Four Quartets

Jeanne Jaffe

Marginal Utility

Through October 21


By Daniel Gerwin


Jeanne Jaffe’s installation responds to a passage from T.S. Elliot, but as I spent time with her work I found myself thinking of Dante. Jaffe’s three-room exhibition describes a journey from one state of being to another that recalls the great Italian poet, and the innermost chamber feels like a vision he too could have imagined. Jaffe opens with a kneeling figure whose head has dissolved into a form suggesting both a brain and a cloud of smoke, implying deep inward meditation. The second room makes the idea of passage unmistakable by presenting an open doorway accompanied by a video projection of images recalling plants, water, and flames. Weirdly, they also resemble living organs and diseased cells seen through a microscope.


Jaffe brings her full force to bear in the final room, where headless figures draped in something like hospital gowns twitch, suspended among clods of earth and barren, red-tipped branches. Are these bodies experiencing spasms of pain or mini-paroxysms of enlightenment? Hanging among the figures are the following lines from Elliot’s poem “East Coker”:


I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope

For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without


For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith

But the faith and the love and hope are all in the waiting.

Wait without thought, for you are not yet ready for thought:

So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the



Elliot’s words dangle like ladders to climb or descend. The word-ladders encapsulate the central theme of paradoxical unity: ascent and descent, disease and health, darkness and light, stillness and dancing. Here Jaffe is less Dante and more Zen. Transformation, Jaffe seems to say, requires the embrace and synthesis of apparent opposites. Heads are absent because they tend to get in the way of such insight; we intellectualize at the expense of bodily knowledge, and it is this latter way of knowing that bypasses the limits of cognition and lies at the core of aesthetic understanding.



Daniel Gerwin is a painter living in Philadelphia. His work can be seen through the end of October in Falling Off, a two person show with Jennifer Williams at the University Center Arts League in West Philadelphia.