Over my lifetime, I have collected images that have informed me about the way life has been lived. … In a way, art taught me how to look at life, and life has taught me to look more closely at art.

Joel Meyerowitz on Open Source

Listen to the show

When Chris was watching the 1960 Godard film Breathless recently, he came to a sudden, shocking realization: that the tanned, reckless, handsome, windswept leading man, Jean-Paul Belmondo, was JFK… that he oozed the same golden boy ethos as Jack and Bobby, referencing Sinatra and anticipating JFK Jr… that there was such thing as a zeitgeist, and this was it.


A windswept JFK [Round Hill Jamaica]


Belmondo in Breathless [Girl Hattan / Flickr]

If you take an unlikely, striking pair of images (or events or characters or historical moments) that in some way resonate or relate or come together, you have what author Lawrence Weschler calls a convergence. Weschler is a writer who draws upon a vast store of visual, political, historic, and cultural knowledge in his well-crafted books and essays, on subjects ranging from the painter David Hockney to the Iraqi expat Kanan Makiya. Now he’s made a study and practice of finding convergences, and waxing philosophic on their varied meanings.

He takes Mark Rothko’s desolate abstracted landscapes and contemplates their eerie similarity to images broadcast back from the 1969 moon landing. It’s not just that they look the same. It’s that one suggests the other, and that we can see the emptiness and loneliness of these now-historic images through the eyes of a suicidal man. “A convergence can start like that with a simple visual rhyme,” Weschler says. “But it doesn’t become a convergence until the rhyme starts to generate a surrounding poem of filigreed associations.”

More often than not the seed is visual, but it doesn’t have to be. Weschler’s grandfather was “the Austrian emigrĂ© Weimar modernist” composer Ernst Toch, and in his grandfather’s music and his own writing he finds many moments of convergence.

When I’m alone, typing at my keyboard, I often hear music in my head — especially as my pieces approach their climaxes — and almost invariably the music in question (when I stop to think about it) turns out to be my grandfather’s. In fact, in retrospect, there are passages of my own prose that turn out, in pacing and melody and formfulness, to be virtual transcriptions of passages from his quartets or symphonies. As I say, it can get to be a bit disquieting.

Lawrence Weschler, Transom, 8/04

Bear with us here, because this is something of a high-concept show. We’re going to talk about convergences, and we want to hear yours – your own moments of sudden shock when two seemingly disparate moments, images, figures, phrases of music or text come together in a way that’s eerily prophetic and almost poetic. We’ll have a list of our own – and Lawrence Weschler’s – to draw upon as well. McSweeny’s, which is publishing Weschler’s book, sponsored a competition for the best convergences, which is worth checking out. We’ve started a Convergences Group on flickr, where you can go and enjoy the fun of pairing unlikely images and drawing connections between the two. Greta and I have both posted some of our own. We’d love to see yours. (You can post your images and leave a note in the comment thread with links to the pictures.)

Lawrence Weschler

Author, Everything That Rises: A Book of Convergences

Writer for The New Yorker

Joel Meyerowitz


Richard Taylor

Physicist, University of Oregon

Writes about the convergence between fractal geometry and abstract expressionism

Thanks to cheesechowmain for pointing us in Taylor’s direction!

John Berger

Author and visual culture theorist

Related Content