24 May 2020 • Work
Daniel and Rachel Libeskind explore the dimensions of their creativity in conversation
In our publication Legacy: Generations of Creatives in Dialogue, a lively philosophical discussion between artist Rachel Libeskind and architect Daniel Libeskind. They converse about the notion of legacy in the arts in the past, present and future as well as the ultimate legacy of the Holocaust in the 20th century and beyond. Below, we share an excerpt from their exchange. To read the full text, purchase the book here.
DANIEL LIBESKIND: Legacy is a gift, passed through time, and so it’s not something minor; it’s really the dimension that includes imagination and creativity.
RACHEL LIBESKIND: It’s also something that one inherits, but in the inheriting, there is actually a burden because it’s not a formally inherited object or title. It’s actually something that has to be continually worked on, in order to be passed on in terms of a continued generational legacy.
DL: The giver of this gift is unknown.
RL: No, you are the giver of the gift!
DL: No, you are the giver of the gift; the gift is coming from the future and the past simultaneously.
Legacy is not something that goes from past to future but is actually something going in both directions
RL: That’s true—legacy is not something that goes from past to future but is actually something going in both directions.
DL: Bruno Schulz—whom I also read in Polish—particularly his essay Treatise on Tailors’ Dummies, is to me a fundamental piece of a legacy that brings together deep Jewish roots with the world that has vanished and is coming into being. Very closely connected to it, as a part of this legacy, is Hypnerotomachia Poliphili by Francesco Colonna, which is a Renaissance narration of an impossible dream that is illustrated as a treatise for future architecture. I bring these books together as a part of a specific legacy, even though they have nothing explicitly to do with my work, they have always been lurking in the dreams I’ve had.
RL: Bruno Schulz, specifically, comes out of a legacy that is very close to us genetically and geographically—a Jew of Ashkenazi descent living in Galicia, which is the area between Poland and Germany. DL Drohobycz, where Schulz was born, was a centre of Jewish life. He suffered the fate of many Jews: they killed him like a dog. He was murdered on the street by a Schutzstaffel (SS) officer, who knew him well and kept him like a dog. That is also part of that book. RL I discovered in reading the essays of Bruno Schulz, (which are less known than his books of short stories) that he refers to the image from Goethe’s Erlkonig of the man who, on horseback, in the dead of night, carries a boy to help and safety. Every German child in elementary school in Berlin is made to learn this epic poem by heart. He says in the essay that we have a ‘fixed fund of capital’ when it comes to images that are destined to us, and us alone, and that for the rest of your life, you spend time trying to understand why these images are so pertinent to your creative work.
DL: Isn’t the word ‘Liebeskind’ mentioned in the Goethe poem?
RL: Yes! ‘Du liebes Kind, komm geh mit mir’ (Dear child, come with me) which is what Death says to the little boy. It really is very interconnected. I would say that Bruno Schulz is, in a lot of ways, haunting us.
DL: Agreed. This notion of a fixed fund of capital of images—I’ve always connected with the first view I saw at Mount of Olives when I came to Israel in 1957, when Jerusalem was divided. We had to kneel on a rooftop of a building, overlooking the old city as we couldn’t get to it. Seeing in the background the true picture of Jerusalem with the golden dome and feeling that—even though we were being shot at by Jordanian snipers—this was always going to be the Jerusalem of the heart. To me, that view of Jerusalem is very close to another paradisiacal view, which is the view of Manhattan skyline. I remember arriving to New York by boat and being met with that amazing skyline. Those two views are definitely part of what I would call the legacy of the world, of my life, of my history.
RL: It’s funny, when I think about views that are early in the horizon of my memory—of space and time—I think about the view from the roof of the Jewish Museum, looking onto the East. In my early memories of the 1990s, I see a low, grey sky hanging over Berlin, and I think about how that is my Mount of Olives view, from the top of the Jewish Museum! Looking out onto East Berlin—unchartered territory.
DL: That makes complete sense, because you were looking towards Oranienburger Strasse, which was written about by Paul Celan, but also where Humboldt had his library, everything comes full circle— the olives of history. RL Actually, I remember my bedroom in New York City, when I moved there from Berlin; my bedroom window looked very adjacently south, at the site of the World Trade Centre (WTC), and I could see the edge of the site where the One World Trade was being built. That’s a legacy of the changing landscape in my history—of our history. The Freedom Tower. DL ‘Now with the drops of this most balmy time My love looks fresh, and Death to me subscribes, Since, spite of him, I'll live in this poor rhyme, While he insults o'er dull and speechless tribes’. That’s Shakespeare.
RL: That’s beautiful.
DL: The drops! What does that mean?
RL: I have an idea! You know, scientifically, we are inhaling the same molecules of oxygen that Shakespeare inhaled, that Christopher Columbus—that thief!—inhaled, that Homer inhaled. We are drinking the same molecules of hydrogen and oxygen in our water, the same molecules that Lincoln drank, or Hitler drank.
DL: They were all exhaled by God!
RL: Well, that depends on who you ask. (Laughs)
DL: We are breathing the exhalations of God!
RL: Well, of the universe. Of Gaia, of God —I don’t know.
There is a divinity in us, that shapes us
DL: I think it's true that our legacy is very clear: number one—the world was created out of nothing. Two—that there is free will. Number three— that there is a divinity in us, that shapes us. Roughly hewn, as Shakespeare says.
RL: Is that your life philosophy? Is that your spiritual philosophy?
DL: I think it’s the spiritual philosophy of every modern thinker, starting with Descartes. Descartes is not so different from Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav. I love Rabbi Nachman, first of all because my father carried his name—Nachman. Rabbi Nachman had this great questioning—first and foremost a questioning of God. As did Descartes. Descartes’ radical doubt as a method of thinking is the first real accounting of thought. I don’t think any other philosopher—not Nietzsche, not Heidegger, not Derrida, no one has ever surpassed Descartes, because he had the boldest scheme: the scheme of throwing the gauntlet with the Cogito as his captive.
RL: It’s very integral to the way you see the world.
DL: It’s integral to the way you see the world! You have the cogito also!