Giacometti was fond of saying, ‘There is only success to the extent that there is failure. The more it fails, the more it succeeds’.
Alberto Giacometti, Three Figures in the Street, 1949. Oil on cardboard.
Between things, between people, bridges are broken; the void slips in everywhere, each creature secretes its own void. Giacometti became a sculptor because he is obsessed with the void. He is a sculptor because he bears his void like a snail its shell, because he wants to give an account of it from all angles and in all dimensions.
In each of his paintings and drawings, Giacometti takes us back to the moment of creation ex nihilo; each one of them revives the old metaphysical interrogation: Why is there something rather than nothing?
Beauty has no other origin than the singular wound, different in every case, hidden or visible, which each man bears within himself, which he preserves, and into which he withdraws when he would quit the world for a temporary but authentic solitude. Such art, then, is a far cry from what is called miserabilisme. Giacometti’s art seems to me determined to discover this secret wound in each being and even in each thing, in order for it to illuminate them.
Giacometti’s art is not a social art that would establish a social link between objects—man and his secretions—but rather an art of superior beggars and bums, so pure that they could be united by a recognition of the solitude of every being and of every object. ‘I am alone,’ the object seems to say, ‘hence caught within a necessity against which you are powerless. If I am only what I am, I am indestructible. Being what I am, and unconditionally, my solitude knows yours!’
The idea of a primordial self beneath the ego takes us to Beckett’s The Unnamable. The Unnamable invents an ‘I’, as well as other, surrogate characters like Mahood and Worm, because language requires it. But he feels himself existing below or beneath these avatars of consciousness. Names exist in a world presided over by ‘them,’ the Unnamable’s constant antagonists, the Generalized Others who taught him to reason and move about, the ‘delegates’, the bright catechists, who are forever trying to clap a name on him and teach him the ways of their world. Each time he speaks of himself as an ego with a name or pronoun, he joins them. About one of his avatars, Basil, he says, ‘Is he still usurping my name, the one they foisted on me, up there in their world?’. And later, ‘Every day, up above, I mean from one set hour to another set hour, everything there being set and settled, they assemble to discuss me’. He wonders, ‘Are there other pits, deeper down? To which one accedes by mine? Is not this rather the place where one finishes vanishing?’. Like Giacometti’s statues, the Unnamable exists in some atmosphere, or field of perception, to which the positing consciousness has descended.