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04 januari 2011

Charlotte Salomon's Genesis

This past summer, I came across an interesting essay by Griselda Pollock on Charlotte Salomon's masterpiece Leben? Oder Theater?

Life-mapping; or, Walter Benjamin and Charlotte Salomon never met
- with omissions available in Google Books, as part of the book:

Conceptual odysseys: passages to cultural analysis
Edited by Griselda Pollock, October 2007, Tauris & Co Ltd

Allthough in my opinion, Pollock is focussing too much on the religious connotations of LT. Or rather, within that angle, I consider it to be an odd miss that - regarding LT's first densely written pages - Pollock only points out the link with psalm 144, Yom Kippur, Exodus and the mournful and commemoration aspect of the work and doesn't seem to have noticed the (I would say) clear allusions onto... Genesis! - be it with, quite emphatically, man - i.e. in this case a woman! - as the creator of a 'world'; painting, singing and writing with a view on the ocean like God's spirit hovering over the waters.

As an aside, close reading of the famous 'motto' of LT:
Was is der Mensch dass du sein gedenkest - der Erdenwurm, dass du auf ihn achtest?
...seems to bring to light (one would have to dig into the Jewish textbooks of CS's time in order to be sure, my hypothesis is based on some internet research) that she is - wilfully or with unconscious precision - blending no less than four pieces of scripture:
- psalm 8: man as special creature in God's creation;
- psalm 144: the fleeting, shadowy state state of mortal man;
- psalm 22 (for Salomon writes 'Erdenwurm' in stead of the word in psalms 8 an 144: 'Erdensohn' or 'Menschen Sohn'; and in psalm 22 David calls himself a 'worm'): being deserted by God and great suffering;
- and finally Job 25:6 ('the son of man who is a worm!'): the famous story about a wealthy man loosing all he's got, as a test of his faith in God.

These four ancient and profound testimonies of the human condition brought together in one opening sentence - what a stroke of genius right at the start of the narrative...

Back to Pollocks highlighting the religious side of LT - see here:

'However, a further study (by Deborah Schultz and Edward Timms), scheduled for publication in the journal Word & Image, will argue that her [CS's] response to the crisis of the Nazi period remains resolutely secular. It was the commitment to artistic creativity that sustained her as she faced the threat of arrest and deportation'.

I think I agree. Salomon decisively speaks of man ("Der Mensch sitzt am Meer. Er malt.") right from the beginning of her description of her act of creation reminding of God's spirit hovering over the waters in Genesis.

And thinking about the role of Alfred Wolfsohn alias Amadeus Daberlohn[*] in LT: perhaps one could and should argue that Salomon's singing out of the paintings (perhaps in some respect not unlike aboriginal painters, e.g. the Australian Emily Kame Kngwarreye) as well as her explication:
Der Verfasser bemüht sich (…) vollständig aus sich selbst herauszugehen und die Personen mit eigener Stimme singen oder sprechen zu lassen[**]
...are a clear transposition of Wolfsohns indeed secular (but then again... not unreligous) idea's about man's creativity?

Also see my post:
Over het masker / About the mask (in Dutch...)

Footnotes (added later)

[*] Also see '(Re) Inventing (a) Life: Working through Trauma by regaining artistic Authority in Charlotte's Life? Or Theatre?' by Nathalie Pendergast: 'For Daberlohn, “genesis” takes place in the space between life and death. He repeatedly discusses the importance of having first experienced death in order to fully live and become a creator.'

[**] Substitute 'Der Verfasser' with 'Gott' - and the result is a concise formulation of the concept 'creation by means of emanation'. The original remark can also be interpreted as 'creation out of emptiness'.

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