“…pinioned…mortised…weighted down…” A few words plucked from the subsequent paragraph of Nancy’s essay wherein  he describes the space in Caravaggio’s painting –  heavy and sombre, the imprisonment of grief, the immobility of death. Yet this is death beautifully written –  in Nancy’s poetic mix of philosophy and prose.

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I have taken Nancy’s words out of their context – for no other reason than their beauty – and placed them into a sequence on their own. In the original,  Nancy discusses  the viewer’s place and relationship to the death represented there in Caravaggio’s painting, (“The Death of the Virgin”) but to me, the words may speak of any death.

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a manner simple

“We are there in a manner older and simpler than any movement, displacement or penetration.” (Jean-Luc Nancy)

One of the fascinating creatures of mythology is the sphinx – a hybrid of human, animal and bird. She has appeared in art well beyond her ancient beginnings.  An enigmatic figure, sometimes considered malevolent and at others benevolent,  she too stands at the threshold –  between life and death, the old and the new. It is her liminality that appeals to me, that space “neither inside nor outside.”


The  M-Webster dictionary gives the following definitions for threshold

“…a physical marker, like the plank, stone or piece of timber that lies under a door.  The end or boundary, the place or point of entering or beginning;  the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced.  A level, point, or value above which something is true or will take place and below which it is not or will not.”

The point of interest for me is that portion of that definition that speaks of the “end or boundary, the point of entering or beginning,” that ambiguous point that is both beginning and end, true and not true,  real and unreal – and one which can be considered physically, psychologically or symbolically.

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I think perhaps Nancy, with his poetic play on words,  intimates  the possibilities of the word –  threshold –  and places our involvement with the image in these multiple realms of experience, for (I have found)  Nancy never leaves a word with one bound meaning, but enjoys the layered and shifting sense that each word can invoke.