“To be fully human, one needs to be in relation to others who correspond to oneself.”
Last night over my thirtieth birthday dinner, a friend said that she felt like your 30s are not about yourself but about others. Compared to your 20s, it is a time when the self becomes less important and relationships with others (partners, children, aging parents) become more important. The self built in the 20s proffers the strong pivot on which to turn toward others in the 30s.
The conversation made me think of Kaja Silverman’s masterful book Flesh of my Flesh. In it, she proposes similarity as opposed to difference as a paradigm for humanity. Such an arrangement positions relationality in advance of individuality and opens up the possibility of analogical thinking, which connects self to other, presence to absence, future to history, and countless oppositions within our own being.
She puts this theory to work by analyzing two series of photo-paintings made by Gerhard Richter: portraits of his daughter Betty and of members of the leftist terrorist group Baader-Meinhof (Red Army Faction) who were found dead in their prison cells. Richter painted his bracing series (entitled October 18, 1977) of iconic blurred canvases from press photographs of the dead. Silverman suggests that he posed and painted his daughter Betty (sometimes in comparable positions to Ulrike Meinhof) to register the emotion and importance of the events and to experience a loss. By setting up an analogy between these women, the two series proffered emotional proximity and historical connection.
I’ve always loved the above portrait of Betty. Her red jacket, pinned hair, and turn away. Silverman suggests that in addition to seeing this as a turn away, we consider it a turn toward something, in this case her father’s monochrome, which fills the background of the painting, and all that it represents. I think its a brillant reading and one that correlates with the theme of “turning toward” in the 30s. Let this new decade be one of analogy!