I recently read "On Stories" by Richard Kearney that began my mind working in all sorts of directions. I was captivated by his discussion of the limits of storytelling. This refers to events so awesome and singular that they resist a narrative framework that contextualizes them - to narrate them somehow diminishes their importance or their factuality. The example Kearney uses is the Holocost. One of the problems for these events is how do you integrate them into larger histories if you cannot transform them into stories that place them within a historical continuum. How do you represent unspeakable horror in storytelling?
And from here I started thinking about passion paintings - paintings representing the pain and suffering of Jesus. Depending on your belief system this may or may not represent unspeakable horror - but it does share an element with Holocost retellings - the idea that we must remember this event. In the Holocost we must remember so that it never happens again, in the case of the Passion we must remember the foundations of Christianity (the belief that Christ suffered for the sins of man kind) .
Kearney sort of reaches an impasse however in that there are certain atrocities - in the case of civil war it seems - where we want to forget. To paraphrase Alan Watts, just as we need a memory we also need a forgettory. That to hold on to certain events prevent the building of a healing narrative and dooms a people to live in constant turmoil - or to live in their turbulent past. Narratives, historical narratives, allows the past to become history rather than persist as current events. I am not quiet sure what Kearney's criterion for forgetting versus remembering, really where is the limit of storytelling?
So I have been thinking about what modern passion representations would look like. Representing the singular suffering of an individual in an attempt to both memorialize and historicize and communicate.
Finally this sort of singularity of human suffering and the horizon of storytelling reminds me of another horizon of representation - Kant's notion of the sublime (In the Critique of Judgement). The sublime is the pleasure that comes from 1) something we understand with our mind but cannot experience with our senses (what does it really mean that the earth is 238857 from the moon - how can we comprehend that - how can we experience that) 2) something that we experience with our senses but not with our mind - i thing of meditation or spirtual experiences, or extreme physical exertion (bikram yoga).
How do we represent these things?
Apologies for bad Kantian interpretation you Kant scholars out there.