Prewar incident: from the last moments of visage

In the far distance, seen from the American side of the Atlantic Ocean, the squabble seems almost comical. Little, of course, did the New York Times know what was about to start happening in the neighborhood of the zeppelin hangars, and so the Times’s editors saw no need to drive home their point any further by illustrating it.

But the image of what was to come was already in place and already signifying as hard as it could. See, in the image, the forms hovering impatiently on the ceiling of their barn, already fledged in streamline and about to slip free and feral.

Translation: "The arrest of M. Clément in Germany. The hangar before which M. Clément was found at the time of his arrest."
Translation: “The arrest of M. Clément in Germany. The hangar before which M. Clément was standing at the time of his arrest.”

In the image, all but a few of the men who do see have their backs to the camera. They are looking up toward those ridged cylinders as if they’re waiting for them to emerge, cast off, and mount. They understand the cylinders’ purport. They may even have been taught that they’ll love what is about to happen to them.

But the man they have sent away from the bed of ascension is understanding in a different way: actively. His traveling cap is ready to don, he is holding a writing tool in each hand, and his eyes are in the act of piercing.

Translation: "A scandalous arrest. M. Clément, the great industrialist, who has just been arrested in Germany for having stopped in front of a dirigible hangar."
Translation: “A scandalous arrest. M. Clément, the great industrialist, who has just been arrested in Germany for having stopped in front of a dirigible hangar.”

Without the beard that grows beneath, they would be only eyes in a face — say, a face fronting one of the derbied Germans who have so deeply failed to interest the camera in themselves. With the beard, M. Clément’s face becomes an emblem of the time before the dirigible and the Freudian reinterpretation of will. During that long but abruptly vanished prehistory, men didn’t just face the camera when they posed; they faced the camera down. With their sensitive mouths covered deep under layers of masculine muff, some men of the last moments before the Great War seem actually to have believed that the momentarily living self they showed to the finder could be a visage, hard and glittering as a face self-sculpted in stone.

Source: Université de Caen Basse-Normandie, and Photoshopped.

Contribution to an illustrated edition of Heidegger

Ostensibly a work of modern non-fiction, Martin Heidegger’s autobiographical essay “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” (text below) is written in the language of a pastoral genre that had been popular in Germany since the nineteenth century: the novel of blood and soil (Blut und Boden), “which idealized its subject and painted the mythology of peasant life, far from the crossroads of the world” (Mosse 138). During the Third Reich the genre was cultivated like an agribusiness crop, and as its formulas became part of the vocabulary of the state they acquired a derisive nickname, Blubo. Heidegger himself disliked the term Blut und Boden, but the narrator of his essay speaks its language like a native.

“Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?” was published in 1934. As of 2015, many wars and a holocaust later, an international consortium of astronomers is attempting to build a great telescope atop Hawaii’s 14,000-foot extinct volcano Mauna Kea, one of the world’s premier sites for an observatory. However, the road to the construction site is being intermittently blocked by a group of native Hawaiian cultural practitioners who claim that to build anything atop Mauna Kea except altars to the volcano goddess is (as their media releases put it) a desecration. Speaking of desecration, Heidegger’s great object of hate René Descartes wrote a theory of the telescope, and I’m sure that if Heidegger were in Hawaii now he’d be up there at the roadblocks himself.

As he raised his voice in a chant of protest, he’d be joined by some of my post-colonialist colleagues from the University of Hawaii. For them and for Heidegger, then, this collegial contribution in the rational language of Descartes and Photoshop. It depicts the mountain hut where Martin Heidegger grew his deep thoughts out of the Boden. One peak higher, goddess willing, will arise the Thirty Meter Telescope.


George Mosse, ed. Nazi Culture: Intellectual, Cultural and Social Life in the Third Reich. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1966.

Click the link to access Heidegger’s “Why Do I Stay in the Provinces?”


Fanfare for bagpipe

What is the woman thinking as she grasps a glass in her huge hand? Her clothes are firmly secured and no communication can be opened with her eyes or her mouth.

What is the man in the cap thinking? His body is relaxed only to the extent necessary for taking a seat at the table. His mouth is smiling but his eyes aren’t.

Both hands extended along the legs in the military posture called Attention, the little boy in front of the man is rigid. But his body deviates by several degrees from the perpendicular, and one of the two fastenings that close his tattered coat against the cold is a safety pin.

The expression on his face . . .

But it doesn’t matter, because at the center of the scene, eyes alert behind pads of fat, sits the big man with the big glass. He is his image’s low center of gravity. His legs take up all of the space under the table. It is his table, his. He stabilizes all the lives that have been brought close to its cold wood, freezing them into a dark tableau. Upstage, positioned apart from the snow, a greatcoated soldier looks watchfully sidelong toward the wings, while at the big man’s furrily warmed ear a bagpiper in a folk hat worn comically low over the brow makes a crosseyed face while he plays a song.

It can’t be heard on our side of time, but we who can’t hear have been admitted by the photographer Costică Acsinte to a place where the moment of its having become music is remembered. Seen there in snow, frozen note by note into a composition, the song appears to be part of a pageant of praise for the big man. But the auditorium for Acsinte’s pageant is so ample that it can accommodate men even bigger than this one. In fact, you are among some of them now, and they have begun striding forward from your vantage point to approach the image.

Not at all long after March 3, 1940, they will break through the fourth wall, enter a snowy little town in Romania, and make themselves welcome: Brueghel’s hunters, bringing to the big man’s newspaper-covered table their glad news of fresh kill.


Source: Costică Acsinte Archive, Slobozia, Romania,, image 19957175330. Photoshopped.