Existentially Sublime Human Body As A Painful Salvation From The World


In Shiele’s “Lovers” man’s soul is overburdened to the degree of shutting down his gaze and its frame – the face. And the woman’s face, with her desire to console the man, is also turned away from the world.

Egon Schiele’s human nude or semi-nude bodies are the very fever of bodylines as such, when the very bio-anatomical substratum is inflamed with extra-energy and super-vitality and immediately became punished for this excess by being struck with anemic melancholy (Schiele can be considered as a predecessor of Francis Bacon with his athletic cripples).

Regular bodies (outside or inside art) are tranquil within their bodily form – excess of energy is expressed through extra-body (through excess of weight or additional muscles) or emotional excitement. But Schiele’s bodies, as if, reduced to and upgraded in their metabolism, they are transformed by the artist into, as if, intensified circulation of their energies. In this sense Schiele invented a new painterly human body.

But what is this new human body in comparison with the old – regular body? It is body of meaningfulness imposed by Schiele’s stylistic vision, a body whose flesh is invented and defined by Schiele’s painting. It is a body that contains and irradiates more energy than usual body. What this extra-energy is for? What does the presence of this extra-energy mean? How to understand the existence of human being with this surplus-bio-energy? How this excess of energy can be translated into particular modality of living, into concrete conditions of human existence? What can it mean to have a body as Schiele depicts it? How could it be felt?

The nude body painted by Schiele is a real body elevated not into sublime, nor into just vitalistic body but into bio-intensive one, burning itself. Body painted by Schiele is not just body plus painting, it is a body transubstantiated by it. It is a body metaphysicized not in the usual – traditional, transcendent way, but, so to speak, on the territory of physical life. The human body in the Schiele’s paintings is the human body of the painting, the body transformed by the painterly existentially spiritual touch. It is a body which is the spirit of the body. That’s what Schiele is painting – the spirit of the human body, not that of a particular body whose spirit would be the one of spiritual yearning (of a particular soul, of this or that individual personality or its belief in superhuman condition), but of the human body as the attribute of the specie.

Schiele’s bodies are human bodies blended with the enflamed bodily suffering of the human history. It is the bodies keeping in themselves the past and future of the humankind. In other words, Schiele is mesmerized not by particular human beings but by the genius of human race that he finds not in human beliefs or human knowledge but in human bodies, in their very intelligence, in their intelligence which is shocked and inflamed by the human historical experiences. And he tirelessly examines this human bodily intelligence as a painter obsessed with this subject.

Between traditional (super-humanly oriented) spirituality and human body encapsulated into its materiality, Schiele finds a new spirituality – that of the flesh, the immanent energy of physical life that he has made sublime.

Egon Schiele, “Two Young Girls”
Egon Schiele, “Two Young Girls”

While the woman facing us, looks at the impossibility of being in the factual world, the woman turned away from the world looks into the human body as a cradle of procreation and future of the race in a world without future, exactly like Schiele does in his paintings of human nudity, in which hope is doomed to embrace despair.

The both protagonists in “Two Young Girls” find life impossible (as more and more among us feeling compressed between Fukushima radiation, twisters, “petcoke” [the filthy byproduct of Canadian tar-sands crude], austerity measures and growing militarism) and look in sexual embrace for melting consolation, but the woman looking in the direction of the world is still fixated (albeit passively) on it, while the woman with her back to the world found the motherly body as a refuge from it.

May be, it is not the human soul, but the human body – what makes humans deserving salvation. The nude bodies of the Schiele appeal to creation with a screaming muteness of their feverish agony.