Socrates' Daemon

The favour of the gods has given me a marvelous gift, which has never left me since my childhood. It is a voice which, when it makes itself heard, deters me from what I am about to do and never urges me on.

Socrates and his Daemon by Eugène Delacroix
Ceilings of the Library, French National Assembly, Paris.

Socrates used the word Daemon to name that voice in his inside that would to talk to him when he was about to do something wrong. Daemon (also Daimon or dæmon) is Latinised spelling of the Greek δαίμων. The word has been used to distinguish the daemons of Greek mythology, good or malevolent supernatural beings, from the Judeo-Christian demons, malignant spirits able to possess humans. Daemon in Ancient Greece had no devilish meaning. It referred to any upper power, including friendly spirits.

Socrates spoke familiarly of his daemon, joked about it and followed blindly its advice. He considered it to be a gift from the gods allowing poetry, mysticism, love, and philosophy itself. “The one who knows what is the right thing will do the right thing”, he would say, because he thought a good view of things makes people acts for the good — which means they behave wrongly when they are mistaken only. It is therefore of greatest importance for everyone to deepen their knowledge, he thought.

Socrates wanted to define clearly what is fair and what is not. Unlike the Sophists, he thought that the ability to distinguish the good from the evil lies inside the reason of the individual, not in rules of the society. “You cannot be happy when you act against your convictions” he believed, and who wants to be unhappy? If you know how to be happy, you will do everything you can to be happy. Therefore, the one who knows what is fair will also do what is fair.

Using a modern terminology, Socrates' daemon would be called intuition sometimes. However, the Greek word was clearly used to name an entity akin to what we would now call a guardian angel, and Socrates certainly attributed personality and voice to his daemon.

Jacques-Louis David — The Death of Socrates (1787)
In classical psychology, it was frequently translated as moral conscience. It's not perfectly accurate though — although the daemon was giving negative advice only: he would only tell Socrates what he should not do, not what he should do — because many things his daemon prevented Socrates to do were not evil things per se: doing politics, for instance, and especially steering clear of his own death sentence.

In psychoanalysis, one could parallel Socrates' Daemon to Superego. In fact, Carl Jung himself used the term daimon to describe a unique, independent spirit — neither good, nor evil — living in everyone.


Danae (Gustav Klimt, 1906-1908)
Oil on Canvas, 77 x 83 cm

Several months ago, I went to a great painting exhibition at the in Paris, entitled Vienna 1900.

The exhibition focused on four major figures of the Austrian Secession (Austrian term for Art Nouveau), between 1897 and 1918: , , and .

Shortly said, although I am not that enthusiastic over Kokoschka's paintings, it was among the best exhibitions I have ever seen, that showed how the distinctive treatment of space and perspective by these artists marked a revolution in pictorial language.

It was also an opportunity to see one of the most famous paintings by Klimt, Danae, which is usually part of a private collection in Austria. I have always loved this canvas, one of the most erotic paintings I know, that used a mythological subject as the pretext for a depiction of female pleasure.

According to Greek mythology, Danae was only daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos. After the oracle prophesied to Acrisius that his grandson would kill him, he locked Danae in a tower where nobody could enter.

Zeus however, the leader of all Gods, felt in love for the beautiful king's daughter. Despite every precaution taken, he felt upon the sleeping Danae as a golden shower, and she conceived Perseus. Several years later, Perseus would kill Medusa, rescue Andromeda from a sea monster, and kill Acrisius as predicted, by accident in an athletic contest, when the wind sweeps away his javelin.

The very moment when Zeus, as a golden shower, seeds Danae, had inspired many artists previously, from anonymous Greek artists...

Danae — Greek bell-shaped crater

Danae and the Shower of Gold (ca 450 BC)
Bell-shaped crater,
— Paris.

to Jan Gossart aka Jan Mabuse...

Danae (Jan Gossart aka Mabuse, 1527)
— Munich.


Danae and the Shower of Gold (Titian, 1554)
— Madrid.


Danae (Tintoretto, ca 1554)
— Lyon.

... and many more.

Klimt painted Danae in 1906-1908, at the acme of his so-called Golden Period. At the time, he would use genuine gold leaf together with paint in his canvases! In Danae, the gold he used as a tool was not only associated with the colour, but the theme of the painting itself.

Klimt selected precisely the moment at which the golden shower falls between the legs of the sleeping Danae. He did not make use of any narrative scenery, yet he succeeded in fixing the erotic moment through the curves of the contoured form, the flowing streams of the ornament, the gossamer black veil revealing the woman's body, and the selection of an unusual view. The nude body itself becomes part of the formal composition.

Besides the mythological story, Klimt displayed on Danae the availability of the woman, concentrating on the representation of female orgasm. The red-haired woman here is not a Greek princess but the universal symbol of seductive femininity.

Laughter as a Doctor

Clown Doctor
If hospital administrators could spend ten minutes viewing their hospitals through the eyes of a hospital clown, there would be a clown in every corner of their hospitals (Shobhana Schwebke)

In various cultures, clowns have been associated with healers, medicine men, shamans, and other figures related to health care. Some decades ago, in a few places, members of the hospital staff started dressing up as clowns, as Dr Patch Adams (now famous because of the movie with the same name, starring Robin Williams) or psychotherapist and famous novelist Howard Buten.

Professional clowns began working in hospitals in 1986 under two programs called the Robo Project in Winnipeg, Canada, and the Big Apple Circus Clown Care Unit in New York City, USA. The latter program was a model for the Theodora Foundation in Switzerland and for Le Rire Médecin (Laughter as a doctor), an association created in 1991 in France by Caroline Simonds, alias Dr Giraffe. In France, over 40,000 children, their parents and hospital staff enjoy a fun-filled visit from Le Rire Médecin's very special clowns every year.

Dr GiraffeCaroline Simonds
alias 'Dr Giraffe'
Other organizations have followed this model that are now present all over the world, such as Doctor Clown / Docteur Clown (Canada), Die Clown Doktoren (Germany), the Association Docteur Clown (Lyons, France), Clowndoctors (Scotland), the Humour Foundation (Australia), Doutores da Alegria (Brazil), etc. etc. Seems there are even hospital clowns in China now!

These clowns are not doctors and nurses dressed up as clowns any more, but companies of professional clowns trained to adapt their craft to a healthcare environment and who agreed to abide by the hospital clowns' code of ethics. Red noseThey usually wear little make-up (sometimes a red nose only), communicate verbally, and always work in pairs. They are caricatures of the staff members, 'almighty doctors' especially. They are dressed like doctors but misappropriate medical equipment... although they are specialists of nose transplant.

Groucho Marx said: A clown is like an aspirin, only he works twice as fast. He was right: hospital clowns don't administer anything except humor, but still they are great healers. A clown gives staff, patients and relatives, permission to play and to have fun. Everyone is happy to see a clown, as everybody is delighted to hear a child or a baby laughing. It is easy to hug a clown, it is easy to talk to a clown. Even if not talking to him, no one walks by without smiling, even in a hospital. The clown personifies the vulnerability and sweetness of life. He is a living Teddy Bear.

Europe Day

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere
anstimmen und freudenvollere

[Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us raise our voices in more
Pleasing and more joyful sounds!
Joy! ]

Today is Europe Day, the 'National Day' of an entity that is not a nation. It gives an opportunity to hear Ludwig van Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the centerpiece of his 9th Symphony.

The official anthem of the European Union is an adaptation of Beethoven's masterpiece by Herbert von Karajan, without the lyrics by Frederich Schiller — he wrote in German, of course — to be more universal. It's not such a wonderful piece of music as the original though, of which here is a small part :

On May 9, 1950, French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman read to the international press a declaration [Schuman's declaration translated into English] calling France, Germany and other European countries to pool together their coal and steel production (coal and steel industries being at that time the basis of all military power) as the first concrete foundation of a European federation. In Paris that day, a first move was made towards the creation of what is now known as the European Union. It happened shortly after the end of WWII, that was also the third war between France and Germany in 70 years, with millions dead on each side.

A few years later, in 1957, the Treaty of Rome established the European Community. It was signed by six countries: France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. There are now 27 countries inside what has become the European Union, and a war between them is just unthinkable.

The European Union has several flaws still. Especially, it is too much an economical entity and not enough a political union. Yet it has afforded to EU countries peace and stability for several decades. Heads of EU countries and EU administration are almost extricated from religious influences at work in the Middle-East and United States.

Some day hopefully, the EU might even succeed in spreading its values concerning human rights, the death penalty, global warming, and other issues. The sooner, the better.

Patti Smith

There are such moments in life: you look at a person you like, or love, and you realize in your deepest self that you will probably never see him or her again.

(Patti Smith, May 06, 2008 — approximate quote).

The Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain is an airy glass and steel building in the 14th arrondissement of Paris. It was designed specially by Jean Nouvel, also the creator of the Institut du Monde Arabe and the Musée du Quai Branly. Fondation Cartier Building in ParisAs the name indicates, it is devoted to contemporary art. That's also the building where the great, yet disturbing, exhibition of David Lynch's works I wrote about previously took place in 2007.

The Fondation Cartier is now displaying an exhibition dedicated to the visual work of Patti Smith, named “Land 250”. Drawings, films, objects, and essentially photographs taken with a Land 250 polaroid camera. I went there past Tuesday, tooking advantage of evening opening hours.

I did not know that Patti Smith would be there in person on that evening. Few people knew obviously, since we weren't much more than 150 people there. I easily found a free space to be seated on a carpet, at 5 meters from her standing at the micro. It was not a show, nor a concert, but a lecture, a discussion with the public, questions and answers in both directions.

Patti Smith talked about her photos, about the poets she loves: William Blake, Arthur Rimbaud, Jean Genet, René Daumal. She sang a couple of songs, and read poems.

When someone in the public asked which photos she loved most, she did not answer, but said (quoting from memory): “I love some photos because they are technically, well... quite good” [laughing]. “There are also many photos that I love despite they are not that good technically, because they embody significant personal meaning: travels I made, people I met, objects that once belonged to people who mean something to me”.

“For example”, she added, “see this horse, on the poster of the exhibition. It's not a bad photo, it's not technically perfect though. Yet it means something to me. I took it in Africa, at the end of a horse ride. Just before we left the place. I was about to climb up into the truck, and suddenly felt a gaze on my back. I turned round, and it was him. The horse I had gone riding for several days. He did not move, he waited while I looked for my camera in my bag, looked at me when I focused and took this only Polaroid. Then, he went away. We both knew we'd never see the other one again.”

I could not help but think it was a shame this picture could not be used as the cover for her great album, Horses, 30 years ago.

The whole happening did not last more than 90 minutes, but it was pleasant and friendly, although the public was quite reverent and talked little (I am simply not sure most people were fluent enough in English to ask her questions).

After she left, I spent about one more hour wandering around the exhibition. Several photographs were good, but I did not felt the same as last year about David Lynch's exhibit, that it was a great artistic event. More than once, to tell the truth, I even wondered if these little photographs of beds, guitars and statues, or this stone "from the river where Virginia Woolf committed suicide" would be in an exhibition if they were not put in display by a famous rock singer named Patti Smith.

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