[-empyre-] thinking about Shani

Robert Nideffer nideffer at gmail.com
Sun Feb 10 06:46:50 EST 2013

Oops - that last part should read "her promise to 'never to do artwork
ABOUT myself or my disease...',"


On Sat, Feb 9, 2013 at 2:43 PM, Robert Nideffer <nideffer at gmail.com> wrote:

> Wow. Beautifully written Antoinette. I literally broke down toward the
> end, as you describe that transition point you sensed in her life/work. It
> never felt a complete shift (from 'heroic resistance' to perhaps even more
> 'heroic acceptance') to me, but more movement along a continuum, and I
> think elements of both were there, in varying degrees, all along the way.
> As many may know, she faced serious illness and the prospect of death very
> early on at age 14, then again, and again. But I do think it's true that
> her earlier work did not directly or overtly address that in terms of its
> subject matter, though I often felt her intensity, method and approach to
> it seemingly did. Ever since I knew her there always remained this tension
> between the awareness of her death, and her need/will to resist it
> (manifest up to the very end, even in little things like the Christmas
> day dictation of a list of items to look for in the new apartment she was
> determined to find, near quieter more open areas where Lucinha (her beloved
> dog) would have more space to run free... at a point where I literally had
> to carry her from place to place). But I agree, a very significant shift in
> emphasis had happened with the Cost of Life project series, apparent in no
> small part by her breaking her promise to 'never to do artwork myself or my
> disease...', which, as I think I alluded to before, she did only because
> she'd found a way to use herself as a subject without the work 'becoming
> just about me.'
> You raise so much more to respond to -- the collective reconstruction of
> one after their passing, the tension between the public and the private,
> the less generous or "heroic" parts of one's character and their relevance
> to that reconstruction and/or how they may figure into work -- but I'm
> becoming self-conscious and would rather hear from others than myself.
> Robert
> On Sat, Feb 9, 2013 at 11:40 AM, Antoinette LaFarge <alafarge at uci.edu>wrote:
>> ----------empyre- soft-skinned space----------------------
>> Renate:
>> Thank you for introducing us in this continuing conversation. I realized,
>> shortly after agreeing to co-host a week on this forum, that I really have
>> no idea how to ‘do’ public mourning. All the deaths in my life up to this
>> point have either been essentially private, or have stood at a certain
>> psychic distance, so that engaging with their passing through standard
>> rituals was sufficient even if painful. With Shani it is different, since
>> she was a friend and now I am to write about her publicly in the newness
>> and confusions of grief. I have been very moved by what has been shared by
>> everyone else so far, in such kindness and clarity. But what I am most
>> aware of as I read these postings—as we slowly, through her words and ours,
>> collect or assemble a shared Shani—is how much of the Shani I knew remains
>> outside the picture. I had lunch the other day with two of Shani’s other
>> west coast friends, and it was a long afternoon of loving and frank
>> recollections that ranged from the value of her work to the difficulty of
>> her personality and back. I cannot have that conversation here, so I am
>> trying to stumble my way to the conversation I can have. One thing I do
>> know is that I am unable to talk about “the work” apart from “the person”,
>> because they are not separate in my own mind.
>> I have been thinking, too, about how Robert mentioned that he now has
>> access to Shani’s private documents and has been trying to walk a line
>> between what could be made public and what shouldn’t, with Shani’s voice in
>> his ear (what would she have wanted?). The extent and completeness of these
>> kinds of documentation of a life is a phenomenon of the digital age. In
>> helping to disassemble people’s houses after death, I have always found it
>> especially jarring to come across things I sent them: long-forgotten
>> letters, a favorite book. And there was always the sense of enormous burden
>> and promise in the left-behind troves of a life’s work, boxes of papers or
>> a studio full of paintings. But it was always somewhat fragmentary, and
>> with respect to correspondence, missing half the context. Now there are
>> terabytes upon terabytes of research projects in every possible digitized
>> medium, and both sides of every correspondence, all in one place. There is
>> an instant archive. I do not grudge Robert this close-up view of Shani’s
>> life and work—in a way it seems like her last gift to him—but I am aware of
>> this archive now as I never was before, as a kind of Aladdin’s cave,
>> tempting me to think that the treasure and mystery of Shani is there,
>> somewhere, rather than, say, in our memories and thoughts. I’m thinking
>> here of Claire and Robert’s exchange on the idea of a “lens”, a mediated or
>> filtered looking-at, and how with Shani’s removal from the world, what were
>> secondary documents are now de facto primary, and we are tasked with
>> filtering the already filtered. Do we get closer or further away in the
>> process? Robert still has that vivid sense-memory of the slow walk-dance it
>> took to help Shani cross a room towards the end, and the sheer physicality
>> of that is in startling contrast to the rest.
>> I have also been thinking about how we all see Shani as a heroic figure,
>> someone brave, unflinching, uncomplaining of her unluck (for the most
>> part), indomitable, and the more admirable because she went forward
>> gracefully and even, strange to say, at times made it look easier than it
>> could ever possibly have been. And what does it mean to be heroic, exactly?
>> One of the major archetype of the heroic in western culture is Hercules,
>> one of several ancient heroes to make a descent into the underworld, the
>> realm of Hades and thus of death and dreams. As the Jungian psychologist
>> James Hillman writes, Hercules runs fruitlessly amok in the underworld
>> because he sees himself as the enemy of death and strives to conquer it. In
>> that realm, the relentless activity that is fruitful and lauded in the
>> upperworld—the world of good work, the world where the ego and its actions
>> are celebrated—is pathological since death cannot be conquered. For the
>> hero to reach initiation into the great mysteries, he or she must go down
>> to the underworld to learn from it, and bring what is learned back, as for
>> example Ulysses and Aeneas both did, in contrast to Hercules. I am writing
>> this because, if Shani was on a hero’s journey, I think it was one that
>> changed in the time I knew her. I see her great efforts to externalize
>> herself through her work—to seize the moment, to make art while she could,
>> to travel, to become known—as the campaign of the hero who is the enemy of
>> death, putting all her energy into beating it on every front. And what I
>> see in those last years and projects is the record of her late initiation,
>> the deliberate facing up to death—her own imminent death—and then the
>> returning of that knowledge to us. In this last stage, I think she was
>> energized by the fact that she could understand it even if she could not
>> conquer it, and that she could find a way to bring us a little way along
>> her path, and it is in this that I see the generosity of her
>> nature—sometimes lacking in daily life—reach a full and shining expression.
>> Until tomorrow,
>> --Antoinette
>> _______________________________________________
>> empyre forum
>> empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au
>> http://www.subtle.net/empyre
> --
> Sent from my iPhone

Sent from my iPhone
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