Edmund de Waal, Albrecht Dürer, Samuel Beckett & the concept of Angst
A man (Albrecht Dürer) awakes from a nightmare in the depths of the night. He writes down his fears and illustrates them with a painting.
500 years later, another man (Edmund de Waal) is inspired by the painting to gather together a collection of historical objects, images and treasures from one of the finest collections in the world to “explore themes of anxiety, the fear of the unknown and what terrors can be found after dark”.
The text, written by Dürer, reads:
‘In 1525, during the night between Wednesday and Thursday after Whitsuntide, I had this vision in my sleep, and saw how many great waters fell from heaven. When I awake my whole body trembled and I could not recover for a long time. When I arose in the morning, I painted the above as I had seen it. May the Lord turn all things to the best.’
de Waal says:
I follow Dürer, his line of thinking, his moment of exposure. It is his aloneness that talks to me. He cannot control what is happening, only record what he remembers, what he sees, what he feels. This exactitude is not protection. It is a way of approaching what is happening when the world is unstable. During the night we are alone and vulnerable, the certainties disappear. Dürer paints and writes to see what will happen, to feel the edges of his control.
During the Night, installation view, 2016
One of the things this marvelous jewel of an exhibition has made me contemplate, is the intricate relation – or difference – between fear and anxiety.
And it has made me go back to my old friend Beckett–because hasn’t he been pondering similar things?
On 11 August 1936, Samuel Beckett wrote the following passage – in German – in his notebook:
How translucent this mechanism seems to me now, the principle of which is: better to be afraid of something than of nothing. In the first case only a part, in the second the whole is threatened, not to mention the monstrous quality which inseparably belongs to the incomprehensible, one could even say the boundless (…)
When such an anxiety (Angst) begins to grow, a reason (Grund) must quickly be found, as no one has the ability to live with it in its utter absence of reason (Grundloskeit).
Thus the neurotic, i.e. everyman, may declare with great seriousness and in all awe that there is merely a minimal difference between God in heaven and a pain in the stomach. Since both emanate from one source and serve one purpose: to transform anxiety into fear.
Better to be afraid of something than of nothing …
–to be continued–