Mysticism as I understand it hasn’t got anything to do with esoterism, astrology, fortunetelling, sorcery, fantasy fiction, or similar things, even if that’s what’s commonly meant when the word is used outside the theological field where it’s originally coming from.
The most concise definition imo comes from Albert Deblære who said mysticism is an „immediate and passive experience of the presence of God“: it’s not mediated (through knowledge, symbols, rituals etc.); it cannot be enforced (like in what we would call „magic“), it can be only ‚received‘ as a grace; and it’s a real experience (as opposed to theoretical knowledge) related to ‚God‘ or however you want to call whatever transcends us in a way which can only be experienced and not be described adequately.
And even if mysticism is often treated like an orphan by academia and churches (maybe because any actually real experience of God would be considered as dangerous for the political machineries of power that all larger religions also are), it becomes quite clear from this definition alone that it’s right at the core of every religion, I would almost say like a constituting principle.
In my works however, I’m only using texts originating from the Christian scope so far, simply because that’s the culture I’m originating from and the texts are written in languages which I understand.
But now back to the opening question: Why mysticism? Why not something else, I could copy my fav novels, today’s newspaper or the phone book onto these sliver gelatine prints that I make in my darkroom (I’ll talk in my next post about why I write on my photographs at all, about what the process of writing means to me.)
How did I get to western mysticism? – What on the one hand strikes me is the proximity of the religious and the artistic experience (you cannot ‘force‘ a work of art to speak to you, to touch you, it just does or doesn not), just think of what you feel when you listen to your favourite piece of music or when you look at a work of your favourite artist – it’s just something human all too human, sensations of beauty and awe which are invaluablly enriching our lifes… with the one difference that in art there actually is a medium (the artwork), while the mystic experience is, like I told above, ‚immediate‘ – the authors who were subjects to these kinds of visions, ecstasies, transportations, etc. did never actively „search“ them, but were „struck“ by them like by a flash. I can’t wait to tell you more about some of them in future posts.
On the other hand I came to mysticism through the erotical / philosophical writings of Georges Bataille. He who wanted to become a priest before he discovered the truth of eros and thanatos in Paris‘ nightclubs was very familiar with the most important texts of mysticism. And even if he found the way back to religion blocked after what Nietzsche called the „death of God“, all his writings are deeply pervaded by mystical thoughts. (If this interests you: I’ve recently wrote an article on „mysticism“ for a critical dictionary (in French) on Bataille, coming soon in the new issue of the ‚Cahiers Bataille‘.) Doing my researches around his works led me to mysticism, and I was so fascinated by it and could also on a personal level relate so much to these authors that I decided to use them for my work. That’s also how my microécritures began.
The photos above are from my last trip to Venice in August. I made a long tour through churches and museums with Tanya Rusnak who paid a visit from Canada, and came back alone the next morning to this little altar in Chiesa di S. Sofia on the first picture above. I fell in love with it’s sublime poverty / purity, with its cross made from two plain beams of wood, with its almost medieval naïvity (and I mean this as a compliment). In the askew frame is a portrait of Sainte Thérèse de Lisieux, a French mystic, one of the better known ones. I’ve recently got her collected writings and hope to be soon able to select one of her texts for another microécriture work.
There’s one frame empty on the wall… whose portrait would you put in there?