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March 9, 2006

Convergences — Synchronicities separated by [what we call — for want of a better word] time


Matt Haber wrote in last Sunday's New York Times about what writer Lawrence Wechsler calls "convergences."

Here's the most interesting article.

    Finding Historical Loops, and Opening Them

    For nearly 25 years, Lawrence Weschler has been collecting what he calls convergences, tearing out images from magazines, advertising and newspapers that recall works of art or nature or even science.

    What differentiates his juxtapositions from the "A Looks Like B" school of cultural criticism (see Birth, Separated at), is that rather than close a loop, in his new book, "Everything That Rises" (McSweeney’s), a collection of dozens of these pairings, Mr. Weschler seeks to open it.

    "The convergence is like the rhyme," he said recently in his art and ephemera-crammed office in the New York Institute for the Humanities, which he directs.

    "But then you’ve got to write the poem about it. The thing that makes it sing is the cascading of possible meanings."

    He first saw the photograph [top] of firefighters at ground zero in a gallery show of Joel Meyerowitz’s work.

    It might not have put the average viewer in mind of a Civil War-era image, but nearly imperceptible cues — the placement of the flag, the position of the photographer — reminded Mr. Wechsler of a Civil War image, below, from 1861 of Union Army engineers (the photographer is unknown).


    Two photos speaking across generations.

    A rhyme — and a convergence — were born.


Bob Minzesheimer raved about Wechsler's book in his review in today's USA Today.

Here's his piece.

    Images juxtapose in eerie ‘Everything'

    Imagine a multimedia art history class taught by a witty professor who seems to have read everything, been everywhere, forgotten nothing and remains thrilled by the joy of intellectual adventures.

    That's what it's like to read "Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences."

    The author is Lawrence Weschler, an art historian, journalist and cultural observer.

    The handsomely illustrated book collects 30 essays Weschler wrote during the past 20 years for magazines, including The New Yorker and McSweeney's.

    All deal with connections between seemingly disparate photographs and works of art.

    Weschler describes them as "uncanny moments of convergence, bizarre associations, eerie rhymes, whispered recollections — sometimes in the weirdest places."

    A nighttime photograph of rescue workers in the smoking bowels of the ruins of the World Trade Center is juxtaposed with Rembrandt's similarly lit 1642 painting of soldiers, "The Night Watch."

    The photographer, Joel Meyerowitz, says of the scene: "The quality of the glowing light in the center, the assembled men, the kind of smoky background, all the hardware of destruction of it gave me the feeling of those lances and curtains and all that heraldry (painted by Rembrandt). It was a gut reaction. Although I couldn't call up the painting exactly, I just knew this grand assemblage was a powerful image."

    Weschler offers fresh ways to look at images, from Vermeer to Jackson Pollock, from a Mona Lisa-like Monica Lewinsky to the graphic logo of Solidarity, the Polish workers' movement.

    He deals with the art of politics and the politics of art.

    Some connections seem like coincidences, seized on to make political points, such as the resemblance between Newt Gingrich, the former Republican congressional leader, and Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian dictator, two "Pillsbury Doughboy Messiahs."

    At his best, Weschler provokes readers with questions.

    He's erudite yet readable.

    He credits John Berger's essay "The Look of Things."

    It linked a 1967 photograph of the half-naked body of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara on public display, surrounded by his captors, with Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lesson."

    Weschler concluded "that's undoubtedly the image (hot-wired, as it were, into all of their brains) that taught all of the strutting officers how to pose in relation to their prize, and taught the photographer where to plant his camera."

    Weschler was wowed by Berger: "This guy doesn't read his morning newspaper the way I or anybody else I know reads the morning newspaper."


    You may not either after reading "Everything That Rises."


I've always really liked Wechsler's work, which I've been reading in the New Yorker since forever.

I happened to read John Berger's "The Look of Things" a few years ago and was dazzled just like Wechsler and, no doubt, many others, by Berger's originality and insights.

It's well worth your time and the focus, effort and major concentration required to follow its arguments.

I happened to wander over to Amazon just now and saw that there's a decent reading copy of the 1975 hardcover (251 pages) for $4.86 along with several others priced under $5.

Cheap at 100 times the price.

March 9, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink


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He's also a contributor to and art consultant for Charlottesville's own (and my employer) Virginia Quarterly Review.

Posted by: Waldo Jaquith | Mar 9, 2006 8:34:11 PM

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