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Friday, 16 September 2011

Franz Kafka: Absent-minded Window-gazing (Three Meditations)


Untitled: Miroslav Tichý, n.d. (Foundation Tichý Ocean)

Absent-minded Window-gazing (Zerstreutes Hinausschaun)

What are we to do with these spring days that are now fast coming on? Early this morning the sky was gray, but if you go to the window now you are surprised and lean your cheek against the latch of the casement.

The sun is already setting, but down below you see it lighting up the face of the little girl who strolls along looking about her, and at the same time you see her eclipsed by the shadow of the man behind overtaking her.

And then the man has passed by and the little girl's face is quite bright.

Untitled: Miroslav Tichý, n.d. (Foundation Tichý Ocean)

Rejection (Die Abweisung)

When I meet a pretty girl and beg her: 'Be so good as to come with me,' and she walks past without a word, this is what she means to say:

'You are no Duke with a famous name, no broad American with a Red Indian figure, level, brooding eyes and a skin tempered by the air of the prairies and the rivers that flow through them, you have never journeyed to the seven seas and voyaged on them wherever they may be, I don't know where. So why, pray, should a pretty girl like myself go with you?'

'You forget that no automobile swings you through the street in long thrusts; I see no gentlemen escorting you in a close half-circle, pressing on your skirts from behind and murmuring blessings on your head; your breasts are well laced into your bodice, but your thighs and hips make up for that restraint; you are wearing a taffeta dress with a pleated skirt such as delighted all of us last autumn, and yet you smile - inviting mortal danger - from time to time.'

'Yes, we're both in the right, and to keep us from being irrevocably aware of it, hadn't we better just go our separate ways home?'

Untitled: Miroslav Tichý, n.d. (Foundation Tichý Ocean)

The Street Window (Das Gassenfenster)

Whoever leads a solitary life and yet now and then wants to attach himself somewhere, whoever, according to changes in the time of day, the weather, the state of his business, and the like, suddenly wishes to see any arm at all to which he might cling -- he will not be able to manage for long without a window looking on to the street. And if he is in the mood of not desiring anything and only goes to his window sill a tired man, with eyes turning from his public to heaven and back again, not wanting to look out and having thrown his head up a little, even then the horses below will draw him down into their train of wagons and tumult, and so at last into the human harmony.

Miroslav Tichý, n.d. (Foundation Tichý Ocean)

Franz Kafka: three short tales, written between 1904 and 1912, from Betrachtung (Meditation), 1913, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir in The Penal Colony: Stories and Short Pieces, 1948

Franz Kafka b. 3 July 1883, Prague; d. 3 June 1924, Vienna
Miroslav Tichý b. 20 November 1926, Netcice, part of the town of Kyjov, Czechoslovakia; d. 12 April 2011, Kyjov, Czech Republic


Ed Baker said...

The Window (opened &/or closed) played HUGE via the Romantics

check out the Metropolitan Museum of Art's recent (this just past summer) exhibition s catalogue:

ROOMS WITH A VIEW The Open Window in the 19 th Century

&, of course, there is all-ways Forster's 'Room with a View (1904)

more recently via my looking out through my window for nearly 7 years and into her .... window my 6 6 sectioned Neighbors

(via Joey Madia's New Mystics site).

Kafka was a Master Window Gazer....

many a muse is discovered via merely looking / seeing

one happenstance through a window seen can
& often does
carry one into realms (of work) not otherwise
nor innocence ?


this post the photos the Kafka carries 'things'

Anonymous said...

it's as if the window is a river
flowing past at full flood
and the heart is a blur
collecting yearnings

TC said...

Spaces for looking and longing, for loving yet being left alone with the lost yearning of all being, the window and the camera lens.

Franz Kafka and Miroslav Tichy. Kafka's story is relatively well known... Tichy's, not so much.

For those who may be interested, what follows is an excerpt from a review written two years before the death of this reclusive -- and somewhat kooky, as you will have guessed -- photographer.

TC said...

Girls, girls, girls: Geoff Dyer, from The Guardian 2 August 2008:

Van Gogh's rise to posthumous glory is unsurpassable but, in scale and strangeness, the story of Miroslav Tichý's triumph takes some beating. And, unlike Van Gogh, he is around to enjoy it - sort of. Tichý is 82 now and, if he could be persuaded to leave his lair in Kyjov, in the Czech Republic, would see his name writ large on the banners fluttering outside the Pompidou Centre, which is showing a retrospective of his work.

The first things on display are his cameras and lenses, looking as rusty and old as weapons unearthed from the battlefields of the first world war. Photographers tend to be obsessed by kit, are always trying out new lenses, films and processes. Tichý began photographing with the most basic Russian-made camera - and this was the technological high point of his career. Thereafter he became a scavenger, modifying and building his equipment with whatever came to hand: a rewind mechanism made of elastic from a pair of shorts and attached to empty spools of thread; lenses from old spectacles and Plexiglas, polished with sandpaper, toothpaste and cigarette ash. His telephotos were cobbled together from plastic drain pipes and empty food tins. He also made his own enlarger, out of cardboard and planks. Tichý's make-do-and-mend philosophy extends to his own, um, wardrobe. Recent photographs show him holding his DIY camera, wearing a filthy sweater, stitched together with what look like dead beetles.

So, what did Tichý do, once he was kitted out with his homemade arsenal? Put as simply as possible, he spent his time perving around Kyjov, photographing women. Ideally he'd catch them topless or in bikinis at the local swimming pool; failing that, he'd settle for a glimpse of knee or - the limitations of the camera meant the framing was often askew - ankle. That is the least of the pictures' defects: most are under or over-exposed as well. Michael Hoppen is currently exhibiting a small selection of Tichý's at his London gallery. I asked him how many great Tichý's pictures there were in total. "In focus?" he replied, as if that were a personal preference, and not a prerequisite for photographic adequacy. "Maybe two or three hundred." In some of these, the ostensible subject is all but blanched out of existence by a blaze of intruding light.

TC said...


This is, however, the most orthodox phase of Tichý's working methods. Once developed and printed, the pictures were subjected to a protracted form of editorial hazing: left out in the rain, used as beer mats or to prop up wobbly tables. Where the definition was not sharp enough, Tichý would pencil around breasts or hips like an enthusiastic but unqualified cosmetic surgeon. Sometimes he'd frame the pictures with a specially chosen mount: a garbage sack, say, or a bit of squiggled-on card. One of the works at the Pompidou has been gnawed by the rats with which the artist shares his home. It may be hard to resist the conclusion that Tichý is a few frames short of a roll - but he's shrewd with it: "If you want to be famous," he has said, "you have to be worse at something than everyone else in the world."

And the eccentricities of Tichý's habits should not blind us to the conventional aspects of his early formation. Enrolled at the School of Fine Art in Prague in 1945, he eagerly embraced the liberationist promise of modernism. This promise was broken when the communists came to power in 1948, dragging in their wake the social-realist imperatives of heroic representation of proletarian endeavour. After a brief period of military service, Tichý's responded by retreating to his hometown of Kyjov. In 1957, during the cultural thaw ushered in by Stalin's death, he was slated to participate in a group exhibition from which he suddenly withdrew. Suffering from the delusion that his colleagues were part of a fascist conspiracy, he had a complete breakdown that led to his being committed to a psychiatric clinic for a year.

From that time on, his life assumed the curious combination of neglect and compulsion that was eventually transformed into the stuff of cultural legend (Nick Cave has written a song about him; Michael Nyman is contemplating an opera based on his life). He abandoned everything else and, throughout the fluctuating political climate of the 1960s and 70s, burrowed away at his new existence as "a stone-age photographer".

Ed Baker said...

can't pin "it" down much bitterly than w a

"basic camera - and this was the technological high point of his career. Thereafter he became a scavenger, [...]."

and this:

"blanched out of existence by a blaze of intruding light."

and, so, it, is, & goes, as: She Intrudes

both Tichy AND Kafka from my vantage point
seem perfectly sane .... all things considered
to me

TC said...

Yes, sanity is in the eyes of the beholder.

Here is one of Tichy's homemade cameras.

TC said...

And here is the eccentric shutterbug himself.

Ed Baker said...

here is an image of Tichy
he died this past April.

TC said...


Looks like we're on the same shutter speed... short exposure.

Ars longa, vita before breakfast.

Ed Baker said...

I guess that if it looks like a double-exposure
most assuredly is

and I am sort-uve looking a bit like him ? except my beard is bright red ! Here is a quote of his that I just found. Something to do with his ration to a show of his photographs (that he didn't want to happen) and the curerateor says "well, enjoy your new fame anyway"

he replied:

"Enjoyment is a concept that I absolutely disallow. How could such a skeptic enjoy something! -- Momentary feelings! I don't take seriously anything that I feel or think."

TC said...

He was right. Far too much weight is given in this world to its mere passing epiphenomena, including (especially) all aspects and dimensions of taking oneself any more seriously than (for example) a worm takes itself.

His comments in interviews in those later years when he had become famous are wonderfully diffident, self-deprecating, deflating and crusty.

There is a sense he had the impression he had pulled the wool over people's eyes, that they were all total fools for having made much of him.

(I love that attitude and wish it were contagious among would-be artists, but no, only the rare genius seems capable of it... and I think we ran out of those last year.)

Ed Baker said...

the image that he captured the one on the left

near replicates an image in my own mind of my Original Muse in another time..

me-thinks & one can merely watch thinking come-and-go that Tichy
(how to get that little accent over the "y" ? I just don't know..

however... still in my 'thinking' that he was, with old tools / scrapped-together bits and pieces to make-modify his cameras.. in order to

walk down ANY street and expose / reveal / recapture that
long since gone image of "Her"

who the Philistines ( the Fools) have murdered instead of .... celebrating ?

now... back to that image on the left:

a line/ image from The City (1974):

a girl in a dress
i have not seen her wear


her loose movement
in a wet dress
as she went up
Houston Street

&, last night I did a drawing , 'after a Tichy photo'
last night
not great art but what is ?

TC said...

Ed, have gratefully received your luminous MT homage back-channel, and as I. B. Damned (silent partner of Louis B. Mayer) might have said, "If that ain't Great Art, Great Art ought to go back to the drawing board."

By the by, that accent on the "y" -- you've no idea the trouble that took. Maybe there's such a thing as a Czech keyboard, but I don't have one. But maybe somewhere in deep storage at an MGM back-lot...

Ed Baker said...

heck, I'm having a Devil of a time trying
to get that accent OVER the "e" in


I KNOW that there IS a way ...

I once saw a 'sheet' of symbols via this #$&^%*@
computer from witch (sic) you cld "pluck" what was wanted from...

but all I was able to "pluck" was my Magic Twanger, Froggie !

Robb said...

Oh, humans. Pictures and words. We do not change as much as we change the world around us. Comfort, somehwo, for me.


TC said...

Oh Robb, would that it were so.

And seeing your work through the open windows you have made has changed my view of what's out there, more than once, so that part is true enough.

But then too, the world changes us, I have found.

And we stay changed. And then we are gone.

Still the world keeps on going. Somehow. Always staying the same, changing and being changed. Without us.