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"Modern man must first and above all find his way back

into the full breadth of the space proper to his essence."

Martin Heidegger

A breathtaking vista ‘inspires’ – forcing us to breathe in (in-spirare) our very awareness of it. The figures in Friedrich’s Chalk Cliffs are aware of the plunging vista before and below them. For the moment they still stand on solid ground. Facing the drop of the cliffs, their awareness threatens to drop down and away below them. Dare they follow it down to the very depths of the sea and to its furthermost expansive horizon of sky. A dark protective arch of trees obscures the sky’s light. Yet the light is reflected in the chalk cliffs, which summon our awareness out of the womb of shade and into the lucidity of a light-filled air that unites the broad expanse of sea and sky. Dare the figures in the painting take a primordial leap of soul into this expanse? One seems embarked on a precarious physical descent. A seated woman points down concernfully. A man is bent down on all fours as if bowed in awe or vertigo. Is he too about to descend or simply unable to stand the larger vista taken in by the standing figure on his right? His gaze reaches beyond the cleft of the luminous cliffs and into the expanse. Dare he take the leap and release himself into it? Is his being bounded by the darkly silhouetted figure of his body? Or are the only boundaries of his body itself those of his own soul - his own free and unbounded awareness field? Standing there, he stands for us all - a standing questioning. Such primordial questioning is itself a "leap (Sprung) which opens up its own…primordial source or origin (Ur-sprung)." A leap into "the sudden sheer descent or rise that marks the chasm’s edge." (Heidegger).


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