Sunday, September 2, 2007


In my last post, I wondered what it means to appreciate a work of art and whether this can be done when the work is surrounded by noisy tourists. One of my favorite experiences in Italy was visiting Paestum, the site of an ancient Greek colony south of Naples where several well-preserved temples still stand. Somewhat off the beaten track, there were few visitors and it was a beautiful day - dark storm clouds were gathering but the temples were still in full late-afternoon sunlight, as were the wild flowers that surrounded them. I left Paestum without any of the sense of guilt I felt at the Trevi Fountain. I was surprised then, to read the following in Heidegger's "Origin of the Work of Art":

The Aegina sculptures in the Munich collection, Sophocles' Antigone in the best critical edition, are, as the works they are, torn out of their own native sphere. However high their quality and power of impression, however good their state of preservation, however certain their interpretation, placing them in a collection has withdrawn them from their own world. But even when we make an effort to cancel or avoid such displacement of the works - when, for instance, we visit the temple in Paestum at its own site or the Bamberg cathedral on its own square - the work that stands there has perished.
For Heidegger, Anitgone could only be appreciated properly by ancient Athenians and the temples of Paestum were only living works of art when they were filled with worshipers. Whether or nor this is entirely correct needs more thought. I was truly moved by Bernini's sculpture's in the Villa Borghese - but these have always been housed in the same building. What I do know is that I enjoyed being at Paestum. I also know that I enjoyed being at the Colosseum with Erica. Even in its dilapidated state the building is still impressive and it was somewhat possible to imagine what it must have been like there (despite overhearing the worn-out exaggerations of a nearby tour leader - 'as the gladiators tried to climb up the walls, the soldiers would slice off their fingers...'). Both the Colosseum and the even more ruined Baths of Caracalla had some sort of elevated air about them that was conducive to very good conversation (as was the Villa Borghese). Maybe just enjoying our time at these places is enough. As Plato observed (in a comment on my last post), enjoying a slushy with his girlfriend turned out to be more important than being locked out of the Acropolis.

Perhaps, even if we can't appreciate these works the way they were supposed to be appreciated (in Heidegger's sense), it is enough that we can experience them as they are now and think the thoughts they evoke even in their 'perished' state.

The engravings in this post depict one of the temples at Paestum and were made by Piranesi, a cicerone who made these as souvenirs for tourists in Rome in the mid-eighteenth century. He made engravings both of fantastic ideas for buildings and interiors as well as images such as those posted here. If Heidegger is right, Piranesi is making living art in these images of 'perished' art.

Chris McClure


Erica Alini said...

Nice post! I especially liked the connection between Piranesi and Heidegger. The only thing is, it starts out like one of your usual posts and then kind of turns into a stream of consciousness. It was easy to follow for me, but other readers are cut out. You could add a couple of clarifications perhaps. Or maybe just leave like it electronic diary of good memories. As you like it :-)

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your post and I am actually writing a paper on the Heidegger text you used as a reference I was wondering if it was alright if I used you as a reference in my paper. Thank you

Chris McClure said...

Hi Anonymous - sure that's fine. If you want, you can contact me at