Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Heraclitean Bridge

I have recently returned from a whirlwind trip to Marfa, Texas – the home of the Chinati Foundation created by Donald Judd as a permanent site for his own work and that of, among others, Dan Flavin, John Chamberlain, David Rabinowitch and Ilya Kabakov. I am currently writing my next post about my visit, but to tide you over until then, here is a little something from the late Scottish poet/artist Ian Hamilton Finlay. I encountered his work thanks to a book called The Present Order: Writings on the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay (cover art below) produced in coordination with the exhibition at the Marfa Book Co. in 2010 called ‘Ian Hamilton Finlay : A Selection of Printed Works’ – curated by Tim Johnson and Caitlin Murray.


Finlay’s diverse body of work includes a project based in his garden ‘Little Sparta’, located just outside Edinburgh, that is of a great deal of interest to Classicists in several ways, so I’m sure that I’ll return to discuss it  later. But for now, here is a photo called Paths 7 by Jennifer Gough-Cooper, which shows Finlay’s curious ‘Heraclitean’ bridge:

Jennifer Gough-Cooper Paths 7

If you can’t make out the text, it reads (on each plank, ‘flowing’ in opposite directions):


This may be recognized as a reworking of Heraclitus (Fr. 10), preserved in the pseudo-Aristotelian Peri Kosmou (On the Cosmos) which, in Burnet’s (1912) translation is:

Couples are things whole and not whole, what is drawn together and what is drawn asunder (Gk.sumpheromenon diapheromenon), the harmonious and discordant. The one is made up of all things, and all things issue from the one.

I’ll leave it to you to revel in the irony of the words of the poet/philosopher famed for claiming that you can’t step in the same river twice being inscribed on a bridge!

For more about Ian Hamilton Finlay, visit:  http://www.ianhamiltonfinlay.com/

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