Certain relationships are charged with an intensity of feeling that incinerates the walls we habitually erect between platonic friendship, romantic attraction, and intellectual-creative infatuation. One of the most dramatic of those superfriendships unfolded between the artists Paul Gauguin (June 7, 1848–May 8, 1903) and Vincent van Gogh (March 30, 1853–July 29, 1890), whose relationship was animated by an acuity of emotion so lacerating that it led to the famous and infamously mythologized incident in which Van Gogh cut off his own ear — an incident that marks the extreme end of what Sir Thomas Browne contemplated, two centuries earlier, as the divine heartbreak of romantic friendship.
In February of 1888, a decade after Van Gogh found his purpose, he moved to the town of Arles in the South of France. There, he exploded into a period of immense creative fertility, completing more than two hundred paintings, one hundred watercolors and sketches, and his famous Sunflowers series. But he also lived in extreme poverty and endured incessant inner turmoil, much of which related to his preoccupation with enticing Gauguin — whom he admired with unparalleled ardor (“I find my artistic ideas extremely commonplace in comparison with yours,” Van Gogh wrote) and who at the time was living and working in Brittany — to come live and paint with him. This coveted cohabitation, Van Gogh hoped, would be the beginning of a larger art colony that would serve as “a shelter and a refuge” for Post-Impressionist painters as they pioneered an entirely novel, and therefore subject to spirited criticism, aesthetic of art. Van Gogh wrote to Gauguin in early October of 1888:
I’d like to see you taking a very large share in this belief that we’ll be relatively successful in founding something lasting.
Despite his destitution, Van Gogh spent whatever money he had on two beds, which he set up in the same small bedroom. Seeking to make his modest sleeping quarters “as nice as possible, like a woman’s boudoir, really artistic,” he resolved to paint a set of giant yellow sunflowers onto its white walls. He wrote beseeching letters to Gauguin, and when the French artist sent him a self-portrait as part of their exchange of canvases, Van Gogh excitedly showed it around town as the likeness of a beloved friend who was about to come visit.
Gauguin finally agreed and arrived in Arles in mid-October, where he was to spend about two months, culminating with the dramatic ear incident.
In Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals (public library), the French painter provides the only first-hand account of the strange, almost surreal circumstances that led to Van Gogh’s legendary self-mutilation — circumstances chronically mis-reported by most biographers and the many lay myth-weavers of popular culture, all removed from the facts of the incident by space, time, and many degrees of intimacy.
Gauguin recalls that he resisted Van Gogh’s insistent invitations for quite some time. “A vague instinct forewarned me of something abnormal,” he writes. But he was “finally overborne by Vincent’s sincere, friendly enthusiasm.” He arrived late into the night and, not wanting to wake Van Gogh, awaited dawn in a town café. The owner instantly recognized him as the friend whose likeness Van Gogh had been proudly introducing as the anticipated friend.
After Gauguin settled in, Van Gogh set out to show him the beauty and beauties of Arles, though Gauguin found that he “could not get up much enthusiasm” for the local women. By the following day, they had begun work. Gauguin marveled at Van Gogh’s clarity of purpose. “I don’t admire the painting but I admire the man,” he wrote. “He so confident, so calm. I so uncertain, so uneasy.” Gauguin foreshadows the tumult to come:
Between two such beings as he and I, the one a perfect volcano, the other boiling too, inwardly, a sort of struggle was preparing. In the first place, everywhere and in everything I found a disorder that shocked me. His colour-box could hardly contain all those tubes, crowded together and never closed. In spite of all this disorder, this mess, something shone out of his canvases and out of his talk, too…. He possessed the greatest tenderness, or rather the altruism of the Gospel.
Soon, the two men merged their finances, which succumbed to the same sort of disorder. They began sharing household duties — Van Gogh secured their provisions and Gauguin cooked — and lived together for what Gauguin would later recall as an eternity. (In reality, it was nine weeks.) From the distance of years, he reflects on the experience in his journal:
In spite of the swiftness with which the catastrophe approached, in spite of the fever of work that had seized me, the time seemed to me a century.
Though the public had no suspicion of it, two men were performing there a colossal work that was useful to them both. Perhaps to others? There are some things that bear fruit.
Despite the frenzied enthusiasm and work ethic with which Van Gogh approached his paintings, Gauguin saw them as “nothing but the mildest of incomplete and monotonous harmonies.” So he set out to do what Van Gogh had invited him there to do — serve as mentor and master. (Gauguin was the only person whom Van Gogh ever addressed as “Master.”) He found the younger artist hearteningly receptive to criticism:
Like all original natures that are marked with the stamp of personality, Vincent had no fear of the other man and was not stubborn.
From that day on, Gauguin recounts, Van Gogh — “my Van Gogh” — began making “astonishing progress,” found his voice as an artist and came into his own style, cultivating the singular sense of color and light for which he is now remembered. But then something shifted — having found his angels, Van Gogh had also uncovered his demons. Gauguin recounts the tempestuous emotional climates that seemed to sweep over Van Gogh unpredictably — the beginning of his descent into the metal illness that would be termed bipolar disorder a century later:
During the latter days of my stay, Vincent would become excessively rough and noisy, and then silent. On several nights I surprised him in the act of getting up and coming over to my bed. To what can I attribute my awakening just at that moment?
At all events, it was enough for me to say to him, quite sternly, “What’s the matter with you, Vincent?” for him to go back to bed without a word and fall into a heavy sleep.
Van Gogh soon completed a self-portrait he considered to be a painting of himself “gone mad.” That evening, the two men headed to the local café. Gauguin recounts the astounding scene that followed, equal parts theatrical and full of sincere human tragedy:
[Vincent] took a light absinthe. Suddenly he flung the glass and its contents at my head. I avoided the blow and, taking him boldly in my arms, went out of the café, across the Place Victor Hugo. Not many minutes later, Vincent found himself in his bed where, in a few seconds, he was asleep, not to awaken again till morning.
When he awoke, he said to me very calmly, “My dear Gauguin, I have a vague memory that I offended you last evening.”
Answer: “I forgive you gladly and with all my heart, but yesterday’s scene might occur again and if I were struck I might lose control of myself and give you a choking. So permit me to write to your brother and tell him that I am coming back.
But the previous day’s drama was only a tremor of the earthquake to come that fateful evening, two days before Christmas 1888. “My God, what a day!” Gauguin exclaims as he chronicles what happened when he decided to take a solitary walk after dinner to clear his head:
I had almost crossed the Place Victor Hugo when I heard behind me a well-known step, short, quick, irregular. I turned about on the instant as Vincent rushed toward me, an open razor in his hand. My look at the moment must have had great power in it, for he stopped and, lowering his head, set off running towards home.
Gauguin laments that in the years since, he has been frequently bedeviled by the regret that he didn’t chase Van Gogh down and disarm him. Instead, he checked into a local hotel and went to bed, but he found himself so agitated that he couldn’t fall asleep until the small hours of the morning. Upon rising at half past seven, he headed into town, where he was met with an improbable scene:
Reaching the square, I saw a great crowd collected. Near our house there were some gendarmes and a little gentleman in a melon-shaped hat who was the superintendent of police.
This is what had happened.
Van Gogh had gone back to the house and had immediately cut off his ear close to the head. He must have taken some time to stop the flow of blood, for the day after there were a lot of wet towels lying about on the flag-stones in the two lower rooms. The blood had stained the two rooms and the little stairway that led up to our bedroom.
When he was in a condition to go out, with his head enveloped in a Basque beret which he had pulled far down, he went straight to a certain house where for want of a fellow-countrywoman one can pick up an acquaintance, and gave the manager his ear, carefully washed and placed in an envelope. “Here is a souvenir of me,” he said.
That “certain house” was, of course, the brothel Van Gogh frequented, where he had found some of his models. After handing the madam his ear, he ran back home and went straight to sleep, shutting the blinds and setting a lamp on the table by the window. A crowd of townspeople gathered below within minutes, discomfited and abuzz with speculation about what had happened. Gauguin writes:
I had no faintest suspicion of all this when I presented myself at the door of our house and the gentleman in the melon-shaped hat said to me abruptly and in a tone that was more than severe, “What have you done to your comrade, Monsieur?”
“I don’t know…”
“Oh, yes… you know very well… he is dead.”
I could never wish anyone such a moment, and it took me a long time to get my wits together and control the beating of my heart.
Anger, indignation, grief, as well as shame at all these glances that were tearing my person to pieces, suffocated me, and I answered, stammeringly: “All right, Monsieur, let me go upstairs. We can explain ourselves there.”
Then in a low voice I said to the police superintendent: “Be kind enough, Monsieur, to awaken this man with great care, and if he asks for me tell him I have left for Paris; the sight of me might prove fatal to him.”
I must own that from this moment the police superintendent was as reasonable as possible and intelligently sent for a doctor and a cab.
Once awake, Vincent asked for his comrade, his pipe and his tobacco; he even thought of asking for the box that was downstairs and contained our money, — a suspicion, I dare say! But I had already been through too much suffering to be troubled by that.
Vincent was taken to a hospital where, as soon as he had arrived, his brain began to rave again.
All the rest everyone knows who has any interest in knowing it, and it would be useless to talk about it were it not for that great suffering of a man who, confined in a madhouse, at monthly intervals recovered his reason enough to understand his condition and furiously paint the admirable pictures we know.
With pressure from alarmed neighbors and local police, Van Gogh was soon committed into an insane asylum. From there, he wrote to Gauguin about the sundering tension between his desire to return to painting and his sense that his mental illness was incurable, but then added: “Aren’t we all mad?”
Seventeen months later, he took his own life — a tragedy Gauguin recounts with the tenderness of one who has loved the lost:
He sent a revolved shot into his stomach, and it was only a few hours later that he died, lying in his bed and smoking his pipe, having complete possession of his mind, full of the love of his art and without hatred for others.
Complement this particular portion of the forgotten treasure Paul Gauguin’s Intimate Journals with astrophysicist Janna Levin on madness and genius, poet Robert Lowell on what it’s like to be bipolar, and neuropsychiatrist Nancy Andreasen on the relationship between creativity and mental illness, then revisit Gauguin’s advice on overcoming rejection and Van Gogh on love and art, how relationships refine us, and his never-before-revealed sketchbooks.
Hitchhiking, smitchhiking. Don’t you see that it doesn’t matter what activity Sissy chose? It doesn’t matter what activity anyone chooses. If you take any activity, any art, any discipline, any skill, take it and push it as far as it will go, push it beyond where it has ever been before, push it to the wildest edge of edges, then you force it into the realm of magic. And it doesn’t matter what it is that you select, because when it has been pushed far enough it contains everything else. I’m not talking about specialization. To specialize is to brush one tooth. When a person specializes he channels all of his energies through one narrow conduit; he knows one thing extremely well and is ignorant of almost everything else. That’s not it. That’s tame and insular and severely limiting. I’m talking about taking one thing, however trivial and mundane, to such extremes that you illuminate its relationship to all other things, and then taking it a little bit further–to that point of cosmic impact where it becomes all other things. 241
(Courtesy of Michael Kelly.)
Here in New Orleans, the City of Houston is often referred to as “The Big Heart” because, during the dark days that followed after Hurricane Katrina, the people there took in, and took such good care of, so many New Orleanians.
I think those kind and good Houstonians performed this mitzva back then because they knew full well that it could very easily have been them.
Now, today, twelve years later, it is…
To quote Heather Williams, H.W., M., “Translation is the creative process of re-engineering the outdated software of your mind.” Translation is a 5-step process using syllogistic reasoning to transform apparent man and the universe back into its essential whole, complete and perfect nature. Through the process of Translation, reality is uncovered and thus revealed. Through word tracking, getting to the essence of the words we use to express our current view of reality, we are uncovering the underlying timeless reality of the Universe.
My family is close to being homeless because the landlord thinks I have a criminal record and I don’t have the money anyhow.
- Truth/I am is a family of one, remembering all, lord of the infinite crime-free neighborhood of consciousness.
- The Universal home is One Being flowing Love as Mind formless thinking force.
- To come.
[The Sunday Night Translation Group meets at 7pm Pacific time via Skype. There is also a Sunday morning Translation group which meets at 7am Pacific time via GoToMeeting.com. See Upcoming Events on the BB to join, or start a group of your own.]
This morning, Alex Gambeau, Calvin Harris, Ned Henry, Sara Walker and myself discussed world issues related to the hurricane in Texas, the fact that there are 23 million refugees on earth, greed and fear of lack. We Translated this Sense Testimony: People and Nature get off balance and cause destruction.
Our 5th Steps:
- One Being is the Universe Principle of all order and harmony of Streaming Wholeness
- People and nature are the flowing of One Consciousness conscious of all as Consciousness.
- I AM is always knowing the resilience of life
- Persons and nature is included in Truth, all knowing being the harmonious perfect order of oneness.
- Consciousness Conscious of Consciousness is knowing itself as all there is as Oneness!
(Courtesy of William P. Chiles)
Stephen Hawking thinks humanity has only 1,000 years left of survival on Earth and that our species needs to colonize other planets.
The famed physicist made the statement in a speech at Oxford University Union, in which he promoted the goal of searching for and colonizing Earth-like exoplanets. Developing the technology to allow humans to travel to and live on faraway alien worlds is a challenge, to say the least. But is Hawking right that humanity has only 1,000 years to figure it out?
The dangers Hawking cited — from climate change, to nuclear weapons, to genetically engineered viruses — could indeed pose existential threats to our species, experts say, but predicting a millennium into the future is a murky business.
If climate change continues apace, it will likely lead to a great deal of friction for the human species.
“There may be incredible amounts of food and water stress in some regions; combined with sea-level rise, this will lead to massive numbers of environmental refugees — enough to make the Syrian diaspora seem simple to absorb,” said Shawn Marshall, a professor of geography and a climate change researcher at the University of Calgary in Canada.
Humanity is surviving now only by depleting the planet’s natural resources and poisoning its environment, Sterman told Live Science. The nonprofit Global Footprint Network estimates that humanity uses up the resources of 1.5 Earths each year, essentially overdrawing from the planet’s natural bank account. The problems of sustainability can’t wait 1,000 years, Sterman said.
“Whether we can prevent damaging climate change, and the broader issue of whether we can learn to live within the limits of our finite world, will likely be determined this century,” he said.
Emmanuel Vincent, a research scientist at the University of California, Merced and founder of the outreach organization Climate Feedback, echoed the call to make sustainable decisions now.
“It is important to remind [people] that one cannot predict whether a catastrophic event will wipe out humans within the next thousand years,” Vincent told Live Science. “What Hawking is doing here is speculating on the risk that this will happen, and he estimates that the probability of extinction is high. While I agree that this is possible, I would like to emphasize that this primarily depends on how we manage to prevent such catastrophic outcome as a society.”
This doesn’t mean humans will necessarily go extinct if we make poor choices. Climate-wise, the planet is currently about 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than preindustrial averages, Marshall said. (The past year has set multiple modern heat records.)
In comparison, temperatures during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods were about 10 degrees C (18 F) warmer than preindustrial averages, or about 25 degrees C (45 F) compared with today’s 16 degrees C (29 F), Marshall said. Yet life was quite abundant at that time, he told Live Science.
“It would be a habitable but rather different world,” he said. “We’ll run out of fossil fuels before we evaporate the oceans away.”
So humans probably won’t manage to actually bake themselves in an oven made of greenhouse gases, though tropical areas may become too hot for habitation, Vincent said. The real question is whether humans would be able to handle the upheaval that climate change would bring as coastlines vanish, diseases spread and weather patterns change.
“On its own, I don’t see how climate change would lead to human extinction,” Marshall said. “It would have to be through the social unrest triggering nuclear warfare, or some other societal implosion as a result of the environmental degradation.”
Already, there are warning signs beyond warming temperatures. About half of global wildlife has been wiped out over the past 50 years, Vincent said. The situation is serious enough that many scientists believe the planet is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction.
“Anyone who thinks we can solve these problems by colonizing other worlds has been watching too much ‘Star Trek,'” Sterman said. “We must learn to live sustainably here, on the one planet we have, and there is no time to lose.”
Original article on Live Science.