Laboratorio Di Lingua Inglese, Modulo B

Laboratorio Di Lingua Inglese, Modulo B


Laboratorio di Lingua inglese, Modulo “B”

(Gruppi A, B)

Anno Accademico 2009-2010

Indice dei brani

Brano 1) Veronica Dewan, “The Pressure of Being a Human Chameleon” (p. 2).

Brano 2) Brano antropologico sulle differenze di classe nel Regno Unito (p. 3).

Brano 3) Martin Fletcher, “The Preacher from Plains” (p. 4).

Brano 4) Rachel Campbell-Johnston, “Van Gogh and the Colours of Night…”, The Times, 18.3.2009 (pp. 5-6).

From The Times, March 18, 2009

Van Gogh and the Colours of Night at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam

Van Gogh was comforted and inspired by the night, as a new show in Amsterdam highlights. But was this fascination a symptom of mental disorder?

Michael Glover

In spite of all the torments of a life that ended in suicide at the age of 37, the painter Vincent Van Gogh enjoyed at least one source of solace. Call it, if you like, the comfort blanket of night.

A new show at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Van Gogh and the Colours of Night, sets out to explore the extraordinary extent to which the artist poured his creative energies into scenes of night and twilight. There was something about the idea of the onset of darkness that nourished and calmed and also protected this so often tortured and febrile being. The fall of night set him to dreaming. When he was agitated, it served to calm him. The night was, for Van Gogh, a time to ponder and to reflect, to weigh up the happenings of the day just passed. It was also, as we see in this show, a moment for the sudden bursting forth of creative energy - he often painted at night, and the colours of darkness flowed from his brush to create some of his most beautiful and atmospheric works.

Van Gogh speaks of the night time and time again in his voluminous correspondence. In a letter to his brother Theo of July 15, 1888, written from Arles, where he lived for a turbulent time with the painter Paul Gaugin (it was during this period that he famously cut off the lower lobe of his left ear and sent it to a prostitute), Vincent writes, lyrically: “There is hope in the stars.” Here, as elsewhere, he associates the night with the afterlife. In the same letter, he speculates that after death one might travel by celestial transport to the stars.

From quite early on in his life, Van Gogh's correspondence refers to the night sky as a path or a map. He seems almost to be yearning to travel there. Similarly, buildings at night - a lone cottage in a hamlet, for example - with their tiny, welcoming lights, were, like the stars, a source of solace. “The sight of the stars always makes me dream in as simple a way as the black spots on the map, representing towns and villages, make me dream,” he writes in another letter to Theo. “Why, I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the spots on the map of France? Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to go to a star.”

Before he became an artist, Van Gogh had planned to become a preacher like his father before him, and some of his early letters imbue the idea of the falling light of twilight with religious significance. As a young man of 23, he wrote: “The twilight says such things to those who have ears with which to hear and a heart with which to understand and to have faith in God - blessed twilight.” Though it was a full three years before he made the decision to become an artist, Van Gogh had already begun to define one of his abiding passions as a painter, which was to capture the painted reality of darkness.

By the summer of 1888, however, the urge to paint night had passed from being a source of inspiration to an obsession. In several letters written that year to his brother and to his friend Émile Bernard, he refers to these yearnings: “But when will I do the starry sky, then, that painting that's always on my mind?” The writers that Van Gogh was reading were also romantically infatuated by the idea of night. In Les Étoiles, by Alphonse Daudet, a story that Van Gogh would have known well, the writer says: “If you have ever slept under the stars, you will know that a mysterious world awakens in solitude and silence as we lie sleeping.” His reading - and he was, throughout his life, a tremendous devourer of books, especially of poetry and fiction, in several languages - was often night-related. He sought out, and often quoted in his letters, fiction and poetry that speak of the night, and of its sweet and almost embalming influence.

One of the portraits in the Amsterdam show is of Van Gogh's friend the poet Eugène Boch. The poet, who, in the words of the painter, “dreams great dreams”, is shown against a rich blue night sky, complete with winking stars. He is set against the context of eternity. The presence of the night sky sweeps him up into a universal brotherhood of creative spirits.

But night was not always a source of peace, solace and nourishment to Van Gogh. The night could also be the hiding place of demons for a man who had been plagued with anxiety since his youth. Although during his life doctors found nothing but epilepsy to explain his erratic behaviour, after his death theories abounded as to what had troubled him: madness, terminal syphilis, alcoholism. Martin Gayford, author of The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles, has another suggestion: “Think of the range of his symptoms: hallucinations, depression followed by exaltation and bursts of high energy, followed in their turn by troughs of despair and spasmodic alcoholism. If he were alive now, perhaps bipolar syndrome would be the diagnosis.”