The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam
January 24, 2020

Future

At the Rijksmuseum, a crowd gathered in front of a plexiglass box to photograph a robot scanning the fading canvas of a Rembrandt. A glimpse of the future. Looking at the tiny figures chatting and fishing in the shadows of moss-covered arches in Claude Lorrain’s Harbor at Sunrise from 1637, I realize it’s a genre as old as time, these wistful scenes of people living among the ruins of a romanticized past. There’s a straight line from the paintings of Lorrain and Hubert Robert to the set design of Blade Runner 2049.

Meanwhile, the debate continues across six centuries of oil painting: did Jesus die as a man or a god? The image of the crucifixion did not emerge until a thousand years after his death. People sweep through the galleries, looking at the paintings only through the screens of their phones. Taking pictures is how we see now.

Everything is garbled. I think about ways to meld the personal, historical, and philosophical with each day’s disorienting headlines and events. Can this exercise be shaped into something worthwhile? Because this is how we think and live these days: everything at once. Maybe we have reached the end of grand statements, singular works, and distinct styles. The tides are turning towards snippets of atmosphere, personality, and mood. (I’m rediscovering the obvious and reinventing postmodernism for myself.)

Fog in Amsterdam. Jittery energy in the Friday night streets. People from different nations stagger and bump into things. It’s an uneasy convergence of Bourbon Street and Times Square with picturesque European architecture. We found the electric red Chinese restaurant where we started this trip forty days ago. Over fried dumplings we talked about returning to America while our telephones buzzed with footage of the House prosecutor delivering his impassioned closing remarks to the Senate, urging them to acknowledge the evidence in plain sight: “If you find him guilty, you must find that he should be removed. Because right matters. Because right matters and the truth matters. Otherwise, we are lost.”


Bohren & Der Club of Gore – Sag Mir, Wie Lang

From Patchouli Blue | Ipecac Recordings, 2020 | Boomkat

A new album from Bohren & Der Club of Gore arrived today and it’s the perfect soundtrack for these days of pandemic anxiety and political sleaze.

Each night in 2020 I'm writing a short post for a series called Notes From the End of a World because I want to etch these days into my memory before I forget them. Before the world changes completely.
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