Walker and Walker
Walker and Walker
Who Has Acquired the Most Peradams...

Jörg Heiser

The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

The sun ain’t gonna shine anymore The moon ain’t gonna rise in the sky
The Walker Brothers, ‘The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore’, 1966
(written by Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio)

As I’m writing this, I’m listening to John Zorn’s album
Mount Analogue. It was released in 2012, two years after Joe and Pat Walker issued their film Mount Analogue Revisited, based on French writer René Daumal’s Mount Analogue: A Novel of Symbolically Authentic Non-Euclidean Adventures in Mountain Climbing of 1952.

It’s easy to picture Zorn’s album – with its enthralling, perfect stream of confluences from Jewish and Middle Eastern folk, Ennio Morricone and Lalo Schifrin scores, dramatic piano moments, sprinkles of exotica jazz and Minimalist music – as the soundtrack to the mystical journey at the centre of Daumal’s unfinished story (unfinished because the author died in 1944, before its completion). However, the film actually doesn’t leave room for sound and atmospheric interjection, as it is entirely set in a room empty but for a table, with four men speaking. But that’s not a contradiction. Zorn’s music, as cinematic as it is (and unconnected but kindred in spirit to Walker and Walker’s variation on Daumal’s seminal work), is too rich to be listened to while watching a film, lest it be dominated by speech; and vice versa, the artists’ 51-minute chamber drama is so densely drawing from all sorts of literary sources that in itself it forms a kind of verbal music.

Daumal’s book is perhaps typical of its times. In the wake of the devastations of World War I and the German occupation of France in World War II, any remaining dreams of political reason had been terminally crushed. Many artists searched for mystical answers, including Daumal. His quest is one that is surreal-allegorical and crypto-spiritual: a boat’s crew arriving at a strange island, in search of an improbable mountain that links earth to heaven. Walker and Walker’s version concentrates on that encounter in which they are asked by a local official to state who they are and what the purpose of their visit is. Instead of giving a straightforward answer, the three characters embark on an almost comically elaborate and winding yet profound discourse drawn from sources including Novalis, Stanisław Lem, Edgar Allen Poe, Maurice Blanchot, Hermann Hesse and William James.

Daumal’s mystical object in the book –a McGuffin, the desired thing that serves to advance the plot – is the
peradam, “a clear and extremely hard stone … a true crystal … harder than diamond,” which is so transparent it is almost invisible, so you can only find it with true inner effort, “out of sincerity and true need”. As it indicates a person’s level of integrity, the peradam automatically becomes an agent of authority. Daumal’s musings were influenced by the controversial Armenian-Greek mystic and composer George Ivanovich Gurdjieff, who, based in France, offered eclectic teachings towards a spiritual awakening from what he described as the state of “waking sleep” of most humans.

It’s always a bit dangerous to generalise, but it could be said that in the Romanticist and Spiritualist leanings of the 19th and 20th century, two central feelings of absence coalesced: one was the feeling that the result of what Nietzsche had identified as God’s death – Enlightenment’s disenchantment of the belief in the one higher being – was a spiritual void; the second feeling, correlated with the first, was to do with the fact that if that higher order was disenchanted, the natural-seeming bonds of community – family, marriage – were disenchanted too, accelerated by the atomisation of society in the wake of industrialisation, producing another void, one of love. Romanticism was a cultivation of that feeling of a void, circling around the notion of the lost loved one, the impossibility of fulfilment; while Spiritualism – meaning Western, often orientalist and crypto-colonial esoteric adaptions of mostly Eastern philosophy and religious thought – was a kind of attempt to transcend that feeling of a void, circling around the desire for epiphanies of spiritual insight and completion.

Walker and Walker’s work is a carefully precise, almost forensic dissection of this double complex of loss and replacement characteristic for modernity. Their works in themselves are like peradams, often remaining invisible if you don’t make the effort to perceptively and intellectually probe them. Take the work titled
The Owl of Minerva Spreads its Wings With the falling of the Dusk (2012), a slight variation of Hegel’s famous quote. It’s just a long-eared owl, slightly cross-eyed. It sits there on a perch, like any other taxidermied owl. But it is a peradam, as you only recognise it for what it is – the deadpan conceptual artwork – if you put it into relation to where it is situated (in the white cube, above eye level), to other works on display (bringing up questions of the readymade, and the silent gesture or comment), as well as to its title (which was Hegel’s way of describing how philosophy, instead of offering utopias, can only come to insights in retrospect, looking back at history). But even that retro-perspective will not offer redemption – the impossibility to terminally hold onto what you thought you found, had possessed, will persist.