Giorgio de Chirico and the Quantum Metaphysics of Art: Convergences between Existentialism, Symbolism & Romanticism

The Enigma of the Hour, Giorgio de Chirico, 1911.

Giorgio de Chirico (10 July 1888 — 20 November 1978) was an Italian painter of the Metaphysical school of visual art, which he founded with Carlo Carrà. Of all the visual artists of the 20th century, Chirico was quite likely the most philosophically intense, advancing such existential abstractions & subjectivities purely through the visual medium.


The consensus among art historians has generally been that Chirico’s pinnacle achievement as an artist occurred during his primary Metaphysical phase between 1910 and 1920. The paintings he completed during this period were profoundly influenced by the aesthetic and existential philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, as well as the German Romanticism of Caspar David Friedrich and Goethe, exemplified in the convergence of symbolism, metaphor, and root mythology.

In viewing key works as The Enigma of the HourThe Enigma of the Arrival and the AfternoonPiazza d’ItaliaThe Red Tower, and The Great Tower, among others, we find realism intersecting with the monolithic awe of the spatial territories of the Unknown Known. The philosophical concept of the Unknown Known is that which we know, what we may sense emotionally and intuitively, but are unaware of knowing. It is the subjective reality behind the objective sense-perceptions that give rise to the Nietzschean themes of eternal recurrenceamor fati (love of fate), and the will to power that de Chirico seeks to understand, communicate and present in a tangibly visible reality.

The positive fatalism of Nietzsche, which he refers to as amor fati, similar in vein to early Buddhist principles, defines fate as a doctrine of inevitability, that everything that exists—all that we are as human beings—is exactly as it is, right where it all belongs. Rejecting the modernist Christian view of fatalism, amor fati embraces fatalism as a positive urge toward inevitability, a new paradigm that seeks to awaken humantiy from its stupor and transcend the denialism & inhumanity of the hopelessly corrupted Pauline Christianity in favor of absolutist affirmation of life, for better or for worse. This is the fundamental stage where humanity overcomes itself— it’s irrational fears, hatreds and all other limitations humans have imposed upon themselves since the corrupted, hypocritical binary dualism of Pauline Christianity in the modern age.

Amor fati inevitably leads to the will to power, the principal motivating force of human existence. Beyond mere survivalism, the restoration of the primordial will to power is argued by Nietzsche to be the crucial step in human evolution toward the Übermensch (literally Overhuman). Amor fati, eternal recurrencewill to power form the tripartite axis upon which humanity may transcend the collective herd mentality and overcome all finite limitations of the decadent, monocultural conformism imposed by the parasitical ruling classes of both the secular and religious spheres. The evolution towards the Overhuman, in turn, forms a new, more natural aristocracy free of the cronyism, hedonism and incompetence of the contemporary elites.

The paintings of Giorgio de Chirico have thus far been the only works of art that demonstrate the quantum nature of what Jung referred to as the “collective unconscious” as it relates to the Nietzchean process of transvaluation and the spiritual ascendancy against the binary paradigm through the absolute affirmation of life. This, then, was the aesthetic goal of Chirico, the exploration of subjective reality in order to understand, conquer & overcome objective reality.

In Chirico’s works there is a distinct pattern of dislocation and dissonance of time throughout the environs depicted. Time is an error that has come to an absolute standstill, reaching a point of existence wherein there is no longer any sound or meaning, only the absolute stillness and eternally recurring nature of time. This apparent contradiction between stillness and recurrence is demonstrated in the use of a clock in The Melancholy of Departure and The Enigma of the Hour, as well as the presence of a train in motion in the former painting, as well as in The Awakening of AriadneThe Anxious JourneyThe Soothsayer’s Recompense, and most evocatively, in Uncertainty of the Poet. The presence of the train is always subtle, but is used by Chirico as an overriding instrument of inevitable, yet cyclically recurring change. That change occurs is certain and undeniable. But in the symbolic device of the ever present train, as with the persistent riddle of the clock, Chirico demonstrates that this change is nevertheless the result of the primeval error of time, that change occurs only insofar as events unfold and then recur again, from the same beginning to the same end, and then recur again and again eternally in the same fashion. In the contemplative reality of Chirico’s paintings, one is neither here nor there, but everywhere by way of an eternally recurring scale of time. The clock is the compass, the train the vehicle towards recurrence, both acting as resolute harbingers of inevitability.

The distress and anxiety of alienation and existential solitude is more specifically explored in The Enigma of the HourMelancholy of a Beautiful DayThe Enigma of the Arrival and the Afternoon, and The Enigma of the Oracle. There is an acutely emotional depth to these works as they emanate forth a stronger, more persistent element of human presence in conflict with the awe inspired by the Unknown Known. Attaining experiential knowledge of the Unknown Known, forcing into total objectivity what was once absolutely subjective in both sense and perception, brings about an existential crisis of alienation that seemingly cannot be resolved despite the presence of others, as they themselves have crossed that threshold into the very same sense of awe within which there is no persistence of time, only the end of the beginning into the streams of infinity, beyond the Great Beyond.

—Excerpted from “The Quantum Metaphysics of Art” by Lexander Contemporary Art + Design


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