” … We … are aware of the joy and the solitude enclosed by a portico, a street corner, or the angle of a room, on the surface of a table, between the sides of a box.”
… Contrary to the feverish impieties presumed of Nietzsche’s philosophy, it is limitation (to language, to consciousness, to the self) that forms the crux of its mature exertions. Text after text calls not for an invention of the new, but an ironization of the familiar. In other words, even as Nietzsche expands the topography of the philosophical imagination, he reminds his reader that there is nothing new under the sun. From that inevitability de Chirico culls the enigma of shadows; from the chronic predictability of language — and the built environment that is its spatial equivalent — his images wrest timed silences.
The heedlessness of architecture by the majority of the populace is the premise upon which Metaphysical vision depends, the habit from which it pointedly, if quietly departs. “[There] are men,” the painter writes in one of his theoretical précis, “who are unacquainted with the terribilità of line and angles, they are drawn toward the infinite, and in this they reveal their limited psyche … We who know the signs of the Metaphysical alphabet are aware of the joy and the solitude enclosed by a portico, a street corner, or the angle of a room, on the surface of a table, between the sides of a box.” Making use of an alphabet already at large, Metaphysical painting resists the “endless stream of new signs” disparaged by Nietzsche.
… The Nietzschean significance of his painting lies less in explicit contents than the means by which they are rendered. A limitation to thematics neglects how objects appear isolated to begin with: a system the artist referred to as the “solitude of signs.” Scholars have approached de Chirico’s painting almost exclusively in terms of its signs. I attend instead to the import — formal, semiotic, ideological — of its solitude.
Architecture’s role in organizing absence, this book argues, is no casual faculty of de Chirico’s images, no derivative of more urgent iconographic concerns. Nor is their suppression of “man as guide” some dirge to modern alienation. Long mistaken as disconsolate, the estrangement of Metaphysical imagery is willful and willing. The paintings turn austerity into the means of pictorial privilege.