Tag Archives: genesis

‘The Possibility of an Island’ is world literature classic #110

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The Possibility of an Island is very much a philosophical novel, as is most of Michel Houellebecq‘s fiction. In this particular novel Houellebecq juxtaposes Plato’s soulmate theory to Saint Paul‘s ‘one flesh’ remark in the Epistle to the Ephesians, remarking that this ‘love craving’, this need for emotional symbiosis is the origin of much unhappiness.

In the words of Houellebecq:

“It was [Plato’s Symposium] that intoxicated Western mankind, mankind as a whole, which has inspired in it disgust at its condition of a rational animal, which had engendered in it a dream that it had taken two millennia to try and rid itself of, without completely succeeding.”

Below is Plato’s soulmate theory in which Zeus split the four legged and four armed primeval humans in two parts, giving birth to creatures who are forever searching for the other half, the soul mate, to reunite their flesh:

“[Primeval man had] … four hands and four feet, eight in all … they made an attack upon the gods … Zeus discovered a way [to punish them] … I will cut them in two … after the division the two parts of man, each desiring his other half … longing to grow into one … when one of the halves died and the other survived, the survivor sought another mate, man or woman as we call them … and clung to that … so ancient is the desire of one another which is implanted in us, reuniting our original nature, making one of two, and healing the state of man … each of us … is always looking for his other half. Suppose Hephaestus … [was] to come to [a] pair who are lying side by side and to say to them … ‘do you desire to be wholly one … I am ready to melt you into one and let you grow together, so that being two you shall become one … if you were a single man?’ … there is not a man … who when he heard the proposal would deny … that this meeting and melting into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need … and the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love.” —Plato’s Symposium

And this is Saint Paul’s remark in the Epistle to the Ephesians:

“For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.”

This is not the new flesh but the old flesh.

Before the ocean and the earth appeared

Magnum Chaos (c. 1524 ) by Lorenzo Lotto

“Before the ocean and the earth appeared— before the skies had overspread them all— the face of Nature in a vast expanse was naught but Chaos uniformly waste. It was a rude and undeveloped mass, that nothing made except a ponderous weight; and all discordant elements confused, were there congested in a shapeless heap.” (trans.Brookes More)

490 years ago Italian artist Lorenzo Lotto produced the image above. The design is a representation of chaos and is entitled Magnum Chaos. It is an intarsia made for a church choir in Bergamo, North Italy. It feels very modern today.

It’s a nice example of the eye as independent body part, the eye carried forth by two legs and two feet and in control of both arms and hands.

It is also an example of a what we in Dutch call a ‘kopvoeter’ (lit. headfooter) or a ‘koppoter’ (lit. headlegger), a style of drawing made by children from about age three in which people are drawn without a body and with arms emerging directly from the head. (see Child_art#Pre-symbolismbelly face and body image.)

They are called bodyheads in English. See update.

Apparently, Rudolf Steiner says something about child art and ‘bodyheads’ in Allgemeine Menschenkunde als Grundlage der Pädagogik, 1919, but I have been unable to find out what.

The Magnum Chaos reminds me of the André Masson acéphale illustrations.

And other grotesques of course.

The image shown above is upside down from the original at Bergamo.

Update 20/2/14: A possible English translation of kopvoeter and koppoter is bodyhead, a neologism coined by English artist Paul Rumsey and given as the title to a number of prints.