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GAUGUIN: THE OSCILLATING STRUCTURE OF DISGUISE Ralph Hajj University ofMontreal In this essay we will examine Gauguin's self-portraits as ritualistic activity. Through them we will attempt to determine the formal and iconographical consequences ofhis extensive use ofdisguise and how this use can illuminate the nature ofart in general. The ritualistic function of disguise Within the framework ofa given social order, disguise functions as a ritualistic activity. Ritual is aframed event where concepts—which in a non-ritualistic context are strictly differentiated and which take their meaning from this very differentiation—become undifferentiated.In Violence andthe Sacred, René Girard studied the function ofmask in ritual activity: he concluded that within the function of ritual, which is to reinforce the cultural differentiation through a repetition of its undifferentiated origins, the mask introduces undifferentiation between the self, (the human being wearing the mask), and the other (who or what the mask represents): Masks stand at that equivocal frontier between the human and the "divine," between a differentiated order in the process of disintegration and its final undifferentiated state—the point where all differences, all monstrosities are concentrated, and from which a new order will emerge. There is no point in trying to determine the "nature" ofmasks, because it is in their nature not to have a nature but to encompass all natures. (168). Disguise as a form of ritual activity is the representation of undifferentiation or non-representability. It is then a fundamentally paradoxical 168Ralph Hajj activity; an actofundifferentiating which has its condition ofpossibility in differentiated meaning. In turn differentiated meaning has its condition of possibility in a transcendental undifferentiation which the disguise represents. The mutual determination of the two, the totality of meaning and its negation, which is the condition ofpossibility ofmeaning as such, is represented through disguise both as a synchronic state and as a diachronic process. Thus, disguise is one of the forms of synchronic condensation leading to diachronic oscillation. This structure/process of condensation/oscillation is posited here as the universal underlying principle ofritual and in extension ofart in general. The structure/process of condensations/oscillations are seen most clearly in Gauguin's letters and the self-representations put forward inthem where he liked to call himselfa "savage." It is also seen in his self-portraits of 1888-1890, were he alternatively disguises himself as Jean Valjean, as Jesus Christ, and as a Breton priest, among other roles. A study of the paintings were these disguises occur will allow us to make the connection between his self-representation, as seen through his letters, and its consequences on the formal and iconographical level of these and other paintings. This in turn, will allow us to see how the structure/process of condensation/oscillation affects the form and iconography ofhis two most complex works; La Vision après le sermon [Fig. 1], and Van Goghpeignant des tournesols [Fig. 2], both ofwhich were painted in 1888. This choice of paintings will allow us to examine some fundamental generative aspects of Paul Gauguin's work during that period. Self-Portraits as tropes In 1888 Van Gogh, who was interested in creating a colony ofartists, and as a means ofpreserving his ties with the painters ofPont-Aven whom he considered as likely candidates, wanted to exchange his self-portrait with a portrait painted by Paul Gauguin representing Émile Bernard and one by Gauguin representing Bernard (Sugana 94). Gauguin, who had trouble painting Bernard (Correspondence No. 165, 230), painted a selfportrait instead with an outline of Bernard's profile on the background, entitling it Les Misérables [Fig.3] after Victor Hugo's novel. Simultaneously , Bernard painted a self-portrait with Gauguin's profile. Gauguin'sLesMisérables [Fig. 3] is typical ofhis self-portraits, where he is usually disguised, in this case as Jean Valjean. The picture shows Gauguin looking straight at the viewer, his prominent arced nose—which he considered as a sign ofhis "primitive" origins—emphasized. The Gauguin: The Oscillating Structure ofDisguise171 background is painted yellow with decorative designs vaguely reminiscent ofPersian carpets, exceptforagreen areaonthetop rightofthe canvasthat contains a linear portrait of Emile Bernard. In a letter written to Shuffenecker in October 1888, he describesthispaintingand its intentions: ...I did a portrait...


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