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This article is taken from PN Review 115, Volume 23 Number 5, May - June 1997.

The Human Position Iain Bamforth

'- Dedalus, you're an antisocial being, wrapped up in yourself. I'm not. I'm a democrat and I'll work and act for social liberty and equality among all classes and sexes in the United States of the Europe of the future.'

   James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


In the waiting room of my surgery in Strasbourg there are a number of paintings and etchings. These have been loaned to me by my landlord, who happens to be one of Strasbourg's better known artists (Philippe Stoll-Litschgy). I suppose having his paintings there lends a certain chic appeal to my surgery, but it makes me a tad nervous to think that I'm curator of an art gallery in addition to having to put up with all the humdrum anxieties of running a medical practice. The paintings have another function: they allow me to stand in my waiting room and meditate in broad daylight, surrounded by mythic themes; I extend invitations to all and sundry, I offer my card, saying here I am, dear townspeople of Strasbourg: come and watch how to fly away from uncertainty.

One of the etchings shows Icarus plummeting to earth in a squawk of quill feathers with two improbable retaining bands tied to his ankles. Unlike Brueghel's painting and Auden's commentary on it, Icarus's fall rearranges the landscape; all the objects in the etching form what looks like a spatial choir around it. A nymph shields her eyes. ...


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