Jorge Tacla’s Irreality

In Jorge Tacla’s first paintings, the head appears severed from the body as though by a guillotine. It is an allegorical head, a symbol of the self. It is in a precarious position, a Robinson Crusoe (1984) alone in a boat (resembling the basket that catches the guillotined head), or alone in a room with a crumbling floor, as in Mi Pieza No es Mi Casa (1983). The tumultuous, crowded Aladdin’s Lamp and Aladdin’s Towel (both 1982) both painted with expressionist vehemence, make the violence of the situation explicit. A naked white male figure has lost his head, in what seems to be a primitive ceremony: Next to it a grinning black head, no doubt that of the native who performed the sacrifice—the act of castration—floats incongruously, a morbid vision. In Puesta de Sol con Ácido (1984), La Traición de Nefertiti and Descansando Antes de Saltar (both 1985), menacing, sardonic heads accumulate, threatening to engulf us in an avalanche, as in Ensor’s Entry of Christ into Brussels (1888), a picture that is fundamental to understanding the sadomasochistic, social critical aspect of expressionism. As in Ensor, virtually all of Tacla’s faces have a fixed, masklike expression, suggesting that they are hallucinations. Tacla’s pictures are dreams of a certain kind of stultification.

For me, Mi Pieza No es Mi Casa is the touchstone of Tacla’s production, so I will dwell upon it at length, as a precise confession of the mentality involved in his art. The first spontaneous representation of a mentality is often the clearest, stating the core of the issue explicitly; it later becomes refined and elaborated and deepened, and thus more obscure and subtle. Tacla’s art is a profoundly personal testimony as well as witness to social injustice and misery, but as Tacla reaches deeper levels of the self—as he explores the terra incognito of his inner landscape, becoming the conquistador of his own mystery—the social dimension of his art seems less to its point, and seems to fall away, like a shell that has been discarded to reveal the kernel that is sheltered. Tacla’s early allegorical figures stand to his later visionary landscapes as an imitation stands to a revelation. But the imitation grows out of a response to the world, a recognition of the wretched place it is, so that without the intimation, we would not understand why Tacla had the need for a revelation—why he had to enter the desert of self, in flight from society, a transcendence which dialectically its absolute power over the self as perversely asserts the self’s independence.

In Mi Pieza No es Mi Casa, the head is framed by gesticulating hands with an intense life of their own, even more intense than that of the eyes which stare at the hands. The head sits on a floor that is no more than a perch, a narrow place in the nothingness of the space. Mi Pieza No es Mi Casa is an eschatological, existential picture: the self is almost at the bottom of the abyss, has almost fallen all the way into the emptiness that reflects its inner state. Existence has been reduced to bare, bitter essentials, to the minimum of survival. Everything is acidic necessity, with no frills: the figure is no more than a bust—a “disembodied” vestige of itself—suggesting its helplessness and hopelessness. Indeed, it lacks legs as well as a body, so that it cannot move, let alone escape from the room. The room is an anonymous, empty space in the middle of nowhere. It might as well be a cell in Hell.

Is it an illusion to think that the bust looks like a sculpture in a desolate niche of a church devoted to a dead religion? Perhaps it is the head of a saint with the hands he sacrificed to his faith—his attributes. It is no doubt the stylized version of a black head, but it also resembles the head of Donatello’s Zuccone (1423-25), to the detail of the staring eyes. Psychologically speaking, this is not accidental, for the mood of the heads is the same. A similar head, blackened, appears in Portrait of A Friend, and, more garish and weirdly colorful, in an untitled painting (both 1984). The head recurs again and again, as both social symbol and existential substance. It is an archaic image of despair, the kind of despair the Christian religion renders expertly, but without its transformation into transcendence; that is, the utopian conviction that mental suffering leads to higher things.

Tacla’s scene is fraught with anxiety, conveyed through the tension between the head and the animated hands, and more subliminally between the body parts and the space they are stranded in. The hands point to the head as though mocking its isolation in the act of acknowledging it, indeed, mirroring it with their own isolation. According to Erich Fromm, “the fears that can destroy (man), that can drive him to insanity, to psychosis, are gears of ostracism, severe rejection, of abandonment, of aloneness, of solitary confinement, of extreme loneliness. It was the great fear of isolation and it alone, that forces the child, girl or boy, to adapt to his family and his society in order to survive”. (1)

Tacla’s dismembered figure barely survives suggesting that it has not adapted very well to the family and society. It is not unlike Kafka’s hungry artist alone in his cage, a sideshow for an indifferent society. It feels an emptiness that finds its objective correlative—projection—in the empty space it inhabits. This feeling, by which the self discovers that it has lost its chance for fullness of being forever, and through which it strips itself to the bare bones of an anonymous existence, accompanies the sense of being isolated, abandoned, lonely. Tacla’s figure is destroyed by its fears, as its truncated appearance suggests. Like the wooden floor of its room, it is in a state of despair, and perhaps irreparable.

According to Joyce MacDougall, psychotics feel that they have no right to exist, indeed, do not exist. Tacla’s image bespeaks this psychotic state of mind, that is, the psychotic sense of not being real. It is an irreal state of mind, not a surreal one. It conveys the “derealization” or the self, rather than its renewal or re-positing, with the help of the unconscious. That is, there is a radical difference between art which attempts to articulate the irreal state of mind, with its split suicidal consciousness—Mi Pieza No es Mi Casa rendered by the division between the static, thoughtful head and the lively hands, full of feeling—indicating the self’s despiritualization and demoralization, and art which attempts to articulate the surreal state of mind, with its faith in the integration of consciousness and the unconscious as the only means, in modernity, of respiritualizing and remoralizing the self (however transient, even superficial and inauthentic that new spiritualization and moralization may be, for the unconscious is unspiritual and amoral). I emphasize this difference, because Latin American art is usually understood as surrealist, but I think the best of it—Tacla’s painting for example—is irreal in intention. It is truer to the modern experience to be irreal than surreal. Surrealism offers a facile salvation for the self, but irrealism knows there is none.

The sense of irreality is fueled by the feeling of being inwardly destroyed, which is the climax of the feeling of being inwardly isolated, as though in solitary confinement in oneself. This is turned inside out in a fantasy of rejection and ostracization by society. One feels that one does not belong to it and that it does not want one in it. At best one is an exile in it, radically estranged from it but enduring it. The psychotic projects the feeling of not owning his own self onto society. There, it changes into the feeling that society does not allow one to have a self. Finally, it changes into the feeling that the self has no general right to exist, nor does it exist in any particular society, that is, through a collective identity. It finally comes to lose empirical as well as emotional validity, that is, seems empirically, as well as emotionally, illegitimate.

But at its deepest, the sense of irreality reflects the conflict between the split off parts of consciousness. They are not simply at odds, as in the ordinary dissociation of sensibility T.S. Elliot described, but in open opposition and violent contradiction. Just as the head and hands in Mi Pieza No es Mi Casa are in expressive conflict, are consciousness and the unconsciousness—the one productive of ideas, the other of feelings—in unresolvable conflict in the sense of irreality. Consciousness, still intact for all the unconscious annihilative anxiety the feeling of isolation creates, tell the self that it “externally” exists, that it is real and alive in society, however badly society treats it, while annihilative anxiety whispers to it that it is in fact inwardly dead, and society is to blame. The self feels that it is unreal but has enough integrity and reality – testing left to know that it is real to society (of not really recognized, in all its existential particularity, by it). This is the psychotic state of irreality, verging on histrionic paranoia, but more typically the self’s blind capitulation to the contradiction of its existence. The self becomes the blind spot in which the parallel lines of personal, annihilative anxiety and objective social identity converge, but never meet.

Tacla used the archaic figure to represent the blind spot, but his irreal landscape is a deeper, more authentic, and unique way of representing it. The irreal landscape represents Tacla’s profound insight that representation breaks down in the blind spot, that is, becomes regressive. The sense of irreality destabilizes representation. It seems impossible for the self to make a representation that others willingly suspend their disbelief in front of, accepting the truth of the illusion as far as it seems to go; for the representation is full of the self’s disbelief in itself, its sense of itself as an illusion. Representation oscillates indecisively—even wildly—between the clarity of the positive photograph, and the obscurity of the negative that is its origin. This oscillation, which is driven by both ambivalence and ambiguity, is a kind of blindness to its own breakdown, which indicates its completeness. It is as though Tacla was seeing the landscape through a dark glass in which it was clear enough to be recognized, but not clear enough to be read. It is impossible to map, but one can “feel” its terrain. One is blind to it, but has a certain mysterious vision of it. The end result is a sense of futility—the futility of knowing what it really looks like, because one does not know what it is to really see. Because one does not know that one is inwardly real—one cannot know what is true.

To face the unresolvable difference between what one knows to be true and one feels to be true is to find oneself reduced to absurdity. The dissociation of sensibility, a timely abstract description of the modern state of mind for Eliot, becomes an agonizing experience that seems inseparable from being human. The bifurcation of the self into thought and feeling, with no hope of their reconciliation, even the loss of the urge to reconcile them, becomes the basic substance of existence. Tacla not only conveys the sense of irreality that the feeling of irreconcilability induces, but suggests that it is the one mental suffering that cannot be cured, and worse yet, that it is fated—inescapable—which makes it all the more bleak.

Nonetheless, he suggests that its burden can be lightened, if it is taken with a grain of wit, that is, ironically. Immobilized head and excited hands are juxtaposed in a witty, ironical way in Mi Pieza No es Mi Casa. The comic streak in Tacla’s morbidity—it is characteristic of the Latin American approach to suffering—makes his crippled figure peculiarly heroic. That is, the self becomes perversely heroic when it learns to tolerate, through humor—however black (black humor is homeopathic antidote to poisonous fate)—its own irreality, the self-contradiction at its core. The feeling of technically rather than really existing, awareness of the discrepancy between the world’s “theory” of one’s reality and the feeling of being unreal, becomes less tragic and traumatic when one regards it as comic and amusing. In acknowledging the irony of its existence, the self gains a certain detachment from the trauma of its own split consciousness. The split becomes a trick of fate: Tacla’s irreal self consoles itself by imagining that it has a trick consciousness (a kind of mental trick knee). To regard one’s agony as a private joke played on one by fate—a joke that is one’s private fate—seems to be as much transcendence of self as it is possible to have in modernity, perhaps ever.

Tacla works in series. Vestigal figures and empty space appear again and again. The physical vestige of the figure—its partial givenness—slowly but surely changes into an unmistakable sign of its mental suffering, an indicator of its inner annihilation. Space becomes increasingly autonomous, empty, inhospitable—finally, literally a desert, a bleak site of absence—and seemingly beside the point of the figure. But it is just when space seems completely nondescript, a mere illusionistic convention, that it most clearly brings out the figure’s feeling of abandonment, its lack of presence to itself and ambiguous presence to us. In Mi Pieza No es Mi Casa the head conveys a self-consciousness as minimum and schematic as the space itself, despite the exaggerated expressivity of the hands, which seem like a joke played on the self by the unconscious. Tacla’s reduction of figure and space to their cryptic essentials makes them emblematic of the self’s fate. They externalize it, no doubt rhetorically, but in the best sense of that term. (2)

Tacla’s figure, then, reduced to an ironical trope, represents the self’s invariable destruction by fate. The space of abandonment, ostensibly the emblem of the worldly wasteland, is unconsciously experienced as fate by the self. That is, space represents its subliminal feeling that it has little and ultimately no support for its being, that it lives at the edge of an abyss of meaningless it barely keeps from falling into. Indeed, we experience a sense of fate—one might say, suffer a pang of consciousness of fate—when we feel that we are what we inexplicable are, that is, when we experience ourselves as a dumb, unchanging mystery—blindly given—neither we nor anyone else can do anything about. This feeling that we have been abandoned to our fate—thrown to it like a lamb to a lion—is in fact the feeling of being inwardly destroyed in intellectual disguise.

Tacla’s irreal desert ladscape seems fated, which is why it seems the site of the mystery of existence. It is the ironical ground of the self: the desert represents its loneliness, its feeling of victimization, its feeling that it cannot escape from itself, all of which show that it is not really a self. The irreal desert is Tacla’s ultimate representation of annihilative anxiety—of the space of inner exile and the sense of falling that accompanies the feeling of being groundless, or rather of being grounded by fate.

In Tacla’s irreal landscapes, the abstraction of the figure and space into a complicated dialectic between the positive and the negative photograph intensifies the difference between conscious self and its unconsciousness of its fate. Because we cannot reconcile what we perceive and what we remember, what we know and what we feel—the articulate representation and the inarticulate indicative of the unrepresentable—we cannot understand our fate, only live it. The friction between the opposites is the technical source of the overall irreality of the landscape. They expand our sense of what we mean when we say we have lost touch with our self-lost our sense of own reality.

Tacla’s landscapes are extraordinary abstractions in their own right, but their real originality is that they show that abstraction is the best means of representing the unrepresentable, enigmatic trauma—terrain is equivalent to trauma in them—of the annihilative anxiety or self-negation through which we discover our fate. (No doubt it is always there, in the everyday details of our lives.) Tacla’s abstract landscapes are a remarkable fusion of descriptive, symbolic, and pure forms, in which the sensations of all three are used to convey, with a climatic, consummate intensity, the feeling of isolation, alienation, and self-loss. In this sense, they are modern apocalyptic landscapes, that is, visions of destruction with no possibility of reconstruction, and thus all the more grim. Strange as it may seem to say so, they complete the process of the modernization of the landscape begun by the Impressionists, and especially Cézanne: from being a place of plenitude, signaling the eternal happiness of Paradise—the traditional promise of salvation—it has become the setting for the unhappiness that accompanies the collapse into irrelevance of the distinction between damnation and salvation, leaving the self feeling deserted.

It seems as though I am saying that Tacla is depicting a profoundly sick self-a-self victimized, indeed, crucified by itself, not the world. Is there no objective, social basis for the sense of irreality—the insanity—he conveys. Other images of the eighties show there is. While clearly subjective in import, as their titles indicate—Claustrophobia (1986), Maraton de Paranoias, You and Me in A Painting Problem, Where I was born (all 1987), Far Away from Being Close (1988), and Portrait of Memories (1989), among them—their devastated landscape space bespeaks what Jürgen Habermas calls the pathological desolation of society, a society that victimizes us all, but especially those it decides are “the others”, such as isolated black figures that appear in all these works. These emblems or suffering are realistic, not simply fantasy. White society has in fact rejected and ostracized blacks. This is no doubt for racist reasons—belief in the superiority of white to black civilization—but also for psychological reasons: blackness is a threat, arousing annihilation anxiety, for it signifies the absence—annihilation—of whiteness.

In all Tacla’s triptychs a social wasteland, a black victim, and a symbol of self-destruction or self-loss—often bony rocks, a kind of ironically irreducible residue of self—are arranged on an allegorical stage. However transitional to the ironical grandeur of the irreal landscapes of the nineties, the irreality of the scenes and the isolation of the figures in these eighties works are not entirely a matter of delusion. They accuse the world of being mad, and of making one mad. The self’s madness is a realistic recognition of the world’s madness, especially of its inevitability, and as such, is “psychotic realism”. Tacla is not using the world to rationalize his feeling of going mad, a feeling that, as has been said, is inseparable from being modern, (3) that is, rejecting, denying, and destroying the authority of any transcendental ground of being. (Its byproduct is the perverse dialectic of feeling rejected, denied and destroyed by the world while rejecting, denying, and destroying it. Self and world appear equally ambiguous because of the unmanageable ambivalence released by the loss of the belief that they are transcendentally grounded.) The world is in fact maddening—more helplessly psychotic and hopelessly desolate than any individual.

Tacla had objective reasons for being alienated from the reality of his homeland Chile, which like many Latin American countries has suffered both the tyranny of the left and of the right: which is lesser evil? He had objective reasons for moving from provincial Chile to cosmopolitan New York: how else could he find his artistic identity? He had objective reasons for leaving a country that, as he says, is not multiracial: how else could he embrace a larger humanity, enlarging his own humanity?

Tacla became involved in the African movement, and fascinated with African music. The Diaspora of the African people became emblematic of his own Diaspora. Just as black Africans were exiled from their homeland, so in his mind he was exiled from his homeland. The world denies the right of blacks to exist and have their own identity, just as he felt it denied his right to exist and have his independent identity. The socially created otherness of the black objectified Tacla’s subjective feeling of otherness. There is no doubt guilt in his identification with the black, but through it found a way to express the terra incognita of his innermost self, as well as his feeling of being an outsider, as an artist and person, especially Latin American artist and person.

He acknowledges as much in El Camaleon que se Duerme (1984); he is the chameleon, able to change color—identity. He is the black man in the Crossing the Nile series (1985). He takes the dangerous voyage into infernal Africa represented by the gigantic black head—its mouth is as full of sinners as the mouth of Hell in medieval images—in A Dangerous Voyage (1985). He is the black St. Sebastian tempted by a demonic woman in an untitled picture of 1985—a picture with a medieval landscape, suggesting the profound emotional regression, in renewal of his will to live and instincts, Tacla’s emotional voyage to Africa was for him. Africa liberated his libido and aggression as much as it confirmed his sense of irreality and feeling of isolation. They are remarkably self-evident in Untitled (Blue) (1986) and In Between (1987). Already in Robinson Crusoe his identification with the black man is apparent, for it is the story of a white man’s twinship transference with a black man, Friday. The white man needed the black man to be self-reliant in isolation—to survive on the island he was to himself. In fact, Robinson Crusoe tells the story of opposite sides of the same man. In any case, Africa became the objective correlative for Tacla’s feeling of being unreal while at the same time making him feel real—instinctively alive. (He seemed to have fallen into the trap of believing the stereotype that the black man had more instinct of passion that the white man—black music seems to suggest as much—but what counts is that Tacla used the stereotype itself.) Without Africa, Tacla could not have acknowledged his annihilative anxiety through artistic abreaction, nor overcome it through the re-insticntivization of his self, which had been devastated by society. It was Africa that was his magical reality.

The re-instinctivization—a seeming rebirth—does not last. I think its climax is signaled by the realistic self-portraits that appear in Portrait of Memories and La Realidad de un Sueño (1988). Tacla remains a dream—irreal—to himself because he is possessed by memories. The transition to the irreal landscapes—the complete abandonment of any pretense to obvious reality, to descriptive truth—occurs in Far Away From Still Life, A Problem That Corresponds to Topology, and Space for a Speech (1989), and in a different way Winter 1990 (1987). Tacla enters Private Territory (1989): he becomes “metaphysical”. I think this occurred not only for private reasons, but because he experienced a crisis in painting—a crisis of representation, as I suggested earlier. He discovered that feelings are in principle unrepresentable—however much they may be represented by fantasy—because what they represent is ultimately fated and as such unfathomable. This is why they seem to be in perpetual, protean process—never self-identical. It is as though the self can only know itself if it experiences all the feelings it can, but then only experiences its own elusiveness. In a sense, each feeling is unwittingly a station on the self’s way to its unexpected crucifixion by a mysterious fate.

Tacla also realized that the figure, an age-old, standard convention for conveying feelings, has degenerated, in the mass media, into a journalistic formula of emotional manipulation, indeed, exploitation, that is, it had become a means of evoking knee-jerk empathy. Figuration had fallen expressively exhausted. Abstraction remained the only hope for a genuinely deep expressivity, that is, an expressivity that could convey the uncanniness of inner life and mental suffering. Moreover, abstraction was the only hope for representing suffering in a way that could not, however unwittingly, betray it by making it seem aesthetically pleasurable, as T.W. Adorno argued invariably happens. (3) Abstraction became the last chance to speak from the inside in an authentic way. Indeed, the inadequacy—obsoleteness?—of the figure as expression indicated that new means of expressing suffering—especially the excruciating mental suffering implicit in the sense of irreality—had to be found.

Not only did the mass media betray inner life and mental suffering, but expressionism and surrealism no longer seemed to represent them in a way that made their significance unquestionable and overwhelming. Expressionistic and surrealistic imagery had come to seem trite—indicative of superficial, conventional understanding of inner life and mental suffering, which imagined that they could be easily managed. In other words, expressionism and surrealism were insufficiently irreal—insufficiently expressive of annihilative anxiety. Only abstraction could plumb the depths of the self, or the self had become abstract to itself—had retreated from the world into annihilative anxiety.

In a sense, Tacla reversed the typical career trajectory of the Latin American artist, for example, that of Diego Rivera. After an early exploration of modernist abstraction, he rejected it for a representational art that could communicate to the people. (Thomas Hart Benton followed a similar path in the United States, if with different results.) But Tacla wanted a personal art, not a people’s art, even though, at its earliest stages, his art is simultaneously both (although, in my opinion, always more the former than the latter).

Not only Tacla’s irreal landscapes abstract, but they “redeem” abstraction. His is a so called “conceptual”—post—purist—landscape painting the same way Anselm Kiefer’s is. That is, it is as concerned with what Clement Greenberg called art’s preconscious and unconscious—expressive—order of effects as its literal order of effects. The pursuit of purity elevates the latter over the former, but purity invariably runs into an expressive deadend, as the post-painterly abstraction Greenberg endorsed makes clear- Indeed, Greenberg’s bifurcation of art is another example of the dissociation of sensibility, and shows the sterility it invariably leads to. Art that is completely pure is not expressively convincing, indeed, loses almost all evocative power. In making his desert abstractions—they began with a 1989 sojourn in the Chilean desert (in effect acknowledging the desert Chile had unconsciously become for him)—Tacla acknowledges the flat, “negative” space of the canvas, but he finds it to be full of strange expressive growths.

The history of painting is inseparable from landscape painting, and in a sense Tacla’s irreal landscapes recapitulate that history, as A Classic Problem with Two Unknowns and Project for a Classical Theme (both 1990) make clear. Landscape has always been a symbol of subjectivity—an external reality in whose many nuances internal reality spontaneously finds traces of itself, in whose complication the subject sees its own complication cabalistically configured. It seems to bring to positive consciousness what exists negatively—unconsciously—in ourselves. The desert has always been the symbol of isolation—a place of elemental contact with the self, the place where prophets went to have their visions and communicate with the God within themselves, who informed their visions and was half raw, empty, unforgiving desert Himself. Thus Tacla’s remarkable Elemental References, Fundamental Notes, Elemental Notes (all 1991), in which vision seems to exist in painterly stains—they can signify, indeed, epitomize a whole history, as Tacla says—and the picture is structured so that the desert is its center. (The stain regresses to what André Breton called Leonardo’s paranoid wall, the source of so many surrealist hallucinations, but irreal in itself. (4) There is a center within the center, a true vision within the mirage: a Suprematist square, in which the negative desert has become a positive image—in which the erased, phenomenologically suspended desert, has become a translucent absolute. But of course the positive image is a seductive illusion compared to the negative desert space from which it arose. Thus the interplay of ironies in Tacla’s irreality.

Tacla’s landscape space is both intimate and cosmic, personal and impersonal. He has described it as the place where “the history of art, the history of social struggles, and mental structure” converge. It is a place where representation, society, and self are in question—equally problematic, illusory, and abstract, and equally fated, real, and concrete. It is the place where Tacla discovers the necessity of his identity as an artist: the transcendence of being an artist, the transcendence the artist constructs to survive the tide of social and personal history that threatens to engulf him. It is a place of living death where the artist gains perspective—symbol of detachment and distance—on life. Many of Tacla’s irreal landscapes are preoccupied with perspective, which seems to arise from the desert like a mirage.

In many of Tacla’s landscapes there are residues of figuration, but our familiarity with them is frustrated by their negative, abstract—“transcendentalized”—appearance. In Space For a Speech (1989), Projective Transformation and Range of Points (both 1993) they seem to be thorns, no doubt derived from familiar religious iconography, but stylized to into mysterious hieroglyphs. There is a great deal of anguished, enigmatic drawing—a field of agitated gestural signs that seem to be pronounced by some hectic, irrepressible automatist process. The canvas is often like black or gray slate; Under Projection, Ground Line (both 1993) are salient examples. The desert that was relatively intact in the abstractions of 1991 has become dismembered in the abstractions of 1993—as fragmented as the early figures. The ferocious redundancy of the hieroglyphic emblems destroys the scene, yet the same redundancy affords a minimum structure. It is just short of disintegration yet entropic in itself. When personal images emerge, as in A Day With My Wife (1992), or architectural structures appear, as in The Elements of Perspective I and II (1992), their conversion from a positive, opaque, realistic state into a negative, transparent, “memorable” state, is in effect an act of transcendence that simultaneously signals the annihilative anxiety that necessitated it. The double meaning of the negative as transcendence and annihilation anxiety as far from strange. The desert has always been regarded as a place of living death as well as a place where it is possible to have a vision of higher life that will overcome it. Like Golgotha, the desert is a place of annihilation where religious conviction is born—where the material spontaneously seems to convert into the spiritual, that is, into the transcendence of a mirage.

The self experiences mirages of transcendence after it has been inwardly annihilated. After its famous forty days in the desert, the self imagines its own higher, abstract reality—its spontaneous transcendence of its annihilated state, or rather the hallucinatory transformation of its annihilation anxiety into transcendence. It fantasizes a profound insight into itself—a higher truth about itself, indeed, a higher self. It seems to rise above its situation, but in fact becomes more deeply embedded in it, for its mirages are a mystification of the feeling of irreality invested in the desert. Transcendence is a perverse “interpretation” of the desert experience. (Malevich’s notion of going into the desert or zero—he uses both terms—of pure form to experience transcendence is an early modern version of the idea that abstraction is self-contradictorily annihilation and transcendence at once. It is an idea that can be traced to Plato and Plotinus. That is, abstraction condenses annihilation anxiety and the fantasy that the annihilation is a spiritualization of the self in a single emblematic, cabalistic form, whether geometrical or gestural.)

Thus Tacla is a mystic despite himself. His negation or abstraction of architecture—or rather his “deconstruction” or “platonization” of the perspective involved in its construction—turning it into a kind of desert, that is, an abandoned, deserted, empty shell of itself, indeed, more negative space than positive substance—it echoes Tacla’s archetypally minimal and schematic desert and societal topography—is yet another instance of the convergence of the annihilative and the visionary, anxiety and transcendence, living death and the illusion of a grace that can save one from it. But Tacla’s architecture is explicitly sacred—virtually all his buildings are temples constructed from a sacred perspective, that is, sub speciae aeternitatis, as An Unknown Temple (1992) makes clear—and his love for his wife, who is also put through the “desertion-abstraction” process, is implicitly sacred. Again, transcendence, the epitome of the sacred, is inseparable from annihilation anxiety, the epitome of the profane existence, indeed, the suffering that profanes existence.

Transcendence involves the fear that the self will die while the body continues to live, which is why reverses their priority. Tacla’s buildings are figures lose bodiliness—a special way of being irrealized—so that they seem self-transcending, authentically spiritual. Tacla dematerializes the representation through which reality materializes making it into what Kant called a transcendental illusion. It is necessary illusion—a representation of the unrepresentable sacred, the source of the unity of being that gives the self the feeling of being alive and real rather tnat half dead and irreal. At the same time, dematerialization suggests that the representation of the sacred is a way of seeing through it, suggesting that it is the ghost of faith where there is no reason to have any. This is what really makes it unrepresentable, that is, irreal.





(1) The quotation is from Fromm's Mexícan discipie Jorge Silva-García, "Erich Fromm in Mexico", Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 25 (April 1989): 249.

(2) That is, the sense in which it is a progressive variation of feeling a leading to a disclosure of previously unknown feelings, rather than a "vicious rhetoric" automatically triggering foreknown feelings. T. 5. Eliot, "Rhetoric and Poetic Drama". The Sacred Wood (London: Metheun, 1920), p. 82.

(3) Theodor W. Adorno, "Commitment", The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, eds. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt (New York: Continuum, 1985), p. 312 remarks that "by turning suffering into images" we "wound our shame before the victims." "The so-called artistic representation of the sheer physical pain of people beaten to the ground by rifle butts contains, however remotely, the power to elicit enjoyment out of it." That is, "the esthetic principle of stylization" transfigures an "unthinkable fate" so that it seems to have "some meaning". In fact, it does; I would argue that esthetic stylization, particularly abstract stylization, can be true to the depth of that meaning as it is subjectively experienced. This is in part because abstraction involves as much negation of the sense of reality as suffering does, especially mental suffering. Indeed, there is evidence that abstraction, before it became academic formalism-a shell of itself, that is, before it lost its expressive kernel-expressed the anguish of annihilation anxiety (which first appears as split consciousness) inseparable from modernity. Certainly that is the way such different artists as Gauguin and Malevich in tended it.

(4) André Breton, Surrealism and Painting (New York: Harper & Row, 1952; Icon Editions), p. 74 notes that Leonardo da Vinci taught "that one: should allow one's attention to become absorbed in the contemplation of streaks of dried spittle or the surface of an old wall until the eye is able to distinguish an alternative which painting is capable of revealing,” that is, the world of subjectivity. What Breton also called "Leonardo's paranoic ancient wall" (p. 129) is the irreal space of annihilation anxiety to which one must regress to know the precarious depths of one's subjective reality, that is, what has been called the psychotic core.

Donald Kuspit. 1993