… We are dealing not with the boundless escapism of fantasy, then, but a voluntary imprisonment “in this madhouse of the sane by circumstances and the obligation of ordinary speech.”
… Beginning with Human, All Too Human, his [Nietzsche’s] prose assumes a clipped, aphoristic mode, bounded by empty spaces. As he argues in this writing itself, silence bears as much meaning as the utterances it buffers. What is excluded from the page rivals in importance the contents of its epigrammatic slabs.
… Unlike other examples from the last (or perhaps any) century, Metaphysical painting aims not to depict any philosopher, or the act of philosophizing, so much as to enact them. To have the image serves as a medium, in every sense. More than any coded constellation of objects, it is the composition’s absences and silences that bear out, I argue, a late Nietzschean apprenticeship — a visual idiom in which the painter’s point of view merges (or presumes to merge) with that of the philosopher.
… Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti dismissed them … as “verbal illustrations.” Instead of fleeing from such literary epithets, this book tackles them head on. Literature can presume and perform an almost offhand intersubjectivity — a clairvoyant sounding of linguistic consciousness from the inside out — to which painting is ostensibly denied access. Yet it is precisely that oracular intersubjectivity to which the Metaphysical image aspires.
… An inventory of iconographies — at the expense of their spatial interplay and division — misses crucial dimensions. Rather than simply depict heraldic symbols, how do the paintings evince the prophetic potential of drained surfaces, framed voids, equivocal perspectives?
… while Nietzsche privileges the non-sense of dreams over the arthritic binary of truth and lie, he never isolates irrationality from waking states. The Gay Science, for example, exalts “these men of former times [who] knew how to dream and did not find it necessary to go to sleep first”; insists upon “the power of the dream [to] overcome us … with our eyes open.” Beyond Good and Evil champions the transformation of perception “even in broad daylight and in the most cheerful moments of our wide-awake spirit.” In short, the optical procedures of Nietzsche’s poetics are rarely unconscious. Their aim and agency is “wakefulness itself.”
“We flee” de Chirico notes, well before his ill-fated rendezvous with the Surrealists, “from seeking a source of inspiration in the dream.” Equally unremarked in scholarship (and unavailable in English), [de Chirico’s] essay “Metaphysical Art and Occult Science” spurns the notion of:
a mundus alter, one much stranger than that which surrounds us and which falls under our everyday senses; we are inclined to believe that it exists only in unreachable spaces, or at the very least, quite far from where we find ourselves, and that to transport ourselves there we must undergo a complete metamorphosis of our physical being … But art, which is a beautiful dream dreamed with open eyes and in the full light of day, in the wake of inexorable reality, recommends to us more than ever the framing and the total consolidation of the universe.
… Vital to these strategies is a “wide-awake day-wisdom” applied to line and light, to framing and displacement, to a lucid confusion set within visible limits. Anything but otherworldly, architecture doubles for the strictures of consciousness and of language in general: conditions to which we are all submitted eternally, but from which only a few find lyrical release.
[line break added] We are dealing not with the boundless escapism of fantasy, then, but a voluntary imprisonment “in this madhouse of the sane by circumstances and the obligation of ordinary speech.” De Chirico’s painting needs sanity for surprise, physics for metaphysics, the ordinary for its opposite. Like Nietzsche’s “concealed man,” his imagery needs speech for silence. It finds it in architecture.
… A use of philosophy to read these painted buildings, streets, and squares — to help reckon their abidingly strange sensations — is a methodological bias. Yet it is no more tendentious than the “Nietzschean method” by which the spaces were wrought to begin with. Studying that method’s distillation of earnestness and irony, arrogance and uncertainty, does not mean swallowing it whole.
[line break added] It means, instead, weighing the peremptory ambition of word against the mute actuality of image. In the end, de Chirico’s painting tells us as much about the metaphorical structure of Nietzsche’s mature philosophy — and its paradoxical consequences for modernism — as those writings help us come to terms with Metaphysical architecture.