The Effects of Fear

October 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

Nicolas Poussin: Landscape With A Man Killed By A Snake (1648)

Landscape with a Man Killed by a Snake is by some described as “a study of fear”. In fact, another title that has been used for this painting is The Effects of Fear. Poussin has created a scene where theatrical gesturing, poses and facial expressions creates a drama taking place in this otherwise serene landscape. The way the figures have been placed, and how the landscape have been constructed creates a diagonal movement in the painting, showing the workings of fear.

There is another way to look at how space is constructed here. The drama that has been described is connected to a diagonal movement on a horizontal axis: From the corpse and the snake in the foreground, via the terrified man and frightened woman, to the oblivious or indifferent fishermen in the background.

Looking at the vertical axis, however, we could regard the water surface as a divider between above/below. The mirroring water surface becomes a divider between the visible world above the surface, and the invisible below. The serpent, a harbinger of death, crawling over the corpse, could be seen as coming from the realm below the surface, from the underworld. The dead man is already on his way down to the underworld; lying next to the water he is “in between”, his body is still above ground, but his arm and his leg are partly submerged in the water, crossing the boundary between the world above and the realm below.

The reflecting water surface, both hiding what’s below and creating an inverted world through mirroring, becomes a reminder of that which is hidden or invisible, yet always present.

See also:

Snakes, Serpents


The Act of Viewing

May 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

The act of viewing is constructed as the removal of the dimensions of space and time; as the disappearance of the body. The punctual viewing subject. (VaP ~p. 95)


March 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Non-human or inanimate objects in the background of a ‘scene’ can attract and promote the agreement of further elements. For instance, human figures represented in a mountainous landscape will pictorially absorb the permanence and solidity that mountains possess, and their bodies will in turn reproduce the lines and masses of the rocky landscape. (CTfAH, 336)

The setting can also reproduce the subjectivity of a person within the same representation, if that person is a narrative agent within the diegesis. The topological ‘place’ turns into psychological ‘space’ when representation of place can be connected to a certain point of perception, i.e. being focalized. (MB 132-133) The absorbing and projecting of certain characteristics will in this case function similarly to the process described above. But even without people being represented in the image, the act of gazing on the viewer’s behalf will transform place into subjectified space.

Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

February 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

I recently read Bachelard’s chapter on the Forest in The Poetics of Space.
This is how Bachelard explains “intimate immensity” as experienced in the Forest:

We do not have to be long in the woods to experience the always rather anxious impression of “going deeper and deeper” into a limitless world. Soon, if we do not know where we are going, we no longer know where we are. It would be easy to furnish literary documents that would be so many variations on the theme of this limitless world, which is a primary attribute of the forest. […] “Forests, especially, with the mystery of their space prolonged indefinitely beyond the veil of tree trunks and leaves, space that is veiled for our eyes, but transparent to action, are veritable psychological transcendents.”

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