Friday, December 2, 2011

a tree of knowledge

Last weekend i was in Holland to present a book to my sister. The book is about my father, in a roundabout sorta way: he and his work inspired an artist, Jeanne Schouten, who made several pieces with his book titles or key words as their names. She had a beautiful exhibition in my hometown, and i kept staring at her piece  'een boom van kennis' (a tree of knowledge):

een boom van kennis 2

In the essay, my father describes the moment he became aware of himself as a spectator; he'd just come home from school, and was standing on a little stump of a tree, watching his mother talk to a merchant through a window. "The image in my head, not forced onto me by anyone and not shared with anyone, my inalienable and precarious possession, shows little more than an apparition of my mother and a rim of ginger hair on the skull of the merchant. That is indeed not material for a story and cannot compete in levels of epic with even the scent of a cooky, about which Marcel Proust wrote his masterpiece.

But what is especially connected to it is the look backwards from that unexciting scene to myself and the rickety stump I was standing on, in that moment the navel of the earth, and the realization: i’m standing here, and there behind that window something is visible which I’m looking at now and which I fiercely want not to be a delusion, but evidence of my return home. From that fierce will my me as witness of my own life was born. Suddenly and permanently I couldn’t see anything without seeing at the same time that I saw it and that I was watching it, or: without knowing that I knew and recognizing my knowledge as mine. I saw everything double, there where it was and in my head."
(you can find the whole translation of the essay here: )
I've always been touched by that essay, wondering how a 4 year old boy can be that deep, and when i saw what Jeanne had done with it, how she'd found the right kind of stump, how she'd made it rickety by giving it only three feet, how she incorporated the shine of old metal my father was so fond of, how she used gold and patina to indicate the apparition, i instantly felt a fondness for that piece by her. All of her work is marvelous (check out this great one called 'detour': but the tree touched me especially.
So i made mention of that during my little stuttering speech. Little did i suspect at the time of writing that speech that Jeanne had remembered how much i enjoyed that piece, and i was enormously surprised when she gave me it as a present when i had done mumbling. It was a scary thing transporting it, but luckily i have the large bags, rigid fins and soft suits that come with freediving, so the tree was protected and now stands where i can see it when i go to bed and wake up, reminding me of that wonder is a matter of perception -you see it when you see it if you realize that it's you seeing it.
een boom van kennis

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