a more recognizable phenomenon. Many people feel that there are "magic words": some sort of fearful and powerful words that, if spoken, can unleash forces in the world. And even those who do not believe in magic words can grasp the concept, of "Abracadabra," and "Open Sesame."

Prayers are magic words. Most modern prayers are phrased in terms of rationally comprehensible assertions and statements. But reason makes no demand that the same series of words be used at a particular time, every time, in order to produce a particular result. This repetitive nature of the prayer does not pertain to rational discourse. It is a vestige of a belief in the magical power of certain series of words.

I don't believe in magic words myself, but I do believe in fundamental faces: faces of a terrible power, faces that precede observation because they are not only right but necessary. The power of these faces, when the observer who matches them sees them, is to unlock the sympathy, fire the imagination, cause the soul to fall trembling to its knees. I do not believe each person sees the same face as fundamental: I believe we all are walking through the world, waiting to be penetrated by the sight of that fundamental face that is specific to each of us. One day each of us will meet our medusa.

Because I have such a strong hunch that this concept is a real concept, and not just some goofy bit of art mysticism, I've been thinking about it for a long time. How could such a thing come to be? I think I figured out the answer - the answer is scientific, but it doesn't diminish the power of the phenomenon. Tomorrow, if I have any more time than I do today, I'll write up my conjecture for you, along with some more examples from my own experience to illustrate what I mean.


  1. I can see Picasso's genius in that face. An obvious artifice holding something so real and recognizable. Flawed and beaufiful at the same time. The face, that is. The painting: mesmerizing.

  2. Chris -

    I know exactly what you mean, and I think you're right. The angle I'm coming from, however, is a little different - I'll work on explaining myself today, and I hope it will prove itself an interesting way to think about it also.