Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Crossings: An Interview with John Sallis

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Crossings: An Interview with John Sallis

Article excerpt

On 16 July 2006, Dawne McCance conducted the following interview with John Sallis on the occasion of the thirty-first meeting of the Collegium Phaenomenologicum in Citta di Castello, Italy. Mosaic is grateful to John Sallis for taking time for the interview from his very full schedule in Citta. We are honoured to publish the interview here, as one in the Mosaic "Crossings" series that explores intersections of the critical and creative, the philosophical and literary.


DM: "Before I begin--"

I would like to open our discussion by citing a question you pose in your response essay, "... A Wonder That One Could Never Aspire To Surpass," in The Path of Archaic Thinking: Unfolding the Work of John Sallis. The question is this: "How is one to recall a way gone?" (244). Might I put this question to you as an invitation to reflect on the trajectory of your own work, particularly as to the "crossings" and "doublings" your work has addressed and always enacted?

JS: Let me begin with the case of painting, with a certain crossing that I have ventured from philosophy to painting. One of the things that motivated me to start writing about painting a few years ago was a certain dissatisfaction with philosophical texts that seemed to me too insular--insular, in the sense that they were for the most part discussions of other philosophical texts. Occasionally, perhaps, they engaged written texts from other areas--literature, especially--but for the most part, philosophers in what we call the European or Continental tradition were writing their texts in the margins, as it were, of other philosophical texts. I wanted to try a kind of writing that, while of course taking account of major traditions and major figures in philosophy, while keeping these always in the background, would be a more direct engagement with "things themselves," as we say in the language of phenomenology, and not only an engagement with texts. I began trying to do this by writing about painting. I wrote some years ago a long essay for an Italian art magazine on Monet, in which I tried to analyze the way in which Monet's paintings capture the momentary look of things; the way in which his paintings capture a very concrete sense of time, of time of day, of season of year, and so on. As well, I tried to mark some parallels between Monet's painting--indeed between Impressionism as such--and certain innovations, certain decisive turns, in philosophy. To be more precise, I tried to show that in the approach to the sensible, and to the immediacy of appearances, such painting, that form of impressionism, paralleled closely what happened philosophically in the work of Nietzsche, particularly as to the inversion of the opposition between sensible and intelligible, and as to the attention given to the sensible. So I was trying on the one hand to write in a more direct fashion by approaching art, and at the same time I was trying to mark some parallels, so that a kind of mutual informing might take place; so that the study of painting could be instructive for philosophy, and conversely. I went on after that to deal with a number of other painters; Kandinsky was very important in these developments--the transition to abstract painting, which I studied very carefully. Also the Italian painter, Mimmo Paladino, with whom I had personal contact, proved to be very important. In certain of Paladino's paintings I found a kind of painting that exceeds painting, that enacts in the medium of painting a surpassing of the frame of painting. I also admire very much the archaic character that haunts much of Paladino's work, for instance in his enigmatic sculpted masks. I am presently very occupied with the artistic work of Paul Klee, who was extraordinarily attuned to the interplay of word and image, of language and picture.

DM: How does one write about painting when, as I have read you to say, we can barely touch it with language, when we cannot approach painting "directly"? …

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