[Robert Rauschenberg, White Paintings (Three Panel), 1951]
Just back from the Association of Jewish Studies Conference; three days with no news, no internet, no Facebook, no Jewish Philosophy Place. I liked and always like the bubble space of an academic conference, but am now catching up on the unbearable news from Connecticut, which broke the day before I left for Chicago. I’m not sure worlds are completely incommensurable. At the conference hotel I would glance at the newspapers left by the elevator or at the television screens in the café, so you follow along at a distance. Sad awareness and affect seeps into the bubble. Back home now feeling out of place, I want very much to talk about the conference, but will stop here for a moment.
I was going to leave it at that, but it did not seem enough. I went looking around online for a picture and stumbled upon this one.
For me, this early Rauschenberg painting speaks to the situation, what with the painting’s three distinct panels and uniform white paint. They are supposed to convey “pure experience.” John Cage called them “hypersensitive screens.” This means that the painting reflects upon its surface all modulations from without. In opposition to expressive bathos in Abstract Expressionism, Rauschenberg’s painting was understood by Cage in terms of negation and silence. Is that just a Zen kind of cop-out? I’m not sure. I don’t want to say anything about Connecticut, but I do want to register it. I think there is something to this more cool, analytic approach as one, and only one, part of a larger response not just to awful suffering, but to this particular awful suffering.