DO CONVERGENCES CONVERGE? with Lawrence Weschler

VIDEO: What do Che Guavara’s death, the Lamentation of Christ and Rembrandt’s Anatomy Lesson have to do with each other? Is there a really a relationship between “ethnic cleansing” and the rise of cosmopolitanism? And are “History” and “Life” the same, or two very different things?

About this Video

Lawrence Weschler spoke at Postopolis!, an event organised by BLDDBLOG, City of Sound, Inhabitat, Subtopia and the Storefront for Art and Architecture. A list of available videos from the event can be found here.

A recent Onion piece called “Professor Sees Parallels Between Things, Other Things” pokes fun at an inquisitive professor who, “holding his left hand up to represent one thing, then holding his right hand up to represent a separate thing, then bringing his hands together in simulation of a hypothetical synthesis of the two things,” encourages inquisitive young minds to do the same.

Lawrence Weschler could easily have been the model for such a spoof, and he knows it. In fact, he posted the original Onion article on the McSweeney’s website, as part of the “Convergence of Convergences” contest. In the contest, Weschler invites readers to submit images of seemingly dissimilar images that look surprisingly alike, and writing about the ties that bind them.

In his latest book “Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences,” the former New Yorker staff writer explores a series of these convergences with his musings on the matter.

“Everything that Rises” is just the sort of book McSweeney’s would publish. The folks at the hyper-literate publishing house have a much renowned soft spot for intellectual whimsy, and few other books fit the bill so well as does Lawrence Weschler’s latest work.

Even the title is a nod to something else, in this case a Flannery O’Connor novel titled “Everything That Rises Must Converge”. The book builds on the inherent human tendency to connect the dots. While most of us do this naturally, almost instinctually, it has never been assigned a special methodology. By inviting readers to submit their own convergences and commenting on them, Weschler taps into the clever McSweeney’s readership that will undoubtedly buy his book.

The images selected for convergences are a blend of old masters’ paintings and newswire images, and the connections between them are delivered with a wide-eyed alacrity both on page and in person.

Weschler starts with a famous convergence by John Burger where he compares a photograph of Che Guevara at the time of his death with Rembrandt’s “Anatomy Lesson,” which in turn resembles the images of the lamentation of Christ.

But the other convergences he makes, the non-visual ones, require a greater leap of imagination. During his presentation in Postopolis!, Weschler makes a case for the relationship between ethnic cleansing and the rise of cosmopolitanism.

He admits to the relationship being “uncanny” but argues that when “minorities flee outbursts of ethnic cleansing and end up in new places,” these places become all the richer for it. Countries who have resisted such in influx of migrants, he cites Lithuania as an example, end up being “truly boring” places.

He pushes his case further, and warns about the dangers of the current anti-immigrant climate in the United States. “In ten years, this is going to be over,” he says, perhaps optimistically.

Which is not to say he doesn’t recognize history’s burden, something he suggests may be a factor in the tensions between immigrant families and the American communities they reside in.

“When people come here, they’re told to leave history at the door,” says Gilbert.

“My friend David Reef tells a great story about going up to a Serb soldier at a battlefield. The battle literally just ended. And he goes up to the solider and asks what happened. And he says, ‘Well, in 1389…’ In America, when you want to say that something doesn’t matter, you say ‘Oh come on. That’s history.’ Another way of saying that is ‘Get a life’. Which is to say that ‘history’ and ‘life’ are opposites of each other in America.”

In the video above, Weschler explains the links between things we might otherwise not see. He also gives his thoughts on cosmopolitanism, immigration, and ‘convergent epiphenomena’.

Karla Cornejo is the newest member of ScribeMedia.Org and will be interning with us throughout the summer. Her favorite flavor is chocolate, her favorite food is brownies, and her favorite drink? Chocolate milk.