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Tracy Danison, Paris correspondent

Shards of Beauty: dust, stardust, sheep and wolves [By Tracy Danison]

Par Benh LIEU SONG — Travail personnel  CC BY-SA 3.0
Château de Chambord, along the banks of the river Loire and one of the world's greatest shards of beauty, Photo: © Benh Lieu Song 

I’m a sucker for gravity waves, time gaps, colliding hadrons, unidentified anomalous vehicles, sheep peregrination and the Cloud Atlas Sextet – likely even to spot those clouds as I laze through a long warm evening along the river Loire, waving my wineglass and artistically complaining of my lumbago. No surprise, then, that I was attracted by a talk called Fragments de beauté : de la poussière du métro à la poussière d'étoile (“Shards of Beauty: from dust in the metro to stardust”). Shards is “Working Lecture #4” in the Université de Paris’ ongoing La Chaire Beauté lecture series. It was held the cozy, woody and damned hot Auditorium d’Honneur at the Beaux Arts.

One never knows in advance the knowledges to be plumbed or disgorged on an ordinary day.

At this Shards lecture, for instance, in addition to thoughtful discussion of perception, science and esthetics, I got a little insight into the obtuseness that was the 19th century. Classy they may be, but wood mosaic panels have lousy acoustics: Clarwin you zay? Zex door? Buffalos? Charcuterie? Teutons? Where? – It’s all too easy to imagine the weight of all that misunderstanding hanging in the psychic air of August 1914.

But, as I always lend my ear hard, “as for detection of snakes”, as my father-in-law used to say, I grok Shards pretty well.

Flanked by a wonderful photo of one of visual artist Lionel Sabatté’s “dust wolf” sculptures, Yannick Mercoyrol, director of culture events at the chateau de Chambord – one of the world’s hoariest and grandest ancient dusty piles, a marvel of the marvelous river Loire –, mediated a discussion of the sense of “dust” by micro-meteorologist-chemist Cecile Engrandand Sabatté.

Wolf, ust devils  glue and metal © Léonard de Serres – Domaine national de Chambord
A wolf of dust, glue and iron wire by visual artist Lionel Sabatté guarding the central helical stairway at château de Chambord. Photo: Chambord 2023 © Leonard de Serres

Mercoyol reminded the audience of the traditional rhetorical use of “dust” as the dissociated husk of the soul – “dust to dust, ashes to ashes” – and pointed its contemporary iteration as primary material and/or point of departure for the world around. Engrand and Sabatté then went on to describe something like how “dust”, our way of saying “micro stuff”, shapes into “macro stuff” as worlds and as art.

Cécile Engrand studies the composition of the micrometeorites that daily rain on earth, notably, those found in Antarctica. She gave an overview, so to say, of how the Earth and the celestial corps general shape and have been shaped by the continuous accretions of particles that range from motes to comets. She highlighted the presence of carbon-hydrogen + compounds in this cosmic rain. Sabatté, meanwhile, recounted the debuts of a lifework highlighting the unshaped and un-shaping – dust and rust – as a lonely college-boy’s love affair with the dust-devils (moutons, they call ‘em here) in his tiny chambre de bonne.

The civilizational changeover from dust as metaphor for life’s end point to dust as life’s start point up above and here below, as cosmic rain and, especially, as perception of the material environment, has got me thinking about the frontier between the visible and invisible.

After all, the eye remains the fundamental measure of the world we see and the world we don’t. Not by accident, then, the measuring process involved in measure has become the great complexificator for plumbing and disgorging knowledges about the world we experience. Golly! Garçon! Another drink here along the banks of the Loire!

As to the idea of a rain of life from the cosmos, after listening a bit, my companion muttered, “Sploosh. Fish?” I am still not sure if she was kidding or succinctly commenting the Chain of Being.

Garçon! A drink for Madame!

Most of all, though, I am left thinking about the attraction of all towards all in the universe and the unsayable fire within, the movement that attracts us. “Attraction” is a pretty contrast to “struggle”, is it not?

Dreaming in the long evening here along the banks of a Loire studded with broken towers, chateaux now empty and restaurant cafés d’envergure, I cannot help wondering if Dance, capital D, is not the human shape of the attraction of all towards all…

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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