Justice and Individualism
In “Vermeer in Bosnia,” Lawrence Weschler challenges us to consider the prosecution of war criminals in unusual ways. He describes his observation of the preliminary hearings of The Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal and, at the same time, discusses many of Vermeer’s paintings. The concept of intersubjectivity is emphasized throughout the essay. The term “intersubjectivity” generally means a condition somewhere between subjectivity and objectivity, one in which a phenomenon is personally experienced yet by more than one subject. However, Weschler interprets this term as an experience closely linked to the concept of individuality, autonomy, or self-sufficiency. To be more specific, the author claims that how Vermeer views his subjects and depicts them in his paintings and how the “ordinary people,” including the art critics, view the same Vermeer’s paintings are different because of individuality. In other words, each person perceives and interprets Vermeer’s paintings, such as View of Delft, The Girl with a Pearl, Girl Asleep, and Officer and Laughing Girl, in different ways because he or she is a distinct individual with a unique background and experiences. Weschler presents Vermeer’s perception of his own paintings through an indirect way of briefly recounting the painter’s life: tragically, this great painter lived through the horrors of the several wars, including the Thirty Years’ War, and suffered from the religious conflicts. Additionally, as a result of France’s assault of the Netherlands, the Dutch economy was devastated, directly affecting Vermeer’s bankruptcy and his early death (Weschler 779). Vermeer, who led his life in the middle of turmoil and chaos, sought peacefulness and serenity, or “invented peace,” and depicted this vague, imaginary concept in his paintings. In fact, the painter’s achievement to imagine a world of silence and serenity at a time when every part of Europe was being torn apart by national hatreds and religious persecution and then to make that world into existence through his art is so great that “It’s almost as if Vermeer can be seen, amid the horrors of his age, to have been asserting or inventing the very idea of peace (Weschler 780).” In this sense, those magnificent paintings are more than mere technical triumphs; they are, in fact, triumphs of the human spirit.
Despite the true intention of Vermeer to paint his subjects in search of his own peace, many art critics deem his works as mere “instances of these sorts of moralizing genre images (Weschler 783).” In response to the shallow interpretation of the art critics, Weschler stresses that their lack of understanding of Vermeer’s works indicates their lack of recognition of individuality of each subject in the paintings: “… this person is not to be seen as merely a type, a trope, an allegory. If [the subject] is standing in for anything, [he or] she is standing in for the condition of being a unique individual human being, worthy of our own unique individual response (Weschler 783).” The author underscores that each subject matter in the paintings is an individual with distinct characteristics, backgrounds, and experiences. Thus, it would be wrong or even unjust for us to draw a broad conclusion about the subjects as a whole. Just as we want other people to regard us as unique individuals and to see us from various angles, we should treat and regard the subjects in the same manner. On the surface, it appears that Weschler merely talks about the greatness of paintings of Vermeer and their impact on various individuals. It also seems that the author simply asserts that due to intersubjectivity, which stems from individuality, individuals interpret or perceive the same subject matter in their unique ways. Beneath the surface, however, he employs the example of those paintings to invite us to see justice in a new way. Moreover, through his observation of the case of Dusko Tadic, one of the accused war...
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