Fragment of cloth in the Islamic galleries at the Metropolitan Museum
Breaks are always, and fatally, reinscribed in an old cloth that must continually, interminably, be undone.
–Jacques Derrida, Positions
Sometimes it isn’t just about the whole cloth.
This past weekend I thought a lot about fragments, about the shards of incompleteness that are “continually, interminably” part of life. When you really look at this world, whole fabric is a rare thing. More often than not we fashion an existence out of pieced cloth, from fragments.
As a group of us gathered in New York City to remember our friend Morris now gone five years, each story shared was just one small facet of his complex and multilayered soul. Our weekend host Andrew, now a historian, spends his days culling through snippets and journal entries hoping to capture the authentic essence of his 19th century ancestor. Meanwhile the City of New York, the landscape I chose for my life 40 years ago and loved with the zeal of a new convert, is “continually, interminably” reinventing itself, blending fragments of that long ago past with what’s new and now belongs to another generation of supplicants.
On Sunday I spent an afternoon in the Islamic wing at the Metropolitan Museum, my favorite place these days. Coupled with the pristine and perfect wholeness of luxuriously oversized rugs is a carefully chosen array of exotic fragments salvaged from a time long ago and now the proxies for lost empires and kingdoms. These fragments are incomplete and my (our?) understanding of their full meaning is as well. But these artifacts have taken on a life of their own and hold me in their mystery. Their solitude suggests how much is missing and the question of where they spent their previous incarnations before the museum became their home. While minds like my historian friend Andrew might see them as a starting place to understand the past, I am in awe of their very presence, of the power and awe that comes from their incompleteness.
Whether this is just an artist’s love for the implicit or an art maker’s tacit belief that objects do have power, it spills over into other domains. Life is, for most of us, a pieced cloth. Coming to love the irregularities, the gaps and incongruities is what getting older and wiser can be.
Some of my favorite fragments: