The gap between “don’t” and “look” isolates “look” so that
we experience it as a subliminal positive.
Memory is a current event, not a recall. We poetically
situate memory as a tendril reaching backwards to yesterday, but in fact it is a
construction in the present. This is not to descend into relativity. The
present does not erase past realities, but it also does not conjure it. What we
conjure when we “re-member” is a collection of current sensations.
In “The Liturgy of the Dominican Constitutions: Frescoes in
the Cloisters of San Marco,” William Hood writes that there are no
“story-telling” scenes in the paintings, that there is no attempt to “integrate
the past with the present.” The Mocking
of Christ is remarkable in this regard as intentionally disembodied hands
and head spit at the blindfolded seated figure of Christ as though the not-Christ
does not warrant more than implication. Here, not even the present integrates
with the present.
In my art historical naiveté, I thought that the missing fragments
of torso and limbs had been lost to time and that the visual information had
been irretrievable to contemporary restorers. In fact, Fra Angelico omitted the
material from the beginning so, in this context, the notion of “being lost to
time” seems a saccharine self-indulgence. I was mourning the deterioration of a
master’s work when in fact no one had died. But then, The Mocking of Christ presents a kind of death. The death of the
beginning, middle, and end. The death of narrative. Fra Angelico may have been
the first Modernist. God in the figure of Christ (here seated in a royal pose
with orb and staff, not humbled on the cross) is situated as the great “I am”, as
my mother reads Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America:
. .if we conceive of a culture as one body, which it is, we see that
all of its disciplines are everybody's business, and that the proper
university product is therefore not the whittled-down, isolated
mentality of expertise, but a mind competent in all its concerns. To
such a mind it would be clear that there are agricultural disciplines
that have nothing to do with crop production, just as there are
agricultural obligations that belong to people who are not farmers."