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In the spirit of this saintly day, a piece written some time ago for a friend:

Cattelan-Toilet Paper-Faces

Where love appears—whether youthfully dizzying, dazzling in its finery or dulled by the platitudes of popular song—light is its constant companion.  It comes as no surprise that the twinning of love and light is found in the earliest ruminations on the human condition, as seen in the dialogues of the Athenian philosopher Plato, in whose umbra Western civilization glimpsed the outline of its ideals for centuries to follow.  Though such metaphors are apt in Symposium and Phaedrus, his famous articulation of Platonic love, it is in his Allegory of the Cave where their engagement is most vital.  Plato imagines we are chained in a cave and facing a blank wall, the shadows on the wall of that which passes before the cave entrance perceived as our reality.  To embrace the love of knowledge, the root meaning of philosophy, is to turn away from the wall and towards the source of the light, understanding the true nature of the world before our eyes.

Candles, having illuminated the passages written and read whereby our civilization first understood, expressed and exalted itself, cast the most captivating and contradictory shadows, carrying on the seduction of subjectivity. The traditionally sacred role of candles reifies its aesthetics to the point of transcendence: the humble, serene bearing of their bodies supports the brilliant halo at the point where it meets the heavens.  They grant a soft, singular countenance to the beloved while gently exiling all that is not within their grace.  Yet we also seek solace in the darkness a candle casts as relief from our relentless pursuit of perfection in love.  The candlelit dinner coolly ignores the bruised flesh of fruit and the mottled napkin falling from the lips of the besotted.  Figures fade amid the peaks of sheets in candlelight as lovers explore the topography of desire.  And even when we are perfectly still and utterly apart in our thoughts, our shadows dance together in the flicker of the flame.

It is to the light we have turned again and again to express our love, though, in the service of romance, we still find ourselves closer to tracing our fingers on the comforting coolness of the cave wall.  Writer Adam Gopnik summons this paradox of perception and pleasure in his discussion of the doomed affair between the eighteenth-century critic, writer, moralist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson and arts patron and diarist Hester Thrale when he observes, “Love, like light, is a thing that is enacted better than defined: we know it afterwards by the traces it leaves…”[1]


[1] Adam Gopnik, “Man of Fetters,” The New Yorker, 8 December 2008, 96.

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